Friday, March 27, 2015

The development of humanity's myths continues!



Masks of God: Occidental Mythology – Joseph Campbell (1958)

This book is the third in a series of four books in which Joseph Campbell created and crystallized the modern science of comparative religion and ethnographic mythology.  The vast amount of research and scholarship involved in this is staggering to imagine, but it reflects upon Mr. Campbell’s lifelong fascination with humanity’s belief systems and the shared themes found within all of these mythologies.  The first two books in this Masks of God series, Primitive Mythology, and Oriental Mythology, explore the deep mythological source materials from humanity’s earliest tribal times in the former, and then investigates the development of these primal themes and ideas as they coalesced into organized religion during humanity’s first great civilizations in the latter.  This volume, Occidental Mythology, details the evolution of these myths as the Eastern (Vedic and early Buddhist) and Western (Greek and Hebrew) ideas combined to form what were the first "World” religions, such as Christianity and Islam.
Early mythology created tribal cults, mainly concerned with worshiping the life impulse evident all around in the cycles of birth, death, and regeneration seen by all humans in the past.  The waxing and waning Moon, the rising and setting Sun, the coming of life in Spring and Summer and the decline of it in the Fall and Winter, all became signs which humanity saw fit to sacrifice to, and worship as divine.  Death brought Life.  Life brought Death.  It was a never-ending cycle which is reflected in the oldest religions still around in our modern world.  These are mainly found in the Eastern religious thought, where life/existence has no beginning and no end, instead cycling endlessly from high to low and back again.  The end goal of these religions is to remove the trappings of self, of placing value in things which are transient at best and illusory at worst.  This leaves the devotee to experience a unity with the divine which is in all, surrounds all, and is ever-lasting.
These religions detailed in Primitive Mythology did not focus on good versus evil, for those were just two poles of an ever-varied existence.  The religions that developed out of and after these original family religions were different in that they explored the source of Evil in the world.  Many, like Zoroastrianism, proposed a Universe in which the personification of Good and of Evil are constantly at odds, and that only through the good works of humanity would Evil finally be vanquished by Good, leading to everlasting peace on Earth.  Many religions followed this example.  Others, like the religion of the tribal peoples that became the Hebrews, posited that the world is full of sin, due to Man’s disobeying God/Yahweh, but that only God’s Chosen People (of course it is the Hebrews) would be able to bring about an end to evil when they finally are able to join all together and worship their god in unity.  This was drawn from the idea that God created the world but is not immanent in the world, that not everything is divine, and that this world we currently live in is but a shadow of the true existence of divinity.  That is a big difference from the earlier tribal, and current Eastern, belief that one can find god by looking within themselves just as easily as one can find god by looking without.  The Hebrew Messiah is described as someone who would be a political, as well as spiritual leader, who would finally unite all the Hebrew nation and bring about God’s will.  This was still a “national/tribal” religion, not meant to include the world population at large.  Yahweh was specifically the god of the Hebrews, proclaiming himself the mightiest of gods.
The Western world developed what are termed “World” religions, Christianity and Islam, out of the basis provided by the original Hebrew faith.  Christianity slowly moved away from the vengeful, petty, nationalistic god of the Bible’s Old Testament that required constant sacrifices to appease, towards a conception of god as love, whereas all the evil in the world was caused by Satan, who sought to destroy and ruin God’s perfect creation, Man.  To do this, the example of Jesus of Nazareth was used, and mythologized, to be able to spread this idea to all corners of the Earth.  The New Testament speaks of Jesus teaching his followers that any and all are to be welcomed into the “flock,” even those who religion normally turned away, such as the very poor, the sick, the leprous, the prostitutes, basically the lowliest of the low.  It brought a dignity in being human that was to be respected by all.  At its core, Islam also teaches this.  All humans are capable of being good Muslims, or good Christians.  Your membership in these belief systems are not dependent on your birth, nationality, race, etc., but solely upon your personal desire and dedication to live the Christian/Muslim life.  This has been codified into widely differing dogma by religious groups, but the core message is the same.
The Eastern system of Buddhism does the same thing, in terms of being a World religion, and seeks to instruct all mankind in the ways of living a proper life, so that anyone can be one with the divine, which is in us, around us, and always available.  In this sense it is different from Christianity and Islam, for the Buddhist is not taught that the Buddha was the only son of god, or that the Buddha is the only prophet that is valid, or that only by worshiping the Buddha will you attain Heaven/union with the divinity.  Anyone can, through good works, good thoughts, and good living, become an enlightened one, a Buddha.  The focus in the East is never on the tribe or the nation or the group, but on the individual mind/soul and its connection to the divine.

You can never go too deep

It is amazing how Mr. Campbell draws in the seemingly infinite threads of world myth and shows how the basic core ideas are transformed from one era to the next.  He details how the Trinity in Christianity has endless predecessors in the nature cults and early religions of the Middle East.  He describes how the concept of worshiping the Female aspect of Life as Life’s very creator was twisted around to benefit a patriarchal society, to the point where in Christianity, God is the Father, Son and Holy Ghost all himself, with no feminine entity to provide Life.  This is something that changed even the very early story of Adam and Eve, as can be seen in the Bible’s two different versions of creation, where in one God creates Adam and Eve together, and in the later addition, God creates Adam, and then, from Adam, creates Eve.  This is essentially a denial of the life power of the Female, and it is still used to this day to keep women down, in both Christianity and Islam, for they seem Woman as the cause of the Fall of mankind.  Horrible huh?  It seems inherently anti-nature.
(Within Catholicism, the cult of the Virgin Mary has essentially refocused humanity’s original worship of the Female as the giver of all Life into the worship of one perfect Female who was used by God to bring humanity’s savior into existence.)

There is so much more in this book, so much I wish I could get into, but it would make this review exceedingly long.  One thing that is evident from Mr. Campbell’s writing is that he feels that while there is evidence that Jesus of Nazareth, the Buddha, and other “saviors” like Osiris in Egypt were actual historical people, their ideas and lives were elaborated and developed into cosmological mythologies.  Joseph Campbell states that this MUST be so, in order to progress from tribal ideas to truly universal ideas with the power to change the entire world.  That is the beauty and power of myth, that it touches upon something deep within all of us, allowing our consciousness to comprehend and appreciate the resonance between us and every other aspect of creation.  That is a very valuable thing, and will go on whether or not individual religions come and go.

(You can read or download this book as a .pdf here: http://www.mohamedrabeea.com/books/book1_13907.pdf )

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