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The role of archetype and myth in daily life

From Jospeh Campbell, (Joseph Campbell Foundation). (2004) Pathways to Bliss. Novato, CA: New World Library. p. xvi-xvii (on role of myth in personal)

Myth is not the same as history; myths are not inspiring stories of people who lived notable lives. No, myth is the transcendent in relationship to the present. Now, a folk hero is different from the subject of a biography, even when the hero may have been a real person once upon a time-John Henry or George Washington. The folk hero represents a transforming feature in the myth. When you have an oral mythic tradition, it's right up to date. In the folktales of the American Indians, you have bicycles, you have the form of the Capitol Dome in Washington. Everything gets incorporated into the mythology immediately. In our society of fixed texts and printed words, it is the function of the poet to see the life value of the facts round about, and to deify them, as it were, to provide images that relate to the everyday to the eternal.

Of course, in trying to relate yourself to transcendence, you don't have to have images. You can go the Zen way and forget myths altogether. But I'm talking about the mythic way. And what the myth does is to provide a field in which you can locate yourself. That's the sense of the mandala, the sacred circle, whether you are a Tibetan monk or the patient of a Jungian analyst. The symbols are laid out around the circle, and you are to locate yourself in the center. A labyrinth, of course, is a scrambled mandala, in which you don't know where you are. The the way the world is for people who don't have a mythology. It's a labyrinth. They are battling their way through as if no one had ever been there before.

....There lives in us, says (German psychiatrist Karlfried Graf) Durckheim, a life wisdom. We are all manifestations of a mystic power: the power of life, which has shaped all life, and which has shaped us all in our mother's womb. And this kind of wisdom lives in us, and it represents the force of this power, this energy, pouring into the field of time and space. But it's a transcendent energy. It's an energy that comes from a real beyond our powers of knowledge. And that energy becomes bound in each of us-in this body-to a certain commitment. Now, the mind that thinks, the eyes that see, they can become so involved in concepts and local, temporal tasks that we become bound up and don't let this energy flow through. And then we become sick. The energy is blocked, and we are thrown off center; this idea is very similar to the tenets of traditional Chinese and Indian medicine. So the psychological problem, the way to keep from becoming blocked, is to make yourself-and here is the phrase-transparent to the transcendent. It's as easy as that.

What myth does for you is to point beyond the phenomenal field toward the transcendent. A mythic figure is like the compass that you used to draw circles and arcs in school, with one leg in the field of time and the other in the eternal. The image of a god may look like a human or animal form, but its reference is transcendent of that.