UNDERSTANDING AND USING MYTHS

By Dr. Joseph Lancaster

“Myths are false! Why would I want to understand or use a myth?” Haven’t you ever heard or thought something like this? The key is for us to “understand” what a myth is before we can see its value. Myths are stories of revelation, like a dream, vision, or ritual. During ancient times, many Far East and Western cultures used them for the purpose of insight, healing, and even entertainment. Today, we rarely glimpse these phenomena unless we read a book or see a movie like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or even Harry Potter. This important talk will clarify what myths are and how they can inspire psycho-spiritual healing, self-knowledge about our truest nature.

In the book called Thou Art That, mythologist, Joseph Campbell, made it clear that myths are not lies. He said, “A whole mythology is an organization of symbolic images and narratives, metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience.” For example, a myth is like Dante Alighieri’s Italian poem, from the Middle Ages, called Divine Comedy. In it, Virgil, the guiding mythological image, helps Dante, the soul image, to take a spiritual journey where he first experiences, in Italian, the inferno, meaning Hell, and then purgatorio, meaning refinement, to have the possibility of attaining paradiso, meaning paradise. If we self-reflect upon this journey, psycho-spiritually, we can first see that our souls, thinking and feeling, are suffering. Metaphorically, this experience is like the inferno. By mythological inspiration, our souls can lift upward as we heal by conscious purification, understanding of ourselves by symbolic images, and thereby refinement. Eventually, our souls can reach the highest point of our psycho-spiritual transformation where our lives have some paradise in it. Thank God!

We can already see that we are living out this Dante myth, the first part (e.g., Hell) and hopefully the second (e.g., refinement). So, we need to focus on mythologies, like this one, to allow a healing possibility towards becoming one with our highest potential. This same truth is also seen in the ancient Gnostics, those Christian mystics, which had the myth of Sophia. Sophia is an image, representing the soul, which became too fixated on an illusion in this world. She rushed downward toward it and found herself to be lost in misery. In this lower state, dark forces continually stole her light. But she remembered her true nature. She called out to it—the Source—for saving grace, and it had mercy. Christ, the spiritual image, saved her. She was lifted above the chaos, as she sang praises of thanks and was placed back into her heavenly realm. Like Dante, Sophia’s myth shows a similar theme of healing the soul from this dark world we live in. Is this important to us? Yes! Myths provide us with hopeful insight and experience.

Now, within ourselves, let’s see these mythological truths from the East. There’s a story, from Carl Jung, the famous psychologist, in the book called Jung on Active Imagination, about a China man who, undoubtedly, achieved his highest potential from mythic practices. However, he served others with wisdom so that they may also attain an ultimate balance within. He gracefully does this by connecting his inner experience towards the healing of the outer world. In a similar way, there are two things I encourage you to do, try to see if you can find similar themes in this story, like Dante and Sophia. And how does this story, like the others, expand your self-awareness with meaning and purpose? Shall we begin? 

There was a drought in a village in China. They sent for a rainmaker who was known to live in the farthest corner of the country, far away. Of course that would be so, because we never trust a prophet who lives in our region; he has to come from far away. So he arrived, and he found the village in a miserable state. The cattle were dying, the vegetation was dying, the people were affected. The people crowded around him and were very curious what he would do. He said, ‘Well, just give me a little hut and leave me alone for a few days.’ So he went into this little hut and the people were wondering and wondering, the first day [nothing], the second day [nothing]. One the third day it started pouring rain and he came out. They asked him, ‘What did you do?’ ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that is very simple. I didn’t do anything.’ ‘But look,’ they said, ‘now it rains. What happened?’ And he explained, ‘I come from an area that is in Tao … balance. We have rain, we have sunshine. Nothing is out of order. I come into your area and find that it is chaotic. The rhythm of life is disturbed, so when I come into it I, too, am disturbed. The whole thing affects me and I am immediately out of order. So what can I do? I want a little hut to be by myself, to meditate, to set myself straight. And then, when I am able to get myself in order, everything around [me] is set right. We are now in Tao, and since the rain was missing, now it rains.’   

This talk was about what myths are and how they can inspire us to have a deeper self-knowledge—that we did not have before! So, when it comes to myths helping us, ask yourself, how else will the world change for the better unless you use the stories for deeper inner wisdom? I cannot answer for you, but I do know that your attentiveness, here, has been a major step in that healing direction of self-discovery; wisdom!

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