History of Mind, History of Self

In 1894 the eminent A. H. Sayce acquiesced, “We are but just beginning to learn how ignorant we have been of the civilized past, and how false our ideas have been regarding it” (Simpson 1). A century later, and with ten-thousand-score additional history books, we find ourselves in about the same position. The ancient past, from several points of view, remains inscrutable.

What makes the observation of Sayce so interesting is its timing. He wrote this statement just a few decades after Darwin published The Descent of Man. Darwin’s ingenious biological theory of evolution was greedily applied to the consciousness and intelligence of the human species. As a result, all of human history was engulfed in the idea of cultural evolution. Suddenly, vast stretches of time were economized not only within the idea of linear time, but also within linear consciousness.

World History is written from a sociological point of view. Most of the ancient past has been put together by the theories of the modern present.

World History is written from a sociological point of view. Most of the ancient past has been put together by the theories of the modern present.

And the results have been disastrous. Nothing has done more damage to our own historical consciousness then the misapplication of Darwinian theory to history. Many history books might get many of the facts right, but the organization of those facts are ultimately modern projections onto the material. The resultant picture is a highly skewed and often grotesquely ignorant picture of humanity—past and present.

A few decades ago, the ever controversial Martin Bernal pointed out that the materials with which we have to work with when organizing our ideas of history are so sparse that debates over ancient history “should not be judged on the basis of proof, but merely on competitive plausibility” (Berlinerblau 72). For what is to be called “proof” amongst so little surviving material? Of course Bernal’s own construction of the past has been blasted by numerous scholars, leaving one critic to lament, “Yet the same critique of [Bernal’s competitive plausibility] can be directed at these scholars, a state of affairs which demonstrates how utterly problematic research in ancient history can be” (Berlinerblau 73). This same scholar notes that history is made up of vast amounts of mostly irrecoverable data, “our awesome lack of knowledge about the ancient world imprisons us within a discourse of plausibilities, not probabilities” (Berlinerblau 73). Sturt Manning sums up the situation simply, “It seems a depressing reality unless one simply chooses to ignore it” (qtd. in Berlinerblau 73).

But why ignore vast stretches of nothingness when one can use it to underwrite any idea that serves the present? It was the Nazi application of evolutionary theory on society that created the path to the “final solution.” Millions were burned in the ovens, because, as history explained to them, this was best for the future. What irony. Then again, it was the Aztec application of astrological theory (historical evolution in a different sense) that underwrote the historical consciousness that codified the endless bath of bloody corpses.

Every social movement has an historical construction that supports it. The point is, those historical constructions are very often predicated upon an ignorance that is both vast and surprising. As it must be, for ancient history is just beyond our best attempts to reconstruct it. All those thousands of pottery shards, figurines, bone piles, and archeological debris can tell us a great deal about methods and modalities, but they cannot tell us about the real thoughts and imaginations of their creators.

Constructing history upon these pieces is like understanding a dramatic play only by reading its prop list: “Act 1, Scene 1; a table center stage with a plate of eggs and a dagger nearby.” How do we interpret this? Well, Marx would tell us that the small quantity of egg has produced the dagger; and what we are seeing is the beginning of a revolution. Frazier might see the dagger as a sacrificial implement for a fertility ritual, and that the eggs are really the analogical object of exotic secret rites. Freud would tell us that, … well, … isn’t it obvious.

All the more complicated if not comedic does the interpretation become when reading the next set of data: “Act 1, Scene 2; several pillars marked with geometric forms surrounding a mound. A donkey pulls a casket. Left stage is a barrel of fish.” Hmmm. Marx: “The peasant has been killed by the oppressive state and his body is being dragged to the burial mound by his lowly beast of burden.” Frazier: “Here is the sacred temple of the fish god who reinvigorates the season of spring through the sacrifice of his dead body being pulled by an ass.” Freud: “The casket is the vagina succumbing to the virulent donkey who drags it upon the upright phalluses of the state. Fish are exuberant procreators, and the barrel of fish is the promise of sex, indeed, the absolute necessity of sex, standing by the burial mound which is also the swollen womb of the mother.”

You get the point. History is a sociological construct. And the farther one goes back, the more modern sociology is applied. I am not saying that all history is sheer fabrication. Only parts of it. And sometimes the parts overcome the whole.

When it comes to the ancient past there are generally three overarching views which interpret the prop lists of history. First, there are the Howlers. These are people who believe that everyone in the past was a “howling barbarian,” borrowing a phrase from the prestigious Richard Atkins, who declared that the builders of Stonehenge were intellectual primitives. Despite a great deal of deconstruction on this view in the past few decades, the truth is that this worldview is so steeped into our modern historical consciousness that we no longer notice it in our own thinking. Ancient man was primitive. Modern man is not. We can prove it: pottery-shards versus iphones!

Comparing ancient pottery with modern microchips is only comparing the evolution of technology. It is not comparing the evolution of the mind or of consciousness. Few people understand the difference.

Comparing ancient pottery with modern microchips is only comparing the evolution of technology. It is not comparing the evolution of the mind or of consciousness. Few people understand the difference.

Few people seem to understand that such a comparison is a false one, and that, in the broad sense, scientific and symbolic thought does not evolve. Rather, it is rooted in the very nature of consciousness, and is attached to the culture and language of society; it is only the latter that evolves. The mathematician Giulio Magli comments that the idea of evolution of a primitive mind to a modern one is a “ridiculous and fundamentally sloppy hypothesis” (4). The historian of science Giorgio de Santillana concurs, “The point is this: that what we observe as ‘primitive’ conditions are, with very few exceptions [. . .] only what is left of the rise and fall of past higher cultures; what appeared to be a universal steady state of superstitions from which thought grows is only the common denominator to which decaying civilizations run in the end” (10).

The second common view of history is the Romantic view. Like the primitive ideology of the Howlers, the Romantics believe that “simple” culture is better culture, and that ancient men and women were more in tune with the landscape, with mother earth, and with their own souls. This is a “Romantic Savage” view of ancient woman, and it has reached such daring heights that it now asserts that ancient matriarchies were peaceful, and in the words of one scholar, as a result, there was no warfare for over three thousand years!

The problem with such thinking is manifold. There is no such thing as “simple” culture. Ancient history was full of violence, and ancient cultures often practiced human sacrifice, ritualized prostitution, and rampant slavery. There were no carbon emissions from factories or automobiles in the ancient past. That’s true. But ancient civilizations deforested entire landscapes, burning stumps as they went. And whatever time the shaman had to meditate upon the earth (which itself is funny, for the shaman’s primary stewardship was to be a guide into the next world, away from all things of the earth) was trumped by the mass of humanity stuck in one perpetual and monotonous state—described in the words of the historian Tacitus, “Toil, toil, toil!” The Romantic view is also “a ridiculous and fundamentally sloppy hypothesis.”

The third historical viewpoint can be called history as written by the Conspirators. With these people, the aliens built the pyramids, and the megalithic rings, and all ancient technology. Why? Because, like the Howlers, the Conspirators believe that ancient man could have done no such thing by themselves. This ideology is nothing more than a neo-mystical Darwinian view of the self and its relationship with cosmos. Not even the “mother-ship” can save us from ourselves.

All three viewpoints: the Howlers, the Romantics, and the Conspirators, are wrong. And being this kind of wrong has modern implications. Each one of these views produces a set of metaphysics by which we live. And that metaphysics creates an image of the self. We are, according to these views, either the apex of civilization, or the victims of civilization, or the cosmic riff-raff who got its best ideas by stealing them from other-worldly civilizations. The dignity of our identity, which has always been individual, infinite potential, is curtailed by the poverty of our historical conceptions, which remains collective and finite projections.

Read more in my upcoming book: Mythos and Cosmos, Mind and Meaning in the Oral Age.

 

Moby Dick and the Navel of the Milky Ocean

Gazing ever up into heaven’s majestic dome one cannot help but to feel a penetrating awe. For some, the Great Deep that is heaven produces reverence, reflection, and humility. One could say that the “[starry sky] and meditation are wedded forever” (MD 13). For others, an infinite curiosity arouses–a wanting to know–about self, other, and cosmos. Such a moment is like a baptism in water where one is initiated into a new life. For what is the sparkling night sky if not a reflection of the glittering ocean deeps? Both are filled with mystery, life, and inexhaustible possibility. One is a reflection of the other, and just so, is not the ocean—heaven brought down to earth?

We live between two eternal deeps: Heaven and Ocean.

We live between two eternal deeps: Heaven and Ocean.

Certainly in Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, the imagery of sea is pronouncedly everywhere. But curiously, so likewise is the imagery of stars; in so many places the two images blend together as a co-mingling of waters: “the firmaments of air and sea were hardly separable in that all pervading azure…” (MD 442). We are also told that Queequeg’s people believed “that the stars are isles, but that far beyond all visible horizons, their own mild, uncontinented seas, interflow with the blue heavens; and so form the white breakers of the milky way…” (MD 396). Likewise and repeatedly, Melville gives the image of oceans cosmic themes, calling them “wide-rolling prairies… [where] millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming…” (MD 399).

