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Mythology, Dreams and Rituals in Modern America

During ancient times, there were no written laws. The rules of behavior were set by myths. Stories taught of dire consequences if a course of action was to be followed. In some cultures, the storytellers were also the chiefs. Unlike written laws that simply split right from wrong, stories taught ethics by letting the individual determine a sense of morality.

Written and oral myths are related to dreams. Mythologist Joseph Campbell said “Dream is the personalized myth, myth is the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamics of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions shown are directly valid for all mankind.” In other words, myths can also be described as the collective dreams of a society, while dreams are the myths of individuals, personalized with their individual experiences and problems. Psychologist Carl Jung stated that dreams are a product of the psyche that is almost always in a state of never ending activity.

Rituals are myths acted out. The term “ritual” seems to almost always refer to the ceremonies of primitive cultures. The reality is that rituals are found everywhere, even in modern society. Every Sunday, the Sabbath Day, Christians attend Church to worship God. Before a sporting game, teams may offer a prayer for success. Unfortunately, the opposing team is probably praying as well. James Frazer, a myth-ritualist, believed that “myth is the equal of ritual and arises with it to serve as its script: myth explains what ritual enacts. Myth operates while ritual retains its magical power.” The pioneering myth-ritualist, Biblicist William Robertson Smith, believed that “myth is inferior to ritual. It arises as an explanation of ritual only once a ritual is no longer considered magically potent and so is no longer understood.”

Let's discuss myths, dreams and rituals, and how they play out in the modern world. Is there still a place for mythology? Do we have modern rituals? Have personal dreams become less mythology and more practical? Did myths precede ritual or vice versa? And does it matter? 


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