Since I read this book almost two years ago, I’ve been so busy raving about it that I forgot to actually write about it! A Short History of Myth has become the book that has brought together all of the ideas I’ve ever had about literature, religion, and mythology but was afraid to share in case I came off as flaky. Using simple yet eloquent language, Karen Armstrong makes a compelling case for the value of myths in our daily lives, discussing the evolution and value thereof from prehistoric times to the present day. She is precise in her analysis and very easy to read. Below are some excerpts but I strongly recommend you read the entire thing when you get a chance. I for one cannot wait to read more of Karen Armstrong‘s work.
You can listen to her talk about heroes, shamans, the sky, and many other archetypes and elements of mythology here. She also writes for The Guardian.
On what we can know about myths:
The Neanderthal graves tell us five important things about myth. First, it is nearly always rooted in the experience of death and the fear of extinction. Second, the animal bones indicate that the burial was accompanied by a sacrifice. Mythology is usually inseparable from ritual. Many myths make no sense outside a liturgical drama that brings them to life, and are incomprehensible in a profane setting. Third, the Neanderthal myth was in some way recalled beside a grave, at the limit of human life. The most powerful myths are about extremity; they force us to go beyond our experience. There are moments when we all, in one way or another, have to go to a place that we have never seen, and do what we have never done before. Myth is about the unknown; it is about that for which initially we have no words. Myth therefore looks into the heart of a great silence. Fourth, myth is not a story told for its own sake. It shows us how we should behave. In the Neanderthal graves, the corpse has sometimes been placed in a fetal position, as though for rebirth: the deceased had to take the next step himself. Correctly understood, mythology puts us in the correct spiritual or psychological posture for right action, in this world or the next. Finally, all mythology speaks of another plane that exists alongside our own world, and that in some sense supports it.
On what a myth is:
Today the word ‘myth’ is often used to describe something that is simply not true. A politician accused of a peccadillo will say that it is a ‘myth’, that it never happened. When we hear of gods walking the earth, of dead men striding out of tombs, or of seas miraculously parting to let a favored people escape from their enemies, we dismiss these stories as incredible and demonstrably untrue. Since the eighteenth century, we have developed a scientific view of history; we are concerned above all with what actually happened. But in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time. Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurrence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence, helping us get beyond the chaotic flux of random events, and glimpse the core of reality.
On the truth of a myth:
A myth , therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed. If it works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and our hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth. Mythology will only transform us if we follow its directives. A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do in order to live more richly. If we do not apply it to our own situation and make the myth a reality in our own lives, it will remain as incomprehensible and remote as the rules of a board game, which often seem confusing and boring until we start to play.
On The Hunter archetype:
When an Australian goes hunting, for example, he models his behavior so closely on that of the First Hunter that he feels totally at one with him, caught up in that more powerful archetypal world. It is only when he experiences this mystical unity with Dreamtime that his life has meaning. Afterwards, he falls away from that primal richness and back into the world of time, which, he fears, will devour him and reduce all that he does to nothingness.
All cultures have developed a similar mythology about the heroic quest.
Again, when people told these stories about the heroes of their tribe, they were not simply hoping to entertain their listeners. They myth tells us what we have to do if we want to become a fully human person. Every single one of us has to be a hero at some time in our lives. Every baby forced through the narrow passage of the birth canal, which is not unlike the labyrinthine tunnels at Lascaux, has to leave the safety of the womb, and face the trauma of entry into a terrifyingly unfamiliar world. Every mother who gives birth, and who risks death for her child, is also heroic. You cannot be a hero unless you are prepared to give up everything; there is no ascent to the heights without a prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death. Throughout our lives, we all find ourselves in situations in which we come face to face with the unknown, and the myth of the hero shows us how we should behave. We all have to face the final rite of passage, which is death.
On female Hunter archetypes:
Hunting was an exclusively male activity, and yet one of the most powerful hunters in the Paleolithic era was female. The earliest of the small figurines depicting a pregnant woman, which have been found through Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, date from this period. Artemis is simply one embodiment of the Great Goddess, a fearsome deity who was not only the Mistress of Animals, but the source of life. She is no nurturing earth mother, however, but is implacable, vengeful and demanding. Artemis herself is notorious in exacting sacrifice and bloodshed, if the rituals of the hunt are violated.
