When my grandsons were seven and four, we took them to Disney World and walked into the “Sword in the Stone” ceremony. The white-bearded magician, Merlin, clothed in his purple robe, asked my two grandsons to participate. The large stone that rose beside Merlin had King Arthur’s sword right in the middle; it stood straight up with only about four inches stuck in the anvil on top of the stone.
Merlin said to my 7-year-old: “Do you think you can pull out King Arthur’s sword and be the next king?”
“Of course,” he responded, and he leapt to the stone and grabbed the handle. He pulled and pulled and shoved and pushed, but it wouldn’t move. No matter what he did, that sword would not come out.
Then Merlin turned to my 4-year-old who could barely reach the handle of the sword; “Do you want to try?”
“OK,” he said hesitantly, and walked up to the stone and stretched his hands up to grab the handle. Suddenly, music broke out and two beautiful maidens raced over to put a king’s crown and royal robe on our little 4-year-old as he pulled out that heavy sword.
We all clapped as the myth of King Arthur was re-enacted before our very eyes. We remembered the Round Table and the brave and loyal Knights of Camelot and the lovely Guinevere and, of course, Galahad, King Arthur’s favorite knight who pulled the sword from the stone, and -- get this -- not one of us asked: “Hey, was there really a King Arthur?”
That’s the magical world of myth, isn’t it? If a myth is going to last it needs only two things:
Meaning. It must make sense to a somewhat senseless world. In this case: nobility and bravery and loyalty.
Ceremony. It must have music or magic words or both, or even the “secret handshake” of the mythical clubs we belong to.
Historicity doesn’t matter. We don’t care if King Arthur really existed or if he had 150 knights around a Round Table or if there ever was a real-life Galahad. We love the myth and we celebrate it. Most Irishmen knew there never were any snakes in Ireland, but the myth of St. Patrick driving them out gave meaning to an otherwise dull existence, and the March 17 celebration lasted all week.
And look at Christmas and Hanukkah. The stories of Santa Claus and “oil that burns for eight days” are the perfect makings of myth. Meaning and ceremony abound, there is more love and friendship and family joy during December than any other month of the year, and ceremonies of all kinds take place: parties and parades, Christmas trees and dreidels. These two myths will never die.
Finally, we know that mankind has always created myths for realities they couldn’t understand, such as “How did this world begin?” Many centuries before our two Hebrew creation myths (Gen.1 & 2), the Babylonians wrote a frightful creation myth called Enuma Elish. Before the universe existed, two of their gods, the boy Marduk and the girl Tiamat, got in a terrible battle for power. Tiamat lost and Marduk cut up her body to create the moon and the stars and the earth and all the living creatures we have down here.
A rather gory story, but the Babylonians liked it. It gave meaning to their existence and they celebrated it for many, many years.
That’s the marvelous, magical, mystical world of myth.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is www.billcummings.org.