Wisdom Haunts the Countryside


Chapter IV

It might be presumed that the authentic status of myth and religious allegory had been sufficiently demonstrated. But it should further greatly strengthen the whole case and prove of vital worth on its own account to assemble additional data that will reveal an even closer tie between the myths and the basic genius of all religion. This research will enable us to establish a connection between myths and another ancient mode of religious expression, a link which is little known or suspected by modern students. Indeed it will answer in large part the great question as to the origin of the myths. The conclusion reached by the investigation will again almost certainly be warmly disputed. A shorter chapter will suffice to present what must surely be considered an important body of evidence.

The collated data point to an origin of the myths in a place which itself vastly enhances their innate and fundamental kinship with religion. Lacking more accurate knowledge about them, we have been disposed to think that the myths were an independent and whimsical creation of the free fancy and childish imagination of peoples whom we have insisted on dubbing "primitive." That they were not thus an arbitrary product, unrelated to the profoundest philosophical wisdom and the highest spiritual insight of the ancient world, is evidenced by the material here collected. The evidence almost indisputably indicates their origin from an older religious institution or expression--the ritual drama. The myths find their basic character and their unity at last in the features of a great universal dramatic rite, the importance of which has been too stubbornly belittled and neglected through the force of Christian prejudice, even where its very existence has been granted.

First spokesman is no less an authority than Sir James Frazer, author of The Golden Bough. From his lectures (p. 374) we take his item:

"We shall probably not err in assuming that many myths, which we now know only as myths, had once their counterpart in magic; in other words, that they used to be acted as a means of producing in fact the events which they described in figurative language. Ceremonies often die out while myths survive, and thus we are left to infer the dead ceremony from the living myth."

Corroboration is added by H. J. Rose (Folk-Lore, p. 104): "The legend has pretty certainly grown out of the rite, as usually happens." Says Miss J. E. Harrison in her Themis (p. 328): "A mythos of the Greeks was primarily just a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth. Its antithesis or rather correlative is the thing done, enacted."

Significant is the sentence from Prof. A. B. Cook (quoted in Lord Raglan’s work, The Hero): "Behind the myth (of the Minotaur), as is so often the case, we may detect a ritual performance." J. A. K. Thomson, in Studies in the Odyssey (p. 54) states that not only is the myth the explanation of the rite; it is at the same time the explanation of the god,--the central character in the rite. Forthright is the testimony of A. M. Hocart in The Progress of Man (p. 223):

"If we turn to the living myth, that is, the myth that is believed in, we find that it has no existence apart from the ritual. The ritual is always derived from some one and its validity must be established from its derivation. . . . Knowledge of the myth is essential to the ritual, because it has to be recited at the ritual."

Prof. Malmouski (Notes and Queries in Anthropology) writes:

"Psychologists like Wundt, sociologists like Durkheim, Herbert and Mause, anthropologists like Crawley, classical scholars like Miss Jane Harrison, have all understood the ultimate association between myth and ritual, between sacred tradition and the norms of social structure. . . . Myth as it exists in a savage community, that is, in its living primitive form, is not merely a story told but a reality lived. It is not of the nature of fiction such as we read today in a novel, but it is a living reality, believed to have once happened in primeval times and continuing ever since to influence the world and human destinies."

It must be pointed out that lack of keen discernment is shown in claiming that an intelligent view of the myths ever accepted them as having actually occurred, or that they were not known to be pure fiction in their outward form. Error and confusion at once enter the moment we attribute to them any other than typical reality. The whole miscarriage of ancient meaning sprang from the incorrigible tendency to assert that the ancient intelligent people believed their myths. There is the great chasm of difference between saying they believed them and saying they believed in them, and the chasm is that between truth and error. Never did intelligent people believe them; they believed what they represented, typified, adumbrated. The whole issue of right and wrong appraisal and judgment of them and the ancient hangs on this distinction. This work for the first time insists that this distinction is the critical point in the evaluation of all ancient literature. The first blows in the wreckage of archaic spiritual systems fell when the shadow of this misconception crept in upon the mind of the early Christian following.

Correcting the apparently slight, but really formidable misconception, it is necessary next to repudiate utterly this same writer’s views on the myths, as thus expressed:

"We can certainly discard all explanatory as well as all symbolical ex-interpretations of these myths of origins. The personages and beings which we find are what they appear to be on the surface, and not symbols of hidden realities. As to any explanatory function of these myths, there is no problem which they cover, no curiosity which they satisfy, no theory which they contain."

