I am fascinated with mythology.
I believe that by studying the world’s myths, one can reach previously un-imagined depths of understanding of what it really means to be human. In other words, to me, myth is the solution to the existential quandary.
Virtually every culture around the world has created for itself a system of mythology. Each of these systems is different from the next, highlighting what makes each culture unique. However, there are striking similarities between all of them that seem to defy the boundaries of space and time. These similarities must point to a universal truth; what that truth is, though, apparently cannot be easily put in words except by using symbolic language. This has been the subject of study and debate among cultural anthropologists, historians of religion and literature, psychologists, and other experts in the vast field of the Liberal Arts for decades. Probably the most popular method of analyzing mythology is derived from the work of psychologist C.G. Jung, whose theories on archetypes and the collective unconscious have revolutionized the way we understand symbolism.
It is important to understand something here before I continue, lest I unintentionally upset the religious reader. A myth is not the same thing as fiction. While most would agree that a myth is not based in fact, a myth does illustrate certain underlying, psychological truths about what it means to exist in this world. What is the difference between truth and fact? That is a philosophical discussion which I do not wish to get into here, but please keep in mind that, as I continue to refer to myth within current religions such as Christianity, I am not dismissing the stories told in the Bible as mere fiction.
Some people confuse mythology with religion, usually thinking that mythology was the religion of ancient cultures. A myth is, at its core, nothing more than a symbolic story. Religion, on the other hand, is a structure upon which a group of people can organize their collective spiritual beliefs. Religion and mythology are two separate entities, but it is true that religion has often utilized mythology as a means of conveying its spiritual message. So, not all myths are necessarily religious in nature, but all religions do make use of myth to some extent. Sort of like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.
It is characteristic of modern monotheistic religions to place their faiths in a book, such as the Bible or the Koran. The concept of a Holy Book certainly has its benefits for a literate society. One has only to look up the appropriate passage, and his or her spiritual question is answered according to the subscribed belief system. More importantly, the religious (and yes, to some extent, the mythic) legacy of a culture is preserved for posterity in a way many pre-modern societies never could do, much to the chagrin of the aforementioned historians of religion and literature.
But the Holy Book is prone to dogma, which has led to many unfortunate (and unnecessary) violent conflicts between groups of people who ultimately want and believe the same fundamental thing. We get caught up in our cultural differences, and the similarities we share – those which illustrate that indescribable universal truth – are forgotten.
I want to take this opportunity to say that I don’t follow any religion, because I don’t believe any single religion – or its Holy Book – is right. Or, more correctly, I don’t think any religion is wrong. Rather, they are all right (I don’t like the word “right” in this context, but for lack of a better term, it will do). For this reason, combined with the unfortunate historical tendency for conflict, I have done as the Hermit of the Tarot has done, and forsaken the religion of my upbringing in favor of a totally individualized form of spirituality. I don’t mean to tell anyone how to live his or her spiritual life; I mean only to implore that we all seek the harmony inherent in our religious and cultural differences. In other words: Live and let live!
I will continue this post in Part II, and I promise I will actually get around to the point of the blog once there – how exactly does the Tarot tie into all of this?