Myths are stories and other expressions of art through which people experience the mystery and awe of life. They express important Truths held by an entire culture or people. Stories that are “only fiction” cannot be myth, because they are true for no one at all. So you can see that the word “myth” is often used in daily conversation in a way that means exactly the opposite of what it’s really about. This is partially due to a change in the way people of contemporary modern culture have divided the world into “real” and “not-real” parts, and defined “real” things as being literally material. In the process, things that were once “art” and “story” became “just an imaginary picture” and “just a myth.” Myths are not material, and neither are the truths they express. But this does not render them fictional or meaningless.
Many people who have studied myths, including Joseph Campbell, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Carl Jung, feel that some myths are universal — that they express basic Truths held by many if not all human beings, in many time periods and places. To these scholars, the source of universal myth and symbology lies in the humanity we all share.
To people of many Indigenous cultures, important myths or stories are universal because they emerge from the very fabric of the Earth itself, rising from its stones and soils the same way living things do. To them, the source of universal myth and symbology is the Earth on which we all live.
Myths — especially those that are universal — guide people across the thresholds of life’s passages from child to adult, from singleness into marriage, from adulthood to maturity, and eventually across life’s threshold into death. They teach us how to live life fully in the world and how to cope with change and even tragedy. Participants in ritual ceremonies enact a myth’s story in physical space. To participate in mythic space is to walk in the deep dark places of soul’s truth, in an inner landscape where meaning rises from the Whole rather than the intellect alone.
Mythic ways of knowing may be found in or expressed by specific types of art, story, film, and poetry.