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  • Barbigeddon

    “But the human being is the only animal capable of knowing death as the end inevitable for itself, and the span of old age for this human organism, consciously facing death is a period of years longer than the whole lifetime of any other primate.” Joseph Campbell, Primitive Mythology, 85 “Do you guys ever think about dying?” Barbie, Barbie We called it “Barbenheimer,” a reference to the simultaneous release (July 21, 2023) of two very different films with nothing in common except for their box office ambitions. Barbie (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2023) draws initially on a nostalgia for a personal past, while Oppenheimer (Universal Pictures, 2023) directs our gaze toward an unthinkable collective future. Critics suggested that this was Warner Bros. attempt at counterprogramming—give the audience a real alternative. Surely, three hours contemplating the apocalyptic consequences of nuclear fission weapons systems will leave a vast percentage of the public desperate for lighter fare. No one anticipated Barbenheimer. “AMC theaters, the largest chain of its kind in the world, recently announced that upwards of 20,000 patrons have purchased tickets for a double feature” (Yahoo! News). With tarot card number 13 as the prompt for this month’s reflection, I am inspired to make the case that death united the cinematic pairing on the Barbenheimer opening weekend. Executives at both Warner Bros. and Universal are banking on our capacity as an audience to contemplate our own extinction. In contemplating her own extinction, Barbie initiates the hero’s journey in what seems an almost deliberate evocation of Inanna’s famous descent to the underworld. Her relationship with Ken has its parallel in that of Ishtar and Tammuz, Venus and Adonis, Isis and Osiris, Mary and St. Joseph and, of course, Inanna and Dumuzi. As the University of Pennsylvania recently posted on their ancient Mesopotamia site, Inanna “does not have a spouse per se, but has an ambivalent relationship with her lover Dumuzi/Tammuz.” That has Ken all over it. (It seems that patriarchy has a competing theme in the very fabric of our collective unconscious: man as supernumerary.) While Innana meets her shadow side in her sister Ereshkigal, Barbie learns the facts of life from Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon), who tells her she must leave Barbieland. From the “great above” she set her mind toward the “great below… To the nether world she descended… And let’s not forget the accessories. Barbie has more accessories than Inanna, but she would approve of the goddess’ couture: Lapis lazuli, gold ring, necklace, shugurra crown. With each degree of passage into the nether regions, an accessory is discarded until she is, in Campbell’s words, “the naked goddess.” With a vulnerable heart, stripped of her defenses, she experiences the unthinkable: her own demise. It is the awareness of death, according to James Anderson, a Kyoto University primatologist, that “may be one of the cognitive differences between us and [other] great apes” (discovermagazine.com). And it is the awareness of death that accounts for the strange affinity between two superficially different audiences: the cosplay crowd and the ban the bomb bunch. In the other eponymously named film, Oppenheimer, our hero seeks out his more famous mentor, Albert Einstein and they have a conversation about the possibility of the end of the world, and their part in it. We do not actually get to hear the words aloud until the end of the story, but the men are, as Barbie put it, thinking about death. But they’re thinking about death on a scale which would make her fully rotatable head spin.  Oppenheimer foresees, like John of Patmos (author of the Bible’s scariest book, Revelations), the end of the world, but without those opaque, first millennium symbols. Still, it’s the same idea. Patmos and Alamos provide the eschatological roadmaps particular to their times. Armageddon this way. One big difference between the Patmos and Alamos—the former was a vision, the latter an historical event. On July 16, 1945, the world’s first A bomb was detonated and for the first time eye-witness accounts superseded existential fantasies. Turning to the Bhagavad Gita for context if not for guidance, the “father of the A-bomb” found these words which he uttered aloud with the most dreadful self-awareness: “I am become death, destroyer of worlds.” The Gita also provides theological absolution to Oppenheimer:  Dharma (duty) must be fulfilled and the bloodshed cannot be held against him. Small consolation. Neither Cillian Murphy’s Oppy nor Margo Robbie’s Barbie can ever return to their respective happy places, his with the chalk boards and adoring students, hers populated with variations of herself in a world without conflict. Campbell would recognize the characters’ reactions as perfectly appropriate to the encounter with mortality. "The concerns of house, village, and field boundary fade, and the lineaments of a dark mystery appear gradually from the night that is both without and within. The mind is summoned to a new task; one, however, which, like suffering and rapture, is a grave and constant factor in the experience of the human race” (Masks of God, Vol. 1: Primitive Mythology, 160). Robert Oppenheimer finds solace in the image of Vishnu, the immortal charioteer whose effulgence rivals the explosion witnessed at the Trinity Test Site: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky,” the physicist and Sanskrit scholar remembers from verse 11 of the Gita, “that would be like the splendor of the mighty one.” Shocked at his own handiwork, the Princeton academic becomes a kind of renunciate, giving up any further pursuits of building a better bomb. Barbie’s awakening reminds us of a different chariot ride. Remember how Shakyamuni (Buddha’s tribal name) snuck out of his palace with his driver, Channa, witnessing for the first time, old age, sickness, and death? Barbie’s chariot is a pink Corvette. Instead of Channa at the reins, she has Ken in the back seat. But the destination remains the same: a trip to human reality, and we’re along for the ride. The movie ends and the audience disperses. Some gather by the ice cream parlor, many dressed in pink, head to foot. Don’t be fooled. Pink is no longer the color of frivolity and this after-theater crowd is, I believe, the visible symptom of a maturing civilization. You know a civilization is maturing when its movies are warnings and its toys harbor thoughts of death. Latest Podcast In this episode entitled, “The Quest For The Grail”, Joseph Campbell discusses the Grail Legends. It was recorded in 1967 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and is the second lecture in the series Mystical Experience and the Hero’s Journey. Host Bradley Olson introduces the lecture and offers a commentary at the end. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "The conquest of the fear of death is the recovery of life’s joy. One can experience an unconditional affirmation of life only when one has accepted death, not as contrary to life, but as an aspect of life. Life in its becoming is always shedding death, and on the point of death. The conquest of fear yields the courage of life." -- Joseph Campbell The Power of Myth (p.129) The Adventure of Being Alive (see more videos)

