So far I have been looking at myth-making from the perspective of how communities can ‘re-program’ themselves to implement more sustainable behaviors. We can think of this as the ‘human software’ role for myth. The theory is people will empathize with mythic heroes on their journeys and mimic their decision making when faced with analogous circumstances.
However, there is another role for myth as a way to connect to ‘the world behind’, or ‘the other plane’. In this view, myth is the portal, the mystical means by which we can make things right with the gods, and in so doing enhance our spiritual survival. In other words, we go from mythology as a systematic and somewhat objective study of the stories of culture, to a faith-full ‘mythism’. This is a belief in the power of the myth itself. In Campbell’s terms, myth gives you ‘a line to connect with that mystery which you are.’
If we take either one of the approaches without considering the other, we miss out. Focusing on the hereafter without regard to the planet does not lead to integral living: as the planet sours, the daily reality of living contrasted with the spiritual journey towards bliss causes us to live with tension, dissonance and conflict. All sorts of dysfunctions result, including the creation of artificial environments, denial, retreat, escapism and even hatred. Some of the most vitriolic chronic ‘haters’ are those who feel others have come in between them and their journey to bliss.
On the other hand, while focusing on the here and now can help organize and clean up society, it doesn’t address the basic human need for meaning and an explanation of the soul’s afterlife. Do we have to choose between approaches? I think not.
The duality between the pragmatic behavior-focused approach and the spiritual journey has something in common: sacred stories. For community myth-making, these are the stories that hold our core values as exemplified by normative behaviors. For the spiritual pilgrim, these very same stories hold the metaphorical images and concepts that provide a connection with the gods and their normative behaviors. Align the two and we have the formula for cultural transformation. Myths give us the sense that today’s acts can be brought in line with how things are done on the higher plane. It’s imperative, therefore, that we align our mythical world with what life on earth should be. What does that look like?
Myths are all around us and every culture has them, but where do they come from? I dare say none of us has invented a widely adopted sacred story (yet). Let’s face it, we’re not accustomed to bootstrapping our sacred myths. Historically, no one person invents a religion; even if it came from a founder or prophet, it only has the legs the community choses to give it. In other words, myths are community creations. Given the need to elevate our behaviors, we can think of the process in three phases:
- Sacred Values: We need the notion of sacred values and behaviors, and this is best defined by the community itself. We really do know the answers; we just have to agree and write them down.
- This is actually not that hard. It starts with mythic awareness, and then coming together to define themes for change.
- Myth Framework: We need the masters of metaphors, those who actually create the allegorical imagery and story that we can use to re-program ourselves.
- This is perhaps the most important phase because it will scope the realization of the myth. Mythical art expresses a shared purpose.
- The a-priori to mythical art is the shared story. The narrative phase, therefore, is a necessary pre-requisite. This is why we stress the need for a story framework early on in the community myth-making process, which is just a natural expression of a shared belief.
- Artistic Myth-crafting: After this come the execution, or creative phase.
These three phases are described in more detail at Cultera.org.
Artists are the myth realizers – making sacred stories tangible, a necessary pre-requisite to belief. Think about the dimensions of illusion here. For example, a two dimensional surface (the canvass with paint) provides an illusion for a three dimensional form. If the work is figurative, we can infer another dimension, namely the sense of presence of a personality when done well (like a Rembrandt portrait), a fourth dimension. Moreover, if it provides a sense for time past or alternate worlds, we have a fifth dimension (like allegorical art on the Sistine Ceiling). So far we have described qualities what many great works in museums have. They are not necessarily mythical without additional context. The next dimension is narrative context and symbolic meaning. This is what puts art in the realm of myth. The sixth dimension is the portal to the world behind the world, and it’s actually something the viewer brings to the work, i.e. a knowledge of the story. Art has these six dimensions is mythical.
With mythical art, the artist is facilitator of transcendence. Connecting with ‘the world behind’ actually validates current decisions when they are seen as consistent of the laws of that other world, as revealed by mythical art, which by the way, can include dance. Artists with community-sacred values are to be valued as a myth-crafters, those who create the means of collective healing and transformation.
Artists don’t have to dress as priests, mediate and set themselves apart from carnal desires in order to create this sacred art. In fact, it’s not really about the artists themselves. Myths will do their work regardless. It’s the job of the artists to be faithful to the theme and express in the works a heartfelt conviction. This view of the artist, while not new to civilization, is strange to the modern mind.
On a personal note, I’ve come full circle from being an artist who threw away his paint brush to preach a reductionistic gospel of Jesus Christ during two years as a missionary back in the early 1980s, to one who now advocates an expansive vision for making myths as communities write their own gospels, which serve functions of religion. What’s more, this process requires artists to pick up their paint brushes, chisels, pens, musical instruments and whatever other art crafting tools they have at their disposal.
This is trippy because the traditional missionary comes to a people with a message, and seeks to find an aesthetic way to present the pre-conceived – and often ancient – pathways to God. In our new practice, we don’t come with the message – that is the responsibility of the local community. No, we come with a methodology for letting them create their own and helping artists understand the crucial role of mythic art. This pre-supposes a great faith in humanity.
— Roy Zuniga
Feb. 2015 – Langley, WA
copyright © 2015 roy zuniga – all rights reserved