MythBlast | The Uses of Myth: Disengage Your Arrows
As an opening salvo for this month’s conversation, I’d like to share an idea from Campbell’s prologue to Primitive Mythology, the first title in his series, The Masks of God. In this articulation of mythology’s abiding role in the human– and as he suggests a few paragraphs later, even beyond human – experience and life, what intrigues me most is that he quantifies the study of this role as a science. This prologue is entitled, “The Lineaments of a New Science.”
While I think that perceiving the study of myth as a scientific one versus other disciplines is an opening point for a grand argument (lots of grand arguments, actually), what it has opened for me, and I’m hoping that it might open for you, is the broader idea of one of mythology’s uses as an invitation to think.
Often, I find, we can use mythology to shore up our own assumptions about ourselves, our values, and our cultures. It is one of the dangers of embracing what we define as archetypal or mythic too literally and closely, so it justifies beliefs rather than opening them. I think one of myth’s highest and best uses, to borrow a phrase from the prosaic world of real estate development, is to understand that its deepest beauty isn’t in building the metaphorical high rise, but instead allowing the ground to lay somewhat fallow, in terms of our own certainty, and instead use it as an invitation to invite us to the uncertainties it offers, so we can think, and think hard.
Leigh Melander, Ph.D.
Leigh has an eclectic background in the arts and organizational development, working with inviduals and organizations in the US and internationally for over 20 years. She has a doctorate in cultural mythology and psychology and wrote her dissertation on frivolity as an entry into the world of imagination. Her writings on mythology and imagination can be seen in a variety of publications, and she has appeared on the History Channel, as a mythology expert. She also hosts a radio who on an NPR community affiliate: Myth America, an exploration into how myth shapes our sense of identity. Leigh and her husband opened Spillian, an historic lodge and retreat center celebrating imagination in the Catskills, and works with clients on creative projects. She is honored to serve as the Vice President of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Board of Directors.
Hello! We at JCF are delighted to present MythBlasts, weekly quick taste of mythology – topical, intriguing, evocative – from scholars in the JCF community. And each week, you are invited further into myth and into the work and world of Joseph Campbell with a link at the bottom to a particular publication we think will illuminate the ideas worked in this week’s MythBlast further. If you’d like to subscribe to get weekly MythBlasts in your inbox, just fill out the contact form on the left side of the page. Thank you!
We are excited to share a little blast of myth with you.
Leigh Melander, Ph.D.
MythBlast Series Editor
Vice President, Board of Directors
Joseph Campbell Foundation