Introduction to mythical thinking
Many have tried to explain the need of people to create myths, something similar to the trying of explaining the need of religions. There are many different ways to explain and interpret why people have always created myths, which we will see later on, but for the moment let’s just take a moment and think that myths and legends are not only creations that derive for a need…Myths and legends have a value of their own, have things to offer in a subtle and subconscious level and not only psychological or religious meaning.
Myths depict humans’ way to enlightenment, progress of thinking, their way to completion. This doesn’t only count for the first men, when myths were a part of their every-day life, but also for the contemporary humans…Myth begins where scientific words have nothing more to offer, where science can’t go, can’t explain, can’t satisfy our eagerness to know more.
For us, pagans and witches, myths are still alive, they remain part of our lives and there are many among us who do not believe only in the archetypical, psychological meaning of the myths, the Gods and Goddesses, but in their actual existence, their will to communicate, share and exchange experiences. Many among us talk to our Gods and Goddesses and develop a unique relationship with them. This is why it is never possible for myths to stop existing, because there will always be those who will believe in them, knowing that they contain truth, even where most tend to see a nice story and nothing more.
Of course, science and logic have their own very important role to play, that nobody can deny, but mysticism, imagination, religion and emotions/feelings will always play their important role as well. As I usually say, believing that everything has been created by sheer luck and coincidence and that humans are themselves the creator gods, simply doesn’t make any sense. Putting science in the place of religion, simply creates a new religion…
So, why spend time in the study of things that cannot be proven? Why go back into the past? The answer is simple and a very logical one. The human brain has two hemispheres; the left one that has to do with logic, mathematics and science, and the right that controls imagination, feelings, creativity and dreaming. We could use the words that many use, that the left hemisphere is the masculine brain while the right is the feminine. The left brain is connected to the conscious mind and the right to the subconscious. Both hemispheres are very useful and should not be neglected.
Try to draw or to write a novel, for example, using only logic and mathematics. When the human mind goes into the myth, either by creating it or by finding it, science may be absent in a way, but logic is not. Science is based on three basic axioms. In order for something to be considered scientific it must have a precise object of study, a scientific method to study it and a scientific method to judge the results of it in controlled situations or environments.
So, yes, mythology is not science, but is it illogical? Surely not! It is based on watching the world around us, interacting with everything that is on this Earth and far away into the universe. Mythology is the product of human thinking outside the box, trying to explain not only what can be proven, but also what cannot be proven, but we are sure that exists. So myth is neither history (as a science, since myths cannot be proven) nor physics. But myths explain the progress of humans in this world and tries to find the causes of events and situations, just as history does and also explains Nature and its laws, a natural causal relation between events, actions and reactions, just as physics do. Thus myth needs and uses space, time and cause, because things couldn’t be explained and described otherwise, but not their mathematical sequence.
Myth has its beginning in the necessary psychological and conscious questions that come from the humans facing the unknown. It is these unknown factors, those things that we watch happening every day, but we cannot explain with mathematics or physics. And the part of the Universe that is still unknown is a lot greater than the corner we have come to know.
Myths and legends, even of the same peoples tend to vary throughout history, because the consciousness is different. For example, during the 4th century BC, mythological thinking in Greece was confined in what philosophy and logic instructed. During this century, when Athens became the spiritual centre not only of Greece, but of the whole known world back then, philosophers like Socrates and Plato reached the idea of the existence of one God, who is greater than all.
The Christian Church has their nominated Saints, but I don’t think that this is what they used to believe in. They simply had the idea of a matrix, of all things being able to multiply endlessly, or vice versa, until we can reach the beginning of all, the ultimate Being, the source of all life. This isn’t far from our pagan interpretation of the Universe and how it began, no matter how each culture or individual path names it. Others prefer to name it Chaos, others God and Goddess, others Pool, others don’t give a name at all.
Then, during the period of Alexander the Great and the years that followed his death (Hellenistic Years), mythological thinking got liberated again, as the Greeks didn’t feel the need to have a logical explanation behind everything anymore. Alexander the Great died, but his sister, Roxanne, lived after she drank the water of life that her brother denied to drink, in order to save her. She fell into the sea to drown, but because of the water she lived, transformed into a mermaid, asking all sailors if her brother lives. The ships of those who say that he is dead wreck into the seas. This way, a hero and a Goddess were born, both historical beings who passed into history but remain alive into mythology.
