The following is a transcribed excerpt from "What Stories Do We Need" -- a thought provoking and timeless recording by poet and men's movement pioneer Robert Bly. "What Stories Do We Need" reminds us that we all carry a personal mythology, but the stories we tell ourselves may not be entirely true... Recorded live at The New York Open Center.
So the first point I want to make is that mythology is connected to the soul. That doesn’t mean it is unconnected to the spirit, but that mythology in general asked you to go down before you go up. And we’ll have an example of that because I’ll do a story this morning. And the second thing you would say is that mythology is connected with inner figures. It can be said that when you are a monotheist psychologically, all mythology dies. Because monotheism implies that there is a center to the psyche and that all other parts of the psyche will obey them. That’s the hope of the pudens. If you decide that you’re not going to tell a lie, everyone inside will obey. Like hell. That’s why a New Year’s Eve resolution is only until about five minutes to twelve that night. And when Jim Hillman came to the men’s workshop in California this last year, he told a wonderful story. He said: you see the problem is, if you’re a young male and telling a whole bunch of spiritual young males the problems is the word commitment, it sends shudders through your chest. And we know that and that’s quite right. There is something in the hue that’s aware of the danger of commitment and of course, that causes a lot of grief for everybody. But nevertheless he was also saying there is some truth in that. And he says I’ll give you an example. The young male decides that he is going to get married because he needs to get married. He’s 24 and decides to get married. But he forgets that there is a whole platoon in there. And there may be one or two in that platoon who will suck up to the sergeant, and so when the time is to do the task, they’ll be there. The rest of the platoon, he says, is off in the woods somewhere. And the next morning after the wedding they said, “Wait a minute, you didn’t ask me at all. I would’ve never agreed to this. And because you didn’t even ask me, I’m going to muck the whole thing up. I’m going off into the woods to get drunk. You and your sergeant can do what you want.” Do you understand that feeling? It’s a wonderful idea before you make a commitment, please talk to the rest of your platoon. And with women, being no different whatsoever. Exactly the same. Even taking a job it is important to check the rest of the platoon. Some of them may not want this job at all. And if they don’t like it… you know, you’ll start dropping pencils and pretty soon you’re forgetting stuff and you get canned. I like this, don’t you? This whole idea of the platoon. You have to check with the platoon.
We’re talking about mythology today. And mythology moves towards the soul in the same way that philosophy moves towards the brain. In fact, I think Joe Campbell said the other day, all philosophy is a frozen form of mythology and if you really love a philosopher, then try to recognize the philosopher as being a kind of an ice over the water on which you could walk. And that’s nice, but try to go below and see what the water is doing down there. And in that case, he believes that every philosophical idea has a mythological image underneath it, including all those ones, Heraclitus, and all of that. They come out of centuries of wild mythological imaging.
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