This opinion needs refutation because it will be seconded by many readers who are instant in opposition to anything that extols the religion of "paganism." How any scholar acquainted with the facts of the ancient ritualism, and possessed of ordinary reasoning power, could asseverate that the ceremonies were entirely meaningless, is beyond comprehension. This is to accuse Plato, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus and a long list of antiquity’s most celebrated men of perpetrating a performance, presented annually before thousands of people, that was in the end nothing but gibberish. The actions and speeches in the drama reenacted the experience of mankind in its evolutionary cycle; yet this critic asserts that there was no problem or construction bearing relation to reality in the mythic representation. Criticism of this sort is farcical, and represents a total failure to grasp meanings which, however faintly apprehended by the unschooled, can still be discerned by any intelligent mind. So gross a misjudgment of a great form of ancient culture is inexcusable. From a stupendous amount of such biased incompetence in assessing the value of early formulations in religion and philosophy the world has suffered incredibly.

While putting forth the questionable conjecture that the myth had nothing to do with speculation or exegesis, any more than with historical data, the next witness, Lord Raglan, English author of a most valuable work, The Hero: A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama, contributes to the discussion a body of data, comment and cited material that goes far to make the case impregnable. His work stands as one of the first open-minded approaches to the investigation of the world’s hero-legends, folk lore and Märchen, and adduces evidence which negates the historical view of the hero stories. He is perhaps the first modern to clarify the distinction between legend and real history.

He classifies the myth roughly as little else than the form of words which accompanies the performance of a rite. Citing the incongruity of the content and form of the myth with the ordinary products of the folk (to whom all previous consensus had assigned their origin), he states the highly important conclusion that the literature of the folk is not their own production, but comes down to them from a source above them. The author here brings out in clear and irrefutable fashion the discernment that it has been a great error to attribute the creation of folk lore to the folk themselves. The myths were made for the folk, but not by the folk. They were constructed with a view to catch the popular fancy and be retained easily in the folk memory. To claim that they were originated by the folk is to argue that the products of the highest cleverness and genius came from the ranks of the untutored and ignorant. The tales and ballads lived amongst the folk, but they were not their creation.

But to the modern student Raglan’s statement that, since they were not an indigenous folk production, they must have come down to them from above, is mystifying. This is due to the failure of modern thought to envisage properly the ancient prevalence of esoteric spirit and methodology. There should be no more skepticism about the realities of esoteric truth and teaching than about the situation in any college, where faculty, representing the acquired wisdom and maturity of an older generation, presides over and instructs the members of a younger generation, its pupils. The from above in Raglan’s pronouncement hints at nothing more weird and exceptional than the fact that more enlightened sages from time to time since remote days have contrived to issue for the benefit of the general mass of uninstructed humanity bodies of truth encased in the amber of popular legend, ballad, castle-tale and household fable. From above here signifies no super-intelligence achieved by the spiritually illumined aspirants, whether in ancient days or since.

The myths came down through the ages from a distant source in a mountain-spring of attained wisdom. Raglan presents this view and strengthens his conviction regarding it by a citation from Budge, the Egyptologist, who says (From Fetish to God in Ancient Egypt, p. 156):

"It would be wrong to say that the Egyptians borrowed from the Sumerians, or the Sumerians from the Egyptians, but it may be submitted that the literati of both peoples borrowed their theological systems from some common but exceedingly ancient source."

Budge here spoke more truly than he has done at other times. His words are indeed the truth on this matter, so largely missed otherwise. Raglan declares that a dozen learned writers show that the religious systems of many countries possessed many fundamental characteristics in common. They were obviously systems designed for the good of the community by the proper performance of the given ritual. This possession of a common religious denominator by many nations looms as vitally important, since it becomes the backbone of the argument that all the myths had one common origin in a primal construction wherein all the ingredients were at hand from the beginning.

