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Zeitgeist

The narcissism of modern mythology

Tarot cards: “unprecedentedly fashionable”. YouTube/The Gem Goddess

For many people, “we live not in a time of reason but in an age of mythology”, says James Marriott in The Times. Witchcraft is undergoing an “improbable” revival: there are more than a million self-described witches in America, up from only a few thousand in the early 1990s. More and more people believe in aliens. Among the “educated young”, tarot and astrology are “unprecedentedly fashionable”. The self-help philosophy of the conservative intellectual Jordan Peterson is imbued with the language of mythological archetypes: “the virtuous hero”, “the great father” and so on. In films and books, too, there is a growing preference for “grandiose fantasies of human power”: the highest-grossing movies are about superheroes; emotionally complex literary fiction has become unfashionable compared to political dystopias and “quasi-mythological fantasies”.

The most striking aspect of this “modern mythological thinking” is its narcissism. Spiritual systems today don’t just seek to “explain a chaotic universe”, they promise “extravagant fantasies of personal power”. People no longer fear witches, they think they themselves are witches. It’s the same with the modern vogue for “manifesting”, the idea that if you imagine your goals with enough intensity you can “will your preferred life into being”. This is praying: “not to God but to yourself”. Who knows what’s driving this “mythological mood”. Whatever the cause, it seems that reason in the modern world requires not only a belief in science, but also an acceptance that “we do not have any superpowers”.