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Myth and the 'Now' Part Twenty Five: Why Do We Need Myths?


So why do we need myths?

A standard answer might be formulated along the lines of ‘because humanity needs meaning, and myth was a first attempt to seek meaning in the universe around us’. But there we go with that historical thing again, as though somehow ‘primitive humans’ woke up one day and looked around and decided that what they saw needed some kind of ‘explanation’.

We’ve seen throughout this series that ‘myth’ isn’t just an earlier form of literature but a kind of raw understanding of the world which applies not just to history but to our growth as people: children apprehend the world mythically as much as early humankind. We’ve also seen that any act of creation involves a set of mythic suppositions - a basic ‘void’ from which binary poles emerge. So there’s more to myth than any historical interpretation, no matter how much some of us would like to think that we have ‘advanced’ from earlier ages.

Why do we seek meaning? Why do we feel the need to project a binary template onto the thing we call ‘reality’? What is actually happening at the most fundamental level when we talk about ‘myth-making’?

It could be argued that there are two broad interpretations of the world around us: one is that the basis of the world is static, the other is that it is kinetic.

In a static universe, all is explained: everything that was, and is, and shall be fits together and is at peace with itself. All things have a place, and into that place they are slotted, there to find their true meaning and potential, like the jewel in their own crown - everything is jewel, and from the viewpoint of each jewel, all is crown. According to this model of the universe, anything that resembles disorder or dysfunction is an anomaly, an illusion, an apparent deviation, which, when appreciated properly and from the correct perspective, resolves into part of the cosmic pattern as though it was always meant to be.

In a kinetic universe, on the other hand, all explanation is relative: everything that was, and is, and shall be is in flux. What appears orderly, sequential or logical is an illusion, a phantasm which will not last. Nothing has a fixed place, just a temporary habitation, constantly in motion; meanings and potentials are all shifting in relation to each other. There cannot be a ‘crown’ nor a ‘jewel’ except as a fantasy. According to this model of the universe, disorder and dysfunction are the norm and the only pattern is entropy, the breakdown of association into a disassociated void.

At the root of the kinetic universe is insanity, because insanity is the mental reflection of a reality in which everything is relative. Myth, in the kinetic framework, is an attempt to scrabble for order in a void of meaninglessness, an association of images and significances which must eventually break down. The static universe, on the other hand, is built on reason: myth is a glimpse of that reason, that pattern at work ‘behind the scenes’.

Static and kinetic: another set of binary opposites.

Moving towards the kinetic end of this spectrum, one loses one’s grip: perceptions shift, sequences tumble, vacuums grow larger in size and in force. Moving towards the static end, certainty grows: perceptions stabilise, sequences become apparent where before there was only disorder, vacuums shrink and fade.

As humanity grows older, and as each individual within it grows older, our experience of Life sometimes has the flavour of losing a grip and sometimes of finding a pattern. In fiction, these motions are played out for us over and over again, whether plainly as myths or in subtler forms like medieval romances, Shakespearian tragedies or comedies, novels, plays or films. We see heroes and heroines lose and gain certainties; we see stories end with triumph or nightmare; we have our emotional yearnings fulfilled or laid open.

Myth is all around us, sometimes plain to see, sometimes hidden. With its templates we can see our paths and choices laid out before us, and we can determine whether our own universes are ultimately going to be static or kinetic.


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