Mythology is beyond any single individual. I was reminded of this recently while discussing Joseph Campbell with a colleague. Joseph Campbell was an unconventional academic who exploded to public prominence largely through the immense influence of Star Wars, the original episode. George Lucas had famously latched onto Campbell’s Jungian use of archetypal imagery as the basis for good story-telling, and thus, by extension, good movie-making. With his books written at a level that is accessible to the average reader, Campbell assured his fame in a world starved for mythology. Others have interpreted mythology quite differently, but often more quietly. The fact is, mythology is alive and well in our culture. We simply fail to recognize it.
We are in the midst of the Christmas season, a period of intense mythopoeia in modern American culture. As can be seen in the Christmas Complex essay under the Full Essays section of this blog, the growth of Christmas characters and stories has been intense over the past several decades, and it shows no sign of slowing. Although not everyone will recognize Heat Miser or Zwarte Piet, many cannot imagine Christmas without Frosty the Snowman or Jack Frost, although they are not specifically associated with the holiday. This is the nature of mythology – it grows to encompass the many concomitant features of its immediate culture. Northern European and northern American experience of Christmas includes the snows of winter, so they become part of the Christmas myth.
While many this year, and every year, protest leaving the “Christ” out of “Christmas,” they fail to recognize that the snowballing Christmas myth has rolled far beyond the control of Christianity. The origins of Christmas predate Christianity, and the birth of Jesus is yet another element that has adhered to the mythology of the winter solstice. As the days grudgingly grow longer, and light begins to return into the chillingly crystalline days of January in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, mythological souls everywhere breathe a sigh of relief. Our fear of the long, dark, cold night is primal and very deep. C. S. Lewis, another mythographer, at least got it right with the Narnian concept of winter without Christmas being a kind of hell to northerners. The mythology of Christmas in the southern hemisphere is another complex mythopoeia in the making. How it grows will be an interesting exercise in the ongoing human quest for meaning as summer’s heat is just beginning.