A long time ago, I wrote a piece called "The basics of personal mythology," which laid out the basics for how you construct the mythology that frames your life, that gives meaning to the story of your life. Since then I have ventured beyond these simple construct, which is very similar to what Joseph Campbell talked about. I have sought a deeper layer of understanding of what is, for anyone with a creative mind, not very difficult to do. It relates to what ties us all together in a neverending human knot where everything we do has effects that ripple across all of humanity. That, which I call the universal unconscious, is not that difficult of a concept if you believe at all in our interconnectivity. It is simply to give a tangible definition to what is an abstract concept, which has been the function of mythology since the beginning of human interaction. These were stories meant to teach an idea, to illustrate a concept, in a way others could not only more easily understand, but delivered in a way they could relate to.
How do you teach a person who sees nothing wrong with beating someone's head in with a rock so they can have the bag of candy they're holding? There must be a story. This person wants that candy and wants it very badly. That other person has the candy and won't give it to him. He has a rock. Why is this not a win-win situation for him? That comes down to morals and ethics and all that, but to teach this you can't just say, "It's wrong because me and some other people said it is." The easiest way is to teach it with a story, using characters, symbols, and other elements this asshole can relate to. This is the beginning of all mythology, from primitive folk tales to organized religion. It is about stories and how the lessons taught in those stories are important. At times, assholes like the guy with the rock aren't going to care too much about the story and its point unless some consquences might result, delivered by someone much more powerful than they are. Thus was born the vengeful god, the herald of, "Okay, asshole, you know what, if you keep smashing people's heads in with rocks so you can eat their dinner, the god of the dead will do the same to you, except in the land of the dead, no one ever dies and they feel everything." Problem solved. Asshole puts down the rock. Story gets passed around and used liberally to get little kids to behave. It eventually becomes canon.
This is how these things work, but the symbolism that remains consistent around the vast majority of mythologies of all kinds is what interests me. The same stories are being told in different ways in so many different cultures that had no contact with each other. Was it aliens? No, fuck that. It is that which binds us together, the common experience of living as human beings in this place, the universal unconscious. Why does almost every single mythology have a resurrection myth involving someone who is the child of some god? There are many reasons.
The strongest reason, in my mind, comes from the effect traumatic experiences have on human beings. Outside of the near-death experience (NDE), which is the most obvious example, other traumatic experiences can lead to a major change in one's attitude and approach to life. I consider myself to be an example of that. The resurrection myth is all about renewal, of being reborn, and of becoming something more than you were before. There is a fundamental shift in one's life path. This, I believe, is the root of the resurrection myth, to explain why this is in metaphorical terms told through the power of story.
The commonality in these myths is what I have often called convergence, of which my understanding has evolved over time. You can only see the picture on the puzzle when you put all the pieces in their right place, but bits of it become clearer as each new piece is placed. This is how I have followed my path since 1994, but I only accepted that I needed to do it this way in the last eight years. Previously, I believed there would be some magical answer that would come about that would make it all clear. It never becomes completely clear.
The problem is, that at certain points in history, literalists took control of the most popular mythologies. These were stories about true fact, dictated by a supreme being who would get pissed off if the rules were not followed. It was about forging empires based on a right supposedly delivered from this supreme being, for whom the empire builders were the chosen people. When the literalists took over, that was when the rift began between mythos and logos, from two mutually necessary functions into two things at war. Reason and science took to one wall and mythology and religion on the other. And then it turned into scrambled eggs (the watery kind, unless you are Russian, in which case, the dry kind).
What took the place of mythology were other forms of storytelling. And this kind of storytelling wasn't always interested in teaching lessons about how to treat each other respectifully and why you shouldn't eat pork (usually taught at a time when pork carried disease or was otherwise dangerous to eat but people would eat it and die anyway). These stories were about what most novels and movies are about, entertainment. And now you have more scrambled eggs.
