Myth and Its Role Today
MYTH and its ROLE TODAY – How by viewing events in your life as a series of metaphors you may then see your life as myth.
How many things are lost through disbelief!
We are starting today with a couple of statements which you might keep in mind during this session. One is what you just heard from Heraclitus and here is another from Parmenides:
If you can think it, it is.
No one has ever added to the sum total of human knowledge by denying the existence of anything. In order to conceive of something, it must already exist in the collective unconscious outside of time and space. As soon as someone conceives of it, it enters time. If it is then created or invented, it enters space. Therefore, everything conceivable exists at least as a possibility. However, nothing is certain. There is nothing whose existence can be accepted except as a hypothesis. Everything depends on point of view. Even that we are here. It may be that we are simply being dreamed, As a Bushman once said, “There is a dream dreaming us.” I trust that you will be able to accept that as a hypothesis by the end of this session.
Initiation is not a ceremony; it is the beginning of a new way of using the mind. . . To believe is to see.
In the mysteries, initiation was kept secret because no uninitiated person could believe what the initiate had experienced, or even how the initiate was now seeing the world he/she was presently inhabiting. The initiate, however, has learned this new way of seeing; namely, one must accept all beliefs as hypothesis. As Jung pointed out in The Red Book, to hold beliefs as fact creates wars, magic, and religion, all of which, he said, were the same. Since all beliefs are hypothetical, one can see the world through the lens of each belief as it is presented. For example, in polytheism there are as many lenses as there are gods, and when one deals with a particular god, one sees the worlds through the eyes of that god. That is why polytheists do not proselytize. When they hear of another god, they merely see that here is a different way of looking at the world. They can then accept that all things are possible, but nothing is certain. They are then free to choose among a multiplicity of beliefs. However, in a single-lensed monotheistic society, such a person may be burned at the stake, so one is better off not exposing the secrets of the Mysteries.
We are living in an era of unparalleled impoverishment and depreciation of the human soul. The collapse of old religious forms has been followed by a general demoralization of the dominant Western culture. The now-prevailing secular religions of humanism and rationalism prove inadequate because they fail to engage the transformative layer of our psyches, nor can they even provide explanations for occasional phenomena perceived by our senses. People are beginning to bump up against the limits of materialism and rationalism, realizing that these fail to offer a purpose in life. Man does not live by making a bundle alone. Although a few turn to institutional religion for orientation, many find that road barred to them by their reason and their skepticism. There must be a marriage between reason and faith, science and religion. The closest approximation we have to this today is Jung’s school of psychology, which affirms the redemptive power of consciousness. For this reason, I intend today to deal with those elements from the past, many of which had fallen into the collective unconscious, and which, having been returned to consciousness by Jung and others, as well as by myth itself, may seem to us useful in our search for both consciousness and belief. We shall start with a quotation from Plato’s Republic, Book X, which describes the function of the Fates.
When all the souls had chosen their lives, they went before Lachesis. And she sent with each, as the guardian of its life and the fulfiller of its choice, the daimon it had chosen, and this divinity led the soul first to Clotho, under her hand and her turning of the spindle to ratify the destiny of its lot and choice, and after contact with her, the daimon again led the soul to the spinning of Atropos to make the web of its destiny irreversible, and then without a backward look it passed beneath the throne of Necessity.
Necessity was called Ananke but was never personified by the Greeks. Note that the soul chooses the daimon and its destiny beforehand and the Fates ratify it. From then on the daimon guides the soul in conformance with this choice and destiny. This is in complete agreement with Catholic doctrine as per Aquinas and Dante that we make our choice. No one is forced to enter either heaven, Purgatory or hell. Each chooses it as part of one’s own destiny, even to the length of time one spends in Purgatory. The abandonment of this doctrine had much to do with the destruction of the unity of the Church, for the sale of indulgences was the primary cause of Luther’s revolt, for these would buy a person’s soul out of Purgatory even though the deceased had chosen his time there. These indulgences are similar to the Mormons who may buy a deceased person’s conversion and place in the afterlife without regard to the choice made by the deceased. It seems reminiscent of being kicked out of one’s house before one’s lease is up.
This is a myth that goes back for centuries. In the view of Plotinus, the founder of the neo-Platonist school of philosophy (3rd c. AD), each of us elected the body, the parents, the place and the circumstances that suit the soul and that belong to its necessity. Thus these are all your choice, but you do not understand this because you have forgotten. So that you may again remember, Plato tells the myth in which he said that by preserving the myth we may better preserve ourselves and prosper. In other words, the myth has a redemptive psychological function, and a psychology derived from it can inspire a life founded, not by understanding it, but by being better able to stand under it. As I pointed out earlier, it is best not to believe this myth, but it helps to accept the validity of the ideas implied by the myth in viewing your life story, as if they are true, such as that of a calling, of soul, of daimon, of fate, of necessity. We must attend carefully to our life to catch glimpses of the daimon in action, to grasp its intentions and not block its way. Then one will see that to recognize the calling as a prime fact of human existence is of the highest importance. We must align ourselves with that call (vocation in Latin means calling). We will then find that the accidents, symptoms, dreams and the natural shocks that flesh is heir to belong to the pattern of our destiny, are necessary to it, and help fulfill that destiny by instructing us on our holding to our path.
