Foundational Principle for this Conversation:
We are hard-wired to have a sense of the sacred and we
often express this by sharing sacred stories.
Definition: Myth – A sacred story.
STUDENT: Tell me more about the concept of myths.
LEWIS: The word mythology (from the Ancient Greek
word mythologa, meaning "a story-telling” or a legendary lore)
refers to a type of sacred story, often a merging of
various folklores and legends that a particular
culture believes to be true. Myths often use the
supernatural to interpret natural events and to explain the
nature of the universe and humanity.
STUDENT: How is a myth different from any other type of story?
LEWIS: A myth is distinctly different from fiction, a legend,
a fairy tale, an anecdote or a folktale though the
concepts may at times overlap. Unlike these other
forms of storytelling a myth involves near gods, gods, or something that has a sense of the sacred in it. Many myths are similar to fairytales in that both are set in a timeless past often before recorded and critical history begins.
STUDENT: What makes a myth sacred?
LEWIS: Myths often reference to the religious or spiritual life of a community and are often reinforced and empowered by the political and religious elite of a community.
STUDENT: Would you say that a myth is a religious story?
LEWIS: Not necessarily. Though myths often embody a belief in the supernatural, all myths are not necessarily religious in nature.
STUDENT: Do all myths tell a story?
LEWIS: Yes! But all stories are not told verbally. Samples of some of the earliest known myths are represented in cave paintings.
STUDENT: It seems that the definition of a myth can be quite broad.
LEWIS: Yes. A myth can be many things. In its broadest use it may refer to personal or collectively created ideologically based received wisdom (see A Conversation on Shamanism). Aside of its sacred elements a myth may also reflect many of the political, economic, psychological, sacred and social truths that need to be told in a society.
STUDENT: Is there a specific quality that defines a myth as a Myth?
LEWIS: Unlike myths, fairy tales, legends and general stories may have little or no connection to the political, economic, psychological, or sacred. Myths, on the other hand, usually involve near gods, gods, or something that has a sense of the sacred in it. This is why myths are often called sacred myths. Without the spiritual element and the influence of a religious hierarchy, the line between a sacred myth and a mere fairy tale would be less easy to decipher.
STUDENT: How does the existence of a sacred myth affect an individual on a personal level?
LEWIS: A myth has spiritual significance for the individual who tells it, and also connects that individual to the systems of thought and values that define membership in a specific group (see the Level: Community).
STUDENT: Is a myth factual?
LEWIS: Not necessarily, but they are true.
STUDENT: This seems like a contradiction. How can something be true but not factual?
LEWIS: As the word myth is used by scholars it implies neither the truth nor the falseness of the story. To the culture within which the myth has evolved it is by definition "true."
STUDENT: How can this be?
LEWIS: Every culture must have some sacred story that embodies a way of making sense of the world, how the world came about, how the culture was created, beliefs, ways of questioning, and concepts of a group reality.
STUDENT: Where does the sacred myth fit in here?
LEWIS: It is the myth that serves this function. It is the myth that represents a collectively held belief within a group, even if that belief has no basis in reality. Thus, for the culture it is true even if not factual.
STUDENT: I have heard the word myth used in a pejorative manner, especially when a person accuses a person of telling lies or making up a story.
LEWIS: This common use of the word is actually offensive to some people. This use evolved from the labeling of foreign unacceptable ideas and beliefs, especially beliefs held to be true in countries, cultures, or religions other than one’s own. In this context myth has been used to describe non-religious beliefs as well. For instance, a politician or religious leader might offer us confusing data that we perceive to be wrong or misleading. We might respond that the person is telling us a myth (see A Conversation on Truthiness: An RTP from Inception to Cultural Reality in the Level: Relative Realities).
STUDENT: What are the qualities that myths share with legends or fairytales?
LEWIS: This is an important question and requires a detailed discussion that does not fit the scope of The Harrison Process. Keep this in mind: if one holds the belief that all in the word is just an illusion, which many individuals do, then fairy tales and legends are just subcategories; specialized forms of stories that may or may not exhibit mythological qualities. Graffiti art on a subway car in New York might be part of a legend, but it would not be a myth.
