So, in the original story of the island kingdom of Atlantis (which was recounted in 500 C. E. by Plato’s uncle Solon), the five sets of twin sons of the god Poseidon intermarried with mortals, forgot their godly powers, and started acting like foolish, selfish humans. In anger and extreme disappointment, Zeus (the god over all Greek gods) destroyed Atlantis and wiped all traces of the island and its civilization from our world.
Spoiler: Atlantis was not a physical island in the actual world. I don’t say that it’s not a real place, because as the existence of thousands of books, stories, myths, poems, plays, ships, games, and movies about Atlantis has shown us, Atlantis has maintained a powerful hold on human imagination for centuries. It still does today. Atlantis is therefore not unreal. Atlantis is real in its own way; it has a reality that is mythical in nature.
Accessing the Mythical Imagination
Some people have the idea that myth = false. In their minds, a myth is not true, so therefore, we can ignore it. But that idea displays a stunning lack of imagination.
One of my favorite mythologists, Michael Meade, has said that enduring myths (such as creation myths and morality tales) are actually more true about human nature than regular stories are, because they’ve been through so many minds and so many retellings that all of the local or non-universal threads have been clipped off. After a certain number of decades (or centuries, in the case of the Atlantis mythology), what you end up with is an enduring story that speaks poetically to deep aspects of the human condition. Conventional stories simply can’t touch the soul in the way enduring myths do.
In my work with emotions and empathy, I make a distinction between the words imaginary, which means something that doesn’t exist, and imaginal, which means something that exists in the poetic, artistic, and mythic imagination. Of course, these two categories of imaginal and imaginary overlap, but there are important distinctions. Continue reading