“Creation Mythology” – Article and Interview with Author Ray Grigg by Willi Paul, NewMythologist.com
“Has the Prima Materia changed? Or perhaps do we need new myths to find it?” – Willi, LinkedIn Mythology Group 11-28-14
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Creation Mythology by Ray Grigg
The first thing to realize about the biblical Creation story in the first two chapters of Genesis — the mythology and its earlier roots in Sumeria have shaped the fundamental thinking of Western cultures — is that a beginning also implies an ending. This may explain our ability as a culture to be relatively unconcerned about the threat of an environmental apocalypse. The expectation of an ending is built into the way the Western mind thinks, made inevitable by the beginning that inhabits the other pole of its mythology. This is one of many ideas thoughtfully explored by Susan Murphy in her fascinating book, Minding the Earth, Mending the World: Zen and the Art of Planetary Crisis.
The original Eden, Murphy explains, was an idyllic place, existing in a suspended state of perfection where birth and death did not occur, where pain and suffering were absent, where predator and prey mingled in peace, and where the undivided wholeness of Divine Grace had not yet been broken into confusing components by Adam’s and Eve’s decision to eat the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
All this is lost when Adam and Eve succumb to temptation. Not only are the two sinners evicted from the Garden, but the innocence of Eden is also lost. The Fall is total. Nature’s state of suspended perfection is shattered. The thoughtless harmony of the unsullied beginning collapses. Predators now kill prey. Change and impermanence are unleashed. Pain and suffering must be endured as a punishment. In this fallen world, the sexual urge — not that different from the temptation that lured Adam and Eve to the forbidden fruit — becomes the source of birth and then the haunting shadow of promised death. Having been cast out of Paradise, humanity must now live its numbered days in a homeless state of conscious remorse and guilt, adrift in a hostile and ruined place where its only power is to name and subdue nature while surviving as best we can. This is the situation at the end of the Old Testament.
The New Testament provides salvation for the fallen. God manifests in the wreckage of Eden in the form of Jesus, who promises salvation by dying for humanity’s original sin. All is forgiven in his death, resurrection and ascension. So the descendants of Adam and Eve can escape their guilt and humiliation through belief. The curse from disobedience is lifted, an eternal reprieve from death and suffering is granted, and a return to the paradise of Heaven once more guarantees the company and order of the Divine Presence.
Except this forgiveness is not granted to nature. No reprieve is offered to Eden. The birds of the air and the fishes of the sea, the beasts of the fields and the predators that devour them are not returned to their original, uncorrupted state. They remain in their fallen condition with no promise of salvation. The natural world in which humanity must live is not restored to its initial perfection but continues in its debased and spoiled form.
This creates an inherent and profound dichotomy between a saved humanity and an unredeemed world. Although humanity is on Earth, it is no longer of Earth. The original oneness in Eden is not mended. Humanity’s sense of accord with nature has been expunged, first by disobedience and then by the promise of salvation. Each event has increased the disconnection, while distancing humanity from its obligation to care for Creation. A fallen, ephemeral and chaotic nature of incessant struggle exists only to be used and abandoned on the way to humanity’s eventual salvation. The final Ending that is anticipated by the only Beginning — the inevitable Armageddon, whatever its form — will be the last cleansing of the imperfect before everything is returned to the eternally perfect.
Nature, therefore, is doubly victimized: first by the Fall — of which it is wholly innocent —and then by the impending apocalypse — of which it is also wholly innocent. In this story, Earth and all the marvels of Creation are only a stage upon which the human drama of sin, redemption and salvation occurs. In the interim, between the very Beginning and the very Ending, an imperfect nature is merely present to be used by an exceptional humanity that will, by the certainty of belief and the promise of salvation, eventually escape the bonds of its sin. At the final reckoning, whatever remains of a tattered, exploited and abused nature, will be restored by the wisdom of Divine intervention. Despite the devastation, all will be fixed and all will be well.
These are not thoughts that lie close to the surface of human awareness. As with each mythology, its unspoken assumptions are mostly hidden in the secret recesses of its stories, rarely explained in their undisguised form because they are too close to the core of a culture’s identity to be articulated. Although ordinarily unnoticed, they are nonetheless so fundamental that they are responsible for shaping and directing most thought, attitudes and behaviour.
A culture’s mythology only comes to the surface of its own consciousness during times of upheaval and crisis: when circumstances become dire, when questions become profound, when doubt becomes intense, when urgency becomes fear, when the search for new meaning is forced to venture into places never before explored.
