Chapter 6 – Mythology and Identity

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

We can make a good case for shifting from P-B to P-A but lest we think we have a choice in the matter, we can disabuse ourselves of that notion. We don’t! The paradigm shift and the hero’s journey are but two different names for a universal process of evolving human consciousness and or The Great Insight wherein we simply awaken into the paradise of Oneness. No scholar or teacher has been more clear about this than Joseph Campbell in his many books on the subject of mythology.

We can undertake our life’s journey and travel unconsciously as most of us do or we can navigate with an awareness of what we are doing and with a map. The latter is obviously much preferred and this writing will increase our awareness of how mythology provides an excellent map. Simple Reality provides the critical skills and insights necessary for map reading as we journey from P-B to P-A.

Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be stated in words.
Ananda Coomaraswamy

Throughout this article, starting with Joseph Campbell, we will hear people from several different perspectives define and describe mythology. “The difference between an ideology and a mythology is the difference between the ego and the self. Ideology comes from the thinking system [intellect] and mythology comes from being [intuition].”  To arrive at our true identity, as with everything in Simple Reality, the distinction between illusion (intellect) and Reality (intuition) is of the utmost importance.

Humanity is coming to the realization in its religious institutions, for example, that interpreting the human experience literally or intellectually leads to delusion. “Metaphor is the stuff of which myth is made. It is the language of the imagination. Using it, we fashion individual myths and collective mythologies. The individual myth finds expression in all of us through dreams and fantasies, hopes and fears, and all the other non-rational experiences that evoke an intensity of feeling that reason cannot encounter.”

The fundamental purpose of myth is to support the paradigm shift from unconsciousness (P-B) to the present moment (P-A). As Joseph Campbell says, “Myths inspire the realization of the possibility of your perfection, the fullness of your strength, and the bringing of solar light into the world.”  We can forgive philosophers, prophets and poets their metaphors and enjoy the beauty of their images as long as we stay on the path, as long as we return to the truth of simplicity. Solar light is awareness, it is living in the Now.

What is the simple and pragmatic way to experience this “solar light” and what are the caveats concerning our false self that will keep us from misreading our map of Simple Reality? First, is the narrative that contains us, including the upheaval of the collective unconscious that influences our identity and behavior. Then there is the “group-think” in our immediate communities that we succumb to and resist at the same time. The inertia of P-B and our identification with it will overwhelm us if we don’t come to an understanding of both the individual and collective, the conscious and unconscious aspects of P-A. Some good questions to consider would include:

  •    Do we have a myth?
  •    Do we know what it is?
  •    Do we live it?

If we cannot answer “yes” to all of these questions, we don’t have a myth – which according to some scholars is possible.

Campbell says that modern humanity lives in a “mythless” state (which is his understanding of P-B) and that we will self-destruct unless we create a new myth. His description of the purpose of myth will help us understand how a new myth, a new story and a new identity can lead to sustainable human behavior.

“The first is what I have called the mystical function: to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of awe and gratitude in relation to the mystery dimension of the universe, not so that he lives in fear of it, but so that he recognizes that he participates in it…

“The second function of a living mythology is to offer an image of the universe that will be in accord with the knowledge of the time, the sciences and the fields of action of the folk to whom the mythology is addressed. In our own day, of course, the world pictures of all the major religions are at least two thousand years out of date, and in that fact alone there is ground enough for a very serious break-off.

“The third function of a living mythology is to validate, support, and imprint the norms of a given specific moral order, that, namely, of the society in which the individual is to live.

“And fourth is to guide him, stage by stage, in health and strength, and harmony of spirit, through the whole foreseeable course of a useful life.”

Paraphrasing the four functions in the language of Simple Reality we can see that a living myth as defined by Joseph Campbell is similar to P-A but not quite the same.

The first or “mystical function” of a 21st century authentic “living” P-A mythology relates to the identity of the individual as an intuitive with an inner wisdom connected to the Implicate Order and as a perfect expression of that creative intelligence (you are perfect even as the Father in heaven is perfect).

The second function is the insight of Oneness (the Father and I are one) in which the individual experiences herself as one with Creation itself. She then understands intuitively that being an integral and inseparable part of a perfect Creation, the essence of which is not found “out there” in the world of form, involves experiencing the physical universe as pure indestructible energy beyond all form.

