The Value of Myth
By: Cinnamon Moon
By: Cinnamon Moon
© Cinnamon Moon
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 other value.
For decades now I have studied the myths and folklore of many cultures-so 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 archetypes-the 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 costume 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 shaman or 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 shaman 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, costumes, and events of the myth that are being re-enacted. The shaman leads the procession and stops at certain places along the way where shrines are erected. It is there that he or she begins 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. 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 important.
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. 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 iatrical 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 and 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.
Spirit to spirit and heart to heart,