"Myth is a living force, like the telluric powers that stream through the Earth. It is this mythic vision, looking for the ‘long story,’ the timeless tale, that helps us approach the deep mysteries because it insists that these are the stories we really live by, rather than the one we like to think we are living. And moreover,"mythic vision" helps us decide if our myths are working for or against us. ’' .........Phil Cousineau
Sometimes it occurs to me that I speak a language not many people speak, a language I think was once spoken more widely in my circle, my world, and now I hear so rarely. And like any traveller in a foreign land, there is such a delight when one meets a fellow country person who speaks your language, your mother tongue. Because one has become accustomed to not speaking, to being silent, to nodding politely, knowing that the words forming in your mouth cannot emerge.
The language of art, not always of course, but often, is like the mother tongue of those who explore the language of dreams, is mythic, multi-layered, inter-dimensional, and, as Phil Cousineau comments in the brief essay I take the liberty of copying below, a language that "resembles the god Proteus in the Odyssey, a shape-shifting creature who knows the secret that the lost Greek sailors long to hear—the way home. But they must learn how to get a grip on him, if only for one slippery moment, so he might surrender his hidden wisdom."
Artists of all kinds, in my humble opinion, are floundering around for identity in a world that stupidly, blindly, dangerously defines value and success according to the $ in front of it. Artists are spoken of as "emerging", kind of like a stock portfolio, and artists are often called "artist entrepreneurs" (which is not to say that some entrepreneurial skills aren't helpful). But they do not realize or value the deeper function, which is that they are translators, the ones who can venture into that liminal realm and return to tell the tale of what was seen to the benefit of the tribe. They might find themselves empowered if they allow themselves to view their work as a kind of sacred task, myth makers of their time. Then they can see that they have their creative, intuitive hands in the ever evolving loom of Spider Woman, weaving and unravelling brightly colored threads, finding ways to communicate the story even as the story continually reveals itself to them, and through them, to others.
On Myth and Mythmaking
excerpt from book by Phil Cousineau
Once and Future Myths: The Power of Ancient Stories in Our Lives (2001)
I was raised on the knee of Homer, which is an Old World way to describe growing up on stories as old as stone and timeless as dreams. So I see myth everywhere, probably because I am looking for what my American Indian friends call “the long story,” the timeless aspect of everything I encounter. I know the usual places to look for it, such as in the splendor of classic literature or the wisdom stories of primal people.
I want to explore the aspect of myth that most fascinates me: its ‘once and future’ nature. Myths are stories that evoke the eternal because they explore the timeless concerns of human beings—birth, death, time, good and evil, creativity and destruction. Myth resembles the god Proteus in the Odyssey, a shape-shifting creature who knows the secret that the lost Greek sailors long to hear—the way home. But they must learn how to get a grip on him, if only for one slippery moment, so he might surrender his hidden wisdom.
This is what I call ‘mythic vision.’ The colorful and soulful images that pervade myth allow us to step back from our experience so that we might look closer at our personal situations and see if we can catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, the human condition.
But this takes practice, much like a poet or a painter must commit to a life of deep attention and even reverence for the multitude of meaning around us. An artist friend of mine calls this ‘pulling the moment,’ a way of looking deeper into experiences that inspire him. In the writing classes I teach, I refer to this mystery as the difference between the ‘overstory,’ which is the visible plot, and the ‘understory,’ which is the invisible movement of the soul of the main characters. In this sense myth is a living force, like the telluric powers that stream through the Earth. It is this mythic vision, looking for the ‘long story,’ the timeless tale, that helps us approach the deep mysteries because it insists that there are the stories we really live by, rather than the one we like to think we are living, and moreover, ("mythic vision" helps us) decide if our myths are working for or against us.
If we don’t become aware of both our personal myths and the cultural myths that act upon us like gravitational forces, we risk being wholly overpowered and controlled by them. As the maverick philosopher Sam Keen has written in Your Mythic Journey, ‘We need to reinvent them from time to time. . . . The stories we tell of ourselves determine who we become, who we are, what we believe.’'