Common Use of the Word, "Myth"

Joseph Campbell believed that "...each of us has an individual myth that's driving us, which we may or may not know." This forum is for assistance and inspiration in the quest to find your own personal mythology.

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Common Use of the Word, "Myth"

Post by CarmelaBear » Fri May 27, 2016 10:04 am

I was reading an article recently that used the word "myth" in the way we encounter it most frequently. It usually refers to a misconception, an old wives' tale, and so many other things that border on the ultimate error or con job. In common usage, a myth represents a widely held, but mistaken, belief and understanding that goes unquestioned, often for long periods of time.

In a sense, mythology itself is something of a myth, in that sense of being misunderstood and taken for something it is not. Not all of religion is based on art and stories and metaphor or symbolism. Much of it is instruction on how to live one's own life and how to make the lives of others more livable. Teachers and preachers and political organizers (like the Buddha, Jesus and Gandhi) used artful means to help individuals manage the difficulties and complexities of life. The pedagogical function of myth is a primary one.

The article I was reading was about the need for educators to stop relegating their students to the devastating judgment that is "average". Myth has a focus on God and on the self. Gods are anything but average, and the self is rarely regarded as anything but average.

Here is the article:

https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/15/ ... nd-average

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Post by JamesN. » Fri May 27, 2016 6:48 pm


Indeed Carmela; as you point out the word myth for many folks has come to mean a sort of old fairytale or ancient story that isn't true. And because there are certain religions that promote myth as a historical fact here I think is where the disconnection with reality begins. There is a great example of this conflict of ideas where Joseph is trying to establish the understanding that (myths are metaphors) with a radio talk show host who insists that myth is a lie; and then finally realizes that this fellow does not know what a metaphor is and corrects him. One of things he also adds is the realization that one has to include the concept of a whole mythology that goes along with the story so that it's message is delivered through experience and not just the storyline of the narrative.

The article you offered although interesting seemed to go at this from another viewpoint than what I get from Joseph's idea of the "Mono-Myth or Hero's Journey". Yes; I seemed to recall Joseph saying he never met an "average" individual. (I liked your description much better.)

Here is one definition that Joseph used that I think gets to the heart of matter of this often misinterpreted or misunderstood concept.


"A mythological order is a system of images that gives consciousness a sense of meaning in existence, which, my dear friend, has no meaning––it simply is. But the mind goes asking for meanings; it can't play unless it knows (or makes up) the rules.

"Mythologies present games to play: how to make believe you're doing thus and so. Ultimately, through the game, you experience that positive thing which is the experience of being-in-being, of living meaningfully. That's the first function of a mythology, to evoke in the individual a sense of grateful affirmative awe before the monstrous mystery that is existence."

Joseph Campbell, Pathways to Bliss, p. 6
(I also came across a clip in which Joseph describes this realization in yet another way.)


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvrZTSBDac8
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Post by Roncooper » Sat May 28, 2016 1:18 am

I see the old myths from a scientific perspective. Old myths were the best images for their time. The Bible teaches use how to be civilized and also provides the path of the heart, only using images that no longer work. I don't write the whole thing off. It was an early attempt.

I compare the bible to Aristotle's physics which was in vogue until Newton showed a better way.

In science we make a myth and then improve on it. The big bang theory has serious flaws that are probably wrong,but we won't throw it away, we will correct it.

Somehow we must do the same with our myths of the great mystery. The way I see it, the rules of the Old Testament are presented as God's will and therefore must be taken as eternal. This is the real problem. If we could accept that these rules are our interpretation of God's will then we could update them, and improve them like we do in science.

