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Deep Learning III: The Essence of Mythology

Updated on July 23, 2013

Preparing To Teach Mythology

Here it is, the final installment you started reading in Deep Learning and Deep Learning II. This segment includes synthesis of my readings in psychology, anthropology and media literacy and how these understandings inform my approach to mythology, teaching and the difficulties of present day adolescent learners and their teachers.

Also, my sources are cited here, and these sources refer to all my citations in Deep Learning I, II and III.

Excerpt from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.

Review of Literature

Building context for the study of mythology by exploring the writings of Campbell, Jung, Bettelheim, and McLuhan, among others, encourages students to conceptualize the subtle yet powerful relationship between myth and man. Such a study might help them begin the unusually bold task of studying the nature of man. A well-established habit of meta-cognition, or reflection on the human condition, can lead to global understanding, recognition of societal patterns and a persistent quest for meaning despite wildly changing cultural context. When casting such a broad net, it becomes essential to relate past to present; by understanding gods and goddesses as archetypes and quests as metaphors for the transformational life journeys we all experience, students begin to embed themselves within the mythic energies of storied time, literature becomes entirely richer, more alive, and the individual journey of life itself resonates with connection to an overarching pattern.

Joseph Campbell's easily accessible The Hero With A Thousand Faces provides a great platform for students to discover the infinite variety of an endlessly repeated human story. Campbell, in effect, lays out the superstructure of a mono-myth to show us the underlying pattern of human experience. By cutting many myths to pieces and laying scraps of them as fabric upon the pattern, he sews up the proverbial coat of many colors, the "techni-colored dreamcoat" so we can see that truly "it will be always the one, shape shifting yet marvelously consistent story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told" (Campbell 3). The pattern of the hero's journey is particularly memorable for students, especially when they learn to see its traces in every movie, and in their own lives. In conjunction with Campbell, student readings and assignments derived from The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler help student s learn to put every movie under the mythological microscope.

Because of his openness to the variety of religious experiences he discovered in every part of the globe, Campbell was able to identify patterns as they link to the psychological functionality of spiritual experience. He wrote about the universal human process of spiritual growth and our ability to transform the pain and fear of trauma into positive emotional catalysts for transformation of our selves. By finding and fusing stories from across cultures Campbell validated the essential spiritual function of mythology. When teaching mythology as mere stories, perhaps out of fear of offending religious sensibilities, gross disservice is done both to the students and the nature of mythology. Establishing the psychological and spiritual functions of mythology opens up a powerful window into universal thinking so vital to the development and meta-cognitive growth of students. Using mythology as the springboard into "big picture" global thinking truly harnesses the magic of myth as "the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation" (3). Just as every novel, story or poem read with students is an opportunity to discuss life and psychological issues touched upon by the author - teaching mythology opens the door to discussing how our imagination works, how we interpret the universe, how our stories cradle and shape us. Teaching mythology can lead students to central cores of human understanding and help them grasp the scope of history through an imaginative lens.

Look further down on this lens for more of this essay

If This Isn't On Your Teaching Shelf You Need It - Classic, Foundational for Understanding The Human Condition

Hero with a Thousand Faces
Hero with a Thousand Faces

If all the religious figures and cultural heroes throughout time have followed the same path, and if modern film makers and Hollywood script writers follow the pattern described by Joseph Campbell, you should be sharing excerpts and information from this book with all your classes.


Universal Language - Channeling the Archetypes - How We Tap Into the Energy of Our Characters

How do we know ourselves and others? I'm writing a novel -- and in the process tapping into the true essence of the archetypes that underlie my characters. Whenever I lack for an event or a reaction, I just fuse into the energy of the characters, tap into the primal source of their character code, are they innocent child, wizened crone / witch, natural healer, despotic tyrant? These energies suffuse the core of the characters, and tell me how they will react, what new moves they will add to the mix. And we all channel archetypal energies. It is a great way to understand those you love, those you just met, those that have hurt you.

The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)
The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1)

Erudite and scholarly reading on the way our minds recognize the transcendent patterns of being, the archetypes that define our wizards, shamans, feminine divine, sacred child. Also explores case studies and the power of mandalas with many photo quality examples.


More from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.

