Being Claimed by a Myth with Martin Shaw, Ph.D.

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Folktales, fairytales, and myths are the way our ancestors tried to tell truth and actually have the earth speaking through them. Shaw says that they are more than just human intelligence at play. Here he takes us on a deep dive into the importance of inviting story into our lives, not as therapy, not as giving advice. He tells us that these timeless stories can be the tributaries that lead us to the bigger river of essential truths that nourish our lives. He challenges us to show “fidelity” to the myth that grabs us, “There is a prudence in absorbing and telling stories because you feed the story. If you are perennially in devouring mode: gimme, gimme, gimme … the stories tend to charge through us rather than negotiate with us… Myths generally ask more of us than we want to give so you have to say, ‘Okay, what do you want from me?’ … stories are demanding a kind of psychic and emotional sophistication from us.” Shaw feels that myths, (in the plural) live us. Two or three of them can arrive within the course of a day wanting different things from us. He warns that we’ve become culturally dulled to the mythic now and we may be “fake news from our own psyche.” As an antidote to that he advises, “Learn a poem by heart because it’ll die of cold on the page. Learn a story by heart. Learn to use a word you just learned. Learn the bones of the thing. It doesn’t need to be a recital; it needs to be a telling because then the story itself as a living being, is alive and the story is getting fed by your telling.” Shaw will turn your heart over to see our lives through a fresh perspective. He talks of how the book The Night Wages is a conversation to his young daughter to, hopefully, read and understand when she is older. It tells the story of what her dad loved, what he defended, and what he cared about, lost, and gained. He says, “It’s a love letter to the thing that I love most in the world, which is my daughter.” And it translates to the human dilemma of love, sorrow, gain, and loss for us all and what it means to be human and still survive. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


 Martin Shaw, Ph.D. is a storyteller and mythologist. He’s a wilderness rites-of-passage guide and is internationally regarded as one of the most exciting proponents of the mythic imagination. He tells “prophetic stories” that speak deeply to the challenges we face today, in the world and in our personal lives. He has devised and led the Oral Tradition course at Stanford University, is a visiting fellow at Shumacher College, and the Director of the Westcountry School of Myth, a Learning community in Dartmoor in the far west of the United Kingdom.

Martin Shaw’s books include: 

     To learn more about the work of Martin Shaw go to or

     Topics explored in this dialogue include:

    • Why are fairytales, myths, and folktales significant to us in these times
    • How the mythic and a myth are not quite the same thing
    • What is the difference between gospel music and spirituals from the African-American diaspora
    • What is the difference between vertical intelligence and horizontal intelligence
    • What is the response to your child when going through our dark night of the soul
    • How, through the business of living, we shape change
    • What is the meaning of the Greek term nostros
    • How, as mature humans, we’ll need to dwell in certain appropriate tensions in order to live with complexity
    • How myths keep showing up at different times in our life and speaks to us in different ways
    • What does he mean by “showing fidelity” to the myths that show up in our lives
    • How we may be culturally dulled to the mythic and may be receiving fake news from our own psyche
    • How the Greek Goddess Medusa has had an inaccurate rap
    • How dwelling in our wounds and deepening into that part of our personal story are different
    • How to allow a myth to claim us by nurturing it and inviting it to sit down for a meal
    • How myths do not give advice, they are not offering therapy, but need deep listening
    • What is the difference between being of a place and from a place 

             Host: Justine Willis Toms       Interview Date: 6/4/2019        Program Number: 3683

    Music Playlist

    From Album: Rhythms of the Ancients
    Artist: Medwyn Goodall

    Opening Essay: Track 01 Trail of Vines
    Music break 1: Track 02 Hall of Symbols
    Music Break 2: Track 04 Lost City
    Music Break 3: Track 06 Chamber of the Gods