Myths and Healing

There’s a line in Richard Rohr’s writing that sticks out to me: “if we don’t mythologize our lives, we will inevitably pathologize them.”

Myths and Healing

So what does this mean and how could we possibly “mythologize our lives?”

Well, for a start we might take a look at a myth and see what’s going on here. Myths of course are stories from a given culture that preserves and communicates some of the deeper wisdom and values of that culture.

Joseph Campbell taught of four different criteria for myths: the pedagogical – instruction for the individual on how to live a good life, the sociological – instructions on how to engage with others, the cosmological – how the world is organized, and the mystical – instructions on that which transcends the physical, material world or the spiritual aspect of reality.

One myth that echoes down to us today through revision and retelling in the Lord of the Rings is the myth of Sigurd and Fafnir.

Sent by his vengeful foster-father to kill the dragon Fafnir, hopefully allowing the gold to be claimed by the greedy parent figure, Sigurd is able to kill the dragon and claim the gold with a little help from Odin.

In modern reading of myths, the challenges of the story correspond to the inner battles we face, with the monstrosity representing our unconscious patterns, the shadow, the ego.

After defeating the dragon, Sigurd tastes the dragon’s blood and gains the ability to hear the speech of the birds, saving him from his foster-father’s plot on his life.

Contemplatives teach that the dragon – the ego – is usually created for survival on some level, in response to pain or the threat of it.

This is how positive impulses become distorted into destructive habits at immature levels. A desire for stability becomes obsessive-compulsive, a desire for safety becomes hatred of the other, a desire for connection becomes lust.

Contemplative Christianity and the mystics seem to understand the myth of the death and resurrection, of the downward way, of the Paschal Mystery of transformation through entering into our personal suffering and seeing transformed and redeemed is a myth of wholeness. It’s the myth that moves toward healing.

In the story, Odin represents the grace of guidance and wisdom in navigating this terrain. May you find those sources that guide and sustain on your own journey as well.

So back to the quote. I take it to mean that if we don’t engage consciously in the myth of healing, of recognizing, naming, and transcending, the dragon stays in the cave deep in our unconscious, giving life to our fears and vices.

The myths are about moving through this space and coming out the other side, utterly transformed.

Going Further

Richard Rohr on Myths

Joseph Campbell on the Power of Myth (Netflix)

Contemplative Light Podcast with author Ben Riggs touching on myth and healing

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