I have a different definition for “myth” than what is commonly thought of when one hears the word. A myth is not necessarily a simple story of something that isn’t true. Nor is it entirely a retelling of something that is factual. A myth is a balance between these two things with the intention of speaking or giving a lesson of something beyond what basic facts can do. Some people aren’t responsive to myth because it isn’t completely logical. It can’t be totally proven and held up to high scrutiny and therefore, in their eyes, is worthless. But a myth doesn’t necessarily speak to our mind. It speaks to our soul.
A myth contains many layers. It is a story, a moral lesson, an expression of religious thought or belief, a history, a telling of something in a way that we might not even understand how we understand it… we just do.
I consider religious stories of all traditions, all practices, to be myth; my own included. But I do not automatically ascribe the position of ‘falsehood’ to the word myth. In fact, I know there is a deeper truth to myth than the simple fantasy that seems to be its facade. A myth does not have to be a proven historical fact for it to have value.
I don’t take any Myth (meaning religious teaching) at literal face value. To me, I have no problem understanding and accepting the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, Radha and Krishna, or Adam and Eve, because it is ALL myth. It is a religious telling, giving an example or teaching something in a way that speaks to us more deeply than a factual lesson. Such is the basis for faith.
Myth is what enriches our lives, populates our tales, speaks to our souls. It is the telling of heroes and heroines, gods, monsters, quests, journeys, punishments, achievements, and rewards.
It is widely accepted that there was a man named Jesus or Yeshua or Joshua or some variation of that who lived in the land now known as Israel approximately 2000 years ago. It is also accepted that he taught, preached, and for whatever reason (political or otherwise) was crucified by the Romans.
It is also believed that there was an Indian prince named Siddartha Gautama who saw much suffering in the world, and discovered that the way to end suffering was to become enlightened. He taught for many years and was revered as The Buddha, or “Enlightened One.”
Streghan Witches believe that there was a woman named Aradia who lived in the 14th century in Italy who taught the practices of Witchcraft to the folk of the villages in a manner so that they could fight back against the oppressive aristocracy.
The people of the American plains knew of White Buffalo Calf Woman who taught them the rituals of the Sun Dance and the Peace Pipe, core beliefs of their traditions and ways of viewing the world around them.
Now, if it were ever proven beyond any doubt at all that there never was a Buddha or never was an Aradia, that there never was a White Buffalo Calf Woman or Jesus of Nazareth, the best thing the followers of these traditions could say would be, “Huh… well, that’s interesting.” and simply continue on because the teachings and the mythology are what is valuable, regardless if the founder was a real person or not.
Unfortunately, modern Christianity makes itself an exception to this because the core tenet of that tradition says that one must believe Christ was a real person, lived as the son of God, and died for the sins of mankind in order for the religion to have any point to it. I know that Christians do not feel their religion is Mythology because to do so would negate what is most necessary to them. I include it here, because I consider it to be Mythology.
It doesn’t matter if Jesus was real if you can look at the wonderful work that honorable Christians like Mother Teresa did in Calcutta during her life simply because she believed he was and wanted to live as the best example and best representative she could of him in this world.
It doesn’t matter if Persephone was real if someone can come to understand death and life, the cycle and the balance, and acknowledge both as necessary through knowing her and her story.
It doesn’t matter if the Buddha was a living man if the compassion taught and practiced by his followers has brought more patience, knowledge and understanding to a region of the world totally entangled with hatred and strife and does the same for our modern age.
This is the value to mythology, whether it is accepted as real or not, whether the person the myth is about was real or not. Whether Theseus really battled the Minotaur, whether Vasilisa visited Baba Jaga and brought fire from the forest, whether Iron John or the Wild Man was really found at the bottom of the lake, or whether Jesus or Buddha really lived, doesn’t matter. If believing that you or I could do what these people did, either realistically or metaphorically speaking, would bring about a better life and ultimately a better world, does it really matter if the person the belief was founded on was real, historical, or factual? Hasn’t our collective understanding, our retelling of the stories, our faith, and our belief made them real enough? If they impact us and change us, how can that be considered unreal?