STUDENT: How do myths come into being?
LEWIS: We are hard-wired to create or relate to things as possessing sacredness. We are also hard-wired to tell stories to those in our primary social group. So the creation of a sacred story, a myth, is a natural thing to do. There are usually many theories about the origins of a story, legend, or myth. Some may come from the academic worlds of archaeology, anthropology, and theology, while others trace their origins to esoteric explanations rooted in the mystical and the paranormal. Myths will change over time because they both influence and are influenced by the culture within which they exist, and as culture evolves so do these myths and we, as part of the culture, evolve with them.
STUDENT: If myth making is so natural why do so many myths seem irrational and illogical?
LEWIS: Sometimes a myth originates as a misinterpretation of a misdirected sacred ritual. I say misdirected because the ritual from its very inception may be said to be in contradiction to natural law. Since human beings are hard-wired to believe and to have faith in something – anything – certain beliefs, whether accurate or unsupported by logic or evidence, will be created by individuals and groups.
STUDENT: Doesn’t the fact that they are illogical reduce their credibility?
LEWIS: Not necessarily. When these beliefs are in impersonal metaphysically based laws, these individuals or groups may lose their natural intuition towards natural law. These metaphysically based laws will usually have some source or reason for being even if apparently illogical
STUDENT: What could be so powerful as to make what is obviously illogical seem acceptable?
LEWIS: More often than not a particular God or Gods are named and become the focus and foundation of faith and belief. With the concept of God come sacred stories, myths about God. These sacred stories in time may come to define the rules of society. Over decades, even centuries, the group may have continued to habitually practice the original sacred rituals. In time they are solidified as part of a group identity. These sacred stories are practiced as reenactments of some mythical history.
STUDENT: How do myths and logical and scientific thinking coexist?
LEWIS: The appreciation over the last few centuries of a systematic understanding of logical thinking, and with it science, made myths increasing irrelevant. In recent decades the tide seems to have turned and sacred mythology has been recognized as an important adhesive factor in a healthy functioning society.
STUDENT: Are there specific academic specialties that focus on the study of myths?
LEWIS: There are many. However, the three most prominent are mythology, mythography, and folkloristics.
STUDENT: What are the origins of most myths?
LEWIS: Most myths have obscure or completely unknown origins. Many descended as part of an oral tradition and were written after they were in existence for hundreds, even thousands of years.
STUDENT: Do myths remain static or do they change?
LEWIS: The content of myths may reflect changes in a particular culture. As the Native American tribes moved across the continent in response to the influx of European based peoples, the sacred myths of these people were transformed. The geography was different as well as weather patterns, the types of plants and animals available for food, clothing and shelter, and the competitors for those plants and animals.
STUDENT: Can a myth exist in more than one culture?
LEWIS: Yes and simultaneously many myths exist in multiple versions even in the same culture. Usually different cultures have different myths. For instance, virtually every civilization has a deluge myth: some story of a great and horrific flood, waters rising unexpectedly, and rapidly. Mercilessly the water sweeps away all in its path. Death and destruction become mixed with legendary acts of heroism and tales of miraculous survivals. The study of myths from multiple cultures is comparative mythology.
STUDENT: Can you speak more about comparative mythology?
LEWIS: This is a vast area of study and a rapidly changing field of study with many controversial viewpoints, even among respected scholars.
STUDENT: Is there any common ground among academics within comparative mythology?
LEWIS: What most academics agree upon is that many early historians were influenced by supernatural myths, legends, and folktales in their explanations; while later these same folktales were altered under the influence of changing circumstances as well as internal group politics.
STUDENT: And the result of these circumstances and politics was?
LEWIS: Unique cultural myths. People of a particular tribe, group or culture will often place differing meanings and interpretations on the meaning of a particular story, legend, myth, rite, ritual, ceremony, or place. As tribes come together through conquest, commerce, and migration myths will change.
STUDENT: Is this what we have come to call multiculturalism?
LEWIS: Yes. As multiculturalism expands and a global economy becomes more dominant many of these orthodox and unorthodox stakeholders in particular ideas and objects of meaning will come into contact with each other. At first there will be resistance but in time change will take place in the myths.