Why should a goddess have become so dominant in an aggressively male society? This may be due to an unconscious resentment of the female. The goddess of Catal Huyuk gives birth eternally, but her partner, the bull, must die. Hunters risked their lives to support their women and children. The guilt and anxiety induced by hunting, combined with the frustration resulting from ritual celibacy, could have been projected onto the image of a powerful woman, who demands endless bloodshed. The hunters could see that women were the source of new life; it was they –not the expendable males-who ensured the continuity of the tribe. The female thus became an awe-inspiring icon of life itself – a life that required the ceaseless sacrifice of men and animals.
The earliest mythologies taught people to see through the tangible world to a reality that seemed to embody something else. But this required no leap of faith, because at this stage there seemed to be no metaphysical gulf between the sacred and the profane. When these early people looked at a stone, they did not see an inert, unpromising rock. It embodied strength, permanence, solidity, and an absolute mode of being that was quite different from the vulnerable human state. Its very otherness made it holy.
In our skeptical age, it is often assumed that people are religious because they want something from the gods they worship. … From the very earliest times, we have experienced our world as profoundly mysterious; it holds us in an attitude of awe and wonder, which is the essence of worship.
On the importance of height and the sky:
Height has remained a mythical symbol of the divine – a relic of Paleolithic spirituality. In mythology and mysticism, men and women regularly reach for the sky, and devise rituals and techniques of trance and concentration that enable them to put these ascension stories into practice and ‘rise’ to a ‘higher’ state of consciousness.
When people aspire towards the transcendence represented by the sky, they felt that they could escape from the frailty of the human condition and pass to what lies beyond.
It is highly significant that these myths and rituals of ascension go back to the earliest period of human history. It means that one of the essential yearnings of humanity is the desire to get ‘above’ the human state. As soon as human beings had completed the evolutionary process, they found that a longing for transcendence was built into their condition.
On reverence for animals:
Paleolithic mythology also seems to have been characterized by great reverence for the animals that men now felt complled to kill. Humans were ill-equipped for hunting, because they were weaker and smaller than most of their prey. They had to compensate for this by developing new weapons and techniques. But more problematic was a psychological ambivalence. Anthropologists note that modern indigenous peoples frequently refer to animals or birds as ‘peoples’ on the same level as themselves. They tell stories about humans becoming animals and vice versa; to kill an animal is to kill a friend, so tribesmen often feel guilt after a successful expedition. Because it is a sacred activity and charged with such high levels of anxiety, hunting is invested with ceremonial solemnity and surrounded with rites and taboos.
Central to almost all the religious systems of antiquity was the ritual of animal sacrifice, which preserved the old hunting ceremonies and honored the beasts that laid down their lives for the sake of human beings.
Gods, human beings, animals and plants all shared the same nature, and could, therefore, invigorate and replenish one another.
On the transformative power of myth:
Mythology is the discourse we need in extremity. We have to be prepared to allow a myth to change us forever. Together with the rituals that break down the barrier between the listener and the story, and which help him to make it his own, a mythical narrative is designed to push us beyond the safe certainties of the familiar world into the unknown. Reading a myth without the transforming ritual that goes with it is as incomplete an experience as simply reading the lyrics of an opera without the music. Unless it is encountered as part of a process of regeneration, of death and rebirth, mythology makes no sense.
Human sexuality, for example, was regarded as essentially the same as the divine force that fructified the earth. In early Neolithic mythology, the harvest was seen as the fruit of a hierogamy, a sacred marriage: the soil was female; the seeds divine semen; and rain the sexual congress of heaven and earth. It was common for men and women to engage in ritual sex when they planted their crops. Their own intercourse, itself a sacred act, would activate the creative energies of the soil, just as the farmer’s spade or plough was a sacred phallus that opened the womb of the earth and made it big with seed. The Bible shows that these ritualized orgies were practiced in ancient Israel well into the sixth century BCE, to the fury of such prophets as Hosea and Ezekiel. Even in the Jerusalem temple there were ceremonies in honor of Asherah, the fertility goddess of Canaan, and a house of sacred prostitutes.
