Fictional realities and the function of myth

This business about scientific naturalism, religion, alternative realities, and the mythical and poetic imagination, discussed here and here in reaction to an article by physicist Lawrence Krauss in New Scientist, continues to occupy my attention.

I am not qualified to address the issues with the depth and eloquence of English scholar Anja Müller-Wood. Instead I am a largely a passive consumer of stories, myths and legends. Unlike Anja I don’t do literary criticism, even though I can appreciate its value. My interest is in how storytelling influences emotional and spiritual development.

One of my favourite storytellers is Hugh Lupton, an Englishman who is well known in the folk arts scene. Lupton has for the past three decades been telling stories in schools, theatres, prisons, hospices, universities, festivals and fairs. His narration of myths, legends, folk tales, riddles and ballads is absolutely captivating, and on hearing him speak I always come away feeling that I’ve learned something about myself and the world around me today.

Lupton, in discussing what is essentially a modern form of ancestor worship, says that we are inhabited by the dead every time we speak:

“Whether we like it or not we are caught up from infancy in ancestral knowledge”.

The reason why I revisit this subject now is that I’ve just re-read the transcript of Lupton’s BBC Radio 4 presentation “A chain of voices” from February 2005. In his “Something Understood” broadcast Lupton neatly summed up the role of myth:

“The function of myth is to tell the truth. Not the everyday truth that is the opposite of lying, but the truth that can’t be told any other way. Countless intelligences have precipitated the stories. Countless voices have worked on them, shaping them and adjusting them and refining them, clothing them in the picture language that lodges in our memories. They are as durable and resilient as the words that carry them. They are a gift from the past, but they are only worth anything if they can speak to the present. Our job is to retell and reinterpret them, to let them lead us into the questions and mysteries and silences that words can only point towards.”

That, I think, says it all.