My favorite myths of all time and their wisdom
Since the dinosaur days, we learn about the world through folk tales, family sagas, mythology, and our own stories. It’s not that we need neon details, superhuman action scenes, or unexpected twists to stay engaged.
No, all we need is to empathize with the characters. We invest in their heroic journeys because we see ourselves in their flaws, desires, and adventures.
Inside Mystic Muse magazine, a spiritual magazine for modern mystics and healers, I use energetic archetypes, such as mythological beings and goddesses, to delve into the issue’s theme. Regardless of whether the stories are fact, fiction or both, the emotions they evoke within you are real. And ultimately, they help you explore metaphysical topics, the Universe, and your most authentic self.
Here are my favorite myths, their wisdom, and reflective questions:
The Descent of Ishtar to the Underworld
A retelling of the Sumerian myth, which dates back to before 2000 BCE.
“Hoot, hoot,” cries the owl as it swoops across the dusty twilight sky. A family of crows are waiting on a lonely tree. And suddenly, sunset-colored leaves swoosh this way and that before trailing off into the distance.
Ishtar follows the leaves with tunnel vision until she is standing in front of a steel gate. At the threshold of the dark realm of her sister, Ereshkigal, a charcoal fog blocks her view. “To cross the threshold or not?” she ponders for a moment before opening the rickety gate.
Covered in sexy satin and lapis lazuli, Ishtar is certainly not dressed for the trenches. “Why is she dressed so lovely?” the creepy crawlies whisper.
Word travels fast through the shadowy tunnels. And eventually, the Queen of the Underworld hears that her sister is dressed to the nines. “My sister must be here to conquer my realm!” Ereshkigal concludes.
And so, the paranoid sister crafts a plan to strip Ishtar of her power. As Ishtar descends through the Underworld, she must remove an item of clothing or an accessory at each of the seven gates.
At the first gate, Ishtar removes her crown, and with it her sovereignty. At the next gate, she takes off her lapis necklace. In a hypnotic dance, she continues to remove a royal accessory at each gate. And at the seventh gate, she removes her robe.
Stripped of her power, Ishtar stands naked before Ereshkigal. After one quick judgment, the evil queen kills Ishtar, and hangs her on a hook like a piece of meat.
For three days and nights, Ishtar’s limp body dangles, as the earth dries up like a barren womb. Fortunately, the god of wisdom, Enki, creates two creatures to rescue her.
Upon her return to the land of the living, Ishtar is more powerful than ever. In this new phase, she radiates with the full spectrum of womanhood from an independent maiden and affectionate mother to a wise crone in matters of the heart.
The Wisdom of the Story
In another version of the story, Ishtar descends into the underworld to bring back her husband. But in all of these myths, there is one underlying theme — Ishtar is stripped of her power and status at each of the seven gates.
Why ‘seven’ gates? In ancient astrology, there are seven planets, each of which reveals a different part of Self. Seven also represents insight and spiritual mastery. From a scientific perspective, it takes seven times to lock a scent into memory.
At each of the seven gates, Ishtar unveils her subconscious and unconscious aspects of the Self. In essence, her descent reflects her evolutionary journey towards self-mastery.
Standing naked, vulnerable, and exposed, she returns to the innocence she was born with. Reborn into an enlightened being, she sees the world with child-like wonder.
Reflective Question: You may be a mother, wife, teacher, or entrepreneur. But under your labels, roles, and even your name, who are you?
The Judgement of Paris from Greek mythology
Who is the fairest goddess of them all? Aphrodite, Hera, or Athena? Only one goddess would be crowned Miss Universe, and receive a golden apple.
At the wedding of Thetis and Peleus, the beauty pageant began. Slowly the gods and goddesses trickled into the party room. But this wasn’t the festive event they anticipated.
Everyone was on their worst behavior. The bride caught the bridezilla bug. Aphrodite was frazzled. Hera was more neurotic than usual. And Athena was far from her “om-shanti” self.
Indeed, something rotten was in the air. Could it be the golden apple that glowed like a fluorescent rock?
Yes. Upset for not receiving an invite to the wedding, Eris, the goddess of discord, infused the apple with poisonous vibes. Consequently, there was disagreement about the rightful winner of the beauty contest.
