This week James Bonnet explains that it’s not the historicity of the marvelous tales surrounding certain figures, but rather the “hidden truths” – which were maintained through their oral tradition accounts – that make these stories worthy…
Achilles and the Trojan Wars – While there is no historical record of these events, most scholars, and most people for that matter, believe there really was a place called Troy and a war between the Greeks and the Trojans which took place on the western shores of Turkey sometime around 1200 B.C. Many important archaeologists, Heinrich Schliemann among them, have devoted their lives to discovering the sites of these ancient events.
It is controversial whether someone named Homer, the accredited author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, the famous legendary accounts of these wars, actually existed, but assuming he did, the true story of the Trojan war had already spent four hundred years in the oral tradition before he put his poetic stamp on it, and another three or four hundred years in the oral tradition after his contribution before it was actually written down. In that time it had evolved from the real incidents worth repeating into a truly miraculous tale in which the swift-footed Achilles has become the nearly immortal and invincible son of Thetis, a sea goddess — all of the other gods, including Zeus, have taken sides and are playing active roles in the war, and all manner of miraculous things are occurring.
King Arthur – Many scholars believe that this legendary English king was evolved from a real general named Arturis. General Arturis lived in the 5th century A.D. and won ten consecutive battles against the Saxons before he was finally killed. If these scholars are correct, then after only five or six hundred years in the oral tradition this real general Arturis had been transformed into the legendary King Arthur who wielded a magic sword named Excalibur, consorted with a sorcerer named Merlin, founded Camelot, established the Round Table, and sent his chivalrous knights on a quest for the Holy Grail.
And, here again, like The Iliad and Jack and the Beanstalk, the legends surrounding King Arthur have a great deal to tell us about our inner selves, our vast potential, and our true destinies, while the brief historical record of General Arturis [or a real account of Achilles’ Trojan War] has probably had very little effect on any of our lives.
The curious tendencies of the mind that drive this natural storymaking process, and which we tend to regard as shortcomings, turn out to be the artistic tools of the imagination. And the creative unconscious used these tools to create these great stories. This vital information was being programmed into them bit by bit with each of these changes, which is where these old great stories get their power and charisma.
Myths are stories that have evolved to such an extent that the truth they contain has become so charismatic and obvious that religions are formed around them. All of the great religions have mythological stories as their justification and the source of their truth.
There is no better example of this than Moses and Jesus. Again, no historical record, but most people believe, or are willing to concede, that a real historical Moses and Jesus did in fact exist. After six hundred years in the oral tradition Moses was turning staffs into serpents and performed any number of other miracles for the edification of the Pharaoh including the parting of theRed Sea. And after only forty to eighty years in the oral tradition, Jesus had become the result of a virgin birth, performed countless miracles, and rose from the dead. There’s no way to calculate what effect a factual record of the real events surrounding these important figures might be having on our lives, but it’s safe to say there have been very few things in life that have had a greater effect on the world than the miraculous stories that evolved from those real events.
It is, in fact, the function of religion to utilize the truth revealed in these great stories to help guide their charges back to their original nature. Religion, when it is not corrupt, is a conscious, organized effort to get people to go back up this path and they get their marching orders from stories. Instead of calling it individuation (Jung‘s term for the full realization of the self) or reaching your full potential, they call it recovering your lost innocence or reunion with God.
It may also be worth noting here that when the real incidents that were worth repeating entered the oral tradition and evolved into myths and legends, they became not less true, but more true, because now they contained some powerful bits of the hidden truth. The real incidents as they evolve become less reflective of the outer circumstances and more reflective of the hidden, inner reality. I leave it to the individual to decide which they think is more important.