July 25, 2020 at 7:59 pm #3630Stephen GerringerJoined: August 19, 2016Keymaster
Writer, director, artist, teacher, and mythologist Norland Tellez, author of this week’s MythBlast posted on JCF’s homepage (“The Ripening Outcast,” which you can read by clicking on the link), has graciously consented to join us this week in Conversations of a Higher Order for a discussion of this latest essay in the MythBlast series.
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 expand this beyond just another interview into a communal exchange of ideas – true “conversations of a higher order.” Please feel free to join this discussion and engage Dr. Tellez directly with your questions and comments.
So let’s begin:
Dr. Tellez, I am fascinated by your discussion of living vs. dead myths. So many people today tend to approach mythology as a sort of cafeteria spirituality – take a helping from this culture, another from that, and mixing them all together to form one’s personal spiritual practice – a technique grounded in one of Campbell’s observations:
There are mythologies that are scattered, broken up, all around us. We stand on what I call the terminal moraine of shattered mythic systems that once structured society. They can be detected all around us. You can select any of these fragments that activate your imagination for your own use. Let it help shape your own relationship to the unconscious system out of which these symbols have come.
Joseph Campbell, Thou Art That, p. 86-87
Indeed, that approach has enriched my own life. But, as Campbell notes, though the symbols may speak to you, these bits and pieces are fragments of mythologies no longer active – dead mythologies. He juxtaposes this against the context in which these myths originally came to life:
[E]very culture’s mythology up to date has grown up within a certain horizon, a horizon of common experience which the members of that culture have all shared. And you go to another horizon you have other experiences, and the mythology will have a different complexion, a different quality altogether. (Campbell, from an interview with John Lobell)
When discussing living myths in “The Ripening Outcast”, you add something important to the idea of shared experience:
Living myth is, by definition, a collective manifestation of the archetypal psyche.
For those who may not be familiar with Jung or depth psychology in general, could you expand on this? Is there a simple way to describe what you mean by “the archetypal psyche?” And “collective manifestation” sounds like something more than the members of a society making a conscious choice as to what to believe.
How does that work?
tie-dyed teller of tales
July 26, 2020 at 8:26 pm #3645
Norland, Stephen, Everyone,
This Mythblast is so rich; as I read it I felt I was taken from the views of the spiritual and psychic strata from heaven to hell: It begins with the monk in mango forest and the brahmin then works its way down to the untouchables, the outcasts who shovel feces and dead animals or anything diseased. The photo of the monk in the mango garden is like paradise, and the orange glow in the photo accentuates the idea of life all aglow; this seems to me to represent the color of a living myth: as Nolan states, it is alive, alive in the psyche, and there is an immediacy of experience with the living myth that feels (imo) less remote. This is not to say I do not feel a strong affinity with the myths of Pompeii, as the dead myths can still provoke and elicit a strong response through the symbols. The symbols of the dead myths are however perhaps less known–to know is to own in the now; Jung stated that a symbol was the unknown (meaning is open for interpretation) whereas a sign is the known (we already know what the symbol signifies within a particular instance or experience). For instance, since I was raised in the Catholic church I knew (was conditioned through repetition) what to do when I walked in the church and dipped my fingers in holy water. The bowl of water that was blessed by the priest was there waiting for parishioners to bless themselves with. Some made the sign of the cross with it, but old traditional was to make the triple sign of the cross in the bridge between the eyes (much like blessing one’s third eye if not just plain vision!), then the lips (to bless the speech), and then over the heart (to bless one’s feelings of the heart). This felt to me like a living myth back then because I did it in the “now” and I “owned” it, carrying through with the behavior of the ritual. I am thinking of what in those days to me felt like a dead myth and what I come up with is this: The Latin Mass. I often attended Latin Mass with my grandmother Mary who knew the whole thing by heart. To her it was a living myth since she knew what it all meant, whereas to me it was a dead myth because I did not understand a word of it but only knew it was from the more distant past in Rome. However, recollecting now, I can add that in a slight sense it it became to some degree a living myth to me because I saw it alive through my grandmother’s eyes and heart.
