Magic and Myth
Scientology 1.0.0 – Part 9
In the previous article, I made a list of some of the kinds of thinking and experience that are almost certainly required if anything as bizarrely complex and impressive as modern civilisation is to exist. Whatever they may actually be, these ideas occur and enfold, like steps on a ladder. Eventually, as the ladder extends and evolves, it gets us to the kind of reality that we exist in today. Pooh-poohing things like magic and religion as ridiculous superstitions of our illiterate forefathers may be de rigueur in the halls of academe and the mass media – dominated as they are today by rational atheists and materialists – but, as I propose, this is akin to kicking out all the rungs of a ladder while standing on it many stories up (oop!).
Of course, there are things not on the list, and there are probably multiple ways to arrange and compile it, not to mention possible problems with sequence and simultaneity. Still, I continue with my comments and descriptions of each thing on the list, not because most readers won’t know about them, but because this is my way of laying out a bit of the background, the provenance, you might say, of Scientology 1.0.0 in preparation to discuss its inception and history.
So, to continue….
Magic – Invisible forces
Magic is definitely one of those rungs, and like all the other rungs, it plays a key role in life, all the way through, whether one knows it or not.
In my opinion, there are ways it can go dangerously sideways, though. How magic actually works, and then becomes confused with superstition and trickery, has been getting people and groups into trouble all throughout history.1 Then there’s our modern era, where magic just seems to be weird. However it’s viewed, ideas about magic played an important, possibly accidental, role in the popularisation of Scientology 1.0.0 in the 1960s. Later, magic would play one of the key roles in the development and eventual establishment of Scientology 2.0 (1981).
Before the beginning of Western civilisation (dated to approximately 4,000–4,500 B.C.), there were towns (the Urban Revolution, 9,000–10,000 B.C.), and before towns, there were tribes, and those tribes consisted of people working with good and useful ideas. (I deduce this was so that the majority of their wild thoughts were mostly working for them rather than against them, because otherwise, how did we get here?) They were smart people, and we are mostly the huge success we are because of them. Apparently, in some circles, this idea that we moderns are a feature of man’s evolution rather than a glitch, is a very controversial view; those who advocate for the Noble Savage or support Rousseau’s view that civilisation makes men méchant [evil, villainous] feel it’s all been downhill since those halcyon days of the hunter-gatherers and, if given the chance, will gladly return us all to those “innocent times.” (More on that later.)
There is a big difference between the complexity of a tribe, consisting of maybe fifty to a hundred and fifty related people, and a civilisation, consisting of thousands, and now millions and billions. Small tribal groups don’t need organised religion or philosophy per se, but they do need magic, because that’s how the world mostly seems to be. Acting as a causative agent in this world, magically or otherwise, rather than the effect (victim), is a key factor to success, if you can get it right. This is because chronic fear and apathy, especially when due to the idea of inadequacy, kill every time. Recognising and then working with all the myriad invisible forces for one to achieve a positive role in life would appear to go a long way to obtaining basic survival. In addition, magic is also necessary in order to achieve true enlightenment, which is the ultimate goal of survival, as I shall explain.
It might be that our ancient ancestors set their groups up similarly to the way hunter-gatherer groups are in the world today. In each group, there was, of course, a hierarchy of some sort. Then, off to the side, there was a specialist who worked with magic. This professional would act as a bridge between the group and all other levels of reality and perception, as well as the invisible forces, to help the group move forward.
Today, magic plays, and still plays, this vital role at all levels of groups, from the simplest tribal groups to modern civilisations consisting of hundreds of millions. Maybe we don’t see this fact in this way much here in the West, but anybody who has paid attention to the thousands of different ceremonies and rituals all over the world will see the magic in most of them.
