Saturday, August 26, 2006

Curious about Myth: How Important Are They? Do You Believe and/or Use Them?

Myth, the Definition:
1. A story of great but unknown age which originally embodied a belief regarding some fact or phenomenon of experience, and in which often the forces of nature and of the soul are personified; an ancient legend of a god, a hero, the origin of a race, etc.; a wonder story of prehistoric origin; a popular fable which is, or has been, received as historical.
2. A person or thing existing only in imagination, or whose actual existence is not verifiable.

There's no myth that holds our culture more firmly in its grip than that you are the result of your parents' conditioning-you are the result of their bodies. That so permeates our thinking that we forget that our calling may have a completely different source.” - James Hillman

Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, of which the purpose is too deep, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description.” - David Herbert Lawrence

Being a storyteller, I have a completely different view of myth from many others whom I will quote in this blog. On the one hand I adhere to definition #1 and feel that myth is a wonder story. Whereas, on the other hand, I have discovered that if, as a writer, I am describing an article titled, “The Nine Myths of Physical Fitness,” I am far from story.

Karen Armstrong has written a fascinating article about narrative in the Guardian, in which she writes, “Stories give coherence to the confusion of our experience. In pre-modern society, we called our most serious stories "myths". Because of the rational bias of our modernity, the word ‘myth’ today is regarded as something that is not true. However, originally myth was not concerned with actual occurrence but with an event's deeper meaning. Myth has been well described as an early form of psychology; instead of representing external reality, it laid bare our inner world. It was not attempting to be factual and objective, but to outline a course of action that would help us to deal with our problematic lives.” (you will find the article here).

I became curious about the word and usage of myth while listening to an enlightening, taped conversation between Caroline Myss and Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. They discuss Intuition and the Mystical Life. Estes is an outstanding storyteller and referred often to myth.

Following are some of the interesting quotations I found (I filled three sheets of paper with them, but will hit the highlights):

  • If you're going to be a myth or want to be a myth, you'd better die young.” - Alma Guillermoprie
  • There is nothing truer than myth: history, in its attempt to ‘realize’ myth, distorts it, stops halfway; when history claims to have ‘succeeded,’ this is nothing but humbug and mystification. Everything we dream is ‘realizable.’ Reality does not have to be: it is simply what it is.” - Eugene Ionesco
  • Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response.” - Arthur M. Schlesinger

Then, there are the quotations that mirror the feeling that a myth is not true:

  • Taste is more to do with manners than appearances. Taste is both myth and reality; it is not a style.” - Stephen Bayley
  • The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born - that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That's nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” - Warren G. Bennis
  • The Santa myth is one of the most effective means ever devised for intimidating children, eroding their self-esteem, twisting their behavior, warping their values, and slowing their development of critical thinking skills.” - Tom Flynn
  • I always looked for a man to rescue me and bring me happiness. I bought into that myth, of course, and looked for my own Prince Charming.” - Linda Evans
  • But it's also another myth to think that you should be as tight as a drum and not have any frailties or fragilities.” - William Hurt

We could have a whole, lively discussion about any one of those statements!

And, here are two of my favorites, that will also be great ideas for all of us to consider during this coming week:

  • From one of my favorite writers, Robert Fulghum, “I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death.”
  • From one of my favorite artists, Mark Rothko, “The myth holds us, therefore, not through its romantic flavor, not the remembrance of beauty of some bygone age, not through the possibilities of fantasy, but because it expresses to us something real and existing in ourselves, as it was to those who first stumbled upon the symbols to give them life.”

Have a great week, and do let me hear from you!