The third function of a living mythology is to support individuals and collectives in transcending the old religious myths and the need for precepts and all delusions of good and bad, heaven and hell. In P-A with the expressions of compassion experienced as the highest human attainment, human behavior would naturally be life-sustaining without the need for coercion or fear.

And fourth, the living mythology would determine an identity that would in turn drive human behaviors and then create a sustainable global village (heaven on earth) here and now. Peace of mind, freedom from fear, authentic happiness, endless joy and compassionate service to others would be the universal experience of humanity.

Can unconscious Americans be expected to consciously create a new living myth either according to Campbell’s formula or the formula of Simple Reality?  Unfortunately, what is more likely to happen instead is the emergence of a pseudo-myth which will be defined by the context of P-B, an unsustainable story adding to human suffering.

One such myth we can see emerging could be called the myth of the “Left-Brained Worldview.” This story reveals that we have, as Campbell feared, put all of our eggs in the basket of the intellect while ignoring the origin of all truth and wisdom, intuition. The books in the Simple Reality Project have and will continue to examine the dehumanizing effects of technology. Is a pseudo-myth being created by the technology-enamored intellect of the post-modern mind? If so, we had better be aware of it before it is too late.

The source of the “new myth” is neither intuition nor the intellect strictly speaking but rather what has come to be called “Big Data.” Defined by Steve Lohr of The New York Times, we get this somewhat chilling description: “ … data like Web-browsing trails, sensor signals, GPS tracking, and social network messages will open the door to measuring and monitoring people and machines as never before. And by setting clever computer algorithms loose on the data troves, you can predict behavior of all kinds: shopping, dating and voting, for example.

“The results, according to technologists and business executives, will be a smarter world, with more efficient companies, better-served consumers and superior decisions guided by data and analysis.”

These last two paragraphs were the voice of the security center of the false-self survival strategy focused on making money, not on how to create a just, harmonious and compassionate human community. Aficionados of these computer algorithms are called “Quants” and are able to more accurately “quantify” human behavior but what about those of us more interested in the “quality” of life on the planet.

See if the future of humanity as described by a Quant doesn’t sound like a post-modern version of Big Brother to you. “‘Models do not just predict, but they can make things happen,’ says Ms. Schutt, who taught a data science course this year at Columbia. ‘That’s not discussed generally in our field [emphasis added].’”

Mr. Lohr fleshes out the implications of Ms. Schutt’s understandable concern. “Models can create what data scientists call a behavioral loop. A person feeds in data, which is collected by an algorithm that then presents the user with choices, thus steering [controlling] behavior.

“Consider Facebook. You put personal data on your Facebook page, and Facebook’s software tracks your clicks and your searches on the site. Then, algorithms sift through that data to present you with “friend” suggestions.”

Can a society that cannot define intuition be expected to create a profound mythology? Mr. Lohr seems to think he is defending intuition and questioning the Quants when he ends his article with this evaluation. “After all, what is intuition at its best but large amounts of data of all kinds filtered through a human brain rather than a math model?”  Even the dictionary knows that intuition transcends the intellect when it defines intuition as “The act of knowing without the use of rational processes; [it is] immediate cognition; sharp insight.”

In the book The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell is having a conversation with Bill Moyers. Does it sound like Campbell believes that myth creation involves “filtering ideas through the human brain?”  In the continuum between the left brain (intellect) and the right brain (intuition), we will see that Campbell does not support the future envisioned by Big Data and the Quants.

In Moyers’ introduction, he observed that Campbell agreed “the ‘guiding idea’ of his work was to find ‘the commonality of the themes in world myths, pointing to a constant requirement in the human psyche for a centering in terms of deep principles.’”

“‘You’re talking about a search for the meaning of life?’ I [Moyers] asked.”
“‘No, no, no,’ he [Campbell] said. ‘For the experience of being alive.’”

Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.
Joseph Campbell

Among the potentialities of human life are awakening, the paradigm shift, and a shift in identity. “The first function of mythology then is to …[show] everything as a metaphor to transcendence.”

