Reclaim Myth

I find it a bit frustrating that in popular culture and society that the word “myth” has become synonymous with the word “lie” or “falsehood.” I think we have all forgotten the power and truth of myth. We need myth in our lives. It is as essential as oxygen.

So let’s debunk this definition of myth. A Myth is a traditional story that attempts to illustrate the worldview of a particular people, or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.

I think that when measured against science and reason, we have come to believe that many cultural myths are not scientific or logical. However, the details and scientific facts of the story might not be pivotal as we wish them to be. The story might be the most important aspect of myth and we have overlooked it for quite some time now.

Marshal McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” He believed that the content of any message was not as important as the way it was delivered. He was originally talking about radio, television, and print. Although, I think each of these mediums all share one common element. Story telling. If I were to take this one step further, I could paraphrase his saying a bit and say that the story is the message.

I think many of the problems faced in society today are a result of or distrust and disbelief in story. We all frame our lives in story. We build narratives of our experiences every day, even if we never write anything. You hear it in the way people speak. We are story-driven creatures. And yet we seem to shake off important stories that try to explain hidden truths and deep meaning. Why do we do this?

Myth as a word has been stolen from us now. It has been turned into a bad word. Yet we all consume storytelling every day. We tell stories, we read stories, and we watch stories on television and in the cinema. We believe in characters and series and hold heated discussions about them.

If the medium truly is the message than I think we might be missing the story behind the story. And just because a story isn’t logical or “true” doesn’t negate the fact that it can hold certain truths. All stories do.

So stop using the word “myth” when you mean to say commonly-held-false-belief. And don’t be so quick to throw those words around either. It’s time to reclaim “myth.”

5 responses to “Reclaim Myth”

  1. You might also like this line from Plutarch’s “How the Young Man Should Study Poetry”:

    “For in perusing not only Aesop’s Fables and Tales from the Poets … and philosophic doctrines about the soul when these are combined with mythology, [the young] get inspiration as well as pleasure.”

  2. Thank you, Silverfish. I printed off that story but haven’t had a chance to read it yet. Maybe tonight.

    Thanks ECD. Imagination is an important thing. Thanks for the quote.

  3. The writings of Joseph Campbell …. the Bill Moyers series on him…. mesmerizing…. the power of myth…valuable in our lives…. why must we have one set of people denying it’s value as ‘a lie’ and another set of people missing the point entirely by taking the myths as literal fact….

  4. Thanks Kat. I have read some Joseph Campbell and a few other books of myth as well. And you are definitely right, these stories were never meant to be taken literally, the story is the vehicle that teaches.