Under ordinary circumstances it may not seem important or even relevant that I explicitly recognize this fundamental difference between my worlds. But we are now embarking on a study of ancient myths that Western culture regards as tales of wisdom. We cannot go far with such a study without realizing that much of what we encounter raises issues directly related to questions about this “I.” My inner awareness may be entirely missing when I am fully occupied by the external self, which is busy with what needs to be done. In fact, the externalized side of me doesn’t depend on immediate inner attention, and it seems to get along very well without the inner “I.”
In these myths we are repeatedly faced with situations and individuals (both humans and gods) whose behaviors and lives demand comparison with our own. They may compel us to ask ourselves: How can I understand this tale in relation to my own life? Does the quality of my life not depend on the relation between the contradictory demands of my external, practical life, and my inner sense of myself? How can this unfamiliar but logically important underpinning of my life interact with the view that has formed in me as a result of continual external demands? Can fulfilling the private part of me be balanced with the requirements of living a full life in the external world?
The myths we study in this book are vitally concerned with these questions. We have written about these myths because they warn us of the threat of refusing to study such questions in our own lives. We therefore invite you, our reader, to approach this book with a certain mode of reflection and a keen awareness of your own possible stake in what the myths may offer.
Most of us first encounter the evocative powers of myth in childhood, in fairy tales and fables. However, although myths can help us as adults understand the meaning and significance of life, this potential develops only very gradually because of distractions by both work and “entertainment.” We, the authors of this book, found our lives as professional scientists virtually fully occupied, and we only gradually recognized that we needed modes of thought other than the logical and rational to pursue aspirations toward what is of most value to us, both in ourselves and in our surrounding culture. In our case, through a drive to understand the significance of some of the most remarkable discoveries of modern science, we gradually realized the necessity of broadening thought to include modes primarily encountered in myth, such as analogy. In doing so, we were amazed to find consistent themes in diverse myths addressing individual self-awareness and the awakening of higher consciousness.