  • Our Dance with Death

    Some may think it presumptuous for a living person to write of death, and while I agree writers should save paper and time by sticking to what they've experienced, Death is a partner with whom I (and you) have already danced. In birth we are torn from the “actionless waters” of bliss and thrust into a state of total insecurity and trauma: The congestion of blood and sense of suffocation experienced by the infant before its lungs commence to operate give rise to a brief seizure of terror, the physical effects of which…tend to recur [in our waking-life]...whenever there is an abrupt moment of fright (Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Vol. 1: Primitive Mythology, 57). If you’re alive, you’ve experienced Death. Now, our only guarantee is we’ll encounter Death again. Shall we get to know our first and final friend a little better? I invite your eyes to rest on the Tarot’s image of Death. Do not rush along, but find a place to dwell: Death, a skeleton in black armor, seems to dominate the scene. It is mounted on a steed above the dead king and the king’s mourning subjects. In the distance is a river. Is it the Styx? The background is rendered in a chilly blue, reminiscent of Monet’s exclamation: “terrible how the light runs out, taking color with it.” Anyone with a keen thought or eye might suspect that the Death card represents the End. And as most tarot card hobbyists know, if the card is placed in the reversed position, it represents lethargy, petrification, or sleepwalking. Regardless of the card’s rotation, death-experiences, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual, are never trivial. In Dante’s Divine Comedy, the poet begins his adventure by descending through the levels of hell until he comes to the lowest. Here, lost souls are submerged in a frozen lake, many in reversed positions; immobile, actionless. The lake remains frozen because Death personified continuously flaps his wings, producing a petrifying wind. Even Dante, still warm and living, feels half-alive during his encounter with Death: I did not die, nor did I stay alive. Imagine, if you have the wit, what I became what I became, deprived of either state (Inferno, XXXIV, 22-27). Fortunately, Dante did not remain neurotically immobile, but stayed close to his guide, Virgil, who did not retreat from nor succumb to Death, but took hold of the monster and climbed its body further downward. Despite his bewilderment and fear that he was somehow “heading back to Hell,” Dante continued to climb until making it beyond “the point to which all weights are drawn from every side,” and climbing through the darkness of a hidden passage found again “the world of light” (Inferno, Canto XXXIV, 81-134). I, too, take hold of the Death Tarot card to examine it closer. Slowly, my initial macabre impressions dissolve into the golden color of morning (perhaps after a night of mourning) that breaks over the foreground of the card. I see the sun rise between two distant towers. I blur my eyes to uncover the next revelation. The image contains more white than black- Death rides a white horse, and its banner over all is a white rose! On such a rose, my eyes find rest. The Greek Chloris, deity of flowers, once discovered the dead body of a lovely nymph. Upon seeing the dead creature forgotten and alone, lost in the morning-mist of an overcast forest, Chloris transformed the nymph into the most beautiful flower yet. With help from Zephyrus, Aphrodite, the three Graces, the West Wind, Apollo, and Dionysius, the dead nymph was reborn as the queen of flowers: the rose. The beloved one in the Hebrew poem Song of Solomon, is the “Rose of Sharon” and her lover beckons her to rise, “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone… Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” (KJV, Song of Solomon, 2:1). In the Christian tradition, Eve is the facilitator of human suffering and death. As an answer to such suffering, the Virgin Mary (her symbol, a white rose) becomes the facilitator of everlasting life. These truths-beyond-facts point to a rapture that quiets the chilling flutter of Death’s deceptive wings, a “thread,” as D.H. Lawrence wrote when facing down oblivion, that “separates itself from the darkness,” resulting in a “Flush of rose…filling the heart with peace” (D.H. Lawrence, The Ship of Death). After descending into hell, encountering Death, and literally coming out on the “other side” (by crawling even further down), Dante ascends the mountain of Purgatory, and enters Paradise where the monk, Bernard of Clairvaux, brings Dante to the “White Rose of Paradise, the eternal home of both Mary and Eve. And around this rose, flit the “saintly soldiery of Christ…as a swarm of bees…Aimed sight and love upon a single goal,” a pollination of peace. Nor did so vast a flying throng, coming between the flower and the light above, obstruct the looking up or shining down. For the light of God so penetrates the universe, according to the fitness of its parts to take it in, that there is nothing can withstand its beam (Paradiso, XXXII, 19-24). Just as Nicodemus asked Jesus how a man could be born when he is old, or enter a second time into his mother’s womb, we may now be asking must we literally die before we can experience death’s rapture? The world’s mythologies respond with a resounding, “No!” In East Africa, a Basumbwa folktale describes Great Chief Death as half beautiful and half rotten. Those who encounter Death and choose to wash and perfume his beautiful aspects, instead of fussing over the parts of his nature that must be, are blessed by Death in Life (Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God, Vol. 1: Primitive Mythology, 110). Death isn’t an end with a capital E, but merely a threshold passage. A crisis, to be sure, but one we’ve endured before—and one we can endure again, and again, and again—for as long as we dare to live. Eternity is now, as the Buddhist understands: Waves appear to be born and to die. But…waves, although coming and going, are also water, which is always there…Enlightenment for a wave is the moment the wave realizes it is water…When you [achieve such enlightenment]...you will have no trouble building a boat that can carry you across the waves of birth and death…You will know that nirvana, the Kingdom of Heaven, is here and now (Thich Hnat Hanh, Living Buddah, Living Christ, 138). When you are plunged into dark immobilizing waters, realign yourself, be mindful, and dwell deeply in the present moment, knowing you are doing the best thing you can and have all you need (your “little ark,” “oars,” “cakes & “dishes,” “wine,” and “all accouterments fitting and ready for a departing soul”). Then, with a “strong heart at peace,” look Death in the face. You may find a beautiful rose. Latest Podcast In this episode, we embark on a journey where the worlds of dance and mythology converge. Our guest today, Nancy Allison, is a New York-based dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, and educator who has not only danced on stages around the world, but has also expertly woven the threads of dance, myth, and storytelling into her life’s work. Nancy Allison was a member of Jean Erdman’s Theater of The Open Eye from 1976 – 1985. At The Open Eye she also distinguished herself as a leading interpreter of Erdman’s solo dance repertory of the 1940s and 50s. She is the executive producer and featured dancer of the three-volume video archive Dance & Myth: The World of Jean Erdman. Since 1986 she has performed Erdman’s solo dance repertory throughout the US and abroad and has presented Erdman’s work at national conferences and institutes. For more information about Nancy and to find all three volumes of the Dance and Myth Series visit: http://jeanerdmandance.com/events.html Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Eternity is not a continuation of time. Eternity is a dimension of here and now. And we have eternal life now. This is what is meant by “The kingdom of the Father is spread over the earth and men do not see it." -- Joseph Campbell An Open Life: Joseph Campbell in Conversation with Michel Toms, p. 78 Joseph Campbell — Jung and the Right and Left-hand Paths (see more videos)

  • From Death to Grateful Dead

    I silently laugh at my own cenotaph, And out of the caverns of rain, Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb, I arise and unbuild it again. – Percy Shelley, The Cloud October is a good month to curl up with a pumpkin spice latte and muse about Death, especially here in the northern hemisphere where autumn is rolling toward winter.  You probably noticed that this year's Mythblasts have revolved around the symbolic import of trump cards taken from tarot decks, many from different eras and, appropriately enough, this month we’ve been looking at  the tarot card representing “Death.”  Comfy?  Here we go. The Tarot is a wheel of symbols endlessly orbiting in a metaphorical Milky Way with a black hole at the center. A lot of metaphors work like that: circling something you can't see into but still indicating its presence and effects.  Death is a particularly good case study for us here since it is pretty much the ultimate black hole of human existence: we don’t get to experience it ahead of time and therefore we can’t know for certain whether our relational mythologies are… well, relating us properly.  Death is the Great Abyss that doesn’t stare back.  What we see when we look is nothing and, because, in this particular metaphor where light stands in for thought, even our thinking about Death can get sucked into nothing – a nothing we cannot even think about as nothing. It's enough to make one a bit dizzy.  Fortunately, impassable event horizons notwithstanding, here's one thing we do know: the function of myth is to link us to the world in which we live, and to make that world meaningful to us. Campbell is famous for pointing out that a lot of the mythology we live with describes a world that hasn't existed for over a thousand years. That's true. Things are still dying, much as they always have, but our understanding of Death has changed across the centuries.  Have our myths also adjusted? This month is an occasion to re-examine traditional mythological symbols about Death in light of what we've come to believe and discover over the last few centuries. Let’s have a look: Here’s the Death card from the Marseilles Tarot (c. 15th century), Campbell’s favorite deck.  His view, in fact, is that this entire deck follows on the heels of Dante and was designed as a symbolic representation of Dante’s life work. What we have here is a very traditional symbol of death personified as a skeleton and cutting off life with his scythe.  The imagery itself is taken from Greek representations of either Chronos or Cronus, depending on whether you understand the metaphor as harvesting wheat or castrating your father. (The idea of castration, symbolic and real, is more important than may appear here.  For a real thrill ride, have a look at this month’s text, Masks of God, Vol 1: Primitive Mythology, in which Campbell details the puberty rituals among aboriginal Australians.) While this image worked perfectly well for a few hundred years, one of the most commonly available tarot decks (the Rider-Waite-Smith deck from 1909) updated the symbolic representation. These cards became a hit when US Games bought the rights and sold a gazillion copies starting in the early 70’s. The Rider-Waite-Smith deck shows Death riding a Pale Horse in concurrence with the description of Death in the Revelation of St. John 6:8 at the end of the New Testament and, as it turns out, the end of the world.  The cards were created by Pamela Colman Smith at the direction of A.E. Waite, and borrows heavily from the Golden Dawn symbolic lexicon. This is a terrific symbol/myth/metaphor for death if (if!) we accept the New Testament’s understanding of Death as the terminal moraine of a Divine glaciation, punctuating all life – and all death to boot. It references the inexorable linear timeline of the Christian tradition: creation – stuff happens – apocalypse. I’d love to make a joke here about Dante never going out of style, but if he hasn’t gone out of style, his three-story universe (Hell, Earth, Heaven) has been considerably revised. The universe isn’t what it used to be - Heisenberg and that crowd blew up by physics during the last 100 years -  and our mythology is still trying to catch up. Death isn’t what it used to be either.  If physics became indeterminate, so has Death.  Think of the variations and gradations we have today that didn’t exist 100 years ago.  100 years ago, when you were dead you were dead, but today? Today there’s brain dead and heart dead and stages in between where we still can argue about whether or not someone is “really” dead. Our understanding of Death has had to accommodate changes in technology (respirators and heart bypass machines) and evolve with our rejection of fundamentalist religious certainties. By contrast Freda Harris's card shows Death, again depicted as Father Time swinging his scythe: this time he isn’t harvesting or castrating the world, but spinning out a helix of interconnected threads, weaving new patterns in a tapestry of time rather than slicing off the ends.  New figures swim in those vortices. The image suggests that Death is a process of transition rather than an ending. Death as transitional.  Isn’t that closer to how we understand death today?  We can reinterpret the symbol not only as the death of an individual, but as a representation of how “death” happens all the time as we change.  We become something new when we understand something new, as our ignorance falls away. Parts of our life are taken from us or thrown off; we shed our psychological skins, like the snake in the corner of the card, and arise to unbuild our lives again. Death in this case can mark the transitional moment when we go from who we thought we were to who we might really be. That transition is always painful and fraught and terrifying. What better metaphor than death? Personally, I think many of us like this particular symbolic death most of all: Thanks for musing along! Latest Podcast In this bonus episode, Joseph Campbell answers questions following the lecture that he gave with the same name from EP 26. It was recorded in 1967 at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California and is the second lecture in the series Mystical Experience and the Hero’s Journey. Host Bradley Olson offers an introduction to some of the ideas discussed by Campbell in the Q&A session. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Life is but a mask worn on the face of death. And is death, then, but another mask? ‘How many can say,’ asks the Aztec poet, ‘that there is, or is not, a truth beyond?’" -- Joseph Campbell The Mythic Image (p. 160) Kundalini Yoga: Crown Chakra — Becoming One with the Beloved (see more videos)

