“They are stuck with their metaphor and don’t realize it’s reference. They haven’t allowed the circle that surrounds them to open. It is a closed circle. Each group says, ‘We are the chosen group, and we have God.'”—Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
We live within ‘em, derive our identity—our sense of self—from them.
Their horizon is the boundary between the known, the accepted, and the often enough willfully unknown.
Gaze too long beyond the boundary and you run the risk of seeing the Other’s point of view. Not a bad thing you might think, and of course I’d agree, only, in doing so you threaten to undermine the sanctity, sap the foundation, from your own “in group’s” set of values, morals, and beliefs. Taboos are taboos for a reason. And circles have subtle as well as unsubtle ways of defending themselves.
“Would you put New Wine in old skins?” metaphored Jesus, who’s teaching acted as a circle dissolvent. We all know what became of that. Said circle nailed him to a cross.
We’re still talking pre-Christian stuff here, so don’t get it all confused with what came after. In the years following his death other men and women (mostly men), took the flotsam of his recorded words and moulded them into another circle, a new skin—what became Christianity.
Actually, the Christian proto-circles grew within the confines of a dying Mega-circle, the Roman Empire. For what is a death and resurrection but a dying to an old outworn circle, with the consequent loss of identity that entails, and a being born into a new one?
So now we’re talking three circles: one, Judaism, hard and long established; two, Christianity, young and struggling for life within a crumbling third: the rotting-from-the-core Roman Empire.
By 400 AD or so the Christian circle, riding the husk of Rome, had gained dominance across a wide swath of the Western world.
But here’s where the story gets complicated, and much of it has to do with the limitations of our own circle.
Rome falls, is washed over by Germanic invaders—our ancestors, who undoubtedly had their own living and fully functioning circle. Only their circle was more primitive so to speak, reliant less on the written, citified word than an oral tradition passed from one druidic bard to another.
The written word, backed by the decayed majesty of Rome, won out, and the Germanic peoples, again, our ancestors, lost their centre—their selves.
And that is where we find ourselves today. Lost within a circle that has become our own, but was not our’s from the beginning.
However, all is not lost. Remember the death and resurrection? A closed circle only imprisons if we allow it to. We are free to leave at any time. Examples abound: James Joyce recounts his own death and resurrection in A Portrait and Ulysses; Henry Miller in his Rosy Crucifixion.
Both occupy top shelf space here at the Omphalos Cafe.
Different circle, different hub.