Saturday, December 1, 2007

More about Human Myths and Divinity

In the 18th century, a philosopher named Gianbattista Vico developed his 'Scienza Nuova' or 'New Science' posulating the principle that the human mind is incapable of fathoming anything except what it itself has made. God and Nature therefore are beyond comprehension, and the only study proper to mankind is its own history in effect.

According to Vico, the ingredients of mythogenesis were four elements: creative imagination, religious inspiration, natural phenomena and the structural organisation of society. Durkheim later extended this philosophy to encompass a theory to the effect that significant social and cultural realities were 'collectively represented' by supernatural beings and concepts.

If indeed that which is truly Divine and that which is known by us as Nature both are beyond our comprehension, then all religion and mythology is nothing more than the history of mankind in its various aspects. Our actions, our victories and our failures, that which we have created and that which we have destroyed, our impulses towards order and impulses towards chaos... all these are combined with tales of our greatest heroes and villains to fashion what is known as Myth.

Muller, a pioneer in the discipline of comparative mythology through the study of philology, focused on the interrelationships among knowledge, metaphor, symbol and myth. Knowledge must be perceived as intentional existence. It is both process and object, in becoming the thing known without ceasing to be itself. By metaphoric translation of the unknown into that which is familiar, knowledge expands and the interplay generates symbols that acquire new meaning through the process of recombination.

In its early stages, myth involves the contraction of raw elements of experience into a single concrete symbol charged with significance, a symbol that he designated as 'diaphor'. Through language, scholars have been able to follow the threads of mythic development across continents and centuries. The 'Aryan' or 'Indo-European' prototype has been traced to destinations as diverse as Scandinavia, ancient Greece and Scythia.

Inevitably, however, in the same way that whispered phrases are mutilated and transformed when carried from voice to voice in an old parlour game, names and concepts relating to divinity can be changed almost to the point of non-recognition as they pass from culture to culture and aeon to aeon. Muller recognised the effects of the process wherein abstract symbols could follow the same line of semantic development, resulting in concepts satisfying on a spiritual level that yet ultimately would bear no relation to experience. In Muller's own words, these concepts thereby degenerated into mere names rather than an explanation of anything real, 'nomina' rather than 'numina'.

No matter how we study or explain the history and progression of mythology and religion, we nonetheless must be reconciled to the primary principle expounded by Vico: our studies bring us closer only to comprehension of our own species and its development. Comprehension of the Divine continues to elude us.

Even purists who seek to study verifiable myth may be confused by popular fiction written or created for entertainment purposes. Who is to say that the 'sacred' texts found as Ras Shamra or the tales encapsulated in 'Biblical' books were considered 'sacred' at the time of their conception? They may have been popular tales that brushed on religion but were not accepted as 'doctrine' in any way.

The Scandinavian Eddas are accepted generally as the closest 'original sources' where Northern religion is concerned. A recent series of video games entitled 'Valkyrie Profile' purports to embody Norse mythology and yet diverges from the ancient tales in many respects. A character named Lord Brahms who is Lord of the Undead was introduced into the mythic cycle by the creators of the games. In 200 or 300 years, if these games or memory of them survive, it is possible that Lord Brahms will be assimilated into the 'original' cast of characters by scholars attempting to recreate the ancient Scandinavian religion from existing sources. Could academics of our era be making similar errors by treating 'original sources' as definitive religious documents?

'Valkyrie Profile' in many respects is very true to the 'spirit' of the old Northern religion and explains concepts such as Yggdrasil and Ragnarok in a sophisticated and compelling fashion. Is it any less of a true 'mythological' source than any ancient source? Myth is a combination of history and fiction created to explain and inspire.

Tolkien in writing 'Lord of the Rings' always declared that he did not write fiction per se but rather sought to reconstruct the 'lost' mythology of the British Isles. Surely his vision of Middle Earth, embraced now by thousands, is as 'real' as any of the tales of ancient Greece.

In exploring the nature of myth and religion, I suddenly realised that Christianity alone attempts to equate 'myth' and 'history' in the life of Christ. Other religions offer a series of tales that never would be required to stand or fall on dates and 'hard facts'. It is in fact doubtful that the story of Christ was intended to be taken literally initially. It is only through the dogma of organised churches that it has become fossilised and immured in a rather spurious 'historical' literalism. Due to these unfortunate efforts, it may be possible for faith to be eroded for some by evidence that disproves one of the 'facts' used to define the 'life of Christ'.