One thing that can make some dead myths come alive then is ritual, and Stephen has remarked on this at some point before in the discussions. When we actually participate in the mythic/spiritual rites, we bring it to life as a living myth. How perfectly precise the rite today matches the rites of the initiates or priests or spiritual practitioners in the old or ancient world may not always be the most necessary thing, because if we still get the meaning of the symbols through our psychic impressions of the symbols or acts, then we are still receiving the heart of the myth–its art of hearing with the inner ear the voice of the daimon or our inner selves, when it speaks to our souls and our hearts feel it echo in its chambers–the ‘tabernackle of the heart’, as a pagan/earth spiritualist and Qabalist friend of mine used to say. If we come close to using the symbols in the same (similar) way, we can evoke the same meaning–interpreted through our own psyches much as what the ancients may have been feeling. Even those who attempt the old rites of some cultures with the intent of merely “enacting” the rites (such as Celtic rites, Egyptian rites, or any of the old pagan cultural rites) end up feeling some extent of participation mystique and as if they have actually entered the mysteries. Does it depend on belief? Maybe for some to some extent, but it also seems as if nonetheless the symbols speak to the psyche and thus frequently to the soul (for the sake of those who separate them here–I would have to quote more of James Hillman for that probably).
When we evoke those same feelings that the ancients felt in the past rites or symbols, this then could be part of what the archetypal psyche is. Our human psyches have the tendency to “think” in archetypal fashion–our psyches are indeed part of the archetypal pool. The archetypal psyche, as a poetry professor Richard Messer of Bowling Green State University who had also studied at the Jungian Swiss Institute once said to a class I was in, we have all seen the same sun, the same moon, the same forms of thing such as a tree, for centuries, and these images span the ages; he said that strong poetry or successful poetry utilizes the universal appeal of the archetypes. While universal, the images/symbols still speak to us personally through our personal associations through our personal experience, thus we have both the collective psyche and the individual psyche–but there are other considerations too to the collective psyche such as cultures and societies or religious groups, for that matter. Rituals are one way of resurrecting the (a) dead myth.
This brings me to the idea of this caste system. I am not looking up quotes from Jung here, but just speaking from my own individual experience which I guess is also universal experience for most of us (since we are not monks or brahmins per say!): I do suppose we all feel like brahmins at times and like the undesirables sometimes. Some of us might be actual orphans or some of us might be orphaned in another respect. We might feel like a brahmin in one situation and like an untouchable in another situation. We all have our domains, perhaps of where we feel most high and where we feel most low. We all have things we would like to hide or keep hidden. We would like to hide some of the complexes in our Shadows (according to Jung) due to things about ourselves we would like to keep hidden. Maybe when they come out sometimes and someone sees those things, we feel like an untouchable, feeling like the ‘other’ person will not accept us/like us/think we are okay (remember the 60s I’m Okay/You’re Okay? 🙂 If we cannot change the situation of what it is about us that makes us feel at our lowest lows, perhaps we can change our reactions to it to work through the complex. So the personal alchemy of change could make for the process of ripening in the individual psyche and affect the collective psyche in that process just as the collective affects the individual psyche. All the mangoes could rot on the trees if not picked in the right time. As far as the mythic mangoes or the mythic orange mythologems of mangoes, the symbols are always ripe for the picking–and sometimes they do pick us! (Maybe we were born into a particular culture that believes this or that, or follows a certain religion, etc.) Whether we “eat” our god when we take Communion at the Catholic Mass, or whether we eat Cakes and Wine at a pagan/earth centered spirituality ceremony/circle, there is something there to imbibe insofar as the archetypal symbols. Both these symbols mean that the god or the goddess or the spirit of the earth and the cosmos nurture us.
Then there are those myths that are best left dead and not enacted or resurrected (literally) anymore–that is another story that is the story of Abraham thinking God told him to sacrifice his son. I have a cousin who is a Christian minister who told me that that story marks the time when human sacrifice was no longer to be done and that the sacrifice/crucifixion of Christ was the reminder of that and no more animal sacrifices either. Repetitive enactment of old rites like Easter as just the acknowledgement is the part that is kept alive of the Crucifixion, though, just as pagans will celebrate the same rites going around the Wheel of the Year from Spring Equinox through Winter Solstice. Traditionalists will repeat the old rites/same rites year by year, and others will make it fresh and new each year by changing or adding something, but both traditionalists and non-traditionalists will probably invoke the 4 directions prior to the rite and draw the Circle–just like Catholics will use the holy water and genuflect before Christ on the cross.
