I was raised in a Protestant household, regularly attending church until I was thirteen. As I grew older, I associated less and less with the belief system of the church and explored the world as a spiritual freelancer. From my early twenties on, I began exploring the stories and traditions of cultures across human history, learning about symbol, ritual, and narrative (which lead to my earning a master’s in Mythology & Oral Tradition).
I suppose, like some who study comparative literature, cultural anthropology or the like, I developed an awareness of connections across cultures, threads of themes that wend and weave a larger tapestry than a single tradition produces. I have had friends who believe that one cannot truly know God (and more specifically, that one cannot be saved) without adhering to the one true narrative – the one to which they ascribe. I remember one friend who very pointedly said that a ‘buffet-style’ approach would only lead to spiritual frustration and eventual abandonment of faith altogether. As if the human mind could only contain only so much mystery.
What I seek in narrative-myth-story, however, is not truth or salvation, but meaningfulness and mystery. Instead of certainty, proof, or explication, I want stories to fill me with more questions. When I read a poem, I do not ask if it is true or not. The same goes for myth. I ask things like: In what ways might this narrative have been meaningful to the people who told it (or who tell it)? What evidence do I have to support my interpretation? What other traditions share elements of the narrative in common? What does the narrative (and my interpretation of it) tell me about the human condition – about myself? How does the narrative make me feel? …
I enjoy seeing how the substance of myth seeps into my understanding, is expressed in my art, allows me to connect with other people, gives me pause at curious intersections, makes me feel deeply about the world, and nourishes my soul.
My kids will say with a wink that Mom is Jewish and Dad is a mythologist. People will laugh at that because it sounds like a one-liner. After all, most people experienced mythology as a two week unit in the seventh grade, not as a subject of study as an adult. I actually laugh at it also, but I laugh because it is ridiculously true. Mythology is not my faith, but the study of mythos is the way I make sense of the cosmos and my existence within it. I do not “believe” in mythology or its gods and goddesses, but the stories give me a lens through which to see myself and everything around me a bit clearer.
Some people know that when they die, they will be with their God. That thought gives them great comfort and certainty. I have no such god, no such belief, but I have the comfort of stories from around the world that connect me to a large human family spanning thousands of years. I share feelings with a King of Uruk who feared death so deeply he would risk his life to gain the secret of immortality. That makes no sense, but it is utterly human and I understand it. I can also laugh at death because I know that it is the work of an old trickster named Coyote – and he had some good reasons for closing the door of that grass hut. I don’t know what will happen when my life ends, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be in the middle of a good story when it does.