The Value of Story and Mythology

"War is what happens when language fails."
 
Writer Margaret Atwood
 

Indigenous peoples encoded their cultural and ritual knowledge within their mythology and stories. A doorway to understanding these wisdoms has been opened through the disciplines of associative mythology and depth psychology, which are at the cutting edge of academic approaches to these disciplines. We can now begin to see that storytelling is meant to provide an empowering sense of orientation which affirms our unique originality and at the same time shows our common humanity within initiatory journeys that are common to all people in all times. Within the embodiment of ritual action, each person experiences the connection with other people, nature and spirit.

 Any mythology has elements which translate into universal principles. Stories that have “stood the test of time” in this way get “worn down to the essential elements,” and retain universal features which relate to psychological maturing, seen in the indigenous world as initiatory maturing. Initiation means graduation into new responsibility. The full initiation includes both the challenges and the difficulty of bringing back the knowledge that has been gained in a “wild” setting into one’s community. For the soul, any initiatory journey feels like it is undergone in a “wild” setting. It is here that the imagery of mythology gives guidance.
 
True mythology is never a “morality tale,” as we might have been taught. The stories encourage self-guidance, the following of passions, natural human curiosity, and what the heart loves. “Whatever is in this world can be the cause of healing or trouble,” says one Cherokee myth. This “fact of life” acknowledges that we are buffeted around in the storms of experience. Furthermore, it suggests that we are in a situation requiring ongoing healing work as our leadership in community evolves. Navigating the complexity of this situation requires some sort of internal mapping of reality. A mythological framework, which we lack in modern times in this sense, is such a map spoken in the language which the soul can work with best—the language of image and story.
 
This imaginal language affirms and supports the wisdom of our feelings and intuition. Mythology shows the connection between diverse types of knowledge, people, creatures and the natural world. It reveals the dynamics of the need for “village” in dealing with any situation—even those seen as “personal” in the modern world. And the world of “village” or “community” revealed by mythology is one where the diverse, the strange, the weird, the outsiders and the “knowledge from the edge,” is often vital to the very survival of the person and the community.
 
Working with mythology is the telling of stories and the creation of symbolic ritual which reflects the challenges felt by the listeners in undergoing their current “initiatory process.” This was the traditional role of the “singer” or teller of stories, who was also a “maker of rituals.” The mythological guidance is healing, and “holistic.” Mythology both integrates unhealthy splits and at the same time makes relevant discernments between great “opposites” in the world—masculine and feminine, fixity and change, body and soul, the regular and the irregular. A few stories worked with in this participatory way begin to repair the false separations and breaks that are present in the psyches of people who have been left unprotected in the modern rush for progress and a limited definition of riches.

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