No less, the water’s chief inhabitant, the great white whale, is also a cosmic image wedded to celestial powers. Thus, we are told that most mortals believed Moby Dick to be “ubiquitous” and “immortal” and that his whiteness could be seen “gliding at high noon through a dark blue sea, leaving a milky-way wake of creamy foam, all spangled with golden gleamings” (MD 158-9). Moby Dick was a creature that had “moved amid this world’s foundations… O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham” (MD 264). Furthermore, the whole worldview of whaling was intimately bound with heavenly (deified) associations. Thus, when the cook preaches a sermon to the gorging sharks he explains: “You is sharks, sartin; but if you gobern de shark in you, why den you be angel; for all angel is not’ing more dan de shark well goberned” (MD 251). And when Ishmael processes the spermaceti of the whale he reflects: “In visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti” (MD 349).

The White Whale is a symbol of the above and the below; of the without and the within.

The White Whale is a symbol of the above and the below; of the without and the within.

Behind Melville’s epic sea-tale is an underlying (and overarching) cosmogony. The tale is as much about the creation of cosmos and the soul that can abide in the starry depths as it is anything else. The soul’s place is heaven, thus Ishmael not only seeks, but is drawn to the ocean, heaven’s counterpart (MD 12). Ishmael’s most trusted companion is the dark skinned Queequeg, who is his protector and friend (literally his bed mate), and therefore is an image of his own soul. It is no coincidence then that Queequeg’s skin is covered, head to toe, with tattoos, imprinted upon him by one of his people’s seers and prophets; those tattoos were “hieroglyphic marks… a complete theory of the heavens and the earth, and a mystical treatise on the art of attaining truth” (MD 399). In Queequeg, Ishmael carries the heavens with him.

Queequeg's skin is covered with the cosmic glyphs of eternal truth. He remains a reflection of Ishmael's soul.

Queequeg’s skin is covered with the cosmic glyphs of eternal truth. He remains a reflection of Ishmael’s soul.

This is markedly different than the rest of the souls upon the Pequod. The Pequod itself is an image of earthly exile, lives adrift in the midst of starry cosmos. And nailed to the Pequod’s center mast is its soul, its hieroglyphic mark and treatise of truth, a gold doubloon! This is no idle comparison, for this doubloon is covered with ancient symbols of the “partitioned zodiac” whose “keystone sun” rose in the “equinoctial point at Libra” (MD 359). The doubloon was the ship’s “navel”, or axis-mundi (MD 363). Thus a chief juxtaposition is made between the zodiac and heavenly marks tattooed upon Queequeg and the zodiac and ancient glyphs of the doubloon for which everyone else sought the white whale.

For all souls who seek the  gold doubloon, the white whale is certain terror. The Pequod remains the materialistic soul of the world.

For all souls who seek the gold doubloon, the white whale is certain terror. The Pequod remains the materialistic soul of the world.

If this analysis is correct, then Moby Dick becomes a tale about the creation and tending of the human soul in a cosmic context. For Ishmael, the soul is ennobled and given new life through an infinite bond of love, friendship, work, and duty (as reflected in his relationship with Queequeg). Ishmael is not concerned about killing the white whale (itself an image of the cosmic soul), nor is he interested in the tender and soul of the world–the gold doubloon. Ishmael goes to sea “as a simple sailor”, to be paid an honest wage, and for “exercise and pure air” (MD 14-5). As a result of this simple and honest worldview and living, everywhere Ishmael turns he sees balance and harmony in the cosmos. Even when the Pequod is destroyed by the white whale, it is the tattooed ark of the starry firmament that becomes his own life preserver against the infinite deep. Ishmael again, carries the heavens with him.

Whereas, for all others who made the golden zodiac their sun, moon and stars, their ship failed them. It was broken apart from the energy and laws of the cosmic navel who abhors the self-centered brute. So it is that the white whale cannot harm the person acclimated to the whale’s environment, but for all others, their meeting is certain death.
Works Cited

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1967.

Cindertree: The Yin and Yang of Cosmic Creation

The Cinderella tale common in most households is one of the most pervasive narratives in human culture and across global geography. Types of this story exist as far back as 2000 BCE in the Sumerian Inanna texts (Anderson 39-41). Classic Greek historians, such as Sappho (600 BCE) and Herodotus (fifth century BCE), recount historical legends with all the elements of the Cinderella tale (Anderson 27-29). In 1893, Marian Roalfe Cox published a 600 page volume recounting 345 different variants of the Cinderella narration across the globe and throughout history. This work provides the foundation for Cinderella categorization and research.

Cinderella by Edward Burne-Jones, 1863, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Cinderella by Edward Burne-Jones, 1863, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The common rendering of the Cinderella tale in popular culture descends from a 1697 French version written by Charles Perrault (Dundes, ed. 14-21). Perrault wrote an anthology of vernacular folktales, and in many instances, as in his version of Cinderella, modernized them by adding elements (the glass slipper is a Perrault invention) and moral themes (his tale makes Cinderella the pinnacle of grace–Cinderella forgives her cruel sisters and marries them off to lords of the court). This version of Cinderella has become mainstream in modern times, and subsequent versions (such as the films Slipper and the Rose, Ever After, Disney’s Cinderella, Maid in Manhattan, and so forth) are based on Perrault’s own adaptations.

Perrault’s version of Cinderella, however, omits a host of images, symbols, and themes found in earlier variants. While the scope of this paper cannot address most of these omissions, it will focus on one central image common in worldwide renditions of the story: the tree. Different versions of the story are here examined, but for the purposes of space the Cinderella-like events which occur in these stories are often left out. Nevertheless, each of these tales share the essential Cinderella elements: a poor yet beautiful girl is inflicted with trials, oft times by a stepmother and cruel sisters, and/or sometimes with a descent into the underworld, and through a divine boon, usually given by a tree or representative of the tree (such as a bird), the girl is transformed into a princess, is given a new identity, and marries a royal figure. This marriage takes place oft times after a further trial, such as the fitting of a garment or shoe. As stated, the fulcrum of these versions spins around the image of a tree.

Image from the film, Into the Woods, 2014

Cinerella by the Tree. Image from the film, Into the Woods, 2014

As far back as the Inanna texts, it is the image of the tree (in this case the huluppu tree or date palm) which takes the place of the fairy queen or godmother, dispensing gifts and jewels to the distraught princess-to-be. Through the help of this tree, Inanna is able to ascend into the world of light and marry Dumuzi, the prince, but only after a series of Cinderella-like trials. Another and later version by Sappho recounts the tale of Doricha, which is a near copy to Herodotus’ Rhodopis, whose essential elements are summarized in Graham Anderson’s Fairytale in the Ancient World as follows:

A girl called Rhodopis was a slave in the household of Iadmon son of Hephaestopolis (‘Firegodville’) in Samos. She was taken to Egypt by Xantheus (‘Goldman’) where she was given her freedom by Charaxus (‘Seabream’/’Vinepole’) of Mytilene. There she worked as a courtesan and while she was bathing in Nacratis an eagle carried her shoe to the Pharaoh; after finding it was hers by testing it on all the women in the country, he married her. As a thank-offering she gifted a collection of iron ox-roasting spits to Delphi. (28)

In this ancient version, it is a Vinepole which gives gifts and boons to Rhodopis, just as the huluppu tree did for Inanna. Also an eagle delivers the identifying item to Pharaoh. Curiously, the Vinepole is also associated with the sea. This account is similar to the version given by the first Greek prose writer, Pherecydes of Syrus (sixth century BCE) who writes of a wedding between Zas (Zeus) and Chthonie (underground-girl). Zas gives Chthonie a robe associated with a winged-oak tree, and beautifully embroidered with images of earth and ocean, which the dirty and ragged Chthonie puts on, and after her marriage, transforms into Ge or Mother Earth (Anderson 38).

Moreover, in the earliest known European variant of the Cinderella tale, written down by Giambattista Basile and entitled Cat Cinderella, the protagonist is given a magic date from a date tree which miraculously grows delivering to her gifts, including new and beautiful robes glittering like the sea. Furthermore, the tree gives her a new name: she is no longer known as Cat Cinderella, but as Zezola. With this new identity and her heavenly robes, she enamors the king, who seeks to marry her, but must first match her with her lost slipper (Dundes, ed. 3-13).

Still further, the earliest known Western European tale (twelfth/thirteenth century CE) is titled Le Fresne (Ash-tree girl). In this version an infant girl is left with a ring and brocade (as tokens) near an ash tree (her protector). She is raised in a nunnery and becomes a beautiful young girl. A traveling prince meets and falls in love with her, but he must marry a royal. On his marriage night (to another woman) Fresne enters his room as a chambermaid and leaves her brocade on the bed. The mother of the Prince recognizes the brocade as belonging to royalty, and Fresne’s true identity is revealed and she marries the prince.

One interesting connection with this variant of the story is the name of the girl as ash-tree. Cinderella’s name comes from the root cinder, meaning ash, and has most often been associated with the ash of the hearth. However, as Anderson notes of Fresne, “… this is not the ash of the fireplace, but the ash tree; the two are, however, liable to confusion throughout Germanically-related languages and in that context a confusion may have arisen” (Anderson 42). Thus, the “cinder” in Cinderella is not only linked to the hearth, but may be principally lined to a particular tree.

Finally, in Harold Bayley’s Lost Language of Symbolism, Vol. I, Bayley recounts variants of the Cinderella story where Cinderella herself is a tree. In some of the these stories she is named “Maria Wood,” “Maria Wainscot,” and “Princess Woodencloak.” Bayley writes “According to these variants, a wooden sheath is fitted around Cinderella’s body, or an oak-tree log is hollowed out so as to form a petticoat, and Cinderella gets in and out of her wooden sheathing at will” (229).

