Why do we need a peace mythology?

Why do we need a peace mythology?

Dr. Richard “Dick” Preston

Canadian Department of Peace Initiative: Hamilton Chapter

Before I talk about the necessity of a peace mythology, it will be helpful if we take the notion of a peace mythology one step at a time. First I’ll consider the notion of mythology, and then move on to peace mythology.

What is a mythology? And if myths just result in people being duped into being delusional, why do we need them? Or why do we have them? Is there more to myths than delusion? The word “myth” covers a lot of ground, historically and globally.

- In what ways are myths true and false? They are usually pretty intangible and inexact. We would not go to a storyteller to have brain surgery. And some of these stories are only fantasies, advertising claims, or urban myths. On the other hand, we know that they are sometimes an imaginative way of teaching essential moral truths, like the myths of the Garden of Eden or the Sermon on the Mount. Was the ancient Greek mythology of the Olympians a similar kind of truth about gods and their importance to humans? Were the Indigenous mythologies everywhere offering similar kinds of truth? These questions may seem to argue with each other. What does this confusion mean?

- For some curious reason, every culture, including ours, provides a body of myths that cohere in peoples’ minds into a mythology that serves as a lens for seeing a path for living and a purpose in this world.

- The fact of the universal presence of myths tells us that, at some deep level, we want to believe in some fundamental, life-guiding truths about the world and about ourselves in the world – perhaps the rose-tinted glasses that people want to live by – an invisible hand of compassion.

- Mythology is not equivalent to history. Histories are narratives of events -- carefully crafted stories of the past that we believe to be fairly accurate statements that, if we had been there, this is what we would have seen. Mythology tells us about the personal meaning of events, and how they embody ideals, a vision that depicts our best interests – whether these are best interests as a commonwealth or as individuals, or both. And we try to act according to the images it provides.

- As Canadians, we have a myth about how we came into possession of this land, motivated by the European myth of the Doctrine of Discovery. Now we are glad that we took the land from the Natives using Samuel de Champlain’s mythic lens of peaceful co-existence, in contrast to the bloodier Spanish conquest of Latin America, or the American myth of Manifest Destiny. We had the RCMP rather than the conquistadors, or the U.S. Seventh Cavalry.

- Myths probably have to be gripping stories in order to get our attention and have a motivating traction. An example is the myth of Vimy Ridge and the whole national celebration of victory and sacrifice. The “traction” is evident in how much press Vimy (or the War of 1812) receives—‘this was how Canada became a mature nation’ etc’… The memory of the carnage of a battle to take possession of a French hill has become a myth, a big piece of militaristic culture. And certainly the raid on Dieppe also got a grip on the Canadian imagination, though it was a bloody disaster and so has more martyrdom than victory -- less of a grip. Chris Hedges’ book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003) gives us the contemporary scene.

- A myth built upon a martyr’s cause has a special traction - is emotionally strong, and politically wise leaders know that these emotions are very conducive to further violence. In the case of the FLQ crisis – Trudeau’s decision was to NOT martyr the FLQ and also to respond by policing with Francophone (rather than Anglophone) soldiers. Although there was public outrage over the military response, there was a diminished chance of martyrdom if there had been any consequent armed conflict.

- The problem of having to have emotional traction – of myths being gripping – is that violence in its very many forms is gripping, whether war, riots, vandalism, bar fights, airplane crashes, rapes, football games, fireworks, and so on and on and on…


- How can prevention of violence, or harm reduction and processes of peace-building be given traction? One way is by confronting the consequences of failing to reduce harm and failing to build a more peaceful world. Another way is to construct a persuasive and comprehensive mythology of peace that can be a corrective to the mythology of war.

- Now we are faced with the mythic Doomsday Clock at 5 minutes to midnight, looming environmental catastrophe, nuclear terrorism, and the necessity of a sustainable, harm reducing and peace-building transformation. How much traction do these myths have? So far, not enough.

- In Hamilton, our Canadian Department of Peace Initiative is the strategy for achieving a mythic goal, but is not in itself the way we can describe the mythology of peace.

- A peace mythology will be a coherent collection of myths expressing persuasive and memorable ideas about peace, and the recognition of the terrible foolishness and wastefulness of war.

Joseph Campbell believed that we have the task of evolving a planetary mythology – transcending the old and new imperial mythologies, and below them, the societal or national mythologies – in a kind of recapitulation of the ancient, earth-based Gaia mythology of our ancestral hunting cultures. The ecology movement with its premise of the holistic interconnected dynamics of our environment – the basis of reasoning about the spirituality of the earth is a step in this direction. And the peace movement, with its premise of universal rights and responsibilities – the basis of reasoning about the spirituality of human nature, is a step in this direction.