  • I Go Outside with My Lantern: A Lantern Walk Song to Better Understand the Hermit Card

    When I began structuring this essay in my mind, trying to make a rational attempt to contemplate the meaning of the hermit’s card (number 9), a song spontaneously took over and started resonating in my heart. Initially, I tried to suppress it (silly me!). ‘Round up the usual suspects,’ as Captain Renault famously said in Casablanca (Warner Bros, 1942). But as we often find, attempting to suppress something only makes it more enticing and alluring, and the song persisted within me. Consequently, I decided to give it a voice, realizing it served as a splendid metaphor to introduce the card! I go with my lantern, And she goes with me. Above, the stars are shining bright; Down here on Earth, shine we The light went out, I’m going back home Sway, sway lantern. My daughter, Laura, and I started singing this song almost a quarter of a century ago when she was two years old and attending the Waldorf Micael School in São Paulo, but it still echoes in my fondest memories when winter approaches. Originally written in German, the song is sung with slight variations in Waldorf School kindergartens all over the world to celebrate the arrival of the winter season. This celebration typically occurs in the Northern Hemisphere around Saint Martin’s Day on November 11th and in the Southern Hemisphere in June. In Brazil, this European-origin festival is celebrated during Saint John’s time on June 24th. It is also a major celebration in the city of Porto, Portugal to this day. It is a festival that prepares us for the quieting of nature outside and, if we allow it, within ourselves. After all, the cold climate and the longer nights foster an attitude of introspection. As I hold The Hermit card from the Rider-Waite-Smith deck in my hands, I see a bearded old man holding a lantern in his right hand and a staff in his left hand. Like the Fool’s card, he is a pilgrim, a wanderer. His wisdom is imparted through his journey. The lantern is lit and placed in front of him and in the distance, mountains suggest that he has completed his journey and has returned to guide us. His solitude indicates the benefits of withdrawing from the chaotic everyday world to turn inward. He wears a serious, trustful expression and we may connect him to the archetypal figure of the elder or the sage if we wish. As such, he is the one who finds meaning in the chaos of life, as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav suggests in The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (CW 9, Part I, § 74). The card depicts a person encouraging us to search within ourselves and seek our own internal light. It’s akin to a busy day at work when, at day’s end, we yearn to return home promptly, seeking the solace and company of our loved ones. What I see in this card is that, especially during childhood and youth, it’s important to have a guiding figure outside of ourselves with whom we can connect. Most studies in psychology emphasize that this is a crucial aspect of feeling safe, of continuing to grow and understand oneself better and act confidently in the world. Eventually, adulthood and maturity arrive. These guiding figures start to become scarce in the external world. Many people come to realize that they carry wounds, small or large, and that the individuals playing the roles of father, mother, or caregivers naturally had their flaws. After all, they are only human, despite bearing the mantle and sword of maternal, paternal, wise man, or wise woman archetypes. This brings us to the Greek myth of Chiron, the Hierophant, who acts as a bridge between earthly knowledge and that which surpasses what the intellect can fathom. Chiron’s injuries transformed him into the Wounded Healer, someone who, through his own pain, could better comprehend the pain of others. It’s an illusion to think we can heal all psychological wounds. Sometimes, it’s about embracing and tending rather than solving. When the masks fall—and it’s crucial that they eventually do—the moment arrives to willingly withdraw a bit from the world and connect with the Hermit residing within us. Doing so, we grant the archetype the chance to reveal the light it carries within each of us. The knowledge that even in the darkest night of the soul, the light remains within us is reassuring. We discover that we have the psychological resources to face our challenges after all. In such moments, the Hermit archetype can emphasize the right to make choices for us, but also expresses the duty to take responsibility for them. Discovering our unique way of existing in the world comes with its costs, particularly if we choose to deviate from the traditions that provide collective protection. It’s important to be prepared to bear the price. When we turn to the Hermit’s card, we cannot help but notice the seeker traveling alone. It’s one of the phrases that struck me the most in The Power of Myth when Joseph Campbell mentioned that at this stage of the hero’s (or heroine’s) journey, it may be beneficial to have someone as a companion, but it is also okay to be alone. For me, the lesson is that in the heroic journey we undertake throughout our existence, we enter this world alone and we will depart alone as well. There’s no need to fear. After all, between these two moments symbolizing the ultimate mystery, we encounter numerous allies, guardians, heralds, shapeshifters, tricksters, and mentors from the outside. If we are fortunate, we will encounter antagonists and, if we’re very lucky, a great villain to teach us how to confront our own shadows. However, the inner guidance, The Hermit, is always there, patiently waiting, just within the reach of a breath. And if we’re wise, we can observe the inhalation and exhalation of nature’s seasons, revealing the opportune moments to turn inward and outward in a rhythmic pattern throughout the year. We can utilize this wisdom as a metaphor, akin to how Jung correlates the phases of life with the seasons, and as life progresses, we traverse the spectrum from Spring to Winter. You can listen to the sweet English version of the Waldorf song by searching for ‘I go outside with my lantern’ and ‘Waldorf lyrics’ on your preferred search engine. However, here is the version I found used in U.S. Waldorf Kindergartens: I go outside with my lantern, my lantern goes with me Above the stars are shining bright, down here on Earth shine we. The cock does crow, the cat meows, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom. ‘Neath heaven’s dome till we go home, la bimmel, la bammel, la boom. When I finished writing this text, or rather, when the text finished writing itself, I was humming ‘La bimmel, la bammel, la boom. Balanga, Balanga, lampião’ And it felt so good!” Monica Martinez Primavera de 2023

