The Psychology of a religious myth



“One day, it was suddenly revealed to me that everything is Pure Spirit. The utensils of worship, the altar, the door-frame, all Pure Spirit. Men, animals, and other living beings, all Pure Spirit. Then like a madman I began to shower flowers in all directions. Whatever I saw I worshiped.” 



Since its origins mankind always had a mythical slant upon life; therefore, the mythological realm, the world of the gods and demons, the carnival of their masks and representations, the “as if” games in which the festival of the lived myth abrogates all the laws of time, letting the dead swim back to life, and where the “once upon a time” become the very present.

In the primitive world, where most of the clues to the origin of mythology must be sought, the gods and demons never have been conceived in the way of hard and fast, positive realities. More like today, for most of the believers in the supernatural, a god, whenever represented by a statue, a painting, a picture, a sculpture or someone wearing a mask or simply a ceremonial dress, could be or coexist simultaneously in two or more places without the impact or solemnity of its presence being diluted through the process of material multiplication. Moreover, the representation of the god is revered and experienced as a veritable apparition of the mythical being that it represents, even though everyone knows that this representation is man-made or that someone human is wearing the mask representing the god or the ceremonial dress. Furthermore, the person wearing the mask or the ceremonial dress will often be identified with the god. The person wearing the mask or the ceremonial dress does not merely represent the god; that person becomes the god. 

The literal fact that the mere presence of the god is composed of a physical representation, a mask or a dress, their reference to a mythical being, and a man or a woman either officiating a ceremony or wearing the mask during some kind of a festival or carnival, is dismissed from the mind of the believers, and the presentation or ceremony is allowed to work without correction upon the sentiments of both the beholder and the actor or minister. In other words, there is a shift of view from the logic of the normal secular sphere, where things are understood to be distinct from one another, to a theatrical or mystical play sphere, where the actors and representations are accepted for what they are experienced: a game of “make believe” and “as if.”

We all know the convention and the rules of the game, surely!

It is a primary, spontaneous device of innocence and childhood, a magical device, by which the world can be transformed from banality to magic in a trice. And its inevitability is one of those universal characteristics that unite all human races in one family: the belief in one self-induced belief, the spontaneous shift of an idea from the level of the sentiments to that of sensual consciousness. A certain spiritual process has reached a conclusion. This process is highly creative, in the highest sense of the word; for, as we have seen, a picture, a statue, a mask, the wearer of a dress become a god. Briefly stated: the phase of becoming takes place on the level of the sentiments, while being is of the conscious world. This is what is to be called the phenomenon of “Divine Seizure” or “Divine Rapture”.

In all the wild imaginings of mythology of all times, a fanciful spirit always have been playing, on the border-line between jest and earnest. The mental attitude in which the great religious feasts are celebrated and witnessed is not one of complete illusion. There is an underlying consciousness of things not being real. A certain element of “make-believe” always has been and is still today operative in all religions. If some of the followers have total faith, some others are just playing the game doing “as if”. The human is a good actor who can be quite absorbed in his role, like a child at play or a politician or a minister of the cult at work. And also the follower, like a child, a good spectator who can be frightened to death by something he knows perfectly well to be no “real” threat, or monster.

A game of make believe

In the Roman Catholic mass, when the priest pronounces the formula of consecration with utmost solemnity, first over the bread, then over the wine, it is to be supposed that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, that every fragment of the host and every drop of the wine is the actual living Savior of the world. The sacrament, that is to say, is not conceived to be a reference, a mere sign or symbol to arouse in us a train of thought, but is God himself, the Creator, Judge, and Savior of the Universe, here come to work upon us directly, to free our souls, created in His image, from the effects of the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which we are to suppose existed as a geographical fact.

In India, it is believed that, in response to consecrating formulae, deities will descend graciously on earth to infuse their divine substance into the temple images, which are then called their throne or pītha. It is also possible, and in some Indian sects and even expected, that the individual himself should become a seat of deity. In the Gandharva Tantra it is written: “No one who is not himself divine can successfully worship a divinity”; and again, “Having become the divinity, one should offer it sacrifice.”

Furthermore, whatever the religion or the spiritual belief, factual or ephemeral, it is even possible as we sadly see it too often, for a really gifted player to discover, to ascertain or even pretend that everything, absolutely everything, including himself and everyone with him, the cats and the dogs, the flowers and the plants have become the body of a god; that everyone and everything on earth and in the universe reveals the omnipresence of god as the ground of all being.

Toward the divine seizure

Belief, or at least a game of “make believe” or playing “as if”, is the first step toward divine seizure and divine rapture. The chronicles of the saints abound in accounts of their long ordeals of difficult practice, which preceded their moments of illumination or being carried away; and we have also the more spontaneous religious games and exercises of both, the professional cults, amateur priests and folks to illustrate the principle involved. The spirit of the festival, the carnival, the holiday, the holy day of the religious and mystical ceremonial, requires that the normal attitude toward the cares of the world should be temporarily set aside in favor of a particular mood of dressing up.

The world is hung with banners. In the clerical sanctuaries, the temples and cathedrals, where an atmosphere of holiness hangs permanently in the air, the logic of the cold hard facts of real life must not be allowed to intrude and spoil the spell. The gentile, the Cartesian, the humanist, the positivist, who cannot or will not play the religious and mythological game, must be kept aloof. Hence the guardian figures that stand at either side of the entrances to holy places: the lions, the bulls, and the fearsome warriors and priests with uplifted weapons and scriptures. They are there to keep out the bad sports, the knowledgeable, the enlightened, the advocates of Aristotelean logic, for whom a cat can never be a dog; for whom the actor is never to be lost in the part; for whom the mask, the image, the consecrated host, the tree, or animal cannot become God, but only a reference. Such heavy thinkers are to remain out of the so-called holy arena. For the whole purpose of entering the blessed sanctuary or participating in the game is that one should be overtaken by the state known in Oriental religions as “the other mind”, “the anya-manas”, “the absent-mindedness”, “the possession by a spirit”, where one is “beside oneself,” mesmerized, set apart from one’s logic of consciousness and awareness, overpowered by the force of a spiritual logic of “indissociation”, wherein a cat is a mouse, and an elephant is also a mouse.

To be continued…


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