With Andrew Neuendorf's article The Singularity is Near-Sighted: Joseph Campbell's Vision for the Internet Age being front and center this week, I thought it was a good time to reprint a crazily awesome and long comment that Jeremy Johnson posted on his There Be Dragons! article (in response to a question from me).
Jeremy's both aware of and takes part in a mythic-revival movement that's emerging in many forms. I thought he'd be a good source to introduce myself and others at Beams to this new field, so I asked him if he could do that, and I was not disappointed (!). I personally look forward to delving more fully into this growing body of work and to integrating some of it into my own over time. Here's that epic comment printed in full, it's just too rich to not post again (I've added a few random mythic images for fun). thanks again Jeremy!
I'd love to share a bit of my adventures into these mythic-revival communities. The gist of their philosophy is a revival of the imagination and the esoteric in a technocratic and hyper-rational culture, which avoids delving too deeply into either the unconscious or the mystical. If there are many paths to a spiritual awakening, or transformation, then I suppose you could say the fascination with myth is a vehicle and path for transcendence and connectivity with the divine.
Imagination and mysticism, creativity and the Creator have always gone hand in hand. So these folks are interested in the same passions that are present in Blake's poetry or in the strange imagination of the medieval alchemists.
Myth is relevant for us because it informs us about ourselves. It is an excellent teacher and often contains within it infinite interpretations and paths (a myth is never singular, it's like the many arms of shiva - always revealing something and always re-contextualizing itself). This is the wonder of the imagination, or what Henry Corbin called the "imaginalis mundi." It has a sort of ontological status, or dimension to itself. And it is often more than the waking, conscious egoic consciousness can contain. So we have to go into altered states, like a dream or a stream-of-consciousness painting, or an artist's vision of a painting, in order to access it. And even then, sometimes the imagination is so densely packed with insight and paradox its insight is not recognized immediately.
Premodern societies sort of used the imagination as a kind of "given," in the same way scientists use their assumptions about material reality and reason as a "given" in which to work out knowledge. So our ancestors used the imagination quite naturally in order to know the world, as [John David] Ebert so aptly pointed out. The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss wrote that there are two kinds of science: intuitive and rational. The latter is what we have today, based upon a limited causality (x specifically causes y). But the former is an infinite causality, in which one thing is connected to all things in a seamless web of meaning. Neither intuitive science nor rational science alone are the answer to our modern predicament. The elite of the past had an inner science of Pythagoras and the music of the spheres to work with, today we have geneticists and engineers and quantum physicists. In many ways, the mythic imagination is the mirror opposite of our contemporary world's scientific imagination. But that's just it, both are mirrors of each other. Science is mythic in its narratives, myth is scientific in its dreaming. I find this inter-penetrating to be the most fascinating aspect!
What I find to be the most hopeful about contemporary science, which has taken the role of myth, is that it can potentially decentralize knowledge - now there will always be a priestly class, so to speak, but their role in relationship to the rest of society can change. Priests can be mystics, as the shaman was to the tribe. So I'm hoping that the transparency of the information age (hopefully transparent) will decentralize the scientist, so he is not merely someone inventing our future at MIT but also working locally to transform human life for the better, and in accordance with the rest of the biosphere. If the scientist is the mirror image of the ancient priest, can he/she now become the mirror image of the mystic?
And that's another challenge the mystic has always had. There has never been a time where mysticism was the right of all, accessible and transparent to all. The secrets of Pythagoras were never given to the world openly. It remained for an educated upper class. Esotericism has never truly been democratized. So maybe in this age, with the return of myth as an important recognized dimension of reality, of the human experience, we can bring the two together. Mystics an scientists, artists and engineers. The inner and outer worlds, really.
I guess the one dimension that's often missed today, because of our bias as a technocratic society, is the importance of the unconscious and the imagination. These societies are attempting to incorporate those very things in order to create a more holistic culture.
So what some of these communities are trying to do is create a kind of Esoteric Renaissance: http://www.esalenctr.org/display/ren.cfm ~ Scarlet Imprint, an esoteric publishing house, has a good article about the recent Breaking Convention, a multidisciplinary meeting on psychedelic consciousness: http://scarletimprint.blogspot.com/2011/04/cognitive-sovereignty-breaking.html
Then there was the Daimonic Imagination Conference:
"Anthropologists, Jungians, philosophers and historians all rubbed elbow patches, and none questioned the existence of the Daimon, but rather how we can meaningfully discuss the experience. It was a delightful banquet of parthenogenesis and psychedelics, fairies and Ficino. Debate and conversation was lively and well intentioned, the boundaries between disciplines were found to be permeable."
Finally there is Weaponized, a publishing house which just released The Immanence of Myth, a big collaborative publication on mythology in the modern world. I'd recommend that as a great place to start (at least check out the introduction, and free chapters they offer): http://www.weaponized.net/post/9410759757/weaponized-is-proud-to-announce-that-the
"Thinkers such as Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, Karl Kerenyi, and many others have helped to popularize an awareness of the psychological significance of archaic myth inside, as well as outside, the ivory tower of academia. However, the vast majority of their work has been focused on understanding and legitimizing the myths of the past.
The Immanence of Myth uses a deep but also conversational, honest and even subversive approach towards looking at the issue of mythology in our lives today, especially as the book moves towards personal mythology and conversations with current mythic artists."
A few examples I've come across (though in no way limited to this...)
Modern Mythology - http://www.modernmythology.net/
An excellent blog writing about contemporary issues, like politics or media or the mythic dimensions of the super hero.
Sophia Perennis - http://www.sophiaperennis.com/
A hub of Perennialist scholars. They are extremely well read and you will find some great works there. Just be wary of their dismissive attitude towards evolution and anything contemporary. They really romanticize premodern societies, because they rightly point out modern societies have lost a sense of the sacred and no longer hold transcendence to be at the core of their societies. I've found this to be a challenge, because with their knowledge, I can think of no better position to be in to do a jig with the scientists and find parallels between myth and science.
The Eyeless Owl is a great blog by a friend of mine, David Metcalfe (he did the logo art for EL).
His blog varies in subject but he is widely read in esoteric and traditional works. Overall, he is as enthusiastic in an esoteric/mythical revival or renaissance in the modern day, re-contextualized for the 21st century but without losing the potency of esoteric traditions.
Esalen Center's Esoteric Renaissance: http://www.esalenctr.org/display/ren.cfm
Phoenix Rising Academy: Esoteric Studies, Creative Arts
http://phoenixrising.org.gr/ - See the founder's interview with David Metcalfe: Art, Initiation, and the Inner Ontological Shift: http://theeyelessowl.wordpress.com/2011/02/14/749/
Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung are all excellent places to start. Unlike some of their proponents, each of these thinkers can produce wonderful fruits when placed in the same garden as scientific and contemporary authors (There be Dragons, and Ebert's article are a perfect example). But someone who definitely weaves them all together is Bill Thompson and his work, Falling Bodies, Imaginary Landscape, and Coming into Being.
Anyhow, this answer is so long! Did I get all the questions?
Thanks for your input Trevor, this is always exciting to explore in dialogue.
All the best,