art, books, Buddhism, culture, education, God, history, Joseph Campbell, Life, Oswald Spengler, philosophy, poetry, Pseudomorphosis, religion, spirituality, The Decline of the West, The Masks Of God, Zen
Ok, on numerous occasions I’ve insisted that Joseph Campbell’s four volume series, The Masks Of God, is the most wide ranging, profoundest piece of writing of the twentieth century. I’ve come to that conclusion after thirty-five years of self-study, reading and exploration you might say, unbiased and unconstrained by the dictates of school, dogma, or the pursuit of any sort of gain besides wisdom.
So why Campbell’s Masks Of God?
Three reasons easily spring to mind.
First is the grand sweep of his psycho-spiritual history from the very dawn of humankind, say a million years or even more ago! right up to the present. I love such an all-encompassing view, for nothing materializes from nothing, everything is a flowing fertilization, birthing and growing to maturity from what came before. To comprehend ourselves today we must have at least a rudimentary grasp of the past, for all Life is in flow, and we are, despite the limitations of our static thought, one with that flow.
Secondly, his volume one of the series, Primitive Mythology, after a decade of solitary reading and study was an absolute revelation for me with his notion of what he called ‘innate releasing mechanisms.’ Big words comprising the bridge between our biological roots in the animal and plant kingdoms and who we are today. They are the dream-like links back from our conscious ‘thinking’ selves to the instinctual ground of our beings, and as such, they are the very foundational symbols sleeping in our hearts and psyches, waiting for the chance to pore their energies into the plain of action in our lives. They are the symbolic language of all poetry and art worthy of our reverence.
And the third reason is specific to our declining, or perhaps I should say ‘subsiding,’ Western Culture become Civilization. You see, through my twenties I read and reread Oswald Spengler’s monumental world poem The Decline Of The West. In it for the first time he proposed the notion of historical ‘pseudomorphoses.’ That is, the phenomenon of a heavier, perhaps more technologically advanced culture lying over another younger one, imposing its ideas, ways and customs, beliefs and ‘Gods’ upon a conquered foreign peoples having their own, though not yet fully realized and expressed sense of ‘Godhead.’ Spengler pointed to the nascent ‘Magian’ cultures of the Middle East covered over by first the Alexandrian Greeks and then the Roman Empire. Under such conquerors the younger peoples struggle to find expression for their innermost sense of reality and self, and grow to hate the dominant culture until they finally manage to overthrow it and come into the full light of their own true being and worth.
I read and mulled that idea over. It seemed so straightforward to me, like a parent imposing a Medical or Law degree on an essentially artistic son or daughter, trying to jam a round peg into a square hole.
But then I made a leap, which for some reason or another (probably the fear of censorship), Spengler hadn’t made. Couldn’t that pseudomorphosis describe our own Western Civilization, with a foreign institution deriving from a collapsed Ancient Rome, namely the Roman Catholic Church, lying massively over our nascent Northern European world? Couldn’t that explain the thousand year long schism in our soul, the yawning gap between Western Civilization’s truly creative representatives and the often times ferocious response from the doctrinal and dogmatic fortress of the Church?
Alone for five or ten years I carried the idea of a ‘Western Pseudomorphosis’ around. To me it was huge and undeniable, and yet to my knowledge no one else had thought of it. Was I crazy?
And then I chanced upon Joseph Campbell, and there it was in volume four of his Masks Of God, Creative Mythology!
I wasn’t crazy.
Ok, not totally crazy….
Ain’t Life a gift!