Personal or Creative Mythology?
An update on the Project from Brendan Graham Dempsey
Hi all! The Personal Mythology Project has been a work in progress since I launched it in January. Part of the goal was to generate discussion with folks to help hone its essence and objectives more precisely. As an outgrowth of these discussions, I'm beginning to carve out a schema that more accurately and effectively gets at the elements I find most promising about the paradigm. For this reason, the site is currently under a bit of construction as I re-arrange and re-organize some materials to better fit this schema.
Specifically, I was very much benefited by some thoughts from Stephen Gerringer, an administrator of the Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythic Salon (the JCF Foundation's flagship Facebook group). In a post on the forum, I wrote:
"Joseph Campbell wrote: "In the context of a traditional mythology, the symbols are presented in socially maintained rites, through which the individual is required to experience, or will pretend to experience, certain insights, sentiments, and commitments. In what I am calling “creative” mythology, on the other hand, this order is reversed: the individual has had an experience of his own—of order, horror, beauty, or even mere exhilaration—which he seeks to communicate through signs; and if his realization has been of a certain depth and import, his communication will have the value and force of living myth—for those, that is to say, who receive and respond to it themselves, with recognition, uncoerced." Do any here engage in creative mythology? Do you have a personal mythology?"
In response, Gerringer wrote:
"There's a distinct difference (though definitely with more than a little overlap) for Campbell between the terms "personal mythology" and "creative mythology." One relates to the mythological dynamic underlying and shaping one's life (which is not the myth one might think; even if one attends church religiously and is consciously vested in the Christian narrative, one might be unconscious of and oblivious to actual archetypal energies – represented by, say, maybe Persephone, or perhaps Parzival – driving how one engages and experiences the world).
That type of 'personal mythology' (what Jung called the myth by which he was living his life) isn't something we consciously choose; rather, it has to be discovered. Jung observed, 'I took it upon myself to get to know 'my' myth, and I regarded this as the task of tasks.' To me, this comports with Socrates dictum: 'Know Thyself'; Jung, Campbell and many others offer clues on how to do so.
There is definitely overlap between that and Campbell's concept of 'creative mythology' – but the latter arises from and is preceded by an individual experience of awe, transcendence, wonder – an experience that pierces the veil of consensus reality and renders a realization beyond the ordinary – succinctly summarized in Brendan's Campbell quote in the original post above. Joe expands on that in this excerpt from an interview with Lee Graham of the Asia Society in the late 1960s:
"A creative writer, a creative poet, a creative artist works the other way around. He has an experience and then he seeks the imagery through which to communicate it. That’s the quest of the poet, the quest of the artist. What word, what form, what nuance will render this exquisite feeling, this exquisite experience I’ve had? Then it is put out. And you can’t say to another person, 'Now, you’ve got to have the experience intended in this symbol.' He may or may not have it. It’s my belief that in the present world, where we come from such various backgrounds, there cannot be a single mythology, a single system of religious symbols that will work for everybody."
In that sense, creative mythology is indeed personal mythology – drawing on symbols and images from a variety of collective mythologies that express one's subjective experience and vision. While this recognizes the existing mythological dynamic that is active in one's life ("personal mythology"), creative mythology is a conscious embrace of, and partnering with the creative mythic imagination.
Given that context, yes to both questions ('Does anyone here have a personal mythology' and 'Do any here engage in creative mythology').
No need to bore all with my personal experience, which is of no greater or lesser value than anyone else's, but I will say that the gradual discovery of the mythological motifs at play in my life – my personal mythology, if you will – led me to, and through, a transformative experience. Since then, in rendering (and living) the resulting insights, I have embraced a variety of rituals and imagery drawn from the myths of many cultures, as well as from alchemy, faery tale, and my own dreams and creative imagination. These feed my soul."
I found this thoughtful reply very helpful for parsing elements of personal mythology that I had been conflating. It also helped explain why I found many of the books I was reading on personal mythology a bit frustrating. I wanted them to talk more about the creative element, but found myself slogging through page after page of exploring one's past and looking for memories and journaling on personal relationships, etc. In short, I realized that what I was far more interested in focusing on was the creative mythology that can arise AFTER one does the psychological digging and asking and reflecting. The two are indeed intertwined, as Gerringer observes. But there is a process here: 1) exploring one's life, experience, and mind to discover what personal myths are informing their worldview and actions; 2) made conscious of these myths, intentionally embracing and/or discarding what one finds; 3) beginning an integrative process of conscious personal myth cultivation and creative myth-making.
I now realize that most personal mythology books are directed at an audience beginning stage 1, and may only touch upon the later stages. Campbell's "creative mythology," by contrast, is focused on stage 3.
In recognition of these distinct stages in the exploration, deconstruction, and reconstruction of personal myths, I am in the process of restructuring the Personal Mythology Project as a guide that acknowledges the whole process, while placing special attention to the third, creative stage. I think this will bring the Project more in line with current discussions of the topic, and better assist those in their journeys of self-discovery and self-transformation.
Brendan Graham Dempsey