Why should you care about myths and dreams? Well, you shouldn’t. In fact, you shouldn’t do anything, besides be yourself. And if you find that in being yourself you’re drawn to the illustration above and this blog post, then I would say just continue being yourself. In other words, follow your interests. After all, the only interesting people are interested people.
I want to say that my interest in storytelling, screenwriting, mythology, psychology, philosophy, the unconscious (our dreams) and consciousness (our deeper dream), began about four or five years ago, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it began far earlier. Perhaps during my childhood; perhaps before. Perhaps it was a part of me all along, unfolding gradually in time. Conversely, in a fascinating way, this has been a journey backward in time as to learn about mythology is to learn about the evolution of the human psyche.
So, if you do choose to follow your interest and read on, then you will embark on a journey to the outer edges of our collective imagination and find yourself at the center of your individual existence.
Myth Goes Beyond Philosophy & Language
In our culture today, the word “myth” has a negative connotation, essentially meaning falsehood or untrue. Ironically, this in itself, is a statement about falsehoods in our current way of thinking and the shortermness of our collective memories. For those of us who dare to read with an open mind, Plato tells us that all knowledge is remembering. In fact, he expressed the importance of myth in allowing for the exploration of ideas beyond philosophy and language. You see, the ancient Greeks distinguished between two ways of thinking, speaking, and acquiring knowledge: “mythos” and “logos”. From mythos came intuitive narration, from logos logical deliberation. Both were essential; they were not in conflict but complementary. Each had its own sphere of competence and it was considered unwise to mix the two.
Logos gave rise to mathematics and science. Myth gave rise to the arts. Logos explained how the sun rises, how babies are born, and took humans to the moon. Myth explained why the sun rises, why babies are born and why humans went to the moon. Myth gives purpose, meaning, and validation to existence. Myths can be religious, describing ideas such as heaven and the eternal soul or they can be secular, describing ideas such as sovereignty and human rights. In the final analysis, you either accept myths or you don’t.
If myth is an idea, mythology is the vehicle of that idea: the symbols, stories, and rituals – languages that are seen, heard, and performed. Together they construct the truths of a culture.
In our culture today if you reject or hold myth in contempt and proclaim that humans are but a random fluke who merely emerged from a mechanical and meaningless universe, then, ironically, that is your myth. Whatever your myth is, beware, for it will surely affect the dreams that dwell in your unconscious, and more importantly, the deeper dream of your waking consciousness.
Myth on the Unknown & the Unconscious
The unknown and the unconscious are two concepts that are very much related for both cannot be seen or touched, yet they are fundamental aspects of our reality that surround us both internally and externally. To be unaware of them is to be simply unaware. To think that your unconscious mind and conscious mind are separate is a common mistake resulting from the limitation of words and language. For the unconscious is conscious and aware of everything but itself, like the eyes can see everything but themselves. If in the unconscious mind we dream, then our conscious mind is the deeper dream.
The name that appears on the image is that of Michael Jabareen, the very talented Palestinian artist who collaborated with me on these illustrations.
It is said that a true artist is one you who has the power to see the unknown and interpret it. Our ancestral shamans and storytellers represented the unconscious, which to the conscious mind is unknown, by images of deep blue water. The more you sink into a body of water, the darker the water becomes. And what dwells in dark places? Monsters and demons. If monsters and demons exist in the outside world, it is only because they exist within ourselves.
The human condition appears to be that we are always terrified of monsters and demons, just as we are terrified of the unknown. But to say that we are terrified of the unknown is another way of saying that we are terrified or uncomfortable with our present. For the present is the unknown coming into being.
Mythology & The Pairs of Opposites
There’s an old idea that there are two extreme poles of reality which are in constant interplay or contained conflict. Our ancient ancestors represented these two extreme poles in two contrasting images or symbols; essentially “pairs of opposites” representing concepts such as chaos and order. Modern-day humans may have come across such symbolism in the form of the toaist yin-yang symbol. Such extreme poles of reality appear all around us and in all disciplines. A moral philosopher would express them as moral relativism and moral absolutism. A political example would be totalitarian dictatorships and complete anarchy. More simply, positive and negative or darkness and light. The idea is that the extremes are “pairs of opposites” like two ends of the same sick. Put your full weight on either end and you’ll tip the scale ending the balance. At their extremes, each can be fatal. Too much light is blinding; too darkness is blinding.
Since 4,000 BCE new urban myths emerged as our ancestors meditated on the endless struggle of opposites such as order and chaos. This is when human beings took a major leap forward when they began to build cities, first in Mesopotamia and Egypt, and later in China, India, and Crete. Humans had entered the “historical age”. The establishment of walled-communities brought a sense of control over the chaotic environment and brought a sense of order to human lives. The word “paradise” actually comes from the Persian word “pairi-daēza” meaning walled-garden for a walled-garden is a safe place where nature exists in an organized manner. The perfect balance between chaos and order. In other words, a “contained-conflict” or as symbolized in the yin-yang.
Walled-cities brought enough order to balance the external chaos around us and allowed humans to take the internal journey and confront the chaos within. This paved the way for the next leap in human culture – “The Axial Age” (800 – 200 BCE) – the most pivotal period in the spiritual development of humanity – the beginning of religion as we know.