The Latin word for daimon was ‘genius.’ A genius therefore belongs to everyone because the genius or daimon or angel is an invisible human escort, not a person, although it is subject to personification. To the early Romans, it was attached to a family rather than an individual, perhaps because they were still within a stage of participation mystique. They depicted it as a snake, similar to the Indian Kundalini. The pattern of our life is always and continues to be selected by our soul because time does not enter the equations of myth. “Myth,” said Sallust, a Roman philosopher, “never happened but always is.” Unpacking the image takes a lifetime. It may be perceived suddenly, but understood only slowly. This happened to me particularly with Parzifal. Thus the soul has an image of its fate, which time can only show as “future.” According to a Jewish legend, the evidence for this forgetting is pressed right onto your upper lip. That little crevice below your nose is where the angel pressed its forefinger to seal your lips. That little indentation is all that is left to remind you of your soul-life with the daimon, and so, as we conjure up an insight or a lost thought, our fingers naturally go up to that significant dent. Images such as this fill the mind with lovely speculation, and have for centuries. Why is She called Necessity but not personified, and why does He pay so much attention to sea monsters and creeping things one whole day before getting to mankind? Are we here because last? Or are we least, a mere afterthought?
These cosmological myths place us in the world and involve us with it, not like the cosmologies of today — big bangs and black holes, antimatter and curved, ever-expanding space going nowhere — leaving us in incomprehensibility. Science’s cosmologies say nothing about the soul and so say nothing to the soul. about its reason for existence. how it comes to be and where it might be going, and what its tasks could be. What is the purpose of anything? Does Purpose actually exist? If we look at the world not as a senseless mass, we can see the parenting afforded by the world every day. The world provides nesting and sheltering, nourishing and quenching, adventuring and playing. It is made up less of nouns than of verbs. It doesn’t consist merely in objects and things; it is filled with useful, playful, and intriguing opportunities. The oriole doesn’t see a branch, but an occasion for perching; the cat doesn’t see a thing we call an empty box, but a safe hiding place for peering. The bear doesn’t smell honeycomb, but the opportunity for delicious feeding. The world is buzzing and blooming with information, which is always available and never absent. And when a child asks why the sky is blue, why is he more likely to remember the answer when you tell him that blue is the best color for setting off the clouds?
Awakening to one’s soul and hearing it speak may not be easy in our materialistic age. How do we recognize its voice, what signals does it give? Before we can address this question, we need to notice our own deafness, the obstructions that make us hard of hearing: the reductionism, the literalism, the scientism of our so-called common sense. For it is hard to get it through our heads that there can be messages from elsewhere more important to the conduct of our lives than what comes over the internet or other media available to the public. And even from our parents. Indeed, I soon discovered that instructions from parents are always accurate but never adequate. These meanings don’t slide in fast, free, and easy, but are usually encoded in the painful pathologized events that may be the only ways the spirit can wake us up. As James Hillman has said, “when the gods are repressed, they often return as pathologies.”
There are, however, a few signs that the source of much of this reductionism is being challenged in the realm of science. Much work is being done by a few of our greatest scientists, some of them philosophers as well as scientists, as explained in a book by an extraordinary woman, Lynne McTaggert, entitled The Field; The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. Here is a small portion from the conclusion of the book, where she spoke of the scientists she had been working with:
There are discoveries that may change the lives of future generations in many practical ways, in fuel-less travel and instant levitation; but in terms of understanding the furthest reaches of human potential, their work suggested something far more profound. In the past, individuals had accidentally evidenced some ability — a premonition, a ‘past life’ , a clairvoyant image. a gift for healing — which quickly was dismissed as a freak of nature or a confidence trick. The work of these scientists suggested that this was a capacity neither abnormal nor rare, but present in every human being. Their work hinted at human abilities beyond what we’d ever deemed possible. We were far more than we realized. . .These experiments had helped to validate alternative medicine, which had been shown to work empirically but has never been understood. . .There were also discoveries which scientifically verified the ancient wisdom and folklore of traditional cultures. Their theories offered scientific validation of many of the myths and religions humans have believed in since the beginning of time, but have hitherto only had faith to rely on. All they’d done was to provide a scientific framework for what the wisest among us already knew.