The symbols have meaning that gets carried on down through the generations and for the most part all is needed is the symbol to be affected, but to understand it consciously is why we study and discuss the myths. I think those who are not interested in discussing mythology are those that do not feel the desire to understand it the way some of us do. Some of us want to know it, to know the mysteries–for whatever reason. Some people ask why study these old “dead” myths–perhaps they just don’t have the same desire to understand that some of us do. I would love to hear people describe why it is they feel pulled or called to know the old myths, whether a feeling or what you think about it.July 26, 2020 at 8:39 pm #3646
P.S. to my response:
I did not edit this, and could have, to shorten it. I just wrote it in a stream of…consciousness? This Mythblast was so beautifully rich, and it also brought up a lot of memories for me. Thank you, Nolan, and thank you Stephen for your wonderful thought-provoking introduction to this Mythblast. I am in the middle of moving to a new home, and have been in a rush–it was wonderful to think of these things instead of how to organize the kitchen shelves or where to put the furniture for the first time in about two weeks! 🙂July 26, 2020 at 8:58 pm #3647
Norland; another great offering you have brought and indeed one of Stephen’s insights for me suggests the: “Archetype of the Hero”.
It’s interesting this topic makes it’s appearance today since the US is in mourning recognizing one of the icons of the Civil Rights movement; “John Lewis”; who like Dr. Martin Luther King has come to symbolize not only the role the hero plays within a particular society; but also the character behind the figure. One might ask: “What is identifiable that evokes the best in human nature whether it be a god or a human being? What is this quality in the Hero; whether mortal or god that makes this timeless symbol so important? And why is this quality also universal? What does it mean to be heroic?”
In in the opening lines of Phil Cousineau’s introduction of the: The Hero’s Journey, (on page, XI); he wrote:
Joseph Campbell’s long odyssey through the seas of ancient mythology was as much a spiritual quest as it was a scholarly one. Through his prodigious readings, writings, and travels, as well as his crossroads meetings with many of the country’s most influential men and women. he discovered remarkable parallels in our world’s mythological heritage and reinforcement for the deep conviction he had held since he was a young student that there is a fundamental unity at the heart of nature.
‘Truth is one, the sages speak of it by many names.’ he often quoted the Vedas. To synthesize the constant truths of history became the burning point of his life; to bridge the abyss between science and religion, mind and body, East and West, with the timeless linkage of myths became his tasks of tasks.
‘My hope’, he wrote in his preface to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, ‘is that a comparative elucidation may contribute to the perhaps not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the name of human mutual understanding.’ ”
So what would the main feature be of the world’s great myths and heros that would clarify their distinction throughout history; and my answer would be: “Transcendent”. “Transparent to transcendence” is a phrase Joseph would often use to describe a message of metaphysical or spiritual quality that could penetrate through the material manifestations that often blocked a deeper interconnecting understanding between different realms of human experience. And these barriers most often were the major difficulties that stood in the way of human understanding. To be clearer my approach has to do with different: (east vs west) outlooks as well as historical barriers of: race, class, prestige, monetary advantage, spiritual disagreement, emotional dislike, or just harmony in general if you will; and these are the kinds of problems the hero most generally faces. There are other hero distinctions of course such as: sacrifice, selflessness, courage, determination; to name but a few; but this one feature I think most properly addresses some of the cross-cultural and historical concerns Norland’s piece and Stephen’s multi-dimensional bridge opens up.July 27, 2020 at 12:22 pm #3653
“We all must live within a system”; was one of Joseph’s clarifications about modern human existence. And his point had to do with how myth would help one accomplish that; not change it but to live within it under whatever kinds of trials and tribulations that one might encounter. The modern technological and social conditions mankind now faces have much to do with the tremendous rate of change whereby what was relevant one moment would evolve into something else at an ever increasing rate of speed so that human society is now in; as he put it: “a freefall into the future”. And by this he meant that the myths that had been the glue that had held them together no longer worked and the individual is thrown back on themselves in learning how to navigate this new landscape they now find themselves in. And here is where his understanding of Carl Jung’s themes begin to come into play along with the ideas of: Adolph Bastian’s local myth (Desi); and universal myth (Marga); Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of 5 values: survival, security, personal relationships, prestige, and self-development; and Oswald Spengler’s: “Decline of the West”, which had to do with the ever increasing disintegration of western civilization. These have nothing to do with what a mythically inspired person lives for; as he says in: “Pathways to Bliss”; on page 91:
“The beginning of a mythic world or a mythic tradition is a seizure–something that pulls you out of yourself, beyond yourself, beyond all rational patterns. It is out of such seizures that civilizations are built. All you have to do is look at those monuments, and you’ll see that these are the nuttiest things mankind ever thought of. Look at the Pyramids. Just try to interpret them in terms of rational means and aims or economic necessities; think of what it means in a society with the technology of Egypt—which is to say practically nothing—to build a thing that massive. The cathedrals, the great temples of the world, or the work of any artist who has given his life to producing these things—-all of these things come from mythic seizure, not from Maslow’s values. The awakening of awe, the awakening of zeal, is the beginning, and curiously enough, that’s what pulls people together.