Why do we need a peace mythology – a body of moral narratives that guide us towards more peaceful lives? Because we have learned that historically, all peoples have developed a traditional, myth-based spirituality that was meaningful to their lives. And now we have the challenge to develop a spirituality that guides our attitudes and actions in living more peacefully in a globalized world.

Mythologies are the fundamental notions of a culture, comparable to the way that premises are fundamental to a system of thought, belief, and practice. But myth is not simply abstract, theoretical, or intellectual. Myth is a compilation of pieces of experience, remembered or imagined, that are gathered around a theme. Mythologies are clusters of myths that share common themes, and they have the ability to evoke a spiritual experience, both emotional and perceptual, and both imaginative and concrete. We have some familiar examples of mythologies, though we usually call them great religions rather than mythologies. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are the three great Abrahamic mythologies. Bhuddism, Hunduism, and Conficianism are the three great East Asian mythologies. And these are only six notables among a great many. Are they obsolete? Certainly not in the eternal values they example, such as compassion. On the other hand, mythologies probably have a dynamic – continualing adapting their world view to the changes of the people in their world.

The power of mythology is partly in the coherence that each of the stories gives to the other stories, creating an aesthetic, spiritual whole world view. The power of myth is partly in the context of our life experiences that makes them not just plausible, but forceful. The mythology of Christianity is forceful for those who have actually learned it, as for example the apostle Paul, the dissident Martin Luther, the founder of Quakerism George Fox. So the myth is a kind of ethos, an emotional tone, but it is also a network of experience, bits of experience, and these things coalesce around particular stories and make them sound far more than merely plausible – as actually necessary to living a good life.

I have experienced this coalescence. As an anthropologist who sojourned in James Bay communities, I discovered the reality of another culture, to my surprise, while listening to the old stories and finding myself saying -- ‘yeah, that makes sense, yeah that makes sense’ – until one day in the third summer I was there – I had a rush of recognition where I inwardly said ‘and it really does make sense!’ That was the point at which I began to perceive a little of Cree culture. When it really does make sense, that’s when it becomes forceful, when you really get it! It is like somebody getting classical music. Or getting it in some other kind of experience of a breakthrough. You suddenly realize this is a part of something larger. It carries with it a very powerful domain of meaning that makes sense of life – and that’s what I’m now looking for – in a mythology of peace.

The myth-makers and myth-tellers are bricoleurs (Claude Levi-Strauss, Le Pensee Sauvage/The Savage Mind), who create by taking pieces of stories from here and there to build a story – a work of art - that people will recognize and feel a relation to. In a real sense, they will “get it.” It may be an epiphany or it may be a more gradual awakening where you perceive cumulatively until you “get” the whole in a way similar to “getting” any other work of art.

Finding our myths of peace is a fundamental way of orienting us to a hopeful way of life: living well together in a society that we respect and cherish, with non-killing politics, ecologically sustainable and fair-sharing economics, and inclusive spirituality. We know that we can find some of this in our own traditions and aspirations.

This is not the most common kind of contemporary myth. What is our contemporary mythology? It draws on a long tradition of The triumph of good over evil.

Taking a lead from Joseph Campbell’s books and TV series, The Power of Myth, Campbell answered Bill Moyers’ question of what the American contemporary mythology is, by pointing at Star Wars as a widely known example of a narrative of the triumph of good over evil. Luke’s epic of final victory in Star Wars and other big epic narratives like Frodo’s victorious epic in The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter’s victorious epic have this common underlying myth. Indeed, our three heros have much in common – nice, non-threatening, modest, boy-next-door, but with parents absent – they are the proverbial orphan who overcomes all and saves his people. Out of the conflict between opposites (Manichean - good versus evil) comes the resolution where the well-meaning hero (who is really peace-loving at heart) is mortally threatened by a powerful villian and, at the last moment the hero miraculously marshalls overwhelming power to achieve victory. The winner takes it all, and evil disappears from its active part in the world. Think of Hiroshima. These myths are very engaging and exciting, convince leaders, and motivate the killing of millions of people. Not only by deliberate and organized brutality, but also by small acts of casual brutality.

These are contemporary echoes of very ancient narratives, mythologies of conflict, the power to subdue enemies, and the triumph of good over evil, as Shelley envisions for us in his poem Ozymandias:

I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.

