Dionysus writes: >>However I find that I am constantly having to clarify and define terms, which I thought we were all agreed upon, to others who simply don't get it (yet). Is this an educational conversation or are we attempting to create a mythology that has import to the world we live in NOW. From whom or what, or for whom or what are we attempting to resurrect the myth?
I fully understand Dionysus' frustration, and have felt the same way myself at times. It’s a not uncommon dynamic at times - just as a discussion seems to have hit its stride, doors opening and light bulbs going off in the head, suddenly the exchange gets bogged down because of a misunderstanding of a term or concept central to Joseph Campbell’s understanding of myth.
On the other hand, keep in mind that a mythology that “has import to the world we live in now” can’t just speak to those who have read so many pages of Campbell and demonstrate mastery of an official list of vocabulary words. And then there are so many levels to Joe’s thinking and writing – every time I re-read one of his books – say, Hero with a Thousand Faces
or the volumes of The Masks of God
, it’s a different book than the first time I read it through – like peeling the layers of an onion.
Campbell’s work takes much reflection to absorb, and that needs to be done in little bites that take time to chew and digest – hard to swallow it whole anymore than one inhales a steak in one gulp.
A lot of people are not going to fully grok every contribution to the conversation as we're not all in the same place - or even coming from the same place. Further, I find even people who have read a great deal of Campbell have blind spots (myself included) where they cling to a single and often correct (as far as it goes) interpretation, to the exclusion of other understandings (as if additional layers threaten the original insight); I suspect, given the empirical emphasis of our culture, that we all at times have a little bit of a literalist lurking within …
And then these are “conversations,” not graduate seminars – and conversations tend to be a little free ranging, drifting off topic here and there, but generally circling back to the main subject (depending on how interested the participants are in the subject).
One hint on how to deal with this somewhat disconcerting dynamic on those occasions it arises: I would suggest not worrying too much when one or two people get sidetracked or confused by basic concepts or misapplications of vocabulary if you find this jolting; the whole conversation doesn’t need to follow. It’s not rude to not respond to every single comment – that’s impossible anyway, considering we’ve had over 90 posts to this conversation. If you prefer, just keep talking to those who are engaged and getting what you are saying; if the pace of the conversation is maintained, those who are confused will catch up. I guarantee someone will sooner or later will jump in and take the time to connect the dots for them – but that doesn’t have to be you, nor do you need to be drawn into that side loop to the main conversation.
Thanks to Dionysus, though, for drawing attention back to the main subject (as have sladeb and nandu and others)
I am not interested in trying to adapt the Semitic religious beliefs (Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity or Mohammedanism) to the modern world. Not the "isms" at any rate. I am not denying the value of some of the teachings of these faiths and I am sure that parts of them have a value in the modern world, but the basic thrust of these faiths, in my opinion, no longer apply. Now what is the answer? Do we take a bit of this and a bit of that. Grab big chunks of the Greek perspective (Prometheus, now there was a Hero) and synthesize with the beautiful psychological perspectives of the Hindu and Buddhist teachings and try to develop something of relevance to ourselves and others? I really want to know.
What, indeed, is the answer?
The question is about resurrecting myth – but does this mean creating a new collective mythology? If so, I fear we’ll be disappointed. L. Ron Hubbard and Joseph Smith notwithstanding, a mythology is not a conscious creation of the head, but comes from, and speaks to, the heart. Myth is a creation of soul, not intellect – and, as Campbell points out, we can no more determine what the coming mythology will be anymore than we can know what we will dream about tonight; nevertheless, just as there are elements common to all dreams, so myth flows into recognizable patterns and shapes.
Paul Ray and Ruth Anderson describe an exchange with Joseph Campbell in their book, Cultural Creatives
We were new to these ideas, and we argued energetically with the eminent and exceedingly patient profesor. How could he claim that myths were so important to the coherence of a society when it was clear that, as a culture, we no longer had such myths? Certainly no guiding story was carrying our generation through the stages of life and opening us to a sacred connection, we said.
"That's exactly the point," he agreed genially.
"Well, where do we get one?" we wanted to know.
"The panorama of possibilities has made it impossible to mythologize," he announced calmly. "The individual is just going in raw. All you can do is follow your own inward life and try to stay true to that."
"That's not very helpful."
"I'm not able to correct the world, he replied. "I can tell you what a mythology is, but when you ask me how we're going to get a new one, you've gone past me level of incompetence." And then he rocked back in his chair and laughed with great amusement.
I suspect that's one of the main reasons why I like Joseph Campbell. He doesn't tell one what to believe - "this is the way, walk ye therefore in it" - or try to construct a mythology for us to implement. Instead, he provides the tools, but trusts that if you use those tools with an open heart, you will find your way. Campbell pointed out that in this postmodern age, absent a working cultural mythology, each individual must discover/create one's own mythology. Like the Knights of the Round Table, each ventures into the forest where the woods are thickest and there is no path.
I've noticed two trends among those who explore Joseph Campbell's ideas and observations. Campbell himself noted that many of his students at Sarah Lawrence discovered depths to their birth faith of which they were unaware - and this added dimension deepened their own commitment to the beliefs in which they were raised (generally Judaism and Christianity). Of course, among associates of the JCF, I notice that renewed interest in one's birth faith is rarely channeled into fundamentalist and literalistic readings, but opens out to embrace ecumenical and mystical aspects of these traditions.
AJ’s experience is relevant here:
I personally feel that for a myth to be real for any individual, one has to actively practice it … For me, as I remember us discussing some time ago, that involved a return to a more liberal form of Christianity. For others, several of whom post here, it meant shifting to an Eastern perspective, finding a better balance, perhaps, by practicing Buddhism, or finding their own rituals, sometimes pulling together the more meaningful bits and pieces from several sources. What is important is the active participation in the practice. For me, this means participation in a community, and involves giving some sort of service to the community, as well as practicing the rituals themselves.