In all of these versions, from the Sumerian, to the Greek, to the earliest European episodes, the girl who plays Cinderella is directly related to a tree. As stated, Anderson even suggests that the name Cinderella derives from the ash tree itself. In any case, this tree acts either as her protector, her fairy godmother, and/or her boon and giver of gifts, and in every case is associated with giving the Cinderella character a new identity. This new identity comes via a new glittering wardrobe associated with oceans, heavens, and even the tree itself. In many of these stories glorious, bejeweled shoes, or slippers are also given, and provide the key for the marrying king or prince. Furthermore, as part of her new identity, sometimes the tree literally gives the Cinderella character a new name (as in the case of Zezola).

There are as many interpretations of the Cinderella tale as there are versions of it. These interpretations tend to congregate around psychological analysis. Thus, Bruno Bettelheim, in his Uses of Enchantment, gives a Freudian interpretation of the story, naming Cinderella and her two step-sisters a type of competition for the parents’ attention and the conflict arising between them as the conflict between child and parent (238). The hearth (from which he derives Cinderella’s name) is associated with the mother, and to live in it is to hold onto and return to the mother persona (248). Further, Bettelheim interprets the shoe or slipper as the vagina, and that Cinderella’s proper footing into it at the king’s request an act of growing into puberty (265).

In another psychological attempt at interpretation, Marie von Franz uses a Jungian approach, suggesting that the death of Cinderella’s mother and the re-emergence of a helping animal or figure (such as the tree) is the loss of the mother archetype re-emerging in a different form. “Therefore the mother’s death is the beginning of the process of individuation,” von Franz writes, “…the daughter feels that she wants to be a positive feminine being, but in her own form, which entails going through all the difficulties of finding that” (Dundes, ed. 207). With this understanding the tree becomes the emerging archetype which leads to individuation.

Yet these specific interpretations miss the very long and ancient traditions of the tree, which have always been used as an emblem of the cosmos itself. In ancient mythology the tree was in fact called the “Cosmic Tree,” “World Tree,” or the “Tree of Life.” Eliade traces the ancient and mythic image of the Cosmic Tree to every continent on the globe. He writes:

The most widely distributed variant of the symbolism of the Center is the Cosmic Tree, situated in the middle of the Universe, and upholding the three worlds as upon one axis…. It may be said, in general, that the majority of the sacred and ritual trees that we meet within the history of religions are only replicas, imperfect copies of this exemplary archetype, the Cosmic Tree. Thus, all these sacred trees are thought of as situated in the Center of the World. (Eliade, Images 44)

According to Eliade the Center is the mythological space that is the sacred point of orientation for a society–its axis-mundi. Thus, as von Franz cites, trees are planted at the center of all old German, Austrian, and Swiss villages (von Franz 13). The sacred center is the point in which a “break-through from plane to plane [heaven and earth] has become possible and repeatable” (Eliade, Sacred 30). The Tree also represented the point of creation, the place where all energies meet to transform thought into form. In this light, the Cosmic Tree was also compared to the “Divine Egg, Hidden Seed, or Root of Roots”, the “Pillar or Pole” and the “Cosmic Mountain or primeval mound” (Cook 9).

Norse World Tree surrounded by waters.

Norse World Tree surrounded by waters.

The tree in all the variants of the Cinderella tale listed is the cosmos, whose gifts of jewels and other boons (such as the jeweled slipper) is akin to clothing the fairytale princess with the robust grandeur, fertility, and majesty of a paradisaical Eden. And Cinderella is in fact an image of the renewed earth arising from the underworld of winter, of an ice age, of desolation. Her shoes are a clear key to this understanding, for the Earth has always been the footstool of the gods: “Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool…” (Isaiah 66:1). No clearer connections could be made than that of the Greek version where Zas (Zeus) clothes Chthonie with the new robes of a glittering sea and a winged tree and gives her a new name, Ge, or Mother Earth.

These are no idle comparisons. In Bayley’s analysis he gathers numerous descriptions of the new garments given to the Cinderella character in a wide variety of tales. These new robes are described as “sea-coloured”, “dark blue covered with golden embroidery,” “like the waves of the sea,” “like the sea with fishes swimming in it,” and the “colour of sea covered with golden fishes” (212). Furthermore, her shoes are also often described as “blue glass” like the sea, or as brilliant as the “Sun,” or sometimes pearl-embroidered (226).

In all these descriptions the image of the cosmic waters is apparent, and as already stated the cosmos was represented by the tree. But in ancient mythology the Cosmic Tree never stood alone, but was always associated with deep waters. The World Tree of the Egyptians, Norse, Greeks, Cuna Indians, and numerous Native American and African tribes was always surrounded or planted near a river, spring, or ocean whose waters were linked to the tree. In fact, this mythological cosmology was built into ancient temple structures all over the world. Lundquist writes that ancient temples are “often associated with the waters of life that flow forth from a spring within the building itself… or as having been built upon such a spring” (Parry, ed. 98). This is so because the temple is most often associated with either the primordial hillock or the Cosmic Tree, both of which rise out of the waters at the primal cosmogonic moment. According to Varner this practice dates as far back as the megalithic age. Varner notes that a well or water source is found many times in stone circles and that the standing stones of circles are themselves symbolic representations of trees (Varner 14).

Wherever we look in myth the Cosmic Tree and the waters are wedded. Thus, when the Cinderella figure is made to put on robes like the sea, or slippers bejeweled with pearls, immediately a cosmic connection between heaven and earth is made. Indeed, numerous cosmogonies of the ancient world cite that whenever a new earth is created it rises from the waters. This is the imagery in Genesis, not only at the creation, but after the deluge, where the waters above and below co-mingle and Noah must build an ark from trees to survive the deep. Curiously, Noah sends forth a bird who discovers the first dry land to appear and brings back, clutched in its beak, a twig from an olive tree. Here too, the tree gives the gift of life, and here too the tree is connected with the cosmogonic waters.

Furthermore, in ancient cosmologies, the earth was a place of polarities and oppositions. Every seed must grow from decay and darkness just as every fish, in some manner, must swim upstream. Likewise, the earth itself repeatedly descends into the underworld of winter and rises again, re-robed and re-named, in spring. These cycles in nature are not just dependent upon each other, rather, they are wholly interdependent with each other. In ancient Hindu, the word for this relationship is yajma, which denotes the cosmic sacrifice which creates a new cosmos: even the sun, which brings all life and light to the world, does so only by burning off its corona, or shedding forth its rays in the act of yajma. For the Chinese, this understanding is revealed in the yin and yang symbol: life and death and light and darkness are apart of one great whole.

This is important to note because the life cycle of all living things on earth is itself revealed in the name “Cinderella.” As previously noted, cinder means ash, and seems to provide a double-entendre of both the ash tree and the ash produced by the burning of a tree. The “ella” of this name, according to Bayley, comes from the Greek Ele, which means “shiner or giver of light” (192). Bayley continues, “Ele is the root of Eleleus, one of the surnames of Apollo and Dionysus. It is also found in Eleuther the son of Apollo, in Helios the Sun, and in Selene the Moon” (192). The Finnish Cinderella is named Clara, meaning “to shine” or “brilliant to the sight.” The Jewish name is Cabha, meaning “aurora” (192). And ancient Hellespont takes its name from Helle, “to shine forth.” In Greek myth Helle was a maiden who fled her cruel mother-in-law and fell into the sea and drowned (192).

The name “Cinderella” conveys the double meaning of ash and tree, but also a further double meaning of the light that is produced by the ash and the tree. The light produced by the tree is seen in her glorious robes of the sea. The light produced by the ash is another matter, and provides a subtle complexity to this character. One cannot escape the double wardrobe of Cinderella. Before she is given her new glittering robes she is usually found in dirt and rags. Bayley again cites numerous instances where her clothing as a lowly housemaid reflects the “cinder” of her name. She is often robed in mouse skins, ass skins, or cat skins (225).

It is curious indeed that the mice in numerous Cinderella tales appear repeatedly. Sometimes the mouse provides Cinderella’s clothing; oft times the mouse is an animal helper, or transforms to pull a golden coach. Strangely, the mouse is associated with ancient gods of light. For example, the mouse was sacred to the sun god Apollo: white mice were usually kept in his temples and Smintheus, the Mouse, was one of Apollo’s appellations (Bayley 224). Furthermore, the mouse was sacred to Horus, the Egyptian god of light, and Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, is often seen with his foot upon a mouse (Bayley 225). Just so, Christ’s triumphal ride into Jerusalem is upon an ass, mindful of another form of Cinderella garment, just as her cat skins hale back to ancient Egypt where the lowly hearth cat was always associated with light (Bayley 225).

These relationships have never been fully explained. Why are the lowliest creatures often associated with the greatest beings of light? Perhaps a bridge fording this dichotomy is provided in the Cinderella tale by the image of the bird. In Inanna, Rhodopis, Cat Cinderella, and a host of other versions, it is the bird which brings gifts from the tree to the Cinderella character. In The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, birds are explained as the symbols of the soul and are most often found perching in the branches of the World Tree (87-90). Additionally, they are the prime connectors between Heaven and Earth, causing the transformation and creation of cosmos by brooding upon the waters (such as in the Genesis accounts of the Creation and Flood). In each of the Cinderella tales listed, a bird comes to Cinderella’s aid only when she is in the pit of the underworld, or in the form of the housemaid, wearing the mouse skins of the pauper girl. Hence, the birds which bring Cinderella her boons, and sometimes her glittering sea robes, are the universal messengers of cosmos who are the transforming agents of the ash: transmuting hearth to tree, dark depths to gleaming sea. Yet what activates the birds communication between heaven and earth is the lowly state: the mouse skins, ass skins, and cat skins are the footings of the noble robes and the new name. In cosmogonic myth, they are the “foundation stone” upon which creation is hung. Seen in this sense the birds are the universal energy, the world soul, which engender growth from decay.

