This is a selection from The Immanence of Myth. It is available in full through Weaponized Press.
“In early times, the legend goes, the world of mirrors and the world of humans were not separated as they would be later on. In those days specular beings and human beings were quite different from each other in color and form, though they mingled and lived in harmony.
In that time it was also possible to come and go through mirrors.
However, one night the mirror people invaded the earth without warning and chaos ensued. Indeed, human beings quickly realized that the mirror people were chaos. The power of the invaders was great, and it was only through the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor that they were defeated and driven back to their mirrors. To keep them there the emperor cast a spell that compelled the chaotic beings mechanically to repeat the actions and appearances of men. The emperor's spell was strong but it would not be eternal, the legend says. The story predicts that one day the spell will weaken and the turbulent shapes in our mirrors will begin to stir. At first the difference between the mirror shapes and our familiar shapes will be unnoticeable. But little by little gestures will separate, colors and forms will transmogrify, and suddenly the long-imprisoned world of chaos will come boiling out into our own. Perhaps it is already here.” John Briggs & F. David Peat
Myths are “mirrors of the soul,” which can only reveal to us what we already have in ourselves: so what is a message of love and compassion to one can be a distorting call to hatred and bigotry for another. Meaning exists in the surface interaction with the mythic object, rather than in the myth itself; it is not, as we have said, intrinsic to the myth-object.
We discover ourselves in these stories, and they are given life through us. We might also say “Myths exist at the cross-roads,” and we find ourselves there, as well. The cross-roads become a potent mythic image: that point where the worlds meet, converge or diverge. We find a similar overlapping of worlds in the symbolism of fog, in the abyssal ocean, and, quite obviously, in the mirror. The mirror is the crossroads, a juncture between two worlds. How do we cross over to the other side?
Mirrors are curious things. Many animals don't recognize themselves when they see their reflection. A cat may cringe, howl, or seem unaware that the image exists at all. Rather than demonstrating the insufficiency of cat-consciousness, (in not recognizing their self in the image of themselves as an other), it simply demonstrates a little of how they perceive the world – they may, and likely do, perceive it in many ways more clearly than we do. But they do not appear to perceive themselves in it, at least not in the sense that we do.
When we say we are “self conscious,” this has a dual meaning: we are aware of ourselves within the world, and thereby, as in the myth of the Garden of Eden, we might feel shame, and guilt. We stand outside ourselves, and thus, outside the garden. In an existential sense it is hard to say if we've actually made out in the deal; we gained language and other forms of representation as some sort of consolation prize in exchange for the immediacy of just being. Being in one dimension is exchanged for the possibility of awareness, divided in two.
When we see ourselves, we see our “selves” in this image of an other. What does self-reflection mean? It implies an exile from one's self. To see a thing clearly we have to stand beside it, outside of it. I see a glass in front of me; I'm one with it in my senses, but I know it through its negation in relation to “myself.” It is not me. If I swallow saliva in my mouth, this is considered normal. If I spat in that glass and then swallowed it a moment later, I might feel revulsion. This is the borderline. After leaving me, bringing it back into myself makes me nauseous. My boundaries were transgressed. The saliva became other. The psychologist R.D. Lang uses this as an example of an element of schizophrenic perception. These barriers are more permeable and confused for them. An author may say “I'm too close to this book to see it clearly, now,” and it is often observed that in some ways, those who know us best know us the least.