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Some Musings on the Nexus between the Mytho-poetic and Religion
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2008-09-15 08:27:06
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Poetry makes the world appear more intense, meaningful and significant. So does God to a believer. Depth psychology, a non-agnostic psychology, sees parallels between literature and religion, identifying spontaneous, self-organizing images that govern our perspectives and actions. What has religion to say about poetry? Obliquely, a good deal. Poets need a vision of the world, and for long centuries the Christian church provided that, not only in doctrine but in revelation, experience and inspiration. A poet's religious affiliations were not merely reflected in the semantic core of his work, but conditioned the vocabulary, the structure of his arguments and patterning of his Christian outlook.

The great figures of Elizabethan art were united in holding with passion and assurance to a medieval world modified by the Tudor regime. The poet was most original when most orthodox and of his age. And in that world, far from being a sign of modesty, innocence, or intuitive virtue, not to know oneself was to resemble the beasts, if not in coarseness at least in deficiency of education. Self-knowledge was not egoism but the gateway to all virtue as Socrates had originally taught. Of the heroes in Shakespeare's four tragic masterpieces two, Othello and Lear, are defective in self-understanding, and two, Macbeth and Hamlet, in will. The conflicts in mature Shakespearean tragedy are between the passions and reason. But Shakespeare animates these conflicts with unique intensity. 

Most believers follow in the faith of their parents and community. Of those who change allegiance, not all undergo sudden conversation, many being persuaded by example and reflection. There comes a time in many lives when the truth becomes apparent and people believe they see realities that were previously hidden or existing merely as reports or faith. Considered carefully, such mystical experiences can be distinguished from numinous (awe-inspiring, indicating presence of a divinity), visionary and occult experiences, and from ordinary religious affections. Primarily they are noetic (intellectual). Their recipients may be a consciousness of nothing, of an undifferentiated unity, or of an immediate and loving awareness of God. They may also be pantheistic: within and without seem as one; the world has a marvelous and extraordinary beauty; space and time are transcended. Though contradictory if put into words, common to all these is an experience of the world as alive and filled with joy and blessedness.

Religion is not reducible to social function, though many seek faith because ultimately men are failures. Without sin, suffering and evil there cannot be free will. Guilt is our response to evil. We do not deduce evil from standards, but as a violation of the taboos which make possible our cultural and social life. Religion becomes meaningful in acts: ritual, prayer, mystical encounters. Meaningful is not equivalent to the empirical, to universally accessible acts of perceiving. The Eucharist is understandable to believers within the framework of an entire system of ritual symbols. Moral content is given in the very act of perceiving and understanding. As Plotinus remarked, "God is only a name if spoken about without true virtue".

The language of myth is closed and self-supporting, not easily translated or transferred from one culture to another. Meaning is formed by acts of communication, and has to be recreated in those acts time and again. It is always possible to reduce religion to anthropology or social science, but such explanations give no abiding satisfaction. Religion is the sacralization of identity. Whereas identity in animals is rank or territory, in humans it is more often symbolic: in terms of class, sex, attitudes to money, beauty, equality. Sacralization is an emotionally welding of an identity which, sudden or not, consolidates and stabilizes that identity: certain patterns of symbolic systems acquire a taken-for-granted, eternal quality.

This identity is also crucial to societies: alienation and marginalization occur if changes in society stake out identities before the originals adapt sufficiently. Depth psychology is not a new concept: the same thoughts can be traced through Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus, Ficino, Vico, Schelling, Coleridge, Dilthy, Jung and others. The therapy of the soul was called psyche by the Greeks and anima by the Romans; it deepens events into experience, makes meaning possible, includes dream, image and fantasy in its operation, and recognizes that all realities are primarily symbolic and metaphorical.

Depth psychology does not begin with brain physiology or with structures of language and society, but with images, these being the basic givens of psychic life: self-originating, inventive, spontaneous and complete, organized in archetypes. It is archetypes, the deepest patterns of our psychic functioning, that are the roots of our souls governing our perspective of ourselves and the world. Fundamentally, they are metaphors. God, life, health, art — which hold worlds together and which cannot be adequately circumscribed. Other examples can be found in literature, scientific thought, rituals and relationships. Archetypes are emotionally possessive. Organizing whole clusters of events in different areas of life, ascribing the individual his place in society, and controlling everything he sees, does and says, they naturally appear as gods.

Depth psychology is therefore neither a religion, nor a humanism, but a non-agnostic psychology. In religion gods are taken literally, and approached with ritual, prayer, sacrifice and worship. In Humanism man is the measure of all things and gods do not exist. In depth psychology the gods are real but exist only as myths. Multiple personalities were seen as possession, nowadays as schizophrenia. Equally suspect today is eloquence, especially words whose power over us cannot be curtailed by philosophy and semantics. Yet in many ways the individual, the person who acts rationally and individually, is himself a mythical creation.

