Jeff Leinaweaver, PhD, is a renaissance man: professional storyteller, musician, global sustainability consultant, professor, radio talk show host, father, husband, mythologist …and friend. He invited me to help launch the Bainbridge Island Joseph Campbell Foundation Mythological Roundtable Group. ( That long name is mandated by the international organization to which we belong.)
I am so inspired by hosting our first session that here, now, three days later, my socks are still rolling up and down.
We listen to a two minute clip of Campbell himself talking about the four functions of mythology, the first of which is the Mystical. He says we have forgotten that the very ground of our being, the source of our consciousness, is mystery and that we come from and return to the darkness without answers and no precise definitions. Because we don’t acknowledge our mysterious origins, we have lost the capacity for awe, the very quality that makes us most compassionately human. This perspective sings in me because I live by the same melody.
But something greater unfurls as I absorb one of Campbell’s favorite myths in preparation for telling it at the meeting. On the surface, we all know the story of the Frog Prince, when the power of a kiss transforms ugliness to beauty. But in this version, perhaps older and closer to the original, there is no kiss but a …
Now that wakes me. I start probing the story with inquisitive antenna. Why are ostrich feathers, not peacock, eagle or robin, on the heads of the horses? Why a gold ball and not one of silver or with green and blue stripes? Why does the princess seem like a child on the first day of the story and on the second is ready for marriage? And what about those bands around Faithful Henry’s heart? I tell you, once I begin listening to this story with my “third ear”, an endless array of exhilarating paths show up to carry me ever more deeply into amazement.
The most astonishing is this. The pivotal event takes place under an “old Linden tree.” Why not an oak, or a fig, or a maple or even a sweet pine? But the story specifies a linden. Being a researcher at heart and a “bookaholic” in my core, I turn to my own library and find: The Meaning of Trees by Fred Hageneder. Happily, linden is listed in the index.
I just about take flight with what I read. Not only are these trees a nectar source for bees and thus often nicknamed the “bee tree,” ( Isn’t that propitious given the plight of bees on our planet?) they’re also known as the “soothing tree” whose tea is good for the heart, calms children, eases diarrhea, high blood pressure, sinus conditions and skin problems. But here’s the really fascinating bit: the linden was the traditional hub of village life and the gathering place for both feasts and courts of law. Considered a sacred tree, it is “revealing that the ancients gathered, discussed and judged underneath the ‘female’ linden which represents mercy, rather than the ‘male’ oak tree” associated with the god Thor.
My mouth gapes open as I get it!
Our ancestors recognized guidance and wisdom in every aspect of the world around them and specified specifics in every story because they knew their community understood the significance. We’ve lost all that meaning! We are no longer embedded in a “wisdom world” and have to turn to secondary sources, as I did, to grasp the depth of meaning in the details of a story. We dismiss a treasure trove of information and interconnectedness when we deprive the world of sentience and relevance. As industrial/technological/information age humans, we have lost our ability to receive direct wisdom and unprocessed knowledge.
WOW, just WOW again!
No wonder we feel alienated and ungrounded. No wonder stories of all kinds are so important to rediscover, share with each other and imagine more of our own…discovering a living mythology for our time that nourishes a living world to which we belong.