Discovering Mythic Truth:
Here's how my American Heritage Dictionary
Some experiences are beyond words. They are ineffable, which means "incapable of being expressed; indescribable or unutterable." What is ineffable cannot be told, only shown or shared. We share ineffable experiences, always imperfectly, through metaphor, symbol, ritual enactment and myth. Myths are the great teaching stories, told by the ancestors, polished through countless generations, conveying all that is strong and worthy in a culture.
Dreams are personal; myths are collective. Myths arise from the shared experience and the collective unconscious of the group. They give us some sort of way to communicate about ineffable experiences. If we share the cultural referents from which the myths are built, so much the better. Think of a graceful suspension bridge, poetry in form and function. The interaction of forces made visible by that construction are like the power of the Ancient Gods. The cultural referents are like the steel and stone and cable, the materials that make that power visible and usable. We compose our dreams from fragments of our day, and our myths from fragments of our culture. Both tell us things we need to know.
Myths are also stories told by fallible human beings who are struggling to convey experiences beyond words. As people's consciousness is shaped, so the myths they create are shaped, by culture, gender, geography, class and more. The proof of this is that myths demonstrably change over time, and vary from one place to another. If they were objective descriptions of literal facts, myths would be much more consistent across cultures and centuries, just as the chemical formula for water is the same everywhere.
The world was not created in six days flat. Neither did the great magician Gwydion make a flower-bride for his nephew. Not in the literal sense, although both those stories convey meaning and values within their native cultures, and maybe for others.
It's important to discern what is deep mythic truth, and what is the cultural and personal overlay that masks and sometimes distorts it. Myths and dreams both tell us much more than we thought we knew, bringing to consciousness the insights and wisdom of the deep mind, and perhaps the counsel of the Ancient Gods. Also like dreams, the meanings of myths are not immediately obvious.
We can work with myths just as we work with dreams , exploring the threads of association and meaning that run through them. Because myths spring from a collective cultural unconscious rather than an individual or personal one, it's important to do some research first. This is the method that Alice Karlsdottir explains in her essay on Jarnsaxa . Your reading and research establish a framework, your active imagination fills in the details.
Organizing material helps to understand it. We can
important organizational structures from scholarly,
You can use this method with any primary source material, ancient or modern. It will work just as well with sections of a good translation of the Mabinogion or the Egyptian Book of the Dead -- or a poem by Doreen Valiente -- as it does with the Bible.
In the middle section, write definitions of any unfamiliar words (tracing the word's roots can be really instructive), synopses of the stories of any God/desses mentioned, correspondences, notes about the cultural context of the selection. This is the scholarly part.
The bottom section traces
connections. Write your personal associations and
reflections. For very
important concepts, consider drawing a
mind map on a separate blank page. Be alert to
the themes of the text and issues in your life.
Scholarship definitely comes
But scholarship is simply a way of gathering all the
just a preparation for the real cooking, which is active
Set aside some
time, and create sacred space. Make yourself physically
and build a daydream from the components you've
assembled. Keep it
person, present tense. You can witness the story or play
a role, even a
role if you feel up to it. Pay attention to your
attention to your dreams for the next few nights. Record
Developing a Personal Mythology:Myths serve people as basic structures for interpreting our experiences. They are also sources of power and guidance, vocabularies for communication about the inner worlds, doorways to Sacred contact. They support the richness of spiritual life. But not always as well as they might.
We all inherit the myth system of our culture, and also, even more strongly, that of our immediate family. Only a very few of us were raised in Pagan households. Most adopted Paganism as a conscious, adult choice. We know, if anybody does, that inherited myths sometimes point us in ways we do not want to go. There's many a myth, for example, of the submissive female who finds contentment through being mastered by some dumb stud.
Knowing this, and knowing that it is possible to choose, it makes little sense for us to abandon one mythic system only to adopt another whole cloth. Instead, we can take responsibility for creating our own personal synthesis from among all the teaching stories that are available to us. How? By magic, of course, by the sacred act of changing consciousness -- and in this case even changing the unconscious mind -- in accordance with will.
There are many good books available with advice on specific techniques. I want to recommend one in particular: The Mythic Path by David Feinstein et.al. (LA: Tarcher, 1997). You can also get a tape containing the guided meditations from the book. Both are available through Feinstein's web space, Innersource .
You might also want to visit Encyclopedia Mythica,
a website with an encyclopedic collection of
the address of this page is: proteuscoven.com/myth.htm
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