People living for these 5 values are pushed apart. Two things pull people together: aspiration and terror. These are what glue a society together.”
Joseph goes on to describe some of the mythic themes that informed these early cultures such as the Christian doctrines of salvation from the: “Fall from the Garden” of Original Sin, the Church being the vessel of Grace through Redemption and Salvation with the whole society intertwined around the Church, God, and the business of these ideas where he ends with on: (page, 94): “You have this amazing culture whose whole purpose is to cleanse each individual soul from the terrible error of the disobedience in the Garden of Eden.”
But what he is driving at in my view is humanity has now evolved to a place where these ancient mythologies if read “literally” no longer serve the functions for which they were originally designed; (they are out of date); as Joseph put it in his series of conversations with Bill Moyers in: “The Power of Myth”. So therefore the individual is as he stated: “thrown back on themselves; and must learn to find their own way”. And here is where his idea of one’s: “personal myth” emerges; and with this the psychological ideas of Carl Jung. The template motifs of the: “Journey-Adventure of the (thousand-faced) Archetypal Self/Hero”; or free agent; has now replaced that of the suppliant worshiper of the deity; and the individual has now become the god of their own destiny. And like that of the Hindu Upanishads; the gods are all within; not without. You are one with nature; a strand in the web of life; not a separate entity unto itself dictated on how to live to by a spiritually and psychologically outdated and dysfunctional: “thou-shalt” system. And this is what I would interpret as Stephen’s topic reference to an: “archetypal psyche”; that is if I’m understanding this reference correctly in it’s proper context.July 28, 2020 at 12:10 am #3660mythistorianJoined: May 2, 2020Participant
Thank you all for your thoughtful comments and contributions—thank you Mary and James, it delights me to see so much fire struck by our mythblasts! I think it is a testimony to our shared passion for mythological studies!
Despite myself, I will have to keep this first reply brief but I hope to the point, especially addressing Stephen’s question about my use of the term “archetypal psyche” and “collective manifestation,” which he rightly brought attention to, for it can be a contentious issue even within the Jungian community. And yet Stephen challenges me to put it in the simplest way possible for those not familiar with archetypal psychology or Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious, which Jung advanced in contradistinction to the “personal unconscious” falsely attributed to Freud. I say falsely attributed because Freud already knew what later feminists would make into a rallying cry for women’s rights, namely, that “the personal is already the political.”
This is my contention with the emphasis on “collective manifestation” when it comes to archetypal data. In line with Jung’s original idea, I want to broaden our view of the psyche as an encompassing reality well beyond the confines of an individual consciousness. Part of the problem with accepting this notion, I think, is the fact that it gently pushes against the ideological fantasy that underpins our belief in rugged individualism. Although it should have been obvious to most jungians, as it was obvious to Jung despite himself, the manifestations of the collective psyche are in spectacular display everyday on the broad stage of history, not necessarily always hidden in the bowls of an individual consciousness.
So the simplest term for the collective manifestations of the archetypal psyche contains the hyphen of a mystical union of opposites: it is mytho-history, which is, of course, a favorite term of mine, derived from my study of the Popol Vuh and Maya mythology. Sometimes contracted into mythistory, as Joseph Mali does in his book titled Mythistory: The Making of Modern Historiography. This is an apt term in this context since it contains both the material and symbolic dimensions of the psyche, in its individual and collective manifestations, as an integrated whole of human co-existence on earth.
NTJuly 28, 2020 at 12:25 am #3661
Norland; thank you for such a wonderful reply. But after reading through my posts I must say though I’m not very comfortable with my understanding concerning this topic right now; so I’m going to wait a bit before posting anything else at the moment until I have a better view of this. (Please continue on though since it’s probably because I’ve not quite gotten the jest of things.)July 28, 2020 at 4:48 pm #3663aloberhoulserJoined: April 18, 2020Participant
Thanks Stephen for the invite here – and everyone for the awesome responses.
Is it OK to anchor this to NOW? Is it too far of a stretch to relate these “outcasts” to the “essential workers” or COVID-19 survivors?
I don’t want to go too far down that path alone & detract from this excellent topic!July 28, 2020 at 7:51 pm #3664Stephen GerringerJoined: August 19, 2016Keymaster
Thanks for bearing with my request for clarification about what you mean by the archetypal psyche (hardly fair to ask that you put it in the simplest way possible – trying to define the archetypal is akin to stapling one’s shadow to the wall).
