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What We Are Losing: Imagination & Myth

credit: Patrizio Martorana

credit: Patrizio Martorana


There’s a scene in this amazing film about Marion Woodman, the renowned Jungian analyst and author, which really landed with me. Quite profound. (Actually there are quite a few scenes in the film that moved me – I really recommend it highly.) But in the segment I want to mention here she speaks about the relentless “concretizing” of the world and how we are losing the ability to work intentionally with myth and metaphor, to participate in life’s mysteries through ritual. She links this literalism with the disappearance of the deep imaginal realm, and ultimately with the destruction of nature.

In recent posts I’ve explored how the same process that is driving ecological destruction is also dismantling aspects of our humanity: the inner worlds of consciousness and spirituality, and the outer expression of community. I agree with Marion Woodman, that we are also losing our capacity for working with the deep imagination as a way to access and express meaning, to journey to the underworld of the soul.

Because we pretend we exist only in the realm of the five senses and of rationality, our strategy for meeting our needs is to take more and more and more from the physical world (i.e. nature). We need things like belonging, a deep sense of home, connection, and meaning. Yet the only place we know to seek these things is in stuff. We concretize, making ourselves very small while our deepest hunger goes unfulfilled.

We tend to think that we’ve outgrown myth, that it somehow belongs to a more primitive phase of our development. We say that we no longer entertain fanciful stories about the origin of the universe and our role in it. But perhaps we do. It’s just that the story is flatter and so taken-for-granted that we don’t recognize it as myth. It operates invisibly. We don’t use it the way we used to use story.

Nowadays the story is about science, rationality, and progress. It’s about the pursuit of happiness through materialism and status. It’s about separation, exalting individual achievement, and the eerie notion that you’re on your own.

I’m still fuzzy on this subject, but I suspect our recovery must on some level involve reclaiming the mysterious underworld realm of myth and imagination. We must revive our rituals that celebrate the cycles of the earth, or invent new ones. We must again become skilled tellers of deep story. Like Persephone, we must again dare to let ourselves be nourished by magic pomegranate seeds.


  1. I think myth and storytelling help our puny human mind to comprehend a whole that is so much larger than ourselves. Imagine if we had stories and rituals that reminded us every day of our place in the earth community. It would be so much easier for people to get climate change if they already had a mythic framework to slot it into.

    • I think people like Brian Swimme are doing a good job of trying to tell that larger story in a way that makes sense for us today. But it’s harder to think of rituals and ceremonies that do that. Lots of work left to be done!

  2. Looks like its award season again! I’ve nominated you for the Liebster award. I’d love for you to participate, but don’t mind if you don’t. It’s just a way for me to introduce my blogging friends to each other.

    • Thanks Karel. I do appreciate the gesture, but I don’t participate in blog awards any more. I’m grateful that you think my blog is worthy of recognition. Having you stop by and read a post now and then is plenty. 🙂

  3. I like the term “concretizing,” and appreciate what it is about. I write often of the emptiness of trying to satisfy our soul needs with stuff, stuff, and more stuff. But then, we also use relationships, success, and even spirituality to satisfy some of our needs, like being admired and seen as someone who knows something.
    Thank you for posting this. Good read.
    A fellow traveler, Brenda 🙂

    • Thank you Brenda for taking the time to read my post and comment. I think you’d enjoy the film. It’s really wonderful.

  4. Hi Ruth,

    the film does sound fascinating, what is it called? I hear what you’re saying about the loss of the mythic, as a child Greek, Babylonian and Celtic myths were my sustanence. I’m deeply connected to the Persephone/Inanna stories and live them with regularity. If I didn’t have these stories to guide me I would have thought myself insane years ago. Going into the dark is a regular practise for me, albeit I have no control over the ‘when’. As women we are diminished when we attempt to get our needs met through the collecting of things; our souls cry out for nourishment we can only experience by re-entering the mythic/spiritual world with all its mysterious characters and gifts. Reconnecting to the Goddess reconnects us to the Earth and her gift of communion is a healing balm to all Her creatures/sentient beings. The more we are able to embody Her the more connected we feel to all that sustains us here in this beautiful world with all the other beautiful creatures who belong here with us. The more of us that can do this, the closer the subtle world and an opportunity for those who are able to shift from concrete functioning to all the subtle world has to offer. Thanks again for the thought provoking read!

    Much aroha


    • Thanks for the lovely, lyrical comment! The film is called “Dancing in the Flames”. I think you would enjoy it as the main theme that Marion Woodman has explored through her life is honoring the sacred feminine. Sounds like you may share this with her… 🙂

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