This is the situation in which Western culture now finds itself. The old mythology is stressed and failing. It is being examined, exposed and challenged in a rebuilding process that is usually long, arduous and painful. So some thinkers, such as Susan Murphy, are returning to the beginning to understand what is amiss, and how we might find a new way forward.
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Interview with Ray by Willi
What is the Bible these days? How is this text influencing the super-texting / skateboarding youth of ours?
Myths, like those in the Bible, shape the foundational ways in which we think and experience, shaping our sense of reality so fundamentally that we find it extremely difficult to separate sufficiently from these myths to be objective or to find an alternative model for understanding the world in which we live — as Marshall McLuhan playfully noted, we can be certain that water was never discovered by fish. Reality is not a fact; it is an interpretation of sensory information. Our fundamental values and attitudes about existence, meaning and behaviour are inculcated by the deepest assumptions that our culture imposes upon us, and these assumptions that are rarely explicitly described because we have to escape the culture to notice them.
Prior to the super-texting or skateboarding activities of youth, from the moment they began breathing as infants, their culture was imparting mythological meaning to them. They learn this by osmosis. Christmas, Easter and Halloween all carry mythological messages. Youth learns the particular values inherent in the culture in which they are submerged: their sense of individuality; their loyalty to parents, family and the larger community; their notions about death and afterlife; their society’s expectations of them; their sense of justice and fairness; their strategies for resolving conflict; their ethical standards regarding stealing, sharing, giving, conflict resolution; their sense of time; their relationship to nature. This is the “water” in which these youth are immersed.
Youth may rebel against some of these forces when they are attempting to define themselves, just as a two-year-old learns that he or she is a separate individual from its parents. Separating from a culture is an adult challenge that requires a confrontation with the sense of reality created by mythology.
The Bible is essential to the mythology of Christian cultures, but other stories and literature form the basis of thought in other cultures. The Qur’an,the Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Analects of Confucius, the Dharma of Buddha, the dreamtime of Aborigines, for example, all arise from different mythologies and shape the experience of reality in different ways.
Technology is homogenizing this process somewhat through globalization. But the super-texting and skateboarding youth of Japan and America will still be very different, particularly as they mature and the culture’s hold on them deepens.
“A culture’s mythology only comes to the surface of its own consciousness during times of upheaval and crisis: when circumstances become dire, when questions become profound, when doubt becomes intense, when urgency becomes fear, when the search for new meaning is forced to venture into places never before explored.”
What new mythology, if any, is emanating from the classic mythology?
New mythologies are extremely difficult to build because they do not happen rationally or deliberately. We unconsciously assimilate them rather than deliberately invent them. New experiences force new mythologies upon us. These are events that we usually interpret as crises, primarily because myths are culturally stabilizing forces that we are reluctant to change. The creation of a new mythology feels, at first, as if the old standards of meaning are being torn apart.
We are presently in the early stages of a transition period, so this emerging mythology is extremely difficult to identify. The mythology of the hero will probably persist, although his or her quest will be different. The assumptions about reality underlying the Greek mythological stories may persist, simply because they justify the three major Western absolutist religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam by creating a bifurcated universe of a literal “heaven” and “earth”, two different places and two different forms of existence. We are now confronting the environmental consequences of this mythology because it compromises our sense of reverence for Earth itself and for our ability to fully belong to it.
Classical scholars have noted that all Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato. Western culture may be similarly formed by Platonic thinking. This will be explored further in the following questions. But an additional footnote is needed here. While Plato pointed up to heaven and ideals, Aristotle pointed down to the earth and direct experience. Western thinking has been dominated by these two very different but related measures of reality. The former supports Christian absolutes and ideals; the latter supports science and empiricism.
Marshall McLuhan noted that our culture is “retribalizing”. Rather than an individualistic and analytical explanation of things, this is more a process of responding to impulses and feelings, to image and emotion, to a holistic sense of things. We will find supportive stories from older mythologies to reinforce these developing inclinations. Nature will become a larger part of this mythology.
What is the status of classic myths in your point of view?
The literal stories in the myths are largely decorative now. But the assumptions and values underlying them are far more significant that the stories themselves. Attention should go to what the myth means, not what the story relates. The story is the tip of the metaphorical iceberg.
Deteriorating environmental circumstances may force us to return to borrow from old pre-literate mythologies.
Do you see key linkages between classic mythology and the Old Testament? New Mythology (or Creative Mythology) and the New Testament?
