When we’re able to examine the historical contexts of myths we can see that the myth may not have been a product of wishful thinking, anthropomorphising, or a child’s question. Rather it may have emerged from a profound need to find meaning in an eruption of overwhelming grief.
What emerges then is not an ideology, a religion, or a set of rules— all of which eventually fail to serve their purpose and oftimes keep us from enlightenment— but rather a story, one that heals, exhorts, renews, and guides.
Think of the Biblical creation story (written in response to the Babylonian captivity), the gospel story (written after the death of a very well-loved and revolutionary teacher), the Greek myths (the creative outpouring of a remarkable people in spite of great hardship), and even stories like the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouaziz, the catalyzing event that launched Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution.
This is not to say that the mythical event never happened or that its truth as mythos is in any way undermined. I even have a hunch that if myths are rooted in profound existential pain, this renders them the more significant and eternal than if they had simply dropped out of nowhere.
It’s a hypothesis worth testing, even unscientifically. Take a look at the history behind one of your favourite myths, and see if you can find an unbearable suffering somewhere. Then share it with me here.