On the violence of nature:
Again, mythology is not escapist. The new Neolithic myths continued to force people to face up to the reality of death. They were not pastoral idylls, and the Mother Goddess was not a gentle, consoling deity, because agriculture was not experienced as a peaceful, contemplative occupation. It was a constant battle, a desperate struggle, against sterility, drought, famine and the violent forces of nature, which were also manifestations of sacred power.
The sexual imagery of planting did not mean that people experienced agriculture as a romantic love affair with nature. Human reproduction was itself highly dangerous for mother and child. In the same way, tilling the fields was accomplished only after hard, backbreaking labour. In the book of Genesis, the loss of the primordial paradisal state is experienced as falling into agriculture. In Eden, the first human beings had tended God’s garden effortlessly. After the Fall, the woman brings forth her children in sorrow, and the man has to wrest a living from the soil by the sweat of his brow.
In early mythology, farming is pervaded by violence, and food is produced only by a constant warfare against the sacred forces of death and destruction. The seed has to go down into the earth and die in order to bring forth its fruit, and its death is painful and traumatic. Farming implements look like weapons, corn must be ground to powder and grapes trampled to unrecognizable pulp before they can become wine. We see all this in myths about the Mother Goddess, whose consorts are nearly all torn apart, dismembered, brutally mutilated, and killed before they can rise again, with the crops, to new life. All these myths speak of a struggle to the death. IN the old heroic myths dating from the Paleolithic age, it was usually a male hero who set forth on a dangerous journey to bring help to his people. After the Neolithic revolutions, the males are often helpless and passive. It is the female goddess who wanders through the world on a quest, who struggles with death, and brings nourishment to the human race. The Earth Mother becomes a symbol of female heroism, in myths that speak ultimately of balance and restore harmony.
On the myth of Gilgamesh and how it reflected society’s thinking at the time:
Gilgamesh and Enkidu become friends, and set on their adventures. In the course of their wanderings, they meet Ishtar. In the older mythology, marriage with the Mother Goddess had often represented the supreme enlightenment and the climax of a hero’s quest, but Gilgamesh turns Ishtar down. It is a powerful critique of the traditional mythology, which can no longer speak fully to urban men and women. Gilgamesh does not see civilization as a divine enterprise. Ishtar is a destroyer of culture: she is like a water skin that soaks its carrier, a shoe that pinches its wearer, and a door that cannot keep out the wind. None of her relationships lasted; she has ruined each one of her lovers. Mortals are better off without these destructive encounters with irresponsible gods. Gilgamesh, the civilized man, declares his independence of the divine. It is better for gods and humans to go their separate ways.
Instead of getting privileged information from the gods, Gilgamesh receives a painful lesson on the limitations of humanity. He heads back to civilization: bathes, throws away his lion skin, dresses his hair and dons clean clothes. Henceforth, he will concentrate on building the walls of Uruk, and cultivating the civilized arts. He personally will die, but these monuments will be his immortality, especially the invention of writing, which will record his achievements for posterity.
On the struggle with monotheism and the birth of Judaism:
But the history of religion shows that, once a myth ceases to give people intimations of transcendence, it becomes abhorrent. Monotheism, the belief in only one god, was initially a struggle. Many of the Israelites still felt the allure of the old myths, and had to fight this attraction. They felt that they were being torn painfully form the mythical world of their neighbors, and were becoming outsiders. We sense this strain in the distress of Jeremiah, who experienced his god as a pain that convulsed his every limb, or in the strange career of Ezekiel, whose life became an icon of radical discontinuity. Ezekiel is commanded by God to eat excrement; he is forbidden to mourn his dead wife; he is overcome with fearful, uncontrollable trembling. The Axial prophets felt that they were taking their people into an unknown world, where nothing could be taken for granted, and normal responses were denied. But eventually this distress gave way to serene confidence, and the religion that we now call Judaism came into being.
