What do myths, muses and my basement have in common? Myths have secret messages that live in the basements (aka dumping grounds) of our heads, mine anyway. I don’t know about you but I usually stay well out of my basement unless the humidifier needs emptying or a fuse blows in the kitchen. But then, I realize how important it is and vow to pay more attention (again). That’s after I have to trudge down the musty steps in a panic and play with the switches and figure out what power source is connected to which room (which either requires me yelling up to my daughter or me running up and down the stairs to check what actually works), etc. because I wrote down the answers in an ancient code years ago (on top of what the previous owners wrote) and that isn’t quite working anymore.
Myths are codes that connect the wires of our minds to the stories we believe (sometimes unconsciously)–interspersed with cloudy habits and conditioning of what we should and shouldn’t do or think. Nevertheless, we make urgent “stress” decisions there right in the jaws of what mythology reveals about that conditioning–and we also begin to descend the depths of ancient mysteries for which we will perhaps never know answers.
How do we untangle myths in our minds?
I’ve always wanted to ask one of the leading female popularizers of mythology, Edith Hamilton (1867-1963), author of the classic work Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes (1942) why no-one (certainly not her who called Pandora a “beautiful disaster”) ever had Pandora’s or say, Medusa’s back. To bad, I can’t time travel to request an interview. After all, Edith Hamilton was headmistress of a girls school who radiated lines like this in her retirement speech from the school.“This only bears out what I have been trying to teach you, and that is to look a plain fact in the face.”
It seems important to continue to talk back to the ancient poets. Here’s a snippet from an older piece I wrote called “Me and Medusa.”
“Perhaps you are wondering why Ceto shivered at the name her unborn child whispered in wild vague dreams. After all, the root of the name “Medusa” connotes profound wisdom (sometimes interpreted as feminine wisdom); in Sanskrit (medha) Greek (metis) and Egyptian (met or mat).
First worshipped as a Serpent Goddess in Libya, Medusa’s lineage spread (and of course, constantly changed) across the Mediterranean through the coasts of Africa to Greece to Turkey for thousands of years, so her name collected the cumulative human interpretation of many ancient languages.”
In my view, as fluid as gender might be right now–as much progress as we’ve made by and for women (and hopefully men too)–there is a lot about ancient mythology we still refer to in backed-up-against-the-wall-straight-jacket terms that aren’t really exactly, ummm, factual.
When you read classical literature you are stepping into peoples’ minds (their epiphanies but also their log jams and steel traps) and if you are not exposed to the psychological nuances and realities of diverse viewpoints, you are cut off from a vital power source.