Mythology

“should it happen that all traditions in the world were cut off with a single blow, the whole mythology and history of religion would start over again with the succeeding generation”. 

  Heaven and Hell are within us, and all of the gods are within us.  This is the great realization of the Upanishads of India, already in the 9th c. BC.  All of the gods, all of the heavens, all of the worlds are within us.  They are magnified dreams and what dreams are - are manifestations in image form - the energies of the body in conflict with each other.  And that's all myth is.  Myth is a manifestation in symbolic images, metaphorical images of the energies of the organs of the body in conflict with each other.  This organ wants this, that organ wants that.  The brain is one of the organs.

You may find with the proper introduction this subject will catch you.  So what can it do for you when it does catch you?  These bits of information from ancient times which have to do with the themes that have supported man's life, built civilizations, informed religions over the millenia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don't know what the guide signs are along the way you have to work it out yourself.  But once this catches you, there is always such a feeling from one or another of these traditions of information of a deep rich life-vivifying sort, that you want to give "it" up. 

Therefore, in describing the living processes of the psyche, I deliberately and consciously give preference to a dramatic, mythological way of thinking and speaking, because this is not only more expressive but also more exact than an abstract scientific terminology, which is wont to toy with the notion that its theoretic formulations may one fine day be resolved into algebraic equations.

If they had lived in a period and in a milieu in which man was still linked by myth with the world of the ancestors, and thus with nature truly experienced and not merely seen from outside, they would have been spared this division with themselves.   

Myth is the natural and indispensable intermediate stage between unconscious and conscious cognition.  True, the unconscious knows more than consciousness does; but it is knowledge of a special sort, knowledge in eternity, usually without reference to the here and now, not couched in language of the intellect. 

   My definition of mythology is “other people’s religion,” which suggest that ours must be something else.  My definition of religion, then, is “misunderstood mythology” – and the misunderstanding consists in mistaking the symbol for the reference.  So all the historic events that are so important to us in our tradition should not be important to us in any way except as symbols of powers within ourselves.  G14

My friend Heinrich Zimmer used to say: the best things can't be told, because they transcend thought.  The second best are misunderstood, because those are the thoughts that are supposed to refer to that which can't be thought about - and one gets stuck with the thoughts.  The third best are what we talk about.  And myth is that field of reference.  Metaphors referring to what is absolutely transcendent ... And the ultimate word in our language for that which is transcended is - God.

‘For the symbols of mythology are not manufactured; they cannot be ordered, invented, or permanently suppressed.  They are spontaneous productions of the psyche, and each bears within it, undamaged, the germ power of its source”

It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back.” 

“Wherever the poetry of myth is interpreted as biography, history, or science, it is killed.    

Mythology, in other words, is psychology misread as biography, history, and cosmology.  When a civilization begins to reinterpret its mythology in this way, the life goes out of it, temples become museums, and the link between the two perspectives is dissolved.  Such a blight has certainly descended on the Bible and on a great part of the Christian cult. 

… each myth is a poetic revelation of the mystery of that which is now and forever and within your own being.  MoL 8

Furthermore, it is never difficult to demonstrate that as science and history mythology is absurd. 

With their discovery that the patterns and logic of fairy tale and myth correspond to those of dream, the long discredited chimeras of archaic man have returned dramatically to the foreground of modern consciousness.

To see life as a poem and yourself participating in a poem is what the myth does for you.   (By this) I mean a vocubulary not in the form of words, but of acts and adventures, which is connotative (of something transcendent) - of the action here - and which yet informs the whole thing, so you always feel in accord with the universal being.   Bill Moyers2 30m 50s

BM2 31m ... Every mythology, every religion is true ... as metaphorical in the cosmic mystery, but when it gets stuck to the metaphor - then you're in trouble. 

I could not help but discover the close relationship between ancient mythology and the psychology of primitives, and this led me to an intensive study of the latter. 

To the intellect, all my mythologizing is futile speculation.  To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a glamour which we would not like to do without.  Nor is there any good reason why we should.

Cut off the intermediary world of mythic imagination, and the mind falls prey to doctrinaire rigidities.  On the other hand, too much traffic with these germs of myth is dangerous for weak and suggestible minds, for they are led to mistake vague intimations for substantial knowledge, and to hypostatize mere phantasms. 

Naturally, I am not going to write a book of revelations about them, but I will acknowledge that I have a “myth” which encourages me to look deeper into this whole realm.  Myths are the earliest form of science. 

It was therefore something of a discovery to find that during the unconscious state of sleep intervals occur, called “dreams,” which occasionally contain scenes having a not inconsiderable resemblance to the motifs of mythology.

