Myth

The Beating Heart of Fandom

Today is T-14 days until my 40th birthday, and the Reconnection Project has empowered me more than I ever thought it would. Today, I start the process of moving beyond me... Let the games begin.

Fandom is an action and a community.

The Last Air Bender from Shore Leave 32

When I say fandom is an action, it is a bunch of actions.

  • Reading and writing Fan fiction

  • Creating, sharing, and discussing Fan theories

  • Listening to, writing, and singing Filk

  • Sharing, making, and viewing Fan Art

  • Fan Vids

  • Fan films

  • Cosplay

  • Costuming

  • Roleplaying

  • Fan games

  • etc...

Every fan has their own way of participating in fandom. I used to participate a lot more than I do now. And that changes today.

When I stopped everything in the depths of my depression, I stopped playing in the fandoms I love.  I cut myself off from the fan communities I used to not only participate in, but I cut myself off from the people I used to interact with.

Community and fanac (fan activities) go hand in hand, especially now in this age of the internet.

We are defined by our actions

I cannot say that enough to myself or to you.

Ideas in your head stay in your head and if you aren't careful, they will cage you in there.

Life is action. If you want to live a life of compassion, you have to engage in acts of compassion or you are not compassionate. The same is true with everything.

If you want to define yourself by what you love, you have to engage in loving actions.

In fandom, that means, we have to share what we love and promote it. Don't let yourself be passive. Passivity is silence, and silence is nonexistence.

Take your voice back! Take your life back! Share your love with the world. 

Some people might think this is a silly or trivial thing, but it isn't.

My love for Yoda says something about me. He represents wisdom, inner strength, and the ability to find humor in any situation. These are all qualities I admire and desire in myself. When I see my Yodas around the house, it works as a symbol which draws up all these connections in my unconscious mind and strengthens those qualities within me.

Some people might think that is taking all this too seriously, but that is how mythology works.  It is a subtile effect on us, but it effects us all the same. By choosing to surround myself with these images, seeking them out, and sharing them, I am participating in the mythos. Ever time I quote Yoda, I am participate in the mythos and strengthen those qualities in me. 

Don't think that these are some kind of solemn acts. Solemnity isn't required for actions to have effects on our selves. Sometimes they are moments of catharsis, and sometimes they are pure frivolity.  

Today's Task: 

Find at least one thing you love and participate in it.  Share a picture, a video, read some fanfic, watch a fanfilm, or at the very least watch or listen to something you love.

Let me know how you are participating in the things you love.

What is Mythology?

Before we can make any in depth study of Mythology, we have to understand what we are dealing with.

First, it must be understood that mythology is more than just the tales we have inherited from Homer, or the brilliant Sagas of the Norsemen.  It is even something more than "other people's religion," as Joseph Campbell used to jokingly say.

"A whole mythology is an organization of symbolic images and narratives, metaphorical of the possibilities of human experience and the fulfillment of a given culture at a given time (Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, pp1-2)."

Myths are found in literature as well as in religion.  They speak to somewhere deep in our unconscious mind, and if we are lucky, they will instinctively guide our development.  Even though many of these myths change us through a process not unlike osmosis, it is important for us to learn how to recognize a myth, so we can choose whether or not we want to assimilate it into our lives.

Now I do not have the time or space in this essay to detail everything that needs to be said on the subject.  That is the purpose of the Foundation section of the website.  For now, I will focus on what I see that the most important aspect of mythology: how it functions in our individual and collective lives.

Where do Myths Come From?

"First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21, NRSV)."

This is perhaps the most misunderstood passage from the western tradition.  Many have used it to try to show the superiority of their particular theology over their rivals.  Others have disregarded it altogether, but it does answer the question of where myths come from.

Let's take a look at Joseph Campbell's explanation of the origin of myth, and pay close attention to how these two answers overlap:

"Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations.  Mythologies are not invented; they are found.  You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth.  Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p xix)."

No one can invent a myth, but I would also contend that there is nothing spooky going on here either.  What is the difference between a myth and a good story?  The myth speaks to something deep down within our souls.  They tell us that their is more to the story than we caught at first glance.  Great stories don't.

This is not because some spook is whispering arcane secrets into the poet's ear, it is (more often than not) because the story took on a life of its own and carried the poet along with it.  It is only when the unconscious mind is active in the creative process that a myth can be born.  We all carry these forms within us.  It is for the artist to step aside long enough to let them show through.

A good example of this is George Lucas.  He set out to write a new myth, but found that it would not cooperate with him.  He had writer's block.  Eventually, he put aside everything that he wanted to write about, and just wrote.  Star Wars is undoubtedly a triumph of the muse over the artist.

Once a myth is found by the poet, and they share it with society, it will take on a life of its own.  All myths operate in society in four ways.  In this, they help to shape culture, and are in turn shaped by it.