The notion of the perfection of an idea, an absolute that is the basis for judging our transient and imperfect experiences as humans, has supported the notion of a god of absolute perfection and power, of total control and order. The Greek’s Zeus became the Christian’s Yahweh. Yahweh is the unsayable “YHWH” with vowels added. It has its equivalent in the unknowable realm of ideas—in Plato’s metaphor, we see only the shadows of Reality on the cave wall. Greek thought and mythology, in other words, formed the basis for Christian belief and thought, and its residual presence in the Roman empire, as it persisted throughout the so-called Dark Ages, and then as it was reconstituted in the Renaissance, nourished and justified Christianity.
The New Testament is just an extension of this same process. A perfect Saviour transcends the imperfections of an earthly world to promise a restored perfection. Jesus becomes the embodied link between a perfect Heaven and a fallen Earth.
Heaven will save some of us from our sins on Earth, Ray? Do really think people believe this?
Christians are required to believe this if they are Christians. So are Muslims if they wish to be Muslims. This notion of salvation is fundamental to their moral reasoning, their ordinary behaviour, and their post-death expectations.
But such words such as “Heaven”, “save” and “sin” in your question are all mythologically loaded. From a different mythological perspective, where or what is “heaven”? “Saved” from what? What “sin”? Not all mythologies have such questions, words and concepts, and if they do, they are understood very differently. “Soul” is a similar word. So is “self”. Indian, Tibetan, Chinese and Japanese mythologies are create a very different sense of reality.
Many argue that we are in the apocalypse now. Thoughts?
From an environmental perspective, we are in an apocalypse. But our dominant Christian mythology is expecting something different in the form of an Armageddon. This raises the issue of time. The environmental apocalypse is slow relative to our human sense of change, although fast relative to geological time. The beginning of the Anthropocene is dated from either the origins of agriculture 10,000 years ago or from the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago. Our attention span is too short to easily notice the monumental changes Earth’s ecology is undergoing. And we live in a culture of accelerated speed, impairing even further our sense of time and change. Science is telling us that we are in an apocalypse but this is incompatible with personal experience. Everyone takes as normal the relative absence of butterflies, songbirds, tigers, wolves, fish, etc…. Older people may notice changes and be alarmed but few people have a perspective that is planetary and millennia in scope. We rely on science to inform us in this regard, then we reflexively dismiss its comprehensive view because it conflicts with the narrow one we have.
Urbanization is another factor influencing our sense of apocalypse. Our experience of nature, of biodiversity, of climate, of order and of normalcy is mostly determined by civic factors such as parks, flocks of starlings, thermostats, traffic jams, and the rituals of city life. Crop failure is registered as the price of fruit, vegetables and grains in the supermarket. This distances us from the place where the apocalypse is really occurring. But floods, rising sea levels, extreme weather events and new diseases bring the urbanite into a more direct contact with apocalypse.
Is there a new Adam and Eve? Where is Eden now?
This is another of those mythologically loaded questions. If, however, “Adam” is understood as meaning “man”, and “Eve” as meaning “woman”, then they have been in a process of transformation from their very beginning. Each new generation is a new model, built differently by cultural, environmental and epigenetic processes to be anatomically and psychologically different and new.
The location of “Eden” depends on one’s mythological perspective. For Christians and Moslems, Eden is still lost. A more objective and scientific perspective would define “Eden” as exactly where we are on Earth. The tragedy for them is that we are losing it. If anyone thinks mythologically, they would understand that we are losing “Eden” again, for the second time; if anyone simply measures the present degradation, they would bemoan losing the present and only “Eden” we have. The tragedy of losing it once is unforgivable; the tragedy of losing it twice is even more unforgivable.
“Having been cast out of Paradise, humanity must now live its numbered days in a homeless state of conscious remorse and guilt, adrift in a hostile and ruined place where its only power is to name and subdue nature while surviving as best we can. This is the situation at the end of the Old Testament.”
Isn’t corporate capitalism and the military industrial complex fuelling apocalypse?
Yes. Corporate capitalism and its various manifestations have been explored frequently by many important thinkers trying to understand why we are trashing our planet. Corporate capitalism provides one explanation for our destructive human behaviour. Perhaps the greatest danger of this economic system is its adaptability and efficiency. At a deeper level, however, corporate capitalism is a symptom of how we think of ourselves, what we do to find meaning and purpose, what we believe, our relationship to nature. A culture of corporate capitalism perceives nature as an object to be used and exploited, not a pattern of ecological wisdom of which we are but a part. The military industrial complex is probably the most cynical, venal, and overtly destructive expression of this attitude.
Who or what is the Divine Presence?