Nothing will see us through the age we're entering but high consciousness, and that comes hard. We don't have a good, modern myth yet, and we need one.
 - Robert Johnson

Eternal truth needs a human language that alters with the spirit of the times.  The primordial images undergo ceaseless transformation and yet remain ever the same, but only in a new form can they be understood anew.  TPofT 32  

 The word myth now means falsehood, and so we have lost the symbols and that mysterious world of which they speak.  But we need the symbols, and so they come up in disturbed dreams and nightmares that are then dealt with by psychiatrists.  It was Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacob Adler who realized that the figures of dreams are really figures of personal mythologization.  You create your own imagery related to the archetypes.  MoL – intro

Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations.  Mythologies are not invented; they are found.  You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth.  Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience.  MoL

Personally I find Jung as an interpreter of myths far more impressive than Freud.  Freud projects a Viennese family romance of Papa, Mamma, and their boy-child into every mythology on earth, regarding myths not as symbolic of adult insight, but as symptomatic of an infantile pathology; not as revelatory, but as concealing; not as progressive, leading to maturity, but as regressive, pointing back to childhood.  Jung’s view, on the other hand, is that the figurations of myth are to be read as the metaphors of a necessary, almost pedagogical discipline, through which the powers of the psyche are led forward to mature relationships, first to the responsibilities of adulthood and then to the wisdom of age.  TMD 8

(German anthropologist Adolf Bastian) recognized that throughout the mythologies and religious systems of the world, the same images, the same themes are constantly recurring, appearing everywhere.  He called these “Elementary Ideas,” Elementargedanken.  But he recognized also that wherever they occurred, they appeared in different costumes with different applications and different interpretations.  He called these provincial differences “Fold Ideas,” or “Ethnic Ideas” – Volkgedanken. 

Now this is a very important distinction.  It divides our subject into two quite different departments.  Historians and ethnologists are interested in the differences, and one can study the mythologies and the philosophies of the world with an accent on these differences.  On the other hand, the problem emerges of the Elementary ideas.  Why are they everywhere?  This is a problem that separates us in our discussion of comparative forms from the whole research having to do with differences.  TMTT 94

The way to misunderstand mythology is to think that the image is the final term.  And of course this is one of the problems in what we call the monotheistic systems.  God is not transparent – he’s a final term.  And when the deity is a final term and is not transparent to transcendence, then the worshipper is the final term also and is not transparent to transcendence, and what you have then is a religion of a relationship of the individual to the god.  But as soon as you open the god and realize that he’s a personification of a power, then you yourself open as another personification and vehicle of that power.  In such a system, you can have such a saying as comes from the Chāndogya Upanisad: Tat tvam asi (Thou art that).   That is hereby when the god is closed.  G14

Old vs. New – Cultural vs. Renewal   

For a man, the father-figure represents cultural tradition.  It is that which is opposed to renewal; it is … knowledge with its poisonous “We know it all.”  Every cultural condition contains a secret poison which consists of the pretension of knowing all the answers.  On a primitive level, you see this in the initiation of young men when the old men of the tribe tell them the history of the universe, how the world was made, the origin of evil, of life after death, of the purpose of life, and so on.  On this level, for instance, all such questions are answered by the mythological tribal or religious knowledge conveyed by the old to the young, and on that level, with the exception perhaps of a few creative personalities, this is just swallowed wholesale.  From then on, the young men know everything too; everything is settled, all questions are answered, so that if a missionary comes and tries to talk to these people, he is just informed how things are: “Oh yes, we know, the world was made in such a way; evil comes from this and that; the purpose of life is so and so.”  We do exactly the same thing, except that in our case it is a bit more complex; basically, however, it is the same.  TPoPA 209

   One of the most effective ways to rediscover in any myth or legend the spiritual “tenor” of its symbolic “vehicles” is to compare it, across the reaches of space, or of time, with homologous forms from other, even greatly differing traditions.  The underlying core then is readily unshelled from its local, historically conditioned provincial inflections, applications, or tendentious secondary interpretations, and a shared psychological, or spiritual, ground is opened, transcending the conditions of space and time, and of history.   TMD 201

In many dreams and in certain psychoses we frequently come across archetypal material, i.e., ideas and associations whose exact equivalents can be found in mythology.  From these parallels I have drawn the conclusion that there is a layer of the unconscious which functions in exactly the same way as the archaic psyche that produced the myths.  TDoP 119

The way to misunderstand mythology is to think that the image is the final term.  And of course this is one of the problems in what we call the monotheistic systems.  God is not transparent – he’s a final term.  And when the deity is a final term and is not transparent to transcendence, then the worshipper is the final term also and is not transparent to transcendence, and what you have then is a religion of a relationship of the individual to the god.  But as soon as you open the god and realize that he’s a personification of a power, then you yourself open as another personification and vehicle of that power.  In such a system, you can have such a saying as comes from the Chāndogya Upanisad: Tat tvam asi (Thou art that).   That is hereby when the god is closed.  G14

The function of myth is to put us in sync – with ourselves, with our social group, and with the environment in which we live.   G18

   One of the most interesting and simple ways to get this message is from the mythologies of the Navaho.  Every single detail of the desert in which they live has been deified, and the land has become a holy land because it is revelatory of mythological entities.  When you recognize the mythological aspect of Mother Nature, you have turned nature itself into an icon, into a holy picture, so that wherever you go, you’re getting the message that the divine power is working for you.  G19


Joseph Campbell