Myths are Public Dreams; Dreams are Private Myths

This is a quote from anthropologist Joseph Campbell. I like it because it suggests the cycling between dreams and reality, private and public that mythology seems to do.

We tend to think of myths, legends, religious practices, as being fixed. This is probably due – at least in part – to the fact that if you are reading this, you probably read a lot of stories, ie they had been fixed by print.

But stories are also part of a living culture, so can be altered to accommodate changing knowledge, or audience etc., as shown by the following:

“This is from the Achumawi of California, as told to C Hart Merriam in 1928 by Istet Woiche. Merriam had enormous admiration for this old myth teller; the Speaker and Keeper of the Laws of the Madesiwi band. He wrote: “As our acquaintance grew.. I came to regard hmi as a remarkably learned man.” When Istet Woiche learned that the Earth spins on its axis and circles the sun – not part of the traditional lore of the Achumawi – he considered it carefully and decided that it must be true, reasoning that “If the world did not travel, there would be no wind.” He incorporated this new knowledge into his mythology, assigning the task of setting the world turning into world’s Heart, one of the two pre-existing deities of the Madesiwi.

There is an incident that I love from the Book of Enoch, one of the Apocrypha from the Bible.  It involved the angels  weighing the winds. How can we read this? Is it just an idle story, or were they far more advanced than we give credit for, and maybe were early physicists. Because there are people now who can weigh the earth’s atmosphere, or at least give us an estimate of what it weighs, so why not the wind as well?

2 thoughts on “Myths are Public Dreams; Dreams are Private Myths

  1. Pingback: I’m not a myth « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2. Pingback: The meanings of myth « Earthpages.org

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