Updated: Aug 29
Craig Chalquist, PhD
We call it “fiction” and think it untrue. How often we leave the theater, watch the movie credits, or put down the novel wishing the mood of insight and inspiration could last into real life. How might we redeem something magical for the day world?
This article calls for and outlines the development of loreology, crafting storied paths for guidance, inspiration, and direction, as a new vocation. My hope is that its practice will take it in entirely novel directions, and by doing so contribute to the varieties of deeply transmutational storytelling we must perfect to adapt and flourish as a species.
When I was in the ninth grade, I set one wing of my high school on fire. I had been bullied, and after knocking out the bully at lunchtime, I came back at night with some combustibles. The wing housed the bully’s locker. Fortunately, the police were on hand to put out the fire.
One consequence of this retaliatory act was a semester spent in continuation school. Finishing my work early, I visited the small school library and picked up A Study in Scarlet. In this, the first Sherlock Holmes novel I ever read, Holmes introduces his profession to a puzzled Dr. Watson, upset by claims made in an article on the art of observing small details.
“The theories which I have expressed there, and which appear to you to be so chimerical are really extremely practical—so practical that I depend upon them for my bread and cheese.”
“And how?” I asked involuntarily.
“Well, I have a trade of my own. I suppose I am the only one in the world. I’m a consulting detective, if you can understand what that is…. Now and again a case turns up which is a little more complex. Then I have to bustle about and see things with my own eyes. You see I have a lot of special knowledge which I apply to the problem, and which facilitates matters wonderfully.”
Only many years later did recalling this fictional passage remind me of how real professions come about. Someone with a certain specialized set of skills performs it for a living even before it has a name. The new job title comes later, born of fantasy plus language in action.
“Loreologist,” for example: a mentor with resources for exploring the limits and possibilities of the personal and collective lore we navigate by in order to deepen, expand, or outgrow it. At first, I did this through conversation; then, as a psychotherapist; then, as a philosophically informed mentor, graduate instructor, research teacher, depth psychologist, writer, mythologist, ecopsychologist, terrapsychologist, individual and corporate consultant…
Remarkable, the power of the keystone story: the kind we get through life with. This form of lore tells us who we really are, what kind of work we should do, what we most value, which groups we belong to and why.
We tend to think we get through life and work via our attitudes, values, beliefs, convictions, decisions, facts, and plans, sometimes including ideas and aspirations in the mix. And that is true. What often remains unconscious, however, is the extent to which all of these are embedded in stories: our fund of customized lore. No fact, no belief, no plan stands by itself without some sort of narrative explanatory context.
The loreologist asks: How might we move from being confined by our guiding stories into authoring them?
The odd thing is, we tend not to think of our keystone stories as working fictions that offer guidance. We think of them as solid Truths, sometimes unconditional ones, as in the case of religion. And there we get stuck, in the literalizing of the tale. Endless wars have been fought over who rightly succeeded Muhammad, what kind of meat to eat, or whether Jesus was partly or wholly divine: one nature? Two? And it's not just religion: good luck landing a psychology job in government or finance without professing belief in the fantasy of "behavioral health." Behold story absolutized.
But “fiction” sprang from a Proto-Indo-European root that meant “to form, to build.” Only in the 1590s did it come to mean works of fantasy, and not until the early 19th century was “fiction” used in its modern sense.
Strictly speaking, folktales, legends, and myths (sacred stories from around the world) are fictions, as are scientific theories. But in many cultures, ancient tales are not placed in opposition to fact. The distinction is not meaningful there. The Old Stories say amazing things, and it’s for us to interpret and apply what is offered.
Lore is part fiction and part practice, a blend of specialized fiction and practice usually taken as authoritative. "Lore" can refer to knowledge or tradition handed down, whether communally, professionally, or more exclusively (e.g. initiatory or esoteric lore). That includes folklore, which includes myth (sacred tales), ritual, folktales, legends. But it can also mean the backstory of a game or fantasy world (baseball lore, Star Trek lore) and even fictional cosmologies and wisdom paths (Discworld, Earthsea, the Bene Gesserit Way).
In other words, fiction represents a noble dreaming forth from the deepest levels of the psyche, whether personal or collective. Even cheap fantasies, plots of dated sitcoms, ads that tell a tale, and cartoons drawn just for money emanate from these hidden wellsprings. The psyche (conscious and unconscious experience taken as a whole) draws on all of it, sublime or silly, documented or dreamlike, in fashioning the lore by which we live.
