“The last time I saw him I asked him if he still believed—as he had once written—‘that we are at this moment participating in one of the very greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery.’
He thought a minute and answered, ‘The greatest ever.’”—Bill Moyers, introduction to his conversations with Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
It’s a book I’ve bought and given away at least a half dozen times. Essential reading for anyone who desires to be a part of the ‘greatest leap’ forward Campbell refers to.
Still fringe stuff though, for the most part.
We humans cling to what we know with every stitch of emotional, spiritual, and physical strength. If there’s one thing to be learnt from the reading of history it’s that we resist change and need be dragged to it kicking and screaming.
In my part of the world it’s Christianity that need be transcended. Not jettisoned as many would have it, because it just comes rushing back in through the window so to speak. That’s what happened with the French and Russian Revolutions. Transcendence, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.
It means fully grasping, comprehending, and incorporating something into the deepest roots of one’s being, and then moving on. It means forgetting the words that hem a subject in and simply living it to its utmost, and what’s more though, in the act of living recognizing clearly the commonalty in all subjects—the common root of all subjects… Life!
In the case of Christianity, just like Islam, Judaism, Buddhism—you name it—it hangs over our heads, weighs on our hearts and minds and souls, and yet with all the study and scholarship of a millennia, remains utterly and completely misunderstood.
What called it forth, what yearning in us humans—at that particular point in place and time, mind you—awakened it in our beings? And what’s more, what was called forth and began tentatively to take shape in Judea was not what was called forth and took more or less definitive shape in Rome.
We sort of understand that part, some of us at least. But the next part, the transference of Christianity from the dying world of Rome to the nascent one of Europe is a huge stumbling block for our understanding, our emotional and spiritual equilibrium, and our ability to transcend our current limitations.
Nietzsche, with his “God is Dead” meme, and indeed with all his writings, was knocking on the door. Spengler took it up, developed the notion of ‘Pseudomorphosis’, but drew back from its most crucial ramification to us Westerners. Whether he just didn’t get there or he did indeed draw back out of uncharacteristic timidity, we’ll probably never know. Either way, he threw the door open, a Herculean task, but didn’t quite step across the threshold.
Here’s where I come into the picture. In my early twenties, on my own, I read Spengler, eventually drawing the inevitable conclusions, and began to take the first tentative steps through the door. Alone for years, I played inside the threshold, wondering if I was the only man alive to have done so.
That can be unsettling, isolating, believe me.
But then there, in a dusty corner, was a copy of Joseph Campbell’s Creative Mythology! I wasn’t alone!
What is this room I speak of?
It is the knowledge and understanding that Christianity is NOT native to our Western European soul and culture. That it was imposed forcibly upon us—that we forcibly imposed it upon ourselves—burying our own innate and youthful sense of self beneath the weight and gravity of its maturity of outlook. We throttled what was true and integral in ourselves and sent it underground, to be passed on from generation to generation surreptitiously and circumspectly, beneath the surface of our Art and Literature lest it be sought out and punished, extirpated. This has been going on for a thousand years and has sunk so profoundly into our psyche we barely realize how affective its consequences remain to this day.
But I see it everywhere. Why the beguiling fascination with the worlds of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings? Because they are remnants from that forgotten and buried youth.
We are searching, for ourselves, and participating this very moment in what Campbell termed: “[the] greatest leaps of the human spirit to a knowledge not only of outside nature but also of our own deep inward mystery.”
Man, it’s good to be alive!