The Odyssey describes the archetypal spiritual journey of humankind. “One can recognize in this and the following adventure symbolic representations of a common psychological experience…”  The human adventure follows the pattern of the Odyssey, our oldest epic poem, is for all of us, life itself. Every human experiences the archetypal myth of the Hero’s Journey in just the way that Campbell describes it whether he experiences consciously or unconsciously. Today a person who is aware of life’s deeper meaning is very rare. Being aware of the following map makes all the difference.

You have not even to risk the adventure alone,
For the heroes of all time have gone before you.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known,
You have only to follow the thread of the hero path.

And where you have sought to find an abomination,
You shall find a god;

And where you have sought to slay another,
You shall slay yourself;

And where you have sought to travel outward,
You shall come to the center of your own existence;

And where you have sought to be alone,
You shall be with all the world.

        Joseph Campbell (1904-1987)

The principles of Simple Reality are contained in Campbell’s version of the map including our transformed identity. The labyrinth is thoroughly known, is speaking of our inner wisdom and the connection to the Implicate Order. You shall slay yourself means cessation of identification with the ego, “I” or “me” and detachment from the false-self energy centers, the pursuit of security, sensation and power and finally freedom from the conditioned reactions associated with identifying with the body, mind and emotions.

And where you have sought to travel outward, you shall come to the center of your own existence refers to the illusion of the world of form and the direction of the journey away from the world “out there” to the inner world of Simple Reality. In the present moment we experience the final “atonement,” the realization of Oneness with all of Creation. You shall be with all the world.

The complex and intellect-driven content in P-B has a more profound and, not surprisingly, simpler meaning when understood from the perspective of P-A. Using the role of animals in mythology, we can illustrate this. “Even with real animals, the attributes assigned to them differ from one mythology to another, and sometimes from one myth to another from a single culture. This underlines the deep ambiguity that characterizes animal roles in mythology.”  Myths can be divisive in the human community when misunderstood. They can also promote peace and harmony by revealing a deeper reality, a more profound truth, which can help unite humanity.

Many myths reveal a distant past, a time of perfection, to which humanity would like to return. “…the primal time or golden age of mythological imagination—is characteristically a reversal of present conditions; therefore many myths refer to a time when human beings and animals could speak to each other… their equal status before nature is reflected in the way humans change into animals, animals into humans; they learn from each other and together establish the patterns that shape life on earth.”  Returning to the P-A worldview reveals the profound realization that indeed animals and humans are dependent on one another and can teach one another and “establish the patterns that shape life on earth.”

Humans and animals woven as they are into the tapestry of Creation are inseparable and are literally expressions of the One universal energy. Myths reveal that at some level of consciousness we knew that in the past and intuitively know it today. “In Japan, animals, humans, and all aspects of nature possess kami or spirit [energy]…In Meso-America, human beings each have a nagual, a spirit double in the form of an animal or bird that affects his or her destiny, the two attached for life.”

Modern societies often regard myths as interesting stories similar to folklore or fairy tales. We have lost a connection to our own inner wisdom when we don’t learn their deeper meaning. “They are telling us, therefore, of matters fundamental to ourselves, enduring essential principles about which it would be good for us to know; about which, in fact, it will be necessary to know if our conscious minds are to be kept in touch with our own most secret, motivating depths [inner wisdom].”

Follow Your Bliss: The Hero’s Journey

“With this awareness, we begin to understand the great myths of mankind which are always about the vicissitudes of the seeker [life is suffering] who, in the classic story, becomes besieged by challenges, seductions, snares, traps, beguilements, and savage beasts [the false self]. There are always dragons, fires, swamps, bodies of water and other hazards to be overcome [P-B conditioning]. In the legends, success depends on knowing a single secret or a mystical bit of information which becomes the key to progress [intuitional insight]. Without the help from on high or ‘high helpers,’ the hero or heroine becomes lost and is finally saved by divine goodness in some disguised form [the True self], such as a bird that signals or shows the way.”

The habitual reaction of the conditioned false self is the dragon that needs to be slain by each of us. “Psychologically the dragon is one’s own binding of oneself to one’s ego. We’re captured in our own dragon cage.”  Each time that we choose a present moment response instead of a reaction, we deliver a telling blow to the dragon.

