In a world increasingly aware of how data and facts can be used and the presence of “fake” news, I want to clarify the use of the word “myth”. A myth is not a lie. When the word “myth” is used interchangeably with the word “lie”, many already constricted roads into our inherent creativity and imagination risk increased congestion. Myths can be several things, but they are not lies. They have the capacity to clear heavily polluting inner traffic and get us out onto the open roads of inspiration and resourcefulness.
Valid uses of the word myth include being used to describe an oral legacy passed down from pre-recorded history and also as history distorted by being passed down through generations. But it is myth as metaphor and as allegory for inner processes I want to champion in these media laden times.
Myth can be a powerful medium through which allies and archetypes become accessible to us in practical ways. In the face of moving walls of data and facts, we must each hone our ability to edit and frame a daily avalanche of information. Our health and wellbeing and that of our families, organisations and communities need trustworthy interpreters, translators and editors of this information tide. The narratives we spin from facts and data depend on an inner “Truthometer” we are each personally responsible for. Myths can help build and strengthen personal capacity to recognise deep truth as we sift and sort our daily inboxes.
Both as metaphor and allegory for inner process, myths can provide powerful linctus in times when health, particularly emotional and psychological health, has been so profoundly medicalised and institutionalised. Facts and truth are not the same. Data can be accurate and still not speak to truth. In our brains, the neo cortex is responsible for language, reason and rational thought. The limbic brain, which has no capacity for language or reason, is however the powerful driver of trust, loyalty and behaviour.
It could be said that a myth is a story that is emotionally and symbolically “true” without needing to be factually accurate. This is a permission giving enabler of our inner “truth” detectors. When a myth hits a resonant note in your imagination, you can be sure there is a treasure lurking in your depths. A myth that speaks to you can act as a flotation device for what matters to you. It can help you surface your own truth for yourself in the midst of the swirling sea of data in daily life. A myth can help hold you steady over submerged galleons of gold.
If a myth grabs you, grab it back and hold on tight. There are pearls at depth below your surface; guaranteed. You see, a myth distinguishes between the facts of what we live each day, and the truth of our own experience. Whatever the facts may be, it is our connection to the truth of our own experience that provides a bedrock of emotional and psychological health.
Myths allow us to examine powerful personal themes one step removed, leaving our own vulnerabilities protected while we gain strength. Usually, but not always, we’re drawn to a particular myth because we identify with the central character. Different myths have different themes and we likely resonate with stories that speak to our own core issues.
The myth of Ariadne is my personal myth. Ariadne gifted me an overarching narrative across all I’ve faced into as a woman following my own thread of inner calling. I have worked with this myth for many years. Over time, I have understood that aspects of my wellbeing and power had to be reclaimed from all the archetypes in the same, single myth. All the characters (in various states of health) were present in me and I have had to learn to relate to and tend to all of them.
In the work I have been privileged to do over many years with women, I regularly find myself sitting in circles sharing stories. Our individual stories as women, the biographical details, are specific about “how” something happened to us. But collectively there is a “what” that has happened to us, all of us, in all of our lives. “How” things happen can separate us. “What” has happened is the common thread that unites us. And this is why myths matter. If we can get beyond judgements of the biographical details (the facts), we begin to powerfully connect in new ways to the truth of personal experience. This deeper truth is mythic ground we share and can build on together no matter the biographical details.
American philosopher and civil rights leader Howard Thurman said: “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” In myth (and in all stories) we can learn to listen beyond the details and facts of “how” something happened to the deeper truth of “what” happened; the truth of personal experience.
All cultures have oral histories that pass from generation to generation. There is truth in them even if the original facts are obscured. True on the inside but not necessarily factually accurate on the outside, myth allows us to gently approach truth in ourselves without scaring ourselves away. If we are drawn to a myth because we identify with the main character, what might happen if we turned our attention to find out what the other characters have to say?
Culturally women traditionally tend to take responsibility for all the people in their outer extended external lives. My invitation to myself working with Ariadne’s story is to consider how I might take responsibility for all the characters in my inner drama. We know that if our central, strongest sense of self isn’t balanced by all the other parts of ourselves, one aspect of our identity can take over, dominate and limit our experience. At the other extreme, it can derail the show.
Hundreds of years of re-telling familiar myths in our predominant culture of patriarchy has effectively smothered the Feminine. The versions of familiar myths and fairy tales we have grown up with all have the overlay of our patriarchal paradigm. Under the overlay, deeply buried, is truth. But attempts to address stereotypes and lies in current versions of fairy tales and myths by simply re-writing them, risks cutting off the road back through them to the original archetypal power.
Gender-reversal versions or added backstories to extant myths don’t ultimately serve us. The accuracy of the metaphors, symbols and archetypes get muddled and side-lined. I suppose you could say they become fake news. Classic fairy tales (which are myths for children) such as Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Snow White and The Little Mermaid all have deep archetypal truth buried beneath unacceptable stereotypes the main characters have become. But care should be taken not to throw the baby out with the bathwater by just re-writing ancient myths and stories.
Modern stories are free to dismantle gender stereotypes and Disney examples include 101 Dalmatians, Frozen, Happy Feet, Toy Story 2 and Monsters Vs Aliens. While these modern stories deal a welcome blow to gender stereotyping, what they can’t do is connect to the power available in the archetypes in classic ancient myths and fairy tales. Both the modern new stories and the classic ancient are needed.
The ground of ancient myth and fairy tales can’t be stepped over. If we try, we end up with one dimensional versions of the multi-dimensional rich reality of being human. Every myth or fairy tale addresses different aspects of the feminine and masculine. Equally, each woman and man has their own unique life to lead and personal work to do. You may find your myth will call you and help you do your work. The myth of Ariadne called me and I am faithfully following her thread.
When we re-inhabit myths, they richly return to us creativity and imagination in abundance. Our emotional and psychological muscles thrive on the feast myths lay out. Truly nourishing food to sink our teeth into, myths are slow-food for the psyche. With respect to health and wellbeing, this territory is a far cry from the necessarily sterile waiting rooms of medical intervention which, I fully acknowledge, have their place.
Myths are not lies. Being well includes a rich and rewarding inner relationship to ourselves as well as positive relationships with others. Myths can help. Being well includes a sense of personal mastery and having a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Myths can help. Being well requires having resources that enable us to find our way, and mythic allies reveal and strengthen what has always been with us, our own enduring truth.