Tuesday 4 January 2022

Forward into myth? Myth "dissolving into" history - or history into myth?

Sometimes I have a queer feeling that, if one could go back, one would find not myth dissolving into history, but rather the reverse: real history becoming more mythical - more shapely, simple, discernibly significant, even seen at close quarters. More poetical and less prosaic, if you like.

A comment from The Notion Club Papers, an unfinished novel by JRR Tolkien. 

The word 'dissolving' seems wrong in the above passage - because (surely?) it is history which dissolves into myth rather than the other way around. "Dissolves" works this way around because myth is a kind of immersive world. 

I can imagine the hard-edged statements of history - chronologies, rational explanations; source texts compiled, summarized, analyzed... softening and melting into the alive and inter-connected world of myth, where boundaries are fuzzy and much knowledge is unconscious, tradition - simply taken-for-granted.  

That, at any rate, is how it appear from Now - looking back through more and more ancient, less and less detailed and sure histories into a past which is imagined more than it is inferred from 'evidence'. 

The analogy with our own lives and their development is obvious. We look back through the clarity of adolescence, to older childhood and then younger and younger childhood; and the picture changes its quality. Childhood is a glow or a darkness - and the bounds between my-self and other people - and the rest of the world - become permeable... As if I was indeed dissolving, the younger I was. 

To put matters the other way about: as I grew-up, and as history approaches the present day, there is a kind of condensation and concentration - or, more accurately, a sublimation: as when a gas precipitates into a solid. 

Adult and modern life is hard, dry, powdery - and disconnected from the depths; like a surface coating. Even emotions run very near the surface nowadays - and considerable efforts are expended to keep things that way: depth and connection are to be avoided as existentially unsafe. The unremitting triviality and incoherence - and the sheer overwhelming volume and changeableness - of public discourse has a defensive basis. 

Small wonder that some people crave the immersive and un-self-conscious world of spontaneous myth; and look back on it as a better time, a better stage in development; and envy what they know of apparently extant tribal peoples. 

Yet we can, if we wish, look forward to myth - as well as backwards. But the future myth is a different form again from the past. We would not dissolve, unconsciously, into a future myth; it would me more a matter of expansion - an outward breaking of self-imposed bounds - rather than dissolving. 

What blocks us from myth is the vast pseudo-rationalistic and bureaucratic superstructure of The System; with its claim (and compulsion) to be regarded as a full and necessary description of real reality. "Myths" have been assimilated into this flat-surface reality - made part of literature, scholarship, teaching... hundreds of 'myths' recorded and compared from scores of nations and cultures - filleted of what quality is is that makes them mythic; assimilated to the mundane quality of everyday discourse in The System...

So we must (at some point) turn away from focusing on myth behind history; and look forward imaginatively and intuitively - from our-selves - towards a myth beyond history; myth which transcends history.  

This is a creative activity; and ultimately must be a self-creating activity: it needs to come from our-self. At any rate it cannot be passive, or secondary. 

All that is mythic about myth arises in our own consciousness - and obstacles constraints, false metaphysics, deadly assumptions and limitations will need to be seen-through and set-aside before we can really do this. 

In a future myth we will need and want to be self-aware (self-conscious) and to choose our true myth (from among the many putative false myths) - make our true myth from ingredients that matter to us personally. 

Tradition has been broken - myths are no longer adopting unconsciously from a tradition that is just-accepted, spontaneously. Mythic thinking must now be chosen and deliberate - and yet still be mythic! This means it must escape the mundane, which means it must escape The System. 

And the only escape from The System is by the divine: the divine in each-of-us (as children of God) and the divinity of the creator, of the Holy Ghost, of the living Jesus Christ.  

But we do not need to be aware of The Christian Myth, as set-out culturally, objectively, mundanely... Instead we need a direct apprehension of spiritual reality from our own resources; to allow the mythic to come-alive in our conscious thinking, and to take-on its natural characteristics in a world understood as made of living beings. 

The great myth of these times is the spiritual war; because when we become aware of the world as living beings; we perceive that some are creative in terms of divine creation, and some are against divine creation - some indeed are agents of chaos. 

To contemplate this world is inevitably to take sides in this cosmic conflict; because in this mythic realm contemplation is a kind of action, and action is motivated, and motivations are for one side or the other.

Yet the spiritual war is not the ultimate reality. The spiritual war takes place within ultimate reality; so we need not always be at war, so long as we acknowledge and endorse ultimate cosmic reality - Heaven and The Heavenly, in other words. 

It is Heaven that contains true myths - that is pro-creative myth; and contains 'mythic beings' who now dwell there - Men especially, but also other. Myth therefore crosses the bounds of death; and we may know particular myths because of our living relationship with particular persons in Heaven; by a direct knowing, a contact of minds; beyond and deeper than communication. 

Mythic thinking is, therefore, somewhat understandable as the direct knowledge we attain by contact between minds, beings, shared experiences and memories, and a fellowship that is deeper than words. We are rooted into this by a heredity which is spiritual, not genetic; and by the ineradicably- and creatively-unique nature of our own real being. 

Thus we discover our-selves by myth - by the nature of the myths that move and fascinate us, and which link us with some but not others. Myths come welling-up from our true country, and our spiritual brotherhood that spans generations, is not bounded by space - and crosses between the mortal-living and resurrected worlds. 


Karl said...

I just wanted to say that this is a really beautiful and meaningful post and I thank you for it.

I've been thinking over the past few days about certain places in my life that have connected with what seems my deeper, "more real" self. Some are in my home town, quite ordinary places in many ways on the surface but which have always been very spiritually charged for me.

There are a couple of places I've encountered abroad where I've felt a strange mythical connection that I won't sully by trying to articulate.

Anyway, I'm rambling a bit, but I do think we can encounter places in our lives where those connections with a deeper reality can bring myth closer to our lived experience.

John Goes said...

I have been "chewing" on this post since you wrote it yesterday. It touches on matters that are vital to me, and I am deeply grateful for it.

My guiding motto has been that Life is a Quest. My attraction to this formulation is precisely based in its mythic character. This simple reminder that life has an epic backdrop, and may be "put into songs or tales", to quote Sam, has been vital to me in maintaining a proper motivation and an attentiveness to the supernatural.

"Thus we discover our-selves by myth - by the nature of the myths that move and fascinate us, and which link us with some but not others. Myths come welling-up from our true country, and our spiritual brotherhood that spans generations, is not bounded by space - and crosses between the mortal-living and resurrected worlds."

Yes! My heart leaps at this description.

"Discovery of one's True Self" as the object of the quest has had, on reflection, limited resonance for me. Framed in this "mere" way, it can feel a bit abstract and almost solipsistic. A vital sense of identity is co-created and social. Mere contemplation, divorced from communication, is ultimately emptying.

Linking the rediscovery of one's True Self with the discovery of one's true spiritual country ("some, but not others") frames it more completely. Thanks for this shift in perspective.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Karl and John. Thanks. This was one of the 'channeled' posts which sometimes occur - I do not know what I am about to say, but the words come to me as I write them. Such posts always elicit comments or e-mails telling me that that they were timely and hit-home for at least one of my blog readers - so they seem to be something I have 'tuned-into' in some way. I don't have a theory about this, but the experience is quite distinctive and recurrent.

Brick Hardslab said...

John C. Wright writes about the Catholics canonizing some of the muses. I don't know if he's being facetious or serious but I like the idea. The Julenisse ought to be in some good place. My wife felt that some of the Arthurian characters were real people and break Christians maybe Saints.