Myths Emerge from the Human Psyche
It appears that the human psyche is permanently impacted by the fact that, compared to almost all animals, we remain the longest at the mother’s breast. We are born too soon; unfinished, unready to meet the world. Our survival and protection against a universe of dangers is wholly dependent on the mother; we are a dual unit, not only physically but also psychologically. As a result, the mother is the first object of our love. When the first pains of hunger pangs are felt, we are fed by our mother’s breast. Thus, to our infantile psyche, which remains with us our whole lives: to be fed is to be loved. If the mother is absent or disciplines her child, the first object of love becomes complicated as the first object of hostility. The unfortunate father is the first intrusion to the infant-mother bond as he competes for the mother’s attention. He is experienced as an enemy and to him, the charge of hostility is transferred.
In reading the creation myths from different cultures in history, I recognized a fascinating common theme. In the Mesopotamian, Hindu, Greek, and Abrahamic creation myths, for example, first the universe was “one” before it “separated” (spirit/body, heaven/earth, etc.). I think these creation stories are metaphors about the universal human experience of birth. After all, we were all “one” while in the womb of our mothers before the catastrophic and simultaneously heroic act of birth when we were separated as individuals and thrust into a “world of opposites” (see previous post). Every child comes out crying before they are held and recognize the calming sounds of their mother’s heartbeat. Freud said the source of all anxiety is the moment of separation at birth.
The experience of birth and the relationships with our mother and father build the foundation of our psyche which are retained in the unconscious as the basis of all images of bliss, truth, beauty, perfection, hostility, and aggression. These form the foundation of all the images of our emotions and myths.
Mythology on Life & Death
A prime example of two extreme poles of reality that are in constant interplay is life and death. Our cultures today see the world as a struggle of life over death. Life must win at all costs. Death is something to be delayed and avoided… that is until it inevitably comes crashing at our door or the door of a loved one. When it does, many of us are terrified, grief-stricken and unable to cope; for death is the unknown, the black canvass in which we have projected all of our fears. Death is the underworld of monsters and ghouls; death is to be feared. In the world of myth, however, that isn’t the case.
According to many myths, death is not qualified as “negative” and life as “positive”. Those are cultural judgments. If you think about it, at any given moment, you are both living and dying. Life and death are not two opposing forces, but two sides of the same force. To myth, death is the unknown from which we came from at birth. Life and death alternate like leaves that grow and fall off trees. Like the crest and trough of a wave, after life comes death, and after death comes life again. To myth, the hero is one who dies and is reborn again.
In mythology, fear of death is equal to an anxious clinging to life – a feeble attempt to stop the wheel of life and death from rotating. The irony is that the more you cling to life, the less you actually live, for a life spent clinging is more dead than it is alive. To quote Goeth “As long as you do not know how to die and come to life again, you are but a sorry traveler on this dark earth”. To quote Jesus “Unless a grain of corn falls and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it brings forth much fruit.” If you are able to look the demons and ghouls of death in the eye, then you find that they hold a key to a new life.
The Myth of the Hero
In Hindu mythology, the Santa-Kumars (prepubescent children) stand at the gates of heaven but cannot enter. They are close to god out of innocence and ignorance, but they cannot enter heaven, for only those that are worthy can enter.
We all nostalgically remember the dream-like blissfulness of childhood. Yet in a short time culture, society, religion, obligation and duty strip us of our childhood dreams and churn us into serious and productive adults dedicated to the ultimate goal of economic security. Before we know it, our personalities were never fully realized and the dreams of childhood have faded, lost in distant memories, split from our adult-selves.
But memories are traces of the past in the present. You carry them with you everywhere you go. If left undiscovered, they will be a heavy burden, for they carry with them deep truths about you.
The myth of the hero’s journey is ultimately about a deep dive into your own unconscious, the terrifying abyss where monsters exist but also where the golden seeds of childhood remain scattered and unfound. If you heed the call to adventure, pass the threshold guardians, and slay your dragon, then you achieve the ultimate boon: the truth about you; and the blissful magic of childhood will be yours again as the adult and child in you are fused into one.
Myths & the Supernatural Aids
In most societies, we are encouraged to think “rationally” and stay within the bounds of culture for they are “secure” and “known”. Thus, one of the most challenging acts in life and the first act of a hero is to accept the call to adventure when it arrives for it is an invitation into a zone unknown; a dive into one’s own unconscious. The unknown and the unconscious, as we have previously noted, are filled with terrifying forces. If you heed the call to adventure, however, the myths reassure us that you will immediately encounter a protective figure who provides you with the amulets needed against the dragon forces you are about to face. This is personified in the timeless character known as “the supernatural aid”. This helper appears in the feminine form in such characters as the fairy godmother, the Spider Woman or the Cosmic Mother. In masculine as a wizard, hermit, guide or teacher.
The appearance of such characters represents the benign protecting power of destiny. It’s a reassurance that the first voluntary step taken towards the zone unknown, the unconscious, is correct and necessary if one is to become the hero of their own life. It is, if you will, a peace offering; an olive branch extended by one’s own unconscious to one’s own conscious. The first step in uniting a divided mind. A promise that the peace first known within the mother’s womb is not lost to the distant past, but has always been there to support the present and future. One has only to trust in the unknown, let go, and the wisdom of insecurity in the form of ageless guardians will appear – all of which occur to the perils of all our rational ends.
Stay tuned for Myth & Dream Part 2…
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