The accompanying self-determination or free will, the central preoccupation of western theology, is likewise a product of the monotheist viewpoint. Though the later Greeks offered prayers to many gods (while imagining monotheistically the One), the moral codes of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are liberalizations of the Hero image, the Ego, the subdivision into light and dark, producing a moralizing that infects psychology even now. Enigma provokes understanding. Myths make concrete particulars into universals. Vico remarked that metaphors 'give sense and passion to insensate things'. Archetypes are semantically metaphors and have a double existence, and every statement concerning an archetype is to be taken metaphorically, prefixed with 'as if'.

Psychological insights have traditionally be obtained from souls in extremis, from patients no longer in control of themselves: the sick and suffering, given to fantasies and abnormal behavior. Yet there is often very real doubt over the diagnoses. Indeed the label is generally the meeting of four sets of circumstances: nomenclature, milieu, doctor and patient. Today that god is the professional analyst who 'creates' the illness by naming it, locking patient and therapist into endless power and erotic struggles in sadomasochistic therapy. Within each affliction is a complex, and within the complex is an archetype, which in turn refers to a god.

Such gods, as in Greek tragedy, force themselves symptomatically into awareness as some force within ourselves. Pathology therefore is the single vision, the reduction of the polytheistic consciousness to a monotheistic one, to the identification with one and the suppression or ignorance of the others. But just as pathological experiences give us an indelible sense of the soul, so there is psychological acuity and richness of culture in periods of historical decay, as individually in neurosis and depression.

For monotheistically or scientifically-inclined philosophers, the gods were a serious obstacle. Plato in his Republic attacked them outright. Socrates argued that they were not responsible for human evil. Epicureans removed them from human affairs altogether. The most popular way of dealing with them was by allegory, however, and of these there were three kinds. a. physical: to account for natural phenomena: Proserpina and the seasons: popular with stoics. b. historical euhemerism: gods were once earthly rulers deified in some distant past. c. moral: gods were personifications of human virtues and vices. Devout Greeks and Romans regarded the gods as the creations of poets, as rationalizations of the philosophers, and as poetic fictions necessary for civic functions and ceremonies.

Though the Roman world became officially Christian in AD 324, and pagan worship was banned in AD 390, the gods were too intimately part of the fabric of social life to be discarded. Four approaches suggested themselves: a. gods were demons: the orthodox Christian view, b. gods were the stars and planets of astrology: a physical view, c. gods were early kings and benefactors: the euhemeristic view, and d. gods were moral allegories of human conduct and therefore foreshadowings of Christian truth.

Renaissance poets used myths in five ways. a. as a story told for its own sake (Hero and Leander), b. to embellish and enrich the meaning (much Elizabethan work), c. as allegory (The Fairie Queen), d. as mock-heroic, to expose the subject to unfavourable comparisons (late sixteenth-century satire) and e. negatively: gods were fallen angels (Paradise Lost).  Vico understood myth as the early poetical reasoning of primitive man which we disregard at our own risk: the risk of the loss of the origins of our very humanity.

Poetry is made from words, but it also expresses an outlook or vision. The world through art appears sharper, fuller, more intense, real and significant. So it does to the religious believer. Poetry makes experiences out of events, and such experiences are also real to believers.  All human consciousness can be regarded as mythic, but myths vary widely in their compass and persuasiveness.

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Alexandra P.2008-09-15 13:49:58
"Guilt is our response to evil."
Fear is our most natural response to evil, not guilt.

"Depth psychology is not a new concept"
No, in fact, in the way you describe it, it's a quite overpast concept.

"all realities are primarily symbolic and metaphorical"
Do you really believe that all realities are a symbol or a metaphor? That becomes very paranoid, and such story-telling is why a great deal of psychoanalytic theories didn't work in practice.

"Psychological insights have traditionally be obtained from souls in extremis, from patients no longer in control of themselves"
You see, there's another problem.

"Within each affliction is a complex, and within the complex is an archetype, which in turn refers to a god."
Curious, ain't it?

"Such gods, as in Greek tragedy, force themselves symptomatically into awareness as some force within ourselves. Pathology therefore is the single vision, the reduction of the polytheistic consciousness to a monotheistic one, to the identification with one and the suppression or ignorance of the others."
I truly hope you are aware that this is... a metaphor too. And an arguable one.

"The world through art appears sharper, fuller, more intense, real and significant."
Remember this.

Sand2008-09-15 15:12:01
"Poetry is nobody's business except the poet's, and everybody else can fuck off." - Philip Larkin

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-15 16:58:08
Recourse to authority? Not sure of your own, or the voices', intuition? Indeed, it is a solipsistic world: everybody speaks his/her own language and create their own poetic and then publish it so that nobody will read it since it is only the poet's business. Sounds like the tower of Babel, mitigated only by the fact that some people take the trouble to learn foreign languages.

