Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Power of Myth

Lately, I've been watching old Bill Moyers interviews of Joseph Campbell , pulled towards them likely due to interest in understanding myth and the role it can play in our lives. Campbell has long fascinated me, especially his work done to interpret humanity's collection of myths -- his categorizations, explanations, and musings on the subject.

All cultures put forth an idea of a hero -- someone who has given himself over to something larger than himself and has returned to teach others. The hero throughout religion and literature has followed a formula, regardless of era, religion, or culture, and it is this: there is a departure of sorts, there is some sort of quest (whether physical or spiritual in nature), there is the fulfillment of this quest and then a return.

Campbell argues that the metaphors found within these stories are merely labels for things like the "unconscious" or "ego". For example, in the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale....Jonah enters into the whale and remains there for three days and three nights. Only after Jonah offers supplications to God and acknowledges that he has placed idols before his relationship with God was he released from the belly of the whale.

Campbell offers that this story is more about Jonah's journey into his unconscious than it is about the dangers of marine outings. Jonah finds himself adrift in water (symbol of the unconscious) after troubling times in his conscious world. He is swallowed whole by his unconscious and during his time within the whale (can also be interpreted as within himself), he gains consciousness and can then return to the world he knew with fresh eyes and a more clear understanding of what it is all about.

A similar metaphor is put forth with the dragon stories which originated in Europe during the medieval era. In these, a dragon is guarding either gold or a beautiful woman -- it cannot partake of either one and can only guard them from others. At some point, a young male comes to challenge the dragon and slay it, thus freeing the bound treasure.

Campbell says that the dragon has long been a symbol for the ego. It is the voice within us that says, "Oh, I couldn't do that...I couldn't be that." Its goal is to prevent us from finding the freedom we seek; our charge, then, is to slay it.

Along these lines, Campbell offered the following:

"If the person doesn't listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you're gonna have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life and it is not one the body is interested in at all...the world is full of people who are not listening to themselves at all...follow your bliss."

Kelly, as many of you know, means "warrior" in Gaelic and it has come to have incredible meaning for me in my life. However, a warrior's role is not to inflict pain on others with his or her sword. Instead, my role is to use the sword upon the ego and its thoughts of fear and delusion, slicing them to non-existence, and freeing myself in the process. The beauty of this practice is that I am free and it is entirely delicious.


Patia said...

I did not know Kelly meant warrior. Very cool.

Today I was reading a Victoria magazine article about cameo jewelry, and I was fascinated by one cameo. It had a female warrior with curly locks and a medieval helmet, upon which was perched a dragon. The dragon was very much "alive." Both looked fairly friendly. I would love to find out more about this!

It's interesting; this hero's (or heroine's) journey is something I've been studying both in terms of writing memoir and in the course I've been taking.

Kelly said...

I dig it. I used to hate it when I was growing up because it didn't seem very feminine. Think about...I had friends whose names meant "butterfly" and "meadow" and there I was..."warrior." Still, I like it because it grants me permission to carry a sword. =)

On a more serious note, I really love this cameo image of yours, Patia. Let me know what you unearth through your research. One think I thought about -- which you may also find of interest -- is knowing that between the 13th-15th centuries, women belonged to something called the Chivalric Order of The Dragon.

Also, I wonder if your cameo could be a reference to Saint Martha.

Kelly said...


Check out this site, too. Great images of Martha and the Dragon.

Kelly said...

Hmmm...I'll just send it to your email account! K

Patia said...

Thanks, Kel. I'll check those links out when I get time. I'll see if I can remember to take a pic of the Victoria cameo and send it to you, too.

P.S. When I found out that my Scottish ancestors, the McClains, were mercenaries for the MacDonald clan, I immediately had visions of myself as a fierce warrior woman on horseback!

Kelly said...

I love that image, Patia! Strong women are important in today's society. Cool tidbits about your Scotch relatives, too.

Cheers, Kel