The line between fiction and fact blurred still more when C. G. Jung used active imagination—a kind of managed daydreaming—to speak with Elijah and Salome, two culturally layered aspects of Jung’s unconscious who appeared to him one day. When he tried to interpret them as Logos and Eros, Elijah (who showed up later as Philemon) said, “We are real and not images.”
Here is Jung’s comment about this startling development:
Philemon and other figures of my fantasies brought home to me the crucial insight that there are things in the psyche which I do not produce, but which produce themselves and have their own life…It was he who taught me psychic objectivity, the reality of the psyche.
Tolkien, who was aware of Jung’s work but never studied it in detail, said he wrote stories to understand what the Elves were trying to tell him. Characters like Boromir just showed up on their own; he kept writing to learn about their adventures. Many other authors have observed a similar autonomy in their “creations.” Ursula K. Le Guin said: I did not invent Earthsea, I discovered it. She wrote about it to learn what was going on there.
Ray Bradbury placed fictional characters like Shakespeare’s three witches on Mars, but they actually live in us as imaginal realities, including the wide canals and gleaming spires of Mars itself. From the standpoint of the deep psyche, the earnest creator, and their own, the witches, Boromir, Peter Bernhardt, Brin’s Postman, Lauren Olamina, and Michael Burnham exhibit their own specific flavor of reality (from “property, goods”), a reality of dreamed possibility. Little wonder they so often appear in our dreams. Bids for our waking attention?
So if fictional Sherlock Holmes can give a job title to what he’s been up to since childhood, why can’t I? Why can’t you? Why can’t we bring home to daily life the resonant lessons of Gondor, Baker Street, and the 23rd Century?
Our Shaping Tales
“Fiction,” as it happens, also links to fingere: "to shape, form, devise," as when kneading a figure out of clay.
We tend to contrast fictional with real, as though they were opposites. We say that someone trying to deceive us is peddling fictions. They are not: they are peddling lies. Stories written to push a belief are not fiction either: they are propaganda. Real fiction has its own kind of imaginal reality. The opposite of “fictional” is not “real,” therefore, but “unimaginative” or "a tale taken too literally."
Do I have the keystone story that guides, or does it have me? Does it tell itself behind my back while giving my plans and pretensions the finger, or can I can shape it creatively into a design that enhances my life and my relationships?
Many of these guiding stories, whether personal or collective, carry along remnants of tales of old. For example, note the return of folklore in these contemporary expressions:
Invisible Hand of the market: hidden deity motif
Lotteries and sweepstakes: Wheel of Fortune motif
Skyscrapers competing for height: land of the giants motif
Artificial Intelligence: magical familiar motif
Make America Great Again: Golden Age motif
Mind uploading (Whole Brain Emulation): ascension to heaven motif
Gaia Theory: earth mother motif
I live in Southern California, where our Western obsession with automobiles—our two-eyed, four-legged freeway ponies—recalls legends of cowboys on horses riding into town and out again, on to the next sweaty scene. Our smartphones hold powers last seen in magic wands of yore. Tablets are modern scrying pools.
Our stories shape us more than we realize. War and peace, insanity and health, misery and happiness hinge on the kinds of tales we take seriously, and on our degree of consciousness about them. What is lingering trauma but a tale unfinished? While practicing family therapy, I often saw how emotional legacies of injustice and fairness, gain and loss rippled covertly down the generations. Similar ripplings pervade neighborhoods, districts, divided nations, companies, global movements.
Our fictions help us avert disaster, suggest new possibilities, encourage us to understand those whom we Other. "Stories are empathy engines," says P. J. Manney.
It’s not STEM, it’s STEAM: You need to have the Arts in the middle of all that analysis because you have to make sense of it… Fiction often makes more truth, more sense, than the data we accumulate because we’re able to see the bigger context, multiple contexts, bigger pictures that the scientific inquiry by definition is not really supposed to do. It’s supposed to go down the silo, whereas art can go across silos. (Interview with David Brin and David Sloan Wilson, 2021.)
