The power of Myth

The power of Myth
• If a being from another world were to ask
you, “How can I learn what it’s like to be
human?” What would a good answer be?
• If a being from another world were to ask
you, “How can I learn what it’s like to be
human?” a good answer would be, “Study
• Life itself has no
“meaning” – it simply is.
• Stories have meanings,
so we tell stories to give
meaning to life, to try to
understand and interpret
• We tell stories about the
origin of the world, the
struggle to stay alive, the
fight against the greed
and evil that lie within us
• Each culture clothes the stories in the specifics of its own time
and place.
• Prehistoric humans drew on cave walls.
– Their art and oral literature gave form to impulse what we
now call religion
• The movies of their day- the drawings are the hunter’s effort to
honor himself, his fear, his triumph, and the creature he had to
kill to feed his family.
– Every later culture invented its own names for its heroes and
villains, gods and monsters, defeats and victories.
What are myths?
• Myths are stories of our search through
the ages for truth, for meaning, for
• Myths are clues to the spiritual
potentialities of the human life.
• Myth helps you to put your mind in touch
with the experience of being alive. It tells
you what the experience is.
– For example, marriage. The myth tells
us that marriage is the reunion of the
separated duad. Originally you were
one. you are now two in the world, but
the recognition of the spiritual identify
is what marriage is.
– The biological is the distraction which
may lead you to the wrong
– Your inner being tells you who is the
right person to marry.
Why do you/us need mythology?
• Myths are the heart of a system of belief and rituals
evoke it
• Mythology is the song of the imagination
• A myth is a mask of God- a metaphor for what lies
behind the visible world.
“We have mythology”
• In Japan, for an international conference on
religion, an American (a social philosopher from
New York) said to a Shinto priest, “We’ve been
now to a good many ceremonies and have seen
quite a few of your shrines. But I don’t get your
ideology. I don’t get your theology.” The
Japanese paused as though in deep thought
and then slowly shook his head. “I think we don’t
have ideology,” he said. “We don’t have
theology. We have mythology.”
All info taken from the book The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
• Most forms of worship are carried out
through some formal practice, or ritual.
• Rituals are concrete, visible actions that
have symbolic meaning for a group or
• They are done in a similar way every time
they are performed
• Example:
– Graduation ceremony with the
customary speeches and awarding of
– Birthday party with the singing of
“Happy Birthday,” cutting of the cake,
and the opening of presents.
• Many religious rituals re-enact a myth or
sacred story
Stages of Ritual
Religious rituals re-enact an important myth and provide a way for individuals
to connect with the power of their mythology
• Rituals celebrate important events in an individual’s life or society’s life cycle
1. The journey
Takes place away from home, participants must be removed from their
normal life
2. The liminal
It occurs midway through the ceremony
Betwixt and between (neither one status nor the other)
A temporary stage
The ritual participant has entered the sacred space and will be a
different person when he/she leaves
Usually a symbolic death takes place – via circumcision, baptism, etc. =
the symbolic death allows for the individual to receive new knowledge
and a new identity to assume
3. The return
The return to the real world but now the participants hold a new status
Example of stages of Ritual
• Graduation
– The Journey = finals week approaches,
students study, take final exams, pass
courses with acceptable grades
– Liminal = classes stop. It’s the end of the
routine. Students travel to commencement
ceremony, wear special gowns, hear
motivational speeches meant to impart final
words of wisdom, and receive diploma
(which becomes a totem represent the
completion of their studies and their status
as educated).
– The Return = students must find work to
begin “adult life” in the “real world”