Discovering a Personal Mythography

Yesterday, I shared a retelling of the selkie story that I wrote as part of a larger feminist apologia. In that post, there are pieces of the intellectual discourse surrounding the project that I did not include, given that part of the essay is a theoretical dissection of the patriarchal evolution of early Celtic and Norse mythology -- specifically the stories of women in these mythologies. Include this paragraph:

This story discusses the resilience of women, and the need for women to be with their own kind as they grow and mature. In this, the story of the Selkie Bride, I find my strength to persevere, to be strong, and to know that, someday, when I least expect it, I will find my true skin, and return to the people, the writers and the artists, to whom I am always connected.

Using the stories of mythology and folklore as tools for personal discovery is nothing new. Clarissa Pinkola Estés forever changed the course of feminist mythology with Women Who Run With the Wolves*. In it, she shares a collection of stories with strong female protagonists, surviving through the changing of our personal histories as women by those in power.

But there is something greater to this process that I think is a valuable tool for us as writers.

When we explore the stories of our lives -- our own memories, the memories and re-tellings of our childhoods, our parents' and grandparents' childhoods, the stories that are passed through generations -- we can begin to map out a personal mythography. Unlike the more familiar mythology, mythography is the collection and representation of stories, lore, and beliefs (often codified as mythology) in art -- in this case, through writing.

What the heck did she just say?!

Yeah, I know. My inner academic nerd is showing. Please, let me explain.

When most people hear the word mythology, you probably think of Greek, Roman, or Norse mythology. The stories and folklore about gods and goddesses, the struggles and triumphs of humans as they face seemingly insurmountable odds. Or perhaps you think of the tales of Arabian Nights, of veiled women and men fighting in the desert. Or even of Women Who Run With the Wolves and entire generations of women discovering their own strength and empowerment through the retelling of folktales from around the world.

It is this reclamation of strength and personal history that is the core of discovering your personal mythography. Using these stories, we identify with characters and characteristics that show up in our lives and teach us about strength, wisdom, and knowledge. We learn lessons about ourselves through the stories of others' learning. We bring the teaching from these stories into our hearts and into our lives, and we emulate the lessons in our words and deeds.

It's okay. It's part of what mythology and storytelling is about. The power of words to teach morals and social codes stretches from Aesop to Shel Silverstein.

When we are constructing a personal mythography, we are recognizing the greater stories and myths that have shaped our personal journey, and also honoring the stories we have ourselves written by living and surviving life. Identifying and honoring these stories that shape our experience can be a really useful tool for exploring deeper our own beliefs and values. Taking the time to re-write these stories, using the lens of our lived experiences, can become an even greater tool for self-exploration.

So today's writing exercise is to do exactly this: discover part of your personal mythography -- a story you have carried with you, or a myth or folktale that resonates for you. Take the time to find a copy, and re-read it. If it is a personal story, sit and journal it out. Take care to acknowledge the moral and emotional lessons gained through the story.

Then, re-write it. Use the lens of a wiser, more-informed self and reflect into the new version of the story your own lessons -- including shifting the perspective or potential outcome to more closely align with your own experience.

I must admit, reading my own re-telling of The Selkie Bride is actually a little sad. Not because I am ashamed of the piece, or of the time and place I was in life when I wrote it. But the underlying story and message that I get from reading my own re-telling shows me a place in my personal mythography. And also, how I'm not in that place any longer.

I think this week I will dive into my own archive and find a new story to re-tell, creating a new chapter in my own mythography. I'd love to hear about your experience with your personal mythography, and with re-telling a story through your own lens.