Your response exceeded my expectations:
In line with Jung’s original idea, I want to broaden our view of the psyche as an encompassing reality well beyond the confines of an individual consciousness.
Despite a congruency, Jung’s term – the collective unconscious – strikes me as a touch inadequate today: I find any discussion of these concepts among those unfamiliar with Jung (and even with some who are) often needs to begin with the caveat that the unconscious is not deaf, dumb, directionless and blind, but is called such because consciousness (in my case, me – my waking ego, if you will), is unconscious, at least directly, of its workings.
The archetypal psyche is a term unladen with that baggage – nor, as you point out, is it tethered to an individual consciousness. Yes, there are individual expressions of the archetypal psyche that manifest in each life, in the same way you can taste the ocean in a single drop, but the focus of your essay looks beyond that single drop to the entire sea:
. . . the manifestations of the collective psyche are in spectacular display everyday on the broad stage of history, not necessarily always hidden in the bowels of an individual consciousness.
That distinction is my key takeaway – and I find that refreshing. When we think of Joseph Campbell today, the hero’s journey is what most often comes to mind: how do I apply the elements and trajectory of that oft-recurring motif to understand and improve my own life (or write a compelling screenplay)? I don’t intend to sound cynical about the hero’s journey, as it is a part of his legacy that has made a difference in so many lives, including my own – but Campbell did not focus exclusively on the Hero archetype alone. His rich and detailed Masks of God tetralogy is an historical survey of so many living mythologies when they were, indeed, “alive”
. . . which brings me back to your essay. If I understand correctly, you are saying that a living mythology isn’t something one believes in, like choosing a religion today, but is experienced simply as “what is” – part of the warp and woof of a culture – what a member of that culture knows to be true, perhaps akin to the way we experience gravity or know the world to be round.
This really stands out for me when you point out the “harshest aspects of true myth.” Besides your example of the treatment of dalits and other members of the śūdra caste in India (which continues to varying degrees on parts of the subcontinent today), I think of the “suttee” burials of whole courts in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt (and the evidence, which Campbell raises, of ritual regicide before that), or the ubiquity of human sacrifice in Mesoamerican cultures. We shudder today at these examples of man’s inhumanity to man – yet the kings who sacrificed themselves every 8 or 12 years (depending on the orbit of either Venus or Jupiter), whether in ancient Egypt or 18th century Rhodesia, appear to have submitted voluntarily.
And why not? A living mythology informs the perceptions and experience of one’s role in the universe: if one knows, as certain as I know the sun is yellow and the sky is blue, that death is just a transition that releases one to a better realm, or allows one to return to put on another body and live life anew, and every ruler before me, or every captain of a team sacrificed at the end of a ritual ball game in the Yucatan, has experienced the same, then maybe it’s not perceived as quite the tragedy it would be for you and me.
And that brings me to aloberhoulser’s question above, about anchoring this to the NOW. When Joseph Campbell spoke of how there is no active mythology today (at least, not one universally embraced by First World cultures), he was often asked about whether there could be a new mythology. Some who ask seem to think of myth as something to be consciously created and adopted; Joe, no surprise, generally responded that it doesn’t work that way:
[M]yths don’t come into being like that. You have to wait for them to appear. We cannot predict the next mythology which is coming, for mythology is not ideology. It is not generated by the brain, but from those deep creative centers below the human psyche.
I juxtapose that with the conclusion of your essay:
The equation of horrible social oppression with the functioning of a myth that sanctifies it should not escape our eye. It is a kind of transcendent union of physical and metaphysical violence which has been produced by a fierce antagonism that has raged in the collective unconscious from time immemorial. Violence is constitutional of any nation state; rather than being some kind of glitch in the system, such violence underpins its very functioning, the capacity to produce and reproduce itself and its relations of power. As ruling ideology, therefore, real myth casts and recasts the heart of a society, throwing its deep historical shadow into the darkness of human existence.
Mythologizing is always going on, beneath the level of consciousness. How can we say this dynamic is not already in play today?
tie-dyed teller of talesJuly 28, 2020 at 8:58 pm #3665
Stephen; this is truly a tremendous response to this topic; full of clarity and most helpful going forward. I have to say I was very confused about what the overlying themes of this topic were; and this post combined with Norland’s very thoughtful and insightful reply; (at least for me); helped to pull many concepts together into a more cohesive whole. (Although I’m still working through much of it.)
