Day of Myths

Christmas is the mythiest of all days. But what does it mean?

Damien Walter writes on technology, culture and scifi for The Guardian, BBC, Wired, Oxford University Press, IO9, and elsewhere. He’s a graduate of the Clarion scifi writers workshop, and teaches Advanced Scifi & Fantasy : writing the 21st century myth

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Christmas comes but once a year. It’s the day we do one thing above all others…indulge our love of myths.

Christmas itself is a weird hodge-podge of many myths.

The celebration of Yule is a Germanic and Nordic festival, a time for drinking to Odin and remembering the pagan gods.

As Christianity colonised northern Europe it transposed an obscure Christian holiday on the the old animist religions it replaced.

Christ himself is a mash-up or two very different stories.

Jesus the man is the historical account of a Middle Eastern political revolutionary who was likely executed by the Romans for acts of terrorism. (Things – it seems – never change)

Christ the son of god is an archetypal figure across storytelling in the early Roman era. Think of The Christos as a kind of superhero, whose mythic story was mashed together with a real political figure.

In the confusion of the Dark Ages, Christ was turned into a supernatural hero. The miracles of Christ, and his origin story as the “son of god”, which early Christians would have understood as metaphor, became literal beliefs.

The Victorians loved Christmas because they turned it into a nationalist myth of Britain. Then in the last century we added a layer of commercialism to the holiday. Like Valentine’s Day, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, Christmas was invented as a festival of the myths of consumerism.

Christmas is the most god-almighty mess of old myths and new. And then what do most of us do on Christmas Day?

We watch our favourite modern myths on the telly. When I was a kid the highlight of Christmas was when a recent cinema blockbuster would get a rare screening for free on tv. Today it’s BluRay’s of Avengers Endgame or the complete HBO box set of Game of Thrones that will occupy most people’s attention

And of course, STAR WARS.

What a Day of Myths our festival of Christmas truly is.

But what do all these myths mean?

I suspect that for most of us who no longer follow the Christian faith the old myths of Christmas have lost all meaning. And the only meaning the new myths we stream from Netflix have is as a passing entertainment.

Isn’t it strange, then, that we give these myths so much time and attention?

My major teaching project for this year has been Advanced Scifi & Fantasy : Writing the 21st Century Myth. This new course is my journey to try and understand what myths are doing in our lives today. I’m happy that almost five thousand students have so far enrolled on the course to join that journey.

A highlight of the course – and of my year – was interviewing John Vervaeke, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at the University of Toronto (where he teaches alongside Jordan Peterson) on the meaning of myth. And of Star Wars.

A member of John’s community created a brief edited video from out 90 minute conversation. In just a few minutes, it captures the whole meaning of our discussion.

You can follow the full course for 90% off by enrolling today using course code DAYOFMYTH –

Follow free talks from the course by subscribing to the podcast.

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Advanced SciFi & Fantasy

Writing the 21st century myth

Damien Walter, writer on sci-fi and geek culture for The Guardian, BBC, WIRED and graduate of the Clarion writers workshop, leads a journey into scifi and fantasy storytelling.

The cognitive science of scifi with John Vervaeke

This podcast is republished from earlier in the year.

Follow the full course in Scifi and Fantasy :

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Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Director of creative writing at UoL, published with OUP and Cambridge. Currently travelling the world and writing a book.


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