We are in a powerful sacred space this week. Last Saturday was the beginning of Passover, Sunday was Palm Sunday and Lailat al Bara'ah, and coming up is Good Friday and Easter! Whatever the traditions that we choose to practice as adults, there can be no denying that here in the US, we have all been influenced by the mythological umbrella of the Abrahamic traditions. In this holy week, the Jewish tradition commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, Christians celebrate Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem, his crucifixion and resurrection, and Muslims pray for forgiveness, hope for a good year ahead, offer acts of charity, honor their ancestors, and celebrate.
Mythologist Joseph Campbell writes that a myth serves four functions; awe and appreciation of the great mystery; cosmological order and the workings of the universe; the social agreements of culture, and how to make a meaningful life within the first three.
Let's take a more in-depth look at these four functions. The first function of myth is its ability to awaken you to the awe and mystery of being itself, sparking deep gratitude for the experience of life. You realize what a wonder both the universe and you are. When you have that feeling you get standing under a night sky, gazing at the Milky Way arching across the heavens, awestruck by incredible beauty and mystery, that is the first function of myth alive in you. By extension, that experience now may open your mind to the mystery that lies behind all life and matter. What a miracle of beauty the universe and life is! There are life and death, joy and terror, good and evil surrounding us at all times. We see the beauty and the horrors of life, and despite the fear, we engage whole-heartedly in it.
The second function of myth reveals a cosmology, an order to the universe. It shows you the shape of the universe and its functions. Science may explain how the planets rotate around the sun and how the universe is still expanding from the first moment it was born, yet the mystery remains as to the why and the how. Our religious traditions often approach these questions. Everywhere you look, from a flower to a newborn baby, to an eclipse, the mystery and power behind the order of life are present.
The third function supports the social order and the society that you were born into, the ways of your culture. It is a cultural agreement to common laws and ways of living. Myth's fourth function helps you to learn how to live a meaningful life in the midst of all of it. It allows you to connect your inner psychological world to the external world of daily happenings. Whether you know it or not, we are all born into a mythic system of one kind or another. Most cultures and religions will have, at their core, narratives that cover all four of the functions of myth as described above. Not every religious cosmology, and there are many, will fit your particular psyche. If you were born into a Christian family and participate in the Christian tradition, the Hindu tradition and pantheon may seem very foreign, and vice versa. You may have been born into one religion or another, it may be a good fit, or it may never have fit. Sometimes we feel that only certain aspects of the cultural myth we are born into are resonating with our lives or our deepest selves.
Even if you are not religious, per se, and you live in the U.S., you are still living within Western civilization's cultural myth and the rules, laws, agreements, written and unwritten, that we all abide by. This is where the development of a personal myth may help you to discover how you are different from the cultural myth you live in. Paradoxically, a personal myth also helps you to find your place within your culture. It empowers you to make sense of your story within the collective images and experiences of life. By writing your personal myth, you may rediscover your acorn, your zeal, your passion. Delving into your personal mythology can help you become your most complete self and help you continue to grow and learn throughout your entire life. Whatever the tradition that you celebrate during the renewal of spring, may you find joy, hope, and peace within!