But I really don't have much hope. The will doesn't think. It just follows the code and the code must be divinely inspired.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Sat May 28, 2016 8:29 am

JamesN. wrote: Indeed Carmela; as you point out the word myth for many folks has come to mean a sort of old fairytale or ancient story that isn't true. And because there are certain religions that promote myth as a historical fact here I think is where the disconnection with reality begins. There is a great example of this conflict of ideas where Joseph is trying to establish the understanding that (myths are metaphors) with a radio talk show host who insists that myth is a lie; and then finally realizes that this fellow does not know what a metaphor is and corrects him. One of things he also adds is the realization that one has to include the concept of a whole mythology that goes along with the story so that it's message is delivered through experience and not just the storyline of the narrative.
Nature can be authentic until it is altered by something we choose to call "design", but which loops back to nature so that design ultimately represents that part of nature that is no longer following the original pattern. After the Big Bang, it was the disorder in the process that led to what we now see through telescopes. If order had been maintained, there would be no galaxies or planets or people or mythology.

Creation is a form of natural rebellion against the established order.

In mythology, nature's metaphor is the feminine earth. It is a given. Creation is masculine and active. Eternal life is masculine and transcendent. Birth and death are feminine and immanent. Metaphor is masculine. Authenticity is feminine. The story has been consistent precisely because a common experience is the basis for it. The artistic, designed metaphors are born from the shared interconnection of homo sapiens, and there is a built-in, mathematically coded tension between stasis and movement.

Look at the symbols we have seen elevated in national American politics. They are walking, talking metaphors for the emergent forces in nature. They reflect what the planet's inhabitants have both passively received and actively created. Hillary is a metaphor for the feminine power, the nature of political manipulation at its most transparent. Bernie is a metaphor for the creative masculine, attempting to influence the course of events without becoming what he finds most objectionable about his formidable opponent. The Donald is a metaphor for the wild card, the rough-hewn and vulgar version of the third wheel, who is poised to take advantage of the tension between the other two.

The third wheel is a metaphor for the undefined and unknown. Donald represents the mystery, and his style of leadership is outside the most prominent metaphors. The feminine against the masculine symbolize the tension between what we experience in nature and the meaning we assign to that experience. The outsider is challenging the accepted interpretation of both experience and meaning by exposing yet another frame of reference that is raw and unfiltered. The limits of dominant, dualistic metaphors seem more obvious when confronted by an urgent outside force.


Joseph Campbell saw politics as corrupt and beneath his religious devotion to a philosophy of myth. He saw myth as significant and inspiring and more real than reality itself. Political people see Campbell as an ivory tower academic with esoteric insights that are sometimes helpful to the individual, but almost entirely irrelevant within the context of the messy, sprawling tug-of-war that actually determines the course of human history.

Campbell is fatalistic about the human experience, and for him, the ultimate response is to be awestruck. Myth is powerful, but political people concentrate on the power of power itself.

As symbols, presidential candidates can be stand-ins for meaningful things that help us understand the chaos of human experience. As an individual of our collective imaginations, God is a stand-in for the meaningful things that help us understand the apparent order that seems to be inherent in that same, otherwise confusing, human experience. If God did not exist in our imaginations, we would have to invent her through mathematics and reason.

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**Or maybe I'm wrong. I don't know if I know, but I might know a little bit.**

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Post by CarmelaBear » Sat May 28, 2016 9:16 am

Roncooper wrote:I see the old myths from a scientific perspective. Old myths were the best images for their time. The Bible teaches use how to be civilized and also provides the path of the heart, only using images that no longer work. I don't write the whole thing off. It was an early attempt.

I compare the bible to Aristotle's physics which was in vogue until Newton showed a better way.

In science we make a myth and then improve on it. The big bang theory has serious flaws that are probably wrong,but we won't throw it away, we will correct it.

Somehow we must do the same with our myths of the great mystery. The way I see it, the rules of the Old Testament are presented as God's will and therefore must be taken as eternal. This is the real problem. If we could accept that these rules are our interpretation of God's will then we could update them, and improve them like we do in science.

But I really don't have much hope. The will doesn't think. It just follows the code and the code must be divinely inspired.
2 + 2 is accessible to me. I get 2 + 2 = 4. However, I have to take E = MC2 on faith, and I do not feel it necessary to second guess the scientists who claim that this formula works.

The nature of energy may be a mystery. No science can tell us what it is. They can only describe what they observe.