“Man’s task is …to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements in his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconsciousness.”  This is Jung’s description of the purpose of the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s journey is a mythological metaphor for Jung’s process of individuation. The process leading to enlightenment is also embodied in the history of America in the myth-centered motif expressed in the motto “Go west young man, go west.” The American frontier flowed ever westward from the eastern seaboard of colonial times to the “official” closing of the frontier in 1890. In reality the frontier for humanity never closed and continued on into outer space. In another, more profound context, the frontier has always been an illusion when conceived of as a place in time and space. The “jumping-off place” was not Independence, Missouri. The destination was never the fertile soil of the Willamette Valley or the Sacramento gold fields. The goal has always been awareness, an awakening of the human soul.

From the tales of Homer to the symbolic power of the Cumberland Gap; from the story of Siddhartha Guatama, 2500 years ago to the transformational experience of Edgar Mitchell as he viewed the earth from outer space, it has always been, in reality, an inward journey. The heroes that we need today are not cosmonauts or astronauts but “psychenauts,” sailors on the sea of the soul. “As Campbell puts it, ‘Myth is what never was, yet always is.’ It’s a means of expressing the inner structure or meaning of all history.”

The culmination of the Hero’s Journey is awakening into our true identity, our arrival into the present moment or what would be in the myth of Christ, the resurrection. “It is also exemplified by Christ in his teachings of rebirth. Rebirth in Christ is, again, a symbol. It describes Awakening, the consciousness of the divine within the self and of our ultimate potential, the capacity to be sons of God.”

As usual, despite the backing of helpers and Creation itself, very few people “awaken” without consciously choosing to do so. Even the spontaneous “insight” awakenings have been guided over time by the unconscious gestation of human intuition, by yearning, study and transformational practices.

The fundamental difference between the religions of the Orient and the Occident is the difference in worldview between Oneness and duality. The distinction is a profound one with many implications for how to approach the problems facing humanity today. Notice how much in harmony with Simple Reality is the basic eastern worldview, at least in the opinion of Joseph Campbell. “The optimistic Oriental notion that by introversion [Insight/Vipassana meditation] one may come, of oneself [self-reliance], to rest in a realization of godhood [present moment] within”

Arthur Young in his book, The Reflexive Universe, also stresses the importance of individual human initiative in embarking on the Hero’s Journey, in the successful completion of self-transformation. “We find the Hero’s Journey in ancient Egyptian mythology. Neither Christ nor Horus has a physical father, a prior cause, and the great lesson these myths teach is that the final essence, the ultimate cause of life, is not a thing, but is cause itself. When we come to the complete fragmentation and entombment in matter, to the rock bottom, we cannot depend on any outside thing to lift us up. We must do it ourselves and, in that act, we are reborn.”

The human experience is characterized by unnecessary suffering. Individuals have chronicled their experiences of transcending suffering but the global village remains asleep. There is no need to wait until the nightmare shocks humanity into action. We as individuals can begin the Hero’s Journey and we have the map to get us started. “One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.”

Judeo-Christian Myth

Joseph Campbell feels that the Christian myth was appropriate for people 2,000 years ago but that it is no longer relevant for us in the 21st century leaving us “mythless,” living a life bereft of meaning. Is he right about that? Let’s explore the relationship among myth, Christianity and the identity of modern humanity.

The story of Adam and Eve can be explained in two ways. First, as a religious myth, explaining how humanity came to be sinners in a world of suffering by disobeying and offending God. Secondly, as a story about the origin of the delusion of duality as humanity “fell” into unconsciousness by remaining enthralled by the false-self survival strategy and failing to be aware of  our True self.

Campbell helps us see where the West went wrong. “In the Christian view, all mankind has inherited from the revolt of the first couple a corruption of nature that has so darkened understanding [created an illusion], weakened the will [left westerners feeling powerless], and inclined to evil [left us burdened with guilt, shame and regret while pursuing plenty, pleasure and power], that without the miracle of God’s merciful assumption to himself of the guilt and punishment due to that sin, the human race would have remained forever divorced from its proper end in the knowledge, love, service, and beatitude of its Creator.”

Jung brings psychology into the equation and sees danger for humanity in relying on religion divorced from a conscious living myth. “What is the use of religion without a mythos, since religion means, if anything at all, precisely that function which links us back to the eternal myth? I would even go so far as to say that the mythical character of a life is just what expresses its universal human validity. It is perfectly possible, psychologically, for the unconscious or an archetype to take complete possession of a man and to determine his fate down to the smallest detail.”  If Simple Reality is the eternal myth (and it is!), Jung thinks we are in danger if we do not wake up and acknowledge the story that contains us and assume the identity that would enable us to behave in a sustainable way.