Thinking about invisible forces (as much as “force” plays a role in the mind or outside of temporal reality) makes me think about the world as it was before towns. I mean, think of this: when you live in a time on the planet where your group is only about a hundred or so people and your contact with other such groups is, probably, seasonal, you live in a world that’s hard to picture today (unless you visit the Serengeti or some similarly unvisited, unpopulated region… and stay there without Wi-Fi for a thousand years). Because there are so few of these groups (relatively speaking), the world is one of truly vast spaces (just painting a picture here). A world that is also, mostly, quiet! or rhythmic (seasides), or filled with white noise (rivers and waterfalls). And, at night, dark! Depending on where you are, nights go on forever and if you live where there is often cloud cover, such as the Nordics did (do), it gets very dark, something not experienced much these days if you live in a town or city. Time doesn’t exist at all in the way we know it today, and our attention to everything in the world is at a level that, by comparison, would most likely make many of us in the present seem less asleep than dead. When there’s a disruption, like a thunder storm or an earthquake, it gets noticed! This vastness of space, the deafening quiet, and the eternities of time and night – plus attention to everything (and so much more) – would, I think, have to make certain things seem plain. Such as magic.
Magic: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. From late Middle English, from Old French magique, from Latin magicus (adjective), late Latin magica (noun), from Greek magikē (tekhnē) ’(art of) a magus’. (Note: a magus is a member of a priestly caste in ancient Persia, the sort that came to say hello to Jesus of Nazareth when He was born.)
I admit, I actually don’t know much about magic, but it’s easy to guess that it’s been a primary driving force, for good or ill, since the dawn of time. Things like shamanism, divination, various healing practices, and so on, are all ways and forms of doing magic. So it’s my supposition that these complex arrangements with invisible dimensions and forces, and the myriad ways of working with them, were a key factor in achieving group success.
“Invisible dimensions?!” screeches the materialist, “there you go, down the rabbit hole and into the weeds!”. Yes, here we go indeed! I’m aware, of course, that it can be argued that success was achieved despite, or regardless, of these practises but how would one know? Personally, I don’t think so.
I suppose, too, some people might think that what was thought of as magic was simply poor observation (the eternal struggle to define causes), but I’d argue, again, how would you know? You can really only make that claim in a world that has developed the Scientific Method (as it came to be known only recently) and its odd, sort of creepy, little sister, rational atheism. To dismiss the invisible realm so casually, I suppose one must first become thoroughly enthralled – or overwhelmed – or jaded – by the material, visible one. It seems awfully silly to sometimes have to make this point by indicating that the vast majority of forces in life are immaterial and invisible, such as viewpoints, opinions, considerations, morality, aesthetics, love, and so on and so on. (Also, and I‘m quite happy to stress this point endlessly, as far as poor observation goes, there is so much more to reality than we will ever know that we will always, always, have a very limited perception of it; discovery runs on an infinite scale, after all.)
Moving along. Our early ancestors most likely didn’t see the world as clearly divided into the subjective and objective, as per the Enlightenment. They seemed to have lived in it in a completely different way, at least from what I can tell from the many accounts I have read of tribal peoples as encountered by Western scholars during the past five hundred years. (In a number of these studies, I couldn’t help noticing how common it was for many of these people to describe westerners as sad and lonely; they apparently thought that this was a very odd thing, what with their view of us all living in a fundamentally intelligent and welcoming – albeit very strict – universe.)
Magic, though, still exists, of course, because most of life is immaterial, invisible and unmeasurable, again such as opinions and morality, aesthetics, etc., etc. (not to mention the things that go bump in the night, especially those long, dark, dark nights).
Good therapy will treat one of the most invisible things of all: the viewpoint of the individual (as in, a view or judgement chosen by a person about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge). Modern psychologists and neurologists locate and identify all sorts of activities in the brain whereby electro-magnetic forces appear to be activated, excited, in said organ (there’s specific terminology for all of the following phenomena, which I’ve left out because I can’t remember it). For example, some fellow, let’s say, a tennis champ, is in a brain scanner and the technician asks him to imagine playing a set, and then, magically, on the screen, some part of the guy’s brain lights up: “Aha, there’s the part of the brain where tennis gets played!”. The questions are, is that an indicator of a cause? A correlation? What? And remember, the subject had to be asked to think about playing tennis before the light show, so is the technician the primary cause in this case? Some sort of “mind network” maybe? Or maybe the act of tennis is the key. Lord! Where the heck exactly is this point that does all this tennis playing and viewing? Reality and consciousness continue to be the greatest mysteries confronting such professionals today—as they have always been. Mysterious stuff when you get right down to it.
So when you’ve got pretty good therapy going, as per Scientology 1.0.0, you’re apparently going to have the most success by treating the viewpoint of the patient, wherever it’s located, rather than the brain – too many variables there otherwise. What does the viewpoint – you – believe is going on? What’s your view of your life? The better the patient is guided or helped to discover for themselves whatever the truth of the matter is, for them as well as the actual reality of their situation (confusing the subjective with the objective is what’s wrong with most of us in the first place), the more successful the therapy is going to be.
I remember reading somewhere that magic is defined as “the unseen hand” and thinking that that was a pretty good definition, depending on how you define “hand,” that is, as an active role in achieving or influencing something. This could apply to the illusionist’s art, but that’s not how to interpret it here. Rather, I imagine a perfectly patterned, well-ordered universe (possibly even innately intelligent) acting as the hand, yet it is so vast and so complex that it appears thoroughly random and chaotic to our extremely limited perceptions.
To illustrate, imagine being on a googol x googol light-year square chessboard where you, and every other person on the planet, could only measure one picometer square of it. All the while an army of giant grandmasters is continuously and endlessly playing round after round of blitz chess on it. It would appear not only random and chaotic, but also meaningless if you believed that what you could measure was all there was to reality. And, if you are particularly insistent upon this “meaninglessness”, you’ll become a determinist (here come the gulags!). The funny thing is, no one can “prove” one or the other, so what’s actually on the table is your viewpoint, your consideration and opinion, and how that assists you. If your opinion leans toward the materialist or nihilistic, then how does that serve you? Should others be careful of you? Probably.
Little story. Way back when I was a callow youth, I had become frustrated and impatient with the kind of talk that had become commonplace among the newer Scientologists of the 1960s and ‘70s about their special magical knowledge and supernatural abilities. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that, I guess, except we are in an era in the West where it seems the subjective and the objective have become thoroughly confused. This unsophisticated chatter seemed to my young mind to be developing into a concomitant and unwise decrease in critical thinking. With rising incompetence, deteriorating constancy, and, perhaps most ominously, the enabling of many bad actors (such as the countless louche and disreputable types who commonly pray upon the more credulous, of which we had more than our fair share), it appeared I might have had a point. I mean, I didn’t have a problem with so-called woo-woo2 (woo is fun sometimes), but I did if it seemed to displace useful good sense.
So one day during dinner with my dad (just the two of us), I complained about this by blurting out grumpily, “Where’s all this magic everybody keeps on about?!”. He looked astonished and then asked me, “What magic?” I explained. Then he asked, “You don’t see the magic?” and I said, “No!”. “Well, come on now! What magic are you talking about? ” I thought for a second and said, “Such as seeing through walls and levitating things, I guess.” He said, looking even more surprised, “You can’t levitate things?” and I said “No!”. He looked further perplexed and asked, “You can’t levitate those?” indicating the salt and pepper cellars on the table between us. I indignantly and emphatically said, “No!” “Really?” he said, “You can’t levitate those salt and pepper shakers?!” Harrumphing, I got up out of my chair at the end of the table and made a great show: “Well, not unless I get up like this, go over to them like this, grab them with my hands and do this!” jerking the shakers dramatically up in the air. Dad looked at me then, smiling, and said, “And that’s not magic?” We had a good laugh.
Now, he was just having a bit of fun there, but the truth was his point. What’s magic after all? What’s the ultimate source (as in cause) of anything? After that exchange, I began experimenting a lot with movement and thought: you move your arm up. How did that happen? Where did that come from? The idea, thought, of moving your arm, where did that come from? Think of a rose. Why a rose? It could have been, say, thinking of a chair or the colour blue, on and on. I was only a teenager, after all, but still. I eventually came to see that it’s a deep, deep mystery where anything comes from, and that there is a lot more to attention and reality and its direction, how the former influences the latter, than what I had been assuming.
Anyway, those who actually have spent any considerable time consciously alive, really alive and open, will eventually begin to perceive complex connexions in the world and, possibly, potentially, maybe, even ways to influence them beyond what would seem normal, if only subjectively at first (change your mind = change the world). Hopefully, always remembering not to confuse it too much with the objective realm.
