concretize – to make concrete, specific, or definite
This is from the Joseph Campbell Mythos series (the one with the irritating cuts to Susan Sarandon!)
In the 1900s, there was an important world traveler and German Anthropologist named Adolf Bastian who recognized that in the mythologies and religions of the world, there were certain themes and motifs that recurred everywhere. He called these elementary ideas: Elementargedanken. In various provinces and in various centuries, these elementary ideas appeared in different costumes and different forms with different applications and associated with totally different social situations He called these local variations Volkergadanken (ethnic/folk ideas).
The distinction between what is universal in mythology and religion (elementargedanken) and what is provincial and separate (volkergadanken) is VERY important. Why universal myths occur everywhere, in every culture and in every century is a psychological problem. Carl Jung calls the universal myths “archetypes of the unconscious”.
Campbell drew a picture of a circle which represents the soul/psyche. At the center is a dot which represents the self. There is a line drawn just above the dot which represents the self. This is the threshold of consciousness Above the line is a mental, waking consciousness. Below the line is the consciousness of the body, itself. Jung uses the term for the totality, “the Self”. This is not the same thing as the Hindu Atman (undifferentiated consciousness). Jung is talking about consciousness enclosed in a specific human body which is conditioned by the body in which it resides (male, female, old, young, healthy, decrepit.) This is the reality in which we have to reside. There is no use wishing we resided elsewhere. The center of consciousness is the “ego”. The “I”. It’s mode of judgment is not in accord with that of the body/nature.
Culture is a cooperation between the self (below the threshold of consciousness) and the ego (above the threshold of consciousness). Mythology is the language of the Self speaking to the ego system. The ego system has to learn how to read it. This is something we have forgotten.
The shadow (below the threshold of consciousness) is the blind spot of the ego – the part of which our ego has no consciousness whatsoever. This could be equated to the Freudian unconscious. The shadow is the order of the personal unconscious.
The Self is a function of the biology of the body. So we have a basic human biology and a system of individual experience. Both exist in the unconscious realm as far as our ego knowledge is concerned. It is out of these centers which dreams come. Dreams are primarily, personally oriented from the shadow system. The imagery of myths, on the other hand, is out of the general system. There are dreams that can be interpreted through personal association, but others have to be interpreted strictly mythologically.
At the level above the ego is the Persona/Personae. This is the mask that we wear. Each society has its wardrobe of Personae for its individuals to wear. These are the volkergadanken and they differ from one society to another.
Take India for example. The individual is meant to identify with the Persona. He is to live in terms of the dharma – the duty system put upon him. He IS a Brahman. He IS a Warrior. He IS a Merchant. He isn’t just playing the role. He IS the role.
Compare this to our modern Western society which has much more respect for individuality. If a person identifies with his role, we call him a “stuffed shirt”. Imagine an executive coming home in the evening who is met by the executive’s wife. From the Hindu perspective, he would be an executive sleeping with the executive’s wife. This doesn’t fly at all in the west! If you can’t take-off and put-on your roles, there is something wrong with you. We don’t identify with the Persona in that way. Not only are we expected to put-on and take-off our roles, we’re expected to develop our critical faculties.
So all this set up to get to this point…
Developing critical faculties is something that those in the East know nothing about. The whole character of Eastern thinking is the elimination of ego. By annihilating the critical factory, you identify with the role that society has put upon you. This creates a problem for a Western person who goes to an Eastern guru to become illuminated. The Eastern person has a relatively fragile ego. But the Western person has a very strong developed, evaluating ego. It’s rock solid. The guru has a hammer to break egos and the Western person comes to the guru with a rock of an ego and the guru hammers away, but nothing happens. The Westerner thinks there is something wrong with him. But it’s not him. What works in the East doesn’t necessarily work in the West!
In the East, deities are understood as personifications of the transcendent energies that informs life. The transcendent energies are human (elementargedanken) while the personification of the transcendent energies is based on the cultural and historical circumstances (volkergadanken). In the East, it is understood that deities proceed from the transcendent energies and are messengers and vehicles of the these energies. In the West, however, we think of deity as fact and it is from this fact that the energies proceed. This understanding creates a huge difference between how we view both God and consciousness.
The Western notion is that the brain is the source of consciousness. The traditional idea is that the brain is a function of consciousness. The brain is first and consciousness arises out of the brain. But in traditional Eastern views, consciousness is first and the brain is an organ that encapsulates consciousness and focuses it in the direction of time and space knowledge. Time and space knowledge is secondary knowledge, not primary. The notion that we are all manifestations of the transcendent consciousness that goes beyond all our powers to think and to name is the basic idea behind the traditional Eastern view.
In our Western thinking, there have been moments when this has made its way in. It shows up first through Dionysius the Aeropagite – a mystical philosopher before 532 ACE. His philosophies were picked up by Scotus Eriugena from Ireland in the 800s (gnostic philosppher with magnificent concepts). Meister Eckhart, a German theologian in the early 1300s, uses the language of Christianity but blows it apart to show the relationship of the deity to the “knower of the deity”. Bruno was burned in the 1600s for suggesting such thing. But then in Renaissance, Italy. Medici invited Marsilio Ficino to translate a text that came from Byzantium by way of a Byzantine monk. This was the Greek text of the Corpus Hermeticum which was contemporary with early Christianity but explained in pagan terminology. Much of the art of the Renaissance comes out of the ideas presented in this translation.
In later times, there is the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant. What Kant recognized was that all of our knowledge, all of our experience, is conditioned by the organs of knowledge and experience. A priori, primary and antecedent to our experience of anything is time and space. Everything comes to us in a field of time and space. In “The Foundation of Metaphysics”, Kant asks, “How is it we can make determinations for relationships for space here, and know that these will work in space there?” He says its because the laws of space are in our mind. But what is the thing we are coming to know through time and space? Is it a thing? No. Things are in time and space.
The laws of your thinking are what determine what it is you can think. These are the laws of logic. You can’t even think of anything that doesn’t fit within the laws of logic. This is what is known in the East as “Maya”. It was Schopenhauer who first recognized that the Indian concept of Maya and Kant’s concept of the forms of sensibility and categories of logic are equivalent. Schopenhauer brought the concepts of Western thought and Eastern thought together. Nietzsche picked them up and a whole new thrust in the school of Western philosophy began.
We have a tendency in the West to concretize our signs and symbols, which, of course, is idol worship.
This is why Nietzsche wanted us to take a hammer to all of our previous notions and smash them. Do they hold? Some do, most don’t. It seems obvious now that a concretized God is going to break. But many Christians still claim that Eastern religions involve idol worship. But the East does not have the same tendency to concretize signs and symbols as does the West because they have a completely different notion of deity and consciousness.
A concretized God, one that comes out of fact, is a dead God. How could it be otherwise? The Celts were hesitant to write down their myths because they thought that once the myths were written, they were dead. In a sense, isn’t this absolutely true? As soon as we put our stories into writing, we’ve concretized them. They are no longer living, as they were when they were handed down through oral tradition. So to base your beliefs on a written text is basically to base your beliefs on something that is already long gone. It’s dead.