The loreologist’s task is to help people become aware of their keystone stories—their lore—and decide on where, when, and how the plot should proceed, turning inspiring fictions into workable lore on a conscious level. I refer to this craft of storied shaping and reshaping as loreologizing. The practice of loreology involves the study of how we are influenced by the tales we tell ourselves and each other.
Incidentally, there’s science behind this: specifically, studies on the beneficial results of adults engaging with imagination, creativity, and play. Also, on the power of storytelling to find common ground, build relationships, and persuade more effectively than data or debate.
In his book Gods and Games, David Miller notes:
Former mythologies have been based on a single, central, “root metaphor,” as Oswald Spengler called it. There is the term logos as the root of Greek mythology; ma’at, in Egyptian; dharma, in Indian; tao, in Chinese; berith (covenant), in Jewish; and so on. These metaphors grew quite unconsciously to the status of symbols; the symbols were spelled out into the form of stories (myths); and the stories clustered until at last whole civilizations drew their significance from a total mythology.
On a much smaller scale, the root metaphor of loreology is reenchantment, the magic by which what is stale, flat, and unprofitable gains new fascination. Archetypally speaking, the loreologist works as a kind of mage, bringing new magics to bear where needed.
Note that loreology is both loric and metaloric, within a story and observant of it, especially in how it steps back from and understands its central practice of loreologizing.
A wisdom path of practical dreaming would be an especially useful story set during our chaotic, trying time in which so many of us get stuck in tellings that trap us.
From Ideologizing to Loreologizing
Our habit is to concentrate our compelling fictions into many kinds of lore: that of nature, career, “tradition,” nationalism, discipline, subdiscipline, philosophy, religion, esoteric cult… If we hold our lore literally, it becomes a defining tale of Truth for us, foundational to how we see life, ourselves, each other, the world.
Keystone stories come in many flavors, always individually created whatever their cultural overlays and archetypal underpinnings. They serve as shorthand tellings about what our lore means to us in specific situations.
When I was young, for example, my fund of lore included the intergenerational family story of how working hard would always advance you in the world. This meant settling for soul-destroying work because all work was good. Although this lore/story made my dad miserable throughout his entire career, he refused to question it. When I dissolved it with counterimages of productive people happy with their work, I dropped the old keystone story and went back to school to study psychology. This triggered family pushback—keystone stories die hard—but I persisted.
It's fairly common for people who share similar lore to devise very different action plans with it. One rights advocate might wield her feminism to destroy male self-esteem wherever she finds it; another, to educate men about the exciting egalitarian possibilities within lasting systemic change. How we apply our lore depends on the usually unstated and often unconscious emotional agenda hiding in the background.
Keystone stories in turn coagulate into institutionalized forms of imagining: creeds, philosophies, patriotisms, political systems, countercultural blocs, grand doctrines... most of which would lose their authority if seen through as framed by fictions. Then they would have to rely on attraction, interest, and inspiration, a level of honest appeal many of them could not sustain. Can you imagine how much religion would have to change if no longer driven by fear and obedience? Or law, if not permeated by judgmental good-vs-evil absolutism? Or work, if we refused to do any that did not satisfy? Or science, deprived of its unchallenged hierarchical pecking order?
There is an alternative. Instead of taking our guiding tales so literally, demanding of them absolute Truth, Authority, or Proof, what if we did all this perpetual storying and restorying consciously and playfully for once? How might the outcome be different? Note that being fluid and creative instead of literal-minded does not mean escape from lived reality, the body, or the factual; rather, it means going further into them to discover their symbolic dimensions. Where we are too literal, there we harden prompts into abstractions.
A loreway is a consciously woven web of humane and fulfilling keystone stories by which we step further into our humanity and maturity. The idea of a loreway raises the question: For people who don’t need a Big Story like a mythology, religion, philosophy, or ideology, could a set of fascinating working fictions suffice for guidance, support, and gnosis? Fictions not to believe, but to believe in?
I’ve known people for whom this was true. Speaking for myself, the more I learn about myself, others, and the living world, and the more I cherish the diversity of life and feel at home in the cosmos, the less I care about big systems, totalistic narratives, or supposed absolutes. The fables, myths, and wisdom tales suffice. Their inspirational value to me does not depend on authentication (literalization) from outside by self-appointed authorities of divine or scientific validation.
We can build a loreway in exploratory steps, as we'll see in the next section.