In Christian mythology, “Divine Presence” is just the return of a post-Armageddon world to the ordered control of Yahweh — meaning Jehovah or God. Creation, in effect, returns to some semblance of Eden, to the original condition of order before it was destroyed by Adam’s and Eve’s original sin.
“Forgiveness is not granted to nature.” Why does Nature require forgiveness?
The point being made in the Creation Mythology essay was that humanity is granted forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ as a Christian’s personal saviour. This saves humanity from the Fall, from the eviction from Eden and returns humanity to Yahweh’s grace. When humans fell from grace, so did nature. But the access to salvation that is provided to humans by Christian faith is not provided to nature —or, one might say, the ruins of Eden. This is the sense in which forgiveness is not available to nature.
Outside this mythology of a fallen Eden, nature requires no forgiveness. It is always functioning exactly appropriately at any given moment, doing exactly what the conditions require. In this non-religious understanding of nature, it has always been an “Eden” and it will always be an “Eden”.
When was the Earth in an uncorrupted state?
Earth has always been in an uncorrupted state. It has nothing to corrupt it. Outside of the Eden Mythology, it is a self-contained and self-regulating wilderness in the universe, a Gaia thoughtlessly thinking itself into constantly new incarnations of itself, a system in perpetual renewal. Humanity has only been a small expression of its creativity. We have come, and in all likelihood, we will go as did the trilobites and the pterodactyls.
Part of our evolving mythology will be this realization. We will be forced into a position of greater humility, of a relationship with nature that is more co-operative than adversarial. But this will probably be a very uncomfortable learning experience for humanity.
I say the hell with humans! We can stampede into our end time and rid the planet of our evil ways! Yes!?
Without a “heaven” there can be no “hell”. And nature doesn’t understand “good” or “evil”. Things just are. Living organisms come into being and they pass out of being, both as individuals and as species. Change is continual, always following its own internal wisdom.
“The final Ending that is anticipated by the only Beginning — the inevitable Armageddon, whatever its form — will be the last cleansing of the imperfect before everything is returned to the eternally perfect.”
My New Myths are post-Chaos and incorporate support systems from Transition and Permaculture? Do you see such a post-apocalypse?
We don’t yet know for certain the character and extent of an apocalypse, or even if one is coming. The environmental deterioration indicates that something serious is going to happen. But we don’t know what it will be. History has a way of surprising us — we stumbled into the unexpected catastrophe of World War I but we have managed, so far, to avoid a nuclear holocaust. Global climate change will likely provoke many kinds of unpleasant possibilities, from drowning coastal cities and disturbed food production to rampant political instability and biospheric chaos. These and many other variables could combine with unpredictable results.
We are already noting some changes in the way we do things. Transition communities and permaculture are just the beginnings. But “post-Chaos” implies that chaos will occur, or that it will end should it begin. “The human tragedy,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli, (1469-1527), “is that circumstances change, but man does not.” We bring our human character with us wherever we go. Any hope for a “post-Chaos” utopia should be tempered by who we are and what our history has been. Granted, our present moral behaviour as a species is more civilized than in the past. But our environmentally inappropriate behaviour has escalated from local to global, with potentially dire consequences. And we should try our best to make the best of all possible futures. At the same time, we should be prepared for disappointment.
Do you believe that Nature will not survive the apocalypse? How should the few surviving humans treat Nature then?
If the present rate of environmental degradation continues unabated, or if we slip over the tipping point to uncontrollable global warming, human civilization is in serious trouble. It may not survive as it is presently constituted. Nature will lose vast numbers of species — the Anthropocene, as our human age is being defined, is now marked by one of the planet’s great extinction periods. Should our modern civilization collapse, its detrimental environmental impacts will also diminish or end. The optimistic scenario for nature is that it will survive the trauma, as it has in the past. In a few million years it will have reconstituted itself in a new form.
In the interim, assuming civilization and/or some humans survive, nature will be regarded with an unusual combination of fear and respect. Anxiety and humility will be the prevalent mood for a while. Humanity will attempt to treat nature with exceptional deference. We may remain extremely cautious for a long time. We may have to reduce our sense of self-importance if we are to survive as a species.
But, to return to the mythology theme, we have travelled this route before. The Creation myth in the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions, is really a story of our failure to live within the bounds of certain explicit rules. In ecological terms, we failed the test of belonging to nature; instead, we attempted to make it belong to us. The Eden misadventure is probably a recounting of our actual experiences in the Mesopotamian region of the Middle East. That cautionary lesson has been relearned over and over again at many different times and places throughout our history. It has yet to permanently change who we are and how be behave.