The Power of Myth

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The Power of Myth

In the texts that we have recently read, we have seen the importance of myth in giving meaning and understanding to life. In the Beginnings of the Western Mind we read about the importance of myth in the consciousness of the oral societies of pre-classical Greece; in Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs we read about the myth of the "West" in the U.S. and its influence on the thought of many Americans; In Things Fall Apart we see the power if myth and the consequences of the break down of those myths and stories upon which a culture is structured on. I wish to discuss the importance of telling myths and stories in influencing the quality of our culture. Often, Americans look back on older cultures and try to understand them in terms of their myths and stories but, I fear, we do not question our own myths and stories.

Perhaps the problem is not that we don't question our myths, but that we are not aware that we have myths and stories. If we don't recognize that as part of human nature that we are going to have myths and stories to explain who we are, we can not fully understand who we are. Traditionally, myths have been our stories about "gods." Gods have been, throughout our history, the "personifications of the transformative power" (Malloy 1998, Lecture Notes). Our archetypes are part of our myths and stories--they tell us who we are and give us meaning. Myths can be thought of as messages in symbols (archetypes), they give meaning, explain "why?" and allow us to change and to understand change. Today however, we live in a demythologized world. Our myths and stories are us. Myths and stories tell us who we are, why we are and how we should be. But we must wonder, "what happens when we stop telling good myths and stories?"

Carl Jung, the famous psychologist and pioneering anthropologist, after studying the archetypes, myths, and stories of the native American peoples, went back to Europe where he began to notice that Europe no longer had archetypes, myths, or stories to give the necessary meaning to life. Thus, while early twentieth century Europe may have been technologically more advanced than the tribes of the Amazon or Kalhari, it lacked any of the stories that give us meaning and in a sense (in the context of the history of humanity), we are in a disparate way, less culturally developed.
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