Mythology and Folklore in Men's Work

To begin with, it is important to understand that the word "myth" has gotten twisted in our culture to mean a falsehood or something untrue. But this is not what a myth is. We view myths and fairy tales as stories about human nature written in the language of the unconscious.

You may notice that myths are very similar to dreams. They are not very logical and have peculiar characters who can do magical things. Normal, everyday limitations don't hold. Dreams are the voice of the unconscious mind, talking to us in symbols and images. Similarly, myths are the voice of the culture's unconscious, talking to us in symbols and images.

Since the 1950s there has been a renewed interest in the psychological meaning of the Greek myths, King Arthur and his knights' adventures and the Grimm Brothers. A short bibliography is included on the next page for those interested in learning more. It is important to remember that there is no one correct interpretation of a true myth. A true myth has many different facets, reflecting many different truths about people and a culture. That is why certain stories stay with us for thousands of years while most come and go. Those that stay with us are truly mythic, capturing some important truths about who we are and where we are going.

One of the useful things about myths is that they offer the unconscious mind a road map for change and development. We can consciously choose to change some aspect of our lives or behaviour, but that doesn't mean the unconscious is willing to change as well. The unconscious mind has its own agenda and the logical arguments and linear thinking that appeal so much to the conscious mind do nothing for the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is not interested in logic. The unconscious mind works through symbols, images and connections it makes between the physical world and its own world of symbolic forms.

Myths (as well as stories, poems, movies, etc) talk to the unconscious mind even when we can't consciously make any sense out of them. In myths, nothing is as it first appears - everything has deeper, symbolic meanings. Those aspects of a myth which most resonate with the current state of your unconscious are those that will stand out for you the most, even if you don't know why.

According to Robert Bly, one of the important ways in which a man steps into his true, masculine feelings is through the practice of oral recitation. If you try this, you will find that telling poems and stories out loud, with gusto, opens up inner doors. In men's work, we strive to recite myths, poems and stories from memory. You can use something to help prompt your memory, but avoid simply reading out loud.