Why Myths Matter

Myths are fabulous stories, but too many people consider them simply falsehoods or lies, and therefore disregard them. In a sense myths are lies, but they are lies that tell important truths—truths about ourselves, human nature, our societies, and our world. So we must listen to and understand them. When we react negatively and turn our backs on them (or rather think we are doing so), it is probably because of an alternative myth that we have built for ourselves and are living but to which we are blind.

The fact is that by nature we are all mythical beings and mythmakers. That is the way our minds are set up, as evolutionary psychology, depth psychology, social psychology, and anthropological studies have shown. When we stop making myths for ourselves our psychological health suffers, and we lose touch with ourselves. Our deeper psyche knows that, so we tend to go on our mythmaking ways, whether we are fully conscious of it or not.

As a result, myth is all around us, like the air we breathe and the water in which fish swim. It flows through our culture and through each of us. This is because the origins and nature myth literally lie within each of us. Myths originate in the deep unconscious recesses of our psyche, producing the symbols and ideas from which mythical stories are formed. Every day we turn our life experiences and the inexplicable into myth, and we interpret our experiences and world events in accordance with our existing myths. We are most happy, inspired, and secure when living within the framework of our myths, so when we feel that way we can be sure that something mythical is at work. This dynamic takes on its own life in society and in collective human endeavors. In society we share commonly in myths told to us in books and films, and by politicians, religious leaders, educators, and others. When myths still connect with enough of us, they remain “living” myths. When they don’t and people turn away from them, then, in light of our psyche, it is time not for no myths, but for new myths.

At the same time, understanding how our mythmaking process works and being able to recognize when it is at work in ourselves and in society gives us an opportunity for self-understanding and self-development. Our own view of ourselves has a mythical quality, but if we are mindful of this and self-aware, we can have more control over our lives, and also can direct our society to a better future. We can better recognize our choices and choose more wisely, be more creative, elevate our consciousness, have more satisfying spiritual lives, and be truly independent even while growing close with others in community. We can live authentically, staying in close touch with our Selves.

We can then also understand the more pernicious paths along which some of our myths can lead us, and so avoid them ourselves and sound the alarm bell to others and to the world. We can better recognize the harmful projections from our shadow selves (whether individuals or communities) that become pernicious myths and address them, in part by practical worldly measures but most fundamentally by inward self-examination and transformation, at both the individual and collective levels.

In sum, understanding myths is one of the best ways to understand ourselves and what is going on in our world, and ultimately to change it for the better. There is hardly a higher calling. In gaining an understanding of mythology, we access and integrate what we have learned over many centuries in many fields of human endeavor: history, archaeology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, the arts, the sciences, and religion, among others. The idea behind my blog, as well as my other writings and activities, is to contribute in some positive way to this process.

© Arthur George 2014

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