Reading List: Stories To Live By

Stories & Myth Books

Myths of the Sacred Tree, by Moyra Caldecott. Essential to life on earth since the beginning of time, trees hold a special place in our collective consciousness: rooted in the earth, reaching skyward, nourished by the elements, and enlivened by the sap running through their veins, they provide a metaphor for what it means to be human. Moyra Caldecott has gathered here a collection of myths celebrating the rich symbolism of trees, all bringing to life a time when the natural world was deeply respected and trees and forests were thought to be inhabited by spirits and divine beings. Myths come from many cultures, including Africa, Native America, China, ancient Sumeria, Russia, India, Greece, Scandinavia, Europe, South America, and Arabia. Bound by the organized structure of modern life, the human spirit yearns for the wildness and freedom of primal nature represented by forests in their natural state. Caldecott’s book has captured and given voice to this spirit. 

The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. Originally written by Campbell in the ’40s— in his pre-Bill Moyers days — and famous as George Lucas’ inspiration for “Star Wars,” this book will likewise inspire any writer or reader in its well considered assertion that while all stories have already been told, this is *not* a bad thing, since the *retelling* is still necessary. And while our own life’s journey must always be ended alone, the travel is undertaken in the company not only of immediate loved ones and primal passion, but of the heroes and heroines— and myth-cycles— that have preceded us. Writes George Lucus: “In the three decades since I discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces, it has continued to fascinate and inspire me. Joseph Campbell peers through centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves. As a book, it is wonderful to read; as illumination into the human condition, it is a revelation.” Campbell’s words carry extraordinary weight, not only among scholars but among a wide range of other people who find his search down mythological pathways relevant to their lives today….The book for which he is most famous, The Hero with a Thousand Faces is a brilliant examination through ancient hero myths of man’s eternal struggle for identity.

The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell. Among his many gifts, Joseph Campbell’s most impressive was the unique ability to take a contemporary situation, such as the murder and funeral of President John F. Kennedy, and help us understand its impact in the context of ancient mythology. Herein lies the power of The Power of Myth, showing how humans are apt to create and live out the themes of mythology. Based on a six-part PBS television series hosted by Bill Moyers, this classic book is especially compelling because of its engaging question-and-answer format, creating an easy, conversational approach to complicated and esoteric topics. For example, when discussing the mythology of heroes, Campbell and Moyers smoothly segue from the Sumerian sky goddess Inanna to Star Wars‘ mercenary-turned-hero, Han Solo. Most impressive is Campbell’s encyclopedic knowledge of myths, demonstrated in his ability to recall the details and archetypes of almost any story, from any point and history, and translate it into a lesson for spiritual living in the here and now.

The Spirit of Butterflies: Myth, Magic, and Art, by Maraleen Manos-Jones. Butterflies have been the subject of art and literature throughout human history. Myths, legends, poetry, art, and dance honor the creature, which is depicted in sacred and secular objects in almost every culture, and is one of the important winged-ones in our Dance songs. This beautiful book has 150 full-color images. However, it is more than an art book, for each chapter explores a topic of butterfly lore. In “Butterfly People,” readers learn about individuals and groups who have adopted the butterfly as part of their identity (James McNeill Whistler signed his works with a butterfly). “Butterfly Dance and Cocoon Magic” describes ritual butterfly dance and ceremony in a number of cultures. “Butterfly Soul” explores death and the afterlife. Each of these topics could inspire classroom discussion and student research. While the art attracts readers, the well-researched, engaging text will hold their interest. Spirit of Butterflies crosses academic subject areas as well as cultural areas. This work combines myth, legend, poetry and art to explore the ways in which humans have perceived the butterfly. It chronicles the appearance of butterflies in history, including butterfly goddesses in Minoan Crete and Toltec Mexico and the dances of native Americans and Africans.

Spirits, Heroes & Hunters from North American Indian Mythology, by Marion Wood (text), & John Sibbick (illustrations). Part of The World Mythology Series, this collection represents a genuine desire to probe the rich imaginations of the Eskimo, MicMac, Ojibwa, Cherokee, and other major tribes. The Europeans may have destroyed traditional ways of life of the Native Americans, but the myths have survived, passed down from generation to generation as has been the tradition since the dawn of time. Retold here from authentic sources, the stories range from creation myths and explanations or traditional morality, to the famous trickster tales. 

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