Ironically, this new self-assurance came after a great catastrophe. In 586 the Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar conquered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple of Yahweh. Many of the Israelites were deported to Babylonia, where the exiles were exposed to the towering ziggurats, the rich liturgical life of the city, and the massive temple of Esagila. Yet it was here that paganism lost its attraction. We see the new spirit in the first chapter of Genesis, probably written by a member of the so-called Priestly School, which can be read as a poised, calm polemic against the old belligerent cosmogonies. IN calm, ordered prose, this new creation myth looks coolly askance at the Babylonian cosmology. Unlike Marduk, Israel’s god does not have to fight desperate battles to create the world; he brings all things into existence effortlessly, by a simple command. The sun, moon, stars, sky and earth are not gods in their own right, hostile to Yahweh. They are subservient to him, and created for a purely practical end. The sea-monster is no Tiamat, but is God’s creature and does his bidding. Yahweh’s creative act is so superior to Marduk’s that it never has to be repeated or renewed. Where the Babylonian gods were engaged in an ongoing battle against the forces of chaos, and needed the rituals of the New Year festival to restore their energies, Yahweh can simply rest on the seventh day, his work complete.
On Ancient Greek philosophy:
Before the passion for philosophy took strong root in the fourth century, the Athenians had developed a new type of ritual, the mimesis of tragedy, which solemnly reenacted the ancient myths in the context of a religious festival, but at the same time, subjected them to close scrutiny. Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripedes all put the gods on trial, with the audience as the judging tribunal. Myth does not question itself; it demands a degree of self-identification. Tragedy, however, put some distance between itself and the traditional mythology, and queried some of the most fundamental Greek values. Were the gods really fair and just? What was the value of heroism, of Greekness, of democracy? Tragedy came to the fore in a time of transition, a period when the old myths were beginning to lose touch with the new political realities of the city-states. A hero such as Oedipus is still committed to traditional mythical ideals, but they do not help him solve his dilemma. Where the mythical hero could fight his way through to victory, or, at least, to some degree of resolution, there are no such solutions for the tragic hero.
Plato disliked tragedy, because it was too emotional; he believed that it fed the irrational part of the soul, and that humans could only achieve hteir full potential through logos. He compared myths to old wives’ tales. Only logical, rational discourse brings true understanding. Plato’s theory of the Eternal Ideas can be seen as a philosophical version of the ancient myth of the divine archetypes, of which mundane things are the merest shadow. But, for Plato, the Ideas of Love, Beauty, Justice and the Good cannot be intuited or apprehended through the insights of myth or ritual, but only through the reasoning powers of the mind. Aristotle was in agreement with Plato. He found the old myths incomprehensible: ‘For they make the first principles gods or generated from gods, and they say that whatever did not taste of the nectar and ambrosia became mortal… but as regards the actual application of these causes, their statements are beyond our comprehension.’ Aristotle was reading myth as though it were a philosophical text. From a scientific perspective, these myths are nonsense, and a serious seeker after truth should ‘turn rather to those who reason by means of demonstration.’ It seemed that the study of philosophy had caused a rift between mythos and logos, which had hitherto been complementary.
Yet this was not the whole story. For all his impatience with myth, Plato allowed it an important role in the exploration of ideas that lie beyond the scope of philosophical language. We cannot speak of the Good in terms of logos, because it is not a being but the source of both Being and Knowledge. There are other matters, such as the origin of the cosmos or the birth of the gods, that seem subject to blind causality and so contaminated by the irrational that they cannot be expressed in coherent arguments. So when the subject matter falls below philosophical discourse, we must be content with plausible fable. When he writes of the soul, for example, Plato falls back on the old oriental myth of reincarnation. Aristotle agrees that, while some of the myths about the gods are clearly absurd, the basis of this tradition – ‘that all the first substances were gods’-is ‘truly divine’.
On Greek rationalism vs Greek religion:
There was, therefore, a contradiction in Western thought. Greek logos seemed to oppose mythology, but philosophers continued to use myth, either seeing it as the primitive forerunner of rational thought or regarding it as indispensable to religious diuscourse. And indeed, despite the monumental achievements of Greek rationalism during the Axial Age, it had no effect on Greek religion. Greeks continued to sacrifice to the gods, take part in the Eleusinian mysteries, and celebrate their festivals until the sixth century of the Common Era, when this pagan religion was forcibly suppressed by the Emperor Justinian, and replaced by the mythos of Christianity.
