What We Are Losing: Imagination & Myth
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.