John Bucher is a mythologist. Communicator, and strategist based out of Hollywood, California. He is also an author, podcaster, and speaker. He is the author of six books including the best-selling Storytelling for Virtual Reality, named by BookAuthority as one of the best storytelling books of all time. John has worked with companies including HBO, DC Comics, The History Channel, A24 Films, The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation and served as a consultant and writer for numerous film, television, and Virtual Reality projects. He also consults on stage magic, puzzles, and escape rooms. Currently, he serves as Content Curator for the Joseph Campbell Foundation and teaches writing and story courses at the LA Film Studies Center. He holds a PhD in Mythology and Depth Psychology and has spoken on 5 continents about using myth and the power of story to reframe how products, individuals, organizations, cultures, and nations are viewed. Disruptor named him one of the top 25 influencers in Virtual Reality in 2018.
Can you describe something that has recently amazed you? How did it make you feel?
I was recently amazed by watching the fountain in my backyard. Moving water is one of the most beautiful, meaningful, and artistic expressions we can witness. There is a reason we create public art that moves water, travel to distant lands to see waterfalls, and even are soothed by watching water fall from our faucet into our tub. Water is a representation of our unconscious. It is the ultimate symbol of possibility as it is able to move past immovable objects, take multiple forms, and quite literally maintain and restore life. Water is perhaps the purest magic we experience.
Where do you think our sense of wonder comes from and what can we do to cultivate it?
Our sense of wonder comes from our preparation for it. If we have cultivated an environment where wonder is possible and perhaps even probable, we can have regular experiences of it. If we simply wait for it to find us on occasion, our experience of it may be rare. Wonder can be cultivated but never manipulated. We can prepare the ground where wonder can arise, but we cannot force it up from the soil. Wonder often hides in the mundane everyday experience, but we don’t see it because we are not looking for it.
I’m intrigued, what’s a mythologist? What was your own journey that has led you to this?
A mythologist is an individual that works with narrative, symbols, psychology, belief, and meaning. Sometimes this takes the dramatic forms many people are familiar with. Other times it takes the form of faith practice and ritual. Joseph Campbell once said that mythology is other people’s religion. We most easily recognize myths when they are foreign to our own culture, era of time, and experience. However, each of us are living out our own mythology — our own stories. We believe a complex web of stories about existence and their meaning that frames our own mythology. Myth involves the interpretation we attribute to our experience.
Do you have a favourite myth?
My favorite myth is the story of Persephone and Demeter. I love stories about characters moving back and forth between the underworld and overworld. I believe this speaks to the dance between our conscious and unconscious.
What’s the relationship between a myth and a true story?
Stories may be true or untrue. Myths are more than true. They transcend literalism and even the entertainment we derive from fiction. They speak to a place in our souls and psyches that existed before we had language to articulate it.
You work a lot with film companies and those creating VR environments. What can Hollywood learn from the study of myths?
Hollywood often uses myth to craft their products. I would love to see Hollywood, develop a greater respect for myth, however. The lessons of myths are not bound by capitalism, which Hollywood often is.
Can you tell me more about why we find superhero stories so compelling? Are they ancient myths in modern capes?
Superhero stories are compelling because they rely on mythic cycles, motifs, and journeys. Tales from Marvel and DC are modern re-tellings of the struggles of heroes and heroines that we have been reinventing for thousands of years. Some say these narratives resonate with us so deeply because they follow similar neurological patterns as the ones we experience when we solve problems.
Are magicians in the business of creating myths?
Magicians are also myth-makers. They cause us to consider meaning. They help us move beyond what we can see. When a profound effect is performed for an audience it feels more like remembering something we have long forgotten then learning something we never knew. This is mythic.
In a recent twitter conversation you said that this statement was your heart: “Magic that demonstrates the impossible in front of me simply pales in comparison to that which suggests what might be possible inside me.” Can you tell me why this is so important?
Magic should open up what is possible inside us, not just our eyes. The type of magic that stays with us is that which moves us beyond spectacle and causes us to consider ourselves, our own lives, and our experiences.
What is the role of a 21st century magician? And who do you think encapsulates that currently?
21st century magicians are philosophers. They ask questions that we cannot ignore or explain away. They are keepers of an ancient fire. Their work is the invocation of wonder. Their work is necessary for our development as a society. I admire a great number of magicians, mentalists, prestidigitators and those of similar ilk. Those that have most moved me have been Ricky Jay, Richard Turner, Todd Robbins, and Derek DelGaudio.
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