Mystical Function

"The first must be to open the mind of everybody in the society to that mystery dimension that cannot be analyzed, cannot be talked about but can only be experienced as out there and in here at once (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

This is where most western religions break down, and it is the aspect of modern myth that is most often overlooked.  The Mystical Function of a myth is to help the participant to realize that the outer forms that are portrayed are emblematic of the forces at work within the psyche.

Out there is really in here.  This is the first secret.  In the Matrix Trilogy, the mythic dimensions open to us when we see that the Matrix itself is symbolic of our mind, but the flood gates open when we can see that Zion is as well.  All of these outer images speak of internal conflict.  We all have our own Agents in our heads trying to fight against us.

Why do these aspects of our psyche come into view through these stories?  Because they are beyond naming, beyond analysis.  I will view the agent in completely different terms than you will, since he takes on aspects of our own inner struggle.  If I used something other than this mythic image, I could only explain my own inner demons, and you may or may not be able to relate.  Once it is concretized, it can only speak to my condition.  As a symbol it can speak to our condition.

The Architect and the Oracle are the best examples of what I'm talking about.  Many people I've talked to have compared them to God and the Devil, but few agreed on which was which.  Even when they did, they couldn't agree to why.

We can also see these images as symbolic of the collective psyche of our culture or world.  As you can see, they still reveal the hidden indefinable aspects of our culture in terms that are useful to our minds, while leaving them open to interpretation.

That is the first function of myth: It speaks to the individual and the culture simultaneously, and helps them to see what is going on within them.

Cosmological Function

"The second function of a mythology is to present an image of the universe that connects the transcendent to the world of everyday experience (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

I really don't want to get into the issue of whether or not there is a god, that is a topic for another set of articles.  What I am talking about now is simply "The Transcendent."  Whatever that might mean to you: God, energy, higher dimensions, or the driving force of history itself.  There is something that transcends our ordinary experience.  Maybe it is something as simple as love, or cosmic order; but the question is, how does that relate to me?

In Babylon 5,  the question is approached from many angles.  Basically, a scientific answer is elevated to a level of cosmological significance: we are the universe trying to understand itself.  Here, the universe, the very unadorned ground of being is presented to us as the transcendent mystery, and we are fragments of that universe trying to comprehend itself in the only way it can: from the inside.

If this presentation of the mystery has any resonance within us, it provides a metaphor to understand our relationship to the transcendent.  Now, we have a window into our own everyday lives that we can use to understand why we are here, and what is the purpose of everything.

Sociological Function

"The third function is to present a social order by which people will be coordinated to the mystery (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

This is perhaps the most dangerous and controversial aspect of mythology.  The social order depicted is always tied directly to the same era as that the myth was composed in.  Very few myths are truly timeless.  Most are filled with archaic views that must be refuted for the myth to have any relevance in the modern world.  We do this all the time, often without even noticing.

Should we blindly accept these outdated concepts, we become a danger to ourselves and to civilization itself.  The news is full of examples of what I'm talking about.  We only have to look at the pro-lifer who shoots a doctor to "save lives," or the events of 9/11.

That is why it is important to regularly question everything, even our most basic assumptions and beliefs.  It is not enough to just question, we have to be prepared to give up any belief we find to be false.

The Sociological Function of mythology does have a positive side.  It builds communities and fills them with a sense of common purpose.  The American Dream is one such myth.

Star Trek is a great example of this.  After being on television for only three years, it spawned a large community that grew, and even thrived in absence of any real input from those who created it.  Star Trek embodied the ideals of honor, courage, and IDIC.  IDIC is a concept indigenous to the Star Trek Universe: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination.  The diehard fans of the series have taken these ideals to heart and actually try to live by them.  For all of the scorn heaped on the phenomenon, I think a lot of good has come out of it.  What better ideals for people to base their lives on?

This new social order arose from the myth of its own accord, and led many people to a better understanding of their place in the universe.

Vital Function

"Finally the fourth function of the mythology is to carry the individual through the course of life (Joseph Campbell, Myths of Light, p 5)."

From birth to adulthood to marriage to children to death, myths provide a pattern to help people understand their lives and give meaning to them.

For me the music of the band Queensryche has served this function quite well.  Not alone, I do have other influences, but they have developed with me.  From their albums Rage for Order and Operation: Mindcrime that helped me in my confused teen years, to Empire that opened my eyes to the real world around me, their music has been a companion sharing insight with me when I needed it most.  When I went out on my own and found out just how evil the world can be, Promise Land came out and helped me to realize that I was not alone, and their was a better future to work for.  Ever since 9/11, I had found myself in a haze.  Nothing seemed to make sense anymore.  Then came Tribe.  They gave words to my pain, a cure to my nightmares, and renewed hope for the future.

In every stage of my life so far, they have told a tale to illuminate the way.  That is the Fourth Function of myth.

