Plugging into Mythology

Myth: a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon. —Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary.

I have always been fascinated with mythology. As a boy, I read the Greek myths and became as familiar with Theseus, Hercules and Daedelus as I was with all of the dinosaurs.

But it wasn’t until I was doing my doctoral studies that I learned that behavior is founded on beliefs, and beliefs are founded on myths.

Talk to the typical Christian about the traditional myths that their world view is based on and you are likely to get an irate person telling you that what they believe is not a myth, but are true. And that’s the problem with using the myth term; people generally believe you are talking about stories that are fiction. But a myth can be true; what’s important is that it is a larger-than-life story upon which a person or people base a belief system or a way of viewing the world.

How does this help a writer? In Christian writing, it means observing and paying attention to those stories that drive how Christians see the world. It doesn’t have to be something in the past; for example, the Second Coming of Jesus has been long imagined and visualized. And there are other examples, especially in various denominations. Seventh-day Adventists believe in the “peculiar [distinctive] people” myth (as do many other denominations), which provides a reason to take pride in being different, visions of martyrdom and a feeling of internal belonging when the external world is opposed to one’s beliefs.

The danger here is falling into stereotypes and cliches. It is not a one-size-fits-all situation. One can’t assume that every Seventh-day Adventist–or even every Christian–believes exactly the same or behaves in the same manner. But the basic beliefs–faith, charity, forgiveness, family–which are founded on Biblical examples, are tied to Biblical myths as well.

So whether you are writing a Western, a gothic romance, or a space opera, you can anticipate the expectations of your readers by understand the myths that they have bought in to. Mythology is often misunderstood, but is the foundation of who we are, what we believe and, in the end, what we do.