SchoolArts Room

The Persistence of Mythology

By Nancy Walkup, posted on Dec 9, 2016
Way back when I was in high school, I took Latin as my foreign language (strongly encouraged by my biology teacher because she thought I should be a medical illustrator and thus needed to be able to understand scientific names). Though I certainly didn’t retain much Latin, it was my first in-depth experience with mythology and I was fascinated by it.

I'm standing next to a cement replica pot painted by San Ildefonso Pueblo artists in designs that express myths, stories, and traditions in their culture. Six of these are installed at the White Rock Visitor Center near Bandelier National Monument.
 
Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” Joseph Campbell

Most mythological characters have parallels in both Greek and Roman gods and have similar characteristics but different names. For example, the Roman goddess Diana is paralleled in the Greek goddess Artemis and they are both known as goddesses of the hunt, the moon, and nature.
 
The person most associated with the idea of myth is Joseph Campbell, an author best known for his work in mythology and comparative religion, especially in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” and his 1988 PBS series with Bill Moyers, “The Power of Myth.” The thread that runs throughout Campbell’s work is the commonality of themes of myths that occur throughout the history of humankind, no matter which time period or culture is considered.
 
What are myths but stories? Telling stories, myths, and legends are how we make meaning of our lives. The themes discussed in “The Power of Myth” offer engaging topics for art challenges and big ideas to use with your students. They include The Hero’s Adventure, The Message of the Myth, The First Storytellers, Sacrifice and Bliss, Love and the Goddess, and Masks of Eternity.
 
Your students might also find it fascinating to know that Director George Lucas’ Star Wars films were heavily influenced by Campbell’s ideas, especially the theme of the Hero’s Adventure. As is just about every superhero ever.
As Campbell explains in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
 
The Campbell/Moyers interviews are still available online at http://billmoyers.com, along with Moyer’s interview with George Lucas. If you would like to learn more about Joseph Campbell and his ideas, go to http://www.jcf-myth.org/