In our depictions of divinity, we humans have given form to our sense of the ultimate source of our own significance. When we give form to divinity, we derive that form from our own experience. We make our gods in our own image because our own image marks the physical limits of our being. We cannot know the gods; we can know only our experience of them. Not surprisingly, since the essence of whatever it is to be human is as present in the Indonesian or Nigerian as it is in the Irishman or the Indian, these depictions when seen as a whole -- as world mythology -- reveal a pattern of archetypal motifs that are as universal as the physical characteristics we humans share. As we study the gods of world mythology, we will encounter, below the surfaces of the many cultural masks they inevitably wear, the constant, universal shadows that we call the Father-Creator, the Great Mother, the trickster, the dying god, the destroyer god, the helper god, the primordial sky-earth, male-female pair, the gods who visit the earth and are shunned, and many other familiar figures.
For the student of mythology, it is important to recognize in any god or goddess or pantheon both the mask, or metaphor, that is worshipped by the culture that created it and the spiritual or psychological source for that mask, the archetype, which is either an aspect of ultimate reality or a creation of what Jung called the collective unconscious -- the collective human mind. In either case, the archetypal image is part of our common human heritage. It contains information about our experience as human beings. It is, therefore, of great metaphorical value to the artist, whether he or she be painter, sculptor, or writer. When a Faulkner character called Lena Grove, a product of a particular class of the American South, is depicted in in imagery that associates her with the universal Mother Goddess archetype, we recognize her significance whether we are from Atlanta or Madras or Oslo. The same could be said of Hamlet and his association, by way of the tragic hero, with the dying god of myth. The myths
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Publication information: Book title: The World of Myth. Contributors: David Adams Leeming - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1992. Page number: 123.