Prehistory and Ancient Mythology

During prehistory our ancestors lived as hunter gatherers and had a direct relationship with the natural world. Before the Enlightenment and development of the scientific method, people did not understand the processes of nature and often ascribed events such as life, death and the changing seasons to supernatural forces. People acquired knowledge and skills that helped them to survive. They also developed increasingly complex social structures, with rules that enforced ethical and moral values, reflecting what was considered good or bad behaviour. Weaving such information into mythology and morality tales could provide a sense of shared culture within a community, through stories that were intended to teach people how they should live. Mythology helped our ancestors to make sense of the world they lived in, confront their fears and find a shared sense of community. For thousands of years myths were passed on from generation to generation, providing stories that both entertained people and shaped how they perceived their environment. Before the development of writing, mythological stories were communicated using the spoken word, although myths might change as they evolved to suit different conditions.

The Heroes Journey

Individuals depicted within mythological stories could include human beings and creatures from the real world, or gods, monsters and other creatures drawn from our imagination, representing natural forces beyond our understanding or control. The myths could be set in environments an audience was familiar with or some strange world that was alien to their real life experience. Mythology could draw upon deep human emotions such as love, fear or hate, reflecting concerns and aspirations that are common to people across different cultures and periods of history. Myths could be presented and perceived as entertaining tales of heroes trying to protect society or build a better future, failing, succeeding and eventually defeating villains who are trying to destroy what is good. Beneath the surface, myths can represent a profound exploration of the human condition, our search for meaning and purpose, the wish to understand and control the world, the meaning of life and what might come next.

Contemporary Culture

The stories and characters found in mythology continue to be represented in creative art forms, such as literature, theatre, painting and music. The frameworks provided by mythology, around which people in the past built their lives, might have been replaced by human endeavours such as science, the law and governmental systems, but the ideas and ideals contained within mythology still resonate with people today. Within contemporary culture, content delivered through television, film and computer games often draws upon themes found in mythology, such as the heroes journey. This involves the hero overcoming obstacles, defeating the forces of evil and achieving something of benefit to them and wider society. The global popularity of movies, books and games that feature archetypal heroes on epic adventures indicates that there are fundamental deep seated qualities that human beings share. Psychologists have studied ancient mythology and legends, to gain greater understanding of how we perceive the world, our inner sense of self and our journey through life.

Modern Society

As civilisations became increasingly complex and remote from the lives of people who lived during prehistoric times, mythology lost much of the direct relationship to their lives our ancestors might have felt. Science has explained a great deal about how the world works, removing many of the fears that shaped the lives of people who lived hundreds of years ago. However, people today have very real fears to live with, often resulting from the powerful technologies we have developed, that have provided millions of people with longer, healthier and happier lives, but also damaged the lives of many. There is concern about issues we can influence, such as climate change, but also forces beyond our control, such as volcanic eruptions and asteroid impacts. Just as our ancestors sought meaning in mythological stories, many people today look to movies, television, books and games to entertain, inform and help them understand and feel part of the society in which they live.

Writing Your Personal Mythology

Many people feel lost, isolated and uncertain about the future. They might long for continuity, community and structure in their life. Thought leaders and influencers who recognise and draw upon such needs in other people, might offer a refuge their followers can escape into or a hopeful future they can aspire to. However, without an overarching narrative to their life people are at greater risk of being misled and their sense of belonging might be short lived. Some follow a particular belief system, or form their own worldview based upon personal experience and observation, along with what they learn from others. However, you could create your own personal mythology. You could begin by creating an imagined world, based upon real life, into which you introduce people and places familiar to you, but in symbolic form. Writing stories set in your imagined world, with yourself as the central character, could help you to resolve issue and chart your own path through life.