Consciousness creates a world of its own, this way, combining things logical and illogical. It goes beyond natural laws, which were unknown in the beginning anyway. Its importance shows in the fact that we continue to study and create myths, even now that many things are known. But the tendency to go beyond the known is always there. And there is always a part in all human beings that feels better with stories around the fire, with heroes fighting for humanity, Gods and Goddesses and rituals.
As mythology of today used to be history, maybe our nowadays-history will be considered mythology at some point…
At this point we have to define something. The word “Fantasy” derives from the Greek word “Φαντασία” (fandassia) that doesn’t mean only something that doesn’t exist, but also imagination. We don’t have a different word. So, imagination is something that human mind may fantasize about, or something that we imagine, hope, wish for etc, and it can be a great creative power and also a means for humans to reach the Divine.
Plato said that this world we live in is a fake world, a world where only shadows of the real things and beings are visible. Beyond all, there is the World of the Idea, the real world, that only philosophers can see and then they can teach the people how to see it as well. Things in this world, although fake, can lead us through beauty to the Idea of each thing and thus to the Idea itself, the Divine Consciousness that has created all. Plato has talked about Divine being within us all.
Why the philosophers, though and not the scientists (although the philosophers were those that studied mathematics and physics)? Because philosophers want to create ethics and not only explain the world. The philosophers are those who have a mind open enough to see beyond what is known and believed in. This is similar to the Indians and their Shaman, when Spanish conquerors arrived in America. Only the Shaman could see the ships, because nobody knew what a ship was and so nobody could see them in the water, coming closer. And after the Shaman saw the ships, people, trusting their wise man, could also see the ships. The Wise Man, the Philosopher, the Witch Doctor, the Priests and Priestesses are the people who kept their ears and eyes, but most of all their minds, open to the whispers of the unknown. In knowing the myth, in creating it, knowledge, science and logic are not enough, as the myth talks to that subconscious mind of ours…Imagination is also necessary…
It is this combination of the rational and irrational that co-operate within consciousness, the things that create the myth. It is the same phenomenon that we find in art. It doesn’t count so much what we actually see. It is more a matter of aesthetics, a need to express our knowledge and perception in a symbolic way, the need to explain what we conceive in any way we can, other than logic and mathematics. Because, how can physics explain how it all started and where it all ends? What if we take a moment and think that Gods, Goddesses and “mythical beings” may have existed. There are many opinions on what these creatures actually are…Some say extraterrestrial beings, some say beings that have lived on Earth but have gone extinct or hidden (like the Fae), some believe that they were actually what they appeared like. But in the end it doesn’t matter or make a significant difference, because symbolic, archetypical or not, each one of us perceive them in a unique yet very same way.
In ancient Greece, myth and art have always walked hand in hand. Gods and Goddesses, their lives and adventures have always been vivid and a part of every-day life. Not only in architecture or sculpture and painting, but also in poetry and literature. The first examples of written poetry in Europe come from Homer’s epics. There, the adventures of Gods and heroes are described, in texts that were studied in schools in Ancient Greece and still are being studied. It used to be history then, it is mythology today, but these extensive poems show how our ancestors were thinking and still make children and adults stand in amazement on how those poems were learnt by heart and spoken before kings and queens, in official dinners or in rural fists.
Homer’s poems belong to a genre of their own. They are characterized as “Heroic Epic Poetry”, where the deeds of heroes and their interactions with the Gods are described. “Odyssey” that was written before “Iliad” describes the return of Odysseus back to Ithaca, his adventures with his companions and the adventures he found back home against those who had been sitting in his house, eating and drinking without respect, waiting for Penelope to choose one among them as her husband. Within the story, other characters appear; Odysseus’ son, with Athena’s help grows into adulthood and is transformed from boy to man, Penelope shows her unique ethics in every chance, her greatest deed being that she was making a textile every day and destroying it during the night, because she had said to her suitors that she would choose after she had finished it.
In “Odyssey”, Gods and Goddesses are present, they help and warn people but do not tell them what to do. Zeus complains at some point that people accuse the Gods for the things they have brought to themselves. Free will is obvious in this epic. In “Iliad”, which was written before, Gods are always present, leading people’s lives to what They want. During the Trojan War, they take parts and help either the Trojans or the Greeks according to Their personal passions and tastes. So the latter Homer’s work shows how the thought progressed from people believing that they are merely pawns to free thinkers who listen to the Gods, communicate with them, but take their chances in life, do as it seems right to them and then accept the responsibility and the consequences of their actions. This is something really close to what most pagans believe, about the Deities’ role in a human life.