What is our contemporary Canadian mythology? We can take a lead from John Ralston Saul’s introduction “The Power of a Story” in his book A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada (2008: xii-xi). Saul’s position is that we are believing the wrong myths, based as they are in other countries’ contractual systems. These social contracts include the French heritage of a class system based on the Siegneury, the English heritage of a class system based on the family compact, and our next-door neighbour American myth of liberal individualism that has produced a class system of its own. These systems have all had their advocates in Canada, and are still found in our socio-economic elite and our formal education system, right through university. And yet these contracts do not sit well with the Canadian social democracy contract of “minimal impairment” of both individual and group rights and freedoms, with such systems as universal one-tier health care, and with our image of ourselves as belonging within an amalgam of minorities...(77-79).

Saul is pointing the way to finding the truth about our Canadian identity in the historical fact of our Metis heritage, biological and cultural. The first two centuries of Canada were a “partnership” blend of Native peoples, fur traders, and couriers du bois. Part of this heritage is an ethos of peace, fairness (rather than “order”), and good government. It comes from the Aboriginal heritage of co-existence and welcoming newcomers, sharing with those in need, and a fundamental ethics based on respect (p.50-51). And what of war? Warriors were (and are) always present, but they were used only as a last alternative and were an admission of failure, when political negotiation failed. This has developed into our modern egalitarian, non-monolithic, ever-negotiating, consensus-seeking, individual-group balanced Canadian culture (p.74). We will return to Saul’s insights, shortly. The myths that he provides are a fine example of the materials that we can draw on to create a peace mythology.

1) So, how about a mythology of peace?

It is the role of us peace advocates to try to create new myths. I believe that it is within our power to do this, and I am convinced that somebody has to. The peace myths are there …at least pieces of them are there. Its not going to take a genius who can create a mythology out of nothing. It IS going to take the efforts of many of us to cobble bits together in the way that gifted mythologists like Joseph Campbell, George Lucas, J R R Tolkien, or Ekhart Tolle have done. But its time to get started. First, lets examine our basic assumptions.

Peace is an impossibly big word, claiming (denoting and connoting) a huge range of relations and a huge scope of geography. This is so big that most of us, most of the time, scarcely know what we are talking about. A good mythology can provide us with the intuitive understanding to choose our words wisely.

Peace is not utopian – an ideal state to be hoped for. Peace is a cluster of shared personal processes, spanning our social geography from inner peace to family to neighbourhood to municipality to nation to war within nations and between nations.

So we need to examine our language to make it more recognizable, acceptable, and persuasive. We need to be clear about what we mean by peace, and to establish clear links between local and global.

And we would do well to start from a position of facing the reality against which we seek peace. Peacefulness is in actual or potential tension with violence, or at least with violence causing harm to humans. A realistic perspective must take in this basic fact, and so we must be comprehensive. Violence is a commonly used word – but, like peace, used with no realistic understanding. Violence is not a thing that could be expunged from our lives. Violence of some kinds is integral and necessary to our lives. All animals eat life in order to live. Consider your own diet. Plants and animals are routinely killed so that you can live. That is a kind of basic and necessary violence. So violence is not a condition to be denied; it is involved in recurrent problems to be solved. Our mythology must necessarily be inclusive of violence, or we will work for peace blindly.

We can start by naming the kinds of violence that are the source of our oppression and then build as Paulo Friere taught us, using his pedagogy of the oppressed. The first task is to clearly recognize and name what we are facing, and then we can establish priorities, for we surely cannot deal with all kinds of violence at once. We can focus on actions or processes that cause harm, that we are capable of engaging. There are plenty of resources to draw on for this. In his excellent dissertation, Rick McCutcheon has carefully discerned distinctions between the kinds of violent processes that were applied in the Iraq War, and by extension, in other wars.

Our most fundamental act is to connect our peace mythologies with our peace-witnessing reality – to connect our actions and words. Put in reverse, let our words speak of, and guide our actions to peace building and harm prevention, based on our mythology of peace, fairness, and responsible government. Our mythology strengthens our ability to act and talk in a way that reflects both our culture (to the extent that we are aware of it), and our unconscious culture and our morality.

Now back to John Ralston Saul for a Canadian myth of Peace

He engages some unsatisfactory myths in Canadian history. Why were we a Dominion, and not a Kingdom, as MacDonald and Cartier initially proposed? The British parliament was not too worried about the word “kingdom”, since Canada at the time had about the same size population as the 13 colonies had at the time of their revolution, and Canada had plenty of land. It was the Americans who were distressed at the thought of a Kingdom to their north, and the Americans pressured the British. So there was diplomatic negotiation and we were launched as a Dominion.