STUDENT: Can you give an example?
LEWIS: When some Native American tribes were forced out of the South Eastern
United States to the West, many of their sacred myths changed as well.
STUDENT: But this was a forced migration.
LEWIS: This is true. However, whether the shift is imposed or when groups meet voluntarily the changes in sacred myths will take place.
STUDENT: How complex is this process?
LEWIS: It can get very complex. When these diverse groups first come in contact there will be resistance from the status quo in each group, especially at the top of the hierarchy and in rigid religious institutions. In time, in spite of the resistance, the myth merging will begin. When this begins one of four things is likely to happen. The particular stories, legends, myths, rites, rituals, ceremonies, or places held high by each group will:
1. Lose its importance and simply fade away.
2. Either be absorbed by, or dominated by, those of the other group.
3. Morph into a new creation that reflects the new elements of a newly forming culture.
4. The original myth will take on even greater meaning and status than before.
STUDENT: Wouldn’t history serve a society more authentically than a made up story about the Gods?
LEWIS: There are elements that hold a society together and create a defining culture that is based on an ever evolving identity. History cannot create this identity; it can only report the details of it.
STUDENT: So even if a myth is illogical it may make greater sense to a specific group than actual history?
LEWIS: Yes. Myths can provide reasons for being that factual history cannot.
STUDENT: How is a legendary figure different from a mythological one?
LEWIS: Some individuals are made into mythological figures and are held in awe and treated with near reverential admiration primarily on the basis of often repeated stories (some true, some false, and most exaggerations) and idealized versions of actual events. This pattern is common among sports fans relating to certain athletes and to musicians leading to various specialized Halls of Fame or secular temples to these individuals. In modern times some individuals will hire professions (publicists) to create myths about themselves.
STUDENT: Throughout the world people are immigrating from one nation or culture and living permanently in another nation or culture. How does this affect the creation of new myths?
LEWIS: In our modern increasingly multi-cultural world many different myths with common underlying themes can co-exist. Some have been created in response to similar natural phenomena or even a common source. In time some of these myths may come together and naturally merge to create new myths (see the entry on Joseph Campbell in the Level: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants).
STUDENT: Can a person or individual create an instant myth through the manipulation of the media or through some other tool of influence?
LEWIS: In our modern times legends are often created by media and marketing experts (see the Level: Relative Realities). The conceptual artist, Andy Warhol, spoke of everyone having their fifteen minutes of fame. Even so, there is no specific system for the creation of myths. Myths, at least those with any staying power, are neither invented, accepted nor rejected. They simply are formed by individuals and groups of individuals, often without any specific conscious intention, in response to the need for a specific narrative within a specific community. Most myths take many years, usually centuries, to create and are not so easily destroyed or transformed even when there are no facts to support their existence and there is much evidence to question their validity (see the Lesson: The Art and Science of Meaning; and the Level: Community).
STUDENT: Is there some way to judge the quality of a particular story, legend or myth?
LEWIS: The best and the most influential stories possess a symbolic meaning for a culture and society at large. This meaning guarantees the long term survival of these stories. When these stories take on a mythological quality they provide a link for connecting cultural institutions of a group (tribe, city, state, or country) with universal truths.
STUDENT Do you have any final thoughts about myths?
LEWIS: Both individuals and groups need a reason to exist and these reasons may not hold up well under a logical fact based scrutiny. A Myth does not need evidence. Myths do not require facts to exist. They are based, instead, on a communal often self-created reality reflecting historical echoes and representing much more. This can be a good thing, especially in a highly functional compassionate community.
To learn more about Lewis Harrison’s work or to coach/mentor with him go to http://www.lewisharrisoninspires.com/Lewis_Harrison_InspiredMentoringCoaching.html <http://www.lewisharrisoninspires.com/Lewis_Harrison_InspiredMentoringCoaching.html>
Feel free to e-mail Lewis at
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> or call him at 212-724-8782
A Conversation on Myths with Lewis Harrison
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Monday, 24 October 2011 06:47
posted by Ziggy
There are no words to dsecribe how bodacious this is.