Another way to look at this may be as Clarke’s third law, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This is probably because, as mentioned before, most natural phenomena have always been (and always will be) hidden from us. I mean both the principles and the workings, for there are an infinite number of things to be discovered. Amusing fact, did you know, for instance, that in the early 1600s, natural philosophers (as early scientists were called back then) all thought mice appeared spontaneously in hay? That was only a few years ago! (I can hear some scoffing at the idea of infinite knowledge, but I assure you that if you ratio all known things against all yet to be known, the answer will always be 0, as in nothing – this is why truly wise people often claim to know less and less as they gain more information.) This view of Mr. Clarke’s, though interesting, is actually off point, but it gets referred to so much that I thought I’d mention it.
Also, let us remember the placebo effect: more magic! People get well despite injecting distilled water and taking sugar pills. Sadly, that too can get out of hand and become strangely twisted. Millions of people are happily marching around at the very time of this writing, wearing masks and swearing that they’re alive today because of them3. Maybe so! Maybe so. I don’t think so, though. Masks have been shown repeatedly to have no discernible effect in preventing virus spread. What I’m saying is, if you’re the one already infected, then definitely wear a mask, although even then it’s not that good. What really works is quarantining – and I should know: I lived and worked in a Petri dish, otherwise known as a ship, for eight years and saw an outbreak of almost every kind of contagious sickness you can think of. I do, however, believe in the placebo effect and support it in all of its forms. (Codicil: I believe masks, in general, are extremely dangerous from a social and psychological standpoint – this will be eventually proven, mark my words – and are not worth the price, particularly aspaid by infants and small children.)
The really, really important thing I’d like to say about magic, however, is in reference to the real deal. Magicians can gesture or wave a hand and something at a distance can appear (without mirrors or invisible strings), or speak to the spirits and have them speak back, or walk through walls, or levitate salt cellars, and so on. Well, this I’ve personally never experienced nor seen, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t or can’t happen. In my opinion, the place where the conversation should be right now, especially when it comes to Scientology, is whether or not that kind of magic is applicable or not, and whether or not it should be used or not. In other words, responsible magic versus irresponsible magic.
This is where I must bring up Goethe’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (played brilliantly by Mr. Micky Mouse in the famous movie Fantasia). Basically, the apprentice loses control of the spell because he is not yet a master sorcerer, but my preferred reading of the poem is that he would only have attempted the spell because he was being lazy. This is what I’m referring to when I mention irresponsible attempts at magic; the desire to do what I call an “end run” around nature, often in an effort to avoid effort (as in work). Life without work, useful, productive, valuable work, isn’t worth much. “Responsible magic” could be shown by the amount of imagination, thought, skill, blood, and sweat that goes into art and inventions, as just a couple of examples.
There are levels of responsibility in all things, and responsible magic is in a whole different league than those who need the physical universe to be different than it is. I mean, we share this universe and even the things you “own,” you don’t actually. You have property, sure, and nobody else has the right to use it without your permission or due process (depending where you live), but all this stuff is actually made up of particles that make up the whole physical universe. If someone got to move these particles around willy-nilly, wouldn’t that be a cheat, even dangerous? Or even a kind of theft? Sort of like someone sneaking into your home at night while you’re asleep and rearranging your sock drawer whenever they please. I’ve heard this power expressed by people who “change” or “create” the weather (may my friends who believe these sorts of things forgive me), which always made me wonder about their hubris: that incalculable trillions of vectors get switched around because they wanted sunshine on their wedding day. To be fair, there is such a thing as prediction, which is when you just know how something’s going to go, after all – and that, that right there, is magic of a very high order. If more of us paid more attention to what we just know – really know – with no second guessing and whatnot, then we’d be living in a whole different and much improved world.
I suppose the above might be too harsh a view. I mean, I don’t exactly get to say what’s magic and what isn’t; outside of my own opinions, it’s a hard thing to know. And, besides, to be equitable, this sort of “magical thinking” may be pretty harmless for the most part. On the other hand, the important question in my mind is, where does it stop? This is why I have always preferred a small republic form of government over any kind of democracy, because the majority of us just can’t reason as well as we might, especially at that level; not yet anyway. I say this because of the propensity of the majority of voters to support regimes that offer them “free” stuff like food and money, and there are few better examples of magical thinking than that. Most of us are pretty good at thinking about the things that are local and intimately perceivable, such as our own homes or neighbourhoods, but getting our wits around bigger systems doesn’t seem to be our forte, nor should it be particularly… yet. As far as critical thinking goes, it’s a complicated skill that needs to be learned, and personally, I just haven’t met many people who are very good at it without training. (Not that I’m so great at it either, I’m just saying.)