We are probably surprised and pleased to learn that we were the first colony of the European empires to go it alone without bloody violence. From its founding, Canada was an example of peace, fairness, and good government (252). But the dominion myth went astray because intent of the word ‘dominion’ was not colonial subservience, as we wrongly assume. It was Biblical (Psalm 72; Zachariah 9:10) and referred to having legitimate power over a domain, as shown in the French language version where it is Puissance du Canada.

Saul offers another corrective myth. Ottawa was the statesmanlike choice for the site of the capital city, and not a compromise between conflicting Frech-English interests. Kingston was too close to the US, Montreal too Catholic and monolingual French, Toronto too Protestant and monolingual English. Ottawa was safely away from the border, had both languages and religions present in fairly equal amounts, and so it was the most representative of the nation, and would best support Canadians sense of belonging. Again, the founding fathers deliberately collaborated to ensure that Canada was an example of peace, fairness, and good government.

Following on these two of Saul’s many correctives to our standard, but mythically incorrect, history, I want to recommend another mythology of peace, fairness, and good government. Glen Paige has offered a corrective to the prevailing myth of political science, in his book Non-Killing Global Political Science (2002). The fundamental assumption, articulated by Thomas Hobbes and Max Weber and others, is that nations (and individuals) must rely on the adroit use of force and the threat of the use of force in order to maintain their autonomy. Their convictions about the nature of social control and political relations was predicated on their flawed conception of basic human nature. Hobbes’ famous “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” is echoed in Weber’s balancing of the virtue of individual liberty with the inevitable "polar night of icy darkness." ("The Profession and Vocation of Politics," p. 368) His essentially tragic view of human nature gave a rationale for his advocacy of mastery over nature through rationality. This led to the creation of political science as a science of the exercise of state power. But Paige argues that the Hobbesian view of human nature is empirically wrong and morally deplorable, and offers empirical proof.

Paige cites global statistics on human killing and shows that, even in wars, a minority of men become soldiers and a minority of those see combat, and a very small minority of those shoot at another human. A radical change of perspective about human nature and the role of state violence is both rational and moral. A non-killing politicial science is possible, and Paige is showing the way.

From the reading draft: We are a part of this movement, and it embodies notions of harm reduction and peace building that are parts of our peace mythology. It is up to us to reach the media with effective and useful materials, to reach many other NGO’s and governments with ideas in a form they can relate to and feel ready to adopt, and to build a popular base of support for the Department of Peace.

"If there is going to be change in the world, real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves." (Howard Zinn)

NOTE: this is the first sketch of a long-term project. Any comments and criticisms would be very much appreciated. E-mail to prestonr@mcmaster.ca

Comments/crits to take a look at

Remember that Canadians still think the greatest contribution to the world has been UN Peacekeeping and they still believe it, even though our contribution would not fill a large school bus.

You are on to something here, that is, creating a new myth for Canadians to live by, but it needs more refinement, I think. Interestingly, the elements are already present, viz. Ralston Saul and my comment above, and it is not going away. Can you cast it in a way that we could actually use in our movement as a popular expression of Canadian identity.? Saul

One aspect of Hobbes’ error: A study in the 60’s claims that wars do not affect our gene pool significant;ly (but how about our moral makeup?) This may not be true of genocides.

Hobbes and Weber did not share the same century or national setting but shared a social context of many years of bloody warfare, esp. civil wars, that may have led them to the assumption that HN is lethal, when they MIGHT have assumed that the problem was powerful leaders controlling their followers.

The notion that only the state can save us from our brutal human nature gave rise to Political Science, as well as it’s local manifestation in “ the magistrate’s sword”.

Weber began with a scientific context of “forces and impacts” physics, then he shifted to religion and then to politics and the state as the single authority for the legitimate use of violence. Weber distinguished three pure types of political leadership, domination and authority:

1. charismatic domination (familial and religious),

2. traditional domination (patriarchs, patrimonialism, feudalism), and

3. legal domination (modern law and state, bureaucracy).[48]

Religion led him to saints, and his shift to politics included his emphatically oppositional contrast of leaders and saints

our understanding of the relationship with God is in the domain of each individual's spirit, and that nobody has the right to make politics or profit out of it..." From an epic novel of a Doukhobor family by Rifet Bhatijaregic, In the Storm of Time, p. 359

let’s keep the peace myth away from over-abstraction


We are not aiming at a philosophy of peace, but rather at a mythology that provides an ethos – an emotional tone producing attitudes towards actions that reduce violence and build ahimsa. "the realization that Ahimsa is more vital and grounded than its philosophical study can reveal - it is an ethos that creates attitudes in readiness for action."

