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Myth and Grief, Essay Example

Pages: 2

Words: 497

Essay

How Myths Help Us Cope With Sadness, Loss, and Death

In his seminal work, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” the late Joseph Campbell examined myths from around the world and throughout history. Campbell believed that myths have historically been the way that societies transmit their culture from one generation to the next. The people and their stories which populate the myths are charged with serving as exemplars, as idealized versions of those things which a society believes to be important (Campbell, 2009). Perhaps the most powerful myths are the ones that a society uses to help us cope with grief, especially the grief of death.

In Western cultures, the most well-known myth involving death is the Biblical story of Jesus, who dies for the sins of humanity, is resurrected, and ultimately ascends into heaven. His death, metaphorical though it may be, is designed to assuage the fears of believers, assuring them a place in heaven if they simply follow the path laid out for them by the proscriptions of the Christian faith.

Of course, there are many other myths on which people rely in times of grief. In Buddhism, it is believed that most people are reincarnated after death, for the first few days after death, the prayers of monks can sometimes reach the spirit of the dead, encouraging him or her to enter the light of enlightenment (which will result in an end to ones’ reincarnations). Most are afraid, and will shy from the light, choosing instead to be reborn, and beginning the cycle again.

These myths, and others like them from different cultures, serve multiple purposes. They serve to ensure that adherents will live within the structures and framework of a society. In Christianity, for example, the act of repenting, of renouncing bad or “sinful” behavior, is the means by which one draws closer to God, and ultimately

Myth and Grief to heaven. In Buddhism, living lives of good deeds ensures that one will reincarnate at ever-higher levels, ultimately achieving a state of total enlightenment, at which point reincarnations cease. So in times of sadness, one can be comforted by the belief that such suffering is transitory, and that the future holds the promise of happiness.

Beyond that, and perhaps more importantly, these myths provide comfort and solace to those who have lost loved ones. For a Christian, the belief that a lost lover or child or parent will soon be seated in the Kingdom of Heaven can be profoundly reassuring. For a Buddhist, equal comfort may be gained by believing that a departed loved one is on his or her way to greater heights of enlightenment. Myths allow us to share these things not just with ourselves and those close to us, but with everyone that shares our culture. Myths allow us to be part of something greater than ourselves at the times when we are most vulnerable; with them, we do not have to grieve alone.

Reference

Campbell, Joseph. (1949). The Hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library.

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