From to Myth to Man
It is the play of children to pretend to be heroes. Parents smile as their progeny wear pillowcases as capes and jump off an ottoman pretending to fly. Modern-day comic book characters often have their basis in a mythological deity or some bearing. We don’t consider it an evening of mythology to go see the latest Marvel character movies but our ancestors would have and been delighted.
Welsh mythology is better known as simply folklore. Sometimes a combination of neighboring territories, the tales of the Welsh were among the first to be Christianized. Their spiritual gods and goddesses became kings and queens in their oral and later written history. While most of us shake our heads at attempting to pronounce the Welsh names which are full of consonants and few vowels, it is the Welsh legends that have perhaps lasted better than many others. They are also harder to separate, fact from fiction.
It is in the Welsh tales that we see mankind really seeking answers to the natural world. For instance, why did owls only fly at night? From the fourth branch or section of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh literature, comes the tale of the magician-created Blodeuwedd. The magicians were two brothers, Math and Gwydion, who made the young woman to be the wife of a man known as Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Gyffes had been condemned by his mother and forbidden to marry a human. The brothers created the fair Blodeuwedd who proves unworthy. She is unfaithful to her husband and then kills her lover to hide her unfaithfulness. Blodeuwedd is then turned into an owl as punishment, forever to fly only at night and live alone, being ostracized by other birds.
A popular television program for the past decade has been the science-based “Mythbusters”. Taking their name from the popular 1970’s films “Ghostbusters”, two stunt men and property managers in Hollywood set about to debunk popular sayings or myths. The myths of the modern world are more commonly known as urban legends or mere gossip. For the ancient world, however, myths were spiritual and scientific. The “Mythbusters” program uses science to prove or disprove their myths, using the art of mythology must as the ancient world did in explaining the natural world.
Our mythological characters in modern times are more commonly known as comic book characters. Festivals such as Comic Con and Dragon Con celebrate the fantasy that dwells in all our imaginations. While it is possible to take such pretend play to extremes, for the most part such events are harmless and can even be healthy. Fantasy is a part of our mental processing. It not only can bring out the best in us, it can give birth to hope and new inventions. This past Epiphany we discussed various inventions and their inventors. Every single one began with a dream and a perceived need.
The mythologies of antiquity were an attempt to explain the natural world. What they really portrayed was mankind’s place in it. In Bataille’s book “the Absence of Myth”, it is offered that science and the industrial revolution and subsequent industries have stolen our need for such mythologies. Of course, such a proposition becomes a myth itself and simply defines the role these periods of history have upon mankind. There is still much to learn and I’m sure more myths to be written, told, sung about, and recreated.
Acclaimed fantasy writer Phillip Pullman explains our need for such stories: ““After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” We are all storytellers, in my humble opinion. We weave the hours of our day into a story in which we then live or review. We awake in the morning and then construct a story of upcoming events. We dress for the character we will portray that day – corporate executive, gardener, shopper, etc. As we close our eyes to sleep we then replay the story we lived, sometimes repenting and sometimes with pride.
Hopefully we play the character of ourselves with honesty. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” Patrick Rothfuss, in his book “The Name of the Wind”, describes accurately how very much we are like the children who pretend to be Superman or Batman. The story we tell ourselves becomes the story we live and shapes who we are. But that is only part of the real story.
We are deeply affected by the actions and words of others, both by what they do as well as by what they do not do…or say. We do not consider ourselves mythological gods or goddesses but we, too, have power as Eric Morgenstern writes: “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” Just as the natural world affects us, we affect others.
Perhaps the most famous of all mythology weavers of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century is writer Stephen King. He has enthralled and horrified readers and movie goers for over two decades and his stories are often quoted in current movies and television programs. King has developed the characteristics of the ancient myths down to a fine art. “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” .
Stephen King’s words about reading and books can also be applied to the things we worship as well as the people who are characters in the story of our life. “There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.” Live your life according to your own terms – not being a snob or just playing it safe. Take a chance on peace, on hope, on trying something new. Live according to your beliefs and have the courage to stand up for them without hurting others or their right to do the same. Tomorrow we will delve into the myth that became a king and later a president. Today, I hope you write a beautiful story for yourself.