Honors 2118: Myth
Fall 1975 (December 1975)
I have dealt elsewhere with the problem of freedom in relation to myth as a way of life and with "free Thought" and the relationship between thought and myth. [See Myth, Archetype, and the Problem of Freedom.]
But, despite all I have said about the admission of weakness one makes by choosing to live according to myth (see Mann) and about the inability to reach reality in any thought (since, where there is thought, there is man's artificial, ideal world, which equivalent to mind),
The world is necessary for life simply because a fundamental property of life is growth, and growth in its highest stage has produced man who, in order to survive as a species, has to communicate and has to have a common world or mental construct in order to be able to communicate.
Modern man must think, although it is desirable (as I have mentioned elsewhere) to be able to control one's mind and thought to the point of stopping it at will; furthermore, when one does think, it is desirable to think as well as possible.
Myth achieves this by "projecting the procedures of ritual to the plain of ideal situations," by translating "the real into terms of the ideal, the punctual into terms of the durative and transcendental."
This means that myth represents on the timeless, transcendental plane what is acted out in ritual on the temporal or everyday plane. Acting in rituals gives meaning to acts by relating them to the absolute.
In durative/punctual terms, each day is punctual and, while it is transcended by durative life on the whole, each day goes to make up that life – data-to-day living is the living of that durative life: it is that life. Philosophy, then, can be thought of as being an orientation of life to the absolute.
Malinowski called myth "a way of coping," and, in this light, it is true that myth gives an over-all meaning, direction, and purpose to a life that would otherwise be (thought of as being) meaningless.
It is not representational (as in drama) or ceremonious ritual (as in religion), although all of one's acts heave a religious significance when orientated philosophically (that is, in ones' thoughts) to the absolute.
When people share a mythology or a body of myths, then their society is cohesive because they have a common purpose in life. Cassirer discusses Durkheim's idea that "not nature but society is the true model of myth."
Now, for these ideas to work together, it must be understood that nature as modern man sees it was not the nature that primitive man saw. Primitive man, seeing society and nature as one, and nature as a society (of life),
Malinowski writes that "the realm meaning, in fact the full account," of myth "is contained in the traditional foundations of social organization" and that "the reality of myth lives in its social function."
The lasting effect of these confrontations – as recorded in myth – is felt in the ritual life of men, for myth "is not a story told but a reality lived" and in functioning "it vouches for the efficiency of ritual and contains practical rules for the guidance of man."
Myth as a way to thinking unifies the society by providing a common purpose – that of enacting, through ritual, on the punctual level that which, in myth, is on the idea or theoretical or durative level.
This mythical thought, once again, is philosophical in that it orients life and the actions fad experience of life (utilizing belief and hence a controlling imagery) to the overarching theory or purpose of life as a whole. Joseph Campbell writes that myth carries man forward.
The highly existential don Juan Matus of Carlos Castaneda's writings strongly stresses the need to think out all of the consequences of an action (since every action can lead to death), then to act, and then to assume responsibility for the action without regrets or remorse for having made it.
Don Juan, then, is perhaps an ideal example of the philosopher, using our special definition of philosophy as orientation of the punctual moment of life to the durative life as it transcends the moment.
This is reaching for all of one's life as well as reaching for the absolute. Thinking in such a way makes one more aware of the passing of one's life and of all of the possibilities of action in accord with one's self-determined goal, one's chosen path in life.
 Cf. Swami Vishnudevananda, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga (New York: Julian Press, 1960); Carlos Castaneda, Tales of Power (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974); et al concerning the stopping of thought and the equation of mind=world.
 Ibid. 24.
 Ibid., 16.
 Ibid., 73.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 117.
 Ibid., 100.
 Ibid., 101.
 Ibid., 148.
 Cassirer, 79.
 Ibid., 76.
 Carlos Castaneda, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge (1968), A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971), Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972), Tales of Power (1974) – all from Simon & Schuster, New York.
 Ibid., 40, 85-6, 227.
Professor's Comments: A strange journey - from Gaster to Castaneda – but a fascinating one. I'm delighted that you can use your reading this effectively; and you do, in this paper, set up definitions of myth that show its special kind of thinking. Grade: A. [Dr. Nancy Goslee]