Joy: have we learned anything in the peace movement (about what works?). The peace movement is divided about whether to take sides or not, whether to label good and bad and align with one side; whether to side with social justice issues as primary…

Rabbi Bernard Baskin’s point was that for centuries people of good will and conscience have gathered to share their words, but what can we show for all this? Apparently there is too much talk.

Hamilton City Councilor Brian McHattie and Eddie Lee, Advisor, Community Relations, warned us of our Culture of Peace problem words: both ‘culture’ and ‘peace’. Do we mean sometimes mean ‘cooperation’?

So we and the peace movement as a whole have the problem of word connotations of both ‘peace’ and ‘culture’ as too likely to be construed negatively as weakness. So the words are dangerous for politicians and uncomfortable for local organizations who may be leery of looking at their work as ‘peace’ because of the image of peace marches by “Children of Privilege”, naïve idealists who have too little experience of human brutality and injustice

guidance in the psychiatrist Carl Jung, and in artists like Wolfgang Mozart or Marc Chagall [stained glass windows man who often adds a floating trickster]

Jung offers his narratives or mythic stories of complemetarities (anima/animus; conscious/unconscious; universals that aid us in our process of individuation) and a mystical world perspective.

Here we are doing the myth of human nature – not a warrior nature

See also Joy’s bit on Ekhart Tolle in the transcript

Attributed to a Siberian elder:

If you don’t know the trees, you might get lost in the forest

If you don’t know the stories, you might get lost in life

Issues: violence/nonviolence

Strategies – Identify what violence reducing and peace-building processes may be effective in what situations

Underlying causes may be usefully identified and acted on for the roots of war, but also for the roots of peace, which is what this think tank may show us.


Myth is not abstract: ‘bits of concrete experience which people recognize and fit together as a whole; ‘bricollage’, and the whole ‘corpus’ of myths informs or constitutes a mythology which is more felt than known (see Sapir’s def of individual for the full scope) ‘that complex whole that a given individual partly knows and directs, partly intuits and responds to, partly is unaware of and is swayed by.’

Remembrance Day as a day of strong myths. [Don] due to the whole militaristic view, what struck me most was. I don’t think we have as good or as gripping myths for peacekeeping. In Conscience Canada I was extremely aware that there is no cenotaph for peacemakers. In Nelson B.C. they tried to create a cenotaph for American war resisters from Viet Nam, but the city wouldn’t have it.

Why do young men join up and then follow orders? First, young guys get drawn to the military because of hard times, the recession -- being out of work. Second are the changes in gender roles…the feelings of emasculation in men because gender equality is manifested in stronger, more assertive and more independent women. Marriage is riskier and happens ten years later than a century ago. Many men feel the need to establish some confidence in their masculinity; to find a new role for themselves. Weaponry is exciting and gives a sense of power. Men are drawn to the military, it is why recruitment is so high…


A collision of myths. Can peacekeeping and Pearson be persuasive vs Vimy and Dieppe; to support our soldiers we have to support the current conflict.

Military as the re-establishment of masculinity.

[Chris?] I want to follow. From the sublime to the ridiculous!… Actually, we do now have a monument to peacekeepers in Ottawa. And a few years ago they did finally forge a medal to peacekeepers. It took a long time coming, but we have that, and that is a good thing. We actually now have a local opportunity about the cenotaph because they are redesigning the Gore, and they are talking about this new design for the cenotaph that it might include some small paragraph about peacekeeping…and I think there is some real value there. But I think I have tried to look into the myth of peacekeeping. You have talked about this idea of bricolage, the idea that we could pull together the Metis, peace, the peacekeepers, diplomacy, how our country was built, how we negotiated -- I mean what other country was founded by an alcoholic who was a master at compromise? It makes us different, right! You know they talk about the wise men -- the myth of the American founding fathers -- which is quite amusing until you explore it; but here you’ve got Canada which was formed in a quite different way, and that’s part of our myth. Our very origins when we compare… It’s funny how 9/11 utterly gutted the myth of the longest undefended border in the world. When I was growing up, this was like Chapter One of your geography course. As a kid, Canada and the United States shared the longest undefended border in the world. Now I ask my cousins, what are they telling you about that today? Because it is a total myth, it is now one of the worlds longest defended borders. So I think you were talking about bricolage, that maybe we can pull these pieces together, and I don’t think it has been done.