Jesus was a real historical human being, who was executed in about 30 CE by the Romans, and his first disciples certainly thought that he had-in some sense-risen from the dead. But unless a historical event is mythologized, it cannot become a source of religious inspiration. A myth, it will be recalled, is an event that-in some sense-happened once, but which also happens all the time. An occurrence needs to be liberated, as it were, from the confines of a specific period and brought into the lives of contemporary worshippers, or it will remain a unique, unrepeatable incident, or even a historical freak that cannot really touch the lives of others. We do not know what actually happened when the people of Israel escaped from Egypt and crossed the Sea of Reeds, because the story has been written as a myth. The rituals of Passover have for centuries made this tale central to the spiritual lives of Jews, who are told that each one of them must consider himself to be of the generation that escaped from Egypt. A myth cannot be correctly understood without a transformative ritual, which brings it into the lives and hearts of generations of worshippers. A myth demands action: the myth of Exodus demands that Jews cultivate an appreciation of freedom as a sacred value, and refuse either to be enslaved themselves or to oppress others. By ritual practice and ethical response, the story has ceased to be an event in the distant past, and has become a living reality.
On the Muslim adoption of Ancient Greek logos:
When Plato and Aristotle were translated into Arabic during the eighth and ninth centuries, some Muslims tried to make the religion of the Koran a religion of logos. They evolved ‘proofs’ for the existence of Allah, modeled on Aristotle’s demonstration of the First Cause. These Faylasufs, as they were called, wanted to purge Islam of what they regarded as primitive, mythical elements. They had a difficult task, since the god of the philosophers took no notice of mundane events, did not reveal himself in history, had not created the world, and did not even know that human beings existed. Nevertheless the Faylasufs did some interesting work, together with the Jews in the Islamic empire who set about the task of rationalizing the religion of the Bible. Nevertheless, Falsafah remained a minority pursuit, confined to a small intellectual elite. The First Cause might be more logical than the god of the Bible and the Koran, but it is hard for most people to work up any interest in a deity who is so uninterested in them.
Significantly, the Greek Orthodox Christians despised this rational project. They knew their own Hellenic tradition and knew only too well that logos and mythos could not, as Plato had explained, prove the existence of the Good. In their view, the study of theology could not be a rational exercise. Using reason to discuss the sacred was about as pointless as trying to eat soup with a fork. Theology was only valid if pursued together with prayer and liturgy. Muslims and Jews eventually reached the same conclusion. By the eleventh century, Muslims had decided that philosophy must be wedded with spirituality, ritual, and prayer, and the mythical, mystical religion of the Sufis became the normative form of Islam until the end of the nineteenth century. Similarly, Jews discovered that when they were afflicted by such tragedies as their expulsion from Spain, the rational religion of their philosophers could not help them, and they turned instead to the myths of the Kabbalah, which reached through the cerebral level of the mind and touched their inner source of anguish and yearning. They all had returned to the old view of the complementarity of mythology and reason. Logos was indispensible in the realm of medicine, mathematics, and natural science-in which Muslims in particular excelled. But when they wanted to find ultimate meaning and significance in their lives, when they sought to alleviate their despair, or wished to explore the inner regions of their personality, they had entered the domain of myth.
On the Great Western transformation:
Western modernity was the child of logos. It was founded on a different economic basis. Instead of relying on a surplus of agricultural produce, like all pre-modern civilizations, the new Western societies were founded on the technological replication of resources and the constant reinvestment of capital.
This freed modern society from many of the constraints of traditional cultures, whose agrarian base had inevitably been precarious. Hitherto an invention or an idea that required too much capital outlay was likely to be shelved, because no society before our own could afford the ceaseless replication of the infrastructure we now take for granted.
An empire would expand and increase its commitments and, inevitably, outrun its financial base. But the West developed an economy that seemed, potentially, to be indefinitely renewable. Instead of looking back to the past and conserving what had been achieved, as had been the habit of the pre-modern civilizations, Western people began to look forward. The long process of modernization, which took Europe some three centuries, involved a series of profound changes: industrialization, the transformation of agriculture, political and social revolutions to reorganize society to meet the new conditions, and an intellectual ‘enlightenment’ that denigrated myth as useless, false and outmoded.