Aschenputtel, a Germanic Cinderella, whose fairy godmother is a tree, and birds are her messengers.

Aschenputtel, a Germanic Cinderella, whose fairy godmother is a tree, and birds are her messengers.

Of course, one cannot ignore the obvious fact that the great beings of light in ancient mythology are also great beings of virtue (Apollo, Horus, Ganesha, and Yahweh being prime examples). Their associations with lowly animals–mouse and ass skins–provide evidence for the source of their virtue. They are the humble, gracious, lords of light, shining forth because they have themselves descended into the depths. Light cannot shine without darkness, and gods of light shine because they comprehend the lowest states of being. Cinderella is just such a character, and in this role as neophyte, she transforms from lowly yet humble soul into the royal bride of Heaven by which she shines forth in gleaming robes. In fact, these robes can be worn by none else: truly it is only the meek which shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Cinderella is an ancient and ubiquitous tale. It’s associations in classical myth are overabundant with cosmological motifs. The primal image suggesting a cosmological interpretation is the Cosmic Tree which in numerous versions provides the boons to the Cinderella character. Associated with this tree are deep waters, birds, and lowly animals, all part of the cosmogonic process for both the Earth and for the individual soul; Cinderella is a representation of both. As Chthonie she is literally Earth, and in so many variations the image of Earth reborn and enfolded in gleaming sea robes under the branches of the World Tree. As individual soul, she is the being of light who descends below all things so she can ascend above all things. She is the caretaker of the ash, which is another way of saying she is the tender of the flame. Ultimately, it is the flame of cosmos, above and below, which accounts for her destiny as courtesan of the Sun and bride of the Bridegroom. Truly she is both ash and tree.

Works Cited

Anderson, Graham. Fairytale in the Ancient World. London, UK: Routledge, 2000.

Bayley, Harold. Lost Language of Symbolism: An Inquiry into the Origin of Certain Letters, Words, Names, Fairytales, Folklore, and Mythologies, Vols. 1 and 2. Whitefish, Montana: Kessinger Publishing Company, 1912.

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.

Chevalier, Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Trans. By John Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin Group, 1996.

Cook, Roger. The Tree of Life: Images for the Cosmos. London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd. 1979.

Dundes, Alan, ed. Cinderella: A Casebook. Madison, Wisconsin: UP Wisconsin, 1988.

Eliade, Mircea. Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1991.

–. The Sacred and the Profane, the Nature of Religion: the Significance of Religious Myth, Symbolism, and Ritual within Life and Culture. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1957.

Parry, Donald, ed. Temples of the Ancient World. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1994.

Varner, Gary R. Sacred Wells: A Study in the History, Meaning, and Mythology of Holy Wells & Waters. Baltimore: PublishAmerica, 2002.

Von Franz, Marie-Louise. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1996.

The Questions of Consciousness

Descartes’s radical statement, “I think, therefore I am,” was a recognition that human existence resides in consciousness. One exists as an independent being because one has thought. Consciousness is the great divide, and sentient consciousness magnifies the type of being humankind has become.

But thinking by itself is insufficient for a meaningful life; in the words of Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living for men” (Apology 38a). Descartes himself used his maxim “Cogito, ergo sum” as the basis for a methodology to turn opinion into knowledge, to turn an unexamined life into a meaningful one.

While Descartes used his proposition as the starting point for a rational methodology of logical discovery, the question of consciousness and a meaningful life remains the existential basis of being. The Christian philosopher Paul Tillich, in his book The Courage to Be, remarks that every human being lives with three anxieties: the fear of death, the fear of guilt, and the fear of meaninglessness (42-54). These three anxieties can mold an individual worldview, and bend the examination of life into predetermined channels of denial and projection. In other words, one’s fears can lead one into thinking only of the self, fulfilling only self interest, and denying greater realities outside the self. In this state of affairs, not only is the self left unexamined, but also it becomes void and empty. It is a psychological paradox that a life lived only in service of the self is a life filled with meaninglessness.

How does one live an examined life? Socrates would not answer this question; in true Socratic fashion he would leave it for us to answer ourselves. In my view there are two essential questions of being–questions of consciousness. The first is the question of conscience: “Who am I?” The second is the question of suffering: “What is Good and Evil? And how can each lead to suffering?”

These questions are called the great and terrible questions of being. They are great, because they address the essence of one’s identity. They are terrible, because authentic answers require a full self-examination of one’s thoughts, actions, desires, and habits, with a full moral accountability to the other. The “other” is defined as the primary relationships whereby one conceives of the self. Paradoxically, the self is only defined whilst in relationship with something else. Literally, what kind of conscious being we are is defined by how we treat others. For some, the “supreme other” is the open question of the mystery of another being. For others, the supreme other is simply the self projected onto anything else in view. Martin Buber calls this the “I and Thou” relationship, where we treat others as an object, “Hello you, my ability to use,” or as a predicate, “Hello thou, my ability to serve.” In each case the self is defined. And in each case the self enters into a new possibility. In the former, the self ruminates only upon self-interest, and ironically the consciousness of the individual shrinks within the horizon of one’s own predetermined desires. In the latter, the self opens up new horizons of learning. These horizons do not always lead to happy endings. Indeed, the pain of discovering evil, for example, leads many to serving only the self. This is a truly self-defeating paradigm. And a self-perpetuating one.

In my next few posts I am going to explore these two questions of conscience and suffering. Nothing in a blog can be definitive, but I will attempt to ring the bells of awareness in my own soul; after all, blogging for me is part of my examined life.

The Hope of Evil: Faustian Themes in Modern Cinema

Faust has returned to the movies. He is no prop or backdrop character, but has taken center stage in a cornucopia of images, versions, and mediums. In Jan Svankmajer’s award winning Czech rendition of Faust (1994), the menacing and mysterious figure is portrayed by actors, puppets, and animation, all in a surreal universe crafted in darkness and shadow.

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Jan Svankmajer’s Faust (1994)

Darkness and shadow become the wardrobe of Faust in modern cinema, as seen in the central motif of the most famous hero of the night: Batman. In Christopher Nolan’s much popular Batman Begins (2005) the life changing scene for young Bruce Wayne is the opera house where Boito’s Mefestofele is being performed. Bat-winged creatures swarm the stage in one scene disturbing young Wayne to the point where he must leave the theater. This decision becomes the catalyst ending in the murder of his parents and the deal Wayne himself has to make with the Devil. This is no idle set up. Batman becomes Faust in a cape, incorporating secret knowledge and even forbidden arts in his arsenal and identity.

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Batman Begins (2004) Batman is a version of Faust

Faust even shows up on Saturday morning cartoons, where a bold and nearly unstoppable Felix Faust appears in an episode Paradise Lost of the Justice League (2002). The caped crusaders rarely find an opponent they cannot easily overcome, until an ancient magician sacks the home island of Wonder Woman and puts all the League in a spell. Indeed, the only being who can overpower Faust is Mephistopheles, who betrays him in the final scene allowing the League to escape with their lives.

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Felix Faust, Justice League (2002)

The story of Faust touches on something in the human psyche which makes the tale both repugnant and endlessly alluring. Perhaps this is so because the Faust tale addresses humankind’s relationship with evil. Why are we so fascinated by the forbidden? Why do we cling to evil when there are other choices? Why do we show more cunning than compassion? And what tips the scale in human consciousness allowing for a quest for the good and beautiful over and above evil? These are just some of the questions which haunt the darkness and shadows of the psyche. Questions which we as a species must reflect upon.

In the modern medium of cinema these questions are asked and re-asked through parallel dramas, tragedies, and comedies with the essence of the questions of evil in mind. For example, John Lyden reflects in Film as Religion on the 1991 film Silence of the Lambs. Lyden sees why evil can be tempting, even when it is portrayed in its purest form:

Anthony Hopkins essentially plays [Lecter] as Faust’s Mephistopheles, who tempts the heroine with greater knowledge in exchange for participation in his evil. In being able to deal with Lecter, Clarice (like Faust) confronts and deals with evil in order to be better able to contain it–to attempt to stop her private lambs from screaming, even though she knows they will never stop, for evil will always exist. All victories over evil are partial, it is shown, and there is also a recognition that the potential for evil is within us all, […].” (245)

Clarice’s connection with the mass killer Lecter is both repulsive and attractive. Ironically, Lecter is a character who is steeped in knowledge and the world’s wisdom. Indeed, in the movie sequel Red Dragon (2002) Lecter is a much touted professor giving lectures on obscure, ancient rituals and arcana (involving acts of death of course). He is more than just super-smart, filled with eclectic trivia. Lecter is Mephistopheles incarnate. He kills ritualistically, without mercy, and even eats his victims. There is a perverse religiosity to his sins, for Hannibal Lecter shows the hypocrisy and vanity innate in all his victims, and in the world in general. Clarice is also super-intelligent, and she sees through Lecter how is actions, in an inept and topsy turvy world, conform to their own morality. Furthermore, and as Lyden observes, Clarice seeks out Lecter in her own search in understanding evil, not rooted in Lecter, but in herself.

