The Role of Myth and Its Relevance from an Integral Perspective

song du jour: Memes in Harmony, Don Beck

mood: ever so slightly cryptic ;-)

The following writing and graphics are part of the handout I created for tonight's Atlanta Integral Salon meeting. I must admit that it went even better than I'd hoped. We jammed on the topic until they kicked us out of Moe's and kept going until they kicked us out of Starbucks. A big thanks to the CM for the support and the conversations that took my ideas from persistent feeling to written fruition.

"The material of myth is the material of life" -Joseph Campbell

In moving into higher levels of rationality and multiculturalism, most of us have shed the stories of creation, death, and rebirth, and/or the stories of our various religious upbringings in favor of scientific explanations and an over political correctness of tolerance of the stories of others without perhaps actually learning from them, but have we really transcended myth or the need for it? If archetypes are embedded in both our personal and collective unconscious, might myth not have a place all the way up the spiral?

Some might say we have not escaped myth. We have simply pushed it over into the realm of entertainment with a message or a moral embedded in our television shows, movies, videos, games, and music, yet by doing so, have we decentralized their power to heal and teach by valuing first the ability of these media to help us escape our drudgery and demons rather than actively help us confront our shadows with their metaphors? It's a mammoth set of questions for which this writing is but an introduction to open the discussion.

If myth has a role in second tier, then it must necessarily transcend merely the magic, glorification, and dogma of first tier. Such transcendence would include as many perspectives as possible and, therefore, the area of comparative mythology comes into play. With the work of Joseph Campbell being preeminent in this field (A discussion of comparative mythology without referencing Campbell seems practically impossible.), it is helpful to understand his terminology (self, ego, archetypes, etc.), which are drawn from the work of Carl Jung and differ slightly from both cultural and Wilberian definitions.

Campbell's Model of Jung's Idea of the Self

According to Jung, the self is the total individual personality and psyche as experienced contained in the human form.
Campbell states, "It is the business of ego not to try to dictate to the circle (self) how rectangular (ego) it should be. The ego's job is to bring its impulses into relationship with the environment, which ego has constructed. Culture is the result of cooperation between self and ego. Mythology is a language of the self to the ego that the ego must learn to understand."

It's important to keep in mind that myths and archetypes are that realm of the right brain and the dream state. Even though we tell them as stories and can see them as written words, they conjure up images. They predate the written word. They were handed down through oral traditions, and what we have now is what people along the way finally bothered to write down.

Mythology Around the Quadrants

(Graphic adapted from Ken Wilber's AQAL model to demonstrate the evolution of mythology
by Victoria Lansford)

Mythology Through the Spiral

Certain myths may resonate with some levels more than others. The ones that have the stickiness factor are the ones that speak the deepest to the most levels. These levels also follow the developmental patterns of childhood. At first, favorite myths are magical such as fairy tales, then as a child evolves, s/he becomes aware of power and is more drawn to such cartoons as those showing animals with superhuman abilities like Wile E. Coyote, and as a child moves into being concerned with right and wrong, good and evil, the myths that are attractive become about hope and empowerment through heroes such as Superman or King Arthur. If a child is exposed to a wide variety of them, the similar threads become so obvious that the commonality of the very stories that individual cultures may cling to as literal history, can, paradoxically, become the window into the world of rationality, for they contain not our history or our tickets to redemption, but the story of what it is to be human (or god, animal, fairy, or some combination thereof), and to feel.

Is there such a thing as a second tier movie, or is it simply that someone with a strong yellow or turquoise operating system will see the metaphors implicitly contained within all the levels of which s/he is aware? According to Wilber art created by an artist at an integral level of development is integral are, and the other category is are that is about the integral level. (Somewhere in cyberspace floats and mp3 of this discussion to an integral art gathering in 2003.) Someone at an integral level of development can see at a multitude of levels in any work of creativity even if the person, who created it, was not aware that that was his/her intention. Most of the time, when people are creating something, no matter how much intention they bring to their work, a great deal of the symbolism is at best semi-conscious. A good artist will pick up on most of it by the time s/he has completed the work. Even though s/he consciously chose each detail, s/he may not be aware of all of the significance of each symbol or metaphor contained in his/her work.

Star Wars up the Spiral

Purple - The force is with you. (Yes, it's turquoise by the time we see Yoda.)

Red - Darth Vader's willingness to crush anyone in his path

Blue- the rebels fight for justice, "Luke, come to the dark side..."

Orange - Han Solo is a classic example of Campbell's description of the hero's journey
He is very rational, arrogant, yes, but past the red level of mere ego trip. He is not greedy nor is he caught up in the fight of good versus evil. He is mildly mercenary with a live and let live policy. He is reluctant to get involved, a key criteria of the hero at the beginning of any myth, yet when faced with the emotional tug of camaraderie, he begins his transformation beyond his agentic self in acquisition of something higher.

Green - By then end of the final movie it has become very huggy touchy feely, Luke & Darth have made peace, and could those Ewoks be more group hug green?

One could say the whole plot moves up the spiral in its unfolding. Campbell and Lucas were big buddies, and the plots and characters were very consciously thought out to resonate as a modern mythology.

We unconsciously start this process by showing up for movies. We're drawn in by the feel good factor. If they are to be the foundation of our culture's mythology, how might we view, make, or promote them with consciousness?

One Role for 'Yellow' Myth Telling

One possible role for myth today is help heal the spiral, which is their intended purple purpose, and perhaps why they endure within cultures. How can it literally help us to heal by looking at the plots, their unfolding, identifying with characters, which can can bring to light unconscious patterns, and trapped emotions.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a psychoanalyst and post trauma specialist with a doctorate in ethno-clinical psychology, uses stories as healing devices in her work, including 4 years serving the community after the shootings at Columbine High School and still for survivor families of 9-11. She tells stories that can help people access grief they were trying to rationalize or process and help unlock emotions at a deeper level.

The perpetuation of myth is the bringing of light into the cave, helping to shine light into those areas one can't see (shadow). With skillful means one would be able to use a technique like SD, mixed with a variety of myths and could to work through specific areas of pathology or trauma.

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