Speaking of magical thinking, its use in place of reason when reason would be much better served. Children, usually ages three to six, quite naturally default to this way of seeing the world as they have yet to learn how to think. One is born with all the feelings and emotions under the sun, but thinking correctly is a matter of education, and it’s that training that gets these elemental forces under control. (Watch out for that six-month old that you think is just crying, it’s probably actually an expression of a level of rage and frustration that would make Hitler blush.) A lot of adults, like the Boomers and many of their offspring, get caught up in magical thinking. This may be because it’s drummed out of them during childhood instead of being integrated into higher levels of thought and cognition (more on this in a later article).
It’s possible that it’s too late for many adults today, but if we get around to properly restructuring education, we might try to incorporate magical thinking (along with their vital imaginations) into all the more sophisticated types of thought that followed the hunter-gatherers. And then, who knows what might be accomplished?
That being said, just one little extra stab at emphasis here. It is no coincidence that there is a relationship between magic and wonder (and awe). As I believe I mentioned previously, I think wonder is mostly lost to adults in these modern times, and that is a very, very serious problem in my view. I don’t know, it could be just me. It takes a lot of courage (another invisible force) to live properly in the world. Life, after all, is not for the timid. Therefore, I think wonder, because of its connexion to faith (yet another invisible force), cannot be experienced much by the faint of heart, for they’re too busy worrying; to lose the wonder is to risk the death of all spirit, especially that vital quality, courage. I think we miss this point today, possibly because we equate courage with force (military, police, emergency personnel), which can sometimes be the case, but it’s better to equate courage with wisdom, and there is no greater invisible force than that.
Myth – Stories of being
Speaking of courage and wisdom, the other thing that we did and still do is tell stories about being in the world. Life’s “whats and hows,” I suppose you could say. This is another rung in that ladder that got kicked out in the 20th century, so badly so that it took a movie, Star Wars, to help put it partially back. It’s still pretty much a dead subject, though, and it really oughtn’t be.
My thoughts: Myth is original pattern recognition at a much higher resolution than any algorithm currently available. They are the accumulated wisdom of thousands of years of trial and error, and you must have these guides because they contain more information than can be learned in the span of one life. To live properly, you’ve got to know where you are – what sort of world you’re living in – and what you should do about it. Not knowing these things can make the world more dangerous than it needs to be.
For working out what we’d need to know about our world, we ought to first have a pretty good idea of the game itself, what sort of board it’s being played on, and what the game looks like when you’re winning or losing.
First step: figure out where you are.
In Scientology 1.0.0, not knowing that is called, not surprisingly, a confusion. Confusion is the bottom of a spectrum consisting of 12 delineated levels, or conditions, as they pertain to existence (more on this in a later article). Confusion in Scientology 1.0.0 refers to being dislocated in time and space; a total, or near total, failure to recognise any pattern(s). (It is surprising, when you investigate people from this standpoint, how many of us really don’t know where and when we are. For instance, a lot of what is happening politically right now in the U.S. is perpetrated by activists who think it’s Selma in the 1960s.)
Then you need to work out how to be in the world that’s been revealed (every person has to make this discovery for themselves at some point in life and then figure out how to be in it or end up being half dead all their days – or worse).
Second step: figure out that and who you are.
In Scientology 1.0.0, these are the 11th and 10th levels of the conditions of existence.4 Knowing that you are is essential for becoming an active and necessary player in the world. If you don’t come to realise that you are in fact an effective and essential character on this wild and woolly game board, then whatever you do will be as mostly ineffective as the NPCs (non-player characters) in video games, or worse, a cypher. After that, you need to figure out who you are, which is to say, your specific role and all that entails. (These steps go far beyond, “my name is Jane Smith,” because the next question is always, “well, who’s Jane Smith?”.) Perhaps I’ve made this sound too simple, but it’s actually pretty complex stuff and, often, just like not figuring out where one is, goes unfortunately unattended for the whole of one’s life.