Not a mythology or a legendarium, then, both focused on the past. Not a philosophy of abstract mentalistic explanation. Not a franchise, and not a formulaic Hero’s Journey. A loreway is more like what Joseph Campbell called “creative mythology”: art and craft that draw on mythic symbols and characters to convey deep life truths and realizations that resonate. Archetype soup, seasoned with fictions.
Now, what if we dust off an aspirational image, dream, vision, or ideal—say, Terrania, my magic word for a civilization of equity, delight, abundance, and Earth appreciation—and place that at the center of our loreway? Then we add performance, drama, ritual, music, movement, personal practices, and celebration feasts marking special times of the year. Also, emblems and artwork. Rites of passage. Ethical values and ideals, including service. Sprinkle in some ingredients not normally found in formal religion: comedy, creative collaboration circles, games, health routines, donations, social justice outreach, fantasy and fiction laboratories...
Behold a loreway evolving into an aspirational body of fictionally framed narrative and personal practice that fills out a mythic-feeling story arc and provides life guidance through ideals, a sense of play, fun, and meaning to participate in. An embodied philosophy as an enchanted path for collective life. I like to imagine how a suitable loreway can help grow our maturity and humanity, fill our lives with magic, help us dream together about how to live on Earth.
Does such an animal exist?
We can find partial examples:
In the past, Greek theater involved the community and all the arts in deeply meaningful telling and enactment. The same is true for community theater elsewhere: more than just going to the show and emerging unchanged.
Gnostic and Hermetic rituals, prayer groups, and study circles.
The cosmology created by poet and engraver William Blake.
In Finland, significant sectors of public life, including festivals, music-making, and the naming of towns and streets and even holidays, revolve around the Kalevala, a collection of folktales woven together by Elias Lönnrot in the 1800s.
Science fiction and fantasy fan events, films, cosplay, publications, theater, and music (and the religion called Jedi?).
Pagan revival ceremonies, literature, theater, etc.
Also, some near misses (Le Guin would call these "submyths"):
Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Sherlockiana, etc. are for-profit franchises whose products are judged “canon” (a religious term).
Opera-disdaining Richard Wagner’s Total Artwork (Gesamtkunstwerk) was intended as a religious, all-arts ceremony for the people; but it was created by one artist, not a group, and given to glory-worshiping herocentricity, always a bad idea.
Theosophy, Anthroposophy, and the New Age are religions that don’t call themselves such.
Analytic or Jungian Psychology: widely used, but, hierarchically, a cloistered club for the few.
A mythopoeia like the Cthulhu Mythos lives in literature and film as a fictional mythology for fans.
We should also name the dark side of collective tellings, such as fictional stories and arts perverted into a malignant hierarchical worldview of violence, domination, and exclusion. Examples of lieways include pugnacious nationalism, fundamentalism, and Nazism/white supremacy. These ideologies deteriorate into total life events with their own dark performances, movies, costumes, voting choices, and black flag stickers.
Even otherwise beneficial paradigms or worldviews wreak damage if taken too literally too rigidly. "Fundamentalisms of all and any stripe always get it wrong," says William Irwin Thompson in Coming into Being. "They reify the imagination and they deify their chosen leader; they turn their leader's act of creative imagination into a cultic code and demote art into religion." They also eliminate complexity, ambiguity, and humor: "In the transformation of culture into cult, anything will serve. You can start out with Jesus and end up with the Inquisition, or start out with Marx and end up with Stalin." Not only religion but science, philosophy, business, and just about anything made dogmatic suffers this kind of degeneration.
How do we get started on loreologizing?
From Charm to Lore
Picture assembling a new worldview that makes love and work exciting again. One form of this is clarifying one’s life philosophy through fiction and the arts. A colleague, for example, is building herself a worldview, path to gnosis, and root of community around disco. She grew up with the Persian version of it and loves it. She hopes this path will serve others too as a playful terpsichorean spirituality. If you like to dance, you’re included.
Let’s begin modestly. What stories—folkloric, fantastic, fictional—light you up? Why?
Which characters seem like good models for you, and what do they value? Which don’t?
What are five personal practices that can get you on the road to who you wish to be in six months? Physical practices, reflective, creative, healthful, what?
Describe your supreme ethical principle and five real-life implications of it.
