We live by myths...
We need stories that tell us where we come from (creation myth), how we survive (fertility myth), what we value (hero myth) and where we're trying to get to (deliverance myth).
These inform our literature and culture. We think, obviously, of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia. But we should not overlook the mythic structure which underlies other modern works of imagination, from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, from James Joyce's Ulysses to Leonard Cohen's The Future, from Ted Hughes's Crow to Terence Malick's The Tree of Life.
We need to start thinking in a way that is 'green' through and through...
We have to consider seriously the relationship between human culture and non-human nature. Thus interest in ecology overlaps with interest in mythology: we need to re-imagine the earth, and so recover the sense of its sacredness.
Religion has an important role to play in the collective imagination...
Giving up literal belief in God - or, more dramatically, deciding that 'God is dead' - does not mean that we can live without religious narratives. Again, this brings us back to mythology, and the primacy of mythos ('story'). It also brings us back to ecology, and the archaic sense of the sacredness of oikos (the earth as our 'home').
A shift in consciousness was brought about by the 'Beat' writers Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder, and by their friend, the philosopher Alan Watts...
They in turn influenced the songwriters of the 1960s, notably the Beatles and Bob Dylan. The Beats opened our eyes to the possibility of the 'sacred' being manifest in the 'profane'. Far from being 'know-nothing bohemians', as they were once called, they were spiritual visionaries. For 'Beat' ultimately means 'beatific', as Kerouac insisted from the start. The Beat message could be summed up in the words of Watts: 'This is IT!' That is, here & now is exactly the right place & time in which to apprehend the divine.
A writer who realised the link between mythology and ecology before most people had even started using the latter word was Kenneth Burke...
He decided that the human urge to find a scapegoat had led, with the rise of 'technological psychosis', to the victimization of nature itself. His definition of 'man' is absolutely indispensable:
Given our potentially dangerous tendencies, Burke advocated 'the comic corrective': laughing at our folly and making sure we don't take those tendencies to 'the end of the line'.
A writer who has done more than anyone to bring to our attention the way myths persist in our culture is Marina Warner...
As novelist and as cultural historian, she has shown how mythology manifests itself in a variety of ways, many of which we don't normally notice. She helps us understand how myths can be misused, in order for one group to wield power over another. She also helps us understand how myths can be re-read and re-written, in a spirit of 'metamorphosis', of endless transformation - thus preventing them from becoming static and oppressive.
© Laurence Coupe 2014
You may quote freely from my writings but you should give proper attribution. A link to www.laurencecoupe.co.uk would be appreciated.
Photograph taken by Margie Plant.