Your mythic self is the part of you which is connected to the eternal world. The first step in finding your mythic self is to discover who you are and what you value. Just articulating a list of values, however, does not give you a full picture of who your mythic self truly is.
As with the gods, the mythic self cannot be completely described in ordinary words. Humans use mythology as a way to richly express the inexpressible in terms of cultural tropes, cultural symbols and cultural values. Within the language of mythology, the actions that a hero, god, or your mythic self might take are symbols.
I think of mythology as a plot constructed out of symbolic problems and symbolic actions. The actions of deities or heroes within mythology allude to their higher nature and their eternal selves. When we interpret a deity’s actions within a myth, taking the symbols and literary tropes of a culture into account, we can tell what is important to them, what they stand for, and what sorts of things they value.
So how do we go about creating and exploring our personal mythologies?
Journey work, or imaginatively meditating, can be an important tool for exploring which mythic symbols describe your mythic self, however, it comes up short in certain respects for this work.
“Hence, we may say that we become ourselves through others and that this rule applies not only to the personality as a whole, but also to the history of every individual function” (Vygotsky, “Genesis of the Higher Mental Functions,” 1966, p.43).
Lev Vygotsky, one of my most favorite thinkers, speaks a great deal about how identity forms. Though he is speaking about how children form identities, his comments seem strangely applicable here.
What does he mean? A mother is only a mother because she has a child to be on the receiving end of her parenting. A president of a country cannot be so without a proletariat.
I will contend that a personality is a personality, whether it is a child’s or an adult’s, an ephemeral one or an eternal one. For this reason, an exploration of any identity in private meditation is going to be somewhat incomplete. You cannot discover your mythic self through private meditation alone, though private meditation and ritual is certainly an important component. The exploration of the mythic self can’t be completed unless it is explored with other people.
Writing Personal Myths
If you have ever read a blog where people tell the stories about their goings and doings on the astral, or if you have ever written such an account, you probably already have some understanding of the limitations of the written word as a vehicle for sharing your mythic self with others.
Any new mythology, not just the mythology we create for ourselves, tends to be dismissed before anyone bothers to formulate a reaction to it, and when they do formulate a reaction, the reaction is generally scorn. It is not a dissimilar scorn to the sort a person might have for fanfic purporting to tell stories about their favorite fandom in a way that violates cannon. Expectations are being violated, and the reader often feels like the writer is asking for too much in the way of suspension of disbelief.
Worse, it sets up a dynamic where trying on different roles is not supported. Even though we intellectually understand that even the mythologies of our deities may not form a consistent and linear narrative, we nonetheless view mythic explorations of the self as binding, and consider people who change their stories to have “lied” about either the present or previous story if it conflicts with their other accounts. A person writing their mythic adventures can get painted into a corner trying to treat mythic events like literal ones, and might be left wondering what the heck it all means.
What this endeavor needs is an established context so that the correct expectations are set, and rules so that the exploration does not devolve into a Gary Stu or Mary Sue comedy hour.
Myth embodiment is an activity where a group of individuals can work together to deeply explore what a story is saying about the characters within a myth. It is communal, takes breaks for discussion, and creates a forum for dealing with problematic aspects of story.
So far as I know, however, Myth Embodiment is primarily a tool for exploring stories that already exist. Once a myth has been created, an exercise like this one can be an excellent way to enrich its meaning and plumb its depths, but how do we create a new myth in the first place?
What I propose to do is to re-tool Myth Embodiment for the purpose of creating personal mythology.
Most play, whether in adults or children, humans or animals, is practice for real life. When a child pretends to be “mommy” or a teenager pretends to be a Lawful Good Paladin, they are trying on roles which may or may not suit them. Because of the context, the trying on of that role is safe. No one is going to accuse the Role-Player of being a “hypocrite” if they leave their D&D session and go and violate their Paladin character’s moral scruples, nor will anyone tell a little boy or girl that they are obligated to always be a parent in their games in the future. Consequently, they can explore symbolic roles, ways of thinking, and how they feel about values in a safe way.
