It’s funny how the real meanings of myth and mythology got turned on their heads in our culture.
What is the first thing you think of when hearing the word myth? Most likely, you think of something that’s not true. Urban legend. Old wives tale.
One of my favorites of late has been from the far Right, with their chorus of: “Global warming is a myth.”
If they actually knew what they’d just said, they’d be horrified. Because, of course, global warming is a myth—one of the truest and most terrifying kind. One that will destroy us if we don’t heed Mother Nature’s warnings. But that’s another post 🙂
Those who have studied mythology are often amazed at what they find. Similar myths have originated across this wide planet (from long before the days of technological communication, so this wasn’t due to one culture taking another’s story and making it theirs). Almost all ancient cultures had very similar creation myths, heroes’ quests, and yes, savior stories where the savior was killed (more than one by crucifixion) and arose from the dead. We think of the Christian myths as unique, but we find very similar ones throughout indigenous cultures that pre-dated the ancient Hebrews.
Skeptical? We have Sumerian seals from as early as 3,500 BC showing the serpent and the tree and the goddess, where the goddess is giving the fruit of life to a man. And I could give a hundred other examples.
As the Hindu saying goes: “Truth is one; the sages call it by many names.”
Myth is pure and simply the story of the experience of life. As mankind developed tools, we painted stories on cave walls of surviving Wooly Mammoth attacks. As we developed language, we learned to express these stories in words.
Myths teach us how to live as humans, no matter our circumstances. The Wooly Mammoth may have gone extinct quite a while ago, but ask anyone starting her own business if the fear of being eaten up by bigger ones doesn’t bring dreams of being chased by monsters.
Myths show you how to deal with the internal fears, as they mirror the external ones.
I often refer to I Just Came Here to Dance (to be released in September, 2015!) as a myth within a myth. It plays on the ancient story of Vasalisa, sometimes called “Vasalisa the Wise,” but known by many names. The story centers around a doll in young Vasalisa’s pocket, which when she learns to trust its wisdom, to turn left here, right there, whichever way the doll tells her to go, is always the correct way for her.
The doll is personal—unique to her, its guidance for only her. It is, of course, her deep intuition, and learning to hear its voice, trust its guidance is a process in itself.
Paula Ann Fairbanks in Dance finds herself adrift in uncharted waters. The story of Vasalisa is told early on in the book, on Diana’s porch, and its themes weave through Paula Ann’s own journey to find her internal voice. As the book asks: “When myth and desire collide, can the simple truth prevail?”
Of course, a student of myth knows this answer 🙂
One of my greatest heroes in this lifetime is the mythologist Joseph Campbell. I quote him a lot. Because I read him a lot! Mythology was not prose to him, but poetry in action. To him, mythology is “the song of the universe,” and “the music of the spheres.”
And as Paula Ann finds out, and we do too, we dance to that music whether we’re aware of it or not, whether we even know the tune.
“The dance itself is always changing. So, too, the steps we take within it. And once you catch the rhythm, the flow becomes endless.”
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.