This is an exclusive excerpt from Narrative Machines: Modern Myth, Revolution & Propaganda, available now from Mythos Media:
Dreams, memories, the sacred—they are all alike in that they are beyond our grasp. Once we are even marginally separated from what we can touch, the object is sanctified; it acquires the beauty of the unattainable, the quality of the miraculous. Everything, really, has this quality of sacredness, but we can desecrate it at a touch. How strange man is! His touch defiles and yet he contains the source of miracles. —Yukio Mishima
Life is a dream you won’t remember upon awakening, and myth is that dream, retold, those pieces that are forgotten seeming to re-occur in the subconscious of future generations. This retold dream is the realm of myth, and concurrently, its representatives take the form of art, music, and literature. Myth borrows from the realm of the unconscious, much as the unconscious is said to draw from the ancestral halls of death, and in some ways they share a similar dual nature as both real and unreal.
However, myth cannot be simply reduced to dream images. Dreams on their own do not define, transform, or destroy cultures. The source in us that seems to speak in dreams speaks also in our myths, if not in the same way. They are after all always conditional, still only real “in a sense.” You might have been raised in a culture that worships fire as a benevolent force. It’ll still burn you if you sit in it long enough. And yet nothing could be more real than the dreams that shape our lives, or the stories we use to give our names a meaning.
Our life passes in a procession of moments, all remembered fictionally after that bubble in time. There is a mysterious process of growth which follows its own laws and takes place behind the biographical peripeteias of life, and goes from childhood to old age. Viewed in mythological context, the greater human being, the anthropos, is likened to a tree. The trees of life and trees of knowledge are, in this symbolic sense, the same.
Living or dying, awake or asleep, we forget, and then we remember ourselves. Hold on too tight, and be trapped forever. Let go, and disappear as if you never were. The only way to remain is to carry another’s story inside us a while, for in compassionate hands our own stories are not quite so heavy. It is the word’s inner meaning that is resurrected time and again in flesh. Ideas are not just ideas, when they take hold of us.
Everything that has had a major effect on your life was started by sheer happenstance. We can embrace it, accept it, or run, but not change the substance of our story. Destiny was never a choice. Even our bodies are just a rental. But who writes this story, then? Who truly controls the narrative?
Put another way, myths are fiction, but they can enter the real through us, to the extent that we are transformed, and remake the world in their image. Stories about the world intuitively inform our judgments and actions in the world. And it is wise to ask what drives us to lend one particular myth our voice, and to not hear another…?
It’s easy enough to say our lives have all been a sort of dream, but that’s a trite way to treat life. Yet it’s no less true. The part of us that doesn’t feed the rivers and oceans is myth, poetic as it may be for our teeth and bones to one day pave a river-bed.