Two Cultural Cycles: Logos And Mythos with Joe McHugh

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Using the Greek myth of Perseus and Medusa, Joe McHugh describes how we are turned to stone by the very technologies we’ve invented. Throughout time human culture has been dominated by these technologies and sometimes they play into our mythos knowing and at other times they play into our logos knowing. When he refers to mythos knowing, he is talking about sensory knowing. He says, “[Mythos] is larger than just our five senses…Emotion as well as intuition, ESP, premonitions, and dreams [are all] sensation based. They are part of your mythos brain …Mythos brain has no sense of history. It's in the present moment." Mythos knowing dominated medieval times: the days of the rise of large cathedrals with huge stain glass windows and organ music reverberating throughout. This time is followed by the invention of the clock and Gutenberg’s printing press which led us into the reformation and the age of logos as well as the start of the industrial revolution. He refers to logos brain as that ability to break everything down into its component parts and to use symbols which, in and of themselves, have no meaning but that which we give them. For example, we break squiggles of ink on paper down into symbolic figures we call letters or words. It's a sequential knowing that has a sense of time associated with it. Mythos would be Mother Earth, logos is Father Time. He says, "Logos is very efficient but it's not particularly enchanted. First, there is the invention of the clock and on the heels of the clock comes the printing press and that's the game changer." People then depend on the clock to tell them when to go to work. They no longer depend on daybreak and sunset time. This takes us up to the inventions of the camera, the phonograph, and filmmaking. "Now, we are back to mythos time as represented by television and movies." The down side of mythos knowing is that it can be very tribal with an in-group and out-group and we become a much tribalized society. There is no sense of time in a mythos society. Our challenge is to blend both modes of consciousness. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Joe McHugh began telling stories professionally in 1978 when he was hired to organize a series of ethnic festivals in New York State. He went on to serve as the founding director of the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia where he also hosted a weekly segment on Appalachian folkways for West Virginia Public Television. He has produced audio documentaries for the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, Judicial Counsel of California, the Washington State Office of Public Defense, and the National Legal Aid and Defenders Association. He’s an old-time fiddler who lectures nationally on the art and practice of storytelling in the modern age. He founded the American Family Stories Project and is producer and host of the public radio series, The Telling Takes Us Home, a Celebration of American Family Stories, where he visited communities throughout the United States to record people telling their family stories. He, along with his wife Paula, designed and directed an innovative summer camp program for young people called Camp ImaginAction. He lives with his family in Olympia, Washington.

He’s the author of:

To find out more about Joe McHugh’s work go to or

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • What is the lesson of the Greek myth of Perseus, Medusa, and the Gorgons
  • Why the power of myth is a shield for living in the paradox of life
  • What does a mythos culture look like
  • What does a logos culture look like
  • How Hitler and Goebbels assisted the age of logos culture
  • How the environmental movement came out of a mythos sensibility
  • What some educators have against the Harry Potter book and movie series
  • What is McHugh’s insightful take on the Aurora, Colorado Movie theater killings
  • What is the down side of mythos and logos cultures

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 4/26/2013   Program Number: 3469