Myth and Universal Longing

My introduction (years ago) to the idea of true myth came from reading C.S. Lewis, and then Chesterton.  Dwight Longenecker wrote about that recently.  From his article:

“Myths (whether they are about ancient superheroes or comic-book superheroes) are not simply fanciful stories that are untrue; they are simple, fanciful stories that are very true. They are true even though they are not factual.   A myth reveals truth through a fanciful tale. It does not do so like a fable, where a moral is tacked to the end of a fanciful story; nor does it do so like an allegory, where the characters represent certain truths. Instead, in a myth the truth is dressed up and acted out as in a drama. In a myth, truth and love and beauty put on masks and wear costumes and engage with lies and error and death and destruction. This is why superheroes do the same, because they are acting in a mythic manner….The themes of the overworld and underworld, the need for redemption and sacrifice, the story of the lost child, the hero’s quest, the virgin mother, the dying redeemer, the rising god—all these are woven not just into the imagination of human beings but into their perception of everything in the world around them. The myths were linked with their own sufferings and fears and joys and sorrows, and also into the very fabric of the universe they perceived….The poems and parables and myths and stories all gave flesh to the deeper and more mysterious meanings that were otherwise difficult to unlock, and as the meaning was incarnated in the art, it hinted at a far deeper and more disturbing possibility that the meaning could one day be incarnated not only in art but in reality. ”

A fairy tale I like is the story of Hansel and Gretel (art by Jesse Wilcox-Smith).

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Also from the article:

“Critics of the Christian religion will say that the whole thing is nothing but an amalgamation of pre-Christian myths. The dying and rising god, the hero-god born of a virgin, the gods become incarnate in human form—it was all there before Christian theologians thought it up. They say that Christians purloined the lot. ‘In fact,’ say the rationalist critics of Christianity, ‘their founder was just another ragtag preacher from a backwoods province of the Roman Empire.  The idealistic nincompoop got caught up in some unfortunate political intrigue and was crucified for his mistake. Then the clever fellow Paul came along and began to make a god out of him, and his followers took the ball and ran with it. All sorts of myths, legends, mysterious rituals, and rites were swirling around the Roman empire, and the early Christians took a bit of that myth, a smidgen of this ritual, a pinch of that legend, a dash of this mystery religion, and mixed it all together with some ancient mumbo jumbo, a few miracle stories, and an atmosphere of mythic romance, and—hey, presto!—they came up with Christianity.’  This fabricated story is then used to debunk Christianity as a fabricated story.
There are several problems with their theory. First of all, congruence of time does not demand causation or even influence. In other words, just because two things occur at the same point in history does not necessarily mean that one caused the other or even influenced the other—even if it seems so.
…Instead of invalidating the authenticity of Christianity, the connections validate it. The connections between paganism and Christianity do not show that Christians copied pagans, but that Christianity is part of a much larger, universal human religious context.  If this is the case, then something else is going on in the rituals, mysteries, and myths of humanity, both in the ancient and modern worlds. If the same symbols and stories arise time and again throughout human culture, then we ought to conclude that these stories and symbols lie deep within the universal consciousness of humanity. If this is so, we are onto something truly remarkable. There seems to be a kind of symbolic religious literary code written into human experience. The matrix of meaning runs deep.”

Here is another article about true myths, this one related to the thoughts of  C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton.




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