Many mature writers live out the adolescence of their old age, reworking the agonies and ecstasies of youth.
On the other end of the see-saw, young writers agonise over the threatening challenges that lie ahead. They dream, with enough doubts to fill a novel, of that first professional job or, of attaining that sheet of paper which will, not only pay off their parents’ emotional investments, but promise better prospect.
Writing is often described as a lonely vocation. You sit for too many hours in front of an exercise book, typewriter, computer-screen, talking to the ether and scribbling down what the ether seems to say. In these gazing into space episodes, the writer sometimes looks back over the words and is surprised by the depth of what is written. He thinks to him/herself: “This is so clever, I could never have written such a thing. Could I have unknowingly copied from some famous author.” We avoid such difficult issues by saying we talk to ourselves. However, in mythological terms, we are never alone. You never just talk to yourself.
In earlier times, religious pundits advised that everyone had a good angel sitting on the right shoulder and a devil sitting on the left. You were stretched between the two. This nagging thinking has continued to cast a shadow on how we live. It might be true for some beings, but it is certainly not true for writers.
So, back to mythology. In that realm every writer sits, devoid of good and bad spiritual beings on either shoulder, but sits with a being locked inside the keep of his very being.
The evidence is writ-large in the traditional stories.
In the ancient stories, the protagonist is either a young innocent man or woman. The story has it that the protagonist is beset by seemingly impossible problems. Their life is in danger and the object of their quest is too far to be bridged. So what happens in all these stories. The youth takes a difficult and dangerous journey deep into the forest, or the desert, or even to the bottom of the ocean and there meets with an old man or an old woman. There he finds that the hard journey has been worth the trouble. The old man or woman (the woman is never a witch) knows the problem and gives the youth a set of difficult and time-consuming instructions which must be followed to the letter. So, let’s look at part of an ancient story called, “The Lind Worm”
In this case the protagonist is a country girl who is prepared to answer an advertisement offering the king’s son in marriage. The girl is keen, but she has heard that some eleven-girl applicants have been seen to enter the castle and to be shown the fabulous wealth of the family. However, none of the eleven were ever seen again. So, our girl is cautious. After all, she has survived country life. She goes off into the heart of the forest and there she eventually meets an old woman. The woman tells her what will happen and what she must do to defend herself. She is told to collect one bucket of caustic water, a bucket of milk, three stiff scrubbing brushes and she must prepare seven embroidered blouses, each one a little bigger than the one before. She must collect the brushes and buckets and dress in all the blouses and advance on the house of the prince.
The girl enters the castle and refuses to see any objects of desire. She demands to meet the prince. The king and queen try to dissuade her – to no avail. She goes upstairs and knocks on the prince’s bedroom door. The door opens to reveal the prince is a huge snake with a body as thick as a foal. The girl blanches, but goes in.
In the bedroom, the snake is not a gentleman. He demands the girl strip. She agrees to remove one blouse if he removes one skin. Eventually he agrees and with great difficulty he removes one skin. He is not a tropical snake and his skin is tight. With a lot of difficulty and some pain he discards the slightly bloodied skin on the bedroom floor. The story then proceeds with much description of the snake and the girl shedding seven blouses and skins in turn. Each skin shed reduces the strength of the snake until by the seventh swop, the girl is bare breasted and the snake is little more than a mound of insipid pink flesh on the floor. He is so weakened he cannot even lift his head. The girl immediately sets to work. She takes the scrubbing brushes and caustic solution and scrubs the snake until all the caustic is used up and the brushes worn out. The powerless snake is little more than a whimpering mess. It is then our topless girl discards the worn-out brushes and gently baths the snake in milk. When all the milk is gone from the bucket, she stoops down and gathers up the mess of snake, “takes it unto her bosom” and staggers to the bed.
The moment she lies on the bed with the sticky mess, the mess slowly transforms into an extremely handsome young man. The girl says, “I like the way this is turning out.”
The story ends with the girl agreeing to marry the prince.
It is a complex story. There are red and white flowers, two princes, eleven girls all eaten by the snake and a dreadful mess on the bedroom floor. The storty is full of humour and takes time to tell. Philosophically, it is a warning to all girls that success in a marriage demands a massive work load before the wedding and mountains of courage. Each girl must work through the marriage negotiations until there is complete equality.
My reason for using part of this story concerns the old woman in the heart of the forest. All the stories have this figure. Every human can find this old person of great knowledge. It is not always an old human. It can be an animal such as “The Horse of Power” or “The Bird of Perfect Song”.
Mythology is different to religion in that the troubled youth if they turn to religion, passively seek help from God
In Mythology, Youth must seek the old man or woman within themselves. Mythological thinkers, talk of inheriting a memory. This is often discussed with the fact that our normal memory is stored in the brain. However, our ancestral memory is stored in our backbone. In that core, is the wisdom of the ages. The backbone holds all the answers. Look through many old stories and the creature that holds pride of place is the snake. The snake is little more than a long backbone. The snake is featured in many religions. Moses had a snake, Adam and Eve were guided by a snake. The snake adorns most medical symbols. The snake is a memory bank. So, if you want to understand mythological stories, keep your eye on the snake. The difficulty is in gaining access to such a memory bank. It may be possible with meditation or something like that. It often explains how we get flashes of thought that we have done something in some “past life”. It might explain the writer’s surprise of turning out something so good, he can’t believe he really wrote it. It’s worth working for.