Now that the Age of Pisces, the age when we must deal with the tension of opposites, is passing away, perhaps the scientist will no longer have to regard spirit as a mere abstraction, as opposed to the reality of matter. This does not mean that science and religion must form a sacred marriage, but it just might be possible for them to be seen together. But there are still many among us who just will not wake up. A fairy tale from the Grimm Bros. expresses this in the language of myth.
The big old giant Skrymir went to sleep under a big old oak. Thor came and hit him on the head with his hammer. Skrymir woke up wondering if a leaf had fallen on him. He went back to sleep and snored outlandishly. Thor hit him again, harder; the giant woke up and asked whether an acorn had fallen on his head. He went back to sleep. Thor hit him with an even greater blow to his head with that divine hammer, but the giant, rousing himself from sleep, said, “Must be birds up in the tree; they must have dropped something on my head.”
Giants are notoriously slow-witted, cursed with physical thinking, short-sighted, and always hungry. Skrymir is our literalist, our reductionist who never can quite get it. And so the giant is counterposed in fairy tales with the cunning animal, elf, or gnome, the savvy maiden or the little tailor. These can pick up a metaphor when they come across it, while the giant will reduce every-thing to its lowest common denominator so that he never has to leave his cave or awaken from his stentorian stupor, much like the dragons in the myth and fairy tale who guard the treasure or the lovely maiden but have no idea what to do with either. This is like people today who when hit over the head by circumstances take drugs or liquor to dull the pain so they can go back to sleep. Little wonder that when we were children we feared giants and thrilled to stories about those who could kill them like Jack or outwit them like Odysseus. The giant, with its grown-up stupidity, threatens a child’s imagination, a child’s connections with a wondrous world. Stupidity is the giant that misses the small things. After all, it’s a bean that saves Jack, and a pebble that saves David from Goliath. The giant in the psyche is another name for Plato’s cave of ignorance, and so it’s in a cave that Odysseus meets Cyclops. the one-eyed giant who takes literally Odysseus’ witty way with words and is thereby fooled.
Pathology prompts sharper psychological insight than do spiritual ideas and formulae. A negative experience sheds the harshest light. We almost invariably learn much more from pain than from pleasure. The most pathological moment in the entire incarnation story is the cry on the cross, which tells of the agony when one is encompassed only by the visible world, seemingly abandoned by the spirit. Although Jesus was opposed and pursued by enemies throughout much of his life, he was never so besieged as at that moment.
There are times in our life when the world seems permeated with invisibilities, a condition that Christianity calls paganism, and we call childhood. When the invisible forsakes the actual world, as it did when it deserted Job, leaving him plagued with every sort of physical disaster (Job’s midlife crisis), then the world no longer sustains life because life is no longer invisibly backed. Then the world tears you apart. Isn’t that the simple lesson taught by the withering and collapse of tribal cultures once they are robbed of their spirits in exchange for goods? Or in exchange for spirituous liquors? The co-presence of the visible and the invisible sustains life. We come to recognize the over-riding importance of the invisible only when it deserts, when it turns its back and disappears, like Yahweh at Golgotha. The great task, then, of a life-sustaining culture is to keep the invisibles attached, the gods pleased and recognized: to invite them to remain by propitiations and rituals; by singing and dancing; by anniversaries and remembrances; by great doctrines such as the Incarnation and by little intuitive gestures — such as touching wood or fingering beads, a rabbit’s foot, a shark’s tooth, or by putting dice on the dashboard; or by quietly laying a flower on a polished stone. Which is what the ancient Celts meant when they said that one should never give a sword to a man who can’t dance, which if we understood that metaphor today, we might actually solve our problem concerning guns. The Celts were not stupid. If we can keep the gods attached, we may no longer need to be hit on the head to receive the messages; we could keep them in contact in less painful, even pleasurable ways. Indeed it is not even necessary that we believe that every ritual or gesture is done correctly or is the correct one. We need only to act “as if” it is. It has nothing to do with belief, and so it also has nothing to do with superstition. It’s merely a matter of recognition. As the ancients said of their gods: they ask for little, just that they not be forgotten. Like every other living creature, they only require recognition.
