Myth 101: Modern Myths?

In our first edition of Myth 101, a column dedicated to explaining mythological terms and concepts, Craig Chalquist addresses the question …

 Are There Modern Myths?

This is a contentious issue. Most folklorists would say no. A myth is an originally oral telling involving a traditional or sacred story handed down over many generations. As such it cannot, by this definition, be modern.

However, this view begs the question of how a myth got started to begin with.  Someone, somewhere, first told a version of it.  Maybe a dream inspired it, or a medicine vision, or a waking vision, or some other creative influx. The seed of a story was planted, and from that it grew and bore fruit.

Candidates for the modern myth include Jung’s Red Book, Star Wars, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings.  However, Ursula K. LeGuin would refer to the last three of those as submyths: contemporary creations that feel like myths and perhaps act like them to some extent, but not the genuine article. Not redemptive, for example, the way a sacred story can be. Not enshrined in tradition or ceremony. Not actually believed in, either. Tolkien did not seem to think he could step straight into Middle-earth.

As for Jung’s visionary Red Book, the decision awaits, although much of what has been described by Jungians as “a new myth for our time” in it looks very Gnostic. (If you’re interested I have written about “The Gnostic Antecedents of Jung’s Key Concepts.”)

Meanwhile, anyone claiming that such-and-such is a modern myth in the making should be prepared to substantiate the claim. It’s fun to imagine, though, that myths are being created even today, and that mythopoesis continues as a natural function of the human psyche storying its impressions as it finds its way through the world.


If you want to read more about Star Wars and modern myth, check out Craig’s article Star Wars: Modern Myth or Tantalizing Submyth?”

And stay tuned as we continue to explore this debate and offer our thoughts on potential “modern myths” in the making…