We Need Myths

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“Myths have a very long memory.”
Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Olympia, Greece

Mythology! The very word has to power to evoke strong emotional responses because myths speak to the heart of human experience.  We long for certainty in a fragile and finite existence in order to build lives within reasonably secure surroundings. Instead, we are born into a complex world that hurls more questions at us than it does answers. Myths carry tradition within its narratives.  And because we are a curious species, we use them in an attempt to explain natural or social phenomenon.  Perhaps their greatest task is to provide us with the assurance of our beginnings and endings.

When we think of mythology, we think back to earliest times where supernatural beings and events seemed to have a rightful place in ancient civilizations.  Yet, there is clear evidence that mythology is well entrenched within our DNA. Karen Armstrong in A Short History of Myth wrote, “We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world.”  Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, comes from a different perspective: “Myths, whether in written or visual form, serve a vital role of asking unanswerable questions and providing unquestionable answers. Most of us, most of the time, have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to reduce the cognitive dissonance of not knowing by filling the gaps with answers. Traditionally, religious myths have served that role, but today — the age of science — science fiction is our mythology.”

We are a global community with the means to communicate and share knowledge.  What better way to celebrate our humanity than by recounting the myths, legends, folklore and tales that have come down through the generations.  Myths do indeed, have a very long memory.

A Toast to “The Professor”

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“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.” 
J.R.R. Tolkien

To The Professor

Tonight, I joined other J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world in raising a glass to toast the birthday of this much loved author at precisely 21:00 (9:00pm) local time. The toast was simply “The Professor.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, created a collection of legends set in a fictional universe.  He once said that “War deepened and sobered my imagination and stimulated my love of fantasy.”  The months in the trenches of WWI made a lasting impression, which is reflected within his writings.  Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien did not yield to despondency.  His response was to embrace life as a grand adventure to be experienced abundantly and completely.

Over the past few months, I have considered the role of mythology in our world. We have an insatiable desire to give meaning to our existence and purpose for our involvement within family structures and within the wider community. What better time to start a series of posts on mythology than on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday.

Roads Go Ever On

By J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon. Continue reading