Sunday, August 14, 2016

Gaining fluency in the language of the myths

image: Wikimedia commons (link).

I have said many times, in interviews and in published materials (written and video), that the concept of "speaking in different languages" provides a very helpful metaphor regarding the interpretation of ancient myths, scriptures, and sacred stories.

If the myths arrive in our village speaking a language we don't understand (perhaps a language our ancestors understood, but a language we have long forgotten), and someone offers to interpret what they say for us -- but they don't actually speak the language either -- they could offer all kinds of misinterpretations which could lead to all kinds of confusion and chaos.

There have probably been scenes in movies or plays in which just such a scene is acted out for humorous effect -- perhaps with the visitor saying (in his or her own language), "This food is delicious -- I am honored that you are sharing it with me," and the deceptive translator telling the anxious listeners, "He said your food is disgusting, and he is extremely insulted that you have offered him such disgraceful refuse."

The point of this metaphor is my assertion (which has been made by others in the past -- stretching back at least to Plato) that the myths, scriptures, and sacred stories of humanity are not speaking to us in a literal language, but rather in the language of celestial metaphor. Therefore, if we try to interpret them as if they are speaking a literal language, we are almost certain to introduce mis-interpretations, mis-translations, and mis-understanding (with potentially disastrous results).

The fact that the myths of humanity, from virtually every culture in virtually every inhabited corner of the globe, can be shown to be built upon a common system of celestial metaphor is astonishing, and has incredible implications for our ancient history. Setting aside the question of how this situation came about (because there are numerous possible hypotheses which could be offered, each of which deserves careful investigation -- the question is by no means settled and the solution is by no means obvious or self-evident), the fact that this same system can be seen to underlie the myths and scriptures and sacred stories of peoples around the world, from Africa to Scandinavia to Australia to the Americas and all points in between, argues that someone in the distant past believed their message to be incredibly valuable and worth safeguarding and preserving with the utmost reverence. 

If we wish to understand this ancient message, preserved in the sacred myths which are the precious inheritance of the human race, then it would behoove us to try to listen to them in the language that they are speaking, and not in some other language that we wish that they were speaking, or that someone else tells us that they are speaking. 

(That last category includes me, myself: don't simply take my word for it when I assert that they are speaking in the language of celestial metaphor -- examine the evidence for yourself; I offer hundreds of examples from around the world which I believe point to the conclusion that the myths and scriptures, including those in what has for centuries been called "the Bible," are built upon a foundation of celestial metaphor).

If one examines the evidence and concludes that the myths are indeed speaking a celestial metaphor, then the next question might be to ask how we understand this language. It is a very good question. 

Some conventional scholars, detecting some of the solar and celestial and "seasonal" components in the myths (by "seasonal" I mean having to do with summer or winter or spring or fall, usually by the incorporation of metaphors or observations centered on the equinoxes and solstices, obvious examples being the celebrations of Christmas and Easter / Passover around the time of the December solstice and March equinox, respectively) assert that these elements in the myths and sacred traditions of the world are simply remnants of a time when humanity was working out the civilizational tools of agriculture and keeping a calendar, both of which do in fact involve complex sets of knowledge which would be helpful to preserve and pass on, once people have figured them out.

However, although that knowledge may certainly be part of the story (and while I certainly do not deny that the skills of keeping a calendar and successfully growing crops in order to keep a civilization alive are critically important skills, whose knowledge ancient peoples would want to preserve), I believe that there is more than sufficient evidence to argue that the myths are speaking a celestial language which can actually be described as a spiritual language (and even a shamanic language, as I have argued extensively in previous books and previous posts on this blog).

So, how does understanding their celestial foundation help us to hear the ancient myths in the language that they are in fact speaking? By understanding the way that the myths of the world use the heavenly realms, and the cycles of the heavenly bodies which move through those realms, as a way of describing a worldview or cosmology which includes both the Visible Realm and the Invisible Realm -- the second being the realm of spirit, the realm of infinite potentiality, the realm of the gods. 

This Other World is very real, but because it is invisible to us (most of the time), the myths and scriptures use figures and metaphors in order to convey teaching about it to our understanding. And the figures and metaphors they use to convey that knowledge are drawn from the heavens above -- the heavens which are in fact infinite in their own right, and which thus form a perfect vehicle for conveying to us truths about the infinite realm.

Alvin Boyd Kuhn, who was in my opinion one of the most articulate and insightful teachers regarding the way that the myths use the heavenly cycles as a language for conveying spiritual truths, gives an outstanding (and essential) translation of the spiritual meaning of the annual cycle which forms the Great Wheel of the year, divided into four different parts by the great stations of the two equinoxes and two solstices. He published thousands of pages of explication of the myths and their spiritual language, and the clearest and most concise explanation of the spiritual "code" in the annual cycle is perhaps found in a little volume entitled Easter: The Birthday of the Gods (based on a lecture he delivered in 1936).

It is my belief, after some years of study on this subject, that in addition to the references to the solstices and equinoxes found in the myths, we can also perceive references to specific constellations in the myths and sacred stories themselves -- constellations which point us towards specific places within that larger framework, and which thus act as pointers to help us understand what specific themes and teachings that particular myth may be expounding for our understanding and our benefit.

This fact may be the key to understanding the language which the myths and sacred stories of humanity are speaking to us -- and the more we understand this "language," and the more time we spend "conversing" with the myths using that language (which is a spiritual language, and even a shamanic language, as most traditional peoples on earth already understand, but as the proponents of a literal approach to the Biblical texts wish to deny), the more we will gain "fluency" in hearing their message.

Below is a video I made about a year and half ago which explains some of these concepts, along with some visual aids to try to make the points more clear and understandable (Thank you to everyone who has provided positive feedback on it!):