Often when we hear the word “myth” we think of things long past and nearly forgotten. But when Torri Yates-Orr and John Butcher, hosts of the Skeleton Keys podcast, hear the word, they think of professional wrestling, Keeping up with the Kardashians, and Beyonce’s greatest hits.
Yates-Orr is an Emmy nominated producer and African American historian. Co-host Butcher, whose Twitter bio describes him as a storyteller and mythologyst, is a professional Hollywood story analyst. Together they have lively discussions about the ways the ancient stories still influence popular culture. For reasons we might never fully understand, the same sorts of characters and ideas appear again and again all over the world. And they still pop up in the new entertainment of today.
Each hour-long episode has four segments. First the hosts introduce the theme of the episode. For example, the recent Spider-Man episode compares the Marvel superhero to the African trickster god Anansi. They then transition to their first “Skeleton Key,” a personal story that relates to the theme and reveals something about themselves. The second skeleton key moment is when they mention a resource that has helped them to better understand myth or culture. Finally, they have a short interview with a guest.
Everything about the show is professional. The hosts are charismatic, the audio is clear, and the pace is brisk. Far from being a serious approach to dusty history, each episode of Skeleton Keys is filled with infectious laughter. While not necessarily family listening, it offers a good launch point for discussions betweens parents and older teens.
Christian listeners will need to supply their own worldview. While Yates-Orr and Butcher clearly respect the Judeo-Christian religions, their conversations are rooted in secular-humanism evolutionary thought. A major theme of the show is considering what it means to be wholly human in the space between mind and body. Yet in the introductory episode when Butcher says that when he sees or hears something mythic it’s as though something he knew thousands of years ago is rising back to the surface, he approaches the spiritual.
Myth awakens in us a sense of touching something true, though difficult to define. The men of Athens, as the Apostle Paul observed in Acts 17, were very spiritual. So much so that they had an altar to an unknown god. There was a void that even their elaborate myths could not fill. When Paul talks about men feeling their way toward God, who really is not far away, he’s literally using the pop culture of the day to create an opening to share the gospel.
In his 1944 essay, “Myth Became Fact,” C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. … By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle.” When we pause to consider popular culture as modern myth, which is the intent of Skeleton Keys, we have the opportunity to be reminded of the Truth more often and in surprising places.
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