A Myth is a story of the gods, a religious account of the beginning of the world, the creation, fundamental events, or exemplary deeds of the gods. The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the ancient gods as archetypes of human behaviour, and mythology as the personification of subconscious forces at work in the human psyche, mixed with real events. As such it is cultural.
I have always felt empathy with the myth of Persephone, the maiden forced to live for a period in the underworld, separated from her mother, Demeter. See the post on this blog for more information.
Another favourite of mine is Narcissus, because of its relatedness to current recognisable personality types, even within my own family! Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph, but he rejected those who loved him, causing some to die for love of him. Nemesis noticed his arrogance and attracted Narcissus to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell deeply in love with it. Having developed an unrequited love that could never be reciprocated, Narcissus lost his will to live and committed suicide. In some versions of the myth, Narcissus stared into his reflection until he withered away. In all versions, his body disappears and all that is left is a narcissus flower.
Narcissus is the origin of the term narcissism, a fixation with oneself and one’s physical appearance or public perception. With the increasing importance of psychology as a discipline, Narcissism is today recognised as one of the main Personality Disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This is just one example of how ancient myths often relate on a deep level to problems that persist today.
The myth of Pandora’s Box that flew open and allowed to escape all the ills of humankind has also resonated with me. The container mentioned in the original story was actually a large storage jar but the word was later mistranslated as “box.” In modern times an idiom has grown from it meaning “Any source of great and unexpected troubles”, or alternatively “A present which seems valuable but which in reality is a curse.”(Wikipedia). I believe that it fits perfectly with the idea of exploring the unconscious, both personal and collective, in order to grow and to evolve. Naturally there are risks involved, but the rewards are far greater, and should not prevent one from following the path of self knowledge and self development.
Dionysus is the god of the grape-harvest, winemaking and wine, of fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstasy and theatre in ancient Greek religion and myth. Wine played an important role in Greek culture, and the cult of Dionysus was the main religious focus for its unrestrained consumption. Dionysus relates to epiphany, hence self development. He was a foreigner and an outsider god, whose festivals were the driving force of Greek theatre. Literature describes him as man-womanish, which has an echo in the current recognition of blending of gender roles and the embracing of rights for LGBTQI communities. His procession consisted of wild female maenads and bearded satyrs with erect penises dancing or playing music. This is reminiscent of international Gay Rights marches and the famous Sydney Gay and Lesbian Festival which is held annually to much fanfare.
Dionysus is the protector of those who do not belong to conventional society and he thus symbolizes the chaotic, dangerous and unexpected, everything which escapes human reason and which can only be attributed to the unforeseeable action of the gods. Once again, this god is very much alive today, in the evidence of societal addictions, such as alcoholism, tobacco and hard drugs.
Apollo (See post on this blog on Delphic Mysteries). When paired with Dionysus, Apollo comes across as his polar opposite. As the patron of Delphi (Pythian Apollo), Apollo was an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic oracle. Apollo is the giver and interpreter of laws. He presides over the divine law and custom along with Zeus, Demeter and Themis. He is the patron defender of herds and flocks. He is also connected with the fertility of cattle. Apollo looked after the cattle of the sun-god Helios while Helios was driving the sun through the sky. While Apollo was chasing Daphne, the mischievous baby god stole the cattle and confused Apollo by making the cattle walk backwards as they left their pen. When Apollo went looking for them, it looked like they had walked into the ranch instead of out. (Wikipedia).
Other interesting deities and royals that may warrant attention in future posts include: Aphrodite, Artemis, Athena, Theseus, Ariadne, Oedipus, Orpheus, and Icarus.
As Carl Jung stated in the prologue to his autobiographical work, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, we are mythical beings. Your personal mythology is the story of your life seen looking backward. We only realize this in past tense. We view and analyze our lives through the process of storytelling and thus become mythical beings.
Thus it is that I have now undertaken, in my eighty-third year, to tell my personal myth. I can only make direct statements, only “tell stories.” Whether or not the stories are “true” is not the problem. The only question is whether what I tell is my fable, my truth. (Jung)
“The need for mythic statements is satisfied when we frame a view of the world which adequately explains the meaning of human existence in the cosmos, a view which springs from our psychic wholeness, from the co-operation between conscious and unconscious. Meaninglessness inhibits fullness of life and is therefore equivalent to illness. Meaning makes a great many things endurable—perhaps everything. No science will ever replace myth, and a myth cannot be made out of any science. For it is not that “God” is a myth, but that myth is the revelation of a divine presence.”(Carl Jung: Memories, Dreams, Reflections).
What is your favourite myth? Are you myth-making by writing your own memoir, perhaps?