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Hannibal Lecter is Mephistopholes

The story of Hannibal Lecter, in many ways, draws upon the nineteenth century, German drama Faust. This was a play where the very question of human identity was posed not in context of the Age of Reason, or the Reformation Movement, or the Industrialization of modern civilizations, but rather in the context of evil, through the character Mephistopheles, whose dominion and power ran through and over Reason, Christianity, and Industrialization.

Goethe’s Faust begins with a discourse between the Devil and the Almighty, not unlike the deal struck between the two in the Book of Job: “And Satan answered the Lord, and said, Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life. But put forth thine hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, he is in thine hand; but save his life” (Job 2: 4-6). The figure of Job is an antithesis to the figure of Faust, however. Job is saintly, pure, and dedicated to the Lord from the first flash of sunlight, even declaring in the gall of his bitterness, “Though he [the Lord] slay me, yet will I trust in him […]” (Job 13: 15).

Faust, on the other hand, holds his virtue as the knowledge of the earth and all things above and below, and not in his relationship with God. In fact, Mephistopheles chides God for this very fact, “[Men] would be better off, in life at least, Had you withheld the spark of celestial light; he calls it reason, using it as right to be more animal than any beast” (11). The Devil simply reveals what God already understands: humankind is a flawed creature. Yet the Almighty retorts: “Do you know Faust?” (11). Mephistopheles is surprised the Lord would mention such a creature. But God assures the Devil he has plans for this bent soul, “Although he serves me now bewilderedly, I soon will lead him where the light is clear” (12). Thus, the Lord and Satan strike a deal, “What do you wager?” poses Mephistopheles (12). Nothing but Faust’s soul will do of course, and the Almighty agrees, “As long as he remains on earth–agreed! Nothing is forbidden you contrive; Man errs so long as he will strive” (12).

It is an interesting deal struck between these two antipodes of the cosmos. Unlike the case of Job, whose virtue and valiance is placed in the scales of judgement, Faust has his “celestial light” of reason placed in the scales. Faust in no Job. He is a worldly man of letters. “I’ve studied all Philosophy, Medicine, Jurisprudence too, Also, to my grief, Theology […]. I’m cleverer than all that tribe–Doctor, Lawyer, Parson, Scribe; All doubts and scruples I dispel, I have no fear of devil or hell […]” (14). Doctor Faust has no fear of evil or superstitions. Perhaps this is why the Almighty allows Mephistopheles the wager. In the case of Job, God knew his virtue would win out. In the case of Faust, God foresees that Faust’s uncompromising will of reason will eventually lead him to virtue. This is an irony of ironies, for Faust has ascended all earthly ranks of intellectual honor and station, yet recognizes the insignificance of it all, “I’m Master, Doctor, and I’ve found for ten long years, that as I chose I’ve led my students by the nose. First up, then down, then all around, to see that nothing can be known” (14).

Faust’s seemingly unlimited knowledge has brought him to the revelation that human understanding has its limits, and apparently those limits are rather short. Perhaps this is why the theme of Faust in modern movies and television is recurrent. Maike Oergel, in Culture and Identity: Historicity in German Literature and Thought 1770-1815, interprets Faust clearly in the context of the failures of human reason, even in the ultra-rational world of the Scientific Revolution. “The primary focus [in Faust] is not, as has often been claimed, on a universal human identity, but on the emergence of a modern identity” (225).

For Oergel, the character Faust is not so much an intermediary figure as he is an introductory figure of modernity. He is a character who has surpassed the initial fascination with modern technology and science to find that on the other end of it all is, still, an endless and even answer-less quest for meaning in life. Modernity has not brought paradise, but only has exasperated the realization of its absence. Faust is a man fully caught up in this realization, and thus is a primal character for our times. Christopher Falzon writes about this paradox in Philosophy Goes to the Movies:

The catastrophic events of the twentieth century, including the technologically efficient carnage of two world wars, Nazi atrocities committed in the heart of an “enlightened” Europe and a nuclear arms race that at one stage threatened the very existence of humanity, have brought this faith in reason and science into question. The impact of technology and industrialization on everyday life has by no means been unequivocally positive; […]. Overall, it is no longer so clear that there is a necessary link between science and progress. Instead a range of concerns and anxieties have emerged about the role and effects of science and technology on human existence, along with more pessimistic, dystopian visions of the future. (158)

As Falzon notes, “early expressions of this anxiety” are introduced in two literary works: Goethe’s Faust and Shelley’s Frankenstein (158). Faust, disgusted with the disappointments and anxieties of modernity, turns to magic, “No dog would stand this any more! Therefore I’ve turned to magic lore, so that, through supernatural force, I’ll trace many a secret to its source” (15). This theme is picked up in a recent film release, The Prestige (2006), where two magicians (illusionists) vie for power and control over each other in 19th century Europe. Both Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Borden (Christian Bale) have an engineer contriving their tricks. This person is the model of modern Europe, using science and mathematics to create unending illusions. Of course, this is Faust’s complaint of the scientific revolution, modern reasoning has brought nothing but eye wash and special effects. Modernity is a magic show where the true questions of life are still pushed into the back of consciousness.

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Angier as Faust, The Prestige (2006)

So it is, that the film begins with Angier on a quest for answers to see what is behind science. “Cypher. Engima. A search. A search for answers,” writes Angier in his notebook as he travels towards Colorado (07:50). In Colorado Springs works a man who has built a machine for each magician. His name is Tesla, the inventor, or rather technocrat of AC electrical current. Tesla plays the role of Mephistopheles, the grand, worldly wise, true magician who can fabricate things beyond science and technology. However, for Borden Tesla fabricates an electric device that simply provides special effects to his already planned illusions. Angier wants something more: “Magic. Real Magic!” he exclaims when seeing Tesla light up a field of electric light bulbs with no wires (44:30).

Indeed, Angier pays Tesla an enormous amount of money to build a machine that is real sorcery. “I need something impossible,” Angier tells Tesla, who responds, “Have you heard the phrase, ‘Man’s reach exceeds his grasp?’ It’s a lie. Man’s grasp exceeds his nerve. Society can only tolerate one change at a time” (50:42). Tesla, true to his Mephistophelean morality, inquires “Have you considered the cost of such a machine” (51:30)? Angier replies that price is no object, but Mephistopheles understands what he is asking, “Perhaps not, but have you considered the cost” (51:38)?

Ultimately, when any character who represents Mephistopheles asks such a question there can be no doubt that the true cost is one’s own soul. Money is irrelevant; it is nothing but a cog in the clockwork of the world. One’s soul, on the other hand, is beyond cogs and gears and all the modern estimations of life. Thus here is the central theme and question beyond the reach of any mundane approach in any age of history, regardless of the sophistication of one’s science and technology: what is the soul? And how does one fulfill its natural desire to transcend the mundane? And what will one exchange for his soul? The answers to the latter question is why evil is no illusion, for there is an endless list of obsessions for which humankind will always pursue at the cost of soul and with the engagement of evil.

For Faust, the obsession is ultimate knowledge. Already admitting that nothing can be known, there must be some ultimate reality beyond the world that can be obtained, even perhaps dominated? What is beyond this life? Ultimately, what is life’s purpose? In the Age of Reason human beings find only disappointment in the answers to these questions. The modern philosopher of disappointment–Nietzsche–quotes Schopenhauer, “What gives to everything tragic […] the characteristic tendency to the sublime, is the dawning of the knowledge that the world and life can afford us no true satisfaction, and are therefore not worth our attachment to them. In this the tragic spirit consists; accordingly it leads to resignation” (10, italics his).

Modern disillusionment retraces the Faust story in daily life. Individuals seeing that all their technologies, degrees, cable channels, and entertainments do not solve their most pressing problems within, simply give up trying to resolve the questions of interiority, thus making the deal with the Devil simple: give me whatever this life can afford and you take care of the rest! This certainly is the theme of the most recent Academy Award winning film The Departed (2006). Costello (Jack Nicholson) plays the part of Mephistopheles, whose first line and the first words of the film represent the movies entire theme which is the hope of the disillusioned:

I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me. Years ago we had the church. That was only a way of saying – we had each other. The Knights of Columbus were real head-breakers; true guineas. They took over their piece of the city. Twenty years after an Irishman couldn’t get a fucking job, we had the presidency. May he rest in peace. That’s what the niggers don’t realize. If I got one thing against the black chappies, it’s this – no one gives it to you. You have to take it.

Jarring. Violent. Gritty. Intolerant. These are the values of Costello’s world that work. Not unlike Enron executives who are Lords of the Corporation. Or scandal ridden board rooms of the stock houses who are Lords of Wall Street. Or the corruption engulfed conspirators of the mortgage markets who are Lords of Suburbia. Our modern world is full of Costellos whose prime motivation in life is completing the Devil’s deal by “taking it.” In The Departed Billy Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Collin Sullivan (Matt Damon) play the fated Faust character in duo fashion. Each make a deal with a devil. Costigan makes his deal with the cops to live and work for Costello. Like Clarice in Silence, Costigan is immersed in a world of evil where he must tenuously walk a rigid line between life and death, evil and more evil. Sullivan is a cop who makes a deal with Costello, a spy for the Italian maffia who ascends to the highest levels of law enforcement. In the world of “You have to take it!” everyone dies. In the ending of this film there are only funerals, showing that not even the Mephistopheles’ of this world come out ahead.