[Joy] Yes, I think… I have just been reading a kind of new age book, a book some of you may have read, by Eckhart Tolle. Six million people have read it. It’s had a profound influence on many, many people around the world. I don’t know how many of you have read it, ‘One Earth’, by Eckhart Tolle. Six million people, I mean he is just huge huge huge, he is up there with the Dalai Lama in terms of the influence on people. And I don’t know if you have read his stuff, but he comes from a completely different Eastern spirituality…his thesis is that we all of us have to get rid of our ego, which he calls our ‘egoic thinking’, and that the real us is that which is able to stand back and observe all the voices in our heads telling us things we need in order to feel secure, in order to feel powerful, in order to make a difference, and so on and so on; and that the real us is this spiritual side which is in every single person and which is connected to oneness, the oneness of all humanity… and that, if we are able to get in touch with that, we’ll be at peace and our world will be at peace. And this is a book which six million people have read and there are websites and videos, and Oprah, I mean he is everywhere. I am not necessarily defending his philosophy; I think there are some interesting ideas which are relevant in terms of reaching out to people all over the world, not just Western ones. He himself comes from a German background, underwent depression, anxiety, came out of that, and had a profound spiritual awakening. I think there is a lot of Buddhism, and Eastern spirituality etc, but what I am looking at is this idea of the oneness, the need to be in touch with the oneness not only of humankind but of all creation. And it is not only in his books. Every single book I have picked up in the last couple of years the writers are talking about the oneness of human nature, the oneness of creation. It seems that some people believe we are on the cusp of a profound spiritual awakening, where we will get away from the dualities which most of the Abrahamic religions emphasize -- the dualities of body and spirit – and that we are now on the cusp of a new era where we will start to understand this kind of culture. And I don’t know how true this is or whether it is just optimism… And of course there is the whole idea of the Mayan calendar which says 2012 will be an incredibly important time in the world, that 2012 has been postulated as some incredible moment in the human species. Now, is this how myths are created? That’s what I am asking. When people around the world say ‘this speaks to me’, is this how myths are created?

[Dick] Just my opinion, I think Tolle is an expert myth teller. And so, whether he is constructing the myth that we want or not, at my grandson Eric’s recommendation, who is 35 -- (grandsons grow older too) -- I watched some of his talks and stuff on YouTube and that sort of thing, and this guy he is really dramatically un-dramatic. He’ll say something, and then he will sort of pause, and laugh to himself a little bit, and then he’ll go on. And he doesn’t grab himself for having been distracted, he’s being kind of nice, he’s being encouraging, and he’s saying things to me which have a kind of peaceful ethos – not quite enough to make me buy one of his books yet – but maybe I’ll get there; and I think its remarkable that he’s got six million people who, to some extent, are ‘getting it’. I think he is a wonderful myth teller, but whether he is a great myth maker or not I’m not quite sure.

[Ray] Surely, one of these myths, extraordinarily powerful myths, is that we are all separate nations? I mean that’s really quite a recent idea isn’t it? I’m not saying that there weren’t powerful empires and so forth, but the actual idea that every nation in the United Nations has to have its own army in order to defend itself -- this is a myth that bears directly on what you were saying about the cenotaph. In this myth-making endeavour that we may be engaged in, if we could begin to suggest that in the real world with satellites looking down on us and see us, it is absolute bullshit to claim that the people on one side of a river boundary are good people, while those on the other side are bad ones. I’ve just returned from Croatia which had a war just twenty years ago roughly, and they are still in the same kind of positions they were before – not of course exactly – but like the cenotaph in most of the cities and towns that I visited (we’re only talking about two!) they had a room that was sort of dedicated as a public space for their soldiers’ pictures on the walls and possibly a video playing of the invading tanks and dirty rotten so-and-sos that came and destroyed our city. While they have now patched up most of the obvious bomb damage, there is still huge destruction visible, even where we were. But perhaps this myth that there are ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’ could be worked on. Just because some folk are born on the wrong side of the river doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Perhaps we could work on this a little.