This is the essence of mythology. As communication, the scientific text is made of things that resemble the bible. It is a new version of a new kind of biblical text. I do not doubt what science tells me. The earth is billions of years old and humans evolved from one-celled organisms. That's like 2 + 2.

The energy math is different. The numbers and measurements are like the brain. They are the 2 + 2 observable part. The energy idea as a more abstract concept seems an awful lot like the ideas of mind and soul and a monotheistic god with transcendent superpowers. Energy as an idea goes zipping past the math and enters the vast realm of intuition.

Scientists are not science. They are a small minority of specialist observers with a collective psychology that is not shared universally by the entire species. Sometimes scientists are unable to see the forest for the trees, just like the early church could not see the importance of women or gnostics. They represent an established authority, and as such, they tend to set very concrete limits for their work. They tend to stand on a kind of scientific sphere of reality, resisting the possibility that their own observations do not represent the only or the best observations possible. They resist thinking and being anywhere outside a scientific box. When they are proved wrong, they adjust to new information, but the emphasis is on "proof", and some observations may not appear credible enough to be taken seriously. When proof may exist outside the box, it can be ignored, marginalized and sometimes censured or vilified.

Truth exists outside the bible. In certain ways, science as a statement of what is real has a function that is similar to that of the bible. Scientific theories and laws exist outside the parameters of what is actually real or true. When the scientific statement or the bible of accepted science stands the test of time, it has power. When it turns out to be incorrect, we look back and call it "myth" or error. It can only be judged, confirmed, altered or discarded by repeated observation. The observations themselves may not be exclusive or specialized, but the carefully crafted methodology underlying the authority of science remains a key element in our attempt to arrive at reasonable conclusions about what is real and true.

Science is a new kind of mythology. It is not as dogmatic as the church. It is tentative and subject to forces beyond human control. Science does not literally burn heretics at the stake, but it can be manipulated by politics and commerce to effectively block the exploration of ideas that do not enjoy the imprimatur of the people who dominate the established and institutionalized and funded field of scientific endeavor. Outsiders are routinely ostracized and destroyed without mercy.

2000 years ago, writing was new and the bible tells us that in the beginning there was the word.

Now, rocket science math has created WMD that have altered the collective consciousness. Math has taken us to the moon and brought us home safely. The words of FDR and JFK set goals, and it was the work of exclusive, specialized groups of men who realized those goals. The facts will never diminish the power of math as a truth and a metaphor for greater truth.

Words are literary. Math is scientific. They are both the essence of art, creativity and imagination. They are separated by a common language.

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Post by romansh » Sat May 28, 2016 3:26 pm

Personally I try and read words in the context they are written.

Though I do baulk at some supposed misuses like alternate and momentarily. But then language changes. I should get over it.

I think we will find many words have contradictory meanings and that we might have attachments to particular aspects.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Sat May 28, 2016 6:19 pm

Hi Rom. The idea of a myth in the context of mythology refers to something valued and important. The common usage just points in the direction of fluttery flim flam flakey stuff. I don't know any fan of Campbell's who is unable or unwilling to distinguish the two.

My point here is simply to say that the two ways we use the term are related. There is an intersection where the art meets artifice and an otherwise holy faith can be misguided or misused.

Here's an example. The largest and oldest religious organization in the world is the Roman Catholic Church. The principles of the church, which are similar to the liberal ideas of Unitarian Universalism, are widely accepted and give the church much of its credibility.

However, the ancient dogma of the church fathers that dates back to the warrior emperors of Rome and the misogynistic male spin doctors who wrote the favored gospels of the New Testament....that ancient dogma is another story altogether. The sacred creed is such balderdash that the bishops and cardinals secretly discount and dismiss it, while pretending to accept it in order to maintain their positions within the organization. It is the humble parish priest who may actually believe in the literal body and blood sacrifice of the Catholic Mass, while the powerful and prestigious hierarchy remains remarkably cynical. That dogma-mythology business is like the tobacco industry CEO's claiming before Congress and the world that smoking is healthy.

