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A Short History of Myth A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong
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“We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a 'resource.' This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“We are meaning-seeking creatures. Dogs, as far as we know, do not agonise about the canine condition, worry about the plight of dogs in other parts of the world, or try to see their lives from a different perspective. But human beings fall easily into despair, and from the very beginning we invented stories that enabled us to place our lives in a larger setting, that revealed an underlying pattern, and gave us a sense that, against all the depressing and chaotic evidence to the contrary, life had meaning and value”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“This was the scientific age, and people wanted to believe that their traditions were in line with the new era, but this was impossible if you thought that these myths should be understood literally. Hence the furor occasioned by The Origin of Species, published by Charles Darwin. The book was not intended as an attack on religion, but was a sober exploration of a scientific hypothesis. But because by this time people were reading the cosmogonies of Genesis as though they were factual, many Christians felt--and still feel--that the whole edifice of faith was in jeopardy. Creation stories had never been regarded as historically accurate; their purpose was therapeutic. But once you start reading Genesis as scientifically valid, you have bad science and bad religion.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“there is no ascent to the heights without prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“If it is written and read with serious attention, a novel, like a myth or any great work of art, can become an initiation that helps us to make a painful rite of passage from one phase of life, one state of mind, to another. A novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“We have seen that a myth could never approached in a purely profane setting. It was only comprehensible in a liturgical context that set it apart from everyday life; it must be experienced as part of a process of personal transformation. None, of this surely applies to the novel, which can be read anywhere at all witout ritual trappings, and must, if it is any good, eschew the overtly didactic. Yet the experience of reading a novel has certain qualities that remind us of the mythology. It can be seen as a form of mediation. Readers have to live with a novel for days or even weeks. It prljects them into another worl, parallel to but apart from their ordinary lives. They know perfectly well that this fictional realm is not 'real' and yet while they are reading it becomes compelling. A powerful novel bcomes part of the backdrop of lives long after we have laid the book aside. It is an excercise of make-believe, that like yoga or a religious festival breaks down barriers of space and time and extends our sympathies to empathise with others lives and sorrows. It teaches compassion, the ability to 'feel with' others. And, like mythology , an important novel is transformative. If we allow it do so, can change us forever.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
tags: myth
“Like science and technology, mythology, as we shall see, is not about opting out of this world, but about enabling us to live more intensely within it.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“If professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythological lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged role.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Myths are universal and timeless stories that reflect and shape our lives – they explore our desires, our fears, our longings, and provide narratives that remind us what it means to be human.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“We are meaning-seeking creatures.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Mythology was not about theology, in the modern sense, but about human experience. People thought that gods, humans, animals and nature were inextricably bound up together, subject to the same laws, and composed of the same divine substance. There”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realise the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“in the pre-modern world, when people wrote about the past they were more concerned with what an event had meant. A myth was an event which, in some sense, had happened once, but which also happened all the time. Because of our strictly chronological view of history, we have no word for such an occurrence, but mythology is an art form that points beyond history to what is timeless in human existence, helping us to get beyond the chaotic flux of random events, and glimpse the core of reality. An experience of transcendence has always been part of the human experience. We seek out moments of ecstasy, when we feel deeply touched within and lifted momentarily beyond ourselves. At such times, it seems that we are living more intensely than usual, firing on all cylinders, and inhabiting the whole of our humanity. Religion has been one of the most traditional ways of attaining ecstasy, but if people no longer find it in temples, synagogues, churches or mosques, they look for it elsewhere: in art, music, poetry, rock, dance, drugs, sex or sport. Like poetry and music, mythology should awaken us to rapture, even in the face of death and the despair we may feel at the prospect of annihilation. If a myth ceases to do that, it has died and outlived its usefulness.