What is Myth Embodiment?
Myth embodiment is a depth psychology tool that has been used in healing families and communities. It can also be a great tool for understanding myths and folktales. After all, what are myths but stories of the family dynamics of a pantheon?
How does it work?
In Myth Embodiment, participants reenact a given myth or folktale. All elements of the story are treated as characters. For example, in “Rapunzel”, the characters would be Rapunzel; Rapunzel’s Prince; the Witch; Rapunzel’s hair; Rapunzel’s tower; and maybe the forest surrounding the tower, as well. Or, in myth of how Freya acquired Brisingamen, the characters would be Freya; Brisingamen; the four dwarves; Odin; and Loki. (You could also add in the dwarves’ forge, their tools, etc.) While the myth is being reenacted, the facilitator stops the action and checks in with each character after each scene, asking them about their opinions and feelings regarding whatever event just happened. This brings up some great discussions on character motivations and power dynamics.
This activity is specifically not meant to be scripted–the idea is to draw out as many opinions, point of views, and nuances as possible, in order to further our understanding of these stories. This is a great technique for drawing out more information from fragmented or vague myths, or for further deepening your understanding of a specific god or goddess.
This technique can be used with the same myth over and over again, because the composition of the group and/or the group members’ individual perspectives may have changed in the intervening time. It’s like when you read a favorite book and different passages or actions stand out for each time.
Another use for this exercise: If, for one reason or another, you end up working with a deity that you don’t really like or understand, this is a great way to learn more about that deity and to gain empathy for his or her point of view. A good example of this in the Heathen lore is how Freyr made Gerd his wife. Why did he, by all accounts usually a peaceful and wise deity, feel the need to threaten Gerd to marry him? What was up with that? Try a Myth Embodiment exercise with that myth and see if you can’t come to a deeper understanding of the underlying dynamics and emotions involved in that situation.
One final great thing about this exercise is that the portrayals of the characters often end up being hilarious. Both of the times I have facilitated this exercise with my main group, we ended up laughing for three hours straight. Yet we still had some amazing, deep, serious discussions–and we all walked away with a better understanding of the Gods, and even more questions that our discussions had brought up. It’s a great ice breaker activity; a great way to bring new people in to the group; and a good low-woo activity for relative newbies or people who aren’t interested in the “woo” side of the religion. It’s fast become one of our group’s core activities; I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Some examples of Myth Embodiment: