The value of mythology is often misunderstood, I think. What is a myth? Beginning in childhood, it’s a fascinating story, a tale where wondrous and often cruel things happen. Krishna is more charming than any real person could be, revelling in a thousand gopis. Rama and Sita distil the essence of romance and heroism to its purest essence. The first thing that grips us is the exploits of mythical characters, and because we hear these tales when we are young, they stay in our memory.
However, mythical figures become lifelong companions for very few people. Gods and demons are not the apparatus to show us how to live in a world of commuting to work and raising a family. Joseph Campbell, the most acclaimed mythology writer of the late 20th century, used to say that a man standing on the street corner waiting for the light to turn green was enacting a version of the hero’s quest, if only he looked deep enough into his psyche. But who looks that deep? Mythical heroes got renamed as something more arcane — archetypes — and sank into the murky darkness of the unconscious. Some believe that they have great power still, affecting us through the subconscious mind where in the distant past, heroes walked beside mortals on the field of Troy or Kurukshetra.
Deeply Buried Myths
With myth being buried so deep, one wonders how it could have any power at all. I think a kind of rebirth or resurrection is needed. Both are mythic motifs, yet I’m not talking about a quest for the Golden Fleece or the Holy Grail. Myth suffers when it becomes romance, and there’s no doubt that when most people envision Arjuna, Mary Magdalene or Sir Galahad, there’s a romantic impulse to escape the dreary everyday world and its mundane reality. But what if myth is more real than reality?
That was what our ancestors thought. Myth explained nature. Indra brought the monsoons, not jet streams. Divine curses explained a sudden outbreak of plague, not flea-infested rats. As everyone knows, the rise of science and rationality spelled the end of gods and monsters as real experiences. In a recent debate with a leading physicist, my opponent assured the audience that the whole field of spirituality, which embraces mythology, can be traced to wishful thinking, childish fantasy, and other precursors to science. Science comes to grips with reality, in short, while mythology runs away from reality and stands for all that is childish and irrational in us.
The Art Of Resurrection
Bringing mythology back to life cannot happen until we counter this blanket dismissal, which has been so effective that mythical reality has become marginalised for most people. The scheme of archetypes attempts to revive myth, but it suffers from being so arcane that only a tiny group of Jungians keep the flame alive. The only way to resurrect myth is to make it more real than reality. That has always been the true purpose of spirituality as a whole, to point to a transcendent realm that overarches the material world, a realm of invisible forces that penetrates through the veil of materialism. Such a place is inside us — as the Jungians claim — but it exists “out there” also, in the very workings of the cosmos.
Where our ancestors accepted such a worldview without question, breathing it in like air, to recapture the mythic world has turned into a process or a journey. One begins in the same shared reality that is accepted by everyone, but a kind of second sight or second attention develops. Let me contrast how second attention compares with first attention.
First attention: From this level of awareness, a person focuses on events in the physical world, pursues individual desires, accepts social values of family, work, and worship, sees the world in linear terms, operating through cause and effect, and accepts the boundaries of time and space.
Second attention: From this level of attention, a person transcends the physical world, follows intuition and insight, accepts that the soul is the basis of the self, seeks his source in the timeless, aspires to higher states of consciousness, and trusts in invisible forces that connect individuals to the cosmos.
On A Different Plane
As you can easily see, first attention comes naturally to every modern person, while second attention must be cultivated. Perhaps there was an epoch that constituted a Golden Age or Satyuga when the connection with spirit was so strong that people spoke of their souls as naturally as we speak about our clogged coronary arteries. But the rise and fall of history isn’t really relevant. The whole point of myth is that being more real than reality, it can never be destroyed or completely suppressed. The soul awaits its resurrection, not through an apocalyptic end but through each individual beginning to wake up.
Mythology was written by people who were more awake than we are, but on a different plane. They were awake to messages from the Source, where Pure Consciousness vitalises individual consciousness. In other words, mythology has juice in it, and when you connect with quest, romance or any other great mythic theme, the reason is to squeeze the juice from everyday life. This juice is called by various names: Shakti, the light, Chi, Shekinah, and the Holy Spirit. Modern people relate best to non-religious terms, but if I were cornered, I’d choose the term Shakti. Besides being the name of a goddess, Shakti has pure traits that penetrate our world from the transcendent world:
Shakti is intelligent but also playful
Shakti is cosmic but also personal
Shakti is invisible but exists every where
It’s the last trait that most appeals to me. From the earliest age when I heard mythological stories, I had a sixth sense that these tales were about something deeper and more secret than ordinary life reveals — somebody knew something that I didn’t, and a myth was the only way to suggest what they knew. Otherwise it was ineffable…. As a child, it frustrated me that mysteries were never fully solved, and perhaps that led me on the road to medical school, where mysterious ailments were supposed to have rational causes.
Thank God For Mystery
Now I’ve turned around and feel grateful that mystery pervades existence. Even more am I grateful that Shakti isn’t a tease; her cosmic dance is the ultimate erotic myth, and yet the reality is that an organising power exists in the universe, imbued with truth, beauty, and creativity. What we value most in ourselves has its origins in Sat Chit Ananda, the state of pure awareness that exists outside time and space…. Mythology records the experience of journeying to that level, which is why mythic tales feel personal and universal at the same time. The miracle is that each of us can live such a life, too.
Through first attention, we can participate in the everyday world, while through second attention, we can allow Shakti to play and dance through us. That’s how mythology becomes more real than reality itself, and how modern existence can rise to a divine dimension.
Published by Speaking Tree