The Stories We Tell

The great religions all have powerful spiritual practices. Practices which are designed to lead the postulant through a series of revelations and self-exploration, and which bring the experience of Unity or spiritual ecstasy. A teacher or spiritual director is available to coach, comfort and answer questions. The inner journey can and should take one to explore the darker reaches of the soul, and this is not a kind or gentle process. Guidance and perspective are essential least the seeker loose their way in the gloom.

While unquestionably valid in their approach, most of these practices were developed in a far different context than our modern, and sometimes frighteningly secular world.
The idea that deity could manifest in pop culture came to me one evening while I was watching the Power of Myth, with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers. Power of Myth was a television series based on the life work of Joseph Campbell. This man had studied mythology from cultures all over the world, and was deeply respected. He was delightful to watch because he was so filled with the joy of living. His motto was “Follow your bliss”, meaning find what brings you the most happiness, and do it whole-heartedly.

Much of his work made use of Jung’s theory of archetypes. Carl Jung theorized that when a story is told over and over in different forms, that it becomes a symbol in the group mind of humanity. The Hero’s Journey is a good example. We all know stories about a hero who had to go through many trials in order to reach a goal.

Joseph Campbell compared stories. He found that many cultures had similar stories even thought they had had no contact with each other. For example, many cultures have a myth about a great flood, and many cultures also have a myth about creation in which the creator made the first two humans. Individuals who show up in many stories are The Fool, The Lovers, The Mother and The Father. These are archetypes. Archetypes show us how to be good people, how to fit into our communities and how to discover our unique contribution.

What got my attention in Campbell and Moyers’ conversation was that Campbell was concerned that because there had been so many changes in the last fifty years, that we were loosing our archetypes. Things were suddenly so different, that our archetypal stories could no longer guide us and there was nothing filling the gap. The trouble with the older archetypes was that it is difficult to apply the lessons they offer to our modern world. They certainly had corrupt governments, but they did not have corporations, computers, cell phones, video games, genetically modified foods, cars, etc.

My gut reaction to Campbell was disagreement. We still have stories being told in the form of movies, something in which Campbell himself agreed. He influenced and supported George Lucas in the creating of the early Star Wars films. But this is not the only example. Paganism most certainly generates and/or claims stories that change how we live. For example, both Wicca and Feminist Goddess practices are based on stories of how the religion started and how the world once was that have little or no basis in historical fact. But these stories have served to inform people’s actions in a positive way.

This sort of revelation has been a cause for much anger in the Pagan community, but that is only because, by cultural habit, we have become hung up on facts. We treat them as if they were Truth. Discordians have no such problem. Their truth is that playing with the narrative – whatever that is – is fun, and powerful, and just as true as any other approach to living. Although I am not a Discordian, I love this approach. Nor did facts deter the Church of All Worlds from blossoming out of a work of fiction. For those that need to believe that their tradition is based on ancient practices, and who Poo-poo such silliness, I would remind them that everything starts somewhere. A good story gets told over and over. Perhaps what is missing now is not the myth, but the ritual.

Rituals tell stories. And if they do not tell them well, then they don’t work. I believe in story-telling. The ancient Israelites defined themselves as a people by the stories they told and the rituals they enacted about those stories. In our world, the media tries to define the narrative of what is happening in the political and social field. But what stories do we tell about ourselves? More often than not, we are letting others define who we are. I prefer to tell my own stories.

How can we integrate scientific knowledge in to our lives in a way that supports our growth as a species?

How does a piece of art express the ideals of what it is to be human?

How does even popular culture express our innate (although suppressed) connection with the All?

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About selinarif

Selina came across Paganism around age 15 and it felt like coming home. She has been solitary, and worked in numerous circles, both formal and informal in several different traditions. She is a massage therapist, home-maker, amateur home re-modeler, and a martial artist, and ties all of these things into her spirituality.
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