Over the weekend I had the privilege of attending a one day writer’s retreat at Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat center on Whidbey Island, north of my home in Seattle. I’ve been writing a lot lately, finishing NaNoWriMo for the first time at the end of November, and continuing to work on my book about myth and creativity. It was wonderful to spend the day in community with other women writers, and to enjoy what Hedgebrook calls “radical hospitality”. I gained a lot of insight about both my writing and myself as a writer, and I hope I’ll have the opportunity to spend more time at Hedgebrook in coming years. The experience of visiting Hedgebrook, and the conversations we had that day about community have gotten me thinking about what community means, both to an individual and to a culture, and how myth works in support of community, how it shapes community.
Stories are, and always have been, a binding agent in service of communities. It is through the sharing of our stories that we are brought together as a people, and it is this function of myth that is one of it’s most powerful services to the humankind that it exists for. The fact that we still read, enjoy and gain wisdom from the stories told by the earliest peoples on Earth is a testament to the power of this process. My students and I talk about this every week in my Comparative Mythology class. As we go through the myths of different cultures week by week, it becomes clear very quickly the ways in which myths existed to serve the needs of a particular community, and ways that other myths have a more universal aspect. What can we learn by reading the origin stories of disparate cultures in which the earth (usually a female goddess, but not always) and the sky (mostly male) have to be separated from each other, the act of a culture hero? The notion that space had to be created for humankind to live in is a resonance of psyche, a gift from the collective unconscious.
Our modern life includes that same impulse to experience culture together through storytelling. Not only do our favorite novels, television shows and films bring us together as a community, but we share the details of our lives with each other through storytelling as well. Storytelling is a natural part of what makes us human, and the sharing of our stories with each other binds us together in community. The reading and study of myth reinforces that, but does not create it. It comes to us so naturally that we can’t avoid it. For me, it’s one of the most beautiful things about being human, and being in community with other humans.