“Myths are not part of the past; but a way to see universal truths playing out in the present. Myths are the inside story that make meaning of the outside world.” ~Michael Meade
I love working with mythology in my personal healing work and in my work with others. They provide a “universal map” of the human psyche and can help us navigate difficult internal terrain. Part of the power of working with myths lies in the fact that they provide a model for life experiences common to all people and exploring them can create real-time restorative experiences for individuals and groups.
Myths can reveal an overlap of individual experience with the universal experiences of all humankind, and in so doing, provide comfort and a sense of direction and meaning during times of duress, confusion, and suffering. Mythology not only serves to explain mysteries of the outer world, it also gives form and structure to the inner world of psyche. C.G. Jung believed that one of the best ways to learn about the human psyche is to study myths.
Jung viewed mythology as the symbolic language of the collective unconscious, the part of psyche belonging to all people across times and cultures. The relationship of myths to the collective unconscious is simple: the collective unconscious is made up of archetypes and mythology, with its plots, characters, and motifs is founded on archetypes.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell spent his career relating world mythology to the human experience. He explains that myths indeed serve to illuminate the human condition, but more importantly, they elicit emotions and actions in the audience by conveying dramatic, archetypal situations which everyone can relate to.
In my own experience, working with myths has been useful in helping me illuminate and integrate unconscious narratives that underlie certain beliefs. They can also provide a map through unfamiliar territory, such as initiatory experiences, that may be new to me, but are actually as old as humanity itself.
Myths help make sense of confusing situations and can model character traits necessary to specific trials, such as mustering patience, courage, and forgiveness in the face of adversity. I can see my own life experiences in the stories of mythic characters, which helps me to feel less alone and isolated in my difficulties. Myths help me to universalize my experiences and make meaning of my suffering, and I have found this true for my students and clients as well.
You may want to take a few moments to consider what myths, stories, or fairy tales have been of particular interest to you. Are there certain characters or story lines you’ve been drawn to? What, in particular, about these plots and characters do you relate to? What do you admire about them? Is there anything you can learn from how the characters behave or how the story line unfolds? How would you do things differently if you were to re-write the story?
Give it a try and see what you can learn about yourself by gazing into the magic mirror of mythology.