Joseph’s themes that many of us are aware of within the general public do not normally address these larger concepts in an accessible way so therefore; just like with the: “collective unconscious” when one uses the term: “collective manifestation” they are like patterns without a bridge to connect them unless one’s understanding of: “Archetypal Psyche” includes the distinction between the singular individual and the wider collective cultural overviews that separate them. Just like the western European psyche is different from the eastern; these cultural divides approach spirituality from two directions; especially concerning the idea of the “Ego”. So my confusion was left without a bridge to the other side which is what this topic addresses. As your post clarifies my starting place with the Hero as “vehicle of the transcendent across time” obviously came up short from what this topic was addressing. And my second part attempted to connect western theological concepts that Joseph had previously addressed within this larger realm also fell somewhat short because I did not fully understand what the overview was laying out as a starting place.
At any rate; I’ll continue in my attempts to better absorb this material while Norland and anyone else takes it from here. Again a masterful post Stephen!July 30, 2020 at 7:11 am #3684
Yes, your post spiralled my thoughts into some outer (or inner?) spaces! I very much enjoyed your further description of the archetypal psyche. Is this in your opinion more Hillman than Jung in scope insofar as Hillman’s notion and “invention” of Archetypal Psychology? Hillman seems to think that Jung only went so far and had limitations that he could extend and mend. I am curious as to your opinion on that. I love a lot of Hillman and when I began reading him and studying him, it certainly was a new way of seeing. (Way of Seeing, John Berger). It has seemed to me that most of Hillman’s ideas are based upon Jung’s ideas and theories but what fascinates me so much about Hillman is his heavy use of mythology in text.
I agree with your definitions which I agree are quite clarifying. I wish I could say more right now but with the vast amount of responses I do not feel that anything I could add could do any justice to any of the points made in your or anyone else’s discussion/posts/responses here. I feel like all I would be doing would be as I did above, putting my own spin on things from my own lived myths (personal mythology) of personal experience.
I really enjoy your thoughts and your writing and thank you again for an intriguing Mythblast. I also enjoyed everyone’s very rich and deeply contemplative responses to this Mythblast.July 30, 2020 at 7:44 am #3687
Mary; this was a really nice post and I hope you’ll add more whenever you feel like it. (Lived experience I think is extremely important; and I thought the added ideas you brought added much to this topic.) As for myself I’m regrouping for a bit so maybe there are some others who might have thoughts to add.July 30, 2020 at 3:43 pm #3683
James, I love your question, “One might ask: “What is identifiable that evokes the best in human nature whether it be a god or a human being? What is this quality in the Hero; whether mortal or god that makes this timeless symbol so important? And why is this quality also universal? What does it mean to be heroic?” At this moment I am thinking of many of my favorite myths and about the various traits of the heroes in each myth, such as the Greek myth of the 12 Labors of Heracles or Beowulf. Both of them had remarkable strength that was rather miraculous. Sometimes such as in The Lord of the Rings it is an inner spiritual of psychic (psyche) strength or integrity that Frodo has to overcome the powerful spell of the ring that usually brings out people’s inner ugly greed. For his travel companion and helper Sam (Samwise) it is his wisdom in his supportive role, and both have stamina. SInce the hero is always the protagonist, he has something good about him that serves good for the good of all; Gollum, an antagonist, antagonizes the protagonist and is the opposite trouble or evil. The hero transcends when after his departure on his hero’s journey he reaches the desired place to receive the boon to bring back to humankind/his or her people./society, whether freedom (slaying the dragon) or bringing fire from heaven to earth. His journey brings him the view from above the two places, the here and the there, and bridges them in transcendence, is one of my definitions, yet I consider both the traditional definitions of transcendence from Wilhelm’s translation of the I Ching and then Jung’s too.
