Myth is a particular form of discourse that has its own very particular characteristics that are important to understand. We will outline these here before sharing the Bard Mythology approach to Myth and Mythology.
Mythology can be seen as is an expression, in a compendium of stories, of the encoded wisdom of a people. Stories enter this ‘compendium’ only if they are communally sanctioned. So in this sense they are truly the stories and wisdom of the people. This shared origin is therefore a totally democratic process though the word democracy here is not meant in a political sense. This collective construction surely makes a culture’s mythology very special, even sacred, though the word is not meant in a religious sense.
A mythology is effectively multi authored in that is has evolved through the multiple telling’s of the Bards over time. A mythology is therefore not the work of any one author, including a divine author! In its original form the means of transmission of a mythology was oral tellings. Irish Mythology until the 6th Centuries, was a mythology was transmitted in the original oral form. It was conveyed by a highly valued professional class, the Bard, the Fili. In its oral form the compendium of stories is always evolving, adapted and shaped by live performance, and yet also still holding on to certain consistent structures.
Another important characteristic of a mythology is that it’s material and subject is what classicist Louis Gernet called “the total social situation”. Myths evolved in societies that had not distinguished between categories such as culture, economics, politics, law, ethics. Yet all of these subjects can be seen as in the purview of myth and mythology. In this regard Myth can usefully be viewed as capturing a world view, a zeiteist or a culture’s mindset. As will be evident, a mythology is polyvalent, it work at many levels at the same time.
It is this polyvalent nature that makes myth particularly useful in seeking to understand a culture, whether another’s culture or indeed one’s own. In terms of one’s own culture listening to a mythology helps overcome a typical blindness to matters cultural. As the great media scholar Marshall McLuhan puts it “one thing about which fish know exactly nothing is water”. Culture, like water, is all around us. Yet unless we have what McLuhan calls an “anti-environment” it is extremely difficult to apprehend. The power of oral storytelling is it presents a relatable yet familiar anti-environment through which to apprehend the culture that we live in. And, as anthropologists tell us oral tellings are always heard in terms of today.
Also contained within myth are “archetypes” which are the gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines that can be seen as portrayals of those forces, cultural, emotional, natural that somehow shape our lives on an individual and collective level. This, we propose, is really useful. It gives us a language, rooted In narrative, of the emotions, especially the primary emotions that move us to action. It is not an accident that the word “motion” is contained within. And as we learn from neuroscience, “people feel before they think” and “you can’t change feelings with facts”.
Myth has also been used as the basis for extraordinarily entertaining and inspiring film, TV Series, opera, literature etc. In another phase of my career I asked a number of bright classicist we had on our team to look at the best- selling films of the last five decades. They found that every one of these films followed the plots of one or other of six Greek Myths.
In common usage the term myth usually means a lie or an untruth. For Bard the question as to whether it is true or not is the wrong question. The question to ask is rather, Is myth useful. And from the points raised above it is surely clear that “myth is useful”, and for the Bard we see it being able to achieve things that are difficult to achieve with any other means. So for us our approach is clearly pragmatic. Myths, then, can be seen as helpful, but also potentially inspirational. Myths help in seeing deeply or what has been called “silver branch perception” by our Bard friend John Moriarty, the philosopher and poet/author. We do recognise , however, that for many people, what we might see as “mythologies” are the basis of their religions and belief systems. For them the so called myths are sacred texts and, for many, based on divine revelation. It is in the context of all the above that the Bard Mythologies project seeks to re-engage with myth and initially with Irish Myth. The approach invariably begins with an oral telling and an immersion in a particular myth. From this we use what we call the Mythic Method (see video and description). In short this method involves the telling and the immersion (mythos), then a phase of analysis and reflection (philos) where participants think about and discuss the story they have just heard and its relevance to their world and to modernity. To use McLuhan’s analogy, they are apprehending the (cultural) water. Finally the challenge, for those that wish, is to become a teller, effectively a Bard. And to do so in whatever medium fits, be it writing, painting, storytelling, poetry, music or even by taking some form of action (mytho-philos in action). In this sense myth can be seen as a forum for action (or telling that inspires action. The challenge that particularly interests Bard Mythologies is the observation that “mythology” has been used and abused, especially in the last century as well in this century as evidence for example the causa bella used by Vladimir Putin as he calls on the myth of Greater Mother Russia to justify his invasion of Ukraine. It can be a means of acquiring political power when “cultural myths” are appropriated to tap in to latent fear, anger and feelings of helplessness. Myth can also be used as the basis for extraordinarily entertaining and inspiring film, TV Series, opera, literature etc. The challenge in modernity is to know the myths you are living by. Bard Mythologies purpose is “understanding the mythic (and archetypal roots of culture”. It is about apprehending the myths we live by at an individual and cultural level.
It is in this context that what Bard Mythologies seeks to offer is a “space” and “times” in which Myths can be heard again in their timeless oral form. Those who participate can then discuss, work together to make sense of both the myth and their world, and of modernity, personally and collectively. And then, if they wish, to move towards becoming a Bard. This might be tentatively at first, but then who knows what might happen within a safe and supportive community. The Bard can be seen as a “empty space” to be filled with latent talent and latent skills. This is a “call to an adventure”.
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