Hesiod was the one that wrote “Religious Epics”, which means that he wrote about the Cosmology (How the world was created) and Theogeny (How the Gods were born). Humans were created by the Gods as were all living beings. Creation Myths can be found all around the world. The great mystery of how the world was created has always troubled humans and still does (Because, after all, before the Big Bang, what?) In all creation myths, a Being or a couple (female and male) created the world, nature and the beings as we know them.
It is really interesting that most cosmologies don’t begin by a God, a Goddess or a couple, but by one “Being”, usually a combination of Universal Powers, that creates everything and where all Deities derive from one way or another.
In Greek Mythology, this “Being” is Chaos, a void in space and time, full of matter and potential. The first Deities, the Titans are created, then the Gods and when They stop fighting against each other and things stabilize, there comes the man. There is a very interesting myth on how the humans were created, which I think would be nice to share with you here. I take some parts from Hesiod and I combine them with Plato’s myth on the birth of humans, to give you a complete story.
After the war between the Gods and the Titans ended in Gods’ favour, a Titan was distinguished. Prometheus, the Titan who had helped the Gods gain the upper hand was the one that had helped humans later and was punished for it. After the war, Gods decided to create all living beings. They gathered claws, pelts, furs and other things and created animals and humans in a dark cave out of soil and water. Zeus gave them the Divine Breath so that they came to life, similarly to the Christian story. He told Prometheus and Epimetheus, his brother, to give each being the necessary things so that it could be protected and able to live. Epimetheus wanted to do that alone and then Prometheus could check if everything had been done in the right way. So he started and made some animals have claws and teeth that could cut meat and thus created the predators.
To the other animals he gave refuge deep in the Earth or high in the trees. When Prometheus came, he saw that his brother had left humans without anything to survive, because Epimetheus had forgotten them. He decided to go to Mount Olympus and steal the fire from Hephaestus and the logical wisdom from Athena. He gave those to the humans who started creating weapons and tools and found power in numbers.
Zeus was frustrated by the theft and punished Prometheus severely, by binding him on a rock where a vulture would eat his intestines every day, just for them to be healed and then the same would happen again and again. But Zeus, being just, saw that the human race would disappear, because they didn’t know how to live together in harmony. So, Zeus gave them his present, political thought. This is why all humans are qualified to have political opinions, because they can all think politically. In Ancient Athens, partaking in political matters, voting and discussing political matters, was not only a right but also an obligation, bearing great responsibility.
According to another myth, after the Gods won the war against the Titans, Zeus gave everyone wisdom and rights, but he forgot to give anything to the humans. Prometheus was the only one who went against Zeus and took humans under his protection, teaching them the place of stars in the sky, medicine, mathematics and language, how to plant and make tools. No matter which version of the myth we decide to follow, Prometheus is a big human protector.
In order to understand the deeper importance of myths, it would be nice to explain what this word means. “Myth” in Ancient Greek means word (spoken speech), a story and a myth. This shows how myths, stories about Gods and heroes passed down generation to generation through speech. All ancient Greeks knew mythology in details. This is why in dramatic (theatrical art), only some details on the version followed were given and not on the original myth which was considered to be known.
Myths were connected to religion and still are. This is where we can find information on Gods and Goddesses and see how we can worship them, follow their path, ask them for what we want and live along with them. Myth is what awakens the consciousness. This is the first step of humanity beyond the animal kingdom. This is the first step for humans to find the Divine and start walking on the path leading to them. First humans were helpless and weak in a world they had to survive in, having nothing more than their logic, their imagination and their experiences. This is how they started watching everything around them, and then the sky and the heavens, things extraordinary and magickal in their way.
So, we started explaining the world with the means we had and myths were created and lived by. It was only natural to create myths, to find the Divine. People needed help, guidance and protection and they found all this. This is not the need to explain everything around (as many say that religion is just a need based on fear), or to be able to believe in something. Seeing so many peoples, connected so much to nature and then watching the Greeks, taking logic onto a high throne, still believing in Gods and Goddesses, one could conclude that religion and myth aren’t based on the need to believe in something, the reality pushes us to believe in something greater.
In any case, myth led humans to find another logic behind things and conditions. Ancient Greek religion, as all pagan religions and traditions was an animistic one, meaning that it was based on the belief that all living beings and also rivers, seas, mountains and springs had a soul. Animistic comes from the Latin word “Anima”, meaning Soul.
