No surprise to see the power of rhythm and the magic of dance front and center in this conversation, considering the image of “the Dancing God” that’s the focus of this week’s MythBlast. I would, though, like to step away from that theme for a moment to highlight this other significant observation from Monica’s essay:
Campbell recalls that the dancing god is a symbol of the union of time and eternity.”
As noted in the initial comment above, this motif pops up in the mythological imagery of multiple cultures (such as the Yin-Yang image I posted there).
But in Western culture, there is another potent image conveying the same message, one of particular relevance this weekend:
(Gerardo Dotteri’s Crocifissione, created in 1927, hanging in the Vatican Museum)
What the figure on a cross represents is the zeal of eternity to partake of the sufferings of time. According to the metaphor, Christ gave up the idea of God. Again, this is in Saint Paul, in Philippians: And he came down and took the form of a servant, even to death on the cross. This is a zealous yearning for participation in the sorrows of the world.” (Joseph Campbell, in conversation with John Lobell)
“In this beautiful passage Paul gives an interpretation of the Savior as the one uniting, as True God and True Man, encompassing eternal and temporal terms, transcending (not ‘grasping”’), yet to be known as both: as Christ, Second Person of the Trinity, and as Jesus, a once-living man, who was born and died in Palestine. Nailed to the cross as a living historical man being put to death, He transcends death as He transcends life. The symbolism is obvious: To His left and right are the opposed thieves, and He himself, in the middle, will descend with one and with the other ascend to that height from which He has already come down. Thus Christ is bound to neither of the opposed terms, neither to the vertical nor to the horizontal beam of His cross, though historically he is indeed bound, even crucified, as we all are in our lives . . .
If we read this metaphor of crucifixion in the psychological terms suggested by Jung’s designation of sensation and intuition, feeling and thinking, we may recognize that in our living, in our temporal, historical living, we are bound either to one or the other of the opposed terms of each pair, and hence to a knowledge or idea of good and evil that commits us to living as partial human beings. It follows that to be released from this limitation one must in some sense die to the laws of virtue and sin under which one lives in this world, opening oneself to a circulation of energy and light through all four of the functions, while remaining centered in the middle, so to say, like the Tree of Life in the garden, where the rivers flow in four directions; or like the point of intersection of the two beams of the cross, behind the head of the Savior, crowned with thorns.” (Thou Art That, 81-82)
In this image of Christ on the Cross Campbell emphasizes that same union of opposites, of time and eternity, that he finds in the image of Shiva Natarãja.
As I type, today is “Holy Saturday” – sandwiched between the Crucifixion, commemorated on Good Friday, and the Resurrection, celebrated at sunrise tomorrow, on Easter Sunday.
Personally, it’s the image of the Dancing God that most speaks to me, no doubt in large part because of the baggage attached to my strict, Christian fundamentalist upbringing, where only the most literal interpretation was allowed. The figure of Shiva Natarãja, on the other hand, carries no such baggage for me, allowing for a deeper understanding of the mythological dynamic conveyed in this image. (And then, I love to dance – that, for me, is where Time intersects Eternity as ego concerns dissolve in the experience of a timeless moment.)
But I did want to take a moment to draw attention to the same motif embedded in the Crucifixion, which is central to the Christian mythos. As Joseph Campbell observes, “we must take a fresh look at this event if its symbolism is to be sensed.” It’s the same myth – ever the same myth, though depicted differently, as inflected through different cultures.
This weekend I am thinking on both images, Shiva as well as Christ, reveling in the resonance between them.