Myth, the four functions of

Myth basically serves four functions. The first is the mystical function, … realizing what a wonder the universe is, and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before this mystery. … 

The second is a cosmological dimension, the dimension with which science is concerned—showing you what shape the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery again comes through. … 

The third function is the sociological one—supporting and validating a certain social order. … It is the sociological function of myth that has taken over in our world—and it is out of date. … But there is a fourth function of myth, and this is the one that I think everyone must try today to relate to—and that is the pedagogical function, of how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.

Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

  1. The Mystical Function—A proper myth should provide a conceptual framework that aids and conditions mystical experience. Mystical experience is a (transformative) encounter by the subject of a deeper reality which, being so encounterable, must be (at least partially) ontologically ideal. Any experience of O by S presupposes their homogeneity. The O in the case of mystical experience is the Urgrund, which is typically reported to be unitary, universal, transcendental, and fully real.
  2. The Cosmological Function—A proper myth should accept observable reality and explain it. This means that it must at least include everything that we know about physics, chemistry, biology, and sociology. The laws of intersubjective reality digested by the mathematical sciences are laws of the real—perhaps not ultimate laws, but laws of physical reality. Societies that have bad or no science, such as the ancient Hebrew tribes, will produce faulty cosmologies. The sky is not (as the Bible claims) a concrete arch with doors that open when it rains. Nor are planets gods or angels. Such crap needs to be discarded. The only difference between mythic cosmology and contemporary cosmology is that the former tries to imbue the ground of the observable in whatever transcendent unity is gleaned from the mystical function.
  3. The Sociological Function—A proper myth organizes people into a happy society. This is the function that everyone loves to hate. It is true that the priestly class will issue fake commands to keep people dumb, obedient, productive, and generous towards the priests. That’s just healthy chimpanzee politics. We know enough now to integrate the mystical unity into a social one.
  4. The Pedagogical Function—A proper myth should provide a therapeutic function: to “reveal the specific dangers and techniques of the dark interior way from tragedy to comedy.” Myth provides metalanguage for (re-)creative interpretation of life and, especially, suffering.