After spending most of a lifetime comparing the myths and fairy tales of different cultures from around the globe, Joseph Campbell discovered that there was a powerful relationship between myths and dreams. He said myths are public dreams, while dreams are the private myth.
More than 100,000 years ago, paintings on cave walls depicted that ancient human beings already had an awareness of the mythic dimension that lies beyond physical reality. Not only that, but certain archetypal motifs can be traced back to us across the eras and societies. Campbell and other mythologists discovered patterns in the human psyche that simply never change.
In the same way that we can investigate our dreams to determine where we are in our own heroic journey, so too can we study our popular myths to get a sense of what our collective values are and where they might be leading us.
Sadly, storytelling is becoming a lost art in our culture. The oratory tradition in the West has been all but replaced by television & movies. While still telling of the popular ideology, they circumnavigate the human exchange – most significantly from that of our elders.
Myths and fairy tales are teaching stories that help us understand what it is like to be human. They show us that we aren’t alone in our experience; a thousand heroines before us have suffered for their values; a thousand heroes have done battle with their dragons, and a million wise witches live in the darkest regions of a million forests if we’re brave enough to travel into them.
Most of us are unaware of how profoundly we’ve been shaped by the fairy tales of our childhoods. But if you take a moment to remember the heroes and heroines of your youth, you might be surprised to find something of yourself in them.
But stories don’t have to end with childhood. Every night, our dreammaker weaves out another chapter of our inner tale so that we can walk out into it. And if ever you’ve participated in a dream group, you know the power of telling a dream extends well beyond your own benefit. Often, dream groups will discover that their individual dreams puzzle mysteriously together, as if into a larger story.
Working with myth, folklore and fairy tales is an excellent way to get your symbolic language juices flowing. Not only do they help us connect to the ways and wisdom of our ancestors, but they illuminate our own mythic significance in an often too-literal society.
So why not start a dream group to see what puzzle emerges; make a history quilt or family tree; create a homemade storybook from one of your dreams; start a campfire collective; tell your favourite fish tales again and again, even if nobody believes you.
A friend from Tanzania tells me that when an elder dies, it is like a library burning down. Without our stories, our lives become meaningless. So if you’re not telling your story because you’re still living your way into it, then listen carefully because everyone you meet has a powerful story breathing on their insides and, if you ask them with your whole heart, they just might decide to let you in on it.