There is probably nothing more important in life than learning mythology. It gives us a privileged understanding of the human being. Myth is a form, at the same time, of thought and story that has been inspiring sapiens since it began its rational and symbolic flight, with the cognitive revolution.. It has never ceased to be on everyone’s minds and lips, from the plastic arts to the sciences, from the ordeals of hunter-gatherers to the matriarchal stories of the Neolithic, from classical literature to the vulgate Hollywood or the series of Netflix. It is a primal language that pervades everything, one of the great heritage narratives of humanity, common to all the peoples of the earth at all historical stages and sociopolitical levels. For a long time mythical thought has formed and shaped us, That poetry and art express themselves with allusions to this world is well known, but less perhaps than medicine and physics are not foreign to him, from the complex of Oedipus to the big bang.
But what is a myth? Rivers of ink have been spilled on this question since not only the beginning of the 19th century, when the science of comparative mythology began, but long before. “Mythos” is a richly polysemic word that a certain European, positivist tradition has tended to oppose to a “logos” epitome of rational thought. But it’s not like that. Since ancient times, there have been many definitions of myth based on the various currents of interpretation, allegorists, historicists, symbolists, and others. And from the 20th century to this part there has been a certain mythical swelling, especially from the approximations of structuralism and critical theory and new batch psychoanalysis, which has come to see myths everywhere: the myth of the class strugglethe one of Greta Garbothat of the war of the sexes or of the racing cars… Also, as the theorists of mythology know, from the paris school, to Blumenberg or García Gualmyth cannot be dispatched quickly in two brushstrokes, nor can everything that is fused with the fabulations and even with the fictions of certain false muses, which are already mentioned, be left aside. hesiod Y Pindar at the dawn of our cultural tradition.
In short, there is no need to be in a hurry when it comes to defining and redefining what myth is, because it is a concept that continues to matter greatly to us. And more than 800 pages of a “magnum opus” of almost half a life that José Manuel Losada has dedicated to the subject, in his recently published book “Cultural Mythocrítica. A definition of myth” (Akal 2022). Mythology has been used by various sciences and disciplines, but sometimes there has been a certain mystification as to what is mythical, as Professor Losada shows. For this reason, his endeavor is to distinguish as clearly as possible this type of deeply human story from other similar ones, while freeing it from some uncomfortable servitudes, especially with respect to the social sciences of the 20th century. He clearly shows why the myth is of interest to be and constitute itself as an object of independent study and allows to provoke the richest reflections. And it is that the myth may be at the base of the very foundation of humanity. The myth, as a point of reference and feeling of belonging, is much older than flags and anthems, law and states. “In principio erat fabula” / “en archē ēn ho mythos”. It is what makes us perhaps more recognizable as humans. It is a distant echo of the myth that we hear from our grandmothers camouflaged under the clothes of the story as the Grimm, Afanasiev and Propp saw, after the old Germanic, Russian or Celtic legends, when they dedicated themselves to compiling them. There, behind their clothing as princesses and knights, are the old gods and heroes, whose echoes will reach as far as Wagner and the epic music of the 19th century. But beyond the tale and other foundational stories and “simple forms”, such as legend or enigma, the characteristic of myth is the magical touch of transcendence. This is how Losada sees it, who is reeling off all these wonders of myth in a global, erudite way and with a taxonomic desire in this work that already seems to me a reference book for the future in terms of the theory of myth.
Since at least the beginning of the 19th century, and thanks to comparative mythology, we know that myths, gods and heroes are corresponding in different latitudes, times and cultures, and that they express a great parallel history of humanity, with a series of invariant elements. that can coincide in essence in a few basic arguments: themes, mythems, mythologems, mythical scenes, narrathems, symbols, archetypes, characters… I am interested in the way in which Losada works on myth to demarcate problematic notions -as difficult as this is be– in line with the definition he proposes: “Myth is a foundational, symbolic and thematic story of extraordinary events with a sacred supernatural transcendent referent, lacking, in principle, historical testimony and referring to an individual or collective cosmogony or eschatology, but always absolute”. Therefore Don Juan is a myth and Don Quixote no, that’s why there is myth in Tolkien but not so much in Game of Thrones: the mythical worldview can be cruel and negative, as in Lovecraft, or inspired and metaphysical, as in the Grail myth. His interpretation is not so immersed in Eastern mythologies, but instead focuses on a suggestive journey through texts, films, series, operas and various sources from our Western environment, fundamentally Indo-European, but also Semitic. Between the literary, religious, visual and musical aspects, numerous stories are examined, both classic –the matter of Troy and Brittany, always essential– and current –special mention deserves “American Gods” and the clash of mythologies and history– in a way very suggestive.
Very varied are the definitions of the myth, the past and those to come, as well as the studies of its components, parallel or confluent areas. They make up, however, a unique, unmistakable language: there is a deeply human feeling of what is myth that goes beyond all definition and tends to an eternally intuitive redefinition. It is clear that we feel something special when they tell us a myth. There is a suspension of judgment, a special state of mind, prone to the marvelous, like when the shaman or the old woman of the tribe told the basic stories of the tribe around the primordial bonfire or when Plato’s characters stop their dialogue. and definitions to say: “now let’s tell a myth”. And then the cave is inverted and we really know what is deeply human, in a catabasis or a return to the womb of consciousness. The only thing is that, perhaps, today the light and the fire are very different, cathodic or digital, from the cinema, the series and the Internet: but the stories and the heroes continue to be basically similar and follow similar patterns: there are few arguments, counted, what inevitably attracts our brain beyond all “incipit” is the fictional lives of other people’s characters in their imminent transformations and foreseen ordeals, .
The myth, in short, encloses the absolute, and even in the current era, defined by George Steiner as the era of nostalgia for the absolute, we return more than ever to myths on the big screen. As with wonderful tales, and beyond, in psychology, with dreams, with myth, we are speaking a simple and unmistakable language, which has been written about our lives and dreams in the most diverse formats, no matter if it is oil on canvas, painting on ceramics, tragedy, novel, feature film or television series and comics, even in the most modern and recent genres that human creativity has adopted. The experiences and the path of the mythical hero –a symbolic path that refers to a biological or biopolitical circular scheme in search of a treasure, in search of the promised land, back home or, finally, in the various overwhelming missions of tradition– continues to display that fascinating and easily understandable language of heritage narrative that we should never forget.
The Power of Myth: Why in the Age of Science Do We Need Legends More?