The Function of Myth — Pathway Beyond Religion

The Function of Myth — Pathway Beyond Religion

The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery. Find out how to use the stories within religion to move beyond its boundaries.

What Myth does for you is to point (you) beyond the phenomenal field toward the transcendent. A mythic figure is like a compass with one leg in the field of time and the other in the eternal. The image of a god may look like a human or animal form, but its reference is transcendent of that. ― Joseph Campbell

The Function of Myth

Does myth have a purpose in your life?  Most people would say, they do not believe in a myth.   But if you ask those same people if they have religious beliefs, they would say yes. So, do you think they misunderstood the first question?  Or, is it they just don’t realize that religion is a myth?

One man’s myth is another man’s religion. ― Joseph Campbell

Pathway Beyond Religion

When you determine rather quickly if you’ve stepped on someone’s sacred ground.   If you call someone’s religion a myth, it will most likely cause a conflict.  These are “fighting words” for most believers.  So, tread with caution. You can approach the function of myth in another way.  Use another worldview as an example. You’ll have better success using a more non-threatening manner.  This leads us to a scientific process-based research model, comparative analysis.

Comparative Analysis Research

This is an excellent method to use when talking with someone with deeply held religious beliefs.  First, start with another religion other than theirs.  They are more likely to accept the process because they won’t feel like they are under attack. For example, if they are Christian, start with Eastern traditions. Buddhism or Confucianism are good systems for comparison.

Now answer the following questions. Use resources from outside of their belief system.  Target scientific references, archeological and historical records.

    • Does this system use sacred texts as a basis for authority?  If so, what are they?  When they were created and by whom?
    • Is this belief system based on a Supreme Being?  Use external sources to find out as much as you can.
    • Find any critics of this worldview and the resources they cite for their opinions?
    • What does it take to become a follower of this system? Does it have rules for behavior? If so, what are they?
    • Does this belief use and align with common sense or logic?  If not, what are the logical flaws?
    • Does this worldview impose their values on others?
    • What are the sources of their tradition or mythology?

Benefits of Comparative Analysis

If you’ve been successful in taking them on this research journey.  Now see if they are willing to use the comparative analysis process with their religion.  In my experience, most will agree, although reluctantly.  Share the following benefits of this type of research process on your own beliefs.

  • This process deepens your understanding of your beliefs
  • It helps you to become more compassionate toward others with differing worldviews
  • Research exercises my critical thinking skills, which enables me to make better choices
  • Increases your line of sight providing a greater perspective

Religion as a Popular Myth

The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery

“The study of religion rests on the basic distinction between studying about religion as a field of inquiry and being a religious practitioner.”

This is a legal distinction made from the U.S. Supreme Court case Abington vs. Schempp (1963).

There is a similar philosophical distinction between a cult and a religion.   A cult is simply a small unpopular religion.  And, religion is a popular cult.  Or as Joseph Campbell stated, “One man’s myth is another man’s religion.”

Tradition isn’t without purpose. The function of myth is to show how to forge a pathway beyond religion.  The imagery of grand stories are excellent mnemonic devices to help us remember key points.  Myths preserve essential spiritual lessons.

Many popular spiritual stores have the same elements. It is the pattern of the Hero’s Journey.

The hero’s journey always begins with the call. One way or another, a guide must come to say, ‘Look, you’re in Sleepy Land. Wake. Come on a trip. There is a whole aspect of your consciousness, your being, that’s not been touched. So you’re at home here? Well, there’s not enough of you there.’ And so it starts. ― Joseph Campbell

This is a common pattern for stories that resonate with us on a spiritual level.  It is the call to forge your pathway beyond religion.  You even find this formula at the heart of the Bible or movies like Star Wars.

In Conclusion

The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery.   We need to use these stories as roadmaps to create our path. Otherwise, it remains someone else’s story. And the function of myth is to show us there is a pathway beyond religion.  Don’t mistake the metaphors of myth for facts.  Use them to move beyond the boundaries of religious dogma.

If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. To find out more about our organization, see our page FAQ.

Interested in spiritual exploration?  Check out the blended learning process at the core of our teaching process. It reflects what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey.  Our learning options include both face-to-face and virtual learning sessions.  Please consider donating and supporting our mission. This helps others learn the knowledge for developing their path.


Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia

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