Myth: Conceptions

November 23, 2011

(for Modern Mythology Week)

“Politics is the art of reconciling aspirations.” – Bruce Sterling, Distraction

They say that the personal is political. That’s certainly true about personal mythology.

Most people rarely, if ever, question the myths, the narrative, they are born into. They absorb this mythos from family, friends, church and state – and it becomes, to them, the very basis of their reality. The assumptions and metaphors of that mythos are not something they examine in any depth – they have little reason to, most of the time.

The problems arise when they encounter people with equally entrenched myths, which disagree with their own. These encounters are rarely without conflict.

This was always true. But it’s becoming more and more of a problem these days – the global reach of modern communications means that people from thousands of different mythos are having to deal with the fact that other beliefs and myths not only exist, but are taken as truth by people as sincere and dedicated to their mindset… and equally willing to fight for their right not only to believe in their myth, but to force others to believe it too. These encounters often, if not usually, lead to conflict. That’s when politics – usually, the politics of violence – kicks in.

But there is another way.

Some of us make the leap from one mythos to many. Doing so isn’t at all easy. You need a damn good reason to question the underlying basis of your whole reality. This often takes the form of some kind of neurological shock – coming up against something that simply doesn’t fit into the prevailing myth’s structure, or is rejected by it. Discovering one’s sexuality is at odds with the morals defined by one’s mythos is often such a shock, for example… but sometimes it can be as simple as discovering a piece of art or writing that challenges those assumptions and moves one’s soul, or meeting one of those rare folk who can speak eloquently about a different perspective without it becoming either evangelising or threat.

Once you’ve made the jump from one mythos to two, what’s to stop you jumping to three, four… ten thousand? Nothing at all.

And once at this stage, the urge to examine myths, and what they do to human consciousness, becomes a strong one. The problem there is… where do you start?

One thing that can help immeasurably is to read about how others handle their personal myths, how they expand on them, how they perceive other mythos and the influence of myth in general – which, as we’ve seen, can go unexamined so very easily. Which is why I’m very proud to be a contributor to the Modern Mythology project.

James Curcio and his band of merry mythologists have been trying to set forth a set of optional views not only on the myths which sustain us and our societies, but on the very nature of narrative itself. The first physical product of this effort – the remarkable anthology Immanence of Myth - is already being used to teach classes in mythology in American colleges – and a new collection of writing on the subject (including a little from me) is in the pipeline. One of the best parts of this is that anyone can play – if you have a perspective you want to share, the floor can be yours. That’s how I got involved… you can too.

This project is gearing up to expand greatly – but it needs help. You can lend support by spreading the word, contributing to the discussion – or by bunging a couple of quid or bucks to the fund-raising going on right now at http://www.indiegogo.com/Modern-Mythology

Do what you can. In times like these, we need all the ways to reconcile differing mythologies we can get.

(For more, follow the #myth hashtag on Twitter.)

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