Sunday, July 4, 2010

Initiations of Myth

It's often been said that real mythology died out with the Norse sagas. The people who say this assume that science now provides us with the answers to our origins and the origins of all things, and that if science can't yet answer all our questions, just give science time. Statements like these make me think that real wisdom died with the ancient Greeks because Plato would have been very amused at such assumptions. And it wasn't as though science didn't exist in Plato's time. They were already working with very advanced concepts in geometry. Eratosthenes had actually managed to calculate the Earth's circumference by the 3rd century BC to within 15% accuracy. Aristotle probably knew more about zoology (a science he practically invented) than any man who ever lived. Earth science, biology, and botany all had their start in ancient Greece. But those Greeks were smart enough to know that science always introduces more questions than it answers. Plato would have told us that the world would always be in need of fresh myths.

Myths vaguely explain the unexplainable in wispy, shadowy terms like dream symbolism. God sends us these myths through various means. They can come by way of imagination, meditational states, dreaming, real life strings of coincidences where it seems the world is trying to tell you something, or through the observance of animals and nature.

A few years ago I was watching the 70s sci-fi movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, certainly one of the very best films ever made about alien encounters with man. As I was watching, I came to two realizations. One is that our generation's stories about space aliens are a new kind of mythology. There are a few tales here and there about visitors from space found among ancient legends but certainly not anywhere near the level our age has produced. Whether there really are intelligent non-spiritual life forms (beings composed of matter like us rather than ghostly types of beings) outside of Earth I wouldn't venture to guess. But there have been so many tales of encounters with space aliens that even if these tales come only by way of trance states, dreams, or imagination we still have to wonder what these stories are trying to tell us. Even if people are just tapping into the world of imagination, that world is ruled by God too. We have to consider that he may be sending us a new myth. We should ask ourselves, what is the purpose of this new myth? While I do believe the many, many stories of space aliens and UFO encounters are a kind of new mythology for our age, I have yet to discover its deepest meanings.

The other realization I came to while watching the movie was the way myths come to us in this hazy sort of state. In the story, certain people around the world were having visionary experiences that were very undefined. They would see an object shaped a certain way, kind of like a small mound, and it would remind them of something, but they couldn't quite figure out what that something was. A man would be shaving and look down at the mound shape of cream in his hand before putting it on his face and realize it meant something. A person might be eating mashed potatoes and instinctively push them together to form a mound shape without knowing why. Another person might be driving by a haystack and have that same vague recollection of something. People started trying to better define what this something was. They would try to draw it over and over or make clay models etc. Some of them eventually managed to get a form that satisfied them. They all created the exact same shape that looked just like Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, which ended up being the place where the space aliens landed.

I think this is very much the way God introduces myths to mankind. These symbols may come through dreams, real-life experiences, or any number of other ways. We should be on our guard when we notice many individuals all encountering the same manifestations of what may or may not be imagination, but which seem more symbolic than anything. They will generally be something that gives you a vague sense of having come from another world. As fortune would have it, I just finished rereading Arthur C Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey last week and started on CS Lewis' The Magician's Nephew a few days ago. They both contain passages that to me convey the same mythical message even though the two storylines are quite different.

From Clarke's story:

David Bowman, an astronaut, is flying in a space pod toward a mysterious object. It's a giant monolith nearly a mile high resting on Saturn's moon--Japetus. He tries to land on it and instead feels himself sinking into it. As he does so he can see that inside this slab of darkness there are innumerable stars. Time begins to slow down as well. It says, "The seconds themselves were passing with incredible slowness, as if time itself were coming to a stop. At last, the tenth-of-a-second counter froze between 5 and 6." Eventually he comes out into another world. Whether it's merely another part of our universe or another universe altogether he can't say for sure:

He was emerging from the tunnel. ... At the same time, he felt that he was moving upward.... But even before the space pod soared out into the open he knew that this place had nothing to do with Japetus, or with any world within the experience of man. ... He must be above a world of enormous size--perhaps one much larger than Earth. Yet despite its extent, all the surface that Bowman could see was tessellated into obviously artificial patterns that must have been miles on a side. It was like the jigsaw puzzle of a giant that played with planets; and at the centers of many of those squares and triangles and polygons were gaping black shafts--twins of the chasm from which he had just emerged. a flash of insight that might have been wholly spurious, he knew what this thing must surely be. It was some kind of cosmic switching device, routing the traffic of the stars through unimaginable dimensions of space and time. He was passing through a Grand Central Station of the galaxy.

So imagine an artificial planet that has upon its surface thousands of giant domino-shaped monoliths, each of them routing you to a different world or a different part of our world. We're never really made clear on that. At the book's end we certainly find David Bowman living in a totally different kind of existence, yet he can still find his way back to Earth anytime he desires. He's living in a very strange form of non-material existence now.