  • The Spirit Behind the Ghost

    In 1862, John Henry “Professor” Pepper summoned a ghost in front of a live audience. Though the illusion he used dated back at least as far as 16th century Italy, this particular visitation was just in time for a renewed fascination in the afterlife with the peak of Spiritualism, a belief that the dead are not gone but exist alongside the living, reachable and sometimes even visible to those who know how to pull aside the veil. Professor Pepper made a fortune showing “Pepper’s Ghost” to audience members looking for just such a spectacle throughout the late 19th century. As the trick lost its novelty, though, Pepper decided to reclaim relevance by using his understanding of the illusion to debunk Spiritualism, gathering audiences with the promise of explaining how the effect was done — only to find that those who believed in ghosts weren’t terribly convinced, or even concerned, by this “proof.” The fact that Spiritualists still practice today is, perhaps, an example of the triumph of belief over provable fact: even though the mechanics of Pepper’s Ghost and other illusions are revealed, the story is too compelling to be solved for good. Debunkers can — and have — spent entire lives and fortunes compiling evidence that runs contrary to a belief in spirits among us. They offer a million dollars for just one certifiable photo of a real ghost. The contests run decades without a claimant, and this has no impact at all on the conviction of believers. While skeptics and cynics pull out their hair, anyone who has read Shakespeare knows that a ghost is never just a glob of floating ectoplasm or a trick of the light, and attempts at gathering physical evidence to better understand the ineffable are solidly beside the point. To quote Douglas Adams: “If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you have on your hands is a nonworking cat.” Myth, like any organic thing, has to be approached with some understanding of its behavior before dissecting it does any good. Joseph Campbell writes about the perils of missing metaphor in a 1986 article for the Houston Chronicle: “If myth is translated into literal fact, then myth is a lie.” This is an expansion of an concept he speaks on in his earlier works, including the collection Myths of Light: Eastern Metaphors of the Eternal: I think what happens in our mythology here in the West is that the mythological archetypal symbols have come to be interpreted as facts. Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Jesus went to heaven by ascension. Unfortunately, in our age of scientific skepticism we know these things did not actually happen, and so the mythic forms are called falsehoods. The word myth now means falsehood, and so we have lost the symbols and that mysterious world of which they speak. In the deification of the material — or is it a materialization of the deity? — we lose a universe of meaning. The symbols aren’t gone, exactly, but Campbell points out that they’re generally relegated to the psychiatric: “It was Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacob Adler who realized that the figures of dreams are really figures of personal mythologization. You create your own imagery related to the archetypes.” The tarot deck has long been a staple of the Spiritualist’s toolbox for seeking wisdom from the spirits (or the unconscious, depending on the practitioner) through associations with the archetypal. Perhaps the most self-referential card in the deck is the Hermit, a figure who represents this spirit of wandering the in-between in search of spiritual clarity. As illustrated in Pixie Smith’s iconic deck, the Hermit doesn’t spend his days shut away in a damp hovel on the wrong side of the hedge. He may be separate from society, but he’s not sequestered; a Hermit’s life is one of seeking, and seeking is a living thing that takes place on foot. The Hermit seeks the occult — the true sense of the word, meaning the obscured or hidden — that impacts you so entirely you lose yourself as an individual and see your place in the cosmos. Campbell refers to this as the “sublime.” The sublime encountered between you and your chosen destination may tell you more than arriving at your destination ever could. The Hermit’s background may look to be an empty blue — uncharacteristically empty, compared to Smith’s other illustrations — as he wanders through it alone at twilight, but the space isn’t empty at all, and in fact represents a deeply important aspect of the spiritual journey. Rebecca Solnit writes about this phenomenon of the substantive in-between in “The Blue of Distance,” an essay from her 2005 book A Field Guide to Getting Lost: The color of that distance is the color of an emotion, the color of solitude and desire, the color of there seen from here, the color of where you are not. And the color of where you can never go. For the blue is not in the place those miles away at the horizon, but in the atmospheric distance between you and the mountains. The “blue of distance” is, technically and literally, a mirage. The mountains you’re walking toward aren’t blue; if you try to close in on that enchanting blue place, the illusion will fade and you’ll see all the colors you’re used to from back home. By then you may realize too late that the blue was the point. Art critic and writer John Berger expresses the risk of taking that blueness literally in an essay from one of his final books, Hold Everything Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance: Every day people follow signs pointing to someplace which is not their home but a chosen destination… some are making their journeys for pleasure, others on business, many out of loss or despair. On arrival they come to realize they are not in the place indicated by the signs they followed. They now find themselves at the correct latitude, longitude, local time, currency, yet it does not have the specific gravity of the destination they chose.[…] They are beside the place they chose to come to. The distance which separates them from it is incalculable. Maybe it’s only the width of a thoroughfare, maybe it’s a world away. The place has lost what made it a destination. It has lost its territory of experience. The blue between here and there isn’t supposed to be concrete. It isn’t the destination, but neither is it empty. The cat doesn’t purr because it’s a vital function, but because it’s communicating comfort or stress. The ghost appearing onstage may be an illusion created by physical trickery, but the nature of its creation is irrelevant to the meaning of a ghost; the vital thing about Banquo appearing to Macbeth isn’t that he’s a literal haunt, but the fact that his apparition symbolizes Macbeth’s terror and guilt over Banquo’s murder. Campbell’s response to this misunderstanding of symbology is to encourage a more Zen understanding of metaphor — that is, by reminding us that the visible plane isn’t the moon itself, but the finger pointing toward it: “The mythology of a people presents a grandiose poetic image, and like all poetic images, it refers past itself to principles that are mysterious and ineffable” (emphasis mine). “The question,” Campbell writes, “is whether or not there can ever be a recovery of the mythological, mystical realization of the miracle of life of which human beings are a manifestation.”

  • The Hermit: Lighting Our Way

    As with many archetypal motifs the Hermit (tarot card IX) can present as both a higher and lower modality of itself. In its lower representation, the Hermit may seek withdrawal from society because they feel insecure within communal life or hold contempt for other human beings. The higher representation can involve the Hermit withdrawing from society to pursue a relationship with the macro cosmic soul or to commune within the deeper recesses of their own soul. The higher representation often involves a sort of inner pilgrimage – introspection, self-reflection, contemplation – the end goal being a stronger connection with both the macro cosmic soul and their own sagacious inner depths. In this case, the hermit condition can arise as a consequence of the Hermit having become ‘other,’ that is a different identity profile i.e. they’ve become ‘other-wise.’ By means of a long process of interior work, they’ve attained a refinement of consciousness beyond the societal norm. Through such experiences, the Hermit rises above the usual group-think of the tribe. Their distance from the crowd is not due to a condition of self-satisfied contempt for other people, but evolves from stepping into their own individuated power and agency by giving birth to their higher and authentic self. They’ve literally become their own compass through finding their own unique voice. Yet because of this journey, the Hermit becomes somewhat ‘homeless.’ They’re no longer merely an automaton of their tribe, society, or culture and it’s this ‘homelessness’ that results in a deep, existentialist estrangement. We have an example of this solitary condition of soul in the Gospels where there occurs the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 11:15). Such words indicate that the fully individuated Jesus is lamenting the fact that he’s attained a mature gnosis (wisdom of both heart and mind) and will willingly impart this to others, but sadly, only a few people will have the ‘ears’ – intuitive hearing – required to receive and understand His words. It indicates that the quiddity of life can’t be so easily found on the surface of things because most people don’t yet possess the spiritual ears to ‘hear’ the pulse of the world’s mysteries, nor the pulse of their own soul’s deeper longings. It leads those with a strong hermit archetype to often be misunderstood. They may even be seen as fools because through the common societal lens, they don’t always conform to normal behaviors and expectations. The Hermit can also be perceived as being aloof because they’re a threat to the tribal identity, or even demonized due to the negative shadow projection of the tribe. The projection is that this outsider holds negative judgments regarding the tribe’s collective psyche and accompanying social behaviors. The Hermit has though occasionally begun life as a fool … a fool in the sense of being naïve, child-like (not to be confused with childish), and relatively innocent. In this respect, we’re reminded of Parcival of the Grail journey fame. Parcival – an archetypal figure – is raised as a child by his widowed and hermit mother in a forest. He knows almost nothing of the wider world. He lives somewhat uncouthly in – and with – nature. His life is rustic, simple, and virtually unmediated by human culture. After Parcival ‘by chance’ meets some knights on horseback in the forest, he tells his mother that he too will become a knight and sets out to explore the world (a  journey that’s really an inner pilgrimage and adventure of soul). His distressed mother sends him forth dressed in fool’s attire upon a limping horse. But because Parcival began his life’s pilgrimage as a fool, he’s well prepared to be radically receptive to the ever-fresh wonders of the world and to the clarion calls of the future. Incrementally, Parcival’s journey leads him through many soul struggles from fool to loner before he can finally embrace all of humanity with his ripened faculties of gnosis, wholeness, and humility. How does this relate then to the hermit depictions in the tarot card? Well, the figure stands on a mountain peak, and this is the result of his striving upwards after emerging from the darkness of his unconscious. He holds a lamp in one hand and a staff in the other. The lamp shines forth with a six-fold light indicating that he’s now entered his own authenticity, power, and wisdom. This six-foldness reminds us of the Seal of Solomon, often symbolized by the hexagram, which speaks of a wisdom that’s moving toward a universal love … a love that embraces all of humanity and creation with this heart-imbued gnosis. The anonymous author writes in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism, “The Hermit of the ninth Card is the Christian Hermeticist, who represents the ‘inner work of nine’, the work of realizing the supremacy of the heart in the human being – in familiar, traditional terms: the ‘work of salvation’ – because the ‘salvation of the soul’ is the restoration of the reign of the heart” (229). Now, these are words truly worth pondering. The Hermit achieves the salvation of the soul by restoring the reign of the heart, and in this way, becomes a lamp that shines a light for fellow travelers on the inner path. He and his lamp of light are especially welcome when the traveler experiences the inevitable nights of disillusionment and despair as described in St. John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul. But of course, the hermit archetype lives in each of us, inspiring us to reach for the higher octaves of ourselves, even while our current nascent version awaits its full voice. Joseph Campbell stated that the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek, and it’s precisely the Hermit who will lead us to this cave and give us the courage to enter. Resting upon the staff of consolidated gnosis and the grounded steadiness of composed experience, the Hermit with their lamp lights and reveals the way on our inner journey towards this very awakening.

