I've been working on a post about personal mythology--not stories of gods and goddesses, but the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves, that we base our world around. I was planning to discuss how a myth, any myth, becomes dangerous when it devolves into dogma; when there is no room for any other ideas, our mythology can be used to oppress and malign, both on the cultural and individual levels.
For some reason I can't seem to get that piece off the ground. I keep coming back to it, nudging the angle one way or another, tweaking the language, but it still comes off a bit...pretentious and intellectually overwrought. Therefore, I've decided to leave off the theory (theory gives me hives anyway) and jump to the chase.
What stories do you tell yourself? What mythology informs your world? How much of that mythology is your own creation, and how much comes from external sources, i.e. the media, your history, your religion, your significant other? What part do you play in your own story?
The thing about a myth is, what differentiates it from, say, an anecdote, is that a myth cannot be proven true or false because it is based on themes and events that are larger than everyday reality (and is often so old that all traces of the original event, if there was one, are lost to the tides of time). Even anecdotes are subjective, colored as they are by the perspective and experiences of the storyteller. Whether you believe a myth is literally true depends a lot on your worldview. Perhaps Hercules really existed, but did he really battle a hydra? Did Jesus really walk on water? Can we know? Does your personal mythology allow for miracles?
The same holds true for the stories we tell ourselves. We all do it--we are all far more creative than we give ourselves credit for. Every morning from the moment you wake, you tell yourself stories about the world, about yourself, about other people. We react to each event not as an event isolated in time, but as if it were bound up in the tangled threads of everything that's happened before. Some of our myths are beneficial to our growth; some of them become dogma, and eventually oppress us.
For example, imagine two women: each one walks out in the morning to find she has a flat tire. The first might tell herself, "Oh, dammit...a flat...stupid crap like this always happens to me!" while the other tells herself, "Oh, dammit...a flat...I can put the spare on and still get to work on time."
On the one hand, we have a personal mythology that leaves its heroine a victim; on the other, the heroine is capable of taking care of herself. Simple statements like the above don't happen in a vacuum; they are part of the larger myth you create known as your self-image.
Why is your self-image a myth? Because it usually isn't based in fact, and it's often far larger than ordinary reality. If you tell a story you know is false and present it as truth, it's a lie; if it's not literally true but you believe in and relate to it as though it was, it becomes a myth. Nothing you do is just what it is--for most people every mishap takes on an epic feel. When your myth is a negative one, a stubbed toe is a catastrophe. Every slight becomes a commentary on your worth as a person.
There are of course positive stories we tell ourselves. Author Dawna Markova divides such stories into "rut" and "river" stories. Rut stories keep us going in the same direction, not allowing us to branch out, but to continue as we've always been (I can't do that because I'm ugly/poor/stupid), repeating the same patterns. River stories allow us both to flow and to meander; they carry us toward purpose and unity with something greater (I can do anything if I set my mind to it).
Is your mythos a rut or a river? Have you become the hero, the villain, or the victim of your own story? Is your story a comedy or a tragedy?
(Side note: if you haven't seen the movie Stranger than Fiction, you should.)
If you have studied Wicca for any length of time you know that we're not fond of dogma. We don't usually go in for incontrovertible truths laid down by authority figures. We want to ad lib and try new things. We prefer our spirituality to be a river, not a rut, changing our practices and even our beliefs to reflect our evolving lives. There are tenets that stay basically the same--deity is both masculine and feminine, actions have consequences, the Earth is sacred, et cetera--but beyond that we have wonderful freedom to adapt and change, the way Nature changes.
This means that if your personal mythology has become dogma, you can change it. You are under no obligation to continue to believe something just because you always have, any more than you are obliged to call North a certain way just because Gerald Gardner or Scott Cunningham did. If you were able to convert to an entirely different religion with a totally different view of the Divine and the Earth (Wicca being mostly a religion of converts at this stage of the game), surely you can change the way you relate to yourself and your own life.
Oh, I know. Easier said than done. But it is possible. Life is like the Constitution: it takes an act of Congress to set change in motion, but it can be changed.
Tell yourself a new story. Create a new myth and then make it happen. Don't settle for the same worn out old version of you just because you've had it since you were a child. Just because something is old doesn't mean it's good--racism and rotten eggs are both old, but do you want either one in your world? To quote one of my favorite songs,
"Staring at the blank page before you
Open up the dirty window
Let the sun illuminate the words that you cannot find
Reaching for something in the distance
So close you can almost taste it
Release your inhibitions
Feel the rain on your skin
No one else can feel it for you
Only you can let it in
No one else, no one else
Can speak the words on your lips
Drench yourself in words unspoken
Live your life with arms wide open
Today is where your book begins
The rest is still unwritten."