So. Myths are stories about the origins and nature of the world (i.e. the Enūma Eliš or Hesiod’s Theogony) and stories about being in it (i.e. the Epic of Gilgamesh or the Labours of Hercules). These stories were key to relaying that there is a certain order in the world, a world that would otherwise seem too random, and a certain disorder to it too (the capriciousness of the gods), and they were crucial in preparing the groundwork for other necessary kinds of investigations of reality yet to come (philosophy, psychology, and so on). Because these stories, always multifaceted and symbolically dense, were yet so true in describing the world as it actually is, we got through to today. Hooray! (I’m a firm believer that man is the best invention since life itself.)
Quite a few of the main themes, though, seem to be intrepidity and courage. Courage, courage, courage; the way up is the way forward, no room for mice-people and soy-boys! Apparently, a world managed with the right attitude and in the right way is a world worth living in.
Through much telling and retelling (and a lot of living), these ideas would be developed the world over. As for us in the West, our best examples come from Ancient Greece, as written down by guys like Homer. The Iliad and the Odyssey are two of the best instruction manuals ever produced in the West (besides the Old and New Testaments5); a perfect synthesis of art and historical fact, as it turned out. A fellow named Herr Heinrich Schliemann excavated Troy in the 19th century, proving that what experts thought of as pure fiction concocted at the end of the Greek Dark Ages was as much historical record as it was imagination, proving that there’s a mix. The bottom line is that without Homer, there would be no Western civilisation.6
Before and since Homer, there were, of course, many myths telling one particular tale: heroes and their adventures. Heroes have to confront all sorts of challenges, the way that when we do the same, life becomes a damn sight more interesting (I think we’ve all known our fair share of Labyrinths, Hydras, Gorgons, and dragons; whether we faced up to them, though, that’s the question). No matter who you are or what station in life you find yourself in, you will be met with multiple trials and challenges, which may be broken down symbolically into various types and categories. Read these hero myths with care and much could be revealed.
Many of these myths could also be metaphors – although metaphor isn’t quite the right word – for the ultimate story too, such as confronting the shadow monsters in our own psyches. Like a hero descending into the underworld, we can attempt to find what Carl Jung called “the treasure hard to attain” – and by slaying the dragons residing therein, we might repossess our very own souls. This sort of adventure is the most harrowing and most difficult of all. Because so few of us can do this – and of those who attempt to do so, so few are successful – most of us just learn to “manage” our demons. Or dope them, and ourselves, into oblivion.
A really good read is The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell. What he goes to show are the similarities, the world over, of mythic tales and the repeated arcs that they take. These are his observations about the stories told again and again about the basic circumstances of man in a very definite world, regardless of culture, and what happens when we take it on in such a way as to obtain the best chances of survival and success. Although many are stories about the environment, nature, our interaction with it, and the kinds of spirit that win or fail, the most important tales are discussions of ideal being, the ideal man, such as with the Osiris/Horus composite or the “mega-man” – King of Kings – as discussed in the New Testament (although Jesus was clearly an historical figure, he is much more than that). It could be argued very strongly that these descriptions of this ideal led directly to being able to eventually describe, or delineate, the sovereign individual, which, when given definition, gave us the American Experiment of 1776.
But the discussion of the delineation of this ideal has really dropped out in the past century or so. To such an extent that today, too many of us almost invariably use the wrong measurements for being, whether it is as an individual or a group. As an example, using net worth, or gross income, or even – (shudder) – GDP.7
Anyhow, as it is commonly understood, myth doesn’t get discussed a whole lot in Scientology 1.0.0, if at all, but the Mythic Ideal Being very much does, because the courage and fortitude to stand up straight in the world is foundational to any true journey of the spirit.
So, the hero idea has been under siege to the point that the word is now pretty meaningless. I mean, today, anyone who can put a little mist on a pocket mirror is a “hero”; it’s like the worst kind of suffocating, smothering mommy archetype has taken over the world (every mother’s “little darling” is a hero in her eyes).
