Posted by: aboutalbion | September 13, 2012

Myth and Reality

In writing yesterday’s post, I find that I have stumbled upon an example of reality not hindering a myth.

It turns out that the sentiments in Vera Lynn’s war-time hit song, “There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover” are mythic.  In recorded history, the bluebird is unknown in the UK, and therefore never flies in and around Dover.  Rather it is a bird native to America and southern Europe.  And in both these latter places, it is known (among other things) as “the bluebird of happiness”.

In southern Europe, I read that there is a popular fairy tale, “L’Oiseau Bleu” written by Madame d’Aulnoy (c1650-1705).  And in many Native American tribes, the bluebird is considered sacred.

In 1941, when the eventual outcome of the war between Germany and the Allies was not clear, Walter Kent and Nat Burton (both Americans) wrote the song, “There’ll be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover”.  There was the inspirational quality about the song in its recording by Vera Lynn in 1942 that staunched fears of the invasion of England and looked forward to a time when peace would return after the battle was won.

And this is what myths do.  As someone has written, a myth operates by bringing a sacred past to bear on the present, and inferentially on the future.  Reality never seems to bother a good myth.

This is what my recent post on ‘new testament’ studies was about.  The figure of Jesus as both human and divine in the ‘new testament’ documents was a myth broadcast by the officers of the dominant orthodox church of the third century.  The myth was widely received, and Christianity went on to receive the patronage of Constantine from 313 CE onwards to such an extent that Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire.  However, present-day scholars realize that this myth about the figure of Jesus lacks a historical evidence base (in the normal sense of the word).

“Reality never bothers a good myth” means that it is irrelevant whether or not the myth is true.  What seems to matter in a community is whether or not a myth can bring a sacred past to bear on the present, and inferentially on the future.


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