Since this series is called Myth as Metaphor, now is perhaps as good a time as any to show how this works. Many say that myth is a lie, while cynics say it is pure fantasy. It is neither. Perhaps we should stop looking at Circe as a witch who turned men into swine. In Greek, her name means ‘falcon.’ In our language she may be considered simply as a control freak. She merely gave,in this case, food and drink to sailors who had been at sea for months eating nothing but gruel and spam and other such goodies in order that she may gain power over them as control freaks are wont to do. I suspect many of us have run across such people who use material wealth to gain power and influence over others. Politicians are particularly susceptible to such guile. What these sailors did was what we might expect of them under the circumstances. They made pigs of themselves. Do you actually believe that to accomplish this feat requires witchcraft? We see it around us all the time. Odysseus, however, did not fall for her wiles because he was conscious of his susceptibility. He had obtained this consciousness from the gods –Hermes in the myth — but one could say his daimon. Hermes prepared Odysseus so that he would not give in to Circe without full consciousness of what she was like. After all, Odysseus was susceptible to control freaks as we find later when he spent eight years being hidden away by Calypso (hider). He never even wrote home to tell his wife where he was! Hermes provided him with a plant called moly. This is a metaphorical plant which had a black root shaped like a human being just like we are. We all have a shadow, and what Hermes was doing was giving him the means to become conscious of this shadow, a necessity in dealing with witches or control freaks. The plant flowers with a white blossom; in this way his shadow was revealed to him. A plant with black roots and white blossom is a perfect metaphor for deception. He was notorious for this in the myth of his time, being known as a deceiver. Here his shadow was being revealed to him so he could make conscious use of it. He must treat Circe as he would any beautiful woman who was also a immortal. He must also do what the other sailors failed to do, which was resist making a pig of himself. This may remind you of the prohibition against eating in Hades if you expect to return. So you can see why the fundamentalists and the cynics are both right, and this is also true of religious myth. Any interpretation of myth is both a fantasy and a lie. It is also a profound truth. As the 5 year old said, “Myth has the lie on the outside and the truth on the inside.” Therefore I have been telling you that if you wish to know the origin of the specious, you must become myth informed. But perhaps I digress too much. I want to return to the story about just what the gods do require, and it is not much.
When the great rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov saw a misfortune threatening the Jews. it was his custom to go into a certain part of the forest to meditate. There he would light a fire, say a special prayer, and the miracle would be accomplished and the misfortune averted. Later, when his disciple, the celebrated Magid of Mezritch, had occasion, for the same reason, to intercede with heaven, he would go to the same place in the forest and say: “Master of the Universe, listen! I do not know how to light the fire, but I am still able to say the prayer,” and again the miracle would be accomplished. Still later, Rabbi Moshe-Leib of Sasov, in order to save his people once more, would go into the forest and say, “I do not know how to light the fire, I do not know the prayer, but I know the place and this must be sufficient.” It was sufficient and the miracle was accomp-lished. Then it fell to Rabbi Israel of Rizhyn to overcome misfortune. Sitting in his armchair, his head in his hands, he spoke to God. “I am unable to light the fire and I do not know the prayer; I cannot even find the place in the forest. All I can do is tell the story and this must be sufficient.” And it was sufficient. God made man because He loves stories.
As you can see, the Spirit requires only that it be recognized, in whatever form. The form does not matter, nor does the method you use in dealing with it. We receive many rewards for attempting to remember what we forgot when we drank from that spring. We must recall, for instance, that the tricks the gods play on us are frequently done to draw us back to our remembering. The misfortunes spoken of in the previous story were likely for the purpose of bringing back the Rabbi and his people to God. That may even be true today! You just have to remember that sometimes you are the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue. Even the Buddha discovered that one day when a few years ago he was wandering the streets of Nirvana City and feeling hungry (for recognition?) approached the counter of the hot dog stand opposite the Nirvana Theater and said to the hot dog salesman, “Make me one with everything.” The salesman did just that (an act of magic, certainly) and handed the Buddha his hot dog. The Buddha then gave him a $20 bill, the salesman opened his drawer and inserted the bill, closed the drawer, and looked at the Buddha. The Buddha looked at the salesman expectantly, and this staring went on for some minutes. Then the Buddha inquired, “ No change?” The salesman then replied, “Oh, your Holiness, you of all people should know — change comes from within!”
Myth has always been considered as Truth disguised as metaphor, and was originally conveyed by means of poetry sung or chanted by bards or priests even before the invention of writing. It was sometimes preserved for future use by pictures (hieroglyphics) or signs by being carved on stone tablets. This material can be designated as myth, since priestly chanting was regarded as derived from spiritual sources. and bardic singing as derived from bardic ancestors who had supposedly witnessed them or heard of these events from witnesses. These stories, for example from Homer, were considered didactic as well as entertaining, but were considered as true only in the didactic sense. They were never considered historic until the rise of Christianity. They were informative of what consequences could be expected from certain types of behavior, and what types of behavior could be expected to bring about divine responses, helpful or harmful. Myths, especially about gods or heroes, differed widely, but the listeners could always be certain that, regardless of whether they could grasp the metaphor, they would be entertained without ads. The decline of myth came about in those regions which adopted Christianity and ads. I shall give you an example of how it happened. When Dionysus was an infant, he was torn to pieces by Titans (giants) who consumed him, all but his heart, which was saved by his grandmother Rhea when she discovered what was going on. The heart was implanted in Zeus’ thigh so that he could be twice-born.. Incidentally, the term ‘thigh’ when used in such instances meant ‘sexual parts.’ Having been borne thus by Zeus, he is thenceforth a god. The heart, in ancient times, was considered the center of the mind as well as feeling. The brain was simply viewed as we view a switchboard, and was not one of the four organs considered worth storing in the canopic jar by the Egyptians.
