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After taking a break from our dedicated MythBlast conversations over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays,we are back to discuss “Sacrificial Origins,” the latest essay in JCF’s MythBlast series from writer, director, artist, teacher, and mythologist Norland Téllez (which you can read here), our guest this week in Conversations of a Higher Order to discuss his latest entry in JCF’s MythBlast series.
Many of you know the drill by now. I will get us started with a few questions and comments, but no telling where the conversation will go from there. It will be your thoughts, reactions, observations and insights that make this a communal exchange of ideas rather than just another interview. Please feel free to join this discussion and engage Dr. Tellez directly with your questions and comments.
Norland, I have a couple observations and a question. Can’t help but notice a theme in your recent essays – a willingness to dive into the deepest, darkest, strata of myth. I’m sure that makes a few readers uncomfortable, given public touchy-feely perceptions of Joseph Campbell as an upbeat, optimistic prophet of wishcraft (reading “follow your bliss” as merely a feel-good mantra).
I was once asked in a public forum what the difference is between Joseph Campbell and the all-too-common stereotype of New Age adherents (which admittedly is a stereotype that certainly doesn’t apply to everyone who falls under that rubric). My response?
“Joseph Campbell is not afraid of the dark.”
Primitive Mythology is a prime example of of Campbell’s willingness to explore the harsh realities of civilizations and cultures in thrall to a “living” myth – it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
At the same time, Campbell has garnered criticism from the other end of the spectrum when he documents actual mythological practices, as in this excerpt from a yet-to-be-published manuscript, drawn from a number of obscure interviews:
Q: IS THERE A WAY TO RECONCILE THE CREATION STORY IN GENESIS WITH WHAT WE KNOW FROM SCIENCE?
Why should one bother to, any more than you would try to reconcile the Navajo story?
It’s about time we stopped feeling that we have to believe in the Bible. It’s the most over-advertised book in the world. It’s very pretentious to claim to be the word of God, or accepting it as such and perpetuating this tribal mythology, justifying all kinds of violence to people who are not members of the tribe: “There is no God in all the world but in Israel.” That leaves out everybody else. This is one of the most chauvinistic views of morality.
Q: AREN’T YOU SPLITTING HAIRS HERE? HASN’T YOUR WORK JUSTIFIED VIOLENCE IN ALL SORTS OF PRIMITIVE SOCIETIES?
Did I say anything quite like that? No, I said that was the way it was. And this kind of thing has maintained the structure of society, hasn’t it? But I didn’t say it was all right.
I appreciate that you, too, are not afraid of the dark – but observations of what is, whether yours or Campbell’s, are not endorsements – far from it!
A secondary observation relates to how this theme of sacrifice plays out today – not just in the religious celebration of the mass, but in the secular realm through film and literature. My favorite example is Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery.” When The New Yorker first published this short story in 1948, the initial public reaction was negative and visceral, but this piece is widely recognized today as a classic (in fact, I often shared this in class during my years teaching literature in junior high – it’s a compelling tale with the power to crack open the mind of cynical adolescents).
And now a question. In your essay, you note that
Putting an end to the endless night of pre-history and its meaningless cycles of death and reproduction, a sacrificial killing of an innocent human victim—not unlike the figure of Christ— lies at the cradle of humanity’s spiritual emergence.”
Does this stepping down from the literal practice of physical sacrifice into a symbolic ritual prove effective? Are deaths from violence, whether on the individual (homicide) or collective (war) scale lower as a percentage of the human population than in ages past? I think they may be – but is this a result of our embrace of symbolism vs literally acting out these rites (and maybe we should include so many unnecessary deaths from hunger, poverty and disease, often a result of oppression and economic violence).
Or is the gradual switch over millennia from literal to more symbolic re-enactments of ritual a function of the evolution of human consciousness?
I’m not sure there is a definite answer, but I would appreciate your thoughts on that, and where you believe humankind goes from here?
tie-dyed teller of tales
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