Not even Zeus could make a decision. “Let that shepherd prince of Troy decide!” Zeus roared, before chugging down a vessel of wine. And so, the goddesses followed Hermes to visit the prince of Troy.
Dressed to the nines, each of the goddesses interviewed with Paris to try to win his affections.
“I’m the fairest of them all,” said Hera, “declare me the winner, and I’ll make you the king of all men.”
“I’m the fairest of them all,” said Athena. “If you declare ME the winner, I’ll make you victorious in war.”
“Ahem, I’m the only goddess of beauty here,” said Aphrodite. “Declare me the winner, and I’ll give you the hand of Helen.”
So many tempting bribes, but alas, lust triumphs. Paris gave the title to Aphrodite. And as history unfolds, Paris and Helen’s engagement led to the Trojan War, the most destructive war of all.
The Wisdom of the Story
Desire animates our world. It can spark the creation of babies, businesses, and passion projects. It can move mountains of resistance. And it can bring together lovers and nations. But desire can also destroy them. The moral of the story: make desire your ally, not your undoing.
How? The key is to chase your innermost desires rather than surface desires. Surface desires, such as drugs, sweets, and alcohol, can never be quenched. Their endless pursuit leads to addiction and destructive patterns that wreak havoc in your life. Innermost desires guide the healthy and creative expression of your gifts.
Reflective Questions: What do you deeply long for? Notice the feelings, images, or words that emerge. Now detach from it. Your desire will be fulfilled through synchronicities.
The Legend of Princess Miao Shan
There once was a Chinese princess named Miao Shan. Miao Shan was different from the other snooty princesses. As a child, she would sneak out of the castle to spend time in the forest. Bathed in sunlight and red pine essence, she would meditate, sing and read spiritual books by Lao Tzu and Confucius.
Miao Shan didn’t want a fairytale castle or a prince charming. She dreamed of a quiet life of service as a nun. This made her father, the hotheaded King of China, red with anger for he wanted her to marry and continue the royal line.
As punishment, he sent her to work alongside the servants of the palace. Glowing with pride, she worked in the grimy kitchen and cleaned out the stables.
In hopes that she would appreciate royal life, her father sent her to work at a run-down monastery. Despite the disturbing conditions, the earth princess was content caring for the sick and needy. She even supported the dying by singing and chanting as they crossed the threshold to the spirit world.
When word got back to the king that she thrived in her new role, he became so furious that he ordered her execution.
At the moment of Miao Shan’s beheading, her compassion transformed all of the executioners’ tools into dainty flowers. After freeing the executioner of his negative karma, she was whisked away by a holy tiger.
Riding her celestial tiger, she descended into the underworld. However, rather than suffering there, she played heavenly music and sang. Her miraculous melodies purified the karma of trapped souls, and liberated them.
Today Miao Shan is known as Kuan Yin. The beloved Bodhisattva vowed to hold off on entering Nirvana so that she can help free humans from endless karmic cycles and reach enlightenment.
The Wisdom of the Story
Despite the cruel treatment, Kuan Yin never dimmed her loving light. Her compassion only grew with each hardship. She challenges you to forgive those who have wronged you and yourself.
Without a doubt, some acts seem too horrific to be forgiven (ahem, attempted murder of one’s own child). Forgiveness doesn’t mean that what happened was ‘right’ or ‘okay’. It only helps to let go of toxic emotions and to see the situation from another perspective. What events led to that awful act? As the saying goes, ‘hurt people hurt people’.
Reflective Question: Who do you need to forgive and why? Imagine the situation from their point of view.
What’s your favorite story? Share your insights in the comments!
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- Dieu-Le-Veut, Annie. The Sacred Sex Rites of Ishtar.
- FAIRCHILD, ALANA. KUAN YIN TRANSMISSION: Healing Guidance from Our Universal Mother. LLEWELLYN, 2019.
- Fry, Stephen. Mythos the Greek Myths Reimagined. Chronicle Books, 2019.
- Massey, Anne. Venus: Her Cycles, Symbols & Myths. Llewellyn Publications, 2006.
- Rasa Yoga by Sianna Sherman
Illustrations by delcarmat and Zvereva Yana and Photos by Serhii Bobyk on Shutterstock and TonyYao on iStock