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The Myths of Reality

cosmologies as 'deep structures'

'Cosmology' is, confusingly, used by modern day astronomers and physicists to describe their cosmogonic myths of the origins of the universe. Mythologists use the words 'cosmogonies' and 'cosmogenesis' to refer to the great diversity of myths about the origins of the cosmos (although beware of 'mythogenesis' as this is refers to the origins of myths rather than myths about origins).

For mythologists, cosmology is the study of the organisation of the cosmos, not necessarily its origins. Cosmological myths can be thought of as not so much the contents of consciousness as deep structures that shape the contents of consciousness (Bennett 1980); although this has absolutely nothing to do with Freudian or Jungian models of human thinking.

Repeated exposure to myths – or merely mythic motifs – rather than conscious learning is responsible for embedding myths into the structure of our consciousnesses. Such 'deep structures' manifest in the modern world not so much as fully-formed mythical narratives but rather as 'fragmentary references, indirect allusions, watchwords, slogans, visual symbols, echoes in literature, film, songs, public ceremonies, and other forms of everyday situations, often highly condensed and emotionally charged.' (Flood 1996: 84)

W. Lance Bennett provided an apt metaphor when he wrote 'Political myths are difficult to analyze because they are such basic components of everyday perception. They are like the lenses of a pair of glasses in the sense that they are not the things people see when they look at the world, they are the things they see with. Myths are the truths about society that are taken for granted.' (Bennett 1980: 167)

If this seems rather abstract, consider this Jewish proverb:

    We do not see things the way they are but as we are.
Perhaps this was in Jeremy Narby's mind when he wrote:
    We see what we believe, and not just the contrary; and to change what we see, it is sometimes necessary to change what we believe.
    (Narby 1998)

Christopher S. Hyatt adopted a more provocative stance regarding how we learn to structure reality:

    Almost everything people believe in as grown ups consists of lies they were told as children. Culture is nothing more than agreed upon lies.
    (Hyatt 1992)

In practice of course most people are so absorbed within the 'structure' of reality that they acquired as children that they have no awareness that entirely different world views are possible. It is as if they live inside bubbles with 100 percent internal reflection. Others may be able to see into their bubbles but they cannot see out. As Robert Anton Wilson has noted, the seemingly impossible task of bursting such all-encompassing bubbles falls to Zen riddles, Sufi jokes, the works of Aleister Crowley, and 'a few heroic efforts by philosophers'. In my opinion modern physics and semiotics should also be added to this list.

Cultural studies has been responsible for much of the semiotic analysis of the 'deep structures' of modern day cosmolologies Such cosmological myths underlie romantic fiction and TV 'soaps' every much as religious myths (see also politics of culture). Janice Radway was one of the first to systematically study such aspects in Reading the Romance (1984), followed by Angela McRobbie with her study of British teenage magazines in her 1991 book Feminism and Youth Culture. Both of these books can be regarded as pioneering rather than definitive but they have influenced many subsequent papers by cult studs, plenty of which can be found on the Internet.

See also the articles on sacred sexuality and the politics of myth.

bibliographical references:

BENNETT, W. Lance, 1980, 'Myth, ritual and political control', Journal of Communication, 30, 166–79.
FLOOD, Christopher G., 1996, Political myth: A theoretical introduction, Garland.
HYATT, Christopher S., 1992, The Tree of Lies, New Falcon Publications.
NARBY, Jeremy, 1998, The Cosmic Serpent: DNA and the origins of knowledge, Victor Gollancz.


copyright © Bob Trubshaw 2003


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