"Primitive Mythology: The Masks of God"
(USA: Viking Penguin, Inc, 1959)
****** Foreword ******
ON COMPLETION OF
The Masks of God
... And I can see no reason why anyone should suppose that in the future the same motifs already heard will not be sounding still — in new relationships indeed, but ever the same motifs. They are all given here, in these volumes, with many clues, besides, suggesting ways in which they might be put to use by reasonable men to reasonable ends — or by poets to poetic ends — or by madmen to nonsense and disaster. For, as in the words of James Joyce in Finnegan's Wake: "utterly impossible as are all these events they are probably as like those which may have taken place as any others which never took person at all are ever likely to be." (p. v)
****** Prologue ******
TOWARD A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE GODS AND HEROES
I. The Lineaments of a New Science
The comparative study of the mythologies of the world compels us to view the cultural history of mankind as a unit; for we find that such themes as the fire-theft, deluge, land of the dead, virgin birth, and resurrected hero have a worldwide distribution — appearing everywhere in new combinations while remaining, like the elements of a kaleidoscipe, only a few and always the same. Furthermore, whereas in tales told for entertainment such mythical themes are taken lightly — in a spirit, obviously, of play — they appear also in religious contexts, where they are accepted not only as factually true but even as revelations of the verities to which the whole culture is a living witness and from which it derives both its spiritual athority and its temporal power. No human society has yet been found in which such mythological motifs have not been rehearsed in liturgies; interpreted by seers, poets, theologians, or philosophers; presented in art; magnified in song; and ecstatically experienced in life-empowering visions. Indeed, the chronicle of our species, from its earliest page, has been not simply an account of the progress of man the tool-maker, but — more tragically — a history of the pouring of blazing visions into the minds of seers and the efforts of early communities to incarnate unearthly covenants. Every people has received its own seal and sign of supernatural designation, communicated to its heroes and daily proved in the lives and experience of its folk. And though many who bow with closed eyes in the sanctuaries of their own tradition rationally scrutinize and disqualify the sacraments of others, an honest comparison immediately reveals that all have been built from one fund of mythological motifs — variously selected, organized, interpreted, and ritualized, according to local need, but revered by every people on earth. (p. 3-4)
II. The Well of the Past
"Very deep," wrote Thomas Mann at the opening of his mythologically conceived tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers, "is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" And he then observed: "The deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable."
Our initial task must be to ask if this be true. And to this end we shall explore first the psychological aspect of the question, to learn whether in the human psychosomatic system there have been found any structures or dynamic tendencies to which the origins of myth and rigual might be referred; and turn only then to the archaeological and ethnological evidences, to learn what the earliest discoverable patterns of mythological ideation may have been. (p. 5)
III. The Dialog of Scholarship and Romance
Clearly, mythology is no toy for children. Nor is it a matter of archaic, merely scholarly concern, of no moment to modern men of action. For its symbols (whether in the tangible form of images or in the abstract form of ideas) touch and release the deepest centers of motivation, moving literate and illiterate alike, moving mobs, moving civilizations. There is a real danger, therefore, in the incongruity of focus that has brought the latest findings of technological research into the foreground of modern life, joing the world in a single community, while leaving the anthropological and psychological discoveries from which a commensurable moral system might have been developed in the learned publications where they first appeared. For surely it is folly to preach to children who will be riding rockets to the moon a morality and cosmology based on the concepts of the Good Society and of man's place in nature that were coined before the harnessing of the horse! And the world is now far too small, and men's stake in sanity too great, for any more of othose old games of Chosen Folk (whether of Jehovah, Allah, Wotan, Manu, or the Devil) by which tribesmen were still sustained against their enemies in the days when the serpent still could talk. (p. 12)
"The myth," as Thomas Mann has seen, and as many of the depth psychologists would agree, "is the foundation of life, the timeless schema, the pious formula into which life flows when it reproduces its traits out of the unconscious." But on the other hand — as any ethnologist, archaeologist, or historian would observe — the myths of the differing civilizations have sensibly varied throughout the centuries and broad reaches of mankind's residence in the world, indeed to such a degree that the "virtue" of one mythology has often been the "vice' of another, and the heaven of one is the other's hell. Moreover, with the old horizons now gone that formerly separated and protected the various culture worlds and their pantheons, a veritable Götterdämmerung has flung the flames across the universe. Communities that once were comfortable in the consciousness of their own mythologically guaranteed godliness find, abruptly, that they are devils in the eyes of their neighbors. Evidently some mythology of a broader, deeper kind than anything envisioned anywhere in the past is now required: some arcanum arcanorum far more fluid, more sophisicated, than the separate visions of the local traditions, wherein those mythologies themselves will be known to be but the masks of a larger — all their shining pantheons but the flickering modes of a "timeless schema" that is no schema. (p. 18)