In English, “myth” has two meanings. The first one is the story that tells a tale
with a moral at the end. The myth of Icarus, with the moral of “don’t fly too close to the sun, or as we used to say, “don’t get too big for your britches.” The myth of Achilles, he of the undipped and unprotected heel. Of Pandora., who received a beautiful box she was not allowed to open. But curiosity got the better of her and she opened the box, which was filled with all the dreads of the world–war, sickness, anger.
We forget some of the best details of myths. Icarus was warned by Daedalus not to fly too close to the sea as well as not too close to the sun. Aiming too low
would soak his wings with sea-spray and kill him as surely as soaring too close to the sun. Pandora’s box had one last thing stuck at the bottom of all those evils. The last thing that fell out of the box was hope. The important thing about myths is the point of the story, and often that point gets a bit muddled in the retelling.
I digress. The other meaning of myth is a commonly-believed falsehood that a writer corrects. You’ve seen the articles, “Five myths men believe about women,” “Eight myths to avoid on the road to success.” In that case, a myth is a legend (urban or not) that need de-bunking.
What’s interesting is that in both cases the word myth means a story. In one case, it’s used as a model for a universal truth; in another case, it’s a falsehood foisted on us. In either case, it’s a story that is open to interpretation. Myth also is an archetypal story–as in the myth of the divine feminine. Whether it’s Eve or Lilith (Adam’s first wife, who was strong-willed and thus considered dangerous), myth gives context to our stories and archetypes.
Myths are stories with a point. We can believe them or not. Or we can explore them and find the interesting sub-text that colors our life with shadow and light.
––Quinn McDonald is a believer in archetypes and myths. And in writing endings of the myths we live.