Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Myth and the Mind

 From Aeon:

Today, the term ‘mythology’ connotes uncorroborated legend. But that’s not entirely accurate. Mythology is really a set of beliefs buttressed by practices, or rituals, that together console our desire for explanation. As the Romanian theorist Mircea Eliade wrote in 1957: ‘Myth never quite disappears from the present world of the psyche … it only changes its aspect.’ And in our time its aspect is to be found in psychology.

Mythology remains important in Western culture. Take, for instance, the role model of the hero, of Hercules and Aeneas, of contemporary revolutionaries, martyrs and dictators. These ideal figures exemplify models of human achievement. Similarly, notions of salvation, progress and ethics are so constitutive of our notions of reality that they’re often communicated through the format of mythology. There’s a surfeit of cultural products that fulfill the function of myth whereby characters and stories give us the means to understand the world we live in. In the imaginary world we enter through novels, to the weightless experience of desire that’s consumerism, we inhabit the broad spaces of meaning-construction. Through superhero comic books, to the obscure immanence of modern art, from visions of paradisaical vacations, to computer games and the self-mythologizing of social media production, we seek a higher ground beyond the banal and the profane. We’ve even replaced the effervescent experience of sacred rites, not in blood sacrifice or vision quests, but in our engagement with art, drugs, cinema, rock music and all-night dance parties. Lastly, individuals have developed their own ways to create self-narratives that include mythical transitions in pilgrimages or personal quests to their ancestral lands. Likewise, some seek inner spaces wherein faith and meaning can be transformed into experience.

To prepare for our exploration of contemporary mythology, we can look back at civilisations and consider the function of the stories they told. The story of the flood, for example, recurs in early urban societies, marking a crisis in human-divine relations and man’s experience of gradual self-reliance and separation from nature. Whereas during the Axial Age (800-200 BCE), faith developed in an environment of early trade economies, at which time we observe a concern with individual conscience, morality, compassion and a tendency to look within. According to Karen Armstrong’s A Short History of Myth (2005), these Axial myths of interiority indicate that people felt they no longer shared the same nature as the gods, and that the supreme reality had become impossibly difficult to access. These myths were a response to the loss of previous notions of social order, cosmology and human good, and represented ways to portray these social transformations in macrocosmic stories. Just as we consider how the myth of the flood or myths of interiority were reflections of how people tried to make sense of their rapidly changing world, our dependence on psychology can be understood as a result of shifts in modes of life and knowledge practices in the 19th and 20th centuries. (Read more.)


1 comment:

julygirl said...

Where a myth exists there usually is a kernel of truth.