  • The Thought of the World

    “Till then, think of the world.” (Julius Caesar 2.2 line 319) As we turn to the closing of the year, it seems like that state of the world is the last thing we want to think about. And yet “the World,” the ultimate card of the major arcana, bids us go beyond our subjective fantasies in order to face the realities of the world—grim though they may be. For every violent event in the world can be read as the explosion of a certain repressed truth in the collective unconscious which is yet to be thought out. In the first place, the World card represents the culmination of the whole process of individuation portrayed in the classic tarot deck. It represents the full integration of the Self as the synthesis of the four elements, the higher and lower realms. Therefore, it is generally considered a fortune laden card which brings together “Assured success, recompense, voyage, route, emigration, flight, change of place” with their opposites “Inertia, fixity, stagnation, permanence” (AE Waite. The Pictorial Key to the Tarot, p. 81.) Even its “reversed” significance does not seem too detrimental. So it may be a surprise to learn that the card of the World is ruled by the astrological sign of Saturn, with all its “negative” constellations and attributes. In Medieval alchemy, Saturn corresponded to lead, the heaviest and darkest of metals. It constituted the emblematic starting point of the Great Opus. As a manifestation of the prima materia or primal matter, Saturn was associated with the stage of the nigredo or the “blackening”—a state of deep depression and melancholic introspection which today is being triggered by the state of the world. The mythic associations that belong to Saturn as Chronos devouring his own children points to the uroboric nature of the prima materia. It is another variation of the self-relating movement of the “serpent that bites its own tail” as the alpha and omega of the Great Opus. Lead thus became the literal and symbolic ore out of which the philosophical gold of Alchemy was to be mined and extracted. The card of the World is, after all, an archetypal image of a mode of consciousness that shows itself to be, as it were, in full possession of the lapis philosophorum or “Philosopher's Stone.” But such consciousness only emerges out of the background of Saturn as the absolute negativity of the soul. As we can read in an alchemical text from the 17th Century: “My child shall know, that the Stone called the Philosopher's Stone, comes out of Saturn”. (A Work of Saturn. Johann Isaac Hollandus from Of Natural & Supernatural Things. London, 1670.) Saturn thus indicates the “negative” source of wisdom emerging out of the unconscious recesses of truth. Determined as the flow of temporality, Saturn also symbolizes the process of generation, becoming, and change. If the World card is to represent, as Waite suggests, “the rapture of the universe when it understands itself in God (Nature) ( p. 53),” then this rapture must surely include the Saturnian element of absolute negativity which would prevent a positive consciousness of the whole. Jung expresses a thought in a similar vein when he writes: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light but by making the darkness conscious” (CW13: 265-266¶355). The darkness that needs to be made conscious, however, is not only of a personal nature. As a proponent of the collective unconscious, Jung implicitly understood that this task of enlightenment aims at the elucidation of a collective darkness. This piece of unconsciousness corresponds to an archetypal strand of truth   which runs through an individual as it does through entire societies and cultures—across the centuries. Weaving and unraveling our collective existence, these unconscious forces will cry havoc with a Monarch’s voice as long as the hidden and repressed truth of the conflict is not borne out. Joseph Campbell seems to have understood this supreme insight when he wrote: In India, the objective is to be born from the womb of myth, not to remain in it, and the one who has attained to this “second birth” is truly the “twice born,” freed from the pedagogical devices of society, the lures and threats of myth, the local mores, the usual hopes of benefits and rewards (Flight of the Wild Gander. Bios-Mythos 38). True spiritual maturity lies on the other side of the mythic wonderland of our subjective fantasy where we have become attuned to the nature of reality as such. For “The seat of the soul is there, where the outer and the inner worlds meet,” as Campbell quotes Novalis, a German philosopher and mystic from the 18th century, immediately remarking: “That is the wonderland of [true] myth” (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, 5). True myth as vera narratio (true story) takes place in the real world, where the seat of the soul actually is, in the crucible of myth and history. For the soul is out there in ecstatic existence, where there is real joy and actual fulfillment, as well as real pain, suffering, death, and the terrible capacity for mass murder and genocidal revenge. To remain in the subjective womb of myth implies a state of being like a spiritual stillbirth—a condition that befalls millions inside the world religions. It also means that we are already caught in the ideological sack of status quo wisdom, where we quickly dwindle into pawns of industry or rabid watchdogs of the principalities of the “powers that be.” But if we can put aside the law of children and be freed from “the lures and threats of myth,” then we have a real chance at transcendence. Having been twice born into the World, we learn to live humbly under the light Truth and Justice—yes, precisely in their capital or archetypal senses. Rather than a mystic vessel of light designed to escape into subjective fantasy, the nature of true myth (vera narratio) is to bring us into contact with the painful truths of the Soul of the World, putting us in touch with the Saturnian background of the collective psyche. Featured Video Featured Work

