Friday, October 12, 2012

Mythology Psychology

Not only are myths the oral histories of long standing religious traditions, they are some pretty deep psychological analysis of the human psyche. Several writers, not the least of which were Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung, talk about myths from every culture as being the story of humanity's journey through birth, all stages of life, and finally into death. One writer, Jean Shindoa Bolen, wrote a book equating the stages of a woman's life with the greek goddesses - showing up the deep seated nature of humans in the aspects of the goddesses. (interesting reading, too) - most artist/writer/musician/etc types? We're Persephone, in case you wondered - taken by our art down into the underworld where we aren't released into the light of the world until that creative idea has had its way with us and we've produced something - and you wondered why we're so odd.

It doesn't really matter which pantheon of gods you look to - the myths change flavor, but the underlying explanations of the world, the divine and the human psyche are all there. The external window dressing gives you specific insight into regional ways of life, which are fascinating in and of themselves, but the great thing, I think, about myth is that it's so flexible. You can cross cultures, you can repackage, you can retell in modern terms, but the seed of the numinous - the mysterious aspect of the myth remains intact. And even if someone doesn't sit up and yelp, "Hey! This is the Dionysion myth cycle of reaping the harvest!" there's a good chance they'll still shudder in horror when your maidens, flush with power, rip some poor, hapless guy to shreds in your story (not that he didn't have it coming for spying on them, you know).

The characters in mythology - any mythology - are really no longer characters - they've become archetypes (or maybe they always were) they tap into an unconscious recognition within us. This usually crosses culture. I might not be able to say "Artemis" to someone and get instant recognition, but I can say "the huntress, beautiful, nubile, chaste - more interested in counting up wins in races and hunting trophies than in dallying with members of the opposite sex - I'd likely get nods of recognition and that culture's name for their corresponding goddess.

Enough soapboxing. Do I use this stuff in my stories? Not consciously, usually, but since Western culture is steeped in mythology, it creeps in there all on it's own. If I do decide to use a mythological cycle of some kind in a story, I'm likely to mix my pantheons a bit to fit my own particular story. I think finally, the thing I love about mythology is that it's an ongoing process - humans are always creating new myths. Look at the body of stories that grew up around the nuclear bombs. Zombies are well on their way to escaping social commentary and becoming myths. And this morning, since a ginourmous meteor is hurtling past earth INSIDE the orbit of the moon - - we may yet have all kinds of opportunity to come up with new myths.

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