Sand2008-09-15 17:21:36
Why don't you take that up with Mr. Larkin? Since your own works are so replete with authoritative references and you're so anxious to stand on the shoulders of giants, Mr. Larkin is recognized worldwide as a poetic giant.

Kris D.2008-09-15 22:23:34
One of the most erudite and informative articles on the subject I have ever read. It speaks well for Ovi.

Alexandra P.2008-09-16 00:45:37
Although interesting from a philosophic and literary point of view, such explanation was eliminated as scientific a long time ago.

"Archetypes are emotionally possessive. Organizing whole clusters of events in different areas of life, ascribing the individual his place in society, and controlling everything he sees, does and says, they naturally appear as gods."
You go and tell to a common psychologist that everything you do, see or say is being controlled by little gods inside you, and that even your place in society is controlled by them!

Sand2008-09-16 03:50:52
Perhaps the most concise separation between what Paparella is proposing as enforcing attitudes in regard to the universe in general is in the supposition of intent. Religions, myths, folk lore and other orderings of the universe that impose human values on all events demand intent and, of course, much of this intent can be personified as gods . A more rational viewpoint gained from the basic supposition tha there is indeed order in the universe and this order can be abstracted from the observation of multiple events but this order is responsive to neither the benefit nor the demise of humanity. It has no intent whatsoever and therefore does not generate any fantasy of gods.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it

-- Omar Khayyam

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-16 04:09:13
The fathers of psychology as a science are Freud, Jung and Adler. All three began their explorations with the analysis of myths, dreams and literature. Jung’s insight was that the archetypes of the human experience are found in every culture and civilization, even those who have had no communication with each other, and that the tragedy of the modern human being is that having de-humanized him/herself he/she is unable to conceive of a spiritual world beyond the material and the scientific and the merely economic; hence his book “Modern Man in Search of a Soul.” Indeed, man makes symbols but the opposite is also true: symbols make man. The inability to go back to origins and comprehend that simple phenomenon of the pervasiveness of symbols is a cultural catastrophe of the highest order.

Sand2008-09-16 04:36:30
That a good deal of humanity enslaves itself to simple-minded symbolism is most evident in the current election carnival for the US presidency where both major political parties shift voter's choices through the manipulation of silly prejudices leaving unattended the major economic and environmental and civil rights disasters that are destroying the nation. Paparella may be correct in his characterization of perceived realities as "human" but it seems to me, at least, a cold and analytical eye on the situation would be more efficacious than what Paparella labels as "human". This, of course, is only one prominent example of the denigration of human logical and analytical capabilities which is the most outstanding difference between humans and other less mentally endowed animals.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-16 10:59:06
To think that we will ever fully understand the universe which we certainly did not make, while neglecting to investigate and study what we have made (and hence eminently knowable)is to be a fool. Socrates and Kant had it on target: do not merely look at the starry night but at the law within you: they reflect each other. To deal only with one and neglect the other is to be clever by half.

Sand2008-09-16 11:49:40
To make the foolish assumption that the universe somehow starts where the atmosphere ends is to be totally ignorant as to the intimate integration of all things. The very stuff of ourselves was once expelled from a star after its atoms were manufactured there. One can study the nature of a galaxy a hundred million light years away in the impact of elementary particles in an Earth constructed collider. Neither Kant nor Socrates had the faintest conception that it is impossible to separate one study from another and the study of one is relevant to the study of the other. For we see and understand with our bodies and our minds and they are never out of the equation. But to assume that one can perceive the universe both within us and outside us without astute precise observation and mutual confirmation of what exists is the foolishness of the old philosophies that presumed that merely inventing a conception was sufficient to determine its reality.

Alexandra P.2008-09-16 12:28:46
"All three began their explorations with the analysis of myths, dreams and literature."

And studying the kabala, forming secret societies, treating histeria with cold showers and depression with nose surgeries, and taking cocain!

Besides, one thing is to recognize the importance of myths (which is much more a sociological importance than a psychological one), another is to affirm that everything you see and do and even your social place is controlled by gods inside you!

"The inability to go back to origins and comprehend that simple phenomenon of the pervasiveness of symbols is a cultural catastrophe of the highest order."
And the ability to see symbols everywhere is called paranoia, a place where everything CAN ONLY have a meaning.

And how is it called when all aspects of psychoanalysis are brainlessly defended by the academics?

ap2008-09-16 15:06:56

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-16 18:38:54
Do I detect a tinge of anti-academia and anti-intellectuality in all those emotional outbursts? Shall we burn the books and try ignorance, so that we can claim that we have invented the wheel? You'd be surprised what the ancients knew! The best universities in the world still have Plato and Aristotle on their curricula. When they no longer have them we'll know that the second dark age has begun. Sometimes I wonder if indeed it has not already begun.

