Following my review of the Changing of the Gods series and its call for a new cosmology that better explains our reality, I returned to my bookshelves to find clues to the roots of the problem. The ‘West’ appears to be going insane. How did we get so unmoored from reality and where do our crazy ideas come from?
Rollo May provides one answer in The Cry for Myth which explores the nature of the stories we tell about ourselves and why they’re so important. He analyses the myths of various western cultures across time and explains what they reveal about the source of our subconscious fears and confusion about life.
“A myth is a way of making sense in a senseless world. Myths are narrative patterns that give significance to our existence. … Myths are like the beams in a house: not exposed to outside view, they are the structure which holds the house together so people can live in it.”
There are four ways that myths contribute to our lives:
- Myths give us a sense of personal identity and help us to answer the question: who am I?
- Myths give us a sense of community and connect us to others
- Myths underpin our moral values and provide a framework for ethical behaviour
- Myths help us to deal with the mysteries of life and creation
So myths give a healthy society a way to feel secure. They provide a sense of belonging and identity that brings people together, frees them from anxiety and excessive guilt, and gives them a sense of direction or purpose.
But in our modern world, myths no longer perform that function. Our modern myths leave us fragmented and alone. They don’t help us to make sense of reality or life and so people are left to figure it out for themselves. There’s no reassurance that you belong to something meaningful and this gives rise to great fear and anxiety and confusion about your identity and place in the world.
“Myth making is essential in gaining mental health… the very birth and proliferation of psychotherapy in our contemporary age were called forth by the disintegration of our myths.”
It might have something to do with the popularity of astrology too.
This disintegration of meaning makes people prone to being taken over by mass consciousness, or mass psychosis – mob driven fevers of insanity that we’re seeing so much of today. It’s this anxiety that underpins the hysteria over identity politics and the mania for attaching labels to yourself to signify who you are (or would like to be), who you stand with and who you hate.
Of course, we do have myths but we don’t see them as myths. We see them as truth. We believe we live in a machine universe devoid of inherent meaning and that our purpose is self-created via science and progress. We believe we are gods because we can fire rockets at the moon. These are facts, not myths – we believe.
We don’t believe in myths anymore because they’re not real, they’re not true. We don’t understand the power of our inner world and see myths as stories – just entertainment. And stories don’t matter. Stories are for babies. We are grownups, thank you very much. We know what’s what. Science tells us. 🙃
The problem is that we believe we are rational.
“When we in the twentieth century are so concerned about proving that our technical reason is right and we wipe away in one fell swoop the ‘silliness’ of myths, we also rob our own souls and we threaten to destroy our society as part of the same deterioration.”
When we deny the power of myth, we are refusing to confront the reality of our world. But being disconnected from reality is a risky business. The problem is even worse because we don’t realise that we’re disconnected. We think we know what reality is – because Science!
Aside: Science is a useful technique or method for understanding reality from one perspective, but it should never be confused with, or used as, a belief system. We have turned science into the religion of Scientism.
As ‘rationalism’ increased its influence we have only become more confused and lacking in moral ideals, unsure of the future, lost and drowning in distractions. We’re losing our humanity, barely able to even feel what is being done to us or communicate meaningfully with others.
“Without myth we are like a race of brain-injured people unable to go beyond the word and hear the person who is speaking. There can be no stronger proof of the impoverishment of our contemporary culture than the popular – though profoundly mistaken – definition of myth as falsehood.”
This lack of meaning and ethics takes a terrible toll on people and contributes to rising levels of depression, anxiety, suicides, and general malaise. The lack of real connection with others also drives people to join cults. He mentions Jim Jones, but we only have to look at what has been happening recently to see how susceptible people are. They desperately need something to make sense of their lives, to give it meaning, and they’re willing to brutalise themselves and others to achieve it.
Myths represent eternal truths – in other words, archetypes. They refer to the essence of our human experience and so provide the foundation for our values and ethics. And this is why the ‘West’ is screwed unless we change our myths and cosmology.
“Every individual seeks – indeed must seek if he or she is to remain sane – to bring some order and coherence into the stream of sensations, emotions, and ideas entering his or her consciousness from within or without. Each one of us is forced to do deliberately for oneself what in previous ages was done by family, custom, church, and state, namely, form the myths in terms of which we can make some sense of experience.”
Unfortunately, many people now are allowing the State to form their mythology – built from flimsy virtue signalling, fraudulent science and politically expedient lies. This is the natural and obvious outcome of the belief in a machine universe devoid of meaning without ethics or morals. Might makes right and the idiot who shouts the loudest wins.
Our technology makes this situation worse. He quotes Max Frisch who said:
“Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it.”
The quote is from the novel Homo Faber published in 1957, long before we disappeared behind glowing screens. Many people now barely experience their own lives. They’re numb, zoned out and bored, and then hysterical and outraged when triggered on cue by the media.
“The barrenness of our culture with respect to ethical values rests upon our barrenness of myths, which means many of us have no faith to live by.”
Except ‘The Science’!
We are all homeless in a psychological and spiritual sense, lacking in real mythical roots. We live in a mythical vacuum. That was definitely my experience growing up. It has taken half my life to unlearn the bullshit my poor brain was filled with as a child! And I still slip into the abyss of meaninglessness at times. 😔
For more on the importance of understanding and transforming our modern myths, read Mystic Warrior Practice: Collective Context.
Next time we’ll explore the ultimate modern myth of Faust…