  • It’s in the Cards: The Future is Female

    This will be the last card in my year-long commitment to the Tarot as a reader. While I have learned much, I am left with a question. If I am the reader, who is the subject of my reading? As a man, I think this card may offer a reading for men in general because it may be understood to herald a fundamental shift in their societal status. Gentlemen, be seated. The card you see on the table before you is called “The World,” usually associated with momentous change. The message is hard to miss, framed by symbols of the Christian gospels, one evangelist in each corner. We know that “gospel” translates as “good news,” and it is good news indeed if you have grown weary of the burden of being an Alpha Male 24/7. It is good news for you and good news for women because it suggests that a historical reckoning is about to take place. There was a time, according to Joseph Campbell and Maria Gimbutas, when the divine principle was female and operated under the aegis of the Goddess. She had many names and Campbell loved to recite them: Artemis, Ishtar, Astarte, Anahit, Aphrodite, and Mary who, while not a deity herself, is clearly the dominant member of her odd marriage to a local carpenter. But, as James Hillman liked to say, the gods never show up alone. Each member of the female pantheon partnered with some male divine which, while full of potency, is nevertheless a secondary character in a supportive role. Just as Barbie has Ken, Ishtar has Tammuz, Inanna claims Dumuzi, Venus delights in her Adonis, Isis is unavoidably linked to corpse-like Osiris, and Mary enjoys a Platonic marriage of convenience with a local craftsman. My point is that patriarchy is never a permanent state but a condition always in flux which can leave us in positions of public power, or reduce us to ancillary functions. Consider Mary and Joseph. She is Theotokos, or “god bearer.” He’s good at miter cuts. The current epoch of male hegemony began one afternoon when Persephone was plucking a narcissus from the meadow where she and her all female crew were gamboling under the eye of a watchful mother goddess, Demeter, whose attention wandered just long enough to allow a chthonic kidnapper to burst through the mantle of the earth, urging his unblinking horses onward to capture the lovely Persephone. Is it more than a story? I think so. That momentous afternoon speaks of the abruptness by which one monad supplanted another.  I have always intuitively felt that Hades’ abduction of Persephone is a historical echo of those very real thundering hooves under the saddles of the Indo-Europeans in 4400 BCE, a date favored by Gimbutas, who cites as evidence the artifacts she found from that period among the broken shards and abandoned granaries of her digs. “Weapons, weapons, weapons!” cries the Lithuanian archeologist to her interviewer from the L.A. Times (6/11/89). “It’s just incredible how many thousands of pounds of these daggers and swords were found from the Bronze Age. This was a cruel period and the beginning of what it is today—you turn on the television, and it’s war, war, war, whatever channel.” The invaders brought more than daggers. They came with their deities. Derived from guardian family gods throughout the second millennium BCE, they pillaged the sleepy Neolithic towns throughout southeastern Europe and Asia Minor to the Indus Valley. “The chief gods of the invaders were predominantly male warrior gods, champions, each, of his special people. Those of the invaded agricultural territories, in contrast, were chiefly of the earth’s fertility and life, local forms for the most part, of the one great ‘goddess of many names,’ of whom all beings, even gods and demons, are the progeny” (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space, 20). So goodbye village and tillage, hello horse and battle ax. But the historical reckoning which I see in the card before me is now upon us. The mandorla, Campbell reminds us in Tarot Revelations, is comprised of overlapping circles, their point of intersection creating a Venn diagram or, if one prefers, an almond such as we see framing the central figure of the face card. “Moreover, the form of the mandorla is traditionally interpreted as a reference to the female organ of birth, the vulva, as though the cosmic mother-goddess of all space-time were here to be seen giving birth to the Christ of the Second Coming, and thereby to the Kingdom of the Father which is within us.” Only, the “Father” is noticeably absent within the mandorla. The evangelists are heralding a woman, although the figure can be construed (with effort) as a hermaphrodite. Either way, the second coming will be a rude awakening for those whose prayers are still directed to a male god residing somewhere just beyond the moon. In the subject’s hands are, respectively, a wand to the left, indicative of the male principle, according to Campbell, and a conch shell to the right, symbolic of the female principle. But the reassuring balance is undermined by the displacement of Christ altogether. As Campbell directs our attention to the West Portal of Chartres Cathedral, we discover a remarkably similar constellation of symbolic representations: Four Evangelists with a central Christ framed by a mandorla. The meaning of Card 21 could not be clearer: A woman is giving the hip-check to the boy from Bethlehem. The pivot from gynocentrism to phallocentrism can happen in an instant, as when Hades drags his unwilling prey to an undesired throne in Hell. Or it can occur naturally over centuries: I am thinking of another “hermaphrodite” whose career began in India as the mustachioed male Avalokiteshvara, but, by the time he gets to China and Japan, has become the most merciful Kuan Yin, holding in her sublime hands, not the conch of card No 21, but the “vase of her compassion” which she pours out upon the suffering earth. “In our present day,” writes Campbell in apparent sympathy with the premise of imminent historical transition, “it does indeed seem that a fundamental transformation of the historical conditions of its inhabiting humanity is in prospect, and that the age of the conquering armies of the contending monster monads… may be about to close” (Inner Reaches, xix). Not a moment too soon. Featured Video Featured Work

  • Returning to the World

    I’m sitting in the middle seat on an airplane flying west over the Atlantic Ocean. My tray table holds a flimsy cup of strong coffee, a pen, a pad, and a book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion by Joseph Campbell. The chairs beside me are occupied, so my elbows remain tucked in against my sides. Only my hands and forearms can move as I gingerly raise and lower the coffee, steady the pad to write, and hold the book up to read. Inner Reaches is one of my favorite Campbell books, with its focus on imagination and art. I love the title, too, suggesting the infinite inwardness of the cosmos, and the cosmic reaches of the inner self. I’m reading Campbell’s reflections on NASA’s photo of earth from the moon, an image which “lacks those lines of sociopolitical divisions that are so prominent on maps” (94), when I glance up from the book and notice that the screen on the seat in front of me shows an animation of the airplane’s path as though from above. Not as far away as the moon, but high enough to see the planet’s curve and the contours of continents. At intervals, this image of the globe spins on its virtual axis, a gratuitous pirouette for no purpose other than to entertain us passengers. Some places are labeled, but the graphic shows no borders. There go Canada and the United States, the Pacific Ocean, Japan, Mongolia, Turkey, Norway, Spain. It’s nighttime over Tokyo, Hong Kong, Delhi, Dubai. In the animation, cities necklace the land with yellow beads of electric light. Campbell believed the image of the world from space might bring humanity together and usher in a new myth, a “mythology of this unified earth as of one harmonious being” (xix). The key word here is “being,” an entity possessed of animate wholeness–like a person is. And because beings in myth are so often imagined as goddesses and gods, Campbell could be wondering how a new myth might emerge of Earth as sacred, honored, and archetypal, a deity to be met in heart-space with reverence and awe. But to see a being in a photo of a planet requires a mythic images and a mythic imagination. Which brings us to the tarot cards. In the tarot deck’s image-rich major arcana, the last card is the World, number twenty-one. If the Fool begins the cards’ metaphorical journey, the World completes the adventure. In some decks, the World shows a nearly nude figure adorned only with a sportive scarf that floats in undulating waves like Aphrodite’s magical, love-inducing wrap. Fully formed and fully breasted, the person is an adult, not a child. This figure’s beauty is vibrantly alive, suggesting metaphorically the living, loving soul of a living, loving world. Hovering in clouds at the corners of the card are other beings: angel, eagle, lion, bull. The four of them surround the World, who holds a magic wand in each hand as lightly as though about to twirl them. A powerful, ensouled being supported by other powerful souls, the World’s love works magic effortlessly, with both hands at once. I’m flying to New York after a few weeks in London, where I saw thrilling art and architecture, savored global food and wine, and walked among throngs of people from everywhere who spoke more languages than I could identify. My visit felt like an encounter with the world up close and personal: a fountain of life, a ferment of making, a fertile tumult of blending and reblending earth, air, water, and fire. The creativity of the city seemed spontaneously buoyant, and now I feel replenished with insights and experiences. This radically different vantage point gave my day-to-day world an infusion of fresh perspectives, the way the Earthrise photo gave us all a new view of our shared home. The tarot card’s metaphorical World dances through a massive wreath. It’s an opening bound by an eternal circle, hence an opening into eternity, or a space outside time. The World hovers between realities, suspended between everything that came before and everything yet to come. This card of culmination shows the fleeting, floating simultaneity of endings and beginnings and the infinite expanse between. The World’s immense, generous love creates beauty in those transitions as if by magic. My coffee is almost gone. The plane is approaching New York. When I finally stretch my folded limbs and exit the aircraft, stepping out of the doorway I entered only a few hours ago, I will hover for a heartbeat in a timeless space of completion before returning to the world from my brief time away. I will cross the plane’s threshold a different person than when the flight began, different than I was when I left home. And after passing through that portal, I will step into the realm of the Fool again, because when one journey ends another begins. I hope for some of the Fool’s radiant faith, relaxed in the gnosis of what it is that waits at the end of the next adventure. Or rather, who it is who waits. Featured Video Featured Work