Personally, I experienced this murdering of the hero while going to school, where myth was taught mostly as tales from a very, very distant past. To be fair, this was how it was being taught to 8-year olds, and had I stayed in school (this was in England), we probably would have gone on to investigate these stories in greater depth, England still being very connected back then to its Brythonic roots and later Ancient Rome and Greek culture. Looking over the high school curriculum in the United States, though, revised (read: sabotaged) in the 1950s, it was clear myth was being taught as the interesting, although quaint, blather of primitive peoples. (Much later in 2017, talking with a friend’s daughter who had graduated from Oxford University, I discovered, whilst discussing Beowulf, that she had been taught to believe fervently that the Western myths are the dangerous delusions and calculated propaganda of an all-white patriarchy designed to crush the proletariat, exploit women, persecute non-gender specifics while colonising and enslaving all people of colour – whew!)
These days you could maybe take courses in astrophysics, biology, ethics, and behavioural psych 101 to try and learn this stuff about correct being, I don’t know, I didn’t have much of a formal education. But, despite being probably futile for that purpose, those subjects seem a bit dry to me – especially if you didn’t also study mythology, because that’s where the music is.
So it’s a bit of a problem that today, the term “myth” mostly means “untrue.” Indeed, and to try to be fair to the educators of the past and present, it is very true that after many translations and transliterations, and after multitudinous, ever changing cultural paradigms, many of these tales are somewhat baffling; what possible use could they have today? But here’s an observation: Many people who are otherwise unaware of, or could care less about, our mythic underpinnings are huge fans of things like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and the Harry Potter adventures, proving that these stories remain as active and alive as they ever were and still play as vital a role as they ever did. My thought is that this is so because these movies and books are new and modern, and therefore recognisable as retellings of our most ancient observations. Even so, we, as a culture, should still link it up and make the connexion.
Man is fundamentally an intrepid species of keen intellect and faculties, and it’s these tales that guide and inform him. Luckily for us, Joseph Campbell and many others following him, plus many artists, have gotten onto this problem one way or another, and myth is back in the conversation somewhat. This is one of the deep wells I personally hope we will all be drawing from more and more going forward.
To sum up, after art, the divine embodiment of the creative urge, there were early forms of religion, the recognition of the uncompromising forces of existence. Then came magic, negotiation with invisible forces, then myth, ways to properly take on the world.
Things are building up.
Next: Mysticism and Psychology.
1 Famous examples: human sacrifice, flagellantism, witch trials, left-right politics, and so on.
2 Woo-woo is a term coined by James Randi, a well-known sceptic (1928–2020). Basically, it means a confusion, or a contrived collapse, between the subjective and objective realms. By “contrived collapse,” I am referring to the manipulation of this confusion by people like Mr. Randi’s arch-nemesis, Uri Geller. (No, he did not psychically bend all those house keys and forks; it’s a version of an old illusionist’s trick; anyone who can actually bend objects with their mind would not be messing around stupidly with flatware and appearances on national television, trust me).
3 This is a great example of “magical thinking”—the belief that unrelated events are causally related despite the absence of any plausible link between them.
4 People familiar with these conditions may wonder why I’ve omitted their names. I left them off because those labels are only applicable to falling down the scale, not rising up, which isn’t confusing if you’ve learned them but is confusing if you’re not familiar. More on this in a later article.
5 The Old Testament is a document from the Middle East, whereas the New Testament anthology was mostly compiled in North Africa. Still, these works are perhaps the most foundational of all in the Western canon.
6 Possibly I should make a little note here: Western civilisation is often referred to today as “Anglocentric”, “Eurocentrism”, or “Western-centrism”. But watch out; this is an example at politically correct Newspeak. The fact is, without invalidating any of the thousands of other cultures, Western civilisation and its ideas are the dominant ideas in the world today because they developed individualism and the resultant explosion of technologies we wouldn’t recognise the world without.
7 GDP, or gross domestic product, doesn’t mean anything good if too much of the country’s product has no constructive value. For instance, GDP goes up when a nation goes to war or starts printing money like crazy, as many are doing now. Then think of all the other businesses that “win” while people lose: healthcare (makes money so long as people are sick), justice and law (makes money so long as there’s crime and insanity), the media (makes money so long as there is confusion and controversy), and on and on. I’m no socialist, though. There’s absolutely nothing at all wrong with dosh, lovely stuff. I wish I was smart enough to have much more of it. But GDP, like GI (gross income), is a really stupid and short-sighted way to measure what’s actually valuable.