"The Significance Of Myth In Ceremony"

1421 words - 6 pages

The Significance of Myth in CeremonyMany people in our culture misunderstand the function of myth. We typically assume that there are two kinds of narrative, completely distinct from one another: a journalistic compilation of facts, all literally true and verifiable, or stories spun by a fiction writer for the purpose of entertainment only. Myth, we assume, falls resoundingly into the latter group. While primitive and superstitious people may have once believed that the sun was pulled across the sky by a chariot, we in our infinite scientific wisdom know that is not the reason that the sun appears to move in the sky when viewed from earth. Therefore, the myth is written off purely as a work of fiction and fantasy.Indigenous peoples throughout the world, however, look at their myths and folktales in quite another way. They recognize in them an explanation, not for the way physical science works or history occurred, but for the way their culture feels about itself. Myths explain by analogy concepts that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain literally. They do so in a way that bypasses the conscious, analytical mind and heads straight for the heart (technically, the unconscious). The stories are thus both emotionally and psychologically satisfying, and can have a very therapeutic effect when an individual's spirit is sick. When he feels, in other words, out of sync with the group that gives him his ultimate identity.This is the situation in Leslie Marmon Silko's novel Ceremony. The protagonist, Tayo, has suffered what we would consider a nervous breakdown as a result of traumas suffered in the war. The trauma actually occurred because he was ordered to shoot enemy soldiers, who seemed to him to bear the faces of his ancestors. He is first sent to a Veteran's hospital where he is diagnosed as suffering from "battle fatigue" and released with no real remedy. He then returns home to his aunt's house, where his symptoms grow steadily worse. Tayo has been told that he really should separate himself from his Indian heritage as much as possible, that is what is making him sick, and that the worst thing for him is "Indian medicine" (Silko, 3).By "Indian medicine," the VA doctors do not mean herbs and weeds ground up into a poultice or steeped into tea, although that may be part of the treatment. What they mean is the treatment of Tayo's spiritual condition through his reassimilation into the culture and heritage of his people. The Indian culture is one of deep spirituality, and it is impossible for the Indian to conceive of one's having a mental disorder that was not a reflection of a spiritual disintegration. The fact that Tayo feels his connection to his spirit and to the spirit of his people fading is why he perceives himself as "white smoke". He feels that he is smoky because he is no longer solidly an Indian, and the smoke is white because Tayo has intellectually accepted too much of white culture that flies in the face of what he feels...

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