That’s a powerful personal account of engaging the mythos
powering the Christian revelation. AJ’s experience isn’t tied to a literal interpretation of scripture, but to participation in the ritual – which, as Campbell points out, is participation in the myth that comes to life through us
in the ritual. It’s an attitude – call it the mythic perspective, if you will – that AJ brings to the ritual that gives it life, and hence the power to transform. Nor does her experience lead her to discount that of others outside her tradition; rather, it seems to increase her understanding – and hence compassion – of others who follow different yet parallel paths.
(And AJ, considering my words have in other venues been criticized as trying to drive people away from Christianity, I am thrilled to have played some small part in your personal movement toward a deeper relationship with Christ! Oh, and yes, this conversation should sound familiar – we have discussed this subject two or three times this year, but it fascinates me nonetheless – nevertheless, I apologize for repeating myself ad nauseum
I’m not sure I’d automatically discount the “isms.” The literalist versions in all these traditions seem destined to fade away - but beyond the literalism the transcendent mystery peeks through. Right now I am immersed in Meditations on the Tarot
, an anonymous, 658 page exploration of Christian Hermeticism that someone here on site recommended (short term memory loss precludes recall of exactly who), with an afterword by the late Cardinal Hans Urs von Balthasar - in fact, Pope John Paul II kept a two-volume German translation on his desk – and the book is absolutely mind blowing in it’s approach to symbolism and the deeper Mystery behind the Christian revelation. Gurdjieff, Spinoza, Jung, even Sri Auribindo and the Buddha are referenced throughout this work, which is a wonderful bridge between Campbell’s observations regarding myth, and esoteric Christianity – an encouraging sign.
Sladeb, on the other hand, moves in a direction that at first seems opposite to AJ, away from organized religion altogether – yet I believe both AJ and Sladeb recognize a certain kinship and understanding that they follow parallel, albeit unique, paths.
A second response among those drawn to Campbell that leaps out at me even more are those who are in search of a mythology that works for them. Some are led into a specific discipline from another culture (I think of a number of sincere seekers raised in a Jewish or Christian context who adopt the robes and traditions of Zen), but far more seem to embrace a cafeteria approach to spirituality - borrowing a little from this mythology here, that belief system over there, and combining these into a system of personal beliefs and practices that work for them.
Sociologist Paul Ray and psychologist Ruth Anderson label such individuals "cultural creatives," in a book of the same title published in the year 2000.
Cultural Creatives are more likely to be drawn to holistic approaches in everything from health to food to spirituality, are "aggressive consumers of the arts and culture," are more likely to be careful consumers, and often have eclectic, individualistic lifestyles. They are open to and interested in the beliefs and traditions of other cultures, and often adopt a hodge-podge of beliefs from all over the globe as elements out of which they construct their own spiritual practices. Cultural Creatives fuel "the experience industry" - weekend workshops, spiritual gatherings, experiential vacations, vision quests, etc. (and, the authors note, the vendors of such services "have to be Cultural Creatives themselves, or they can't do it authentically...").
Of course, since so many of these cultural creatives are following their individual quest, entering the woods where there is no path, most don't know there are so many others like themselves.
I was suprised to learn this group comprises 26% of the population - roughly 50 million adults! Of course, these demographics may have shifted some - especially immediately in the wake of 9/11 - but there are still a sizeable number of people today forging their own way through the woods
Though i hate being typed (and already see signs of Madison Avenue trying to take advantage of this market niche), I imagine I am one of these cultural creatives, taking from the mythologies and traditions of the world what works for me - myths and images and rituals and symbols that feed the soul – which has only been possible on this grand scale (that of Campbell’s Creative Mythology
) in recent generations, as the world contracts and cultures collide.
After waking each morning and addressing matters of personal hygiene, I sit and meditate before my altar, lighting candles and incense, intoning various chants from a variety of traditions, then just sit and breathe. After meditating, I perform two different breathing exercises, then do some chakra work, and finally form intentions for the coming day. At the change of seasons and the cross-quarter holidays, as well as most full moons, I perform simple rituals involving smudging, candles, incense, and an elaborate tarot spread.
Joseph Campbell's work has made possible this fluid exchange between cultures, this emerging ability of the individual to draw on many mythic belief systems. Sitting zazen, then laying out a tarot spread after smudging the house with sage in a native american ritual, does not seem contradictory at all - for these rituals access the same mythic realm. Through Campbell we have learned that there is a harmony beneath the surface level of mythic symbols and images from different cultures.
Hence, I don’t apologize that I am also drawn to the beauty, elegance, and exquisite, complex imagery of the Christian revelation. At heart, it is the Love underlying this tiny persecuted cult that provided the momentum for the grassroots groundswell that overwhelmed the power of Rome, expanding beyond the Mediterranean world to conquer Europe and the Americas.
I feel more fortunate than those with an exclusive orientation, for I experience God in communion with Jesus, in prasad
with Krishna, or in a peyote and sweat lodge ceremony. Those fully vested in the one true faith, however (whichever of the one true faiths that might be), will likely feel anything but holy if invited to participate in a Bushido fire-walk rite or Wicca coven.
However, I can’t question the depth of someone else’s experience of spirit, any more than s/he can question mine. The best we can do is seek the language – or maybe the symbols - to convey to one another our experiences of the Mystery, and agree to embrace where those meet.
<font size=-1>[ This Message was edited by: Bodhi_Bliss on 2007-02-12 19:14 ]</font>