Friday, October 24, 2014

Myths and Legends


 “We are all of us, built on a foundation of myths that contain their opposites, both logical and lived. What does it mean to be called good, if evil and the potential for evil do not live in the world and in you?”
Myth come true

Humanity has always been interested in myths. It’s borne out of  our desire to understand the world. Myths are how humanity makes sense of what can often seem a strange, cruel and unforgiving world. Imagine the first people to see lightning. How terrified would they have been?

 And so they crafted a myth to explain why lightning struck. It gave meaning to what must have seemed a meaningless world.

But myths also serve another important purpose. They are a way of creating the self, a way of seeing the world as it is, deciding it will not do, and creating a world as we would prefer it to be.

Myths are what humanity believes about its origins, the beginning of its societies and explanations of its various selves. They are the stories taught to children that are passed from generation to generation. They are what make humans human.  Shared myths are what transformed humanity from a rag tag fragmented warring and individualistic people into the social creatures we presently are.

Myths are prisms through which humanity sees itself and through which it understands its own society.  They shape the way we believe we should act.

Even false myths, as they often are, serve a purpose. Even if they were not totally true in their original form, myths tend to become truer as succeeding generations take them into consciousness and act them out.

But an interesting thing about myths is that even as they become truer over time, to be coherent, for them to make sense, they must contain their opposites.  If I call a person “good”, I include in this statement, the thought that gives it its true meaning: what an evil person is. All myths contain this logical negation. They have no meaning otherwise.

Myths contain both a logical and lived opposite. Calling a person good only means anything if that person also has a potential for evil. And often, the people most often called good are those with  the deepest darkness hidden within. Think only of killers and madmen, who invariably after their crimes come to light are proclaimed “paragons of virtue.” Everyone is “shocked.” “He seemed such a nice, normal, man” they all say.

This dark side of myth competes for supremacy. If sufficiently strong, it can overwhelm the original myth and eventually become the starting point, but it too will contain its logical opposite. The cycle will continue, for that is the way of mythology and myth-making. And sometimes, these myths are worth preserving. They are what make us human.


  1. Always found that storytelling -the sheer creative act of willing a reality out of our observations, thoughts and dreams- is a humanizing act. The ability to tell a story is the ability to understand the objectives and justifications of another individual. So, makes us a social group in that we can work and create together albeit (and perhaps because) of our differences.

    Like your mention of the reinforcement of the myth over time; the creation of the narrative. Relevant TEDtalk (that you have probably already seen...but here it is anyways!):

  2. Stories (which is what myths are, though on a grander scale) are powerful things, indeed!

    As a followup, I might write about, as you state, the power of shared mythmaking and storytelling. I skipped the process and went to the end, but the act of mythmaking is just as important as the myths themselves.

    Thanks for the TED Talk. Chimamanda Adichie is stellar! Listening to it as we speak