At the beginning of the Age of Pisces, the nature of belief changed so that a newly converted Christian might want to spread the word about this new faith by relating the story of Christ’s immortality through being twice-born. At this time, the resurrection was the most important myth surrounding Christ, and still is in the Orthodox Church. The listener might respond that this was very much like Dionysus. Such a statement would stop the teller cold in his attempt at conversion since the attitude “what’s the difference?” puts the two myths on the basis of equality, especially since in a polytheistic society, new gods are always welcome as a demonstration of the sacredness of all things. But Christians believed they needed a basis for exclusivity to prevent the “chaos of the gods” and bring about unity of belief necessary to prevent the chaos which was beginning in the Empire which was threatening everyone. They had the necessary answer. It actually happened! It is a historical fact! It is not a myth! All you need to achieve salvation is not by learning from myth and trying to keep a good relationship with the gods through propitiating them, but simply by believing that it happened. Believe in the immort-ality of Jesus as the Christ and that he will return and take up to Heaven all the believers and leave behind in Hell all those who don’t, and you too will be one of the saved. The Age of Faith had arrived, and the Piscean Age had begun. One must now cling to one of the opposites (faith in Christianity) and fear and despise its opposite, those who do not. So myth had to adapt, and deal more with faith and, as with fairy tales, morality. It still was concerned with Truth, however, even if only in a metaphorical sense, such as the myth of Parzifal. I realized that in my first series of visions when I was faced with the problem of not asking the question. This was Parzifal’s failure which determined his whole future path, and was also mine, as the vision pointed out. It can also be applied to anyone, which is why we speak of myth as Truth. As Joseph Campbell said, “Myth is not what happened in the past, but it is going on all the time — inside you.” The destruction of Dionysus and his being reborn through the thigh of Zeus has parallels in the vision I had when I was torn apart by dogs and was then outside my body while it was being consumed, but the skeleton was returned with a beating heart. Demeter, Rhea’s daughter, later reconstituted my body with light which, as you know is the energy responsible for all creation. I was not reconstituted in Zeus’ thigh, perhaps because that would have bestowed divinity. I do not know for sure, and I did not ask.
There are instances where in ancient times like today, faith was dependent on myth as with religion today. At the Asklepion, the patient was often visited by the god Asclepius, at which point the patient was healed. The patient believed that it was the visitation of the god which healed him/her. The skeptic might say that it was the belief that did the healing and not the god. A believer would not be able to deny this; indeed, some mystics have pointed out that prayers are more likely to be answered if the person praying concludes the prayer with the assurance that it has already been answered. Here faith and myth can reinforce each other. Today it is the fundamentalists who insist upon the historicity of the sacred texts of the Old and New Testaments, even though the Old Testament is not a Christian text. Most of the Old Testament was written in prose, and all of the New also. In ancient times truth was written in poetry and fact in prose. Much of the Old Testament simply chronicles those aspects of Hebrew history which the priestly authorities wanted to preserve as fact, but no religious authorities claimed it as divine dogma except for certain parts which, like the Ten Commandments, were intended as divine truth and were therefore written in verse. The New Testament was written as fact but no one then expected that fact would one day hold the meaning of divine dispensation. To accept it as one would myth would mean that all of us were living the life of Christ and would therefore be sons and daughters of God regardless of whether we believe in Christ or not. That is, of course, heresy! The fundamentalists deny the existence of religious myth and say that all religions describe facts or they are lies. Perhaps Joseph Campbell was an early herald of the Age of Aquarius, when myth can exist as a balance between truth and fact. He wrote:
Voltaire, even though he was the founder of modern rationalism, was aware of its limitations. Most myths concerning the foundation of religions are of the revolutionary sort, in which the founder of the religion is the only one who sees the truth and has the faith and courage to follow his personal vision against the deadly threats of the rest of society. But through time, the rebel becomes part of the establishment. This creates a paradox expressed by Voltaire, who was approached by a man who praised him and thanked him effusively for having destroyed the credibility of religion; the man said that he wanted to found a new sort of religion with none of the flaws that Voltaire had pointed out in the extant traditions, and he asked Voltaire’s advice on how to go about this. “Simple enough,” said Voltaire, “go get yourself crucified and rise from the dead.”