What is a cause you can get on board with?
Imagine the ideal human society. Describe it in a page or two of writing, being specific about its differences and similarities to societies of today.
You now have enough elements to begin putting together your own loreway, otherwise known as a charmway: your own embodied wisdom path of stories and inspiring ideals and actions from which you can reenchant how you live today. Here we work beyond belief. Belief is a push from behind; belief in is a pull, a lure leading into the future. Especially for the growing numbers of us turned off by book- and clergy-based authority.
To use my own charmway-weaving as an example:
I’ve felt drawn to Hermetic philosophy since childhood. Some of my early scrawls and paintings contained Hermetic symbols unrecognized until I grew up. I did go to Lutheran Sunday school and learned some useful teachings—“Do Not Kill” seems important—but little else stuck to my emotional bones.
For a while, depth psychology served me as a wisdom path. I added ecopsychology, and when these two mated in my and others’ musings, theorizing, and fieldwork, terrapsychology came into being, first as the study of the lurking presence of place, then as an inquiry into how the things of the world—not only natural ones like rivers and trees and crickets, but built ones like houses and roads and keys and keyboards—live in the psyche, and how our dreams, moods, and fancies often signal happenings outside us.
I’m drawn to Hermeticism in the form of tellusgnosis, an updated version emphasizing Earth-honoring practices. Tellusgnosis serves me as a loreway of embodied and reenchanting practices. It also has a fictional component.
A few years back, I began writing science fiction and magical realism tales just for fun. After publishing a dozen nonfiction books and many papers, this was a first for me.
I write stories about the Long Adventure: humanity’s journey to full maturity. Some of us growing up in elder cultures have already, if locally, arrived. Most of us are on the way.
What does it mean to be mature? It means to self-reflect, to feel one’s emotions consciously, to value relationships, to be responsible to others, to pursue wisdom, to live aligned with the natural world—and to live in right relation to the gods, which in my stories are archetypal Powers, something like sentient natural forces. Their complaint is that we are too stuck to them. But ignoring them gets us in trouble too. The idea is to recognize their presence and manage it. As Kluni, the trickster of the cosmos, puts it in the story "Devil's Due":
We want co-creative partners, not idealizers. We are sentient Powers of the entire sprawling grand shebang of the universe, not the ideal parents you never had. Remember Confucius? I could never be confused with a Confucian–too much law and order there–but he gave you some good advice, namely: “Keep a distance from spiritual beings while showing them due reverence.”
Humanity must pass through the occasional Nexus Crisis, when different Powers disagree, with the effects felt on our planet. Earth itself is sentient, one of countless experiments in consciousness across the universe.
It has been fun to guess at which archetypal entities stand behind, say, the dreams of Mitochondrial Eve, or Enheduanna of Akkad during a revolt, or the rise of Gnosticism, or Shakespeare’s decision to leave the stage and retire...
The overarching goal of the journey? Terrania: the just, diverse, and delightful Earth-honoring society of the future built bottom up instead of top down. Not a world of perfection, human nature being what it is. Not a so-called paradise where people lay around and do nothing. As the Terranian character Alethia Jabari observes in the aptly titled story “Vigilance,” there can be no impregnable utopias.
But the possibility of creating a sane society? Of course! We survived the Ice Age, the massive eruption of Yellowstone, two World Wars, and countless sitcom reruns. We can make it happen, together. Bits and pieces of Terrania exist today: it’s just a matter of scaling them up, of dreaming big on our feet.
Do I believe all this? Cosmic Powers, multidimensional Tetraverse, Dreamvale Exchange where human beings and fictional characters grow visions together? A history-spanning Transdaimonic League of creative, edgy mentors?
It’s fiction. I don’t believe it, I believe in it. When facing a challenge, I sometimes ask myself: What would a citizen of Terrania do? Sometimes I ask “my” characters. I ask clever old Darwish Sethos because he already lives in Terrania, has a future-based perspective, and likes to think out loud. It’s all a playful experiment in living as though. David Brin had an interesting thought about this:
The imaginative individual faces a choice, between accepting the saccharine sweetness of tying his or her ego to favorite metaphors, or bravely recognizing that the map is not the territory, and approaching his or her model of the world with a sense of humor. (Vivid Tomorrows.)
