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Reply To: The Serpent Flowering, with mythologist Norland Téllez, Ph.D.



Thank you so much for your response. It’s refreshing to hear someone speak up for Christian mythology, which generally doesn’t get as much attention from Cambellophiles as the seemingly more exotic traditions. I actually enjoy and am well-versed in Christian theology, but for me it’s pretty much an intellectual exercise – I find no support for my experience and understanding of the mystery of transcendence within Christianity, as practiced in my community.

I do appreciate your recognition of “a God who is left without a God at the height of his crucifixion,” which is an exquisite understanding that fosters compassion and is indeed key to the Christian revelation (in theory more than practice, considering what Christianity has set aflame over the millennia). Of course, to quote Campbell, “There are as many gods as there are people thinking about God. When Mrs. Mulligan and the Pope are thinking about God, it is not the same God” (A Joseph Campbell Companion, 162); even many within the Christian tradition who embrace that understanding add a lot of extra baggage.

At the same time, the primary tradition I’ve practiced for decades is grounded in compassion and has no need of “a God who is left without a God,” as not just the Gods, but all the practitioners are “left without a God” in the traditional sense. That may be why there is so much overlap between the esoteric understanding of a Jesuit priest like Teilhard de Chardin, a Trappist monk like Thomas Merton, or even a defrocked Catholic-turned-Episcopalian priest like Matthew Fox, and Buddhism as practiced by a Thích Nhât Hanh.

Though I am content and fulfilled following my own traditions, I am moved by Christian imagery sans the theology. In Italy three summers ago, I was much affected by the many beautiful renderings not just of the Crucifixion, but even more of the Pietà (Gerardo Dottori’s 1927 “Crocifissione” hanging in the Vatican, and Michelangelo’s Pietà at St. Peter’s, both below, are two examples that particularly arrested me in person – such is the numinous power of a mythic image).

Gerardo Dottori's 1927 Crocifissione Michelangelo's Pieta

Your cautions about kuṇḍalinī Yoga are well-taken. From your answer above it seems as if you are suggesting those not raised within a tantric tradition should steer clear – but in your MythBlast essay you write:

Placed in the same phenomenological order, kuṇḍalinī yoga becomes a powerful visualization of the individuation process as a profound transformation of our whole being in time. This is what makes yoga relevant to the West. Rather than pertaining solely to a subjective experience, kuṇḍalinī can become an authentic mythic perspective into the objective archetypal processes and structures of the encompassing psyche, the so-called collective unconscious, into which every individual consciousness is embedded. The road to enlightenment as the ascent of the kuṇḍalinī serpent through the chakras of the human spine works as the activation of the ‘transcendent function,’ which is the beginning of the individuation process, as a process of rebirth and regeneration in time.”

I’ll admit some confusion. Here you seem to suggest this form of yoga does have a place, as long we aren’t seeking an “experience” when we practice it? Or are you saying one shouldn’t practice it but approach it as a thought exercise – read about it, embrace the imagery but interpret / integrate it in terms of the relatively recent Western tradition of depth psychology, much as I do the Christian communion?

Would you mind clarifying and expanding on that a bit? How do we engage kuṇḍalinī as “an authentic mythic image?”

(On a tangential note, the state of Alabama just days ago lifted its longtime ban on yoga in public schools – as long as there is no meditation, and the poses all have English names. Though that many people who practice yoga as low-impact calisthenics scoff at Alabama’s concern that people might be lured away from church into a demonic cult, as your essay and your post above make clear, there are real hooks on which those projections are able to catch and snag.)