Saturday, February 27, 2010

Making myth a living practice

Another fragment from the long piece I'm working on about magical thinking and the power of symbols for the Immanence of Myth:

  This is how myth can serve an active function in our lives. Consider the Hindu goddess Kali. The quintessential image of Kali Ma shows her dancing on the slain body of her initiate (or Shiva, depending), wearing a belt of human skulls, and a long tongue known for licking the marrow out of bone.  She is the devouring side of the mother archetype, a symbol that appears in many forms but possibly nowhere so clearly as here. For example, the mythological image of Lilith bears resemblance to Kali in many ways: at least one side of Lilith and Lilith-related demons pertains to the “devouring mother,” the strangler, the devourer of children. These derive from a number of related yet distinct air and desert demon sources, from ancient Sumeria or even possibly earlier. 
  Yet, Lilith also has another side, that of the seductress, luring men away from their societal commitment to the “good mother,” a motif that developed most clearly when the Lilith symbol was adapted by the Jews. This is an element which Kali lacks. To some, this is just an odd image painted on canvas. But to others, those who wish to enter the psychological domain represented by the symbol, she is much more. Worshippers of Kali become that initiate, offer themselves up as a sacrifice in a mythological sense, so as to effect a psychological shift whereby they release attachment to the elements of life that might otherwise bar them from becoming truly human. This path of practice does not require the asceticism of monk-hood because the binding glue, you might say, of possession is undone. 
  All mythic characters can be analysed and experienced in this way: as elements of the complex that makes up the individual, the culture, the natural necessities of the universe. All gods, demons, heroes, and villains are constructed from symbols which can have real, psychological impact. But only if engaged with directly, rather than passively. This kind of engagement can be arrived at through mythic art, though the audience must meet the artist halfway, with this knowledge and a willingness to participate. This is a difficult task for the modern, mythic artist, because audiences almost have to be tricked into this kind of participation. Entertainment takes center stage. 

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