Unconventional Myths

I have used many different mythologies to explain the four functions of myth.  I could have used just one for all of them, but I wanted to illustrate a point.  We don't have to choose one mythology to the exclusion of everything else.  Each of these myths have something different to say, and each one speaks to the soul in a different way.  Together with many others, they have helped me to be the best me I can be, and that is what all myths are meant to be.

Some people may object to me calling some of these myth:  "They are just entertainment.  Aren't you taking them too seriously?"

The answer is no.  Myths are discovered, not made (remember?).  Science Fiction, Fantasy, horror, and non-classical music are usually relegated to a second class status to more "realistic" genres.  They are no less capable of delivering insight than Joyce or Hemmingway.  Much ink has been spilled on them, it is time to open the closet and let the other genres out to have their moment in the sun.

Footnotes

The scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, Copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Life as a Story

I went out to write at the San Francisco Bread Company today. The longer I write, the more I realize how important it is to get out of the house, even if it is only to sequester myself at a small table in a cafe with my headphones on listening to music, surfing the web, struggling with new concepts and editing a book I wrote that I actual enjoy reading. It is odd how something as simple as a change of venue from my office to a cafe can change my mood and energy level, but I have read enough from other writers to know that I am not alone.

I have a theory about why something as simple as a change of venue can so profoundly effect a writer's mood.

I started writing as a defense mechanism. As a child, I grew up on a farm miles from the closet kid my age. I spent most of my time either on the phone, outside with my dog Red, or in my room inventing new stories with my Voltron and He-man action figures. When this wasn't enough, I started drawing crude comics and playing out a sort of paper theater with playing cards and my imagination. Through all this, my imagination was fueled by He-man, She-ra, Transformers, the books of Edgar Allen Poe and Mark Twain, and the fantasy world of Dungeons & Dragons. I didn't have anyone to play with, so I spent my time making up stories about these fantastical creatures, demigods, and demons. The music of Kiss and Dolly Pardon filled my nights in my room watching "Too Close for Comfort" dreaming of the day I would write my own "Cosmic Cow" strip.

When we moved to Maryland, things got worse. I had a strong accent, which got me beaten up in school a lot, and I had not people skills so the few friends I did make really had to work hard to get past my clumsy social interactions. I didn't know how to relate with these "people." They were so different from me, and they expected me to know how to act with them. I just didn't.

My salvation came through The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and my knowledge of Dungeons & Dragons. I played these games with them as a means of interacting. They gave a structure to our together time and gave me a common language to speak. In time, we added Marvel Superheroes, Robotech, Earthdawn, and the many classic White Wolf storyteller games- Vampire: The Masquerade, Were-wolf, Mage: The Ascension, Changeling: The Dreaming. In fact, I became friends with Brian through a Vampire Chronicle.

Through this role as the storyteller, Star Trek Fandom, and my near obsessive interest in music, I found my medium to talk to others.

Storytelling is who I am. It is how I comprehend the world and explains why I am so deeply involved with the works of Joseph Campbell. This is who I am for better or worse. From the many biographies about other writers I have read, I think we have all taken up the life of a storyteller as some sort of defense mechanism or way to make sense of the world. It is easier to lock yourself away from the world than to jump in and struggle within it.

When I force myself out of my cave, even if only to isolate myself from the settings I find myself in through headphones and work, it reminds me that the outside world is still there. It lets me see how people actually interact with each other, for better or worse, and on those rarest of occasions, allows me to have incredible conversations with people face to face.

It is hard to explain how isolating is can be at times to be a storyteller. The hours, days and weeks spent locked away from the world crafting a reality that I hope others will experience and enjoy with the same fervor that I do. The simple act of seeing other people and hearing other voices enlivens me.

Like other writers, I am an observer of life much more than I am a participant in it. These little glimpses of the world outside my friends and family and the characters I write about (feels more like with sometimes), grounds me and helps connect me with the bigger world that is so easy to let slip away.

I wish more people shared this experience. Looking out at this world of strangers that I may or may not ever see again, and watching the plots they have entwined themselves in. We all tell our own stories. That is the art of conversation, to weave an entertaining tale about ourselves and others. As these plot lines co-mingle and intertwine, the story of our family, friends, city, state and nation are told. These stories often matter more than the facts. (whether or not that should be true or not is a whole other discussion).

I recommend that you give this a try. Next time you are out with friends, watch the stories that you are telling each other closely and follow them out as if they are plot lines in a novel, movie, or television show. It is startling how often you can predict other peoples actions by listening to their backstory, current plot, and projecting that out as it would play out in the genre appropriate to the person. I am not saying that this is always the case, but more often than not you will be able to see what will happen before it does. This is also the best way to choose your course of action. How will your action effect the other all story. Try it out, I think you might be pleasantly surprised.