Tuesday, January 24, 2017
From earliest ages of human existence people have lived close to each other for survival and social relations. In time — and we’re talking about a slow process — the people in any one such “community” came to share basic understandings of nature, of birth and death, of right and wrong, and even of the mysteries of existence. Group leadership, initially from elders or successful providers and ultimately from prophets and teachers, shamans and tellers of the group’s history led to the group’s understanding of life. This body of understanding, made up of warning, story, miracle, song, dance, and prophesy gradually became encapsulated in rites and rituals, dogmas and expectations and much, much later, in writings. This body of wisdom we call myth.
Do not confuse this use of the term myth with the current definition of myth as untruth. Myth is that assemblage of details that constitute a particular culture’s understanding of life.
Mythic “substance” becomes a matter of the social unconscious. That is, people are not aware of living within a mythic bubble until they encounter people from another mythic community.
Frequently a myth community will be effectively isolated from other communities for generations and consequently surprised and confused when bumping into a myth environment not their own. Myths have power. During the Colonial Era, myth groups from Europe assumed the right, even the duty, to impose its myth understandings on the people of “the dark continent.” The Christian evangelical community has supported world-wide missions to eradicate so-call false teachings and paganism (words used in place of myth bodies). Tensions between myth groups have led to many a war.
These introductory paragraphs become a base for my saying that I respect the social process of myth-making. No, not all myths are equally instructive. Not all myths endure for generations and across vast populations. Not all myths speak to me personally. Nonetheless I appreciate the process that interprets existence to a people for a finite period of time.
Here is an example of a myth construct and my response to it.
From Wikipedia: The Toltec culture is an archaeological Mesoamerican culture that dominated a state centered in Tula, Hidalgo, Mexico in the early post-classic period of Mesoamerican chronology (ca 900–1168 CE). The later Aztec culture saw the Toltecs as their intellectual and cultural predecessors and described Toltec culture emanating from Tōllān [ˈtoːlːaːn] (Nahuatl for Tula) as the epitome of civilization; indeed in the Nahuatl language the word “Tōltēcatl” [toːlˈteːkat͡ɬ] (singular) or “Tōltēcah” [toːlˈteːkaʔ] (plural) came to take on the meaning “artisan”. The Aztec oral and pictographic tradition also described the history of the Toltec Empire, giving lists of rulers and their exploits.
Among modern scholars it is a matter of debate whether the Aztec narratives of Toltec history should be given credence as descriptions of actual historical events. While all scholars acknowledge that there is a large mythological part of the narrative, some maintain that by using a critical comparative method some level of historicity can be salvaged from the sources. Others maintain that continued analysis of the narratives as sources of actual history is futile and hinders access to actual knowledge of the culture of Tula de Allende.
Recently a friend called my attention to The Four Agreements, written by a descendent of the Toltec, Don Miguel Ruiz. In it he defines four principles of Toltec wisdom
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do you best.
These principles I gratefully receive as gifts. I accept them at face value as products of Toltec community. While they do not explain everything for me and each one allows for multiple interpretations, I value them for what I can learn and practice for a peaceful, productive and happy life.