A friend and biographer of Jung, Laurens Van der Post recalls telling him that imposing a Christian myth on primitive societies as Western imperial powers had done had destroyed some of those cultures such as the American Indian. “Even the best of motives, as in the sudden imposition of our version of Christianity on primitive societies, we had been thieves and killers of some aboriginal story and so deprived them of their own particular reason for being what they were—indeed, had at one stroke deprived both their yesterdays and today of meaning and purpose. I realized there and then, I told him, that without a story of its own no culture, society, or personality could survive.”

Without a profound and comprehensive modern myth we remain at the mercy of free-floating archetypes, the collective unconscious, the shadow, and outmoded religions causing irrational and self-destructive behaviors. “It is then hypothesized that the world situation [P-B], which threatens man’s survival as a species, has created a desire for a heavenly salvation [P-A]. Modern man’s rationalism will not allow him to voice this desire consciously and therefore has necessitated the projection of this unconscious material. The desire for supramundane salvation is expressed somewhat literally in the rumors of UFOs; these have just the right technological veneer to make them palatable to the mind of modern man. It is concluded, then, that UFOs are modern myth.”

Making a myth literal destroys its numinosity, its spiritual power.  “The sad truth, as one reconsiders the conflicting nativity stories of Matthew and Luke, is that the resolution of the allegorical birth of the Christ into the delivery of a literal baby in a localized, historical Bethlehem has kept the rest of humanity from realizing the true meaning of the messianic fulfillment. With the third-century conversion of an age-old spiritual drama meant to depict the truth about each of us into the biography of a unique man-savior, the great truth that a ray of the solar Logos was incorporated distributively into animal humanity faded out and was obliterated. Among other things, this has meant that the true, inner meaning of the annual celebration of Christmas for each individual person has been lost.”  Tom Harpur in his book The Pagan Christ gives us this brilliant insight and more.

“While showing the deep relevance of the Jesus story, and the persona of Jesus for the life and spiritual growth of every Christian, this fresh view of the faith leads to an escape from the false religion involved in the current idolatrous cult of a ‘personal’ Jesus. By showing him to have been deeply true in the mythical sense rather than literally as God, the vast theological offence currently given to the majority of other faiths, particularly Islam and Judaism, is not simply mitigated—it is entirely removed.”

The influence on human behavior of the western religions has been very self-destructive. “The center of religious focus then turned for many from this world to the next, and the disciplines that in earlier times had been directed to an achievement of perfection [or an affirmation of perfection] here became translated into disciplines of escape [the false-self survival strategy].”

One of the ways that the consciousness of Oneness in the Garden of Eden was “shattered” by the human “fall” into unconsciousness was the psychological “split” from the natural world. Religion reinforced this illusion to the detriment of humanity. A dialogue between Robert Bly and Joseph Campbell is on this very subject:

Bly: “The Jehovah actually in some way prevents us feeling this [transcendence]?”
Campbell: “Absolutely. It puts you in a relationship-to-him, which has to do with sin and atonement.”
Bly: “Does this mean that if you start to worship Jehovah for a long period that your sense of myth would disintegrate?”
Campbell: “It has disintegrated. There is no sense of myth in the Judeo-Christian tradition. It’s all historical. Fact stuff. Because of this we want to disengage from nature and make our ritual to do with participation in society. The Jewish tradition and a good deal of the Christian leads you to the society. We are one in Christ, not in nature.”

The wonderful and joyous mystic, Jean Houston, will have the last word on mythology. “If we can be in relationship with ourselves, others, and life events in terms of universal archetypal patterns then we will live life with awareness of our limitless potential for healing and for unlimited creativity. Myth tells of the struggle to breathe new life into a dead land, the death of the soul and its resurrection, the search for the beloved, the great wound that turns one into a great healer. Myths express so well the deep coding of human consciousness that people of all times and all places have felt compelled to tell and retell them to express the deepest truths they know about themselves.”

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References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in books by Roy Charles Henry:
Where Am I?  The First Great Question Concerning the Nature of Reality
Simple Reality: The Key to Serenity and Survival

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