Posts Tagged ‘Joseph Campbell’
Fairy Tales should not be swiftly discounted for their seemingly fictional and innocent purposes as children’s stories. The tales thus preserved are, in fact, windows into other times, ancient peoples’ thoughts, and older magicks. They are just as valuable a tool in anthropological study as traditional religious mythology, and to a certain extent, observational science and archaeology. They provide insight into the psychology and perception of their contemporary societies by both the people living in those societies and those transmitting the stories since. Furthermore, their archetypal nature speaks to something deeper in all man and womankind; regardless of the story’s origins or original temporal setting. This archetypal voice is why these stories still resonate with audiences today. And it is research into understanding this archetypal psychology which has dominated the anthropology of the fairy tale and been the focus of work for famous names such as J.R.R. Tolkein, Joseph Campbell, Claude Levi-Strauss, Georges Frazer, and Carl Jung, etc.
The witches of the traditional canon of fairy tales, i.e. of Hans Christian Anderson, the Brothers Grimm, and the rest of their late 17th through to early 19th century peers provide particularly remarkable insight into two periods of time: the time of the authors themselves; as well as the earlier pre-Industrial Revolution era their stories are typically set in.
Growing discontent with the pervading religious system and local government, coupled with rampant diseases (like the Black Plague), led to a rise in fear on the European continent. With the advent of writing and a stronger infrastructure of roads and trade, this fear was not an isolated incident, but was communicated between groups of people: between villages on a smaller level and between countries -for indeed, now we have come to the period where countries are starting to define themselves as separate states with distinct borders rather than cultural alliances and princely empires as before. Though this new, unprecedented opportunity would later prove to be the cure for the darkness of the period, it was at first but a promoter of the miasma of fear which hung over the late medieval world. In need of a scapegoat, the western world, and in particular the Catholic Church, looked around for something ‘other’ to blame all of their fears and woes upon. And they found what they sought in the form of the witch. A female with power, an outsider to the community, a link to the devil or the pagan communities that had ruled Europe prior to Christian domination ~ the figure of the witch was a multi-purpose target. An easy mark, the witch was vilified, both in person and in the resultant stories of her.
If you want to learn more about the witches of fairy tale and take a deeper look at the residual layers of fairy tale and symbolism of the new characters and archetypes attached to the myth of the witch, then join the Sacred Mists’ newest class: The History of Witches in the Western World ~ taught by yours truly. Using an anthropological perspective, this class explores the changing forms of magick and the evolution of the ‘Witch’ through the biographies of mythological witches of the antiquity through to the historical magickal figures.
Above image courtesy of fanpop
Somebody happened to call me a “mythic creature” on Friday; and it has stuck with me all weekend.
In context, it was a rather mundane and flippant figure of speech. One of the engineers in the digital archaeology lab I’ve just started at was merely elaborating on how rare it was to have one of the researchers in the lab for the full creative process. As a user of the technology verses a creator of it, he was basically saying that it was a novel concept to have my input at this stage of development. Really, it was a compliment of sorts (I hope). But it was more his turn of phrase that caught my attention. And rapidly pulled me from my everyday work, into the magickal realm I share here with all of you at Sacred Mists. Down the rabbit hole, as it were.
My initial visualization of my possession of the label ‘mythic creature’ had much to do with the addition of faerie wings trying to fit round my desk chair and a unicorn’s horn sprouting from my forehead. Eventually, however, my meandering daydreams wandered away from the specific image of me as a mythic creature in the engineering lab; and more to do with just the idea of the mythic creature in the lab or office: Pegasus flying past the window, sprites floating in the water cooler, satyrs bounding off the elevator, and the like. The magick seeping through the mundane.
Really, however, if one has been paying close attention to the faerie tales of childhood and, indeed, of world mythology: that is exactly how these mythic creatures present themselves. Out of the corner of your eye, there is a little something extra that you can spot for an instant and then is gone. In faerie tales: it may be a meeting with an elderly woman in the woods who you politely shared your bread with (thus earning the power to spit up jewels) or the spider you carried outside instead of smashing (and who later helped you succeed at a seemingly futile task). In faerie tales, and indeed perhaps in real life, the true encounters with mythic creatures are not ones you really pay that much attention to as a special encounter of any kind. The effects of the meeting may be felt; blessings given or mischief enacted (depending on the type of mythic creature), and one is left pondering the encounter, identifying what one can about what you saw, and extemporizing the rest to make sense of it ~ often fitting it into the known order of things in order to make it fit into one’s view of the world. More often than not, one might not realize that they’ve had such an encounter because they were not aware of what they were looking for and even if they saw something had no subconscious archetype against which to compare it. The Platonic archetypes extolled by the likes of Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung can often seem like vague generalizations, but they are worth knowing as reference points. It is, after all, easier to put together the jigsaw puzzle if one knows what the general picture is meant to be of. The meeting of the mythic with the mundane is where magick translates outside of anthropology and becomes a part of one’s life experience.
I admit, that when not working on a project for the Sacred Mists, I often forget to look around me and see the magick in the world: the beauty and power that vibrates through everything; the wonder that I know I experienced as a child looking out at the world and knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that magickal things could happen. The seemingly innocuous phrase ‘mythic creature’ woke me up. It made me LOOK. It made me SEE. It made me aware and appreciative. For this past weekend, at least.
And while no, I have not spotted any landvaettir around my apartment, fey lurking in the shrubbery, or trolls under the freeway bridge: the part of me that steadfastly believes in the anthropological power of faerie tales maintains that they are there. They have just gotten very, very good at blending in. So much so, that when we see them or meet them, we probably don’t even realize what they really might be.
The power of seeing the mythic creature in the modern world can lead to marvelous things. Ever heard of a little place called Narnia? Narnia is a magickal realm full of myth and wonder that has provided children and adults alike with a refuge, despite its ultimately fictional nature. Its author C. S. Lewis reputedly first began creating the back-story for Narnia whilst riding on a train one snowy evening. Looking out at the town, a man carrying his shopping and an umbrella appeared to have the legs of a faun instead of those of a human. And thus Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian was born. If you take nothing else away from C.S. Lewis’s masterpiece series the Chronicles of Narnia, take away the idea that great things come from using your imagination and seeing the magick in the mundane. From seeing the mythic creature in the modern world.
Have you had any recent encounters you’ve realized were less than mundane? Are your bumblebees secretly faeries or your pool overrun with lorelei? Or did you open the door for a stranger or give a lost tourist directions and feel inexplicably blessed the rest of the day? Mythic creatures come in all shapes and forms. Let us know about your recent run-ins!
And if you haven’t had any recent encounters with mythic creatures: go seek them out. Attempt an anthropological cum psychological experiment into your own awareness and find them in unlikely places. Find them at your office, in your home, or in the pages of a fairy tale you’ve long since given up~ those archetyes still speak to you, if you’re willing to listen, so give them another chance. And then report back here and share your experience with everyone else!
Image Credit: At the top is Mary Gow’s Fairy Tales.