Creativity, Science & The 4 Functions of Myth

Kechak ( young man stands naked amongst his peers, facing a raging bonfire. Days of starvation, sleep deprivation, dancing and song have significantly altered his reality. The beating of drums, the heart beat of the strange world he has been inhabiting, is reaching a crescendo…

And what comes next?

In a word: pain.

The boy is going to be branded: body, mind and soul – them tribal folk are gonna do nasty things to his privates.

The otherworldly quality of his unconscious has been brought to the fore in circumstances controlled by his community. Those strange psychic activities – the electric storms beneath his surface layer consciousness – have been made manifest in the weird and wonderful activities of the unfolding ritual. His consciousness, unconscious and body are one and totally bound up in the tribe, and now… well, now comes something to remember it by.

Mythology, according to the great comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, serves four functions:

  1. Metaphysical: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
  2. Cosmological: Explaining the shape of the universe
  3. Sociological: Validating and supporting the existing social order
  4. Pedagogical: Guiding the individual through the stages of life.

We live in a scientific age in which it would seem these functions are now provided by science.

But, when it comes to creativity, which in the modern world arguably helps to satisfy some of the 1st and 4th functions, the assistance science provides is limited.

According to Campbell, “Mythological symbols touch and exhilarate centers of life beyond the reach of vocabularies of reason and coercion”. In other words, mythology forges a bridge between the conscious and unconscious mind, a bridge that both affords cohesion and injects vitality into living (opening up the mental flood gates so to speak). Unfortunately, this is not something provided, at least in my experience, by scientific reasoning.

So, in a tick-off between mythology and science, both for creativity and the art of living, that’s one tick for mythology.

Now, I am creature of my age: I have a penchant for individuality, freedom and the truth, but… well, I’m not sure the pursuit of individuality, freedom and the truth has really brought me much happiness.

So I guess I’m also questioning how well science performs the 2nd and 3rd function.

As for being branded into a way of viewing and experiencing the universe and yourself that forges an accord between your conscious and unconscious mind, your role in your community, what your community does, all manner of fabulous awe inspiring mysteries of life and that helps you to make your way through the various stages of life… well, I have to say, that doesn’t sound half bad.

So, shit… as much as that is probably a con for most people, for me, it’s another tick to mythology.

We could probably compare some more, but I don’t want to bore you. Suffice to say, I’ve looked into it and for me the mythological ticks have it.

To conclude, I want to be a conformist tribal warrior. The truth be damned!

And what does this mean for me as a song writing?

Not sure.

Well actually, that’s not true…

The reason I’m writing this is that I’ve just started reading Creative Mythology from Campbell’s Masks of God series. It’s an analysis of… the arts, I suppose, from the Renaissance to now, from a mythological standpoint.

And this is what Campbell has to say about it:

Happy Valentine's Day! (#45653)In the context of traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to have experienced, certain insights, sentiments and commitments. In what I am calling “creative” mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own ­– of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration ­– which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the value and force of living myth – for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it of themselves, with recognition, uncoerced.

So there you go: according to Campbell, good artists are mythmakers. So much for being a conformist tribal warrior!

Anyways, I’ll keep you posted on any cool stuff I learn.

Note: If you’re interested in mythology, check out ‘Quest’, a song I wrote after reading Campbell’s ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’.

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The Louis Armstrong Twist

[Portrait of Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947] (LOC)A few months ago I realised the error of my songwriting ways.

Having learnt the basics of music theory, I thought I had it sussed:

The diatonic scale has its modes: the Ionian (major scale) Aeolian (minor scale) and the Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian and Locrian.

Take the diatonic scale and determine the tonal centre of a piece and you’ve got your mode. Then, build your chords from each note using the 1st, 3rd and 5th (and maybe whack in a 7th, 4th, 6th or 9th for flavour), develop a chord progression, play around with the notes of the scale to create melodies and you can write songs.

Now, there is effectively nothing wrong with this approach of course. Plenty of great songs do not waver from the one mode and the possibilities within these confines are seemingly infinite.

But having recently committed to improving my songwriting, I started analysing some tunes and their chord progressions with a particular concern for those songs that don’t restrict themselves to this approach and are decidedly more flavoursome as a result.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve learnt plenty of these songs before, I’ve just never tried to understand how and why they work.

At any rate, my first ‘aha’ moment was Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’, in which I discovered what I refer to as the Louis Armstrong Twist.

And what is the Louis Armstrong Twist?

Have a listen while reading my explanation below.


‘What a wonderful world’ is in F major. The F major chord scale (with chords built from the 1st, 3rd and 5th of each note in the F major scale) consists of the following: (I)F major , (II)G minor, III)A minor, (IV)Bb major, (V)C major, (VI) D minor, (VII) E diminished.

Now most of the song sticks to these chords… except where it counts.

The chorus, ‘And I think to my self…’, starts with a Db major.

This is unexpected, a nice little sonic twist, and gives a great new flavour to the tune, grabbing your attention for the punchline, ‘What a wonderful world’, which follows it immediately in the comforting world of the established key (using the chords G minor, C major and F major – a V – I resolution).

And why does the Db major work?

It’s a borrowed chord.

A borrowed chord is a chord borrowed from a parallel key (i.e. a key that has the same root note) – in this case F minor.

And the 6th chord in the F minor chord scale, you see, is Db major. I have since discovered numerous examples of this. And not just with the 6th chord. It also happens a lot with the 3rd and the 7th.

At any rate, I decided to use the Louis Armstrong Twist in the song I was working on at the time, ‘Full Moon Rising’.

I used it in the the ‘C’ section after the second chorus. You can check it out below.  It comes in at 2 minutes and 43 seconds, at the beginning of the phrase ‘All these sensations…’ and returns at the beginning of the following two phrases.

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