The mythology of peace and charitable good works on behalf of the neglected is a widely accepted and sacred mythology with countless stories of great deeds by heroes we can all emulate, but the mythology of a superior gender is a con job by one of the most powerfully exclusive patriarchies on the planet. Those born to the Catholic faith grow so dependent on the power of Catholic gender myth that they cannot imagine being disloyal, even when belief in an old creed becomes irrelevant or oppressive.

The difference between truly sacred and just entrenched is sometimes a thin line. On one side is the profanity of vainglorious ritual and on the other side is the elevation of a narrative that captures minds and hearts. One is a profoundly spiritual mythology writ large and the other is just another little mythical folk tale serving an unworthy set of masters.

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Post by Roncooper » Sat May 28, 2016 8:07 pm

Carmela wrote:

The mythology of peace and charitable good works on behalf of the neglected is a widely accepted and sacred mythology with countless stories of great deeds by heroes we can all emulate, but the mythology of a superior gender is a con job by one of the most powerfully exclusive patriarchies on the planet. Those born to the Catholic faith grow so dependent on the power of Catholic gender myth that they cannot imagine being disloyal, even when belief in an old creed becomes irrelevant or oppressive.
This is why I think Jung's functions should explain differences rather than the sexes. We can say that a person is sensual, or emotional, or willful, intellectual, or intuitive, rather than they are masculine or feminine. A man can be emotional and a woman can be an intellectual.

The next step is to equate the value of all the functions. Clearly a loving, caring emotional individual is as important as a strong willed individual, but our society favors the strong willed.

Anyway, that was a dream I had.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Sun May 29, 2016 4:36 am

Roncooper wrote:Carmela wrote:

The mythology of peace and charitable good works on behalf of the neglected is a widely accepted and sacred mythology with countless stories of great deeds by heroes we can all emulate, but the mythology of a superior gender is a con job by one of the most powerfully exclusive patriarchies on the planet. Those born to the Catholic faith grow so dependent on the power of Catholic gender myth that they cannot imagine being disloyal, even when belief in an old creed becomes irrelevant or oppressive.
This is why I think Jung's functions should explain differences rather than the sexes. We can say that a person is sensual, or emotional, or willful, intellectual, or intuitive, rather than they are masculine or feminine. A man can be emotional and a woman can be an intellectual.

The next step is to equate the value of all the functions. Clearly a loving, caring emotional individual is as important as a strong willed individual, but our society favors the strong willed.

Anyway, that was a dream I had.
Society would appear to be moving in the direction of your dream. You're not alone.

At some time or another, most people probably experience both the yin and the yang. In the end, where we end up may be dependent on the social context of the individual. Most of us manage to find a middle ground compromise that allows for the expression of opposites.

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Post by romansh » Mon May 30, 2016 3:29 am

CarmelaBear wrote:Hi Rom. The idea of a myth in the context of mythology refers to something valued and important. The common usage just points in the direction of fluttery flim flam flakey stuff. I don't know any fan of Campbell's who is unable or unwilling to distinguish the two.
I am not sure we are disagreeing here Carmella.

Just because you, I and comparative mythologians (to coin a new word) can use the word myth in at least two senses is OK.

Not everyone has to have this skill set.

The question for me becomes is taking any myth literally flim flam etc. And who has the authorized version of the metaphorical translation? Also should a whole bunch of well qualified comparative mythologists agree on a standard metaphorical interpretation of a myth, should I accept it as mine if I think it does not fit me?
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Post by CarmelaBear » Tue May 31, 2016 4:22 pm

romansh wrote: The question for me becomes is taking any myth literally flim flam etc. And who has the authorized version of the metaphorical translation? Also should a whole bunch of well qualified comparative mythologists agree on a standard metaphorical interpretation of a myth, should I accept it as mine if I think it does not fit me?
Deciding to accept a story as a literal truth means one takes it to be history or science or some other kind of observation. Then, the person who regards it in that way does not think it is "myth" at all. The faithful who believe that God literally created everything about 6,000 years ago do not regard the Bible as mythology. Also, I think the mathematical formula that describes energy is both a literal description about the nature of energy and a also a metaphor for a view of the universe that sets boundaries to which we assign numbers. For me, it is both literal and a metaphor. The mythology of science is the story we can tell when we look at a truth in a way that makes it "transparent to the transcendent".

