Mythology, or Mythos, often brings up several misconceptions:

  1. Myths are the old stories of an Ancient Peoples like the Greeks, Celts, or Norse.
  2. Myths are lies.
  3. Mythology is canon and lore surrounding franchise fiction.

If you believe one of those answers or any other, you need to set that idea aside and start with a better definition.

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, pp 1-2

That might sound like a daunting task, but for our purposes, we will rework that definition like this:

A novel/series’ mythology is an organization of symbolic images and narratives, metaphorical of the possibilities of the character’s experience and the fulfillment of the setting’s culture at the time of the story.

In other words, your story's mythology is the collection of imagery and stories necessary for you to tell the characters' story as living people in their own world.

The advantage of taking the time to do this world building concurrent with story development, rather than before or after, is that you will unlock themes and levels of the story you might have missed.

This is also a powerful way to prevent or cope with writer's block.

In the end, you will have a story that feels like it has been retold and improved for generations before it came to you.  You will uncover the depths and flesh out a world as well as a story.

Where do Myths Come From?

Let's take a look at Joseph Campbell's explanation of the origin of myth:

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

Wait, what?  No one can invent a myth?  That's right.  That is what is wrong with our fiction.  We have spent so many years, and spilled so much ink, trying to invent a story we could have just looked within and found.  That is the difference between a myth and a good story.  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, they just entertain us.

This is not because some invisible muse whispered arcane secrets into the poet's ear.  The writer allowed the story to take on a life of its own.  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.  Great writers 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.

Before we get into the process of drawing the myth out there are a couple other things we need to understand first.

The Four Functions of Myth

Myth has four functions, or four levels it works on:

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)."

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)."

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)."

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)."

Cosmogonic Cycle

From Creation through to the Apocalypse into the dissolution of all things, this cycle covers the whole expansion of the cosmos.

The cosmogonic cycle is to be understood as the passage of universal consciousness from the deep sleep zone of the unmanifest, through dream, to the full day of waking; then back again through dream to the timeless dark.
— Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 266

Hero's Cycle (Monomyth)

Only one story has ever been told, and that story is called the Monomyth.  This story's versatility allows it to take on infinite forms.  We will use the monomyth in several different ways, and you must.  One of the biggest mistakes writers make once they encounter the hero's cycle is to use it like a plug-n-play formula.  They fill in the blanks, and think they have a myth.  They don't.

Remember, the myths we have today were told and retold for generations before they were written down.  Those iterations are the secret to excavating the unconscious mind for the gold hidden there in.  There is a way to replicate this process as you develop your story.

Before we get here, you have to understand the simplest form of the monomyth, and see how it opens up.

The standard path of the mythological adventure of the hero is a magnification of the formula represented in the rites of passage:separation-initiation-return: which might be named the nuclear unit of the monomyth.
— Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 30

Another way to think about this is to visualize the cycle like this:

This is my version of the cycle chart on page 245 of Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Now that I have exposed you to the basics, let's start uncovering our myth.