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Mythology is usually inseparable from ritual.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“A myth could not tell a hunter how to kill his prey or how to organise an expedition efficiently, but it helped him to deal with his complicated emotions about the killing of animals. Logos was efficient, practical and rational, but it could not answer questions about the ultimate value of human life nor could it mitigate human pain and sorrow.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Some Palaeolithic heroes survived in later mythical literature. The Greek hero Herakles, for example, is almost certainly a relic of the hunting period.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“The guilt and anxiety induced by hunting, combined with frustration resulting from ritual celibacy, could have been projected onto the image of a powerful woman, who demands endless bloodshed.27 The hunters could see that women were the source of new life; it was they – not the expendable males – who ensured the continuity of the tribe. The female thus became an awe-inspiring icon of life itself – a life that required the ceaseless sacrifice of men and animals.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“novel, like a myth, teaches us to see the world differently; it shows us how to look into our own hearts and to see our world from a perspective that goes beyond our own self-interest. If”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Another peculiar characteristic of the human mind is its ability to have ideas and experiences that we cannot explain rationally. We have imagination, a faculty that enables us to think of something that is not immediately present, and that, when we first conceive it, has no objective existence. The imagination is the faculty that produces religion and mythology.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Today mythical thinking has fallen into disrepute; we often dismiss it as irrational and self-indulgent. But the imagination is also the faculty that has enabled scientists to bring new knowledge to light and to invent technology that has made us immeasurably more effective.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“Tiamat, Mot and Leviathan are not evil, but are simply fulfilling their cosmic role. They have to die and endure dismemberment before an ordered cosmos can emerge from chaos.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“You cannot be a hero unless you are prepared to give up everything; there is no ascent to the heights without a prior descent into darkness, no new life without some form of death. Throughout our lives, we all find ourselves in situations in which we come face to face with the unknown, and the myth of the hero shows us how we should behave. We all have to face the final rite of passage, which is death.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“On 26 April 1937, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, Nazi planes, under the orders of General Franco, attacked the Basque capital of Guernica on its market-day, killing 1654 of its 7000 inhabitants. A few months later, Pablo Picasso exhibited Guernica at the International Exhibition in Paris. This modern, secular crucifixion shocked his contemporaries, and yet, like The Waste Land, it was a prophetic statement, and also a rallying cry against the inhumanity of our brave new world.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“In the Palaeolithic period, human beings had felt a disturbing kinship with the animals that they hunted and killed. They expressed their inchoate distress in the rituals of sacrifice, which honoured the beasts which laid down their lives for the sake of humanity. In Guernica, humans and animals, both victims of indiscriminate, heedless slaughter, lie together in a mangled heap, the screaming horse inextricably entwined with the decapitated human figure. Recalling the women at the foot of the cross in countless depictions of Jesus’s crucifixion, two women gaze at the wounded horse in sorrowful empathy with its pain.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“But Enki wants to save Atrahasis,50 the ‘exceedingly wise man’ of the city of Shuruppak.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“There are stories that explain how the High God was deposed: Ouranos, the Sky God of the Greeks, for example, was actually castrated by his son Kronos, in a myth that horribly illustrates the impotence of these Creators, who were so removed from the ordinary lives of human beings that they had become peripheral. People experienced the sacred power of Baal in every rainstorm; they felt the force of Indra every time they were possessed by the transcendent fury of battle. But the old Sky Gods did not touch people’s lives at all.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“so Enki tells Atrahasis to build a boat, instructing him about”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth
“A myth, therefore, is true because it is effective, not because it gives us factual information. If, however, it does not give us new insight into the deeper meaning of life, it has failed. If it works, that is, if it forces us to change our minds and hearts, gives us new hope, and compels us to live more fully, it is a valid myth. Mythology will only transform us if we follow its directives. A myth is essentially a guide; it tells us what we must do in order to live more richly. If we do not apply it to our own situation and make the myth a reality in our own lives, it will remain as incomprehensible and remote as the rules of a board game, which often seem confusing and boring until we start to play.”
Karen Armstrong, A Short History of Myth