All religions are divided in two very important functions; the first is the ecstasies (going out of yourself, to find the Divine). The ecstatic function works every time we communicate with the Divine through ritual. The other function is the need to bring the Divine into your every-day life. Then the myth is created. Voltaire said that even if there were no god, we should invent him. Myths are not allegories, they don’t want to teach (or their intent is not only that), myths are there to lead our soul, to make us feel, hope and have fun! Myths are what they are…
At some point, Greeks made a turn from the team to the person. This is when lyric poems about love, relationships and feelings made their appearance and they were not poems that someone would simply recite in front of an audience, there was also music accompanying them and they were made for singing and dancing. But after that period, in the most renown period of the ancient Greek history, the 5th and 4th centuries BC, a new genre of poetry made its appearance, the Dramatic Art, theatre, coming straight from the free souls of people believing in democracy and the right of free thinking, speaking and acting. Dramatic Poetry had three branches, Tragedy, Comedy and Satyric Drama. (In order to better understand the meaning of the word “Drama”, it is necessary to say that the word derives from the verb “Δρω” (dro), which means “to act”).
Tragedy had a serious content and wanted to teach, by showing the pure soul of a hero, who suffers because of things he/she has done or because of things their families have done. Comedies were like the nowadays satiric plays, wanting to make people think on contemporary matters in a way that would also cause laugh. Satyric (with a “y” because it comes from the “Satyr”, Dionysus’ companions) plays were there to be played between tragedies, in order for people to have fun and unwind a bit before watching the next play. Imagine that the theatrical games were so important that during Pericles’ Times, the state of Athens paid the fee for those unable to pay for themselves and also women could watch. Drama took the reciting from the epics, took music and rhythm from the lyric songs and added action. The audience could watch the story brought into life by actors like living reality.
Even at the times of Dramatic Poetry, mythology was the base. This genre connected to Dionysus, as it all started during the rituals for this God when parts of his life would be introduced to the people by acting, but it was also based on myths. There are three basic mythological “circles” where most of the dramas are based on; the Trojan, connected to the adventures of Greeks in Troy during and after the war, the Argonautic, about Jason and his adventures and the Thebaic, about the stories around those who founded and ruled in the Greek Thebes.
Tragedy shares many religious aspects. First there is the sequence of Hubris, Ate, Nemesis and Tisis. Hubris is committed every time that someone does or says something that shows arrogance and an exaggeration of power, especially towards the Gods. Let’s not forget that one of the things that mattered most for Ancient Greeks was the sense of measure (“metron”). Ate comes and clouds the mind so that the person commits greater hubris. The Gods get angry (Nemesis) and punish the person (Tisis). Sometimes, hubris is so great that not only the person in question, but his whole family have to suffer, until there is no male descendant. This is where things get tragic, to see someone suffering because their parents or grandparents have done something wrong. The thing is that in the end, justice and ethical balance are restored, so that people who have gone through pity (for the hero) and fear (for their own lives and fate), find “katharsis”, cleansing, emotional and spiritual relief. Another important aspect is “Ecstasis”. The actors, wearing masks and theatrical clothes get out of themselves and become the character they play. Ecstasis was a vital part of the Dionysian worship and rituals. So myth, may be introduced in different ways, but it is always there, to quench the thirst of contacting the Divine.
Mythology is always there in philosophy as well, and this is only normal. Philosophy tries to explain the world, the beginning of all and even turns to the after-life, as does the myth. Plato used his own myths in order to explain how he viewed the world and these myths were also taught along with Hesiod and Homer. Then, Aesopus, used myths in order to teach ethics and morality and his myths are among the favourite ones for all children in Greece. Even in the first attempts of history writing, myths appeared vividly. Herodotus, the father of history as he is called (because he was the first that wanted to write about something really important that would stay for the next generations) included myths in his history
Greek myths are divided in categories. There are the theogonical and cosmological myths, the historical myths (myths around real events in human history, but with mythological additions, such as the Trojan War that gave food for myths to both the Greek and the Roman mythology), the political myths (in order for a politician or general to convince people to a war) that lack a mythological core and the heroic myths (myths around the life and struggles of a hero).
Thus, from any point of view, myths are a pure form of the common and cultural imagination, something that speaks straight to our hearts. They can teach, make us laugh, give us an ethical code or translate real-life experience into a more interesting form. Myths have always been the way for everyone, even those who could not afford education, to come to touch with their culture and learn things that were important for life itself. With mythology, one doesn’t need to be a philosopher or a theologian. Everyone can partake and everyone can play an important role…Enjoy!
In Love and Light always,
pictures from Google