Some of us need a cause. Terrania was built in part from 4 Rs that also apply in daily living during hard times of collective chaos: Resilience, Repair, Regeneration, Renewal. That’s what my characters do, singly and in teams. Those living at or near our time realize we are way past sustainability. The world is on fire. We need to stop the burning.
The Assembling Terrania Cycle could use expanding. I’ve given it a Terrania Charter for governance, Ten Lamps for a guiding philosophy, a logo showing Earth with Africa in front, a blue-and-silver color scheme, two causes (the 4Rs and building the Dreamvale Exchange), and even a growing music playlist (I recently added “Heaven for Everyone” by Queen right after “Tierra Madre” by Chayanne and “Hope” by Shaggy). But the Cycle needs stories, games, and other creative works. And lots of friends.
Perhaps you would rather not go to the trouble of dreaming up a galaxy that thinks about maturity, a Dreamvale conversation between poets Lucille Clifton, Khana, and Li Qingzhao, or an aging aircraft carrier staffed by dead sailors still on mission. No matter: you have plenty of stories, old and new, to choose from and be inspired by. You have a Declaration of Enchantment to give you permission when you need it. You have enchantivism: storytelling from rupture to rapture, inequity to plenty, calamity to grace. You have the model of transrevolution: deep systemic change from the inside out as social interactions gather around new visions of who we can become.
And you could dare to imagine loreologizing as your primary work in life.
Loreology as Vocation and Avocation
The liberating aspect of embarking on a new vocation is also, in a culture ruled from above by the threat of material scarcity, the scary aspect. How to make this work financially?
Making an unrecognized vocation—a soul calling—work as a viable career can be challenging. Elias Lönnrot, Finland’s preeminent tale collector and epic author, worked as a regional health officer while assembling the renowned Kalevala. Sir Isaac Newton oversaw the royal mint. Toni Morrison taught and edited. Most of the authors, filmmakers, and artists I know derive at least some of their income from elsewhere. If you must do that while keeping your creative-transformative work as an avocation, you’re in excellent company.
In my case I’ve worked for decades as a loreologist, but for some of that time under other roles and titles. I know a poet who teaches children, a philosopher who sells real estate, and a therapist who sings in a virtual band. Most of us live in societies that do not value creative work as such unless it makes money at the box office. We must make do.
Nevertheless, we need not get stuck in the limiting old keystone story of “It’s Worthless Unless It Pays the Bills.”
Developing a new vocation is an entrepreneurial adventure. Questions arrive as challenges: Why is this kind of work needed? By whom? What efforts are needed for practitioners to receive training, support one another, and receive recognition? What should a loreology curriculum consist of? What are the goals and ethics of the field?
Here is a start on some of these:
Goals of Loreology:
To serve clarification and deep understanding of the stories that guide us, personally and collectively, and the lore in which they are rooted.
To encourage our clients and learners to move from stories that limit, blind, imprison, or self-mutilate to stories that open, clarify, liberate, and humanize.
To critically educate the public about the influence and power of stories and the inappropriate authority wielded by those who impose stories on other people.
To make available the kinds of stories that lead to full humanness, fairness, compassion, equity, and maturity.
I have referred elsewhere to managing eco-anxiety through an ethic of Fivefold Caring, a model also useful for loreology:
People craft their own guiding stories. Tools and ideas provided by loreology facilitate that, not infringe on it.
A loreologist must never help craft stories to deceive, manipulate, or dominate (e.g., lieways).
A loreologist must be mindful of scope of practice. For example, some people are so deeply troubled that a psychotherapy or medical referral is needed. Loreology is often healing and deeply transformative, but it is not therapy or coaching, although it can accompany them.
Loreology is not and cannot be religiously or politically partisan, although it can resist clear injustice by supporting those who are afflicted. When doing so, the loreologist should never target or attack individuals or groups, only actions that need to change.
As for its prospects, loreology as vocation and field of study will gain recognition if enough practitioners get behind it and demonstrate its effectiveness.