Another vehicle for teaching students to understand conceptual patterns is the Jungian concept of archetypes. C.G. Jung's work, which explored the function of archetypes and their use in therapy, made this firm connection "[j]ust as the archetypes occur on the ethnological level as myths, so also they are found in every individual, (Jung 67). Jung also made connections between the worship of the ancients, for example the worship of Demeter and her daughter by the cult of Eleusis, and the therapeutic uses of archetypes in more modern society:

[i]t is immediately clear to the psychologist what cathartic and at the same rejuvenating effects must flow from the Demeter cult into the feminine psyche, and a lack of psychic hygiene characterizes our culture, which no longer knows the kind of wholesome experience afforded by Eleusinian emotions. (189)

Mythological gods and goddesses can be recognized quite easily as archetypes, which makes it even easier to discuss the connections between mythology, psychology, real people, and characters from movies and literature. Once these connections are made it is a natural step to consider our selves and our family members in terms of mythology and archetypes. Helping students find these connections and understand these patterns is another way to encourage global thinking about the nature of man and the universal concerns and similarities we share with ancient man across the centuries.

An interesting sidebar to this kind of learning is to give students a taste of Bruno Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment. Bettelheim's analysis of the psychological function of fairy tales, including "Cinderella," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Three Little Pigs," gives students a chance to reevaluate literature much less exotic than mythology, and as close to home as their bedtime stories and parents. Comprehending the dilemmas that children deal with through fantasy and fairytale, Bettelheim illustrates with fairy tale after fairy tale how a child:

achieves this understanding [of what goes on in his unconscious], and with it the ability to cope, not through rational comprehension of the nature and content of his unconscious, but by becoming familiar with it through spinning out daydreams - ruminating, rearranging, and fantasizing about suitable story elements in response to unconscious pressures. By doing this, the child fits unconscious content into conscious fantasies, which then enables him to deal with that content. (Bettelheim 7)

As students see that this kind of analysis applies to fondly remembered literature they grow more confident that the familiar shapes they perceive in new information, such as mythology of other eras and cultures, might somehow serve a similar psychological purpose. While reading Jung as well as Bettelheim, theories of the unconscious and the universal unconscious can be introduced. The underlying mystery of why humans consistently create similar myths (the pattern of the mono-myth of Joseph Campbell, above) can be connected with the ideas of universal unconsciousness, and even, possibly graphically, to the unformed matter, prima materia or chaos, that so frequently appears in creation myths prior to the formation of earth or life.

Look further down on this lens for more of essay

Why Did Two of the Little Pigs Build Such Flimsy Houses? - How do the fairy tales we hear click into place?

You aren't actually supposed to tell your younger children what you learn of in this book. It would be as developmentally harmful as having them walk before they crawl.

The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales

When students get to talk about fairytales you'll see them come alive. However, frighteningly, many students apparently haven't heard any fairytales because they've been watching cartoons since day one. So you probably need to read them the Three Little Pigs first. Then, introduce them to the psychological analysis of fairytales. When I have a class that hasn't read fairytales first I cry a little inside, then I do a unit on them. They're that important.


More from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"s

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.

An important benefit to bringing the study of mythology out of the realm of the purely literary and into the psychological is that it is an opportunity to broaden student understanding of metaphor. Lakoff's work with metaphor argues that the primary "historical barrier to understanding the nature of metaphorical thought and its profundity . . . is [the misconception] that metaphor is a matter of words, not concepts" (244). Explicit explanation of the function of metaphor and the ways metaphors infiltrate and support virtually all our thinking and communications is an important way to use Lakoff's work to help students think about their language, and is a further step along the path to meta-cognition. Mark Turner's thorough examination of the connection, or kinship, between Sleep and Death includes the mythological, neuro-physiological and psychological metaphoric extensions of man's universal experiences of Kinship, Sleep and Death. His focus on the kinship between Death and Sleep includes analysis of the Greek mythological kinships: "mother Night, brothers Moros (Doom), Ker (Black Fate), Thanatos (Death), Hypnos (Sleep), Phylon Oneiron (the Tribe of Dreams)," which inspired very productive learning during our class construction of the gameboard for the Underworld (Turner 108). Turner's extensive work is also helpful when summarized for students (using graphic diagrams and notes during lecture) in a way that highlights the importance of understanding that "metaphor is not merely a matter of words but is rather a fundamental mode of cognition affecting all human thought and action, including everyday language and poetic language" (Turner 9).