Curiously, the modern psyche forewarns humanity that no amount of modernity can change this scenario. Indeed, in the special effects ridden and futuristic techno-tale of Star Wars III: The Revenge of the Sith (2005), George Lucas retells the Faust story in full as a message for our day. Anakin Skywalker (Hayden Christiansen) is the ultimate in Faustian roles, for he is a Jedi Knight not only versed in the learning of the universe, but trained in the magical arts. In Revenge of the Sith Anakin makes a deal with Mephistopheles who posits: “If one is to understand the great mystery one must study all the subtleties of the force, even the dark side. […] Only through me can you achieve a power greater than any Jedi” (1:03:30). Anakin betrays the noble priesthood of the Jedi and destroys their temple all in an exchange for knowledge of the “mysteries” underneath his new tutor, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) who promises to reveal to him the knowledge of eternal life. This is a ruse of course, as Palpatine does not know it. In a twist of fate at the end of the film, with the Jedi completely undone, Yoda trains Kenobi in the ways of eternal life!

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Anakin Skywalker is Faust, Revenge of the Sith (2005)

In any case, Lucas’s film is a foreshadowing that no amount of technology in his futuristic world can replace probing the true questions of life dealing with evil. It’s as if to say, the soul, no matter where it is found, in whatever era or cosmos, must find its own relationship with evil. We all must turn into Faust. But how to make it through? Certainly not as the Devil (Costello) or as one obsessed with power (Angier) or personal demons (Clarice) or vengeance (Bruce Wayne) or even forbidden knowledge (Anakin). But then how?

Interestingly, the answer to this question is revealed in all the works mentioned. In The Prestige Angier and Borden begin their journey not with Tesla, but in and through the presence of the feminine. Indeed, when Angier’s wife dies in a magic trick gone awry, and most likely caused by the wrong knot tied by Borden, Angier’s soul is permanently scarred. After his wife’s death, Angier is obsessed with outdoing every part of Borden’s life, and eventually to seek it. Ironically, Angier is the far more talented magician between the two, and when another assistant named Olivia (Scarlet Johansson) comes to Angier’s aid and offers him her love, he rejects it, blinded by his obsession to outdo Borden, or in other words, blinded by his flawed relationship with evil as revealed in his relationship with the feminine. In fact, the moment Angier dismisses Olivia, sending her to Borden as a spy, is the moment Angier loses what is left of his soul. Borden, on the other hand, takes Olivia in and falls in love with her. But Borden has a secret–a twin brother–who is the basis of his most spectacular magic tricks; for no one knows of Borden’s other half. So it is that Borden’s other brother also plays Borden, and he is married and very much loves his wife Sarah (Rebecca Hall). The brothers never reveal their identities to their lovers, and Sarah suspects her husband is having an affair with Olivia. In short, this lack of honesty by both Bordens and Angier shown to the women who love them is the poison which causes the loss of soul in each of them.

In a film with so many doubles, the machine Tesla builds Angier clones any object that is placed within it. Angier uses this machine in an act of vengeance, setting up Borden for a false murder charge by both cloning himself and then murdering his clone with Borden as the fall guy. Here at least is the difference between the two magicians: Angier kills his clones as part of his magic trick while Borden uses the other Borden as the magic trick. In the end however, one Borden hangs for the crime of killing Angier (who is just a clone mind you). The other Borden kills the real Angier in the final act of vengeance.

All this death and at its root one’s relationship with the feminine. It’s as if the twin brother of Borden and the clones of Angier are really the images of the psyche, the true individuality of each of them–their souls–each trying to grasp at the powers of the world while blinded to the feminine who would authentically empower them.

This relationship is consistent throughout all the works discussed. The turning point in Goethe’s Faust is when the great Doctor meets Gretchen. Up until this point Mephistopheles has provided anything Faust desired, but none of it impressed him in the least. Yet, what does the world of a cold, calculating man of learning know of the world of woman? When Faust meets Gretchen for the first time he feels his soul lost, and can only confess, “Fetch me something the angel wears! Take me to her place of rest! Fetch me her garter as a token–fetch me the kerchief from her breast!” (96). But Faust’s first relationship with Gretchen is not authentic. He wants her for passion’s sake. And in truth, with Mephistopheles’ aid, he eventually takes Gretchen to his bed. Once lovers, and parted from the counterfeit world of culture and science, Faust comes to his primal revelation: “Now fully do I realize that man can never possess perfection! With this ecstasy which brings me near and nearer to the gods […]” (123).

This revelation comes with a terrible price. The good Doctor impregnates Gretchen , then is forced to leave her. Her honor despoiled, her brother Valentine seeks revenge, but to no avail, for in a duel he is slain by Faust. In sheer torment Gretchen holds her dying brother exclaiming, “My brother! This is the agony of Hell!” (146). His response is cold, “Dry those useless tears, I say! You dealt my heart a fatal blow when you flung your honor away” (146). In his dying breath he accuses Gretchen of slaying his real self, his inner soul, by the loss of her honor. This realization overcomes the poor girl, who at this point is alone and pregnant. Eventually, imprisoned for killing her own illegitimate child, Gretchen can find no peace, “Dear God! Dear God! They’re coming! O bitter death!” (176).

Only these turn of events can change the heart of Faust. And, as the Almighty knew all along, it is Faust’s heart (his compassion) that needs changed before his mind (reason) can do him any good. When Faust realizes what he has done to his lover, when he sees his true relationship with the feminine, he finally understands his relationship with evil, as he confesses to his trusted companion Mephistopheles: “Imprisoned! Lost in hopeless misery! Delivered over to evil spirits and to the pitiless judgment of men! And meanwhile you lulled me with insipid distraction, you concealed from me her increasing misfortune and allowed her so slide hopelessly into ruin!” (171). This is the changing point for Faust, who now seeks a completely different course in his life and has a fundamentally changed relationship with his tutor the Devil, who can only acquiesce, “It is the way of a tyrant to destroy the innocent opponent who crosses his path when he seeks a way out of his dilemma” (173).

So it is that Bruce Wayne’s own inability to deal with the death of his mother and the loss of his boyhood girlfriend provides the real grist for his vengeance. It is not evil that turns Wayne into Batman, it is the loss of the feminine. Castigan and Sullivan both vie for the same woman in The Departed, neither with great success. But it is the more authentic relationship of Castigan with Madolyn (Vera Farmiga) which provides his impulse to overcome all the temptations of Costello and Costello’s world. In the end, it is Castigan who is awarded the highest medal of honor for maintaining his appropriate relationship with evil through his relationship with the feminine. And of course, it is Anakin’s illegitimate relationship to Padme (Natalie Portman) which seals his decision to join the dark side of the force, just as it is his legitimate relationship with his own daughter Leia (Carrie Fisher) in Return of the Jedi (1983) where he finds the courage to defeat Palpatine and vanquish the sinister side of the force permanently.

In simple terms, what the movie goer learns is what Goethe’s Faust learns: without the authentic feminine in one’s life one is lost. Furthermore, no science, no technology, no amount of money, fame, privilege, or property, and especially not even real sorcery, can heal the soul. The soul’s quest is the quest for authentic individuality, which, ironically, must be done with the proper balance with the “ultimate other” that takes the identity of the divine feminine. Thus, one’s relationship with evil is one’s relationship with the authentic feminine. How these relationships play out is how we find our hope or our doom.

 Works Cited

The Departed. Dir. Martin Scorsese. Perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Jack Nicholson, Mark Wahlberg. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006.

Falzon, Christopher. Philosophy Goes to the Movies: An Introduction to Philosophy. Florence, KY: Routledge, 2002.

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Faust. Trans. by Alice Raphael. Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1980.

Holy Bible. KJV. Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book Company, 1998.

Lyden, John. Film as Religion: Myths, Morals, Rituals. New York: New York UP, 2003.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999, pp. 3-116.

Oergel, Maike. Culture and Identity: Historicity in German Literature and Thought 1770-1815. Hawthorne, NY: Walter De Gruyter Inc., 2006.

The Prestige. Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perfo. Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Cane, Scarlet Johansson. Touchstone Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures, 2006.

Silence of the Lambs. Dir. Jonathan Demme. Perf. Jodie Foster, Anthony Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald. Orion Pictures Corp., 1991.

Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, Hayden Christiansen, Ian McDiarmid, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee. Lucasfilm Ltd., 2005.

 

Moments of Suspension

Bardo means gap” (Fremantle and Trungpa, Tibetan 1). It refers to experiences of suspension in life as well as in death, for death happens in the process of life (1). Bardo experiences happen to us all the time. They are experiences of not knowing our ground, of not knowing for what we have asked or are going to receive. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, therefore, is not about death any more than it is about birth. It is about the uncertainties of everyday life in which birth and death happen to us all the time (2).

Do you remember the moments when your best friend moved away or your grandmother died and everything felt fuzzy, as if you were between two worlds or passing out of one life into another? Poignant moments such as these flooded my mind in the continuous gaps between endings and beginnings as I read The Tibetan Book of the Dead, moments when the ground seems to move, moments that happen to us all the time.

I reflected on the moment when, garbed in scuba gear, I jumped off a boat and was totally engaged in the intermediate space after the jump but before hitting the cold water to take my first deep ocean dive, or the moment I became a parent. During these moments, I was suspended between two worlds: the known and unknowable. I remember each as thresholds I had to cross in order to reach today. During such moments, the familiar world seems to fall away before there is the chance to attain a new sense of things. These are moments of suspension. These are not the moments when our lives start or end, but are moments when our consciousness shifts.