And it is effective. Here are a handful of examples from my work:
A student who realizes that her “self-sabotage” at school contains a hidden tribute of loyalty to the women in her family who got no schooling is able to honor them and graduate as the first woman in her family to earn a college degree;
A researcher with writer’s block discovers the inner self-protective presence behind it and converts it into a writing ally;
A business unit stuck in an old story about how to write contracts saves itself during a downsizing by inventing a time-saving shortcut that triples departmental productivity;
A company revamps its mentoring branch by going back to what the old stories, including folktales and myths, have to say about inclusivity, passion, teamwork;
An executive working for a shady real estate company uncovers her deep love of nature and Earth and transitions into a fulfilling career aligned with her true passion;
A certificate participant with a chronically sore back realizes that the pain is pushing him to go outside and reconnect with the natural world, after which his back improves and his life changes for the better;
A former sergeant emerges from guilt and depression after realizing that making a “better” decision during a deadly firefight would have multiplied casualties and not reduced them;
A workshop participant learns that the names she was given connect her to an ancestral legacy in need of healing and justice;
A man with a long history of violence and jail time fashions for himself the life path of a nonviolent warrior;
A graduate psychology class takes note of the water imagery in the architecture of buildings near their school and learns of a hidden spring flowing underneath the streets;
A class of environmental science students practices exercises for increasing one’s sensitivity to the self-organizing intelligence of the natural world;
A nonprofit manager gains a new sense of mission by understanding the old stories that first drove the business and the deeper story of change waiting below them;
A graduate student learns to interpret life transitions with the tools used to interpret dream symbols.
Here are some examples of where I would like to see loreology grow:
Creating humane loreways and loreways that bring out the best in all who participate.
More research on related fields: effective storytelling, creativity, etc.
A training circle of expert educators.
An online journal plus a community of interested participants. The journal might contain an academic section but should reach a wider readership.
A pool of updated story science and best practices.
Enchantivist applications to social and environmental justice concerns.
Does loreology need its own kind of theoretical/qualitative inquiry, or is Narrative Inquiry expansive enough?
A study of loreology’s ancestor fields and figures back through history.
A gathering of resources for seeing through, challenging, and creating alternatives to malignant stories and their divisive ideologies (lieways).
Virtual reality (VR) exploration. Much potential there!
Conferences both inside and outside academia.
A Kalevala for humanity project.
What might be the most important task of the loreologist is to help people dream together about a future of inclusive joy we can move toward.
For most of our history, seeking gnosis—enchanted insight into lived reality—has been held as a pursuit of individual awakening. Can loreologizing also serve as a form of collective enlightenment?
Loreologizing as an Enchanted Gnosis
In the comedy Stranger than Fiction, Harold Crick consults a psychiatrist because a feminine voice only he can hear is narrating everything he does. Disagreeing with the doctor’s diagnosis of schizophrenia, he asks her: Hypothetically, if I were part of a narrative, what would you recommend I do? She suggests going to see a literature expert.
Not a bad suggestion in the absence of a loreologist, although, as in our kind of work, it is Crick who uses the tools of story and image to figure out what tale he is in before deciding to alter its course. Although self-realization is certainly one aspect of that path, it also holds discoveries for his close relationships, his work, his authorship of his own story, and his membership in and influence on his society.
Loreologizing as a path of wisdom and larger, deeper consciousness reveals not only the sense in the story and the meaning in its message, however uncomfortable the tellings we enact, but the imaginal presences inhabiting our larger story with us. Start with any situation or dilemma, and if you loreologize it for long enough, you come to the underlying mythic motifs and, behind those, archetypal figures moving below the surface of events: stubborn computer as literal-minded Golem, Gaia and Freyr harvesting clean food, Invisible Hand market divinization, ascension into heaven as uploading of virtualized selfhood no longer human.
Here we lean a bit on Jung, who showed how working consciously with mythic and archetypal occurrences could turn their literal and often dangerous reenactments into creative beginnings. Instead of oil extraction igniting rivers and darkening upperworld into Underworld, we could direct passions extracted from the inner depths and piped into where we need to die and be reborn. The move is from literal to symbolic.
Which is fine as far as it goes. Mainly, it goes inward, with the gods of old recast as living archetypal presences. They exist all right. We see them moving about in dreams, fantasies, even attitudes and styles of relating: Mars aggressiveness, Isis nurturance, a sudden feeling of possession. Active imagination can access them; so can psychedelic journeys. Like Jung, we soon discover that these psychical beings bring their own perspectives, values, and styles, all of which might be very different from those of our conscious self. Part of individuation—becoming a conscious individual—is learning how to negotiate and coordinate this internal democracy.
