Teaching Archetypes; Or, Backdoor Natural Law Theory and “Myth Become Fact”
I’m in the middle of a mythology unit with my kids and we’re learning about archetypes–recurring character and event patterns that show up in stories from all different cultures, times and places.
For instance, the orphan-turned-hero archetype: the young boy in the Native American Blackfeet myth we read, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Jane Eyre, , even Luke Skywalker if you admit that Anakin is kind of dead, practically speaking.
Or the mentor figure who must die/disappear so the hero can become a hero: Gandalf, Dumbledore, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Glenda the Good Witch.
Or the flood myth archetype: Noah and the Ark, Utnapishtim in The Epic of Gilgamesh, Deucalion and Pyrrha in the Greek story, and stories in practically every culture on this planet.
Or the hero’s journey archetype. Here’s a fun video we watched in class about that:
Or, perhaps more provocatively, the dying and rising godlike hero: the Egyptian Osiris, Babylonian Tammuz, Greek Persephone, Hercules going to the Underworld and bringing Theseus back, Odysseus, Aeneas… and Gandalf the Grey coming back from the dead as Gandalf the White, and Aragorn passing through Dunharrow.
And, of course, Jesus.
Whoah. Yes, it’s true. Jesus fulfills archetypes big time.
One of the essential questions we are considering in this unit is What do Archetypes Suggest About Human Nature?
Well, what they suggest about human nature is that such a thing actually exists– and that human beings all over the world are caught up in the same search for meaning and often come to surprisingly similar answers.
Archetypes suggest there may be eternal truths about human beings. The stories we tell are similar because we are all similar. Among these standards are moral standards that all cultures recognize but some cultures realize more fully than others do.
And there you go: Backdoor Natural Law Theory. Sort of.
Next up on the unit plan: Is Christianity just another myth?
I mean, it is pretty similar to a lot of other myths. Sometimes uncannily so. There’s the whole scapegoat archetype thing going on. And isn’t Jesus basically like the half-god, half-human heroes of old? And doesn’t that prove that Christianity just adopted other mythologies and so basically our God is just an updated Zeus, or something?
We’ll have some interesting discussions, for sure. But to guide us, we will be reading excerpts from C. S. Lewis’ “Myth Become Fact.”
Now as myth transcends thought, incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the dying god, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens-at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. (Lewis, “Myth Become Fact”)
This is going to be a bit mind-boggling for some of my kids, but I think it’s worth a try.