“Bar” means in between and “do” means island or mark, so “bardo” is sort of a landmark that stands between two points, like an island on a lake. It is the point between sanity and insanity, the state before confusion is transformed into wisdom (10-11). It is the place between death and birth. It is the moment before the future has manifested itself, yet the past has already been left behind: it is the gap (11).

Buddhism teaches that to view the whole of life from an egocentric view is to live in an “unreal” world and “the remedy is to see through the illusion, to attain the insight of emptiness—the absence of what is false” (xvi). With emptiness is luminosity, “the presence of what is real, the basic ground of which the play of life, takes place” (xvi). The first bardo experience is of the uncertainty about whether or not we are going to die; it is the moment we experience the possibility of stepping out of the real world into an unreal world (3).

The bardo experience can be seen in terms of the six realms of existence that we go through, our six psychological states, or the deities that we meet in our lives, the same ones that we find in The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Within this context, there is no one to save us; everything is left to us and to the commitment we make to who we are (2). The teachings are not for the dying any more than they are for the living, or for those who seek a spiritual understanding in everyday life.

Jung, Nature, and Psyche

In The Earth Has a Soul: The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung edited by Meredith Sabini, Carl Gustav Jung shares that “Trees […] were mysterious and seemed to [him] direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life” (29). Sitting under the shade from the branches of my favorite tree, I pondered Jung’s plethora of insights.

Within each individual is the power to imagine a life that is lived in harmony with nature. This is actually consistent with the development of human beings as a species on a particular planet that evolved under specific conditions. To live in disharmony with nature is work; to live in harmony is easy but is counter to the mass culture and, therefore, the individual must break away to lead the way back to a connection with the earth.

As Jung puts it, “A fundamental change of attitude (metanoia) is required, a real recognition of the whole [individual]” (167), a far-reaching metamorphosis that comes not from outside but from inside the individual, or the “bearer” of life (168). Individuals must face “the present condition of the world” as well as their own souls (168-169). That is, to reconnect with nature, they must remove the extraneous historical layers and connect with their own “nature within” at the animal level that is not conscious and can, thus, unveil the original patterns and reestablish humankind’s initial bridge to nature (172).

Once the break between humankind and nature is abolished, the “truth, but a truth which [one] cannot prove” (172) can be revealed. The truth is that humans, like trees, live on earth, our home, and we need to take care of our home and ourselves if our lives as we know them are to continue for generations to come.

Jung asserts that the psyche is the greatest of all cosmic wonders (176) and is aware that people need a better understanding of their own psyches, which is their essence (174). He observes that recently, too much emphasis has been placed on the development of technology and other external objects while human psyches and the earth have been neglected. Jung suggests that the uses of technology are determined by people’s states of mind. He believes that there is a profound need to understand the human soul, and that it is through the wisdom from dreams that people can find their way back to human existence (175-177). Thomas Berry offers, through the wisdom of the “dream of the earth” (Dream 223), humans can find their way back to their biospiritual earth as well (117).

Dew and Human Destiny

The experience of morning dew has been available to people in many lands for centuries. Therefore, its images and symbolism are prevalent in a wide range of mythologies and legends, particularly from ancient times when people lived closer to nature than they do today. These myths and legends help shed light on the human desire to interpret and understand natural phenomena, such as dew (Andrews, Nature vii).

“Dew is moisture that renews the earth. Condensed from the air, it falls in droplets and covers the grass and plant life, seemingly like magic, during the night.” With its sparkle and magical dispensation, people of long ago believed dew to be of celestial origin, as it “healed like rain, cooled like snow, and therefore represented water from some heavenly force” (56).

Many ancient people attributed dew to the sky forces; some associated it with the cold and watery moon which led to the notion of moon dew, a silvery liquid that was sent by lunar gods to nourish the crops; others associated it with the night or thunder. In some Chinese and Japanese myths, dew dripped from the stars; in some Scandinavian myths, it dripped from the bit of the horse that brought night. In an Iroquois’ legend, dew fell from the wings of Oshadagea, the Big Eagle of Dew, who assisted the thunder god and carried a lake of dew on his back to refresh the earth after a fire depletes its vegetation. In a wide range of Classical myths, dew represents the tears of gods and goddesses that lamented their loved ones and fell to the earth as water imbued with the powers from the celestial heavens, to renew life and restore youth (56). These and a vast array of other myths help people understand how dew has been experienced, appreciated, interpreted and understood over time (vii).

While the symbolism of dew is very much like that of rain, its influence is subtler “as the expression of heavenly blessing, it is essentially life-giving grace” (Chevalier and Gheerbrant, Symbols 289). It is pure water with generative powers. Though highly symbolic and even poetic, the reality of dew can be easily missed by those among us today who are too preoccupied to take notice of morning dew and even of nature’s entirety of which they are a minute part.

The ancient Greeks associated dew with fertility myths, particularly pertaining to the love gods and goddesses (290). In Buddhist terms, the “world of the dew” is that of appearances and represents the ephemeral nature of the material things and of life (289). Dew is symbolic of “the light of dawn; spiritual refreshment; […]; Sweet dew is peace and prosperity” and it can represent change and illusion (Cooper, Symbols 50). People today who do not take the time to attend to and value early morning dew likely lack the time and propensity to become familiar with the breadth of nature’s beauty and vulnerabilities.

Ancient peoples battled with and tried to control the forces of nature. Through worship and sacrifice, they tried to placate the gods in an attempt to influence their will (Andrews xii). The ancients revered their nature gods because they feared their power just as they feared neglecting any power strong enough to control the destiny of the world. Thus, the worship of nature involved the reverence of natural phenomena as animated, conscious forces (xii).

The ancients considered natural phenomena as living beings analogous to people but with more power, as was demonstrated to them with the roar of thunder. With awe, they experienced the sight of dew and its evaporation under the sun’s heat. Natural phenomena were mysteries in the ancient world. Back then, people created myths to help them understand the unexplainable, using the best tools available to them: their experience and imagination, as “nature was revealed to them as symbols” (xii). The ancients lived close to nature and treated it with respect as it fulfilled them. In their wonderment of nature, they created myths and legends to explain natural events and influence the forces that control them.

Today, if people take the time to experience dew and seek information about it to help them understand it, they may be largely satisfied with instantaneous explanations derived from a single click on their handheld devices, while the ancients revered and honored the phenomena as if they were miracles. Perhaps in our contemporary culture of instant answers and fast facts, people have lost touch with miracles and no longer recognize the sacred, nor do they invest physical phenomena with spirit as people did long ago.

Depth psychology takes seriously the process of finding “equilibrium in a world unbalanced” (Lorenz, “Forward.” Depth Psychology 7). Myths provide constructs that make order out of chaos. Today, if people can make an effort to see the wonderment in nature and allow it to awaken their imaginations, then perhaps they can embrace myths about “earth-cultivating” humans (Campbell, Power of Myth 23), myths that inspire humans to develop lifestyles that are in accord with nature, and that champion the protection of the environment and the continuation of the planet and of human life. For in this historic hour, the very destiny of the human species and the earth may hinge on a small shift in people’s perspectives on dew.

“God is dead”: the Plight of World Ages

It has been said that the modern world was defined when a poet-philosopher stood upon a stump and decried “God is dead!” This declaration, whatever its original intent, has been fundamentally embraced by modern, secular culture, from Darwin to Heisenberg, from Freud to Russell, as an underpinning to the very idea of the Age of Reason: humankind does not need God; we can create our own paradise. Indeed, in the 19th and early 20th centuries the popular idea of the scientific community was that the Golden Age was just around the corner–Reason had created industry, technology, modern economy, and science, of its own standing and natural course, and would eventually solve all problems and suffering. This humanistic belief in god-is-dead-ology persists today, in some ranks, ironically, with wholesale blind faith.

Yet, as a rising body of social and scientific critique emerges from the horizon, with such titles as Dark Age Ahead, The Coming Plague, Twilight of American Culture, Twilight of Common Dreams, The End of Education, Amusing Ourselves to Death, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, and many more, a new cultural consciousness is emerging which recounts the old words of Marcellus, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark” (Hamlet 1.4). It seems from circumference to center the Age of Enlightenment is dimming down, and the neo-post-deconstructionist age may well be defined by another poet-philosopher standing on the self-same world stump declaring, “Man is an idiot!”

In the rush towards interminable material progress humankind has stifled their true nature, which has always been inexhaustible spiritual potential (Tillich 104). Living within this contradiction–the material versus the spiritual, gain versus authentic growth–humankind lurches forward, from age to age, raising up as standards of both gain and growth one dogmatic neurosis after another. Religion, science, psychology, ethics, philosophy, or any other epistemological paradigm held as the center axis of being unattached to the universe as it really is can only lead to endless suffering.

Curiously, in mythologic systems the nature of consciousness was well observed, and even tracked in grand cycles of time. Nearly every mythic tradition held a belief in a series of world ages which transcribed these cycles. The very word “world” identifies this ancient eschatology: wer-auld literally means “man-age” and refers to the long cyclical ages of consciousness in which humankind participates.

In mythic time, there are generally denoted four world ages. The Greeks declared that there was a golden age, a silver age, a bronze age, and an iron age. Each age was aligned with a form of consciousness which, in the golden realm of being, was akin to the gods. The iron age, on the other hand, is an age of stifling lust and pride and the current age in which we live. These ideas of time were themselves thought to parallel the rise and fall of civilizations, where each civilization went through four epochs of consciousness–in the Greek terms: olbus, koros, hubris, and ate. As Hugh Nibley notes, olbus means filled and fulfillment, having everything that is needed; koros is taking more than is needed, overeating or over filling; this leads to hubris which is overconfidence in self and a total disconnect from nature as it is, placing self above all else; which terminates in ate or the point of no return, things break down and run out and nothing can stop the entropy cascade of destruction (Nibley 41).