If what we want to understand is who we are, not just in the day to day grind of work and social drama, but in a more enduring or eternal sense, being able to try on titles, epithets, or roles can be a useful exercise.
Not only that, but games such as these provide an alternate set of rules to those of the mundane universe. We aren’t bound by who we are in the mundane world, but neither are we given so much leeway that we can simply fly off in any direction we want, creating stories that lack gravitas or believability.
Having a dedicated space as well as special rules and structures in place can create an environment which is especially conducive to this kind of work. It can help to put us in the right frame of mind to bring out our mythic selves in a non-binding, exploratory sort of way. It can also keep us on track, and make the play not just psychologically useful, but sacred.
The Value, The Struggle and The Antagonist
In your meditations, you may have identified certain things that are of eternal importance to you. For such an exercise, you will want to choose one or two of these things to explore.
If you have a great idea for a power of myth-symbol which represents the value in question (such as carrying fennel or inspiring frenzy represents the Freedom so highly valued by Dionysos) by all means, use it. If not, you just might by the end of the exploration.
Mythologies often explore societal issues or struggles. In Greek Mythology, some common themes that recur, or questions that a myth might mull over are:
- What do we do when we can’t immediately have what we want? (See: Daphne, Aura, etc)
- How do we deal with losing the ones we love? (Persephone/Demeter, Hyacinth/Apollon)
- How do we feel when people make fun of us? (Agron/Hermes)
- How do we respond when others are unjust or immoral? (Lycaon/Zeus)
- How do we deal with something bigger or better than we are?
Certainly, there are others, and what themes a set of myths deal with will vary greatly depending on culture. How a person responds to these sorts of archetypal situations says a lot about their character and who they are as people. A cunning and merciful individual will have a different response from a person who values strength above all things.
Many myths also have an important other. I use the word “antagonist” loosely, to mean a character who is at the center of, or who has created, a problem for our protagonist to solve.
In Greek mythology, common antagonist roles are:
- A proud hero
- A character who violates hospitality
- A love lost, or soon to be lost
- An undefeated monster or beast
- A person who reviles what the protagonist values
- Someone who tries to bully the protagonist through a challenge or teasing
The list is far from exhaustive, and much more inspiration is sure to be found in mythology.
Roles, Rules, and How To Do It
For this exercise, you will need a facilitator, a protagonist or protagonists (the ones exploring their mythic selves), an antagonist or antagonists, and participants to play the various hangers-on, supporting roles (such as patron deities or wise old people), or scenery.
Phase I: The Facilitator announces what the main struggle will be, and assigns roles to the participants. Ideally, the Protagonist and Antagonist in the story will have been chosen in advance.
Phase II: The Protagonist is given the opportunity to declare which personal value they are exploring, and the group discusses the various possibilities for how someone who values that sort of thing might respond to the problem.
Phase III: The story is set into motion, and allowed to unfold organically. Each person discusses, after each scene, how they saw that part of story from their own perspective.
Phase IV: The Facilitator tells the myth that has just been created, allowing for corrections from the peanut gallery.
Phase V: Optionally, people may offer each other titles, epithets and accolades, based on the choices they made during the exercise. These do not need to be accepted by the person to whom they are offered.
– No heckling, eye-rolling, or being a dick
– Super-powers are assigned at the Facilitator’s discretion
– The story is an exploration and is non-binding. It is valid for a person to change their mind about their values, and to consequently reject the story as personal mythology.
– If the person decides that the myth reflects their eternal self, allow them, thereafter, to re-tell it to those people who were present as personal mythology. Do not force them to tell it with ten thousand caveats. No mythology is literally true, and neither is this. It is true within its context.
– The Antagonist may decide to accept the story produced as personal mythology, even if the Protagonist rejects it, or vice-versa. In this case, the one who does not accept the myth as personal mythology must be replaced, in the story, with a mythological foil and an alternate name. The replacement must satisfy the party who is bowing out of the myth.
– Seriously, try to have fun with this.