Monday, October 11, 2010

The power of myth and creating new mythologies.

The power of myth.
In the late 1980's Bill Moyers did a six hour long documentary on PBS interviewing Joseph Campbell titled The Power of Myth.  I enjoyed the series very much since I have always been attracted to myth - from an early age I was intrigued by Greek myth, Germanic folk tales based in myth, and of course legends associated with the saints which may have been partly based in myth.  Such interests are not uncommon for visual artists.  I like myth and allegory.
In response to a question posed by Moyers, Campbell said what we need today are new myths and rituals to give meaning to our existence in a society spiritually alienated by materialism and technology.  (Not a few nuns obviously took him up on that.)  Interestingly their discussion included a new definition or purpose for marriage as well.  Campbell was raised Catholic but appeared to have lost his faith through his comparative religion scholarship.  I can't help but think of the  Muggeridge quote in my sidebar:  “Accumulating knowledge is a form of avarice and lends itself to another version of the Midas story. Man is so avid for knowledge that everything he touches turns to facts; his faith becomes theology, his love becomes lechery, his wisdom becomes science. Pursuing meaning, he ignores truth.”  All in all, I enjoyed the series back then and found it useful.
New mythologies.
Campbell need not have worried about creating new mythologies however, that process is ongoing, and he most likely contributed to it.  Moyers and Campbell discussed a new mythology for marriage - as a romantic arrangement/relationship no longer tending towards reproduction.  I've written about the new mythology as it concerns the new 'gay' legends associated with the lives of the saints.  Likewise we have seen how new age occult beliefs have infiltrated church, school, and business.
I think we see it subtly inserted into new theological thought and ritual as well.  Most notably these days as it concerns popular interpretations of TOB or Theology of the Body.  The Paschal candle as phallic symbol immediately comes to mind.  It is an erroneous concept promulgated by Chris West, Fr. Loya and others - albeit evidently endorsed by such authorities as Cardinal Rigali.  Similar to the gay-saint myths, this stuff embeds itself into the popular culture - religious or otherwise.  Myth has a way of burying itself in our consciousness - or rather the unconscious mind - and is a highly effective tool in changing moral and cultural values and attitudes.
Needless to say, it is the power behind the Vampire films and Harry Potter series as well.
Myth always seems to flourish in the 'dark ages' - I'm surprised Campbell and Moyers didn't notice that.


  1. " ... since societies morphed from matriarchal to patriarchal..."

    What? -pml

    "There was a definite shift with the advent of domestication and formal agrarian society from a matriarchal societal structure to patriarchal."

    Thank you Terry for posting these thoughts; it has allowed me opportunity to return very briefly to comments left on an early posting of yours ...

    I was much to busy (still am) to direct attentions to this "myth" concerning a past matriarchal society. It is like the ever-ready battery...I would like to direct minds to three books that I found very useful in navigating through this it ... though there are many more from different fields that address this topic.

    The first book is written by a feminist, Cynthia Eller, who at the time her book was published in 2000 was an assistant professor of women & religion at Montclair State University and the title is: The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.

    The New York Times (not exactly the Catholic Conservative Press) is quoted: "Fascinating... Eller carefully clips every thread from which this matriarchal myth is woven." Fascinating indeed.

    Gee, and even Utne Reader's Mark Odegard is quoted on the cover "[An] engaging critique of a popular but perhaps self-defeating belief." WOW.

    Just North of the border is a Professor of religious studies at the University of Prince Edward Island, Philip G. Davis, whose book delivers a very informative history with Goddess Unmasked.

    While it is not the main focus of the book, God or Goddess? Feminist Theology: What is it? Where Does it Lead? by Manfred Hauke, does fill in the blank on mvmts and trends we have been witnessing. A must read.

    As mentioned earlier, there are other books that have been published from different fields that help to debunk the "matriarchal" society myth. This is not to say that somewhere in some part of the world during some point in time, there was a town, or tribe, or community that was run by the ladies (see a group in China), but it was not the norm.

    I gotta go ...

  2. Thanks PML - how did I neglect mention of that one? I appreciate your placing the comment here. See how these things embed!

  3. Embed and become weeds in the garden bed. bye

  4. Abandoning the "sacred" in externals, customs and practice has caused a "vacuum" in the human spirit that has been the occasion for "alien spirits" to inhabit...
    Returning to the use of Sacred Images, sacramentals, blessings, processions, customs within the home, according to the Traditional Catholic spiritual "way" can drive out these demons...great post!


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