“Your spirit is also a dream-maker because human beings must dream. We have to dream and imagine and take flight into the other worlds. We are not meant to dwell in the physical world for long periods of time. We come into the physical world for temporary visits. Most of our consciousness remains in the invisible or timeless realm, the dimension of the cosmos. We create stories and myths and religions that allow us to somehow gain access to that realm while we are here in the physical state. All the while, however, the spirit within us slips easily into this realm through the flying carpet of the imagination.” Caroline Myss
I started reading Pathways to Bliss because it is Joseph Campbell who coined the phrase: “follow your bliss.” So, of course, one would find a map, a pathway to bliss here. After all, isn’t that what we are all after? Bliss?
Instead in chapter one, “The Necessity of Rites,” I am introduced to our modern “calamity.” He explains that because our current myths are not fulfilling all four primary functions of myth, we are floundering. The calamity needs to be addressed in order to know bliss.
Toward that end what follows is a summary of Campbell’s explanation of the four primary functions of myth. We can then know which functions our myths are not fulfilling and work on regaining function. When we live in the function, this is the path to follow.
However, before we can begin this enumeration, we must recognize that myth evolves out of our need to evade, avoid, deny the first law of existence. I quote at length because the poetry of his explanation carries the explanation.
Now, life lives on life. Its first law is, now I’ll eat you, now you eat me–quite something for consciousness to assimilate. This business of life living on life–on death–had been in process for billions of years before eyes opened and became aware of what was going on out there, long before Homo sapien’s appearance in the universe. The organs of life had evolved to depend on the death of others for their existence. These organs have impulses of which your consciousness isn’t even aware; when it becomes aware of them, you may become scared that this eat-or-be-eaten horror is what you are.
Myth functions to “reconcile consciousness” of this “horrendous presence,” this raw fact of life of which during our waking hours we prefer being unaware.
The four functions of myth are:
1. “To evoke in the individual a sense of grateful, affirmative awe before the monstrous mystery that is existence.”
2. “To present an image of the cosmos that will maintain your sense of mystical awe and explain everything that you come into contact with in the universe around you.”
3. “To validate and maintain a certain sociological system: a shared set of rights and wrongs, proprieties or improprieties, in which your particular social unit depends for its existence.”
4. “To carry the individual through the stages of his life, from birth through maturity through senility to death.”
So the first order of myth simply affirms life to “its rotten, horrendous base.” This is accepting life on its own terms and in no way “world-negating.” I think for the modern sensibility this seems contradictory. In fact, it is the paradox that what we call primitive man readily accepts. It is reverence for existence at its roots. When your meat is not served in plastic, you accept that life lives on death and you are in that cycle. As Campbell says, “World-weariness comes later, with people who are living high on the hog.”
The second order of myth is to create a cosmology, which science and religion have taken over. The third order of myth is sociological. And the fourth order of myth is psychological.
Functions two and three are in large part controlled by society. We go along for the bloody ride that is the journey we call history. Our focus as individuals is on function number one and four.
However, “civilized” cultures control or deny awe, an issue we will come to later. But without awe there is no motivator other than world-negating. The reverence of awe that puts us in flow when we surrender to it unwittingly becomes for the individual a struggle against culture.
And the fourth function is in dispute. The rites that take you through the stages of our lives are not servicing our needs. Thus we become neurotics.
Because we are so dependent on family and tribe for survival, we learn to think in terms of those primary relationships. However, what has evolved in the Western culture is the expectation of and need for critical thinking, which requires independence from authority. This contradiction causes personal turmoil. It is in fact, part of the uniquely Western and relatively very new dilemma of developing an individual personality.
Herein lies the necessity for rites. Rites lead us from dependence to independence. However, because our rites are no longer sufficient for transitioning us, we are in need of re-establishing them. This underlying issue is readily recognizable in the recent town hall meetings about medical care reform.
I went out to buy groceries and came back with a book. I forgot the groceries. But in my life, the two are almost synonymous. I went into the bookstore to find The Sacred Contract of America by Caroline Myss. Not in the store–would have to order. Too hungry. Browsed through the shelves and found this gem: Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation from the collected works of Joseph Campbell.
Bliss is what I believe we all seek: “. . . bliss is: that deep sense of being present, of doing what you absolutely must do to be yourself.” In our culture, most of us have lost the model for finding bliss because we do not have the guides to show us how to get there. Or even more disheartening, we chase the almighty dollar thinking that it will take us there. But as we are experiencing here in America, that plan does not work so well because one day you can wake up and the money is gone. And with it, your attempts at bliss. True bliss comes from having one foot in the here and now and one foot in the eternal. And it is myth that serves as our guide.
He suggests the first place to look if you are feeling lost, unable to find your bliss, is to look to the myths of your childhood. They are there whether you accepted or rejected them. I rejected my cultural myths and have spent a lifetime looking to replace them. Ironically, it looks as if the country I live in has caught up with me. She seems to have lost her myths as a loud and confused cadre attempts to taut the symbol of the myth as the myth. They are lost in their own hall of mirrors not understanding that the myth is “transparent to the transcendent.” They espouse one myth as THE myth thereby losing the transcendent quality of the myth. “And one of the problems with the popularization of religious ideas is that the god becomes a final fact and is no longer intself transparent to the transcendent.”