As Jung got older, he spoke in letters about how archetypes don’t stay in the human psyche. Naturally: the human psyche evolved from the natural world. Spirit as an archetype can’t be just a kind of psychical breath: it is also wind, motion, effervescence; animation at large all around us. The spiral path of individuation repeats the longevity of evolving spiral galaxies. Go outside and look for such primary patterns; Nature makes everything out of only twenty or thirty, fractally and endlessly creative.
From the Hermetic perspective which so informed Jung’s, imagination serves as a conduit to these sentient-seeming natural forces. In terrapsychological work, it never surprises us, for example, when the felt presence of a place—its basic geological forms, its ecological weaknesses and strengths—show up in dreams as a character who tells us interesting things about the place where we sleep. Imagination can take any presence, no matter how subtle, and costume it so we can interact with it.
What this means is that we live not in a barren world of mute objects, but in an enchanted world of lively influences we can converse with—but only to the extent we are imaginally open to what we receive. When we are not, we get painful symptoms instead of storied gnosis.
Instead of hardening these insights about psyche, the imaginal, and archetypes abroad into a doctrine, we can cast them into an initial attempt at fiction to share with one another, just for fun.
A loreway can serve as a collective story series assembled around a core aspiration, vision, or dream: an imaginative body of fiction (lore) and practice, with a mythic-feeling story arc. Why would such a thing matter for crafting one's own wisdom path and frame of orientation?
First off, record numbers of serious people have stopped signing up for religion. Pew Research Center poles and other sources record a long-standing drop in religious membership and attendance in the United States and elsewhere. Spectacles like a pope calling for justice while refusing priesthood to women, the married, or the queer land no better now than a literalized a Middle Ages cosmology. In the U.S., Christian facades for political maneuvering go almost unopposed. Seekers have had it; more than ever before consider themselves “spiritual but not religious,” agnostics, or atheists.
Philosophy as a formal study is out of reach for most. Although each of us has our own philosophy, with varying degrees of consciousness, a long line of White thinkers have killed the appeal of philosophizing for all but a handful of the analytically inclined. The terminology alone is enough to cause mental indigestion. We need a new kind of philosophizing: embodied, playful, imaginative, practical, and many-colored.
Psychology tends to reduce everything to itself (called “solipsism” in philosophy) and so disqualifies itself for a worldview that takes nature, place, and planet seriously.
What about storytelling cycles and franchises? Jediism is practiced as a religion now. Trekkers, Otherkin, Tolkien followers, cosplayers at Comic Cons: in the age of the internet, such groups proliferate and overlap. However, franchises aim primarily at profits (which for Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek are astronomical), and legendaria focus mainly on the past, although environmentalists with a turn for fantasy have declared their intent to stop the green world from degenerating into Mordor.
A long tradition of imagination as gnosis, as deep intuitive knowledge directly perceived, stretches back through Jungian psychology, Romanticism, Post-Impressionism, alchemy, Sufism, Hermeticism, Gnosticism, Taoism, Shinto, Egyptian religion, shamanism, and other wisdom traditions around the world. From every land bursts forth magnificent folklore, the great dreams of a people: sacred stories (“mythology”), folktales, rituals, legends, fairytales, and entire cosmologies and creation tales. Yet, although known by many for his early Hero’s Journey schema, Campbell observed in his later work that mythic systems were fragmenting and increasingly unable to provide guidance or meaning.
A loreway can include the most resonant of such fictions and bodies of practice to offer a visionary path of art and craft, inspiration and play that draws on mythic symbols and motifs and characters to convey deep life truths, vehicles of aspiration, and realizations that resonate.
Against collective loss of meaning, loreologizing is informed by an attitude of noetic hope: the firm expectation, based on history and experience, that things don’t have to be this way, that what was done yesterday need not determine the story of tomorrow. We can do better because we can restory ourselves to be better.
Whatever terminologies and ideas we dream up, loreologizing highlights dreaming together across all borders to rise to our greatest possible stature.
Some say storied visions are not enough. But when enough people tend them, they begin to carry momentum. Trauma and drama will not suffice. To get where we want to be, we must be able to imagine it first. Then—let there be alchemy!
For a brief article on the importance of the stories we navigate by, see "Nothing Changes Until The Story Changes."