Levels in Myths

Mythology can be a complex subject, even where there is an apparently simple myth. For example, we can look at the myth of the Three Kings who came to visit Jesus after his birth. When we look at this both from the perspective of Eliot's classes of myth, and also when we look at the elites involved, and we find quite an interesting story of different levels:-

  1. they are alternatively called wise men and Kings
  2. if we were to read a similar Native American myth of three wise men coming to the birth of a child, we would not be at all surprised by this context, so we can see elements of this tale as having a primitive originthree wise men bring gifts
  3. from memory, Robert Graves recounts similar legends from pagan mythologies in the Middle East, i.e. from Mesopotamia or Ancient Greece
  4. obviously the story itself is part of the Christian religion, and although it does not seem to be a central belief of Christianity, it is one of its more attractive stories. However, when we look at it from the perspective of elites, we find an interesting story - Israel was then ruled by Roman military and economic elites, but there was also a dominant native Jewish religious and social elite. Yet the visitors are reported to be kings from afar, that is, they are not part of either the Roman or Jewish elites, but seem to be from some other 'foreign' elite, or from another culture.
  5. entertainingly, there are continual attempts by scientists and historians to reconcile their calculations of astronomical data with biblical history such as the details given in this story. They do this with the intention that the details given in the bible can be verified and an exact date given for these events. These attempts seem doomed to failure, even if only because of the radical differences between the systems of religious and scientific myths. The myth in either system does not need to be true to be of value to its adherents.
  6. The story has key elements which might also be expected in a fairy story, of kings and gifts, and then flight to a foreign land

From this simple story we can perhaps see more ancient origins and connections for this myth, some information about the elites and cultures of that historical period, and a idea of how scientific myths operate on a different level to sacred myths

Politics and Mythical levels. Elsewhere I have described some modern views of elites, but the elites found in mythology are all archaic or primitive from a modern political viewpoint - there are warrior kings, elders, gods, priests, and peer groups (lodges, royal councils). The ideals and stereotypes found in modern political systems seem to be mostly 'pagan' (witch/spin doctors, politicians with "power", the rostrum and autocue) and there are some attempts to use manifestos as 'great books'.

However, I do not want to 'force' any of these myths or elites into an unsuitable pattern. This is why I have suggested a 'hierarchy of understanding'.

On the basis of  "levels of hierarchy", a possible reason for this may be that

  • we understand myths at (say) level 2 or 3 of the hierarchy of understanding, That is, myths are really quite well understood, even if intuitively - any good storyteller can communicate it !
  • however, our understanding of elites, politics and nation states is very much lower -  at (say) levels 4 or 5 of that hierarchy of understanding

We may be operating our myths at a higher level of sophistication than we operate our countries (?!!)