Joseph Campbell taught at Sara Lawrence College for 38 years. Each year, he conducted what amounted to exit interviews with each graduating student who had taken his classes. There were a large number of Jewish women at Sara Lawrence, but one stood apart from the others when she said, "Mr. Campbell, if I weren't a Jew, I would not know who I am." That's the People of the Jews coming out in one individual Jew. "It is the People that are the heart, the backbone, the center, the essence of Jewishness," Campbell would say in later lectures. "It isn't Abraham, or Moses, or David, or Elijah--it is the People who enable the Jews to stand apart." And that is the mythological crisis that mythology addresses. Mythology gives us a "We," and calls us forth out of the "We" to be the "I" that we are. In my nuclear family, me, my wife and our three daughters, we had a wall of extended family photographs going back several generations. Whenever there was a problem with willing what should not be willed on the part of one, or more, of the daughters, my wife or I would take them to the wall of ancestors and say, "This is not the way We do it! None of the people on this wall would do it like you want to do it. The way you want to do it is not the way it is to be done. All of us (pointing to the wall) say so!" The problem with this country and with the world is that we do not have a We Wall to stand before. There is no sense of We-ness holding us together. We do not know who we are or who we are supposed to be. We are in free-fall through the Wasteland, with each going their own way, having no idea of what The Way actually is because there is no We to point it out for us and instruct us as to how it is to be done, whatever "it" might happen to be. We have lost the We, and are lost ourselves because of it. We have no mythology to connect us with a long line of generations of People like the Jews who knew how to do it and who point out to us how it is to be done. But. And here is the catch. It is the place, the role, of the We in our life to create an "I" who is capable of standing apart from the "We" in knowing and doing what must be done in each situation as it arises-- because situations are always arising which have never been faced before by any "We" that have gone before us, and we must be capable of finding The Way through the clashing rocks and the heaving waves that no one has ever seen. So, Jesus could ask his disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" And then, the killer, "Who do YOU say that I am?" It is not "What do the People say?" It is "Who do YOU say?" This is the mythological crisis that myth exists to guide us through. We find examples in the myths-- in the magical stories we tell ourselves-- of heroes who find the way on their own. And so, in "The Quest for the Holy Grail," comes the legend, the myth, that calls us into the Adventure that is ours alone, and no one can help us with. There we read that the knights who went in search of the Grail "agreed that all would go on this quest, but they thought it would be a disgrace to go forth in a group, so each entered the forest at a point that he, himself, had chosen, where it was the darkest and there was no path.” It is the role of the We in our life-- of the People in our life-- go get us to the point of asking, and answering, the essential, all important, question, "Who do YOU say that you are?" And in answering that question correctly, we become, ourselves, "The Great I AM!" Living "like a wheel turning out of its own center." This what the We, properly understood, enables/creates--an "I" capable of living the life "I" alone am capable of living. It is the role of a living mythology to create the We that creates the I that creates the We that creates the I and that is the Circle of Life, "a wheel of fortune and pain." And here we are, wondering together, "Who do YOU say that YOU are?"
It is the role/place of mythology to move us from dependence to independence-- from being a "We" to being an "I," without losing our capacity for "We-ness." It is a tight rope walk across gaping chasms. Many do not make it, because they do not trust themselves to the weapons and the helpers that are theirs to use. The weapons are the right kind of emptiness, stillness and silence. The helpers are our original nature, the virtues that come with us from the womb, sincerity, integrity self-transparency and reliance upon the Mystery-- the Source-- at the heart of life and being. We do not trust ourselves to these things because we have a better idea. Our better idea consists of what we want, what we desire, what we crave and must have: our way NOW! And so the theme of death and resurrection that runs throughout mythology. We have to die to our idea of what our life is to be in order to live the life that is our life to live-- in order to have the adventure that waits for us to say, "Let's go!" Look around you. The Ukrainian's are the only ones putting their life on the line, in serving their destiny at the expense of their desire for their own life. We see in them the model for how to do it in being gripped by a mythic vision of our life, and serving that vision above and beyond all else. We cannot take refuge in Mama and Daddy substitutes, or in the addictions of the day. We have to stand up and step into our life, the life that calls us to live it-- the life that needs us to live it-- the life we are born to live, with an original nature and its special virtues perfectly suited for the live we are to live, no matter what. Doing what needs to be done, when, where and how it needs to be done, never-mind what we would like to be doing instead with the diversions, distractions and entertaining pastimes of the day. The Adventure waits while we demur, looking for a way out of doing what is ours to do.