What on earth does it matter if Jesus or Isa were single or married? 'Son of God' and 'Son of Man' are titles given throughout the history of humanity to a god-man or man-god who stands between heaven and earth, who acts as a conduit between heaven and earth. Humanity does not possess all the secrets of all the mysteries of the universe. Christianity is only a part of the never-ending story of the relationship between humanity and the Divine.

The idea that any religion somehow could hold the only key to a portal that none of us can claim to have opened or passed through is slightly absurd. Be that as it may, however, it is once again Second Life and other virtual realities that is the object of my own speculation with respect to the nature of myth and its creation.

A virtual reality such as Second Life is participatory art. It therefore could act as a means by which an individual can experience the heroic man-god or god-man role.

Passion Plays achieved this for Christianity from century to century. Individuals re-enacted the mystery of the Eternal Sacrifice. Christianity was not the initiator of this type of drama. The ancient Greeks and Romans had similar rituals. These sacred dramas occurred in Sumer and Egypt as well.

In Second Life, the element of physical suffering may not exist but it seems to me that the emotional and spiritual component could be as powerful as anything in our own world, provided the necessary conditions were met.

In romance, hearts are broken regularly in Second Life and individuals meet, marry and divorce with all the emotional passion with which these interactions are imbued in reality. Is it possible to interact with the Divine with similar passion in a virtual reality?

I do not know the answer to this but it certainly deserves serious exploration. Why should it not be possible for an individual to assume the classical role of hero in the form of man-god or god-man to participate in the ancient mysteries? What if grottoes were created in Second Life, not for sexual interactions but in order to provide a conduit for the ultimate mystery of death and rebirth?

The discovery of the Lupercalia on Palatine Hill makes me wish that a talented builder in Second Life might attempt to reconstruct a sacred site like this. With lighting, sound and the addition of ancient works of art in the form of mosaics or frescoes, a brilliant builder or artist could allow individuals to experience sacred mysteries that have gathered dust in the dim recesses of memory for thousands of years.

There are historical reconstructions in Second Life. There is a sim that recreates ancient Roma. There are churches and cathedrals that have counterparts in this world. What is lacking to some extent, in my view, is the dramatic human component but that need not be the case. It is only a question of harnessing human energy to fulfil a spiritual goal.

There are groups that enact dramas in Second Life and role-playing sims are not uncommon. What if they went a step further, however, to enact ancient sacred mysteries?

I am fascinated with ancient mystery religions but contemporary religion could benefit from increased participation in dramatic scenes in virtual reality.
The season of Advent is here. It would not be difficult to create a live interactive Nativity scene in Second Life. In fact, it would be possible to reenact the entire Advent drama. Performers do this increasingly in our world during the Christmas season. There are live Nativity displays that include real animals as well as human beings who take upon themselves the roles of the members of the Holy Family.

What if individuals could make a pilgrimage to the cave or stable where Christ was born, experiencing the journey as well as the ultimate triumph of finding the Son of God in human form? There are couples who have babies in Second Life. Why not use the technology to recreate a sacred drama?

A major network took a murder series to Second Life recently, allowing residents to join detective forces in a search to uncover murderers. To me, the potential to create spiritual experiences in Second Life is far more exciting. It only remains for some one with the technical expertise to bring it to virtual reality.

Myth is an ever-changing form of creative endeavour in the same way that human history continues to change from generation to generation. As our perception of the past changes and new 'facts' are unearthed and translated, history itself changes. Mythology being the spiritual history of humanity, it continues its own metamorphosis from age to age.

The ability to participate in myth in virtual realities such as Second Life ultimately must reshape the form that our mythology takes. Great novels and video games have redefined our myths to some extent but the ability to interact with other human beings and their visions in virtual reality surely has incredible untapped potential to increase our understanding of all mystery religions and ancient myths.

One can BE anything in virtual realities. One can experience any landscape and immerse onself in almost ANY type of experience. This ultimately could lead to a type of experience that is beyond anything hitherto encountered by our species.

Virtual reality, however, is nothing more than a tool. A transcendental spiritual experience in ANY world requires an incredible leap of faith and determination.

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