Create Your Own Mythology!

These days everybody wants to be famous. A star. But why stop there? Why not become iconic, transcend your personal space-time continuum. I say go crazy — create your own mythology.

Conscious myth-making, otherwise know as mythopoeia — a term coined by famed author and myth inventor J.R.R. Tolkien — is a staple of modern popular culture (and by this I don’t mean the people captured by paparazzi acting like idiots on Hollywood Boulevard…). Superheroes, you know? Like the ancient Greeks, but in tights. Rooted in the recesses of the storytelling tradition, mythology is just a formalized version of telling good campfire tales.

But it also takes creativity and skill. The tide of Jung’s collective unconscious is strong, and swimming against it, or finding new eddies and currents, is no easy task. Some who have tried, pulp pioneers like H.P. Lovecraft with his Cthulhu Mythos, are driven to madness. Others, like Robert E. Howard with his Hyborian tales, are driven even further…

To create an original mythology is a Herculean task. So much of our modern reference frame and language is rooted in preexisting myths. Myth-making involves delving into word origins — etymology — and getting down and dirty in the anthropological Levi-Straussian sense, poking into the dark corners of history and beyond.

But the rewards for success are legion. Consider the influence of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula (1897) and the man who put vampires on the map. He made an obscure eastern European superstition rooted in pseudo-history into a prominent part of modern culture. Not too shabby for a theater manager.

So much of modern literature (genre, especially) is constrained by the necessity to be “recognizable”. This familiarity guarantees some success in publishing terms. But where is the fun in that? I say go off the deep end, take risks, really make stuff up. Crazy stuff, new stuff, transcendentally weird stuff. Fortune favors the bold. Bold and bizarre, even.

I’m just trying to think of what I’d be proud to write (if I had the patience to write fiction…), and I suppose the point is I can’t think of what it would be. If it was anything, then it would be a complete surprise, something I never expected, dredged up from the Id — the very “monsters of the Id” — spilled out onto the page like the innards of human existence. Darkness and light, Manichean duality, epic passion, sky-spanning consciousness and everyday axioms of life and death. The works.

The talented Mexican painter Frida Kahlo (whose work is currently being brilliantly exhibited at the SFMOMA…) said in a lecture in 1945 that “the reason people need to invent or imagine heroes and gods is because of their fear — fear of life and fear of death.” Indeed. Why let that stuff twist you into knots and make you mental? If you have even the least bit of talent (or even if you can barely spell), let it out onto the page. Make up new words and language — rip the top off your head and look in there to see what’s a stewin’ and brewin’. But above all, be bold — archetypal as Jung would have called it. Write for all times. All lives. Forget this modernist navel-gazing about the subtle complexities of some pseudo-banal inner life. Sartre is OK, but let’s try to use the written word to create lasting meaning. It won’t come from anywhere else. Go ahead and make yourself iconic…Create your own mythology!

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16 Responses to “Create Your Own Mythology!”

  1. tianakaczor Says:

    That is a great Frida Kahlo quote you referred to. And in response to your call for mythmaking I see a connection between the quote, regarding fear of life, and my own mythmaking/storytelling venture that I participated in with a writer from South Carolina a couple years ago. We were both going through life changes, and in order to escape from those realities we created an early 20th century fantasy world complete with a whole list of characters and a hand drawn map of our township. For about half a year we had the pleasure of this storytelling through our email exchanges. Great creative fun.

  2. The Necromancer Says:

    Awesome. This is exactly the kind of thing I’m getting at. Appreciate you sharing that experience — quite interesting.

  3. anxiousmofo Says:

    Just about every author I’ve read recently that I’ve really liked has either produced his own myths or retold existing ones: Borges, Kafka, Milton, Dante, Homer.

  4. The Necromancer Says:

    All classic writers…Timeless. Great examples of myth-making in all (or most) cases. And iconic to boot.