Raglan’s outline of the pervasive features of the ritual is a valuable summary. He says in effect that the basic pattern consisted of a dramatic ritual in which the death and resurrection of the king, who was also the god, performed by priests and members of the royal family, were the central events. There was also a sacred combat, in which the victory of the god over his enemies was won, and a triumphal procession, participated in by the neighboring gods, also an enthronement, with a ceremony by which the destinies of the state for the year ahead were determined, and finally a sacred marriage. Somewhere in the drama was interjected the recitation of the story whose outlines were enacted in the ritual. This was the myth, and its repetition engendered a strong psychic potency equal to that of the ritual itself. From the start the words and the actions were inseparably united, although in the course of time they became separated and each gave rise to its own literary, artistic and religious forms.

He states a little farther on (p. 154) that while the separation of Greek myth from its accompanying ritual may be due in part to the ancient philosophers, who composed allegories which seemed to tear the myth apart from the ritual, the divorcement of the two is chiefly due to modern classical scholars who have failed to recognize the close connection between Greek poetry and Greek religion and who have likewise missed the fact that the Greek descriptive writers such as Herodotus and Pausanius never cite a myth apart from a reference to some rite or to some sacred locality.

If at any time the sages composed myths that had no connection with the ritual, it could only have been that there was no structural or organic linkage with it. It is hardly possible to conceive how they could have composed myths unrelated to the ritual, for all the myths were picturizations of the same elements of meaning which the ritual portrayed. Perhaps not distinctly related in form, but related in meaning, to the ritual they must have been.

Raglan says that Miss Jennie Weston (From Ritual to Romance, p. 176), after dealing with a large group of Grail stories, concludes that these stories "repose eventually not upon a poet’s imagination, but upon the ruins of an august and ancient ritual, a ritual which once claimed to be the accredited guardian of the deepest secrets of life." But so strong is the inveterate tendency to assume that history must somehow be interwoven in ancient constructions that Miss Weston supposes that certain historical outlines have crept into these narratives. Nothing but later ignorance and exoteric degeneracy ever compromised with the pure myth to the extent of insinuating historical reference into it.

A penetrating judgment is pronounced by Raglan (p. 225) when he definitely asserts that the myth took its rise from the dramatic features of the ritual, and that all traditional narratives show, by both form and content, that they derive neither from historical fact nor from imaginative fiction, but from acted ritual. There can be little doubt, he states, that all drama is the product of ritual drama. The dramatis personae, even when they are given historical names, are not individuals but types.

The Homeric poems, he says, have the form of dramas. The drama, he insists, was originally a religious ceremony, and the whole community shared in it. (The Hero, p. 240.)

Mr. MacCulloch, in alluding to the Algonquin stories, says: "All form part of a mythological cycle dealing with the life of the hero-divinity, Manabush." Raglan subjoins that the Homeric poems are all mythological cycles dealing with the lives of hero-divinities; but, he ventures, nothing so arouses the fury of scholars as the suggestion that these cycles are based on ritual, or sprang from it. He says they take the Tale of Troy as sober record of historical fact, woven together from scraps of romantic fiction. As there is nothing in the Bible that can not be found in antecedent literature, so, Raglan contends, there is nothing in "Homer" that can not be found elsewhere. Who was Homer?--he asks. And he answers with the pronouncement of Prof. J. A. K. Thomson, that "Homer" was the title given to the victor in the minstrelsy contest held at the festival of Apollo at Delos. He was the eponymous-hero of the hymn-singers and sacred dancers, and was a personification of the Delian Apollo.

"The hymn," says Prof. Thomson, "has given birth to the heroic-epos. For these ‘men and women’ are the old local Daimones,--Achilles, Helen and the rest. Their legends have combined to form one great legend recited at the Delian festival in honor of Apollo, the father-god of all the Ionians. . . . The hymn gradually added to itself more and more of the inherited or borrowed legends of the Ionian race until it grew into the proportions of all ‘Homer.’ And as Homer was the traditional author of the original hymn, so he remained the traditional author of all the rest."

Mr. W. F. J. Wright is cited as saying that the name of Troy is widely associated with mazes and labyrinths, and that various instances in the Iliad correspond with known features of a once widespread maze ritual. And Prof. Hocart is drawn on as authority for the datum that there are twenty-six common features which characterize the installation of kings in all parts of the world; and the inference is that these common features stem from a common source, the ancient spiritual drama.

Raglan says the conclusion is inevitable that such characters as the ogre, giant, devil, dragon, troll, cannibal and sorcerer are nothing but titles for a personage acting in a liturgy, representing the terrifying demon of the initiations. There is much indeed to support the expressed view of Raglan (p. 220) that the character known as the Horned Man was taken from the ritual and became invested with real life, gaining a status in popular belief far more real than that of any historical character. Perhaps Jesus is more real as mythical hero than as a once-living person. Anent this Raglan expresses his astonishment that Sir James Ridgeway should have been misled into taking the stock figures of myth for actual people.