[Dick] Yes, that’s how we counter the heroics that people grow up with in order to feel their nations are the good guys. To follow up on this, and also on Shelley’s poem which I think is very profound in this same department... when Betty and I were touring about in France, one of the first places we visited was the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe where there was some kind of veterans’ demonstration. Some of these older guys were a bit shaky on their knees with ill-fitting pants, lots of medals, and each one carrying a flag. And then another guy showed up in a Field Marshal’s uniform, an old guy in the brown, with a hat, he looked like a sort of squat Charles de Gaulle. And they held a sword in a fire and I thought, ‘let’s see; what are they celebrating? The triumph of the French in the second world war? No they suffered terribly there. Or the first world war? No, they suffered terribly there. And Napoleon going into Russia? No, they suffered terribly there. So why, why are there all of these triumphant, heroic things going on all over Paris, celebrating France’s military?’ It’s a catastrophe or, as you put it, it’s bullshit! So, somehow, we’ve got these rooting, tooting, shooting opposition ‘mythemes’ – or whatever we want to call them - and somehow we’ve got to reach the people who are skeptical of peaceniks like us... What I did recently at a presentation in Oakville, I said I had been briefly in the military myself and I remembered holding a Russian automatic rifle in my hands and I thought, ‘this is pretty cool, powerful stuff.’ And then I thought of a documentary they made of the Russians when they pulled out of Afghanistan -- a Russian infantryman saying ‘Before I got into the army I just wanted to hold an automatic rifle in my hands.’ Then he looks at the camera and says, ‘No more!’

Well, there we go, from Heroism to ‘Peacenik-ism’!

The last survivor of Vimy Ridge said it’s all bullshit! And yet we didn’t grab on to that.

But it did make it to the CBC radio?

Yes it did, he said it was all bullshit.

[Chris] My father, my father hates Remembrance Day. But I think differently. I think Remembrance Day depends on what you choose to remember. I feel Remembrance Day belongs to peace activists as much as to the military. You can choose to remember one myth as well as the other, and also the horrors! And I think that was part of the shift I observed this year. In the past it was a way more somber, sober event. But what I was witnessing was perhaps more of the younger people wanting to show support for the current losses in Afghanistan. You’ll remember there was a bit of a kafuffle when one of the fathers of a fallen soldier said ‘it was just a bunch of bullshit -- that my son died for nothing’. But the story didn’t go far. It had some air time, but it soon got drowned out by everybody else saying ‘Ra Ra – a good thing these people were defending us’. But I don’t feel a bit safer hearing of their sacrifice. I’m mourning them! And I would argue I am far more with those young people that are suffering, than I am with those who are enthusiastic about the mission..…

Rama Singh says of the problem of getting people to believe in evolution – you can’t see it, it is too gradual, and it sounds like a very weak process

We need a persuasive articulated myth of peace; the bits are out there.

Dick’s extempore definition ‘a mythology is an ethos which coalesces around particular stories which then make sense – we suddenly ‘get it’. [as when I ‘got’ culture through the ethos of the Cree narratives]

Current myths in the mix

Anarchist activist (peace?) movement


Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle


Panspiritual /oneness; we are on the cusp of a profound spiritual transition

Ecological movement


White poppies

9/11 forgivers


Remembrance Day: white poppies instead of or in addition to red ones ? an interfaith service instead of a Christian one?

We need to collect mythemes and tie them together. Can a non-heroic myth have traction on an age of celebrity? Tolle is not gripping, so maybe yes.

Should we create myths or seek truth? Truths are standards myths are put up against.

Future topics; local/personal


I didn't take many notes but here's what I have:

Tension between social justice and peace-how much social justice do we need before we focus on peace?

Myth =constellation of concrete experiences. A powerful domain of meaning which makes sense of life.

The power of words - Language is given form by mythologies.

Jung has had a powerful influence on Leftists over the past 20 years, however some skepticism about Jungian myths expressed.

We don't have a persuasive peace myth, where and what is our peace cenotaph??

Remembrance Day remains a powerful myth nurtured and maintained by the Royal Canadian Legion in cities and villages across Canada.

New support for our troops and the myth of the fighting Canadian in the young is troubling, is this due to the emasculation of males by gender blurring and the economic recession?? Or to Hillier and the Conservative pro military spending campaign?

[or both, and more?]

Other current myths:




Eckhart Tolle "One Earth" and "The power of Now" (6 million copies sold) Long gun ownership rights.


Climate Change

and Peak oil -- a powerful myth right now.

What is the relationship between truth and myth? eg weapons of mass destruction in Iraq an untruthful yet powerful myth.

Truth should be the standard against which myths are judged. Also International tribunals, ICC. Truth Commissions have the role of undermining myths and bringing them into the light of truth.

Is our role to create a peace myth, if so how?

It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed.The impeded stream is the one that sings. Wendell Berry

"Ray Cunnington" <ray.c@cogeco.ca>

Myths -- little bits of experience. Linking words and experience together. Unconscious patterns of general society.

Competing Myths in Canada:

1. The mythology of the rugged Canadian Soldier. Victors of 1812. Victor of Vimy Ridge. Proud of Dieppe and service in WW2. Army organized around county regiments. Rememberance Day. "To Support the troops you must support the conflict!"

