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Reply To: Myth in Pop Culture

Toby Johnson

I think the most immediately relevant book is Jeffrey Kripal’s The Serpent’s Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion.

The Serpent's WisdomThe basic theme is that the study of religions from over and above naturally results in a kind of gnosticism, i.e., an intuition that you now know something more about all the religions because you understand what they are, not just what they say. That is certainly what I got out of reading The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Here’s how Campbell said that:

And so, to grasp the full value of the mythological figures that have come down to us, we must understand that they are not only symptoms of the unconscious (as indeed are all human thoughts and acts) but also controlled and intended statements of certain spiritual principles, which have remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structures of the human physique itself. Briefly formulated, the universal doctrine teaches that all the visible structures of the world—all things and beings—are the effects of a ubiquitous power out of which they arise, which supports and fills them during the period of their manifestation, and back into which they must ultimately dissolve.

…The function of ritual and myth is to make possible, and then to facilitate, the jump—by analogy. Forms and conceptions that the mind and its senses can comprehend are presented and arranged in such a way as to suggest a truth or openness beyond. And then, the conditions for meditation having been provided, the individual is left alone. Myth is but the penultimate; the ultimate is openness—that void, or being, beyond the categories—into which the mind must plunge alone and be dissolved… Therefore, God and the gods are only convenient means… mere symbols to move and awaken the mind, and to call it past themselves.

Understanding that that last sentence transforms you forever, and initiates you in a new wisdom–that’s what neo-gnosticism means.