As you know, no one since Christ has thought it desirable to carry out such an act of sacrifice, and therefore Christianity is not a Mystery religion. The Mysteries are collective where the experiences of the savior god are relived in some fashion so that the participants might share in the nature of their god. The Christians, on the other hand, believe that their god went through his passion in order to save them the trouble, and so each believer attains the resurrection body through faith and good works alone. Although the Church denies that it is a Mystery religion, the changes that have occurred over time seem to move in that direction, as people are experiencing individually what the Mysteries experienced collectively. In Christianity, this is called “the Christ within.” Jesus called it the Paraclete, although the Church resists the idea since a relationship with the Paraclete would make the Church superfluous. One could be initiated by the Spirit without collective sacrifice, although ritual might be useful in bringing one into contact with the Spirit. There are at least two reasons why the Church resists this idea: (1) it eliminates the need for collective worship which would turn the Church into a purely spiritual organization, which is why the Church eliminated the Gnostics by declaring them a heresy, even though Jesus stated that one must pray alone to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. (2) it feeds an ecumenical movement denying the Church any unique quality by which it could provide salvation since the Paraclete need not be the Christ but any savior god. The Church has also been affected by the rise in the West of Eastern spirituality which tends to substitute for one which has become ineffectual. This can be misleading, however, since the Christian myth has left clear traces in the unconscious of Westerners. This adaptation has come about only on the level of rational awareness and not in the depths of the soul. An external religious conversion all too often proves to be a delusion. Jung gives an example of this in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. It proves how deeply he felt that he was rooted in specifically Christian mythic spirituality. During his journey to India in the 1930’s, he experienced the impressive depth of Indian spirituality at first hand. He reported on an overwhelming variety of impressions, but also he was visited by a surprising dream in which he had to swim alone and unaided across a channel to reach the Grail. Thus his own unconscious had again called him back into the sphere of Christian myth. He comments on this dream:
This fact had impressed me all the more when I realized that the concordance between this poetic myth and what alchemy had to say about this one vessel, this one medicine, this philosopher’s stone. Myths which day has forgotten continue to be told by night. The dream wiped away all the intense impressions of India and swept me back to the too long neglected concerns of the Occident, which had formerly been expressed in the quest for the Holy Grail as well as the search for the philosopher’s stone.
And now there follows in Jung’s account his definition of his spiritual position in respect to Christian spirituality. He continues:
I was taken out of the world of India, and reminded that India was not my task, but only a part of the way — admittedly a significant one — which should carry me closer to my goal. It was as though the dream were asking me, “What are you doing in India? Rather seek for yourself and your fellows the healing vessel, the savior of the world, which you (all) urgently need. For your state is perilous, you are in imminent danger of destroying all the centuries have built up.
Jung never played down the importance of Christian spirituality. When he made skeptical remarks about Christianity, as he often did, these remarks related primarily to the Christianity of the Church, which he had come to know through its dark side as the son of a Protestant Reformed pastor. This exoteric viewpoint calls for faith but fails to take into account the value of personal religious experience. That this experience could be attained within the Christian belief system made it possible for him to bring many of his clients who had lost their way back to their Christian roots which resulted in his being given a medal by the pope. He continually looked hopefully toward a possibility of the growth of the Christian myth. At the age of 58, he wrote to a reader in London:
I am aware of my unconventional way of thinking and understand that it gives the impression that I am not a Christian. But I regard myself as a Christian, since my thinking is wholly rooted in Christian conceptions. In precise terms, I regard myself as a Christian, but I am at the same time convinced that present-day Christianity does not represent the ultimate truth; that is demon-strated by the chaotic situation of our time. The present situation seems to me to be intolerable; therefore I think that a fundamental further development of Christianity is absolutely necessary.
In earlier times, the Holy Spirit initiated people in groups, as in the Mysteries, but occasionally an entire nation as the Hebrews who spent 40 years being initiated, a symbolic number meaning a time between two ages, the time necessary to be purified after wasting their youth in the fleshpots of Egypt. The ancients generally considered Egypt a fleshpot, as we see in the Greeks who said that the Egyptians were the happiest, healthiest people in all the known world, so the Egyptians obviously failed to recognize the sinfulness of the flesh. The Hebrews crossed the Red Sea and spent all that time being initiated in the desert. In fact, Golda Meir, a clever lady from Chicago who became the first Prime Minister of the newly founded state of Israel, obviously knew how to see myth as a method of perceiving our world when she said that it took Moses forty years to lead the Israelites into the only place in the Middle East that didn’t have any oil.
