Cut a chrysalis open, and you will find a rotting caterpillar. What you will never find is that mythical creature, half caterpillar, half butterfly, a fit emblem for the human soul, for those whose cast of mind leads them to seek such emblems. No, the process of transformation consists almost entirely of decay.
We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource.’ This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.
For the point is this: not that myth refers us back to some original event which has been fancifully transcribed as it passed through collective memory; but that it refers us forward to something that will happen, that must happen. Myth will become reality, however sceptical we might be.
The value of the myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by ‘the veil of familiarity.’ The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo, just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped in a story…by putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.
―C.S. Lewis, “On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature”
The black thing in her brain and the dark water on the page were the same thing, a form of knowledge. This is how myths work. They are things, creatures, stories, inhabiting the mind. They cannot be explained and do not explain; they are neither creeds nor allegories. The black was now in the thin child’s head and was part of the way she took in every new thing she encountered.
― A.S. Byatt, Ragnarok
In our time… a man whose enemies are faceless bureaucrats almost never wins. It is our equivalent to the anger of the gods in ancient times. But those gods you must understand were far more imaginative than our tiny bureaucrats. They spoke from mountaintops not from tiny airless offices. They rode clouds. They were possessed of passion. They had voices and names. Six thousand years of civilization have brought us to this.
Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. The narrator’s voice in the tribal assembly is not enough to relate the myth. One needs special times and places, exclusive meetings; the words alone are not enough, and we need a whole series of signs with many meanings, which is to say a rite. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words. A silent myth makes its presence felt in secular narrative and everyday words; it is a language vacuum that draws up words into its vortex and bestows a form on fable.
If there is no love in the world, we will make a new world, and we will give it walls, and we will furnish it with soft, red interiors, from the inside out, and give it a knocker that resonates like a diamond falling to a jeweller’s felt so that we should never hear it. Love me, because love doesn’t exist, and I have tried everything that does.
When we think of the myth of the settling of the West, this is our creation myth. But because we think of it as mythology, not as real people interacting with other real people, we ignore the cost of human lives and blood.