Aside from explicit teachings of the way metaphor works, there are uncounted ways to model metaphor in ways that students reap long lasting benefits. Reg Harris, in a lesson that leads students through creation of their own Mandalas, utilizes Jungian Mandala work to facilitate student discovery of their inner metaphors, and thereby the connection between their inner processes and the symbols most closely representing these processes (Harris 137) (Jung 275-384). One of my own lessons involves following Lakoff's examples of metaphorical coherence (Lakoff 89-91). Students combine understandings gleaned from Campbell's "hero journey" model together with Jungian archetype information to examine the coherence of life journey and hero journey metaphors and thereby manifest for themselves how deeply entwined these metaphors are in their thinking.

Look further down on this lens for more of this essay

Teach To The Inner Hero - Real Time Curriculum with Great Suggestions

I made one of my best teaching friends when it turned out I already had this book and she had wanted it for two years (it was unavailable for awhile).

The Hero's Journey: A Guide for Literature and Life
The Hero's Journey: A Guide for Literature and Life

A great way to share a great class. It is great to share what works and Reg does it in a way that leaves room for you to expand and make it your own. But for a new teacher it is supportive and explicit.


Excerpt from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.

The psychological realms introduced above help students identify with the eternal, unchangingly human aspect of mythology, however when mythology is also presented in the context of history there is a certain amount of cognitive dissonance that somehow strengthens the impact of their newly felt connection with ancient humanity. It is the constant juxtaposition of inner connection, through the psychological analysis of archetypes, with the images of ancient temples, ruins and artifacts that strengthens the ability of students to feel connected across time with all of humanity. The primary goals of this curriculum - to instigate habits of meta-cognition, reflections on the human condition, and persistent quests for meaning - is only possible with the grounding that geography and history provide. The study of pre-history, notably examined in the first chapter of the New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, attunes students to the conditions of primordial humanity and provokes a visceral connection with the past crucial for global thinking about man (1-8). Students engaging in research discover books, photos, slide shows, videos (and even "virtual tours" now available on the internet), that allow them to examine the ruins at the Tholos at Delphi, to study the history of the acropolis, to follow along on the search and discovery of the ancient city of Troy by archeologist Heinrich Schliemann, and to learn about the construction of ancient theatres and the evolution of drama. These forays into the dust and stones of long ago, when coupled with the lively myths and deep awareness of our still insistent conformity to the same drives and archetypes that puzzled the ancients, brings the ancient world alive for students and helps them find themselves in it. As students explore and recreate ancient maps, discussed in the previous section of this paper, they create context and link word to world.

Finally, as students complete the semester, their understanding of the nature of mythology can be turned to yet another culture - their own. The painstaking development of learning big picture thinking, of identifying with the nature of man, and of unraveling the puzzles of psyche, mythology and history, has perhaps prepared students to be able to see patterns in the beliefs and stories that underlie our own society and to recognize their mythological function. Or, perhaps students will find a vacuum where mythology should be, and be able to identify what is missing, and how the void is affecting our lives. In either case a significant proof of learning at the end of this semester will be the ability to step outside of and analyze aspects of our current reality from the point of view of an interested student of humanity. It is the crowning achievement of the meta-cognitive mind to be able to see itself, and analyze its own workings and actions. Just so it is an accomplishment to be able to step outside of one's own culture and see it from a distance, with some ability to understand how it functions, what drives it, what the underlying belief structure is and how it is different from other cultures. Readings from Marshall McLuhan's Understanding the Media can be used to initiate comparison thinking about how deeply technology we depend on affects our minds, bodies, psyches and society. And yet we don't acknowledge its affect on us, we cannot even truly feel its affect on us, because the technology is so deeply embedded in our minds as extensions of who we are. McLuhan's theory, that "[p]hysiologically, man in the normal use of technology . . . is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology" (56).

To put this test of the class another way, Myles Breen's article on "Myth in the Television Discourse" holds that myth functions first as a perceptual system. According to this article myth functions "as part of the perceptual system of a culture through which unfamiliar situations, originating either within the culture or outside it, are interpreted and fitted into old symbolic molds" (Breen 128). An example of this could be, in our television news reporting, the implication that illegal aliens are like invading barbarians, or, as a myth of the under-class, the morphing of Tupac Shakir into a Christ-like martyr (who, like Elvis, is occasionally discovered alive and well despite his well-published death), or the brilliant myth-busting cognitive dissonance that Bill Cosby set up by presenting himself in times of racial turmoil as an African American who was also an educator, psychologist and father. Our test hopes that the students can use the patterning skills attained in the class objectively enough to see their own perceptual system.

