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Leaving the Nest -- Writer's Poke #368

“The only true wisdom lives far from mankind, out in the great loneliness, and can be reached only through suffering.” – Igjugarjuk (Caribou Eskimo)

Joseph Campbell suggests that myths act as a nest. But like birds, we must be willing to leave the nest when we’re ready to fly. We must be willing to leave the security of the womb, even if we know that doing so will be a lot tougher.

Who wouldn’t want to be protected by the big parent forever? Just stay in the security of the nest and allow yourself to be fed by the big parent. Accept that reality, and happily eat whatever the big parent regurgitates into your mouth. No suffering involved. And no thinking required.

Myths, writes Campbell, serve four basic functions. The first he calls the “mystical function.” Myths teach us that we are a part of the universe. We need not fear the universe; rather, myths teach us our place within it. Second, myths describe how the universe works; unfortunately, argues Campbell, myths lock into the time and culture that creates them. All major world religions, he notes, are at least two thousand years out-of-date, which is the explanation for the current battle being waged between science and religion.

Third, myths “validate, support, and imprint the norms of a given, specific moral order.” They do not necessarily promote rational reasons to avoid change. For example, no matter what your position on gay and lesbian marriage might be, it should be pretty apparent that “the Bible says Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is a rather meaningless way to defend the definition of marriage as meaning one man and one woman.

Finally, in Campbell’s assessment, myths serve as a “stage by stage” guide. Two real questions emerge from Campbell’s analysis: 1) Are the traditional myths valid for our time, and 2) Once myths have served their various purposes, what comes next? For Campbell, the nest of myth cannot be our permanent home. Modern society has reached the age of maturity, and we are ready to spread our wings.

Explore the idea of leaving the nest. Are you ready?

“If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” – John F. Kennedy


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