Link to “Hexogram 20: Contemplation/View,” from Wilhelm’s Translation of the I Ching:
As I read this, I think of Beowulf being the guest of the king to save people from Grendel, and then I think of Froto and Sam up on the mountain to throw the ring in the volcano and the evil eye on top of the mountain that gets destroyed when the ring gets thrown in the pit and destroyed. “Full of trust they look up to him:” the hero is one who helps the people and so the come to trust him, even after many power struggles with those who would not believe in the hero’s abilities and try to downplay him or her–the role of a tale’s antagonist(s). I could go on and on looking at the hero from the considerations of this hexogram. One point that really intrigues me about this in accord with transcendance is that the contemplation is done from a tower that gives the hero (or wise man–for one can be a hero whether going though the path of the hero (not hidden) or that of the sage (hidden and working behind the scenes, yet each would have both qualities in the other) a wide view–and “trans” means across and not just up. Before I ever read the I Ching or Jung, I did meditation (Transcendental Meditation for one) and later I encountered the I CHing and took up karate so was into zen and zen meditation, and so initially I thought of transcendence as “up” as in transcending the cares of the day, of stress, of rising above. I was a young teenager at that time (my parents were TM’ers and when I was 14 they took me to meetings and had me initiated and given my mantra, etc.) Then later I found the I Ching and this tower of contemplation as a bridge stretching from one horizon to the next giving not just height but width or breadth. Then a bit later I began reading Jung and his writings on transcendence. I will post a definition (a long one) below.
Anyway, the question of what makes a hero a hero set my mind spinning to a bunch of my favorite heroes and heroines from myth in the classical and non-classical mythologies, to myth in film and in literature. What I found intriguing and fun about trying to answer this question is that is made me examine as many virtues as I could think of. And that is the one thing I think all heroes have in common: virtue. However, in “real” life, and I think this is also somewhere in the I Ching but I cannot think of which hexogram at this moment, “honor exists even among thieves,” so in real life, a thief could have a thief for a hero, so then there goes the virtue–unless you are Robin Hood.
Thank you James for sending my mind on a fun journey this evening through some beloved stories. I do believe the qualities of the hero are still living myths today in the legends we have of great people who have served humanity in one way or another whether politically or medically or virtuous police people (as opposed to the non-virtuous) and firefighters, etc. As for firefighters, we often don’t have a story though without the antagonist arsonist. So what makes for the anti-hero or antagonist? What qualities do they have that make them the people we “love to hate?” Please excuse the strong word “hate”–I am using it on purpose as strictly as the expression with which we are all familiar.July 30, 2020 at 9:39 pm #3697CaptsunshineJoined: September 28, 2018Participant
Thank you Mr Norland for this refreshing new perspective on the question of living vs fossil myths.
Yes, some of the harshest aspects of a living myth are on display in many ancient societies.
It is the living myths that we breathe and and finally dissolve into that has helped Indian civilisation to remain the only surviving Pre Bronze Age Pagan culture in the world.
Rather than trying to identify the archetypes invested in a myth, I think we should explore the rise and evolution of the Story and as to why people chose to believe ideological premise and social codes that are sustained by the story.
I read that someone was uncomfortable about the idea of diminished individuality when dominated by a collective imperative.
You have to understand that the individual is still a newfangled notion in Asia. The Compelling need for any individual in those days was to lose himself – alive or dead – to the collective identity. In this case the castes – that eventually make up a Macro Individual -Manu.
Quote “I want to broaden our view of the psyche as an encompassing reality well beyond the confines of an individual consciousness.“
This is exactly what Western civilization struggles with – and pursues as an afterthought.
Rather, the journey should be traced from the collective to the individual. I had read a Manusmriti translation almost 40 years ago. And in the preface the scholar who I believe was British, confesses that there is a theatre in the fringes of conscious reality, that will elude even the most diligent of students.
It is the story – and it has to connect to and knit together a fraying society at an instinctual realm, A fraying society eaten away by detractors of Brahminism, many of whom, were born into it like Buddha and Mahavira. As well as the Nishedhis the people who rejected all forms of political and ideological architecture that underpinned the society.
So it is the story that is paramount
A living myth will transplant the story to any social or geographic environment and strike root into the psyche of a people drawing nourishment as well as giving shade them and their parochial archetypes.
Ramayana ,one of the oldest epic in the world composed by a Shudra (Wayside robber) turned Sage is a great example.
I would really hesitate to Anchor it to Now
If we place a Story in a timeframe it will lose its Eternal nature and therefore meaningfulness . It will remain a Picture, framed and nailed to a wall.
But I concede that such an exercise is necessary for research and didactic purposes. For eg the Caste system and untouchability existed among those who themselves were considered outcasts. These were the first people – the forest and hill tribals of India.
Another feature that indicates an organic evolution of Caste system was that genetic studies indicate that South Asians had a high level of miscegenation at around 4millenium BC and then in a millenium or ao very little gentic variation. Just giving a context to our story.
