In our culture, because we have broken our conscious connection with myth, we tend to see our lives as separate and unique.
But every individual life follows paths and patterns which are universal. Each life story is built on a template of all human stories.
Through mythology, we can connect with the essence of our own life experience, and walk with greater consciousness the mythic pathways where we all are one.
Being aware of the archetypal dimension of experience can be particularly useful for writers. You can use mythic templates quite deliberately to help you construct stories which will have resonance with your readers.
I like to use the Hero’s Journey, the master-myth explored at length in Joseph Campbell’s book, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’
In this story
- the hero hears the call to adventure, which he at first refuses
- something helps him to engage with the adventure and he sets out into the unfamiliar world
- he meets allies and enemies
- he’s tested
- he has to muster all his inner resources to face his supreme ordeal
- he finally claims his reward and takes it back to his community
This is a master myth because it isn’t limited to one area of human experience, such as becoming a mother or making the transition between middle and older age.
The Hero’s Journey describes every challenge we may have to face, however small or large; from the daily challenge of getting out of bed or learning something new to a greater challenge such as finding a new job or coming to terms with the death of a loved one.
Life continuously presents us with challenges, which we at first refuse, because we don’t want the effort and disruption of change. If we refuse, we get a nudge. We may seek the help and support of friends or strangers, books or teachers, and we may encounter unhelpful people who stand in the way.
Every time we engage with a challenge, we win a reward – new strength, new insight, new effectiveness in our world, which we can then ‘bring home’ and incorporate in our life.
You can use mythic templates in a deliberate way to construct strong stories, but simply being aware of the universal dimension in your characters’ stories will give them depth and new dimensions. As Dorothea Brande says, ninety percent of writing happens unconsciously, with us often finding things in our writing we did not consciously put there.
If you want to explore the Hero’s Journey in more depth, I’d recommend ‘The Writer’s Journey’ by Christopher Vogler, where he looks at various Hollywood blockbusters as versions of the hero myth.
August is all about archetypes here in the House of Dreams – next week, I’ll be telling you how I first encountered the archetypes in my dreams