Power of Myth (book review)
Our dreams are private myths and our myths are public dreams. Each represents the gods within us, the energies that writhe in conflict and come together in harmony. Our stories, told in different cultures and times, are born in us and change as we change. They show us our paradoxical natures. They guide us as we cross deep into the dark forest to find light. Sometimes the public myths will match our private ones. We will have teachers for our internal journeys who can interpret with similar metaphors. Sometimes, wading through the mysteries of life, confronting what is deep and sacred, can only be handled alone. We are enraptured in mystery, in awe of the unknown. We seek what underlies all forms and emptiness, what is transcendent of symbols, but we act in dualities of I and thou, black and white, good and bad. To claim the absolute truth is not to have found it. To know is not to know. To not know is to know. Myths change from environments to individuals, from individuals to groups. The gods of the rainforests are different than the god of the mountain top. The divine in nature is different from that of the church. Even the nomadic tribes who hunt, who rely on movement and intimate bands, perceive other realities than the settled farmer. Myths endure from an evolution of ideas, from how well they touch the archetypes of humanity, or they will die. Their ideas must adapt to the context of what moment they’re in, whether in relation to culture, environment, war, agricultural practices, and so on. If they do not bend, they will break from archaism. In myth, often there is a hero. A hero must leave their home, venturing into the unknown. To leave their safe life or to be thrust into danger is to begin their quest, whether physical or spiritual. The only way to return is to go through. What distinguishes the hero from others is the hero’s ability to sacrifice themselves for an ideal, for another person or group, or for the purpose of the quest. The idea that a hero defends might not be true or right, but to let go of selfishness, to risk the dangers of what lay ahead, is truly courageous. The hero must slay the dragon. In every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood to old age, there will be the dragon of greed, inhibition, stagnation, and resistance. One must look within themselves to find their own way. Mythology can act as an interpretive system for deciding what is the way, what are the right practices for a higher purpose. It can provide elaborate rituals that represent the crucial stages of life. From learning to love to embracing death, mythology weaves in stories that point to inner truths, showing what swords will slay what dragons. When the hero crosses the threshold of their experience, they transform. They return to where they started. Only now, they’re higher in consciousness, changed. The Bodhisattva is enlightened but still chooses to remain in the world, helping others. The shaman swims in the symbolic ocean and guides others with wise words and penetrating rituals. At the deepest level of consciousness, the hero is love. Interconnected. There is an enduring compassion for all living creatures, reverence for nature. The hero has experienced oneness with all. They have shed themselves of their old skin to be reborn again. This cycle of death and rebirth will continue in different forms throughout their lives. The troubadours believed that love was the highest meaning of life. They’d undergo pain only for the chance of finding themselves in another. The Bodhisattva will joyfully participate in the sorrows of the world. While one myth celebrates the divine through the masculine, another will honor the feminine more. Some stories will contradict each other logically but suggest the same messages. Beyond the dualities of life and death, there’s oneness, mystery. With myth, the map is not the territory. For a quest, however, a map can be useful. One can navigate through its landmarks and dead ends and discover their own bliss along the way.