Or What Does It All Mean?
THE VAMPIRE is a myth. Now hold on a minute! Don’t just stop reading! At least ask yourself what you think I mean. Okay, so what do I mean by myth? The word myth is Greek in origin, mythos, meaning: Word, speech, story and legend. Confused yet? I was. Try this:
“Parts of mythology are religious, parts of mythology are historical, parts of mythology are poetical, but mythology as a whole is neither religion, or history, nor philosophy, nor poetry. It comprehends all these together under that peculiar form of expression which is natural and intelligible at a certain stage, or at certain recurring stages in the development of thought and speech, but which, after becoming traditional, becomes frequently unnatural and unintelligible." –Max Muller*
Whew, that’s a lot of ideas all at once. What does Mr. Muller mean by all this? Well, let’s take it apart and look at it. He says that mythology has parts; religion, history and poetry. Mythology takes all these parts, and then weaves an idea out into a story form or legend. It’s like mixing ingredients together, and ending up with a cake that we eat. What’s missing from this cake picture? The baking process, the ingredients have to be baked in order to end up with the cake. How does this process work? Well, most simply, the ingredients are heated, and that heat breaks them down and joins them together. The same process goes into mythology. What we see, hear, touch, taste and smell, all that goes into our heads, where we think about them (or don’t think about them), and all that then ‘bakes’ in our minds and eventually becomes our beliefs. If the ancient authors of myths knew how baking worked like modern scientists do, then they would probably agree. Ever heard the phrase: “That’s a half-baked idea.”? See, I’m not saying anything new here.
Let’s look at the mysterious ’something’ our minds have baked up, what is it? It’s a belief. Often our beliefs are unexplainable, or difficult for others to understand. A belief is often something that’s easier to show than to tell. Myth is a way of showing what we have learned. The keyword is learned, the past tense of learning. Learning is a process, and something you learned is a product. And this is exactly what Muller touches on at the end of his statement, to refresh your memory, “[mythology which] after becoming traditional, becomes frequently unnatural and unintelligible.”
Let’s look closely at what he means there. After a myth becomes tradition, something taken for granted, then the myth becomes misunderstood or unintelligible. The myth dies. This may be because we no longer question a myth, because we just follow along, do the ritual, and then end up hating it, because we don’t understand why we don’t get it, and that makes us feel inferior. Or even worse, we think we do understand it, and we know the truth of it, and that this truth must be The Truth, and then go about trying to force The Truth onto other people. Do either of these sound familiar? I bet they do, because again I’m not saying anything new here. The point is this: Myths are dead the moment they are accepted without questions. The allegorical myths or fables are absurd for the reason of getting you to question. If you accept without question you’ve missed the point of myth, and indeed of life. And when you demand others to accept without question you commit a great crime.
If these words upset you, then I have achieved my first goal in presenting all this to you. What’s my point? Please, read on, but do so only if you want to find out. Becoming upset means you are entering the stage prior to asking questions. This is a good thing, because it leads to learning. But, here comes the second problem of this situation. You ask me questions: “What do you mean? Explain yourself.” If I was given the time to explain myself to everyone who wants to know what I mean — I’d become immortal. Think about that one for a moment, read it again if you have to. Okay, the point I’m getting to is don’t ask me questions about what I mean. Ask yourself questions about what I say, and find out for yourself what my words mean to you.
This is the essential truth behind why myths are told. Myths are not meant to be taken as The Truth, but each one has in it, somewhere, A Truth, and what that truth means is different for each person.
This is what I meant when I said the vampire is a myth. The vampire myth has a truth in it. But let’s not mistake the absurd for reality, and reality for the absurd. Sure, vampires are part history, part religion, part philosophy, and part poetic imagery, but it’s not one or the other. It’s all of those put together and ‘baked’ in our own minds. There are as many vampires as there are people who believe in them, because they reside in our minds and are very close and personal there. Believing in vampires is a way of seeing the world, or what one has learned from the world, or what our thoughts and beliefs of what we take in from our five senses has taught about the world. In other words, there are very real reasons to see vampires everywhere. There are also very real reasons for becoming a vampire yourself.
But the point I want to get at is that it’s very easy to get stuck in a myth and not question it. The closer that myth is, the more personally you believe it, the less likely you are to question it and to change. Ah, yes, and the vampire myth addresses change, doesn’t it? Among other things. Let me explain how I’ve arrived at where I am now very briefly. Keep in mind that I don’t know The Truth, only a truth that may or may not be helpful to you.
I started by with believing thoroughly in vampires, that they were real and someday they would come and make me one of them, and I would live forever like they do. I did not question this, I didn’t need to — or so I thought. Then in my search for real vampires I ran across books with people asking why people would want to become vampires. Why became a very important question to me. I started asking myself this, and then I started asking others. Why lead to other questions, like what is a vampire, what does it mean, etc. I constantly asked. Then one day I found the deep unexplored cavern of my personal view of the vampire. What’s down there? I wondered. I went spelunking to find out.
I constantly wondered the meaning of what I found, I kept going. I didn’t stop when I found what vampires meant to me. I kept going, asking the meaning of every myth I found, of every religion and or philosophy. I looked at it all, considered, thought over, and wrestled with every thought, word, idea and concept. When I didn’t understand a word I’d look it up. I’d pull it out and look at it’s roots, where it came from and how it’s meaning has changed over time. And suddenly I wasn’t in the cavern anymore, I was standing in bright sunshine, wide awake and alone with the thought that change is the only constant. And that the reason I first went to the vampire was because I was afraid of change. And now that I knew what change was, and what it means to me, I saw there was nothing to be scared of. I’m no longer afraid and I continue to seek truths.
So here’s my final question to you: What are you afraid of? Don’t tell me the answer, because you should know the answer for yourself, not me. Go. Ask yourself questions, take no lies, and you will continuely find truths. It’s not a short or easy path, nor are there imediate rewards, but then what thing of value have half-baked ideas gotten you? Cake that tastes and feels wrong.
Campbell, Joseph. Myths to Live By. Bantam, 1972.
Ogden, C. K., with Richards, I. A.. The Meaning of Meaning. Harvest, 1923.
Webster’s Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1949. (* Max Muller Source)
Everything I’ve read at the Library on the subject of Myth and Meaning…
© Liriel McMahon
Reprinted with permission