Both Buddhist and Hindu cosmology also express the four world ages. In a treasury of Buddhist teachings entitled The Encompassment of All Knowledge the four world ages are clearly named: “formation, abiding, destruction, and vacuity” (Taye 62). In Hindu cosmology the four ages are Krita, Tretā, Dvāpara, and Kali (Zimmerman 13). These ages in many ways parallel the Greek understanding, for they both address a physical creation as well as an evolution (or de-evolution) of consciousness. As Zimmerman explains, the Hindu ages exist upon Dharma, “the moral order of the world” (13). With each successive age there is a decrease in Dharma until the Kali age, where “man and his world are at their very worst. […] ‘when society reaches a stage, where property confers rank, wealth becomes the only source of virtue, passion the sole bond of union […], falsehood the source of success in life, sex the only means of enjoyment, and when outer trappings are confused with inner religion […]’ then we are in the Kali Yuga […]” (15).

So it is that the so called Age of Enlightenment has proved to be nothing but eye wash and special effects–a spectacular opening act invariably leading to a final culmination of hubris whose closing curtains are cued by a dirge for inner awareness. Despite the vast armada of technical doohickeys with which we append ourselves with great self-congratulations, these accouterments are a horse and pony side-show preventing true awareness of the disproportionate state between man as he is and the universe as it really exists. The greater the distance between these nodal points of consciousness the greater the neurosis that develops. Indeed, the hubris of modern homo sapiens is a neurosis constructed to obfuscate the famine ever growing within the psyche. As Carl Jung observes, “Modern man believes that he can do as he pleases and is perturbed that inexplicable anxieties plague him. True to his rationalistic bias, he has tried all the usual remedies–diets, exercise programs, studying inspirational literature–and only reluctantly admits that he can’t seem to find a way to live a meaningful life” (Sabini, ed. 16).

Not surprisingly, the cycles of the world ages and the forms of consciousness that go with them have been the subject of immense examination by those seeking a way out of the horse and pony show. Leaving this circus is no easy task. It turns out every exit offered by the world leads back on itself in a spinning wheel motif that counterfeits the Dharma of the cosmos. Escape has been replaced by escapism–which is ironically just more of the same.

Myth, Mind, and Theory

The greatest strength in a Jungian interpretation of myth lies in the fact that psychological archetypes can cogently explain the origins of all myth. This strength is also its greatest weakness, for if every ancient myth is a product of the unconscious, then the next logical step is to describe all narrative as a projection of the unconscious. One can no longer differentiate the material; the Epic of Gilgamesh is qualitatively no different than Mary Poppins.

Still, one can believe in a collective unconscious and psychological archetypes without making the definitive move to describe all of myth as mirroring those archetypes in the direct manner in which Jung positions his theory. Jung writes, “The collective unconscious […] appears to consist of mythological motifs or primordial images, for which reason the myths of all nations are its real exponents. In fact, the whole of mythology could be taken as a sort of projection of the collective unconscious” (Segal ed. 79). For Jung, mythemes were components of psychological constructs which “arise autochthonously in every corner of the earth and yet are identical, because they are fashioned out of the same worldwide human unconscious” (Segal ed. 61-62). Thus myth is not a product of a conscious, synthesized system: “The widely held view that mythologems or myth motifs are always connected with a tradition proves untenable, since they may reappear anywhere, at any time, and in any individual regardless of tradition” (Segal ed. 64).

The truth is scholars of all stripes have had great difficulty in explaining the commonalities shared between myths around the globe independent of time and tradition. There are two camps of thought which attempt to explain these common mythemes: the diffusionists, who believe that a myth system began in one place and time and slowly spread around the globe; and the inventionists, who believe that mythemes can spontaneously generate in different places and times because the human psyche is the same everywhere and will produce similar products when faced with similar psychic and experiential inputs. Among these two camps are sub-groups, as in the case of the inventionists where many scholars believe in the autochthonous nature of myth without believing in Jung’s archetypes. Joseph Campbell himself took portions from both theoretical camps, stating that both diffusion and psyche play a part in the spread and formation of myth.

Without going into alternative explanations as to the universal nature of myth motifs around the globe, my chief complaint against the Jungian interpretation of myth, which also happens to be my chief complaint against almost all modern or older theories of myth, takes a different tack. Often, the modern interpretations of both history and myth are projections from modern thinking. With so little material at our disposal, we align the bric-a-brac of archaeological and anthropological debris into dot to dot constructions which supposedly try to make sense out of the amalgam historical conglomerate. Yet what is the mortar by which we build these bricks of the past to form the edifice of our choosing? Some will say that mortar is the theory one employs while compiling the historical or mythological bricks. While true, I say that such an insight is already in mid-stride, for there is already an a priori assumption at work within almost all the modern theories of myth, and it is this a priori assumption which I find untenable.

In order for Jung to propose his theory he relies heavily on an evolutionary model of the human mind, which is in step with the evolutionary model of the biological organism. Yet one can believe in Darwin’s Theory of biological evolution without ever applying such a theory to the mind. Here is where I part company from almost all myth theorists, who like Jung, believe that ancient civilizations were mythopoeic because ancient man had not evolved mentally or consciously to the point of modern man. Repeatedly we are told that the Greeks were the first to introduce Reason and Science, and that before the Greeks there was only Myth and Religion. Jung explains, in part, this view:

In the individual, the archetypes appear as involuntary manifestations of unconscious processes whose existence and meaning can only be inferred, whereas the myth deals with traditional forms of incalculable age. They hark back to a prehistoric world whose spiritual preconceptions and general conditions we can still observe today among existing primitives. Myths on this level are as a rule tribal history handed down from generation to generation by word of mouth. Primitive mentality differs from the civilized chiefly in that the conscious mind is far less developed in scope and intensity. Functions such as thinking, willing, etc. are not yet differentiated; they are pre-conscious, and in the case of thinking, for instance, this shows itself in the circumstance that the primitive does not think consciously, but that thoughts appear. The primitive cannot assert that he thinks; it is rather that “something thinks in him.” The spontaneity of the act of thinking does not lie, casually, in his conscious mind, but in his unconscious. Moreover, he is incapable of any conscious effort of will; he must put himself beforehand into the “mood of willing,” or let himself be put–hence his rites d’entrée et de sortie. His consciousness is menaced by an almighty unconscious; hence his fear of magical influences which may cross his path at any moment; and for this reason, too, he is surrounded by unknown forces and must adjust himself as best he can. Owing to the chronic twilight state of his consciousness, it is often next to impossible to find out whether he merely dreamed something or whether he really experienced it. The spontaneous manifestation of the unconscious and its archetypes intrudes everywhere into his conscious mind, and the mythical world of his ancestors–for instance, the alchera or bugari of the Australian aborigines–is a reality equal if not superior to the material world. (Segal ed. 83)

It never occurs to Jung or a great many other scholars that the Australian aborigines might not be the correct model upon which to compare prehistoric man. The various primitive tribes in existence around the world today are assumed to be vestiges of the earliest state of the species, but this is due to the fact that with Darwin not only did our sense of the biological organism change but so did our entire cosmos, and with it out sense of Time. Moderns think of time linearly. Ancients thought of time cyclically. Either way, our conceptions of time are nothing but mental projections upon the cosmos whose actual frame of time and space are as yet inscrutable. The aborigine or tribesman, under ancient, cyclical thinking, may not represent a parallel with early humanity, but may only resolve as an offshoot, a disjecta membra of a once more sophisticated era. This seems counter-intuitive only because modern assumptions on this issue are firmly entrenched within linear lines.

Poignantly, however, accurate comparisons between the aborigine and prehistorical man remain insoluble. This has a great many consequences. Which came first: civilization with its temple cults, mythological systems, and priesthoods? Or the individual Shaman with his magic stick, sacred tales, and cosmological maps? Modern thinking favors the latter, though the truth is the Shaman might be a descendant or cultural outcast from some high off time when an entire system of cult and myth was in place for millennium. Regardless of where one comes down on this issue, definitive answers remain unproven and unprovable.

Further, the very idea that the ancient mind did not think consciously, and in this pre-conscious state invented a world of magic and gods; of totems, fetishes, and taboos; of animism and myth, is a speculative notion indeed. One certainly can cite all sorts of modern text books and find totems and fetishes at every turn, but I remind the reader that these constructs are categories of the modern imagination and as such are often modern inventions. I personally consider much of this theoretical conglomerate nothing but highly inventive thinking, informed as it is, by an a priori assumption rooted in an unproven metaphysic.

I therefore ask, what happens if one pulls this mental evolutionary peg out of the theoretical stick pile? What if the human mind and with it the psyche remain the same in all eras, albeit operating under a different context, that is, the nature and structure of orality? Being that this stick is the first one in the pile, its removal has large consequences for a great many theories of myth. It is not just Jung who relies heavily on the mental-evolutionary metaphysic: Freud, Frazer, Tylor, Müller, Lévy-Bruhl, Malinowski, Durkheim, Lang, Cassier, Campbell and a great many other theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries all follow suit in varying degrees. Even Mircea Eliade, in his conceptions of sacred time and sacred space as experienced by prehistoric man relies upon an evolutionary universality.