Truth and Tales
Myth is an odd thing. For centuries tales of gods, magic and adventure were believed to be absolute truth. People memorized them. They lived their lives by them. As society changes, however, these legends came to be thought of as folklore- preserving tradition but little else- and finally as nothing more than children's stories- lies told to entertain. It seems strange that few have ever though that perhaps they might fall somewhere between these poles.
Every myth contains a thread of truth, even if it is only a single thread in an ornate tapestry. Many intellectuals may disagree with this idea, but I hold to it nonetheless- and not without reason. Heinrich Schliemann discovered what many believe to be the ruins of Troy by studying Homer's Iliad and following it's character's journeys. The Sagas of Leif Ericsson- which claimed that Vikings had been the first Europeans to land in America- were thought laughable until Helge and Anne Stine Ingstad followed the course laid out in the tales and discovered Viking ruins at L'Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland. King Arthur was thought to be a fictional character until the real man- Owain Ddantgwyn- emerged from the shadows of legend and time. The Celtic mythological cycles are our best source of information about the culture, dress and society of ancient Gaels- and archeology has proven them to be accurate.
There is clearly truth to be found in myths, and it is my opinion that many people in intellectual fields of profession and study would do well to take them more seriously. These "factual truths" are not the only ones to be gleaned from ancient tales, however. Along with truths of the mind, mythology also offers truths of the heart. Karl Jung and Joseph Campbell both used mythology to reveal things about the human psyche, and in studying them one can gain a better understanding of ones self. How true it is that we all have a mythical archetype that we identify with! How very true that we hall have a Shadow somewhere inside of us! Even Jung's idea of the Collective Conscious is illustrated by myth, and by the fact that some tales and characters appear over and over again in cultures separated by centuries and leagues. Through their studies of mythology, these men came to identify things that were universally human.
More than this, myths hold truths of the heart because we identify with them. It is no accident that fairy and folk tales have endured for countless generations, because despite whether these tales are read by nightlight in a modern home or recited around an ancient fire, they touch something inside all those who hear them. Even a person who doesn't believe that living corpses truly prowl the night can shudder at the idea of them. Even someone who can't imagine elven ships and moonlit unicorns being part of reality can feel a moment of spirit-soaring awe if they will only let themselves envision them. We somehow always sense a little of the hero within ourselves and- if we are honest- a little of the villain as well.
Whether historical fact or spiritual understanding, old lore does indeed hold truth. Many of these stories have existed for thousands of years, and they are likely to remain a thousand more because as humans we need mythology. We need the truths that are there to be found by any willing to search for them.