  • The World as an Integrating Dance

    The World … The Entire World. This entirety speaks to the grand enhancement of our consciousness and its embrace of all things. Throughout much of the Hermetic tradition, ‘The World’ also means the World Soul. And here in this tarot card we have the Dancing Maiden whose consciousness is merging with the circuitry of the earth and kosmos reflecting Isadora Duncan's statement that "one truly lives only when one dances." Through this dance, a cosmic consciousness is entered … a harmonious intercourse between the subconscious, conscious, and super conscious realms of the psyche. Our Dancer here is fully poised because she is replete and synchronized within herself and is in harmony with the entirety of the world. She also holds a wand in each hand suggesting the principle of polarities. We see this principle expressed in life through constant contraction and expansion. The human heart and most other bodily organs expand and contract continuously in a process mediated through rhythmic pulse. Similarly, our planet breathes out in the summer of one hemisphere and breathes in during the winter of the other. Plus there’s also the rhythms of sleep and wakefulness, sympathy and antipathy, and in a physics setting, of negative electrical charges and positive charges. The anonymous author writes in Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism: Seen in the light of the Arcanum ‘The World’ – the Arcanum of rhythmic movement or dance – joy is the harmony of rhythms, whilst suffering is their disharmony. The pleasure that one experiences in winter when one is seated close to a fire is only the restoration of an accord between the body’s rhythm and the rhythm of the air – that which we call ‘temperature’. The joy that friendship gives is the harmony between the psychic and mental rhythms of two or more people. […] Joy is therefore the state of harmony of inner rhythm with outer rhythm, of rhythm below with that from above, and, lastly, of the rhythm of created being with divine rhythm (630). Our Mystical Dancer dances with the rhythms and pulses of the great circulation of Universal Life – both the natural, terrestrial rhythms and the planetary and stellar rhythms of the kosmos. She’s both a representative of these rhythms as well as a conduit for them. And our Dancer is naked. Naked because her motive is pure and unadulterated, and she has transcended all possible deceit and hubris. As such, she’s entirely at one with her dance (we could even say her mission), which is to be the intersection vessel for the earth and kosmos. And in this role, she’s free. She’s bound only by the membrane of the living universe, which is why, perhaps, she’s depicted as being surrounded by the wreath of leaves. As a fully individuated human being, our Dancer has become not only a child of the World Soul’s processes, but also somewhat independent of them too. As such, she’s able to step through the immediate sheaths of ‘The World’ – here represented as the circle – and address and speak back to this World Soul as an emissary for a fully actualised and autonomous humanity. Depicted as a human being, she’s therefore able to imbue the World Soul with new and novel life. The entirety of this world can often only be described symbolically and mystically within the hermetic and alchemical traditions. Jennifer Westwood wrote in On Pilgrimage: Sacred Journeys around the World that “Cosmic imagery, the experience of Sufis and other mystics, and the practice of pilgrimage all seem to tell us the same thing: that there is a center that can give us meaning (connection) and purpose (direction). This center is the God described by Saint Bonaventure (1221-74) as a ‘circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.’” Our world as the Earth Body encompasses both Spiritus Mundi (spirit of the world as W. B. Yeats refers to in the poem The Second Coming) and matter, and bears both the whole and interrelated ecosystems of life upon – and within – it. Usually the depths of this World Soul are not consciously accessible, at least not to someone who has devoted their life almost exclusively to external matters of existence. Such a person has not – as yet – achieved a whole, integrated epistemology. But to those who have the capacity to perceive, our earth and kosmos are in a reciprocal relationship and form an exchange circuit of life … though it’s only the consciousness of an individual on the path of individuation (or fully individuated like our Dancer) who may reach – and touch into – the mutual circuitry of this earth-kosmos exchange. Our Dancer ​serves life and the Entire World through her dance and she is the vehicle for the forces of the kosmos and earth to ‘speak’ to – and through – the other. To various degrees, and according to the occasion, each of us can be in service to this macro integrational force too. This occurs when we embody selfless service and joyfully commit to our own self-integration whilst also being aware of the kosmos and its movements. As Joseph Campbell wrote in Myths to Live By, “You don’t ask what a dance means. You enjoy it. You don’t ask what the world means. You enjoy it. You don’t ask what you mean. You enjoy it” (p.102-103). And so, in closing both this MythBlast and the year, I trust that you’ve enjoyed the 2023 series dear readers and I very much look forward to sharing more worldly enjoyment with you in 2024! Featured Video Featured Work