Look further down this lens for more of this essay

More from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.

It is extraordinarily difficult to imagine life apart from our electronic, media saturated culture, which is why it is so difficult for students to truly see or understand their culture objectively, or to connect with their history. And yet, because the ability to "touch and inspire deep creative centers dwells in the smallest nursery fairy tale - as the flavor of the ocean is contained in a droplet or the whole mystery of life within the egg of a flea" it is imperative that we, as creatures of the cyber age, develop the ability to find familiar timeless shape and pattern, human meaning, in our vast and overwhelming culture (Campbell 4). Unknown expanses can be contained and understood when mapped, this is the genius of metaphor, maps and archetype pattern recognition. Providing meta-cognitive tools helps students render what surrounds them into stories. Because our cyber age has so distanced us from our origins it is more difficult, and more essential, to constantly re-forge our understanding of what is human, and how we still are human.

The study approach outlined in this curriculum project utilizes every multi-sensory, multi-disciplinary and multi-modal technique to connect students with the complexity of man and mythology. The approach sets extraordinary standards, but allows for long relaxed periods of creative processing that enable students to assimilate complex ideas from diverse fields of knowledge. The deep learning accomplished by the students during this semester far exceeded any expectations and proved the predictions Marshall McLuhan made about education in the cyber-age over 47 years ago. He said:

In education the conventional division of the curriculum into subjects is already as outdated as the medieval trivium and quadrivium after the Renaissance. Any subject taken in depth at once relates to other subjects. . . . . Continued in their present patterns of fragmented unrelation, our school curricula will insure a citizenry unable to understand the cybernated world in which they live. (301)

Look further down on this lens for more of this essay

Scaffolding: Easy Steps Work Best - Picture Books The Way You Remember Them

Was this one of your first mythology books? It was mine.

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths

The D'Aulaires' paintings and story lays out the several stages of the Greek creation story and the pantheon simply and clearly. From creation stories to generation gaps many discussions and connections can be made relatively quickly -- then you can leverage more complexity and research while building on this foundation.


Excerpt from "Creating Learning in Sacred Space"

Copyright 2007 Morna Flaum, All Rights Reserved.


Students were evaluated according to a variety of criterion-based as well as authentic assessments.

The mythology game was an ongoing authentic assessment. On days when engagement in the game was the focus of class, each student was individually observed and spoken with. When off task students were addressed and re-directed, developmental strategies were used to support greater and more consistent engagement. At times a re-evaluation of a particular student assignment (such as the assignment of Troy to a student who was fascinated by war) resulted in rapid improvement. Student persistence and improvement was gauged by these daily interactions and students were assessed by their increased engagement and contributions over time. These quality effort grades were incorporated as numeric / percentage grades on a weekly or sometimes more frequent basis, and students were apprised of their contribution to their own learning and grades, especially when problematic issues were addressed. Generally the enthusiasm of the class towards this project was extraordinarily high, but this constant coaching and buttressing of the quality of the engagement helped to maintain a consistently productive atmosphere and contributed to the quality of the end product. Authentic assessment also contributed to the consistent climate of the classroom because the interwoven demands of creativity, cooperation and constant multi-modal synthesis, which was what was being assessed.

Traditional assignments were assessed with standard-based criterion. This maintained a balance to the intense creativity of the authentic assessments and fostered critical thinking goals as well as standard literature and English language skills enhancement. In other words, students understood that their written work was held to stringent quality standards including grammar and style as well as content evaluation. When written work was assigned a rubric was explained prior to work beginning. Quizzes on reading assignments, as well as periodic vocabulary and short answer comprehension checks contributed to student grades as well, and were designed to keep students current with their work. Assignments varied considerably from day to day despite the constant focus on the creative product of the game. In depth written analysis of epic simile found in the Iliad, or an essay comparing of imagery and language use found in two soliloquies of a play exemplify standard literature assignments that were graded according to standards traditionally used on expository writing. Creative writing assignments, such as first-person account of one of the stages of Theseus' hero journey, were graded not only for their content, voice and style but also for grammar, spelling and sentence variety.