But in the Piscean Age, a single individual, the Christ, was chosen as a demonstration to all that the Spirit can be incarnated in this world. Now we have entered what might be called the Psychological Dispensation. As Christ predicted, although ignored by the Church, the Paraclete can incarnate in each of us individually, although as Aurobindo said. there is only One who incarnates. The techniques for bringing this about are not very different from those of the Mysteries; indeed,for a few the group methods still work, even within the folds of churches, but when done individually, as is usually the case, we have what depth psychology calls the process of individuation. This is not an unalloyed blessing, however, since every content of the unconscious as it emerges into consciousness is seen to have a double aspect, viewed as a good and a bad side, and must always be faced alone, and not lifted from one as at the confessional. And the last thing the Western mind wants is to look at oneself, as we see in our foreign policy today, for example. We only do so if we have no alternative. What is in store for the individuating person is, on the one hand, a sense of fulfilling the purpose of the Spirit within, but also misunderstanding and isolation. You can’t have one without the other. Six months before Jung’s death, he had this dream:
I had to understand that I was unable to make the people see what I am after. I am practically alone. There are a few who understand this and that, but almost nobody sees the whole. I have failed in my foremost task: to open people’s eyes to the fact that man has a soul and there is a treasure buried in the field and that our religion and philosophy are in a terrible state.
Jung failed in his self-appointed task because of the difficulty, in this extraverted society, of retaining in consciousness the reality of the soul, which is one of the functions of myth that has suffered neglect. Collective forms like churches, rituals, holy days, liturgies, canonical laws, prayers, Sabbaths, jubilees, church calendars, books of hours, devotional works of art, literature, and music — most of these no longer help us to keep in mind the reality of the soul. Perhaps some of the relics of what are now esoteric practices and doctrines can be of help. Some of these we have looked at today, and many more are being discovered. I believe there is a purpose behind the fact that it is only now that some very important discoveries from the ancient world are being made. In medieval times they would have been destroyed or at best ignored. Because these collective forms which might help us to remain conscious of the reality of the inner world no longer exist in a viable form, each of us must provide our own tabernacle in anticipation of the day when enlightened communities will arise to assume that function. The one institution which has arisen is depth psychology which, although its purpose is primarily directed to therapy, does represent an encounter with an inner world, thus preparing us to understand the language of the soul or unconscious. Another modern structure, also primarily therapeutic, which aids many in the process of individuation is the Twelve Step Program practiced in Alcoholics Anonymous, which Jung was instrumental in helping to found. Bill W., a co-founder of A.A., was a friend of Jung’s, and in a letter to him, Jung wrote of one of his clients who was also a friend of Bill W.
His craving for alcohol was the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst for wholeness; expressed in medieval language, the union with God.
In ancient times, wine was a spirituous liquor. Indeed, the craving for spirituous liquors is still rather closely connected with a craving for spirit. Although this may seem strange, it is not inconsistent with Jungian myth. This may also be true with hallucinogens of all kinds. It may be true that reality is the shifting face of need, it is also a crutch, and is good sometimes for kicks, but don’t let it get you down. These statements about reality were discovered as grafitti on the walls of public johns. One that might be especially useful was “Love thy neighbor, but don’t get caught,” and “We are the people our parents warned us about.” One that I particularly like is, “I want to be what I was when I wanted to be what I am now.”
To get back to today’s myth. the new religion, if we can call it that, is more individual than traditional religions and less dependent on faith and dogma. It places its emphasis on personal subjective experience, that is, consciousness. As Socrates observed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” The hope is that the devotee will forge a connection to a power greater than the ego. Jung called this power the Self. The religious term is God. A relation to the Self grants us an indestructible inner authority.
The God myth, or as it generally called, the god-image, is constantly changing. This is usually referred to as the transformation of the God-image, of which the essential ingredient is consciousness. Human consciousness seems to have a stimulating effect upon the unconscious. The idea that God takes a personal interest in human beings with whom he maintains an ongoing dialogue without actually incarnating is the essential contribution of the Jews to human history. This idea plus that of a single incarnation was taken up by Christianity in the Piscean Age, and now, as we enter the Age of Aquarius, a much more psychological age, we have the idea that something can change in the collective unconscious (God) as a result of attention being directed to it. We see this already in the myth of Faust, and even earlier in Job.
Consciousness should not be misunderstood as something purely intellectual. Like ‘conscience’, it derives from Latin con and scientia meaning ‘knowing’. Therefore consciousness signifies ‘knowing with another.’ The other may be God or another person or another part of ourselves. Consciousness combines head (logos) and heart (eros). This contrasts with ‘science’ which is derived from scientia alone and therefore denotes knowing detached from feeling or ‘withness.’ It is written: “He who loves God will know God.” This is the sort of knowledge, driven by the heart, which is the bedrock of consciousness. Edward Edinger writes:
On the collective level, consciousness is the name for a new supreme value coming to birth in modern man. The pursuit of consciousness, ‘conscience.’ unites the goals of the two previous stages in Western history, namely religion and science. Religion (meaning ‘linking back’) has as its essential purpose the maintaining of man’s connectedness with God. This corresponds to Eros, the connecting principle, and the ‘withness’ factor of consciousness as ‘knowing with’. Science, on the other hand, boldly gave up the connection with the other and opted instead to pursue an increase in human knowledge. If religion is Self-oriented, science is ego-oriented. Religion is based on Eros, science on Logos. The age now dawning will provide a synthesis for this thesis and antithesis. Religion sought linkage, science sought knowledge. The new world view will seek linked knowledge. The God-image is like the atmosphere, the pervasive medium in which we exist but of which we are unaware. We participate in it. It is inside and outside of us. It expresses itself through us. Because we are of the same substance as it, it changes as we change. Who discovered water? I don’t know, but it wasn’t the fish.
