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The Value of Myth
Many people today think that myth
is something that comes from an old bardic tale by a winter's
hearth. The myth is often perceived as a story to tell children
to frighten them into behaving properly; as a method of stirring
the imagination; or, to keep alive the oral teachings of a culture.
At the very least it is a means of entertainment and it can
be seen as a good source for a fantasy story; but it does hold
For decades now I have studied the
myths and folklore of many culturesso much so that I tend
to forget where this or that one came from at times. I have
also come to see that it does not always matter. As I looked
into the myths I found that patterns began to emerge. Settings
changed, names changed, but the core of the story remained the
same. What is important about that? Well, if you think about
it, many of these cultural myths came from a wide variety of
countries when there was no form of world travel or communication
between them. I find that interesting. I have often asked myself
how it could be that the foundations of these tales are so similar.
It draws my attention to the universal archetypesthe figures
that all cultures share in one form or another, the characters
we can all relate to, the pantheons that dance in lost memories.
Somehow we all recognize them and they hold a special meaning
to each of us that is unique to our lives. We relate to them
just as our ancestors did.
In myth we discover the exemplification
of role models for courage, strength, foolishness, and any number
of character traits or tragic flaws. They are the stories that
we are reared on and they set the stage of life beginning at
an early age. While this is well and good there is something
else at the core of these myths that begins to emerge. It is
the central themes that also tell of creation, of spiritual
pathways, of battles fought with courage or treason or cowardice.
They contain the secrets of the ages and are passed down generation
after generation to live through time and centuries.
I am a Medicine Woman. I practice
the shamanic pathway of America's indigenous peoples. I have
seen the value of myth when it is brought to life through ritual
ceremonies. It gifts us with wonder, but it also lets us become
a part of it by stepping into the mists of time and knowing
its reality. While this technique is not restricted to the shamanic
path, it is well utilized there. Let me give you an example
of how it can be applied and perhaps you will be able to enjoy
a small sample for yourself.
Imagine, if you will, that you are
a tribal member who has gathered on the Northern Plains with
hundreds of others. Your spiritual leaders are preparing for
the ceremony and there is buzz in the air. The grounds around
you are transforming into another place and there is a charge
of energy that is growing. You can feel it as people busy themselves
and begin to make order out of the chaos. Everyone can feel
the excitement and the focus of the festivities as the energies
charge and permeate all that is taking place. Ceremonies of
purification are going on in the Mother Lodge (Sweat Lodge),
and individuals are beginning to emerge in regalia appropriate
to the occasion. Everyone is starting to become very focused
as the people begin taking their places.
Nearby there is a sacred roadway
that your tribe uses to make pilgrimages to the ceremonial grounds.
It is there that the dancing, feasting, and celebration will
conclude. It is morning right now, and the walk along the sacred
road will take up a good portion of it. It will be afternoon
when the tribe gathers around the Medicine Wheel and the fires
will be lit as the dancers enter this Sacred Hoop of Life while
the tribe gathers close to watch them perform. The ceremony
itself will last through the night as the spirits are called
in and dancers enact the myth once more. As the last embers
of the fires begin to fade all those gathered will greet the
rising sun. The twilight will signal the gathering as it spreads
its first light of day and sends its energy across the face
of the land. You know that you will feel its warmth spread over
you and that it will mark the end of the rites that will take
place. The embrace of the Sky Father will enfold you and go
with you as you make your way back home.
Before that can happen there is
much that lies ahead and you are looking forward to this day
of celebration with great anticipation. The road you will walk
with your tribal brothers and sisters is sacred. It is used
only for ceremonial purposes and is honored through ritual cleansing
by sweeping away the negative energies and smudging the air.
It has been prepared ahead of time and now the tribe, led by
a holy person, begins to gather at the starting point of this
roadway. All eyes and ears are directed at the leader as he
or she begins to speak of the ceremony that is taking place.
The signal is given for the runners
who will begin the march as they test their endurance and undergo
their initiations. Your leader then begins the telling and the
myth starts to unfold. In the words spoken a spell is woven
and all are caught up in symbolism, regalia and events of the
myth that are being re-enacted. Those gathered to make the pilgrimage
follow in procession and stop at certain places along the way
where shrines are erected. It is there that your leader speaks
of yet a new portion of the myth, like an act in a play, telling
of a tale that is part of the overall time-space.
These shrines have become ingrained
with their own particular lore and settings. They hold great
symbology for you and the rest of the people. Memories flood
your mind as you stop at these markers. Memories that summon
the images of a different time when some event took place, and
the lesson is conjured. Perhaps it is a song that is sung, or
a happening that is re-told; perhaps it is a prayer that is
cried out, or simply the drumming and flutes that bring back
the meaning at this site. As the procession progresses the drums,
rattles, and flutes combine with the chanting and songs. You
are taken deeper into the myth until you are lost to the mundane
world and have been captured by the spell. You are in the Now
walking between the worlds. You live the myth and you are a
part of it. Each person has a role to play either as a character
or as an observer, but all are a part of it, and each role is
Enfolded in this spell-weaving are
mysteries and sacred truths that come to life. To live a myth
in this way is to invoke its power, to understand and ingrain
it into your own spiritual teachings, to hold its truths and
know them first-hand. The technique, as I have stated, is not
exclusive to the shamanic pathway. It is used in the coven-work
of the witch, by the solitary practitioner, by pagans of all
sorts, and in the teachings of the worlds' religions as they
honor their sacred celebrations in their pilgrimages. It brings
them to life and reminds us all how the Wheel of the Year turns,
how the Spiral Dance continues, how the Great Mystery moves
through our lives, and how we are very much a part of it all.
It strengthens our foundations and allows us to honor
the precious Powers That Be and our
Creator. We come to relate to certain characters as role models
for our own life path and others as examples of what not to
do or be. We see through example and the soft eyes of our inner
spirits to become enlightened. We learn the lessons that speak
of mysteries and sacred truths, of Medicine or power, of magick
and wonder...of Spirit.
The next time a myth is presented
to you look at it closely. Ask yourself what the lesson is and
see how it pertains to your life today. Ask yourself how it
applies to your spiritual path. We are not that far removed
from these places in lore and the truths of the myths stand
the test of time through the centuries. Treasure the myths you
hold and see them for more than just a winter tale to be told
or some small part of history that may or may not have taken
place. It is not just the story itself but all the intricate
parts that give it value. It is important to understand why
the characters acted as they did, their motivation, passions,
and greed where they apply. The retribution for those acts,
be it reward or punishment, is important as we see the lesson
emerge. See the mysteries unfold bringing with them the sacred
truths for what they are as the unknown and hidden secrets begin
to reveal themselves to you. Then ask yourself if these things
do not hold value today. I think you may be surprised.
Myths are the remnants of the oral
traditions that held the mysteries of the sacred teachings for
those who knew how to see them. In them we find the hidden and
lost shadows that our ancestors carefully preserved. Look to
them with new eyes and treasure each one that comes to you.
It is a gift of Spirit that you hold and if you are wise you
will see the value of the myth. May the Winds speak of the old
tales and may Spirit bless you with understanding their teachings.
Copyright: Cinnamon Moon & River WildFire Moon (Founders.)
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