The more secular we become, the more myth we need. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings continues to fascinate. Modern movies like The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones — and, of course, the outpouring of superhero movies — are all largely mythic. And politics — which we like to think of as rational — is highly mythic. Leave aside the mythical narratives of communism and fascism, we are not given a balanced view by the media but, rather, a picture of good versus evil and of love versus hate. It is us against them. Angels versus demons. And if a few facts have to be tweaked or forgotten to make the narrative convincing, who cares? Facts are boring. We want the story.
Myth is ancient, of course. The priest, the brahmin, the elder knew the myths of the tribe or village. And he knew what they meant and what they told man about life and death.
But myth begins to make a return with the waning of Christianity. In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published a collection of fairy tales. Best known as an artist, William Morris (1834-1896) translated several Norse sagas. And first published in 1890, The Golden Bough by Sir James Frazer was a massive comparative study of myth and ritual, from across the globe, and the work shocked the public by comparing the crucifixion of Christ to the myths of dying and resurrecting gods.
Even further back, the Rosicrucian manifestos of the early 17th century, blend protestant Christianity with Greek mythology and alchemy. (And European alchemy, likewise, borrowed heavily from Greek myth. Then, during the 18th century, the higher degrees of Freemasonry absorbed aspects of alchemy, Rosicrucianism, Christian mysticism, and Christian chivalry — perhaps most obviously in the Rose Croix degree, of which there have been many permutations.
During the late 19th century, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn was founded in Britain, with its main temple in London. Drawing on Rosicrucianism, alchemy, Tarot, astrology, Kabbalah, ancient myth, and Christianity, the Golden Dawn created a highly elaborate and complex structure.
In its Adeptus Minor degree ritual, the Golden Dawn initiate was — and probably still is — “bound to the Cross of Suffering.” This must sound incredibly blasphemous to the Christian and would have been incredibly shocking even to most initiates of the 19th century. But, we need to ask, why was this necessary — or thought to be necessary? The answer is that the more the faith was in decline and in doubt, the more overt the symbolism, and the more extreme the experience, had to be.
We might see this as a return of the shamanic initiation ritual of death and rebirth in Christian guise. (In other words, the return of an authentic, primordial consciousness.) Or we might see this as the “second religiosity” — a naive proliferation of ancient cults — spoken of by the philosopher of pessimism, Oswald Spengler.
But, the fact is, myth has reemerged to fill a void. The Biblical narrative no longer works for a great many people. And the world is emptier for it. Go to a museum and look at the paintings or sculptures from most of the last thousand years and, if they were created by Western artists, they are Christian in theme. But, to the modern man, who does not know to what they refer, they are just paintings or just sculptures.
As media coverage suggests, we want things to be simplified, and simple: We are right and they are wrong. Or we are wrong and we now have an opportunity to show our superior intellect and moral sense by apologizing, crying, or protesting, etc.
Myth transports us to a simpler time. We don’t need the latest gadget, to go to the most exclusive bar, or rant about the latest news story to be cool. Aiming to better ourselves mentally, physically, and spiritually is more meaningful, myth hints at those eternal truths that man has always needed and probably always will need on his journey through life and his aim to be more heroically himself.