An excellent example of this synthesis is demonstrated by the dependency on the spiritual element when dealing with the problems of this world which we can see in the following. It also provides us with a solution to our own problems which we might profit from if we only looked back for them to history This example occurred in the 6th century BC, a time when all major decisions were made only with the concurrence of an oracle, most prominently the one of Apollo at Delphi. It didn’t matter whether one was attempting to establish a new business, plant a new colony, go to war, get married, or whatever. If one could make the journey to an oracle, one did it. And records at Delphi were kept of all requests and decisions made by the priestess, called the Pythia. There was at one point a problem which I am sure we can all recognize as a current one as well. The Libyans were enveloped in a civil war against their king and the rebels reached out for foreign help and advice to the Pythia at Delphi. She told them to divide Libya along tribal lines, allowing the current king to remain ruler of his own tribal portion. If he resisted, or any of his successors resisted, they would be killed. The king agreed and peace followed. At the king’s death, his son attempted to restore the previous situation and, as the Pythia had predicted, was killed. Why can’t we listen to our elders? The situation is no different today.
Just as Christ was the first Piscean man, Jung may have been the first Aquarian man. In the Piscean Age we swam in the waters of the unconscious which sustained us — indeed, the unconscious is often symbolized in dreams by the ocean. In the Aquarian Age our relationship to the waters is becoming more conscious, as we have all been discovering. As the image of Aquarius tells us, we are fated to assume the burden of the unconscious upon our shoulders. Everything we need is to be found within us. This is a truth that is hard to hold onto, partly because in America, perhaps the world’s most extraverted society, we are constantly being assured that what we need lies outside of us — in the shopping center, church, social hall, books, university, and so on. The pundits scratch their head, wondering, “Why, when Americans are better off economically than ever before, is the national mood so discontented?” No better answer exists than that found in Scripture.
Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, Or, as Jung reminded us, we have forgotten why man’s life should be sacrificial; that is, offered up to an idea greater than himself.
We have not only forgotten why man’s life should be sacrificial, but we have forgotten how sacrificial it actually is. Indeed, life in matter is itself a sacrifice for soul. In matter, we lose the ability to fly, to perceive clearly, to express ourselves easily, to unite completely with another. In short, this is a life of limitations for the soul. Separation is itself a sacrifice of oneness. It is a training in the opposites. We live a separate life in order to know better the meaning of a spiritual life. It is learning by experiencing the opposites. So in attaining anything on this earth we must sacrifice something else, its opposite. To become something we must give up hope of becoming something else. To attain body, we must sacrifice spirit. Soul is spirit minus body; body is soul minus spirit. So it seems that the Mysteries are becoming individual instead of collective. The Church radically opposed the Mysteries, insisting that Christianity is not a Mystery as the Gnostics would have it, but it is becoming a Mystery religion simply because it can no longer maintain the historicity of its doctrine. St. Malachy may have been right — the present pope may very well be the last. The Christ may continue as Paraclete or daimon, also the Virgin, but both must accept the entire gamut of all points of view. Christ must no longer turn his back on his brother, as he did when dealing with the devil on the mount. As you can see, this religion is not one of merely sweetness and light. Consciousness, as Prometheus knew, is fire, and we must suffer as he did for stealing that fire from the gods. Consciousness is the deepest and most cherished dream of the soul — the day is the dream of the night. As the Bushman said, There is a dream dreaming us. indeed, I have seen many things that are not true.
To conclude, you shall read a portion of a lovely piece of poetic prose by P.L. Travers, from Parabola Magazine (XI:4) which deals with the meanings that myth holds for all of us, called Lively Oracles.
If there are to be new mythologies — and why should we need new mythologies?– they cannot but congregate to this point.
So a` Dieu, Taliesin, Bard of Elphin! Where the center holds and the end folds into the beginning there is no such word as farewell. . .
My shadow follows me as I walk westward. The sunset spreads it along the grass, taller and lordlier, now, than I. What will be remembered in it, this changing incorporeal shape compact of myself and the sun? When the tides of evening come flowing in we shall both be lost to sight.
May the Lord have mercy on me and my shadow!