Importance of Myths in 2021

For those who don’t know me personally, I am a speech-language pathologist who specializes in working with medically-complex adults.

“But, I thought speech therapists just worked with kids who have lisps, though,” you may be thinking.

SLPs actually have many tools in their belt, to rehabilitate disorders related to speech, language, cognitive-communication, and feeding/swallowing across the lifespan. To the surprise of many, a Master’s degree is required to get certified to be an SLP.

I brag, to help explain my vast knowledge of language. Lately, I’ve become fascinated by what we can learn from it.

If you read my last blog post, you may have learned a new word: etymology. Maybe you looked up a few words on

Etymology is the study of the origin of words. Etymologies are not definitions; they are explanations of what modern words meant and sounded like hundreds of thousands of years ago. A word’s etymology can help make sense of invasions, migrations, and popular culture over time.

If there’s interest, I will explain this in further detail in an upcoming blog post, but I’ll try to, quickly, give you the main idea.

It turns out, most of our modern words can be traced to a theorized common ancestor—the Proto-Indo Europeans. The picture below, obtained from the Guardian, maps how languages have become, overtime. Just like humans, language is constantly changing and evolving.

Map of world languages, compiled by The Guardian

Almost all common English words stem from the European branch of the “Proto-Indo European tree.” This group has the prefix, “Proto-,“ because they are literally a prototype; a reasoned hypothesis of the language spoke between 4500 BC to 2500 BC.

The history of words can give us an unprecedented look into history throughout time, as they are, maybe, as close as you can get to a first-hand, un-biased historical account. It can also help us reinterpret the words of our ancient, intellectual fore founders.

Okay… time for what you came for.

Let’s talk about myths!

Etymology of myth, from Etsy

The word, myth, is one that is difficult for us to define; probably because the word itself is a mystery, even to linguists and historians. It doesn’t have a proto-European root. It can’t be traced back; but experts believe that it may have been coined before the Intellects of Ancient Greece.

The word myth, just like the idea of it, mystically graced human-kind—through music.

Homer and Hesiod were ancient poets, who wrote ‘epic poetry.’ They travelled around Europe and the Middle East in ~700 B.C, sharing their stories with ‘hoi polloi,’ or ignorant masses. Homer and Hesiod called themselves ‘aodoi,’ a word that meant singer or bard. The word myth was first found written down in Homer’s work.

I like to think of Homer and Hesiod as modern day pop stars.

Like modern day pop stars, they were… worshipped, almost like false gods. Plato documented in his book, Republic, that Homer and the aodois knew “all the arts and all things pertaining to virtue, vice, and all things divine.” Their word, to Plato, was very close to the word of the gods.

Most of their poems, or songs, were long, winding narratives about heroes and war. Looking closer, you can see that their work articulated in writing, for the first time, a physical and moral/social order of the universe. Their work heavily influenced ancient philosophers and intellects.

Since the mid-1800’s, however, myth began to carry a connotation of “untrue,” “a rumor,” “fiction.” People began to prefer true stories, first hand accounts, stories about real lives. People began looking at myths with disdain. They became banned from schools.

And along the way, myths lost their magic.

No longer do children gather together to hear stories about courageous kings, scary monsters, beautiful but jealous gods and intelligent but promiscuous goddesses.

Myths, however, still are important.

Myths have such a deep history, they lie at the very foundation of Western thought.

Myths are something that helped our intellectual forefathers, like Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, interpret the world around them. Myths may also be how they passed on life lessons. Ancient philosophers, such as Parmenides (the father of deductive logic), understood myth (along with ‘logos,’ rational discourse) as crucial to his understanding (and potential mastering) of the universe.

Myths can’t be explained.

Like a joke, once you try to explain or prove a myth, you destroy it. Myth-telling is diametrically opposed from explanatory thinking or “science.” Still, if you look, you find them to be omnipresent—in literature, film, art, music and playing out in real life.

Myths are functional and attempt to explain.

Carl Jung believed that our psychological archetypes could be found in the fabrics of myths. Many have considered myths to be styles of existence. You study myths to recognize them, but you’ll never catch one in your net.

Myths can teach us lessons.

A return to Greek myths, in particular, help us understand the three high points in human cultural existence; the Romans, the Reinessance and the Romantic Periods. They may even be able to help us understand how (and if) human-kind has gone astray.

Myths are almost synonymous with language.

Plato understood myth to be synonymous with “oral literature.” For an ethnologist, myth is a “message or set of messages that a social group thinks it has received from its ancestors and that it transmits orally from generation to generation.”

It sounds like the ancients’ definition of ‘myth’ is kind of like… our modern definition for ‘folkore,’ doesn’t it?

Folklore album primer; the highlighted section reads: “A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables. Fairytales and parables. Gossip and lend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.” rights belong to Taylor Swift

We can think of folklore as a modern take on mythology. Folklore recognizes that good stories are added to and changed over time, but still have an important message. The core of every good story is transcendent. It doesn’t matter who tells it, the message is the same.

Why should we study myths?

It is not about learning all of the details, understanding the conflicting family trees and who defeated who… It is important to learn to think mythically. If you do, and study the Greek myths, they will open you wider. Myths can humble the ego. They teach us that injustice will always be met, in some way or another. They can consciously and subconsciously influence your perception of what is real and what is true.

Myths are stories of the collective unconscious playing out. However, the story-teller will never be able to tell you what the story means. You have to abduct it, yourself. A curious mind, is often an intelligent one.

I’ll leave you with these beautiful Barbara Streisand lyrics, from one of my favorite musicals. Into the Woods.

Children Will Listen

How do you say to your child in the night

Nothing is all black but then nothing is all white?

How do you say it will all be alright

When you know that it mightn’t be true?

What do you do?

Careful the things you say

Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see

And learn

Children may not obey

But children will listen

Children will look to you

For which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Careful the wish you make

Wishes are children

Careful the path they take

Wishes come true

Not free

Careful the spell you cast

Not just on children

Sometimes the spell may last

Past what you can see

And turn against you

Careful the tale you tell

That is the spell

Children will listen

How can you say to a child who’s in flight

Don’t slip away and I won’t hold so tight?

What can you say that no matter how slight won’t be misunderstood?

What do you leave to your child when you’re dead

Only what ever you put in its head

Things that your mother and father had said

Which were left to them too

Careful what you say, children will listen

Careful you do it too, children will see and learn, oh

Guide them but step away

Children will glisten

Temper with what is true

And children will turn

If just to be free

Careful before you say

“Listen to me”

Children will listen

Children will listen

Children will listen

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