  • The Hero With A Thousand Faces: A Modern Marvel

    As the editor of the MythBlast Series, I have the privilege of introducing the new year of 2024 MythBlasts. I’m honored and humbled that you, and other readers-subscribers like you, have made the MythBlast Series so popular. Not only does it continue to grow in popularity, but we continue to experiment with themes and ideas that push at the edges of Joseph Campbell’s work in ways that make his thoughts more accessible and more relevant to contemporary culture. This year our theme for the MythBlast Series is “The Power of Myth.”  The Power of Myth was filmed over the last years of Campbell’s life, aired in 1988 not long after his death, and remains one of the most popular series in the history of PBS. The series consists of six-hour long episodes, and these episode titles will provide the monthly themes to which our MythBlast authors will write. You will see a few new authors writing for us in 2024, and I think that these authors help constitute our strongest group of contributors yet. Quotes and references to Campbell’s most famous book, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, were sprinkled throughout The Power of Myth series, and it just so happens that this year marks the 75th anniversary of Hero’s publication. This book has inspired millions of readers, and I suspect it may well inspire millions more. For a book that constantly finds itself on lists of the greatest nonfiction books of all time—for example, The Greatest Books of All Time website named Hero the 348th greatest nonfiction book of all time, it made Parade Magazine’s list of The 75 Best Books of the Past 75 Years, and on Time magazine’s All-Time 100 Best Nonfiction Books, Hero clocks in at number 46—this one had a difficult time as a neonate. Reviewers were hard on Campbell and his first offering as a solo author. It seems that the animus toward Campbell’s book was largely related to his reliance on psychoanalytic and Jungian theory. Sigmund Freud, armed with his new theory of psychoanalysis visited the U.S. only once, in 1909 to celebrate Clark University’s twentieth anniversary. America was initially cool toward psychoanalysis. Perhaps cool is putting it mildly; prominent physicians and public intellectuals routinely referred to Freud’s theory as “filth.” By the 1930s, however, psychoanalysis had grown in popularity and was even being taught in medical schools and universities. Jung’s popularity was initially more immediate in America and by the 1940s, the disciplines of art, literature, and comparative religion had embraced his theories. In addition to Campbell, Jackson Pollock, and Martha Graham, even the physicists Wolfgang Paulie and Erwin Schrodinger embraced Jung’s analytical psychology. The old guard, the establishment figures in “institutions” such as some university literature departments or The New York Times, were nevertheless still reluctant to embrace the influences of modernism and the new abstract dialectics of the time. Twenty years earlier Ernest Hemingway, for example, had to endure largely ad hominem, dismissive attacks for The Sun Also Rises. Time magazine complained that Hemingway’s "interests appear to have grown soggy from too much sitting in cafes in the Latin quarter of Paris," the Chicago Daily Tribune said the novel is a "bushel of sensationalism and triviality," and The Springfield Republican lamented that the novel’s "extreme moral sordidness at such length defeats artistic purpose." These sorts of scolding, smug reviews were also leveled at The Hero With A Thousand Faces. On June 26th, 1949 The New York Times published a review of Hero which consisted of mostly snide remarks without making even a grudging attempt to find sympathy with Campbell’s thesis. In that review Max Radin glibly wrote, Mr. Campbell undertakes to reinterpret all mythologies on the basis chiefly, but not exclusively, of Jung's psychoanalytical theories. Freud is cited just as much as Jung, and Geza Roheim, Wilhelm Steckel and Otto Rank are frequently referred to. Adler is not mentioned. Apparently those who tell stories about heroes are not troubled by inferiority complexes, even as a matter of compensation-fantasy. Certainly Mr. Campbell is not troubled by an inferiority complex, since his book is quite consciously a “key to all mythologies.” Mr. Radin seems to have issues with the ambitious nature of Hero, and yet he seems at least a little captivated by it at the same time: [Campbell’s] sweep in space and time is impressively broad, and his boldness is highly commendable…There is so much in this book, and the analogies and comparisons are so interesting and stimulating, that it is too bad that it is all presented in the mystical and pseudo-philosophic fog of Jung. But ultimately, Mr. Radin could not accept Campbell’s idea that mythology has many different purposes and functions. Campbell described myth as “a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world…,” as misunderstood poetry, as allegorical instructions to help the individual accept his place in the social group, as “a group dream symptomatic of archetypal urges,” as well as being “the traditional vehicle of man’s profoundest metaphysical insights.” Mr. Radin implicitly appealed to authority by quoting Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes when he wrote, “I cannot restrain a lingering doubt.” Finally, Mr. Radin reveals a stunning lack of imagination when he writes that Campbell makes too much out of myth: I fancy that mythology may well be in large measure what those who made the myths—heard them, read them, or saw them depicted in the painting or statuary, apparently thought they were: tales told as tales, without any purpose, other than that of telling them. Radin wraps up his pronouncement against Hero by penning this piece of mind-numbing nonsense: And when we are asked to believe that the ancient Greeks or other peoples could not…introduce any fact of common experience which was not an allegory of something quite different, I am tempted to exclaim with Andrew Lang: “Who ever heard of such tales!” In its way, I suppose, the Times was simply trying to stem the symbolist, anti-authoritarian, and potentially revolutionary tide of modernism. Change is always a difficult challenge with which to be faced, and at its core, modernism insisted that the world had to be rethought and reimagined in fundamental ways. Old authorities were no longer recognized by modernism, and its passion for novelty and feeling disposed of hidebound customs and unquestioned orthodoxies while simultaneously opening up and displaying the world’s complexity, nuance, and absurdity, a radical re-visioning that was at the same time reaching across class and economic barriers to be inclusive and uplifting, emboldening and revitalizing. Campbell’s approach to myth was firmly rooted in the thoughts, experiments, and products of modernism, which I must emphasize was not necessarily atheistic, and his finger was on the pulse of a culture increasingly fascinated with new spiritual and metaphysical explorations like Theosophy, Christian Science, spiritualism, and the religious and philosophical systems of Asia. It was into this milieu, this zeitgeist, that Joseph Campbell, with his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, introduced a reimagined study of mythology, and made the rituals and beliefs of ancient societies relevant to contemporary life. Thanks for reading, This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 1, and The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Latest Podcast In episode 4 of The Podcast With A Thousand Faces, initially released in November 2022, Duncan Trussell and John Bucher of the Joseph Campbell Foundation talk about Duncan's work as a comedian, and his interest in religion, mythology, artificial intelligence, and consciousness. Duncan is the host of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour Podcast and creator of the Netflix show, The Midnight Gospel. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation. Religion, philosphies, arts, the social forms of primitive and historic man, prime discoveries in science and technology, the very dreams that blister sleep, boil up from the basic, magic ring of myth." - Joseph Campbell -The Hero with a Thousand Faces (p1)

  • The Hero-Heart in the Classroom

    I love to hear stories about when people first encountered mythology, or how they first felt themselves drawn to myth. There’s often a sense of breathless amazement and detailed recollections that accompany life’s seismic moments. For many of us, our mythic origin stories speak to when we first found the work of Joseph Campbell. My first encounter with Campbell’s ideas was in the late 1980s in a college English class called “Introduction to Folklore.” I was attending a large, conservative, religious university with strict oversight of course syllabi to make sure we students weren’t exposed to anything that might challenge our belief in the literal truth of scripture. Instructors had a Sunday-best dress code—suits and ties for men, skirts or dresses for women—and we all had to sign an honor code promising not only that we would behave ourselves in all the required ways, but that we would inform on any students we saw breaking the rules. I’ll never forget that Orwellian sense of living beneath a theocratic tyranny. But the Folklore class met in a small room tucked away at the end of a basement hallway in a quiet evening time slot, and the class had only fifteen or twenty students. It felt like I was able to inhabit a forgotten pocket of freedom away from the glare of religious assessment and evaluation. In an act of rebellion, which my younger self found thrilling, the professor wore blue jeans and flannel shirts. One day, in another gesture of defiance, he brought a copy of The Hero with a Thousand Faces to class and read it out loud to us. I don’t remember the passage he read, but I remember the electricity in the air. I felt like I was floating on it. The second time I encountered Campbell’s work was in another English class, but this one was at a scruffy public community college, where I enrolled after leaving the religious university. The class topic was nature writing, and one day the teacher interrupted our normal activities to march us into the media room to watch Episode 1 of The Power of Myth, “The Hero’s Adventure.” Now I could see Campbell, hear his voice out loud. “My general formula for my students,” he said to Bill Moyers from the TV screen, “is follow your bliss! I mean, find where it is and don’t be afraid to follow it.” These words were nourishing to me as I was struggling to put my life back together after stepping away from religion. Hero, of course, phrases the idea more obliquely: “the hero-heart must be at hand” (4). Where Hero’s literary prose is highly crafted, The Power of Myth is conversational, but both works illustrate Campbell’s signature commitment to the underlying unity of mythic traditions and the diversity of expressions through which the mythic spirit speaks. In different voices, both works reveal Campbell’s insights about heroes, adventure, and bliss. Hero discusses bliss more objectively in the context of recurring mythic patterns, and The Power of Myth makes it practical: follow your bliss already! The implication, I think, is that following bliss has much to do with living the hero’s adventure. It’s about saying yes to its invitations, which means heeding what calls to you regardless of what anyone else says, because the alternative would shrink your soul and leave you filled with regret. Following bliss means facing fear head on and daring to see through it, past it, to the possibilities that await on the other side. It means rebellion and defiance. It means summoning your hero-heart’s reserves of courage. Heroism and bliss-following are lived soul experiences, psychological states marked by a willingness to risk danger on behalf of someone or something you believe in—very much like my professor who defied university rules to read Campbell to us. He put himself in real jeopardy. At that same school, I saw a group of young, muscular, angry zealots confront a beleaguered biology professor because he had dared to teach evolution. If anyone in my English class had reported the professor, he could easily have faced personal, professional, and religious retribution. But he had the courage to defy a system that was trying to control and contain him and us. By bringing Hero to that basement classroom, he brought heroism as well, literally in word and deed. In reading to us about heroes, he showed us what it meant to be one. Campbell died before I took either of those English classes, so in a sense he was speaking to us from beyond the veil, as he still does today through works like Hero and The Power of Myth. When my professor read to us from Hero the book had already been inspiring readers for almost forty years. This year marks the 75th anniversary of its publication, and it’s still going strong, with its unique combination of insight, awe, and wisdom. Neither of my teachers made Campbell a homework assignment. Neither put him on the syllabus or in any kind of test. They just saw to it that he joined us in the classroom. In so doing, they each embraced the radical, subversive heroism of educating our hearts, souls, and imaginations as well as our minds. I am forever grateful to both of them. This MythBlast was inspired by The Power of Myth Episode 1, and The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Latest Podcast In this episode of Pathways entitled, "Literary Wizardry - A Discussion with Joseph Campbell" recorded on December 15th 1970, Joseph Campbell holds a discussion session with students after his address to the student body of Sarah Lawrence College on the work of Thomas Mann. Host Bradley Olson gives an introduction and commentary after the lecture. Listen Here This Week's Highlights "Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be. " - Joseph Campbell -The Hero with a Thousand Faces (p1) Slaying the Dragon (see more videos)

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