Recently, I’ve noticed that people use the term “protagonist” to describe someone who seems to thrive or experience fiction-like events in real life. The idea is that the typical tropes of fiction usually allow the hero to accomplish feats that are otherwise impossible in real life.
I find it interesting that this terminology has leaked into our perception of reality. We’ve adopted the idea that our life is, in fact, a novel that contains different characters and plotlines.
If you take a closer look, this praxeology represents a reification of how our mind works, which is to say, through narratives and arcs.
After all, our dreams follow the same pattern. They aren’t merely a recitation of memories and aggregation of data, but they self-organize to create stories because that’s how we’re able to interpret reality!
There’s a great picture further illustrating my point:
We receive data usually organized by systems and models. Still, the only way to make sense of these seemingly random shapes is by creating a story.
Mythology is where we can articulate our observations about human nature in the form of a story. But instead of being passive observers like we are during dreams – unless you’re practicing lucid dreaming, that is – we create and direct.
“Myths are public dreams; dreams are private myths.”
But the question remains, how can you discover your mythology and apply this paradigm to your life?
The Birth of Consciousness
Jung implies that there’s a specific moment in our lives when we become aware of ourselves. Usually, during early childhood, the oldest memory in some cases, an event triggers the schism from the gloop, dedifferentiating identity from the collective unconscious.
Even if you don’t remember the exact moment, I’m sure you can track a memory where you thought of yourself as a separate human being. For me, it was the act of reading. Inside books, I saw the reflection of my psyche, my humanity – the flawed iteration of an ideal – emerging in the characters, whether it was the hero or the antagonist. For the first time, I saw myself in someone else except my parents. This phenomenon marked a never-ending journey within, seeking to express that which is not whole into wholeness.
Now, let’s consider how that plays out on a larger scale, meaning society. I believe it’s a mythology that has the role of the researcher, discovering the traits that make us human. All civilizations tell stories containing the sacred traditions of their culture that distinguish society from a functional cluster of people.
With that in mind, a mythological story is a localized iteration of the overarching narratives that create a web-like structure of history, religion, progress, science, fears, pain, and happiness. To make sense of the world around us, we couch our perception in folklore, legends, and mythopoeic sagas.
In the past, the art of mythmaking allowed the storyteller to psychoanalyze and interpret the subconscious part of the self, and it relates to the external. But since the enlightenment, episteme has been in the limelight, overshadowing the power of words.
The work of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, and modern mythmakers like Tolkien has caused an interest in the mythological archetypes and how they emerge in our psychological type.
Beyond theory, I want to outline how you and I can utilize our personal mythology through dreams and meaningful contemplation.
“The dream is a little hidden door in the innermost and most secret recesses of the soul, opening into that cosmic night which was psyche long before there was any ego-consciousness, and which will remain psyche no matter how far our ego-consciousness extends.”
How to Use your Personal Mythology to Navigate Your Life?
Let’s start simple. What is mythology other than a story?
- A simple line of events where a protagonist or a group has to face challenges and overcome obstacles to reach their destination or accomplish a certain objective. That’s the first layer, the pragmatic.
- There’s a second layer, which describes the psychological transformation the main characters went under; the journey within. All of the internal tribulations and shifts in perception allowed them to move forwards.
- The third layer has to do with an afterthought, the realization that the protagonist has changed and what that means to his relationship with the world.
The concept of the Monomyth systematizes this simple template. It suggests that all myths contain certain elements. But what about your myth?
Are you on a Hero’s Journey? What are the steps you have to take to complete it? What’s the objective?
These questions might be too vague so let’s get more specific.
#1. The Call to Action
Isn’t every day that we receive a call to action? But how many times do we actually respond?
Don’t worry. That initial hesitation is normal; it’s part of the journey. Recognizing that everyone struggled to take the first step is comforting as well as pedagogic.
What jolts the hero from inertia is two things:
Even though the former might be hard to identify, adventure is encoded in our DNA. We’re meant to explore and discover the world.
Your personal mythology begins here. All you have to do is step out of the door.
#2. Your Mentor
Along the way, you’ll face many challenges. It’s imperative to pay attention to those who are supporting you. You’ll always have help available.
But the Monomyth talks of a mentor-mentee relationship. Indeed, the advice and insight of those who came before are invaluable.
The same way heroes are led by the archetype of a “wiser” old man, you might find yourself following the guidance of an older family member.
Ancient Greeks sought to embody the qualities of their heroes and gods. While it’s futile to try and be “perfect,” striving to resemble Achilles or Odysseus has resulted in extraordinary feats.
Similarly, identifying your heroes can bring some clarity.
It might be someone you respect, someone who has accomplished the same things you’re trying to. They’ve already walked the path.
It’s not only about inspiration. In practical terms, the knowledge and skills are good indicators of what you should be doing.
#4. Death and Rebirth
Who said that an internal transformation would be painless?
Death and Rebirth are necessary for the hero, e.g., you, to make meaningful changes.
Some call it the “dark night of the soul,” a spiritual crisis. Nihilism, despair, and a sense of dread take over. It’s perhaps the ultimate battle before the finish line.
In the end, a powerful alchemical transformation occurs. You mature physically and mentally—a different person in every sense of the word.
We’re so desperate to complete the hero’s journey that we don’t think what it’ll be like when it’s done.
Atonement is necessary. To mend moral injuries and re-established relationships that were lost during the process.
And finally, gratitude. The return to normalcy installs a deep sense of relief and gratitude towards a “Goddess” or “God.”
Within our personal mythology, this is when the realization that all of the obstacles and challenges we faced happened for a good reason. We were able to grow and have our adventure.
At least, we feel gratitude because we won’t have any regrets.
BONUS: The Scapegoat
“Everywhere and always, when human beings either cannot or dare not take their anger out on the thing that has caused it, they unconsciously search for substitutes, and more often than not, they find them.”
René Girard believed that the scapegoat mechanism is necessary to confine conflict in abstract terms and thoughtform. Religion and mythology abide by that unspoken rule, spawning powerful antagonists.
But what happens when the hero manages to defeat all of his enemies? The common folk needs a substitute, an imaginary enemy, to offload their sins and fears to.
Upon your return from your journey, many will try to belittle or undermine you, jealous of your success. The same way Hercules was named a monster upon his return, you might encounter a hostile attitude.
The last step of the Hero’s Journey, the return, isn’t always peaceful.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Your personal mythology also contains the way you think of yourself. Your attitude towards challenges and difficulties. Your courage and resilience.
And how you handle defeat.
Your internal monologue creates a story, a narrative you have to obey whether you like it or not.
Fate, in this context, is defined by your ability to change the plot of this story and outline the ending of your mythology however you see fit.
In your personal mythology, you’re both the narrator and the hero.
P.S. Are you prepared to “write” your personal mythology?
Writer. Seeking to discover my private mythology through dreams.