Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Mythologies are not invented; they are found. --Joseph Campbell
What are myths, folktales, legends? Joseph Campbell thought a lot about this question, wrote about it, talked about it. Bless his heart for all his great work.
I've been thinking about him lately in part because I know a lot of people who are engaged in slaying dragons, cutting off gorgon heads, retrieving golden fleece and all the other heroic acts that are a part of the dramatic plotline of every human's life. Whew!
There are inner mythologies and folktales, the themes of which accompany life's unfolding rites of passage, but I think there are also larger, more overarching myths that come from the landscape, weather patterns, and seasons. Naturally these myths vary according to the region. For instance, The Snow Queen is a Scandinavian folktale, part of the landscape of Denmark, Finland, Lapland and the north pole. (Many thanks to Hans Christian Andersen, who did a beautiful job of transcribing one of my very favorite stories of all time.) There is no such story indigenous to Tanzania or Hawaii. Those places have their own stories.
For a few years I taught witch camp in Somerset County in England, close to Glastonbury. That land was the inspiration for the Arthurian legends. The rolling hills and mist in the mornings, the springs, the quality of the air, chalky dirt and clear water feels Arthurian. It really does - I'm not the first nor will I be the last person to feel that myth underfoot in that place.
I always wonder how much of the mythology that underlies our form of government came from the landscape of the northeast coast of the what is now America. The Indians of the northeast Iroquois nations certainly picked up a vibration that inspired them to bring together warring tribes into a Grand Council of "peace and power." Coming together, settling their differences, made that nation powerful and cohesive.
Later on, our founding fathers tried the same thing, though of course their version was a lot more European in flavor than the Iroquois League of Peace and Power.
But then our founding fathers moved the seat of government south to the midatlantic. They took a myth born in a place of rocks and harsh winters, of nor'easters and hardwood forests, planted the fruits of that mythology into a very different landscape. Here in the American midatlantic the land is fertile, fecund. The air gets thick in the summer, life force buzzes audibly. The land vibrates with primal power, perhaps giving those who take that energy to heart the idea that they are invincible. Farther north, people had to band together in order to survive. Here the livin' is easier.
What happened when our founding fathers moved the center of government to a swamp where the law of the jungle supercedes all of the lovely, high minded energies of the original American myth? It can't be good.
People get elected in other, very different landscapes. They have Big Ideas about coming to Washington, about how it's going to work. Then they arrive and get mired in the swampy myth cycle. After that, things slow down, get stuck, become rotten.
Perhaps I should switch off NPR for a few days, stop listening to various Republican congresspeople who are saying the most absolutely crazy things, yes? I, too, can get mired in the swampy vibe of midatlantic mythology. I should be more careful. Oh yeah. Step slowly away from the radio, Reya. OK? OK.