Example: In Star Wars, we can understand "The Force", as something true in an artistic or philosophical or spiritual sense. I can't watch the movie, Star Wars, without weaving spiritual truth into the ideas and the characters and the plot. It uses science and technology to create a classic hero's journey. For me, it's fiction, but not a lie. By contrast, the biblical short-time creation story seems like flim flam to me, though the proponents may not be aware of it or care what anyone thinks about the accuracy of their belief.

As for interpreting art, I think that no self-respecting mythologist would impose a singular interpretation on other people. Metaphors are fluid like the ancient cave drawings of human beings with the heads of animals. They can be people with animal characteristics. They might be animals with the capacities of humans. They might be gods. They may be memories of dreams. We don't know, but we can be forgiven for believing that the artists who made paintings in the caves of France and Spain were probably capable of distinguishing animals from humans in a literal sense. The combining of human and animal anatomy has an artistic significance that screams "metaphor", even if it represents a memory of something that appeared in a trance or in sleep or by way of hallucination. It was meaningful to the artist and to us as if it had been rendered only yesterday.

The Egyptians gave their drawings of Horus the head of a hawk. I doubt that they believed there was a literal human with the head of a hawk, walking around in leather sandals. I believe their tombs and temples are decorated with spiritual insights in the form of art, not at all unlike the cave artists or Picasso or the Greeks and Romans. These insights are profound, and the art is far enough away from a literal depiction to cause the viewer to ponder the reality being described.

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Post by Roncooper » Tue May 31, 2016 5:38 pm

I don't think we have changed much. The most universally recognized character for the human race is a humanized mouse, Mickey Mouse.

This may sound trivial, but humanizing animals has probably had a big impact on the modern human psyche.
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Post by romansh » Wed Jun 01, 2016 2:32 am

Carmella
The Force is true in an artistic or spiritual way?

There are many interpretation of a myth; are all true?

I must admit I am not a proponent of postmodernism or relativism.
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Post by Andreas » Wed Jun 01, 2016 6:44 am

They are all true if you interpret them metaphorically. Literally not so true. It makes me wonder sometimes how much of the stuff science "discovers" touch the metaphysical realm and how much is actually factual.
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Post by CarmelaBear » Thu Jun 02, 2016 12:31 pm

romansh wrote:Carmella
The Force is true in an artistic or spiritual way?

There are many interpretation of a myth; are all true?

I must admit I am not a proponent of postmodernism or relativism.
Truth and fact are not the same. Interpretation is not a final statement of accepted fact. For the person who puts best foot forward, his or her own interpretation is like a stroke of a pen. If it becomes truly epic, there is a reason. If it does not, its truth can be lost.

Words can obscure meaning. Example: There have been local floods of biblical proportion, but the earth has never been covered by water, and anyone called Noah did not take all the animal species on an ark. There are a number of documentaries about concerted efforts to locate actual facts that correspond with legends and myths, and they tend to show that oral traditions and early histories contain enough factual basis to suggest that people are describing experiences and interpretations as accurately as they know how. There may have been a huge flood, a person named Noah, and a boat full of family and animals that was important within an ancient context, but global and religious aspects of the story are subject to interpretation that place it in a box from which it will only escape through the work of the imagination.

That both literature and science can be seen through multiple lenses does not set rules about what lens is chosen. Rigorous scientific inquiry has strict limits that help to ensure the usefulness of data. To apply any postmodern or relativist yardstick within such boundaries risks tainting the credibility of evidence and conclusions.

I wrote an autobiography from memory, and it is neither fiction nor history. It is simply one person's best effort at that time. I believe that much of the best scholarly work is like my book. It contains all the marks of human limitation.

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