The Magic of Mythical Storytelling
Long ago around crackling fires, myths were remembered and sung. These told and retold tales — filled with powerful heroes like the warrior and traveler, Odysseus, and monsters like the ferocious Cyclops — gave explanations for the origins of the universe and shaped the fabric of societies.
And they continue to have an influence today. Just look at how gods like Thor and Loki, Zeus and Poseidon, have come alive on the big screen and in comics and novels. Nike the goddess of victory is honored in shoe stores around the world, and the spawn of old monsters are constantly popping up to terrorize new characters in video games.
The question is: why do these stories endure?
I don’t think it’s just nostalgia or mere curiosity that draws us to myths. I think that they give us a glimpse into what ancient civilizations thought and valued and believed, and as a result, tell us something about ourselves. There is something remarkable about reading a story older than most countries and realizing that you can still relate to the whims and wishes of characters. Myths and ancient stories are a magical space where we can see humanity through a unique lens and connect with it.
Tales of cosmic cows beginning the universe or Prometheus stealing fire for humanity are often entertaining but also show the human hunger to understand where we come from. People from antiquity tried to make sense of where humanity fit into the natural order of the world, just as we do today. They believed that there were forces far greater than themselves. In these ancient stories, people sought to explain the chaotic and awe-inspiring wonder and terror of what it means to be alive.
Myths not only touch on the origins and role of humanity, but they teach us about the values and beliefs of past civilizations. We see depictions of what cultures admired as well as what they despised. We read stories that illustrate vivid pictures of good and evil and demonstrate how gods and monsters existed within and among humanity.
Through these stories, we can also better learn who we are in light of a broader context of humanity. What happens when we are able to drop social conventions, current cultural pressures, and even rigid measures of reality for a story? In the more flexible world of magic and mystery that myths bring, it’s easier to tap into subconscious hopes and desires. We are able to face facets of ourselves that we hide beneath social constraints. When we enter these sacred spaces of past centuries, we have more freedom to look at reality and our beliefs and values in a new and deeper way.
Ultimately, myths are unique, ancient, cultural attempts at understanding desires and fear, beauty and terror. They are powerful spaces that preserve the human experience — and when we can enter into them, we realize that despite our differences, we are also deeply connected to our fellow humans throughout time and space.
So why do myths endure? Why do they have a place in our classrooms and on our television screens? It seems that they endure because we are still human. We are still asking: where do we come from? What is our place in the universe? How do we interpret good and evil? We’re still seeking to learn and uncover more about ourselves. We still have stories to tell. So we continue to enter into these mythical spaces, and we connect with the human experience in its beauty and mess, goodness and evil, magic and mystery.