Thoughts on Associative Mythology

“The Territory”

Benjamin Dennis, PhD
(also seen at: )

This is the first in a short series on Associative Mythology. Coming out of a combination of many years of study of myth, poetry, performance, and ritual, as well as the experience he has gained teaching his Living Myth, Living World series, Daniel Deardorff’s Associative Mythology brings the very best of Joseph Campbell, Robert Bly, James Hillman, and a host of scholars, story tellers, and poets into a genuinely mythic way of being. I hope you will enjoy this journey…

Contemporary times seem to demand we anesthetize our souls in the face of the soulless cacophony of modern day life. The noise of the I-Generation threatens to overwhelm the song of the robin with such force its absence goes unnoticed leaving a deafening silence where once there was music. With heads furiously bent over myopic devices, the souls eyes and ears are diverted from the living world and stark attention is brought to the warning implied in what David Abrams notes in his book, The Spell of the Sensuous; that all cultures realize when they obtain an alphabet (in this case maybe an iPod), theirs is the unique gift of language (100). A fallacy, then, wends its way into the collective soul: If mankind is the only creature with language, then the rest of the world must go silent and the dying voices of the Amazon are only so much background noise as the world “slouches toward Bethlehem” (The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats 216).

Myth, story, oral tradition, and more poke a grubby thumb into that “I” and causes a sometimes painful ripple (hopefully) in the LED-driven gorgon-deviced narrow-mindedness of our world. Associative Mythology interrupts the “Slouch,” the inexorable march of the singular, giving pause to the mono-life so often lived in reaction to the soulless cacophony. We clutch for meaning, sift evening television for tiny bits of nourishment, throw meaning-weights in the gym for a moment’s memory of a lived life, and yet, deep inside, we know there is something terribly wrong. In myth, for it still lives, we open our ears and our hearts, and let the twinkling of the stars be heard again, to speak to us, inform us, and to enliven our wooden minds once more with the mystery of the whole world! Association? This is it! To let living myth inside our bones and bring sustenance to our marrow once more.

“Associative Mythology” is an approach, a process, a way of seeing the world that imagines the ‘livingness’ of myth and story as a vital aspect of not just mythic inquiry, but of living life mythically. The livingness of myth is revealed in the genuineness of life as we know it, as we find it mysteriously flourishing, and as it brings vitality to lived life.”There is a thread you follow. It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change” Associative Mythology is not an allegorical construct; rather, it confronts the so-called “I-world” with the recognition that the “thread” does truly exist and we can see it in the living myth of the living world. And as Stafford completes the poem, “You don’t ever let go of the thread” (Stafford, The Way It Is 42).

My task as a mythologist is to enter into a conversation (logos) with the images before me. Often these images and symbols are very well hidden, and often near unrecognizable. Yet, they are always there—this is what thinkers and poets like Jung, Freud, Blake, Bly and others point to. When Telemachus’ hears the story of Menelaus’s return from the Trojan War, there is a ritual of logos occurring. It is a story that mirrors Odysseus’s journey that gives the son an opportunity to embody his father’s journey—and therefore a ritual return for all of us. The ritual of return is important for Telemachus to be able to welcome his father home just as it is important for each of us to be welcomed home, and to welcome home our own fathers. It is clear in Homer the notion that immortality is found in the image and in the oral tradition. In this way, Associative Mythology is the embodiment of Homeric Immortality. Feeding the stories with our own stories as Daniel Deardorff suggests, we keep the myths alive, and as well the myths keep the stories of our daily life vital; immortality is gained. There is an ongoing relationship between the Siren’s and the Furies, and the Muses are alive in us every day.

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vantage, 1997.

Stafford, William. “The Way It Is,” The Way It Is: New and Selected Poems by WilliamStafford. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Grey Wolf P, 1998. 42.

Yeats, William Butler. “The Second Coming.” The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart:A Poetry Anthology. Eds. Robert Bly, James Hillman, and Michael Meade. New York: Harper Collins, 1992. 216.

About Ben

Mythologist, Fire Fighter
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3 Responses to Thoughts on Associative Mythology

  1. Sangeetha says:

    Pandora, in Greek mythology, first woman on earth, craeetd by the god Hephaestus at the request of the god Zeus. Zeus wished to counteract the blessing of fire, which had been stolen from the gods by the Titan Prometheus and given to human beings. Endowed by the gods with every attribute of beauty and goodness, Pandora was sent to Epimetheus, who was happy to have her for his wife, although he had been warned by his brother Prometheus never to accept anything from Zeus. In bestowing their gifts on Pandora, the gods had given her a box, warning her never to open it. Her curiosity finally overcame her, however, and she opened the mysterious box, from which flew innumerable plagues for the body and sorrows for the mind. In terror, she tried to shut the box, but only Hope, the one good thing among many evils the box had contained, remained to comfort humanity in its misfortunes. In another legend, the box contained blessings that would have been preserved if Pandora had not allowed them to escape.

  2. Eric Warner says:


    Was wondering if you could tell me a little about your experience at Pacifica.
    Im considering attending there.



    • Ben says:

      Overall a great experience. It is a challenging curriculum and at the same time covers territory often forgotten in more mainstream programs. I was in the Mythological Studies program and found it to be utterly fascinating. It is not classicist in orientation, rather its focus on Depth Psychology firmly places it in the contemporary psyche. As such, Pacifica helps bring the conversation of myth, psyche, culture, and society to the forefront.

      If you would like more information, please feel free to contact me and we can have a more in-depth conversation.

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