2. The myth of Canada as non-violent nation. Part of the Middle Powers Initiative. Troops as Peacekeepers. Anti-landmines, etc. Welcomes diversity.

Other Canadian myths: The Free Health Care Myth for instance.

Myths can be true or false, but they are very powerful. Other myths include Anarchist myths, Marxist myths, Ghandian myths, Environmental myths, Religious myths etc.

A Peace Myth would need to be clearly articulated.

In response to Joy's comment about creating a peace myth, I think it is far too early to decide about any outcome or concerted action arising from these discussions.


Human nature:

We have the ideal figures of Jesus, and Mohammed, and Buddha – probably not Abraham, perhaps Moses…and more recently, Gandhi, Mandela…

and just maybe, the archetypal original natural man, sometimes called Trickster. He is neither “good” natured nor “bad” natured. He is mostly under-socialized, and happy that way, some of the time. But he keeps tripping himself up. There is that of the trickster/transformer/teacher in every person. We all embody some measures of folly, cunning and stupidity, and the ability to unwittingly effect changes in our world, and most importantly, the ability to learn from our foolish experiences and the foolish experiences of others. When we laugh at him, he grins back at us, because we are the joke. And so we are more careful. Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World.

Seriously, folks, we could consider taking a lead from the universal aboriginal myth of the Trickster-Transformer. Trickster is different from other mythic persons, and from us, yet not entirely different. He/she is neither innocent nor evil. He is found in the mythic traditions of most, perhaps all the world cultures (except the patriarchal religions, who may have purged his stories as too undignified). He is described as the arch-fool, and in this way is a different kind of exemplar from our mythic heros. Most mythic persons are exemplars who show us what to do in life. But Trickster is the primal one, from whom we learn what NOT to do. He is often an animal in appearance (coyote, raven, monkey), and with low cunning he attempts to gratify himself without a care for his/her effects on others.

He is a mythic competitor with Jesus, the Christ, claiming to be the primal, universal and absurd essence of human nature (rather than a pure divinity). Gradually, as Trickster learns from his mistakes to be more self-aware and competent, his various appearances and motives become less absurd and damaging. He makes us laugh because his absurdity is immediately recognizable in our own experience of everyday life. If we did not behave ourselves, we could be like him.

We would do well to regard direct confrontation with the mythic Trickster as a dangerous event, and would certainly not want to invite him to be our houseguest, what with his embodiment of lust, gluttony, and the other dangerous “deadly sins”. But alas, we have no choice in the matter.

5) Notes for next steps:

Gaia is a big part of a myth of peace, and the mystery underlying creation [the good-evil mythology has little room for mystery or for Gaia]

Take a lead from Robert Bringhurst, The Tree of Meaning, and maybe Northrop Frye?

We can take portions of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, Hindu scriptures and Buddhist scriptures… and give our mythology a kick-start with these. Redemptive grace has something at least implicit to add

From Bert: More information about Tao Te Ching

Taoism came to its full fruition through the writings of Lao-tzu some twenty-five centuries ago. It has been translated and re-defined to relate to our modern world by an American scholar named Dr. Wayne Dyer. It has also been placed on a CD disk. Strangely, it seems to have the same relevance as it must have had back then.

It defines the Cosmos as a complete whole; and we are part of that whole. One of Lao-tzu’s sayings goes like this: the place of my origination is the stillness from where all creation originates. Another of his sayings that I particularly like is as follows: I am an eternal spiritual being, having a temporary human existence.

This is much different than the religious idea of dualism where the universe is one and that god is another being outside of the universe and acting upon it. Actually the ideas of Spinoza (17th Century) are much like this.

Taoism does not place many demands on us other than living a life style that pursues peace; and it asks us to have great compassion and forgiveness for each other. Another of the sayings goes like this: The Tao has no expectations from us, makes no demands, no battles or wars to fight and no history to live up to. It simply appeals to us to be more fully human. One important thing about it is that there are no threats if you do not measure up. One is not motivated by fear, but by love.


Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1873-1961) and his followers tried to understand the psychology behind world myths. Jung argued that all humans share certain innate unconscious psychological forces, which he called archetypes. These universal archetypes express themselves in the similarities between the myths of different cultures.

Following Jung, Joseph Campbell believed that insights about one’s psychology, gained from reading myths, can be beneficially applied to one’s own life.

In his appendix to Myths, Dreams and Mysteries, and in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade attributed modern man’s anxieties to his rejection of myths and the sense of the sacred.