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The Importance of Studying Mythology

Mythology is the study of myths. A myth is a story that has significance to a culture (or species), a story that addresses fundamental and difficult questions that human beings ask: who and what am I, where did I come from, why am I here, how should I live, what is the right thing to do, what is the universe, how did it all begin? Myths are stories that are peopled by great men and women; by forces of good and evil; by animals, large and small; by trees, the sea and the wind; and by giants, gods and other supernatural beings.

The seeds of a mythic story run deep.

Myths were before art was, before language or the written word. The Cave paintings at Lascaux and Alta Mira are some 30,000 years old. Were these paintings just stick figures representing a bunch of men and bison and bears and deer? Might there have been a need to paint these paintings? For luck in the hunt, for food, for survival. Wouldn't these folk have invoked some kind of magic to aid and protect them in the hunt? Were these artists talking to the gods? Were they beseeching aid from the perils of living in those dark times?

Myths sprung up before religion. Every religion's stories are retellings of universal mythic themes. The Creation of the World, the first Man and Woman, Heaven and Earth, a great flood, stories of heroes and heroines and dragons and serpents. A culture's mythos IS the storied foundation of the culture.

The great mythic themes were known before literature. All great works of literature are based upon mythic themes or stories. Noah's Ark, Jonah and the great fish, Moby Dick, and even the movie Titanic are all stories about man's struggles with the seas {the unconscious?}). Myths and mythic symbols are the elementary particles of imagination and creativity. The cultural historian Jacques Barzun has said: What links myth with Literature is ... the Imagination.

Myth is before philosophy and science. The same questions that our religions used to ask, now our philosophies and our sciences try to answer. We may be an enlightened, technological society but we have the same needs as ever: protection, warmth, food, sex and love and children, happiness, doing good.

Aren't we still fascinated by the truths of these mythic stories and by ancient peoples' need for magic in their untamed world? And don't we still cry out for magic in our (apparently) rational world? Don't we seem to crave mystery more and more to counter our apparent understanding and mastery of the world? Are we meant to be totally rational, are we meant to be machines?

A culture's mythology is a powerful tool for psychology, casting light on the culture's shared unconscious. There is no better way to understand a culture deeply than to know and appreciate its mythos, its stories, its dreams. Indeed, many of the symbols in our dreams are universal (Jung's archetypes), or at least culture-wide, symbols whose meaning is invested in the mythic stories that they inhabit. And there are those who believe that these symbols and these stories are encoded in the very cells of our species' DNA.

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