Myth. A beleaguered word. In the English language, it is mostly used to denote falsehood, or to describe foolish beliefs. A myth is the opposite of a truth; adherence to a myth is the opposite of wisdom. Somehow, the slur sticks. And so if you tell people – some people; mostly the rationalistic, scientistic types – that you work with myth, you’re likely to encounter a slightly raised eyebrow, a small curl of the lip. As if to say, why on earth would you have any interest in studying old, false beliefs about the world? And even worse – why would you, as part of your practice, encourage other people to embrace old, false stories about the world and actively incorporate them into their psychology? Living mythically? Well, that’s just encouraging people to live in a fantasy world. Deluded, escapist. Just plain silly. Myth for entertainment – sure, that’s okay. Books and movies are one thing, but if you’re trying to suggest that there’s some real-world value, some greater meaning in myth, I’d say that’s verging on the pernicious.
I’ve heard all that, and more. Myth can be poorly understood, out there in the world. But here’s what I know about myth: it is so much more than just a set of funny old stories that people made up to try to explain a few things, once upon a time. Myth is alive. Myth is present in the world. Myth isn’t only a key aspect of the structure of our own consciousness; it is a key aspect of the wider consciousness of the world.
The wider consciousness of the world? Yes, I’m an animist, for sure. I’ve written many times on this blog about the dreaming of the land. Myth springs up from the land and its other-than-human inhabitants; ancient mythic resonances permeate and animate the places where we live. Myth not only acts on us, it interacts with us – if we let it. Myth is alive. You can ignore it if you like, but it won’t ignore you. Myth acts on you whether you like it or not.
I like it. Myth is my reality, and my life is all the richer for it. To live mythically – that is, to live in full awareness of the mythic structures underlying my life, the mythic elements informing it – is the only way I care to live. A multi-layered life, rooted and grounded and gritty, yet rich with image and symbol. A mythic life is a beautiful life; a mythic life is an enchanted life. It has nothing to do with grandiosity. And so it is that much of my work – from my writing, to the courses I offer – is about living mythically. When I work with myth, I’m not especially interested in teaching people how to tell good stories. I’m interested in teaching people how to understand myth, how to let it go to work on them, how to be in relationship with it. And as a psychologist, I’m not just interested in the stories themselves, and their plots and structures, but in the symbols and images and archetypes and metaphors that inhabit them. I’m passionate about teaching people how to recognize the mythic patterns in their own lives, and to use that understanding for the purposes of transformation. This isn’t just about introspection, about focusing in on the stories of your own life, about illuminating the darkened chambers of your psyche (though that is necessary work for all of us, for sure) – it’s about falling into the land’s dreaming, about coming home again, finding a sense of belonging to the wider world around you. That is what it means to live mythically.
If you’re interested in these issues, you might be interested in my new course, ‘The Mythic Imagination’. It’s a six-module, six-month online course designed to present myth and fairy tales as a living principle, deeply enmeshed in our lives and the life of this beautiful, animate Earth. We’ll explore the many ways in which myth can illumine and inform our journeys through life. Although some theory and background information will be presented to help you in your studies, the major focus of this course is to offer practical guidance, exercises and writing meditations to help you develop and deepen your own mythic imagination.
The unique content of this course derives from my many years of research and practice – as a psychologist, a writer, a Celtic Studies scholar – into the functions of myth and story. It is relevant to anyone wishing to explore the relevance of myth and story to their own lives – to writers, artists and craftspeople who are looking to nourish and inspire their creative work; to therapists looking to incorporate narrative work into their practices, and to anyone else who wishes simply to enrich and enchant their lives. This course is open to both men and women.
The specific examples we work with will be drawn from the mythology and folklore of my native Northern European culture, but the principles we’ll be working with will be applicable to all cultural traditions.
Here are some of the subjects we’ll cover during the six modules:
- Myth, folklore, fairy tale: background, theories, and definitions
- Narrative elements: symbols, archetypes, metaphors, plot …
- A selection of key themes in myths and fairy tales: shapeshifting and animal metamorphosis; the liminal; the Otherworld …
- Mythic and fairy tale themes and imagery in literature
- How to choose and conduct a deep analysis of a myth/story which is relevant to your own life, or to specific life stages and transitions
- The Hero/Heroine’s Journey and other initiatory journeys
- Composing and writing your own personal myth
- Working with the myths and stories of place
- Ritual and embodiment