“What myth does for you is point 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
Does myth have a function in your life? If you asked most people they’d say, “myth has no place in my life”. If you ask those same people if they have religious beliefs, most would say yes. So, do you think they misunderstood the first question? Or, is it they just don’t realize that religion is ‘myth’ made into an accepted cultural mythology?
“One man’s myth is another man’s religion.”― Joseph Campbell
This is the type of conversation in which you determine rather quickly if you’ve stepped on someone’s sacred ground. Calling someone’s religion a myth is definitely “fighting words” in some circles. So, you should tread carefully. Even though this is the very heart of the issue, resist the urge to address it head-on. I’ve had more success approaching it from a slightly different angle.
Comparative Religious Research
Here’s the approach we recommend once you find yourself engaging someone with deeply held religious beliefs. First, and aways, pick another religion other than the one they are attached. For example, if they are Christian, (which is a part of the Abrahamic traditions) start with another religion from the East, something like Buddhism or Confucianism.
Now identify the following seven concepts. The rule is, you must use sources from outside of the religious paradigm you’ve selected. You can use all the sciences, archeological and historical records.
- Does this belief system use sacred texts as a basis for authority? If so, list them and find out when they were created and by whom.
- Is this belief system based on a God, Avatar, Holy Entity or Main religious functionary which started or was the impetus for starting the religion? If so, find out as much as you can from sources outside the religious paradigm.
- Are there any critics of this belief system who speak to the topics above? If so, who are they, what are their backgrounds? Do they cite any research sources for their opinions?
- What does it take to become or belong to this religion?
- Does this belief system align with common sense or logic? If not what are logical flaws of this religion?
- What type of rules and values are required to be a part of this religion? Does the belief system impose or what to impose these values on others outside the paradigm?
- Most importantly, what is the source of the myth or mythology which underlies the religion
The Benefits of Comparative Religious Research
If you’ve been successful in taking them on this research journey the next step is to see if they will agree to use this same comparative process with their own religion? In my experience, most will agree although reluctantly. Here’s where you can tell them about the benefits of conducting this type of research process on your own beliefs.
- This process deepens the understanding of my own beliefs and other possible options
- It helps me be more understanding and compassionate toward the beliefs of others
- Research exercises my critical thinking skills which enables me to make better choices
- Understanding how myth and mythology work gives me a wider perspective
Religion as a Popular Myth
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 actually 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 Campell stated, “One man’s myth is another man’s religion.”
So ‘myth’ isn’t without purpose. It is the glue of all the great stories. It is the pattern of the Hero’s Journey. (See quote below by Joseph Campbell) This is the pattern for all the stories that resonate with us on a spiritual level. You can find it at the heart of the Bible or movies like Star Wars. And, this pattern is also the model we use in our blended learning process. These three phases can be described as awakening, transforming and inspiring.
This is an effective learning model that allows us to teach several ancient technologies for expanding awareness and opening the doors to higher states of consciousness. We don’t change the ancient processes. We’ve simply found a way to teach several at the same time because of the similarities in the preparatory exercises. For example, the process outlined in this blog post is one of the introductory exercises we employ to expand the awareness and prepare people to engage in learning that would normally be outside their paradigm.
“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 Campbel
Myth only points the way using a story. We have to make this journey our own. Otherwise, it remains someone else’s story. If you are hearing the call to walk your own path, we can help. The purpose of myth is to illustrate a principle using a story and imagery. The visual and auditory elements help you understand and remember the concept. Don’t mistake the metaphors of myth for fact.
If this article resonates, there are more on our blog. Also, you may be interested in learning about our blended learning process. This is our curriculum which we use to teach several mind-expanding tools. It also aligns the Hero’s Journey. This is the term Joseph Campbell gave the pattern of consciousness development. Our learning process is available in two forms. You can take part in the virtual learning module or in our workshops.
Image by Unsplash.