On controlling the environment:
There was a new optimism in the West. People felt that they had more control over their environment. There were no more sacred, unalterable laws. Thanks to their scientific discoveries, they could manipulate nature and improve their lot. The discoveries of modern medicine, hygiene, labor-saving technologies and improved methods of transport revolutionized the lives of Western people for the better. But logos had never been able to provide human beings with the sense of significance that they seemed to require.
The great Witch Craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which raged through many of the Catholic and Protestant countries of Europe, showed that scientific rationalism could not always hold the darker forces of the mind at bay. The Witch Craze was a collective demonic fantasy that led to the execution and torture of thousands of men and women. People believed that witches had sex with devils, and flew through the air to attend satanic orgies. Without a powerful mythology to explain people’s unconscious fears, they tried to rationalize those fears into ‘facts’. Fearful and destructive un-reason has always been part of the human experience, and it still is. It emerged very strongly in the new Christian movements that attempted to translate the ideals of the Enlightenment into a religious form. Quakers were so-called because they used to tremble, howl, and yell during their meetings. The Puritans, many of whom were successful capitalists and good scientists, also had a tumultuous spirituality and traumatic conversion experiences, which many were ill equipped to sustain. A significant number fell into depressive states, and some even committed suicide. The same syndrome can be seen in the First Great Awakening in New England (1734-40). Everybody was attempting to be a mystic and achieve alternative psychic states. But the higher states of mysticism were not for everybody. It required special talent, temperament, and one-to-one training. A group experience of untaught, unskilled individuals could lead to mass hysteria and even mental illness.
On modern anxiety:
When we contemplate the dark epiphanies of the twentieth century, we see that modern anxiety is not simply the result of self-indulgent neurosis. We are facing something unprecedented. Other societies saw death as a transition to other modes of being. They did not nurture simplistic and vulgar ideas of an afterlife, but devised rites and myths that helped people to face the unspeakable. In no other culture would anybody settle down in the middle of a rite of passage or an initiation, with the horror unresolved. But this is what we have to do in the absence of a viable mythology.
We may be more sophisticated in material ways, but we have not advanced spiritually beyond the Axial Age: because of our suppression of mythos we may even had regressed. We still long to ‘get beyond’ our immediate circumstances, and to enter a ‘full time’ , a more intense, fulfilling existence. We try to enter this dimension by means of art, rock music, drugs, or by entering the larger-than-life perspective of film. We still seek heroes. Elvis Priestley and Princess Diana were both made into instant mythical beings, even objects of religious cult. But there is something unbalanced about this adulation. The myth of the hero was not intended to provide us with icons to admire, but was designed to tap into the vein of heroism within ourselves. Myth must lead to imitation or participation, not passive contemplation. We no longer know how to manage our mythical lives in a way that is spiritually challenging and transformative.
On the importance of art:
It [Picasso’s Guernica] is a painting that is suffused with compassion, the ability to feel with the agony of others. Sacrifice has inspired some of the earliest mythical speculations. In the Paleolithic period, human beings had felt a disturbing kinship with the animals that they hunted and killed. They expressed their inchoate distress in the rituals of sacrifice, which honored the beasts which laid down their lives for the sake of humanity.
On the importance of literature:
But can secular novel really replicate traditional myth, with its gods and goddesses? We have seen that, in the pre-modern world, the divine was rarely regarded in the metaphysical terms imposed upon it by Western logos, but was usually used to help people understand their humanity. As people’s circumstances changed, the gods often receded, taking a marginal place in mythology and religion; sometimes they disappeared altogether. There is nothing new in the godless mythologies of contemporary novels, which grapple with many of the same intractable and elusive problems of the human condition as the ancient myths, and make us realize that – whatever the status of the gods- human beings are more than their material circumstances and that all have sacred, numinous value.
And yet the novel [Day of the Dead by Lowry] is not itself nihilistic, there is deep compassion in its evocation of the pathos, beauty, and loveable absurdity of humanity.
If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged world.