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Reply To: THERE and BACK AGAIN,” with MythBlast author Stephen Gerringer”

Robert Juliano

To follow Stephen’s lead and return to focus on the outside world, let me begin with the book Black Elk Speaks since it was referenced in this discussion. I think it would be good to expand on the quote pertaining to the important notion of the “center of the world.” In the book, Black Elk recounts:

Then a Voice said: ‘Behold this day, for it is yours to make. Now you shall stand upon the center of the earth to see, for there they are taking you.’

Black Elk continued:

I was still on my bay horse, and once more I felt the riders of the west, the north, the east, the south, behind me in formation, as before, and we were going east. I looked ahead and saw the mountains there with rocks and forests on them, and from the mountains flashed all colors upward to the heavens. Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

In an endnote to this passage contains the following clarification of what Black Elk said:

Black Elk said the mountain he stood upon in his vision was Harney Peak in the Black Hills. ‘But anywhere is the center of the world,’ he added.

I think that Joseph Campbell refers to this in his interview, but one is reminded of Definition II (of God) of Liber XXIV Philosophorum (“The Book of the Twenty Four Philosophers”) which reads:

Deus est sphaera infinita ciuis centrum est ubique, circumferentia nusquam.

God: An infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Here, we see the critical importance of a dynamic balance between focus on the details of local culture and the broader view of global interdependence. Both are important! The problem is that in the 21st century, global interdependence is valued far higher than local culture – it is recognized at the severe cost of the local. Neoliberalism, defined as “the philosophical view that a society’s political and economic institutions should be robustly liberal and capitalist, but supplemented by a constitutionally limited democracy and a modest welfare state,” has been the dominant world system since the beginning of the 1980s. It is employed today in the total support of global free trade and freedom of international markets. Unfortunately, it has become exceedingly toxic and has grown too far away from the original optimism in the early 1950s by economists such as economics Nobel laureate Dr. Milton Friedman who wrote the paper Neo-Liberalism and its Prospects in 1951. This global view, in many ways, has steamrolled over so many local cultures. And the toxicity of such a global system divorced from local culture can be seen by those countries and those populations that suffer under neoliberalism. We can likewise see this toxicity in the actions which are causing climate decline, a state which may very well be irreversible. Thus, we see on the world stage the dominance of global factors over local ones. More specifically, we see the dominance of global factors as conceived by an exceedingly small set of representatives over local cultures and massive populations. This unbalance threatens the very existence of our species.

In Joseph Campbell’s interviews with Bill Moyers, they have this exchange:

Moyers: What kind of new myth do we need?

Campbell: We need myths that will identify the individual not with his local group but with the planet.

Campbell would later say that the new myth would have to be one of the entire planet:

When you see the earth from the moon, you don’t see any divisions there of nations or states. This might be the symbol, really, for the new mythology to come.

I have some thoughts on this. The first is that there may be at present one growing global new myth – that of the UFO. In 1958, Jung published a small book entitled Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies which applied his depth psychology as a lens with which to view the data of UFOs, data including eyewitness and/or radar sightings of UFOs, and dreams and visions of them. The approach that Jung took with respect to this phenomena constitutes a middle way between real and not real that is ontologically justified. Jung gave three categories of UFO experiences based on all of the data he had reviewed:

  1. Internal only (unconscious fantasy emerges about the UFO, possibly due to primary perception)
  2. External only (radar detection only but UFO invisible to the human eye)
  3. Internal/External (primary perception + radar/photograph corroboration of the UFO)

From this, he concluded that “something is seen, but one doesn’t know what.” Jung wrote that the mass sightings and other experiences of UFOs indicates “a psychological situation common to all mankind” where its basis is “an emotional tension having its cause in a situation of collective distress or danger, or in a vital psychic need. … The psychic situation of mankind and the UFO phenomenon as a physical reality bear no recognizable causal relationship to one another, but they seem to coincide in a meaningful manner.”

As you well know, 1958 was around ten years after the beginning of the Cold War. A powerful split was constellated which had severe repercussions around the world. And whereas in history humankind might have described the phenomenon of the UFO as manifestations of gods, daimones, angels, devils, etc., instead we perceive this in a manner that is consistent with 20th century thinking – an extraterrestrial race possessing superior technology to our own, potentially posing great danger to the human species.

It seems to me that this myth is one of the entire Earth, but that its interpretation is born out of fear. There is an alternate way of experiencing these great powers, and it comes from the work of the late psychiatrist Dr. John Mack. Dr. Mack was head of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He was asked by a friend to look into the experiences of those who claimed to have been repeatedly abducted by aliens. In all, he worked with 200+ such cases, recording their experiences as carefully as he could and then analyzing the complete corpus of information. It should be noted that many of those experiencers were so traumatized by their ordeal that they required hypnosis to aid in their conscious recall of their experiences.

From these records, Dr. Mack was able to piece together a larger pattern which he called the “Alien Abduction Phenomenon.” Though these 200+ experiencers did not know one another, their descriptions in a number of areas were mutually corroborative. But, one part of their experience seems to me to be absolutely critical and may give us clues about the psychic situation of human beings Jung referred to. The experiencers state that one part of their experience was where the aliens show them two images side-by-side. The first image is of Earth as it was very long ago. The second image is of Earth as it is now. The sight of this is so profoundly disturbing to them that some have dedicated their lives toward improving this planet. Perhaps this is part of the psychic situation of human beings we urgently need to become aware of. And the powers being experienced may not be extra terrestrial ones, but be the Earth itself communicating with us in ways that we can understand.

This is an example of a new global myth. But, I think that the new myths will also be of a local and especially personal nature. For this, I need only recall Jung’s journey and his translation of the “new religion” which was revealed to him into the path of individuation, a path unique to each individual.

There is a wonderful image of this in the dream of Jungian analyst Max Zeller and Jung’s interpretation of it, and it seems to me to embody a balance of global and local perspectives. The dream is as follows:

A temple of vast dimensions was in the process of being built. As far as I could see—ahead, behind, right and left—there were incredible numbers of people building on gigantic pillars. I, too, was building on a pillar. The whole building process was in its very beginnings, but the foundation was already there, the rest of the building was starting to go up, and I and many others were working on it.

Max Zeller then recounts his subsequent conversation with Jung:

Jung: Ja, you know, that is the temple we all build on. We don’t know the people because, believe me, they build in India and China and in Russia and all over the world. That is the new religion. You know how long it will take until it is built?

Zeller: How should I know? Do you know?

Jung: I know. 

Zeller asks how long it would take.

Jung: About six hundred years.

Zeller: Where do you know this from?

Jung: From dreams. From other people’s dreams and from my own. This new religion will come together as far as we can see.