Every worldview, whether religious or cultural, is steeped in the structure of a story. Christians, for example, elevate the value of love through the archetype of Jesus, the ultimate picture of faith and compassion. Buddhists understand the value of spiritual seeking through the image of the wandering Buddha, finally enlightened under the bodhi tree. American mythology upholds the “American dream,” and the rags-to-riches story is retold again and again through the currency of Hollywood movies and reality TV.
We all grew up with our own mythologies and worldviews populated by archetypes that are meant to show us how we should be. Though we may not realize it, we also develop a personal mythology that describes from a very young age who we want to be. We don’t always realize that we are actually the fabulous storytellers of our own lives.
There is a very simple way of discovering these personal mythologies. According to astrologer and teacher Gahl Sasson, there is an easy way to find out what kind of story we are already telling, and once we do that, we have the tools to shape those stories in even better and more interesting ways.
Sasson framed this exercise within the archetypes of masculine and feminine. Everyone has a masculine and a feminine side, and understanding and developing these polarities can help guide us toward whoever it is we are trying to be. This is a pretty literal exercise in terms of gender, so let’s remember that archetypes are simplistic forms that represent your masculine and feminine, and are not about the the complexity of real live humans with complex genders.
I highly recommend doing this exercise on a first date: it will cut the ‘getting to know you’ phase in half. Try it with me:
First, think about when you were a child, maybe five years old. Who was your female hero at that time? What feminine person did you look up to, maybe even want to be? It could be a cartoon character, a family member, a friend, a historical person, anything. How does she look to you when you see her in your mind’s eye? What is she doing in this image? Write it down.
Now think about your male hero at that same time. What male person did you look up to? Again, it can be absolutely anyone that spoke to you. Maybe this hero appeared to you a little later in life, that’s okay too. Write it down.
The first thing to notice here is how quickly those characters jumped to mind. If you have a more difficult time finding one of the genders, that just tells you you may need to nurture that aspect of yourself a little bit more. If you have a harder time finding a male hero, for example, spend some time thinking about men that you do admire. What qualities do you like about those men?
My heroine popped up right away. Wild white hair against black skin, eyes white in a trance as she floats off the ground, summoning thunder and lightning: Storm from X-Men. I love her wildness, her connectedness to nature, and how much space she takes up when she accesses her power. I am also fascinated by her story: her people worshipped her as a goddess until the X-Men appeared to tell her she was no goddess but a mutant, and must leave her home to save the world.
It took me a little longer to access my male hero. After a few moments he appeared. Of course: Bill Nye the Science Guy! No question. Bill Nye loves learning and teaching, he is a seeker, he wants to understand the way the world works, and he wants to share that with anyone who will listen, always in an accessible and sometimes goofy way.
So this is how I want to see myself: sometimes the goddess, sometimes the scientist. Right away, I understand a bit better the way I look at the world and who I want to become. Regardless of the archetypes I have inherited from my religion and culture, these are the characters I’ve chosen. They can become totems for me, and teach me what qualities to draw on in different situations. My personal mythology is my story, and I think it’s a good one.
So, who are your childhood heroes and heroines? What’s your personal mythology?