Wake up neo!July 30, 2020 at 11:04 pm #3699
Welcome back Captain Sunshine; good to see your presence on the new CoaHO. I think this is a great addition you bring to this topic and should be very helpful in broadening it out. (I removed a post I previously made since I’m not sure if it’s really relevant to your topic. I’ll look forward to hearing more about this subject and how it progresses.)July 31, 2020 at 11:54 am #3700mythistorianJoined: May 2, 2020Participant
I keep being assailed by the delight and depth of our conversation—truly worthy of the name of our forum! I only regret not being able to answer all the salient points that have been provoked by my little piece. But I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Stephen’s wonderful condensation of what was brought up by the term “archetypal psyche” and “collective unconscious”—the latter in particular, as Stephen mentioned, being rather out of touch with our present reality. Of course, to put it even stronger, one can say that this critique extends to the whole of Jungian psychology, which strikes most readers outside its sacred circle as right down reactionary or ideologically backwards.
Although I don’t want to open a can of worms or get off topic, we can point to the existence of Jordan Peterson as a prime example of where you might end up if you were to swallow Jungianism whole, that is, without putting Jung himself in the alchemical fires of critical transformation: a staunch defender of Capitalism’s status quo and its grotesque hierarchies of power. I don’t want to develop this line too much further but only to answer aloberhoulser’s plea to anchor this piece to the historic NOW present—our current hierarchies, with their grotesque inequality and double standards, very much resemble the hierarchies of the ancient Indian caste system. THAT is the background of my essay in terms of its relevance TODAY. Of course, the lowest of the low today are unmistakably immigrants, especially brown-skinned immigrants, not just here in the USA, but also all over the world. Poor immigrants today have effectively become our very own “untouchables,” whereas the shudra are easily homologous to the African American community and the BLM movement, which Malcom X would have characterized as he did the Civil Rights movement: a kind of “slave revolt.” James Baldwin was fond of this redefinition of a protest movement by a group of the population not considered true citizens.
There is no doubt to anybody with a clear sense of history that there is nothing “natural” or “biological” about the existence of such hierarchies, including our own, but that at each moment in history there have been powerful mythologies that have sanctified them to make us believe that they are “divinely ordained,” or ordained by “Nature” as apologists of the status quo would have us believe today—since Science plays the role of the “divinely ordained” for most modern people.
This brings me back to Stephen’s wonderful paraphrase which I think is worth repeating:
“If I understand correctly, you are saying that a living mythology isn’t something one believes in, like choosing a religion today, but is experienced simply as “what is” – part of the warp and woof of a culture – what a member of that culture knows to be true, perhaps akin to the way we experience gravity or know the world to be round.”
This is exactly the way people have experienced the workings of the global capitalist system up to now. And of course, this mythology, which largely constitutes our true mythology, has held on for many decades, even centuries, at the price of untold violence and bloodshed—forms of violence which are now resurfacing within the continental USA as if they were familiar strangers.
Nevertheless, today we are experiencing a tectonic shift in the collective psyche that is truly unprecedented. Such moments of “crisis,” when the system itself is made to feel, to realize once again, its own brittle ideological foundations—the fact that the divinely ordained itself is ordained by the human, all too human “nature”—we are at the same time witnessing the sign of a new mythology struggling to be born in freedom. Perceptible only when we dare to delve in the contradictions of what is, unafraid to sift through the rot of the system and to take a stand against it, can we speak of true mythology in the making. This is what gives me hope and keeps me going in the face of so much despair and suffering and literal bloodshed.
It is important to underscore the fact that this sense of hope cannot stem from “what is” in the self-consciousness of our present age, that mode of apologetics that would have us “naturalize” the fatal contradictions of our global system, even as it tramples on the lives of the majority of the world population—a fact, once again, in spectacular display with this pandemic in the USA.
The hope I’m speaking of is rather like a message in a bottle which has been sent from the future of what could be, from what is not-yet here: a new Rising Dawn illuminating a future form of collective consciousness.
It is just as Marx put it in a wonderfully psychological way (a quote that has been ringing in my ears for the last few days):
“Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.” (Preface of A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy)
This may seem like an obvious insight but it is quite true that what a person thinks of himself or herself—our own “personal mythology,” or, as Stephen pointed out, the many idiosyncratic religions we might choose in a whim—that these “myths” are mostly false narratives we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good, and to justify our actions—or to cover up what we truly believe in. (Imagine trying to understand the Trump phenomenon based on what Trump thinks of himself!)
Our actions speak louder than our words, indeed, for these actions often speak of a set of ideas that are quite different from what we “officially” believe. On the other hand, our true beliefs, the level of true mythology, is often far from our lips and their faithful service to our ego consciousness. And as Marx points out, the same is true for the entire collective and its prevailing mythologies.
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