Reply To: Journey Through Myth,” with Mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D.”
Thank you Shaahayda and Marianne,
Your questions and comments are most welcome. It pleases me to stir your imagination about Reason—which is like Zeus himself, that lightning which steers the world. You both pick up on my intent to “rehabilitate” Reason with the idea of going beyond the straw man caricature which is deployed by all sorts of mythic fundamentalisms.
Marianne, you mention the example of self-styled “pagans” and asked whether they could be counted as a fair illustration of the state of humanity still-born in the womb of myth. Without pulling any punches, could we make a case for neo-paganism as a genuine possibility for the “twiceborn”? Yet, as you later reflected, despite their claim to paganhood, they still fall short of blood sacrifice or even animal sacrifice, branding such literal practices as “satanic.” But this “satanic” dimension was always indispensable to true pagans—from Homeric heroes to the Twins of the Feathered Serpent. The fact that contemporary pagans must brand themselves as the “good” kind of pagan, the one that dispenses with the sacred spilling of literal sacrificial blood and whose opposite, disavowed shadow is satanism—also tells us that this brand of paganism still understands itself within the mythological framework set by Christianity and the Christian ethos. They are not really “pagan” but unconsciously Christian. And if they be truly pagan then we would view them as Satanists.
Isn’t it ironic that someone who imagines they have moved “beyond” the Christian god is nonetheless scared to death by Satanism? Stan seems more real to them than God. As the flipside of the secular form of fundamentalism, so-called pagans will believe in Satan sooner than God!
Perhaps, at best, they might consider themselves to be “Christian” pagans, then they would be closer to the truth, but unfortunately most of this neo-paganism sustains its ideological identity over against the Christian myth and ethos. They may feel just as threatened by Christianity as they do by Satanism—perhaps more so threatened by official Christianity, while allowing themselves to flirt with “black magic” now and then. I myself have some personal acquaintance with this latter kind of “pagan,” and I don’t see how we can make a case for them being an example of the twiceborn, at least not in the sense Campbell has in mind when he describes someone who is no longer susceptible to the “threats and lures of myth.”
If you’d like to go a little deeper, this is a matter of mytho-historic reflection. I cannot but agree with Jung when he writes in Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious:
I am convinced that the growing impoverishment of symbols has a meaning. It is a development that has an inner consistency. Everything that we have not thought about, and that has therefore been deprived of a meaningful connection with our developing consciousness, has got lost. If we now try to cover our nakedness with the gorgeous trappings of the East, as the theosophists do, we would be playing our own history false. A man does not sink down to beggary only to pose afterwards as an Indian potentate. It seems to me that it would be far better stoutly to avow our spiritual poverty, our symbollessness, instead of feigning a legacy to which we are not the legitimate heirs at all. We are, surely, the rightful heirs of Christian symbolism, but somehow we have squandered this heritage. We have let the house our fathers built fall into decay, and now we try to break into Oriental palaces that our fathers never knew. Anyone who has lost the historical symbols and cannot be satisfied with substitutes is certainly in a very difficult position today: before him there yawns the void, and he turns away from it in horror. What is worse, the vacuum gets filled with absurd political and social ideas, which one and all are distinguished by their spiritual bleakness. But if he cannot get along with these pedantic dogmatisms, he sees himself forced to be serious for once with his alleged trust in God, though it usually turns out that his fear of things going wrong if he did so is even more persuasive. This fear is far from unjustified, for where God is closest the danger seems greatest. It is dangerous to avow spiritual poverty, for the poor man has desires, and whoever has desires calls down some fatality on himself. A Swiss proverb puts it drastically: “Behind every rich man stands a devil, and behind every poor man two. / Just as in Christianity the vow of worldly poverty turned the mind away from the riches of this earth, so spiritual poverty seeks to renounce the false riches of the spirit in order to withdraw not only from the sorry remnants—which today call themselves the Protestant church—of a great past, but also from all the allurements of the odorous East; in order, finally, to dwell with itself alone, where, in the cold light of consciousness, the blank barrenness of the world reaches to the very stars. (CW9i ¶28-29)
Finally, to dwell with itself alone, where, in the flickering light of reason, the blank barrenness of the world reaches beyond the stars, revealing a hidden order in the Mind of God, in the design of the universe. If you read Jung’s text slowly you can see him vacillating between adorning yourself with spiritual riches and being able to accept the vow of spiritual poverty that Christianity proclaims as our spiritual adulthood. You can see that not even Jung himself is this “twiceborn” as he refused to cross to the other side of myth and ideology into the mytho-historic shores of modernity, where reason must dwell with itself alone without the need of mythic alibis or archetypal scapegoats.
Where Freud had already crossed the Rubicon of modern consciousness, Jung took on the role of a “vanishing mediator” between the Medieval world and modern psychotherapy.
With respect to this process of authentic spiritual growth, saturating our minds in actual mytho-historic truth, I think Shaahayda put it plainly when she writes:
“Would it be fair to say that essentially, it’s similar to concretizing a symbol, when we are in the womb of myth, and we become spiritual adults after we learn to dissolve the concretization — And, it’s Reason- the thinking mind that helps us dissolve the symbol?”
Yes, very nicely put. We could also say that Reason is the organ that separates and integrates the eternal symbol into the temporality of our lives; it is the process of “eating the God” which requires us to chew and digest this spiritual food before we can swallow. So many people skip this phase of chewing and digesting (analysis and synthesis) and just swallow myth whole, excreting it just as fast, without understanding its meaning. Instead of understanding it, they “act it out”—an act of unconsciousness which keeps the symbol raw and undigestible. The symbol is pure potentiality, an empty universal fixed in the abstract; the minute it enters the flux of temporality, it becomes existentially concrete and its symbolic status is dissolved. To put it in well-known Biblical language, the Word becomes flesh.
So we could put it in the reverse way and say that reason is the instrument that allows us to make symbols truly concrete, assimilating them into the body and soul of our mortal existence—or Existenz—a process of integration and disintegration which leaves the phase of fetishization and reification behind. Once taken up on the ground of Existenz, the symbol stops being an object to grab, possess, or even “worship”. Rather than “known” the symbol is lived instead. That is the real difference, where a distinction is drawn between making a symbol existentially concrete and reifying it as a fetish . The act of reification and objectification in fact renders the symbol more abstract than concrete. It turns the crux of a unique experience of being into an object for sale as the oldest trade. When the symbol takes on true concretion, it can no longer become a general object of cognition. Instead of an objectification and reification, turning a god into an idol, the symbol becomes the very flesh and fluid of my being—my Existenz—the eye of the self that can never see itself “from the outside” apart from the mirrors and traces of its disappearance and regeneration in time.