Mythic Wisdom: Deeper Truths Discovered in Mythological Literature

The sacred stories of indigenous or ancient peoples are called “myths,” and at some points in history the use of this term implied that they were falsehoods. It now is increasingly understood that modern cultures have their own mythologies as well, and that the stories of every time and place communicate the universal truths that reflect their values and worldview and pass them on to the next generation. Inevitably, embedded within these mythic stories will be the limitations of the attitudes and customs of the period when they originated. Nonetheless, many people now realize that ancient and modern wisdom stories speak to the human heart and soul. This has led to an understanding of “myths” as powerful stories that communicate psycho-spiritual truths that are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. However, benefitting from their wisdom requires the ability to read them metaphorically and to seek out the eternal verities often hidden among the limiting biases of the times in which they were created or were altered as they were passed on from generation to generation. Many indigenous myths and alchemical and other magical practices—as well as the sacred stories of our modern religions—are examples of wisdom traditions that can be mined for their treasures and applied in the context of life today.

My forthcoming book, Persephone Rising: Awakening the Heroine Within, explores an ancient Greek mystery rite called the Eleusinian Mysteries, which was both the liberation and the self-help movement of its time, promising initiates that they would learn to be happy, prosperous, and free of fear. At the height of this very egalitarian tradition within a hierarchical society, men and women, slaves and free, all could participate. Anyone who was anyone certainly did, and many traveled long distances from throughout the Mediterranean to take part in the ritual.

Persephone Rising links this wisdom tradition to mythic patterns emerging in our time and in the stories of two goddesses—Demeter and Persephone—and two gods—Zeus and Dionysus. Our society today is overly focused on Zeus values of power, money, and competition, which have their places, but they have crowded out Demeter’s focus on caring, Persephone’s depth and creativity, and Dionysus’s capacity for joy. Connecting with the virtues of these three currently undervalued gods can provide a balance that helps us to escape the pressure to lead overly driven lives. Taken together, the four archetypal gods open us to a fuller range of positive human capacities, thus better equipping us to thrive as we address the great challenges of the 21st century.