Sand2008-09-16 19:22:47
Although Paparella is very free with quoting classical references his misuse of them betrays no intellectual capability whatsoever so real intelligence is totally safe from any ravages.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-17 14:43:29
When I hear the echo of the voices in your head I become almost convinced that indeed the second dark age has already begun. And no, it is not the end of the world, just the coarsing and the dehumanization of it.

Sand2008-09-17 16:35:33
But Paparella, it was you who was trumpeting the wonders of the so-called Dark Ages when Christianity held sway over Europe. I'm surprised at your dismay.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-17 18:46:26
True to form, you did not read the article very carefully before jumping on your horse lance in hand... As most ignoramuses of Medieval times are in the habit of doing, you regularly confuse the Dark Ages which lasted a couple of centuries at best, with the whole of the Medieval era.

Sand2008-09-17 19:29:55
Enlighten me, Mr.P. In which of those centuries was Christianity not a very strong power?

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-17 20:49:44
When you change your petrified paradigm from "will to power" to "will to truth" you will begin to grasp the influence of the Judeo-Christian ethics on two thousand years of Western history. Till that happens you'll be grinding your ax and bashing and trashing away in a dark cave...Pity!

Sand2008-09-17 22:04:08
With all that foam gushing out from between your clenched teeth I cannot make out the precise centuries I requested. Please speak a bit more clearly.

Sand2008-09-18 07:01:35
What seems to frighten and offend Paparella more than anything else is a close examination of anything or anyone that he values as an authority. For it is very evident that his whole fabric is merely a rather poorly integrated mish-mash of bits and pieces of authority like a Schwitters collage of irrelevant junk to support a poorly conceived and obsolete fantasy. There is no one from Shakespeare to Einstein to Christ to Gandhi who cannot be subject to interesting and worthwhile and valuable criticism and analysis. But to even think of that is to poke a whole in the fragile nonsense that comprises much of Paparella and immediately he panics and cries that I am destroying all his icons. That he is a fool there is no doubt but he is a dangerous fool that wraps himself in the second hand garments of to give himself some stature but beneath all that borrowed grandeur is a pitiful shivering creature dreaming childish fantasies and lashing out viciously when someone ventures to lift his camouflage to see what's really underneath.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-18 12:33:42
Is that you speaking or the voices speaking through you? Ever heard of projection?

Sand2008-09-18 12:45:47
You might be more interesting if you took that last retort off your clipboard and stop pasting into the comments section. It's unfortunate that you are boring and stupid but your laziness is not necessary.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-18 17:19:51
Is that what the voices suggested? mmmh!

Sand2008-09-18 17:59:32
Sounds like your stomach is upset, Paparella. It's been obvious for a long time you're full of crap and some of it has to come out. I suggest a strong laxative.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-18 20:03:19
I see you are back to your expertise for which you must surely have won the Nobel prize: the poetics of defecation. How eminently appropriate.

Sand2008-09-18 20:11:55
Right on! It was very appropriate.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-18 21:08:03
Yes eminently appropriate that you won the Nobel Prize for the poetics of defecations. At least that is what the voices must have suggested for you wear it as a badge of honor.

Sand2008-09-18 21:28:06
This concern you have with badges, honors, prizes, PhD certificates ... all to hide the total lack of any substance to your thinking or real ability. Must you hide your total insufficiency with such nonsense? Of course, if you really believe in God you must lead a highly frightened existence knowing He sees right through you.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-19 05:38:17
And of course, you don't believe in God, one lives a very bold life and does one what one damn pleases since nobody is watching...; it is a matter of avoiding being caught by the police.

Sand2008-09-19 05:55:40
Paparella seems to have retreated to the idea that exposing his incompetence in almost all directions has become a criminal matter. It is time to leave him to fester in his delusions of grandeur. I'm sure we will have more entertaining encounters in the immediate future since his store of stupidity is obviously infinite and an occasional popping of his pompousness is as good a way of starting the day as any other.

Emanuel Paparella2008-09-19 19:48:27
Indeed. Every forum needs some lightening up with a few clowns, and starting the day with Pompous S. is as good way as any. The difference is that in a circus a clown's main target of humor is himself, something unknown to Pompous S. who likes to dish it out mockery and slander but transforms himself into a helpless victim when it comes to accepting it back. Just one glamorous example: he calls Michelangelo stupid but when it is suggested that he may be the same crazy idiot who went to Rome to break the Pietà with a hammer since the mind-set is the same, he fails to see the joke and the analogy and threatens a lawsuit while on the other hand accusing his challenger that he is a mole of the Vatican. How convenient indeed.

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