Myth and the 'Now' Part Eight: Mythic Patterns
The act of making something, we’re assuming, is the act of drawing something out of an ultimate Non Existence into some kind of Existence.
Before you begin writing a story, this theory goes, there is no story. Whether quickly or slowly, consciously or unconsciously, something emerges into the light - perhaps beginning with some kind of vague polarity or dichotomy, resolving somehow into shapes and figures, moving in one direction or another.
At least, that’s what myths tell us is happening. Creation myths come in all shapes and sizes, but they have a startling amount in common. They are ‘creation myths’ not just because they supposedly tell us how the world began, but because they tell us how anything begins - and where it goes.
In the Korean creation story, for example, there is only an empty void to begin with, until one day a gap forms in it. All that is lighter than the gap heads upwards to form the sky, while all that is heavier than the gap drifts down to become the earth. A drop of dew from the earth and one from the sky mix to form all that exists, including humans and even the gods.
In Finnish mythology, we see strange characters performing a play for us: at first there are only primal waters and Sky. Sky has a daughter named Ilmatar who, seeking a resting place, descends to the waters, where she swims for 700 years until she notices a beautiful bird also searching for a resting place. Raising her knee for the bird so it can land leads the bird to then lay six eggs made of gold and one made of iron. Eventually Ilmatar is burned by the incubating eggs and moves her leg, dislodging the eggs, which fall and shatter in the waters: the lower part of one of the eggshells forming the land, while sky forms from the top, with the whites becoming the moon and stars, and the yolk ending up as the sun.
The Navajo creation myth begins with the Niłchʼi Diyin (Holy Wind) being created, the mists of lights arising through the darkness to bring to life the four Diyin Dineʼé (Holy People), all created in the time before the Earth and the physical aspect of humans came to be.
The most widely accepted account of Greek creation myth is reported by Hesiod, beginning with Chaos, a yawning nothingness from which emerge Gaia (the Earth) and some other divine beings: Eros (Love), the Abyss (the Tartarus), and the Erebus. Action and narrative begin to take shape when Gaia gives birth to Uranus (the Sky) who then fertilizes her: from that union is born first the Titans, followed by the one-eyed Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires or Hundred-Handed Ones, who are both thrown into Tartarus by Uranus. Gaia, driven into fury by this, convinces Cronus to castrate his father. Cronus does so and becomes the ruler of the Titans.
Note that we begin with emptiness and this coalesces into narrative, in various colourful and creative ways: the void comes first, usually, followed by a progression towards the light and sometimes some kind of conflict with the darkness. Details, shapes, actions seem to differ superficially, but the narrative trend is one of motion either towards or away from the light: the ‘story’ that follows the primal creation is to do with whether things move ‘upward’ or ‘downward’, or, to put it another way, everything goes into orbit around one pole or the other.
And that matches up, as we found earlier, with the archetypal characters whom we find in all kinds of fiction:
The Wise Old Man, representing Wisdom or one end of the spectrum, the pole of Light or the ‘Skyfather’ or whatever each mythology calls it or him.
The Comic Companion, symbolising Freedom, closest to the Skyfather pole, sometimes represented as a messenger of the gods or an entertainer.
The Warrior Companion or Emerging King, that key figure who often begins in the shadows or makes a journey through the shadows but more often than not comes out at the other side triumphant and closer to the light end of the spectrum.
The Protagonist or ‘centre of awareness’ who, because he or she hovers in that zone equidistant between both poles, grabs most of our attention.
The Female Companion, a submerging figure, a character archetype who often drifts towards being a phantom or hollow creature, heading towards orbit around the dark pole, but who is sometimes ‘rescued’ and pulled upward toward the light, usually by the Warrior Companion.
The Shadow Protagonist, symbolising a subservience to darkness, a figure who is already often trapped in orbit around Non Existence or darkness and whose life and choices often parallel that of the Protagonist.
And finally, the Antagonist, a personification of the Void, a figure whose entire purpose is the subjugation of the light, and its destruction.
Dozens of examples of each these may have already occurred to you. They abound throughout all literature in almost every culture on Earth. Perhaps you are wondering why you’ve not spotted them before, or, if you have, why have you not placed them in this sequence before.
In effect, what this means - if we carry our argument through to its fairly logical conclusion - is that every story is a myth, or follows a mythic pattern: every tale, whether it’s a novel, an epic poem, a film, a play or whatever, is about this ‘pull between poles’. We can even define the basic genres themselves as those forms of story which pull one way or another: Epic and Comedy pull toward the light; Tragedy and Irony pull toward the dark.
Keeping our little archetypal scale in mind, we can postulate that a Comedy tells the tale of a Female Companion or even a Shadow Protagonist moved upward towards Freedom and Wisdom, ending in reunification or marriage; and an Epic relays the progression of a Protagonist through shadows towards the Light; whereas a Tragedy is the story of a Warrior Figure doomed to fall into the position of a Shadow Protagonist or even an Antagonist, failing to respond to the light all the way, while an Irony describes the arc of the Protagonist downward into the Void.
Modern minds struggle with this. We can look over the creation myths above and volubly argue that it is precisely that they vary so much in detail and colour which indicates that they cannot be ‘true’: we desire a cold, scientific, separated-out and ‘objective’ truth, and all these tales are just fanciful whimsy for us. But we have lost the art of ‘participating’ in the universe: we have taken on board the mental habits of the Reformation and the Scientific Revolution and can no longer see the world in a unified way, but can only seek to divide it into ‘objective' and ‘subjective’ halves.
Each creation myth is like a song, sung by its people: the underlying tones are the same, the lyrics differ. If we were to put them all together in one room, we would have a concert, not a competition for ‘truth’.
It’s the same today, now, with a collection of short stories or a bookshelf full of fiction: each successful tale that is written emerges from Non Existence to Existence following the pattern of myth, each asserts its own ‘truth’ - but we do not claim that one story holds more ‘objective truth’ than another, rather that each contains universal verities.
This ability to reflect universal authenticities is one of the main reasons we value fiction. As we will see in future articles, fictions of all kinds perform this function for us, showing us the mythic nature of the world in different ways.