“It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestations.” ~ Joseph Campbell
At our most basic nature, we are social creatures who love to tell stories. Myths are stories that may or may not be true, designed to be taken into deep consideration rather than believed.
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Myths are the path to human understanding, and myth-making is the path to self-expansion and human expansion. Myths help us understand reality. They are the dreams of the universe.
Myth goes beyond science and religion, striking the flint-stone of the magical experience at the heart of all things. In a mysterious cosmos, myth is the attempt to explain the unexplainable through the mystical, leaving us with a sense of astonishment that keeps us engaged and desiring to know more.
Joseph Campbell described mythology as having four basic functions: The mystical, the cosmological, the sociological, and the pedagogical. Let’s break them down.
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The Mystical Function
“As the island of Knowledge grows, so do the shores of our ignorance –the boundary between the known and the unknown. Learning more about the world doesn’t lead to a point closer to a final destination but to more questions and mysteries.” ~ Marcelo Gleiser
Pedagogical myths help to shape individuals to the aims and ideals of a particular social group or tribe, guiding them from birth to death through the course of a human life. These are myths that show by good and/or bad example how to live a human life.
They provide patterns of thought that bring meaning to life. Such powerful guidance stories as the Jewish Ten Commandments, Buddha’s Eight-fold Noble Path, Lord Krishna’s Bhagavad Gita, and Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, for example.
These are vital stories that help us look for the truth within ourselves through the guidance of people from the past (real or not, it doesn’t matter) who have gone through similar trials and tribulations. Such myths as the teachings of Muhammad, the wisdom of the Buddha, the Parables of Christ, and powerful shamanic myths like the teachings of Don Juan. Even trickster myths hold deep wisdom for how to live a sensible and meaningful life in the face of absurdity and meaninglessness.
At the end of the day, the most powerful function of myth is the self-created kind. When we can absorb the teachings of the mythologies that came before us, and then have the courage and audacity to add in our own imaginative soul-signature wisdom, the universe is compelled into revealing itself even further.
We ride the wave of the human leitmotif like daring soul-surfers, Jesus in our Solar Plexus, Buddha in our heart, Lao Tzu in our throat, Vishnu in our third eye, and self-inflicted mythology existentially crowning out between what it means to be a human being within an infinitely magnanimous cosmos.