From CS Lewis story:

Two children, Digory and Polly, have found that all the houses on their street are connected together with no space between them. There's a passageway in the attics, a small space close to the roofline that will allow you to crawl from house to house. Climbing through it, they accidentally come out into Digory's house but in the upper room where his uncle lives. The uncle is a typical freemason magician wannabe who thinks he knows things that he doesn't. He does, however, have in his possession a set of rings that will bring you to and from another world. Both children put on the yellow rings and end up in something like a small pool, but you can breath in this pool and you don't get wet. It comes up into a wooded area that appears to be another kind of reality that's very dreamlike and is described as a place where nothing ever happens:

The pool he [Digory] had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others--a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. ... This wood was very much alive.

"What's the matter?" said Polly.

"I've just had a really wonderful idea," said Digory. " What
are all the other pools?"

"How do you mean?"

"Why, if we can get back to our own world by jumping into this pool, mightn't we get somewhere else by jumping into one of the others? Supposing there was a world at the bottom of every pool."

"You mean, this wood might be only one of them?"

"No, I don't believe this wood is a world at all. I think it's just a sort of in-between place." ... Think of our tunnel under the slates at home. It isn't a room in any of the houses. In a way, it isn't really part of any of the houses. But once you're in the tunnel you can go along it and come out into any of the houses in the row. Mightn't this wood be the same?--a place that isn't in any of the worlds, but once you've found that place you can get into them all." ... "And of course that explains everything," he said. "That's why it is so quiet and sleepy here. Nothing ever happens here. like at home. It's in the houses that people talk, and do things, and have meals. Nothing goes on in the in-between places....

"The wood between the worlds," said Polly dreamily. "It sounds rather nice."

Lewis says a little later: "It seems to be always the same time in the Wood between the Worlds." So, like in Clarke's story, this sort of switching station is a place of no-time.

Now in the case of the Lewis story it seems rather obvious that he's giving a short lecture on the out-of-body experience taking you to another world and the trancelike sleep state you need to attain that kind of journey. However, he also makes it clear throughout the Narnia tales that you should never try to enter these worlds on your own, but rather, you should wait to be drawn in by Aslan if you're to go at all. He's obviously read his MacDonald.

The Clarke story is of course a little different, yet at the same time we have here two tales expressing doorways into new worlds and the unknown. We also find in both Clarke's novel and the Narnia tales a new world that's coming into view which will change our current world. A new heavens and earth so to speak. And it is in these other worlds that we find the beings (either God or godlike) who truly run our own world and bring it into being.

How did these two authors end up writing stories about trips to other worlds through holes in reality in much the same way? I really don't think Clarke borrowed from Lewis on this (although they did correspond from time to time). And they aren't the only ones. For instance, there is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called "The Library of Babel" which is about a cosmic library that represents the universe, which in turn represents not only multidimensional space and time, but the building blocks of reality on every level:

The universe (which others call the library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries. In the center of each gallery is a ventilation shaft, bounded by a low railing. From any hexagon one can see the floors above and below--one after another, endlessly. The arrangement of the galleries is always the same: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon's six sides.... One of the hexagon's free sides opens onto a narrow sort of vestibule, which in turn opens onto another gallery, identical to the first--identical in fact to all. To the left and right of the vestibule are two tiny compartments. ... Through this space, too, there passes a spiral staircase, which winds upward and downward into the remotest distance. ... (Mystics claim that their secret ecstasies reveal to them a circular chamber containing an enormous circular book with a continuous spine that goes completely around the walls. But their testimony is suspect, their words obscure. That cyclical book is God.) Let it suffice for the moment that I repeat the classic dictum: The Library is a sphere whose exact center is any hexagon and whose circumference is unattainable.

Men for ages have searched through the library trying to find the meaning of life etc. It contains all the mysteries of the world. Now you may look at the passage from Borges and not see any connection to either of the other stories. But I think most of you will feel there is a certain something being conveyed that is somehow related, and yet you can't say why. Well that is precisely how the symbols of myth come into the world. What does it all mean, these infinite spaces, infinite worlds, and travel between them? Does it relate at all to the space alien myth our age has produced as well? I really don't have an answer. But I feel there's one coming. We are experiencing a myth in the making, and that myth has to do with a remaking of the world. Perhaps God is merely trying to give us a sense of destiny. Mankind cannot go on existing without one.


Jesse Akers said...

I have my own theories about actual alien encounters- and they arent very well shaped or thought out- however I do connect deeply with the "in between places" in a sort of way- have i told you about my dream involving my childhood imaginary farm and the raven who stopped me from plummeting to my death? PS- send me a message on youtube i forget about these blogs!

C W Seper said...

Yeah, I remember about that raven.