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3. the new mythology: mythological fragments

What Maslow, in the context of Western modernity, calls peak experiences, others, in the context of non-Western traditions, call primal experiences. Traditional societies mediate the effects of vivid primal experiences through the use of rich mythologies that enable individuals to accept and seemingly understand their psychic condition. But modern man suffers from a fragmentation of belief that often leaves those who have primal experiences without any acceptable means of resolving the conflicts associated with primal realities ...

Myths are stories that serve specific social functions. They enable members of different societies and subgroups within societies to understand themselves and their world. As anthropologist John Middleton puts it, "a myth is a statement about society and man's place in it and in the surrounding universe....Myths and cosmological notions are concerned with the relationship of people with other people, with nature and with the supernatural.

What makes a story a myth is not its content, as the rationalists thought, but the use to which the story is put. The success of the myth depends upon the belief of people in the truth of the story and the relevance of the way it interprets their social reality. Questions of historic, philosophic, or any other verifiable truths are unimportant in the creation of mythologies. What matters is the power of myths to inspire belief and to enable believers to make sense of their experiences.

Once accepted, a myth can be used to ennoble the past, explain the present, and hold out hope for the future. It gives individual and social life meaning and direction. This ability to guide action distinguishes myths from legends, folk tales, and other stories. In short, myths have the power to change lives and shape societies.

The validity of individual myths is enhanced when they are incorporated into larger or related myths. In many societies, myths are officially sanctioned through public recognition. Thus in medieval Christian Europe many myths, such as those about King Arthur and the Holy Grail, were publicly recognized. In Hindu society, myths about Krishna and other deities are given sanction in all areas of life. Christian societies have traditionally given official recognition to Christian mythologies, Islamic societies to Islamic mythologies, Buddhist societies to Buddhist mythologies, pagan societies to pagan mythologies. In other words, the dominant religion in any given society typically provides its members with a powerful mythology that receives full recognition and social sanction ...