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Rediscovering Mythology

There's something missing in our modern society

While I would argue that the canonized versions of the founding fathers in America could be considered a form of mythology, the fact of the matter is we don't have much in the way of collective myths that bind us in America. We have the aforementioned legends of the founding fathers, there's the myth of the American Dream, the myth of the Self-Made Man, the myth of Rags to Riches, the myth of the Greatest Country on Earth, the epic myths of Celebrity - depending on what region you live in or ideology you ascribe to, you may also encounter the great Evangelical Myth or perhaps the Academia Myth.



So we do have myths in America. They're just all boring as shit.

Maybe it's because I grew up with them, but I frankly cannot think of a more boring set of people to learn about than the founding fathers. Once we get to Andrew Jackson and his crazed Zeus-like fuckery, things start to get interesting, but in my opinion a lot of the founding fathers make me glaze over. Washington - the Mythical Leader. Jefferson - the Mythical Intellectual. Hamilton - the Mythical Firebrand.

Yada yada yada. We've recreated mythological archetypes in our historical figures in the way we teach them to our kids. And I couldn't be more bored by them (until a lovely musical comes along whose soundtrack I've listened to three dozen times). Maybe it's because I'm sick of the homogenized version of history we're forced to teach children in school (something that would take up an entire other rant), but historical mythos doesn't really get my blood sparking.

Give me Zeus. Give me Odin. Give me Scheherazade and her thousand tales. Give me rituals of sacrifice and wonder. Give me the fae of Ireland and the trolls of the Norse. Give me the dirty pagan grit that the Catholic Church tried to scrape away. Give me Kami, give me Djinn.

That shit - that shit is a whole lot more fun.

It's kind of odd - I take umbridge with our American mythology because I see it as being too tied to a distorted version of history, but myths and folklore from way back when were considered just as true as those stories. It could merely be distance in time and culture that makes it more fascinating, but I don't think so.

I think what makes the pantheons of the Norse, the rituals of the Maya, the tales of strange creatures from all across the globe so much more fascinating to me than a bunch of self-important, slave-owning capitalists is that there's a sense of wonder, fantasy and symbolism about them. How can you not be at once horrified and utterly enthralled by the trials of Heracles (and oh my GOD is it so much more brutal than the Disney version)?

My interest spiked recently since I began reading Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I'm not done with it yet, but I really love it so far in that it has rekindled my love of mythology and because its got some valuable information for storytellers.

It ain't perfect. We're suspect of any claims to universality in the modern zeitgeist, and Campbell does claim exactly that: there are universal myths and structures that repeat themselves in human societies. I don't entirely agree with his Monomyth theory. Nor do I appreciate his many references to Freudian psychology and dreams. That said, it is still an incredibly valuable bit of writing; just because a work contains outdated ideas does not mean that it should be dismissed entirely.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Egyptian mythology. Obsessed to the point that I got so mad at one of the Pharaohs when he tried to push his new god of Amun to replace Ra (the sun god). I didn't understand the subtle politics of cultural myth-weaving at the time.

I could go on, but a blog post must end in a timely fashion. What I will say is this: my feeling about myths and symbols can't be explained on an entirely intellectual level. Stories and symbols that have endured for thousands of years tickle some place inside my mind that few other things can.

Symbols and stories have power. And they can be changed by time and culture and personal preference in fascinating ways.

Someone Else's Dream

When an Idea Just Won't Come