In retrospect the balance of authentic assessment with standards-based evaluation was another aspect of the unity of this learning experience and the quality of its outcome.


Many of my life-long interests came together in the development of this course, and in my reflection on its outcomes. The substance of my discoveries relate to ways of introducing students to complexity and deep learning. While many critics point to the destructive forces of electronic media on youth, society and education, it is only logical that we need to develop educational methods that provide students with tools for mitigating information overload while simultaneously equipping them to benefit from the rich connectivity electronic culture can provide.

My goal for furthering my teaching will include designing and executing innovative deep learning experiences that explore a variety of complex subjects while teaming with a variety of specialists such as biologists, mathematicians, lawyers, historians and environmentalists. By engaging students with all types of learning styles and abilities in multi-modal synthesis and complex creative acts of cooperative synthesis I hope to refine my ideas and approaches to deep learning so that students, teachers and society may benefit.

The Works Cited Section follows below

Works Cited

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books Edition, 1989.

Breen, Myles and Farrel Corcoran. "Myth in the Television Discourse." Communication Monographs, 49.2 (1982): 127-36. PsycINFO. 21 January 2007.

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero With A Thousand Faces. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973.

Graves, Robert. "Introduction." New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. New York: Prometheus Press, 1974.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. Amended and Enlarged Edition. USA: First American, 1976.

Harris, Reg and Susan Thompson. The Hero's Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life. Revised Teacher's Edition. Napa: Ariane Publications, 1997.

Jung, C.G.. The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Lakoff, George and Mark Johnson. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Lane, Belden C. "Fantasy and the Geography of Faith." Theology Today. Princeton: 50.3. (Oct 1993): 397-408. Academic Search Elite, Accession Number 9402022115. 21 January 2007. /www.>.

Leeming, David. Mythology. New York: Newsweek Books, 1979.

Marzano, Robert J., Debra J. Pickering and Jane E. Pollock. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria: ASCD, 2001.

McKenzie, Jamie. Learning to Question to Wonder to Learn. Bellingham: FNO Press, 2005.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding the Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Signet, 1966.

Muehrecke, Phillip C. and Juliana O. Muehrcke. "Maps in Literature." Geographical Review, 64.3 (Jul. 1974): 317-38. Justor. 21 January 2007. />.

"Pre-Historic Mythology." New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology. New York: Prometheus Press, 1974, 1-9.

Turner, Mark. Death is the Mother of Beauty. Christchurch: Cybereditions, 2000.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 2nd Edition. California: Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

Student Reading and Classroom Resources

Bulfinch, Thomas. The Illustrated Bulfinch's Mythology. 3 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1997.

D'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire. D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths. New York: Doubleday, 1962.

Gods and Goddesses. The History Channel. Video Cassette. A&E Television, 2001.

Grene, David and Richmond Lattimore, Eds. Greek Tragedies. 2nd Edition. 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991.

Hamilton, Edith. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. New York: Warner, 1999.

Homer. The Iliad. Trans. W.H.D. Rouse. New York: Signet, 1946.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1996.

Homer. The Odyssey. An Epic Telling by Odds Bodkin, Master Talesman. Perf. Odds Bodkin. 4 DVDs. Rivertree Productions, 1995.

Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth. Host Bill Moyers. DVD. Apostrophe Productions, 1988.

Leeming, David and Jake Page. Goddess: Myths of the Female Divine. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. David Raeburn. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Renault, Mary. The King Must Die. New York: First Vintage Books, 1988.

Troy. Perf. Brad Pitt, Eric Bama, Orlando Bloom. DVD. Warner Bros. Pictures, Helena Productions Limited, 2004.

Lessons and Unit Plans from the class described in this paper will be available on the web in the near future. Please email me if you are interested in a CD of the instructional materials, powerpoints, project sheets, rubrics and other lessons that made this course so great.

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      8 years ago

      Thumbs up!

      Great lens... very informative. Thanks for the good read.


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      10 years ago

      Your course sounds very interesting, and a liked the three related Lenses! Thanks!

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      10 years ago

      Beautiful lens, very well done!

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      Morna LM 

      10 years ago

      Peace! I'd love to hear from you!


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