We live in an age of science and reason, where the oral traditions that once helped us to make sense of our days and nights seem no longer pertinent. Heat and light are available to us at the mere switch of a button. We can connect with people from all across the globe without having to leave the comfort of our living rooms. So we no longer gather around open fires and share stories of legendary kings, mermaids, dragons or fairies because we have found more ‘logical’ and ‘stimulating’ ways to spend our time.
However, in believing that folklore is no longer relevant we may be severing a vital link to our past and losing out on an opportunity to learn more about the human experience.
The Collective Unconscious
Renowned and sometimes controversial psychologist Carl Jung, put forth the theory of a collective human unconscious, in which certain archetypes exist and are represented by the characters and stories found in folklore, legend and mythology.
“In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious… We can therefore study the collective unconscious in two ways, either in mythology or in the analysis of the individual.” From The Structure of the Psyche
Yung explores the idea that humans are natural storytellers and theorizes that the story of our experience as a species can be deciphered through the symbolism and commonalities found in the mythology and folklore of cultures from across the world. For example, learning about the local folklore of a village or town can tell you much about its people and their traditions and pastimes. Equally, mythology with its roots and tendrils that stretch back into ancient history, can tell us much about the collective experience of the human species.
The Archetypal Themes of Human Life
In myth and legend, we find all of the archetypes that Yung spoke of. Its stories focus on the themes that dominate the human experience. In them, we find tales of love, death, bravery, greed and betrayal. Even though these stories were first told centuries ago, they maintain their relevance because of the archetypes that they explore. Just as importantly, they tell us much about the way in which the human brain works, if we learn to look beyond their literal meaning.
We all experience the same things, but we may not experience them in the same way. For example, we all have some experience of the archetypes of parenthood, of childhood, of fear, love and loss. We may have had different experiences of these archetypes of human existence, and they may have evoked different emotions in each one of us, but the very nature of what we experience, be it grief, joy or tragedy, remains the same.
These archetypes speak to us because we all experience them in everyday reality, to a greater or lesser extent, which could explain why we find the same tales being told (albeit with many cultural variations) across so many different countries.
Reconnecting with the Past
Many of these narratives predate written history and yet they continue to prevail in our unconscious mind because they explore the existential realities that define all of human life. From the opening of Pandora’s Box through to the quest for the Holy Grail, we find commonalities in their themes and imagery because they speak of important moral truths that maintain their meaning and relevance from generation to generation.
The stories found in folklore and mythology transcend age, race and religion and speak to us on an almost primal level in much the same way as art or music. It is the expression of that which we all share in common – namely this wonderful and yet curious thing that we call the human experience. The stories that we share and the traditions that we uphold connect us, to our past and to each other. They fire the imaginations of our children because of their simplicity, and yet contain the ancient wisdom and knowledge of all those who have gone before us.
To some, engaging in the oral traditions of the past may seem like taking an intellectual step backwards. But perhaps it is in these stories that we will find a way to reconnect with our origins, our identity and rediscover a true sense of what it means to be human.
Pandora’s box – wikimedia creative commons
Holy Grail – wikimedia creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Hollie is a freelance writer for hire, and has been working in the print and digital media industry since 2012. She specialises in copywriting and ghostwriting for small businesses, private clients and the odd multinational corporation. She has worked on numerous projects to date including articles, blogs, product descriptions and press releases, right through to eBooks and our traditional friend – the printed book. Residing in a white-washed Victorian cottage on the edge of the Cotswolds in the UK, when she’s not working (which is practically never!), you’ll usually find her supping cider and putting the world to rights in one of the local pubs. She particularly loves to write about anything that helps to make sense of this crazy thing that we call human experience and hates having her photo taken. To find out more about Hollie, and how her services could benefit you, check out her website:
Blog / Website: The Writing Project