We use the word “Myth” to refer to stories and other expressions of art — including music, dance, film, and poetry — through which people share lived experiences that feel profoundly universal, or true. So Myths usually express the most important understandings about life that a culture or people hold in common, and they convey these ideas to others through Mythic ways of knowing. Stories that are simply “made up” therefore cannot be myth, because such stories would be individual rather than communal. So you can see that the word “myth” is often used in daily conversation in a way opposite to the way we’re using it. This confusion is partially caused by 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” or “imaginary story” and therefore “just a myth.” Myths are not material, and neither are the truths they express. But this does not render them fictional or meaningless.

Many Western scholars of myth, including Joseph Campbell, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, and Carl Jung, feel that important myths are so universal because the source of their shared story and symbology is the common biological inheritance of humanity as a species. To people of many Indigenous cultures, however, 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 rather than humans themselves.