  5. speedbird Says:

    Cool post. I completely agree…

    A lot of this sort of activity will turn out to be the rediscovery of forgotten archetypes, which is no bad thing. The greats actually turn up a new spirit from time to time – Tolkein and the Ring, for example.

  6. Shefaly Says:

    Some people are calling this ‘Second Life’.

  7. The Necromancer Says:

    Speed: Glad you liked it. Trolling through the Id for discarded flotsam and jetsam is part of the process, and as you suggest, sometimes relatively new stuff comes out of there. Like throwing unconscious darts at the collective board, hoping to hit the bullseye.

    Shefaly: I’m almost certain this isn’t what I meant, though there are aspect of this that fit the mold. More simplistically symbolic, however…

  8. s'mat Says:

    Yes, yes, yes!
    Wresting back control of our humanity-edifying and endogenous need for storytelling!
    What use is nationalism, or even wanton neo-colonialism without its coercive, top-down, identify-or-else myth making, other than pangenerational control by means of the elimination of regional group identity? By a process of self-acculturation and local dissemination of stories, we can depose many of the forces that inflict so much harm on individuals and communities these days.
    Love this post!!!

  9. The Necromancer Says:

    Thanks, love your comment…There is, as you suggest, a potential rearguard action in this process.

  10. enreal Says:

    Catching up with my old friend…this is a perfect place for me to comment…creating my own mythology…as if my life isn’t exaggerated enough…that’s where I’ll leave it…in the vaults of my mind… after all who would believe my story…we all live behind our myths, most too afraid to share…but as you say, “Why not become iconic, transcend your personal space-time continuum. I say go crazy”
    If I didn’t know better I would say you’re being motivational…kudos ;) Great article…

  11. The Necromancer Says:

    enreal: I say let it out — the more unbelievable the better…We’re talking about mythology, after all.

  12. J.Y. Bradford Says:

    Great post! As an avid student of Jung and Campbell I must commend your statements. I’m inclined to agree with Kahlo, for what is myth but a structure to convey the struggles of fear?–a dramatic vehicle to lament the human processes of death, loss, and powerlessness while simultaneously reveling in them.

    I suppose in this vein myth-making is largely an egotistical art since it’s derived from personal experiences and gained understanding. I have long been obsessed with my own mythopoeia to the extent that I have created a Tolkienesque level of detail in language, cultures, and story that I’d love to share with fellow mythophiles. I apologize to self-promote, but this seems a more appropriate place than most to recommend my site, I’m trying to make it as a writer and any feedback (seriously, you can be callous) would be greatly appreciated. I’d relish a chance to read some things others have created as well, and if they want, post them for them.

  13. The Necromancer Says:

    @Bradford: Self-promotion is fine. I do it from time to time on other people’s blogs. Appreciate the comment and your insights. Good luck with the writing career…Not the easiest way to thrive in the modern world, but as you suggest, there are deeper, instinctual impulses at work when you are drawn to the creation of imaginary realms…

  14. dogs playing pool Says:

    People go en masse to the films to see stories about Narnia and Harry Potter, escapist fantasies that take us away from our real world of austerity, cuts and looming economic disaster. In these tales, fighting for us we have wizards both brave and powerful. In real life, we look upon our so-called leaders and despair. If we want there to be a Narnia to escape to, we ourselves must build it here.

  15. Christian Says:

    Interestingly, much of modernity seems to be about myth busting. Oh, and I have partaken in the burning of myths. Myths are an interesting thing and once one gets in the habit of identifying them — one realizes, I think, that it is all myth. So, I concur, create myths. But I would offer a caution: What makes myths so fantastic is precisely what can make them dangerous — their capacity to enchant.

  16. The Necromancer Says:

    @Christian: Too true. I think there’s no doubt that part of what characterizes modernity is myth busting. But I also wholeheartedly agree that the myth has an under-appreciated value and even power. When we invoke archetypes sometimes we do well not to take them lightly. There is more there than meets the eye…

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