Not everyone who has a death experience or trauma has a transformative experience that is positive. Some traumas are negative in far too many horrific ways that the experience can only transform the person in negative ways, but even after a terrible trauma, something about the person does change. They become more driven and more interested in their life having purpose and meaning. They are no longer content to go through the motions. In some way, they are transformed. Which is the point of every resurrection myth.
What is the purpose of such a story? Consider how difficult it is for relatives and friends to understand the changes a person has gone through after a traumatic experience. It is something completely foreign to them. A story makes it easier to explain and for people to relate to. And the best of these was passed around for generations in many families. Aunt Gertrude is like Bean Pop from the story!
Modern mythology has more in common with popular books and movies than it does with religion. Heroic characters are like the heroes of the old mythologies, but the writers aren't always careful with how they use them the way the old mythological storytellers usually were. Is death and loss treated too casually? Is this character a hero because they help others or because they have a high kill count? Sports figures can develop a mythology about them. Anyone who seems larger than life to someone else can be mythologized, sometimes in unhealthy ways, which is why it is always such a big deal with a famous person who was known as a great role model and hero does something really terrible. It hurts people. If their hero can do such a thing, does anything really matter anymore?
What of the hero who escapes death, shows himself to be true of character and dedicated to others, setting an example for all? What of this hero who then falls, is beaten, and then gives up?
This is at the heart of my own resurrection myth in the story of Tammy. In my story, I escape death, overcome doubt, find faith, realize I am usually unconsciously helping people, give other people faith, and then a series of really bad things happen to me and I tell Tammy that I feel like giving up. When she said, "If you give up, then what are the rest of us supposed to do?" it framed the story. It became a key part of my mythology. The hero can be beaten, can lose, can be destroyed, but the hero must always rise again.
(Please realize that I use the word "hero" as a gender neutral pronoun and rarely use heroine any longer because when I tried to explain the heroic path to people I worked with when I worked in addiction recovery they always thought I was talking about heroin.)
If you become a heroic figure and are seen as such by others, you have a responsibility to them, unless you openly reject this status. Even then, you may continue to be a heroic figure, but your metaphysical legal aide will tell you that it would be in your best interest to do so. If you fall, you must fall in the right way. If you are a heroic figure in the warrior vein, you can't have video released of you whining while someone is drawing your blood unless you have the skill to make it a comedic moment.
The death experience is something beyond trauma. There are variations on resurrection myths about defeated heroes who have descended to the depths of depravity and despair who rise again and become glorious. The most overdone modern version of this mythology is the disgraced old detective who comes back from retirement for one big case and finds redemption and praise. It is usually a lame twist on this mythology, which I believe has its origins in trauma and recovery.
Are these stories about more than just understanding these experiences some have that not all can relate to?
They tell us something about our character. If we are all, at the base, very much the same, then we must allow ourselves to empathize with other people of all kinds. Sometimes the results will be repulsive, but we must examine why. Is it because there is something about this person that is genuinely offensive (such as they enjoy smashing people's heads in with rocks) or is it because we subjectively decided there is something about them of which we do not approve of because of learned behavior, education, or indoctrination? If you are only willing to look at a story from a single point of view are you doing anything more than reinforcing what you already believe?
We are capable of more, which is what these stories teach us. Is the story of Jesus not about a dude who got crucified for standing up for what he believed in and then coming back and telling people to follow his example? It sets the tone for realizing that you may be capable of more than you thought you were, that you might be good enough, that you might be right about what you're thinking about, and that you shouldn't be afraid to face your fears and see if you are braver than you thought you were. We are all capable of more. We just might not know what that more is just yet. It doesn't mean do more overtime at work or get out and paint your house some more even though you are hyperventilating and your jeans are too tight. It means you have untapped potential that is dormant because you either haven't found faith in it or you don't yet know what it means.
That is what faith is, believing in something you cannot prove to be true or untrue. Are you capable of doing more than you've done in the past? You have to have faith to find out. Never confuse faith with blind acceptance of dogma. The literalists did that one, too.