Thomas's Rant

Story, myth, writings

Why Study Mythology?

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I’d love to teach Mythology. Someone asked me why people should study it. I realised I had no specific answer. Here is my answer (work in progress).

Mythology can be defined in many many different ways – it is regarded as wrong science, just fables, folk stories, attempts to explain the world, high art, a map of the psyche, social structuring schema, life guides, moral examples and much much more. Just about any one of these aspects is highly significant as it is and, I believe, more than justifies the study of myth in itself. Overall, mythologies are significant in that they reflect the unspoken mindset and perspective of the individual, the society and their relations to the world – plainly put, they are the most powerful and clear means of rendering “a sense of perspective”, the various levels of culture and thought and history within which we are positioned in this day and age. Mythologies properly do not so much comment on what the world is, or what things are – this is what our sciences are for – but mythologies reveal how we relate to the world, how we interrelate with each other, with other societies and with the universe. It is a study of the unspoken structures of value, meaning and feeling in society, on our own, at work, at play, in love, art, in action and rest – all life in time.

The “lessons” that mythology, properly studied, makes clear:

–       The difference between when something IS and when it is only AS IF something is. LITERAL thought versus ANALOGY. (Life as a game – the “as if” – not taken too seriously.)

–       Fear and desire (sex and power) are prevalent in life and that they are harmful if taken too seriously. Mythology exists to highlight forces more important for psychological well-being than these fear/desire forces, to develop an awareness of balancing these forces.

–       The mind posits an ELEMENTARY/MYSTIC IDEA and a PERSONAL/HISTORICAL IDEA of everything and that we should be aware of both and not mix up the two.

–       The difference between UNCONSCIOUS, COMPULSIVE, EMOTIONAL BEHAVIOUR/RELEASERS (sex, power, money, material possessions, love) and CONSCIOUS, VOLUNTARY, RATIONAL BEHAVIOUR/THINKING (logic, knowledge, number, goals, options).

–       The difference between the thing said and the WAY of saying it.

–       How an individual relates to society and how this in turn is shaped by history and the universe: specifically how ritual-forms (read: values/beliefs) of societies reflect their history and what is expected of the individual within these societies as a result of this. Examples:

  • the study would contrast different culture styles: nomadic hunter, versus foraging planter, versus agricultural town complex, versus high civilisation – on to globalised future = each social development is reflected in their myths.
  • the realisation that the modern city rests upon these ancient hints and ideas
  • Significantly, what this all means for our values, possibilities, and aspirations as reflected in how our societies choose to operate (what type of city-state we live in)
  • Evolving sex roles, individuality, attitudes regarding death
  • The focus of study is on how fictional stories (read: non-literal creative thinking) reflects society, individual and meaning, and how we unconsciously use such hypothetical myth-systems for our own and society’s ends.

–       The necessary universally unsolvable problems of life are discovered and outlined.

  • We must kill living things in order to live (primitive planters)
  • The important power of the parental elements: mother & father
  • The alluring power of the sexes: sublimating rather than repressing these
  • The stages that life prescribes from infancy, childhood, maturity, adulthood, to old age and death.
  • OVERALL: suggestions of the forces that humankind can change and those it may never have full access to.

–       Meaning is explored and its source found in ineffable numinous experience which is then extrapolated into local forms experienced on a daily basis

–       The difference between thinking in opposites (Aristotelian logic and science) and thinking in unities (compassion, feeling, meaning-systems).

  • the planter: mythological age versus the real one
  • the hunter: the shaman who acts as the interface between these two levels
  • Eastern city-state complex: the ever-turning cycles of time and the all-uniting Goddess
  • Western city-state complex: conquest and separation from the Goddess cycles and the maturing independent individual

–       The difference between God conceived as identity and as relationship..

Note there are 2 more posts in this series:
Why Study Mythology? (2)
Why Study Mythology? (3)


Written by tomtomrant

7 January 2012 at 12:40 pm

Posted in myth, philosophy

Tagged with ,

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