How do we crossover from this world of ordinary, everyday concern to the myths that lie within it and beyond it?
We embark upon crossing over when we discover in the rubble of conventional thinking that myth still lingers. As practical and realistic and grounded as we may want to be, there is still a need for mythic sensibility.
The work of lawyers inflames our imaginations, making us the subject of ridicule, television dramas, novels, popular films, and the most intense of cultural preoccupations. In this fascination and disdain for lawyers we have our first glimpse of myth in the making.
I often wonder whether lawyers are not like shamans whose curative powers are derived from their ability to cross over to the "other" world to bring back to the day world the knowledge, power, and spirit by which healing can take place. The shaman's power to cross over to the spirit and non-ordinary world makes him or her a figure of power, veneration, and privilege; also a figure to be suspected, feared, and made the subject of all manner of personal, social, and cultural projections.
"Myths enact themselves through us and draw us to them. In this sense, myth is always alive, always lively, and not just idle stories of long ago. The gods live themselves through myth and enact themselves through human beings." [Russell A. Lockhart, Words and Eggs: Psyche in Language and Clinic 34 (Irving, Texas: Spring Publications, 1983)]
How are we to know the gods, the myths, the heroic, unless we see the modern day version of gods--Sport, Religion, Family, Politics, Work, Law--that surround us: Our gods entangle us in struggles, conquest and defeat, hope and despair; we are all worshipers. That we no longer pay homage to Aphrodite and Apollo can hardly be taken as evidence that we are not lured and seduced by Aphrodite's beauty and sexual erotics, that our excessive devotion to rationality and order is not fueled by the ardor of Apollo's mythic resonance.
Zeus and Hera, Apollo and Athena, Dionysus and Aphrodite, Hermes and Artemis have perished in name only. "[T]he gods signify 'meaning.' The Greek gods are related to different realities, which thus are not only 'things' nor only 'matter': waters, forests, fire, lightning, earth, harvests, sex. . . . [I]maginative projection is made through the whole range of the gods. The gods signify, therefore, the repertory of human possibilities, the explicitness of their meaning, and their exemplary models." [Julian Marias, Metaphysical Anthropology: The Empirical Structure of Human Life 18 (1971)]
There is, even in the most ordinary of lives, a measure of mythic consciousness. But in these everyday affairs we find myth waiting just off-stage directing the play which we attribute to our own doing. In ordinary lives, humble and unassuming, we find ideals, hopes, and dreams. Hope requires myth. A dream cannot be pursued without mythic energy. Professionalism, when it does not succumb to the single-minded ideology of success, requires myth.
We find all around us a reverence for human life, an ability to care and nurture and hope, the courageous few who have the steady resolve to stand against oppression and create a future worth living. Is this not the stuff of myth?
We smoke, drink, and ingest drugs to alter the everyday realities that confront us. We take up and practice religion to connect this world of the everyday to another; religion bridges the real and the imagined, the profane and the sacred. When dreaming, we experience another reality. In this altering of everyday reality do we not participate in myth?
The stories we deploy in everyday life embrace the accidental and fragmentary; myth belongs to and connects with something larger, with excesses of meaning produced in the many and varied contradictions of life.
Every life is located in an already existing world, buttressed by stories that ask us to accept the world as given, ordered, and continuing toward an indefinite future. This sense of a "given" determined world becomes part of the myth we live. When we realize the power of this myth—that all is given, determined, already in place—many of us experience the need to escape this myth, to find a way to transcend the world as it now exists.
The first phase of this escape is a resistance to the press of necessity and a sense that the modern notion of mythlessness has so textured and defiled our relationships with each other and to the world, that it has polluted our interior world and strangled our imagination.
The next phase of an escape from mythlessness is through critique of the mythless drift in contemporary life and an effort to re-imagine life relegated to description, explanation, theory, and role.
We travel like ghosts in railroad cars, pulled by a powerful engine called progress, into the oblivion of mythlessness. The dominant cultural meta-myth of our time is that our lives and our fate are guided by our own actions, that we live as we choose, unlike distant ancestors whose lives were bound to and instructed by cultural rituals and cosmic myths.
We claim we are no longer bound by myth, and let the term myth in contemporary usage mean illusion, fabrication, fiction, and irrational nonsense. We have evolved a sense of everyday life, ordinary reality, and even the sacred that instructs us on how to get on with our lives, use our skills, acquire security and material wealth with the belief that life is as it should be. We assume there is no need for myth, that the time in which myth may have had relevance has passed. We are caught in a paradox: denying myth and living always in and with myth.
We have unsuccessfully sought to replace myth with mythlessness. The recasting of myth as illusion, myth displaced by intellect, rationality, knowledge, logic, education, and science have resulted in the impoverishment of our mythic sensibilities.
What kind of imagination, what manner of readiness, gives reality to a rhetoric of professional idealism, an idealism that draws energy from the myths we associate with professional life.
We enter the mythic realm of professionalism by rites of passage, by initiation
into a community of fellow cultists, by heroic endeavors in the guise
of professional practice.