The Significance of Myth in the Novel Ceremony

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Many people in our culture misunderstand the function of myth. We usually assume that there are two kinds of narrative, completely different from one another: a journalistic compilation of facts, all literally true and verifiable, or stories spun by a fiction writer for the purpose of entertainment only. Myth, we assume, falls resoundingly into the latter group. While primitive and superstitious people may have once believed that the sun was pulled across the sky by a chariot, we in our infinite scientific wisdom know that is not the reason that the sun appears to move in the sky when viewed from earth. Therefore, the myth is written off purely as a work of fiction and fantasy. Indigenous peoples throughout the world, however, look at their myths and folktales in quite another way. They recognize in them an explanation, not for the way physical science works or history occurred, but for the way their culture feels about itself. For Native Americans, these stories concern the universe and the spiritual domain. They are didactic because they teach the history of the people, how to live, and how to survive. According to Paula Gunn Allen, “myth is a story of vision;… a vehicle of transmission of sharing and renewal.” It connects the past with the present. Myths “show us that it is possible to relate ourselves to the grand and mysterious universe that surrounds and informs our beings…The mythic heals, it makes us whole” (Allen, 116-17). Myths explain by analogy concepts that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to explain literally. They do so in a way that bypasses the conscious, analytical mind and heads straight for the heart (technically, the unconscious). Folklorist Carol Mitchell explains that Silko’s use of the Laguna creation myth at the beginning of Ceremony, “it recreates the power and the time of creation. The cosmic creation is the exemplary model of all life,” and hopes that it will restore the patient, Tayo (Mitchell, 34). Mitchell also believes that the use of this myth is a “spiritual means by which the novelist is inspired in her creative work” (Mitchell 28). The stories are thus emotionally and psychologically satisfying, and can have a very therapeutic effect when an individual's spirit is sick. Ceremonies are the retelling of the myths by a tribal healer or shaman. Silko states,

“I will tell you something about the stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just entertainment. Don’t be fooled.
They are all we have, you see,
All we have to fight off
illness and death.
And in the belly of this story
The rituals and the ceremony
are still growing.”
(qtd. In Mitchell 1979, 28)
Then there are rituals which are the physical enactments of what is told in the myths. The purpose of the ritual is to “transform something (or someone) from one state to another” (Allen, 103). In the novel is a healing ritual which changes Tayo from a sickly, altered state, one which is of isolation and despair, to a state of health and wholeness with his people.

This is the plot in Leslie Marmon Silko's novel, Ceremony. “Her narrative plot follows a cyclical of time, like that found in Native American myths and legends, instead of a western linear sense of time” (Bell, 53). It is open to irrational spiritual experiences instead of confining itself to scientific logic and reason. In addition, Silko’s main focus is more on the whole community and Tayo’s relationship to that community than it is on Tayo’s individuality. More importantly, she constructs the novel itself as a sacred ritual. Continuously throughout the novel, Silko flip flops between the main plot and various internal poems of Native American origin. One such poem involves a being named...
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