A 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:
- Metaphysical: Awakening a sense of awe before the mystery of being
- Cosmological: Explaining the shape of the universe
- Sociological: Validating and supporting the existing social order
- 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?
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:
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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