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dave talbott - one story, many myths


"Alien Sky" -
Questioning the Myths in our Religions, Part 2
by David Talbott

December 23, 2009
After quoting substantially from my previous article, a reader and friend stated his "complete disagreement" with the heart of the piece:
Mankind is deeply enslaved to the worst of the fruit of the myth making epic. Altruism, which is a centerpiece at the heart of the "ONENESS" [a saturnian concept if there ever was one] in all the religions, is nothing more than a continuation of the compulsory duty to the Gods. To offer sacrifice so that one may appease the whim of a power whose actions transcends ones comprehension in order that one may attain a hope of a lost state of perfection and divine order is central to the religious themes you give exception.
His note emphasized again the importance of communication on sensitive issues raised by "Symbols of an Alien Sky." There will be no escaping the necessity of reconsidering assumptions on all sides of these issues. Below is my response:

Hi James,

If I understand your question, you are asking on what basis I distinguish spiritual discernment from the roots of myth.

I do indeed hold that all meaningful "spiritual principles" constitute a liberation from the myth-making epoch, and the point seems quite obvious to me. If the principles were not a break from the momentum of mythological interpretation, they would not be meaningful. Like the mythic archetypes, the "universality" of certain spiritual principles can be confirmed by objective investigation, but that's not a reason to believe any of them, only a reason to ask the question, From what source did this unusual agreement arise? Did it arise from some external provocation, or possibly from a less coercive, less noisy, less disturbed heart of knowing within every human being?

As a rule, I think itís essential to invite people who are following the reconstruction to find their own paths of exploration and discovery. Individuals of every conceivable philosophical, religious, and political persuasion are now immersing themselves in the reconstruction. Making issues out of our personal experiences and convictions can quickly become counterproductive. The result will be to discourage people from following a logical argument whose ground floor is not subjective at all, but constituted entirely of objective factsóthe well-documented mythic archetypes.

My general preference is to speak up only when I see a principle of the reconstruction being misrepresented. For example, Iím not asking anyone to accept that empathy is essential to cultural health and integrity, even if I believe it is. Itís just that it would not be historically accurate to say that a teaching of empathy is a "reification of the Saturn myth."

If someone says, “see every action of another as a either an expression of love, or a plea for love,” where did that unique perspective come from? Certainly not from terrifying planets in the sky.

The same issue is posed by the rise of pure philosophy, as when the archaic idea of the polar god, the stationary actor or driver of the heavens, emerged in Socratic and Aristotelian teachings as an abstract principle. Aristotle translated the tradition into a philosophical tenet, declaring that something in motion required an "actor" to set it in motion: “So it is clear that in all these cases the thing does not move itself, but it contains within itself the source of motionónot of moving something or of causing motion, but of suffering it.” (See Aristotle, Physics 29-31).

To the east, however, others transformed the same underlying mythology into the idea of perfect rest, stillness, or silence, transforming the unmoved actor into the heart of consciousness, where they discovered something extraordinary and not colored or affected by myth at all. The Hindu Upanishads are a poignant example of this transformation before it was complete. Here the deeper principles are emerging to stand on their own, eventually to be freed entirely from myth.

Personally, I find the simplest spiritual teachings more interesting and more profound than Aristotleís abstraction, but one thing is certain. In his metaphysics of the unmoved mover Aristotle has left the rich mythology of the polar god behind.

Nothing that is free from myth can be called a reification of myth just because a trail can be followed backward to the myth-making epoch. Prior to the industrial age, virtually all defining features of civilization, including the major spiritual and philosophical traditions, were inseparable from evolutionary threads leading back to the mythic age of the gods. That is why I've suggested that the Polar Configuration can be called the "Great Analogy." Civilization as a whole was its illustrative content.

In other words, Iíve not proposed that the rise of spiritual principles occurred in the absence of mythic traditions. Humanityís deeper spiritual discernment involved a progressive reinterpretation of the myths across millennia, eventually leaving the myths behind. Whenever and wherever this has occurred a principle must stand on its own, supported only by a core of human discernment. Then, when a violation of the discerned principle occurs, it will be recognized, and over time a culture growing in its appreciation of the principle will refuse to indulge its violation. In earlier millennia slavery was commonly sanctioned and well-supported by mythological tradition. It was only "proper" ó the "prescribed way" ó to subject barbarians outside the gate to the same fate as the celestial chaos hordes, or clouds of darkness, with which they were globally identified.

Please keep in mind James, that nothing Iíve expressed here has anything to do with "altruism" as you defined it. Youíve defined altruism as a call to sacrifice, and youíre not alone in that. This common interpretation of altruism is the primary reason I never use the word. Itís quite a realization to discover that spiritual teachings, when freed entirely from myth, almost never urge sacrifice on anyone. In contrast, the first civilizations, arising in the shadow of cosmic catastrophe, found a thousand ways to incorporate sacrifice into their ritual and magical negotiations with the gods.

My own (highly subjective!) observation is that when a discerning teacher speaks of the unity beneath the natural world, the silent core of human consciousness, or the kinship of life, he is speaking from the vantage point of awakening human understanding, not of mythology. Even if one might reconstruct a path backward to the undifferentiated "primeval unity" of creation mythology, the point would remain that all historic reification of the Saturn myth has been shed. The principles in question are then emerging directly from, and finding their confirmation in, life experience, a present moment. But of course this is all my own subjective observation, even when I suggest that millions of humans are already on that path and that many more will come to walk it in due course.

David Talbott

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David Talbott is the founder of the Thunderbolts Project, a Comparative Mythologist and Executive Editor of the Thunderblogs.

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