The principal characters in the ritual are two, a hero and a buffoon who meet with various adventures together and live on terms of the greatest familiarity--naturally, since they represent the god and the animal nature of man, who live together in the same body! And this accounts for the special privilege accorded the fool to jest at the expense of the castle baron, and for the horse-play and buffoonery permitted at the Saturnalia and the autumn equinoctial festivals (surviving in the rough mischief of our Hallowe’en), when higher and lower, god and irresponsible joker in man, were placed on the same level of existence. Fools were considered sacred on the seventh day, symbolizing the raising of the animal man to his human-divine dignity on the Sabbath, the seventh and last "day" of the cycle.

The incarnation of the divine soul in man’s animal body is the basis of all the legends of the sorcerers’ turning the hero or his men into animals, or their disguising themselves as animals. The Hallowe’en animal mask is the survival and replica of the same thing, for the masks were originally the hides of animals! The prominence given this phase of the drama’s meaning is attested by what Raglan writes (p. 261). He says that a prominent feature of every type of traditional narrative is the man in animal form, or the animal that can speak. Persons disguised as animals are so universal a feature of ritual and drama as not to need demonstration, he avers. And the answer to the query why ancient Egyptian ritual was performed largely by people in animal masks, and why Greek gods and goddesses were so often represented as animals or birds, holds in its symbolic purport one of the central items of the drama of human life. For the religion of these early peoples throbbed with an innate sense of kinship with nature and religious ideas were sympathetically adumbrated and reflected by nature’s phenomena. Participants in the Mithraic Mysteries wore animal masks. Obviously the masks typified the outer personality of man, for the Latin word for "mask" is persona, and man’s personality is an animal body!

It is quite worth a moment’s digression from data to exegesis to say that the world’s failure over many centuries to read the simple explication of this animal typism, as dramatically depicting the incarnation of the soul in the human-animal, and not the beast-animal, body, has buried the trap to catch untold millions of religiously simple-minded people in its disguised subtlety. Had the esoteric implications of the drama been kept in ken, all that mass of lucubrated assertion by numberless writers that the ancients endorsed the belief in transmigration of the once-human soul into the bodies of animals at death, would not have disgraced the pages of literature. Scholars, historians and sociologists can now be told that they have been shooting, not at an authentic poacher in the garden, but at a scarecrow.

Raglan cites that the Council of Trent believed that people can take the form of animals! The ancients, as we have seen, are accused of "believing" their myths. It was only the later Christians that believed them, with both humorous and tragic results.

Greek drama, like Egyptian, is predominantly tragic, because what moderns term "happiness" was not the one supreme motif of the human experience, as envisaged by Greek philosophy. By etymology "tragedy" means "goat-song." The goat was of course the zodiacal Capricorn, coming at the winter solstice, when the sun, typifying the soul in the dead "winter" of its incarnation, was in the throes of "death" as the scapegoat to carry the onus of man’s redemption. For obviously man’s only possible redeemer--from benightedness, nescience, animal carnality--is his own soul. If it can not make the grade into charity, love and compassion, what else can uplift him? Let the Church which has gulled its childish millions by substituting a historical for an immanent scapegoat, answer.

This concludes the limited assemblage of data to demonstrate that the myth came from the pristine ritual drama. If it is not enough to prove the point, there is doubtless much more material of perhaps greater strength that could be found and presented. The fact, if considered sufficiently demonstrated, might seem to be remote from any bearing on the question of the Jesus historicity. It is indeed not remote. If it can be shown that the Christ of the Gospels was a mythical character, we could then confidently look for agreement of all aspects of this mythical figure with the central character-personage in the ancient religious ritual, out of which the myths grew. Comparative religion study has already demonstrated this close relationship of the two figures, the Christ of the mythos and the Sun-God of the ritual. Some material in the present work may further strengthen that identity. If the ritual and the myth are shown to be in point of fact practically identical, and the features to match closely the characterizations of the Gospel Jesus, a strong presumptive case has already been established in support of the conclusion that the Gospel hero was but another of the many mythical type-figures, and not a Galilean peasant.