Category Archives: mythology

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

These are selected extracts from a longer article that appeared on September 21st 2017 on Rubedo Press – link can be found at the bottom of this page

Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi

GARY P. CATON.

ANTHROPOLOGISTS suggest it was a “creative explosion” of primal art, such as cave paintings and figurines, which formally marks the transition to what we consider to be modern humans during the upper Paleolithic period. So, it is first our image- and later our symbol-making capacities which stand out as distinctively modern human adaptations and characteristics.

[…]In the 2010 documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a researcher is interviewed confessing that the lions painted on the walls of Chauvet cave had invaded their dreams with such a powerful and profound presence that they had to stop going inside the caves in order to process the profound emotions stirred by the experience. This encounter truly exemplifies the raw primal psychic potentials capable of evocation through images.

The zodiac itself is a circular image, the word in Greek meaning “circle of animals.” While the zodiac as a formal coordinate system originated with the Babylonians around the seventh-century BCE, it has been hypothesized that the 17,000 year old paintings of animals in the Lascaux caves represent the constellations in what could be described as a kind of proto-zodiac. This proto-zodiac hypothesis is difficult to prove, however it is generally accepted that at the very least the cave paintings represent a form of “sympathetic magic,” wherein painting the animal becomes a kind of spiritual communion between the souls of the animal and the painter.

Evidence suggests that early modern humans existed in an undifferentiated state of consciousness and lived by a worldview which anthropologists call animism. For these people, there was no separation between the spiritual and material worlds, and so animals were naturally seen to have souls too. In fact, in an animistic consciousness, everything has a soul—including rivers, mountains, valleys and plants, minerals, etc. So, the ritual act of creating the image of an animal is practiced to enable the artist to invoke the sympathy of the animal’s soul—either to gain its sacrifice in the hunt or to take on some of its attributes and power.

Perhaps this sympathetic magic is also partly what was intended in the creation of the zodiac, and helps explain its continued popularity. After all, who has not occasionally wanted to roar like a lion in the face of life’s trials?It is one thing to wistfully wish for the presence of one’s inner lion, or even to accidentally stumble upon and arouse it, but it is quite another thing altogether for someone to consciously and deliberately summon such a presence.  Outside of a children’s story, many modern people might find the concept laughable. And yet, ironically, we can regularly see humans engaging in behaviors that make those of a wild lion seem almost tame.

Is it possible that suppression or repression of our more primordial urges has only fated us to become possessed by them, forcing them to reveal themselves to us in a more perverted form? […]

Philosopher Jean Gebser theorized that humanity has transitioned through several modes or structures of consciousness. The problem with what he calls the mental structure that humanity is transitioning away from is that it seeks to deny the other structures with its claim that humans should be exclusively rational. However the structure that we are transitioning toward is integral, and carries the need to “make present” all the various structures of awareness. When all structures are recognized and accepted this enables a person to see and live through the various structures simultaneously, rather than be subjected to, possessed or “lived by” one of them.

Perhaps this tells us that an openness to and understanding of an animistic perspective or worldview may help (or at least begin) to provide or reconnect us with conscious access to the ancient instinctive resources shared by all human beings, and might also help prevent these same instincts from taking over our lives through unconscious animalistic behaviors.

Although it is quite common for people today to think of god in terms of a trinity, it seems seldom that modern people dare to think of themselves, their lives or their world in these same terms. Yet, some familiar with more ancient forms of awareness know that animistic cultures have long considered there to be three worlds. In many ancient religious systems, there were three cosmic levels: not only heaven and earth, but an underworld as well. Rather than simply the nightmarish vision of hell imagined by Christianity, the underworld was seen by many cultures as a place of natural riches and ancestral wisdom. In this worldview, the axis mundi, the vertical feature of the cosmos, was seen to be at the center of the world and served to link together all three cosmic levels. This axis could be represented by various symbols such as a mountain, tree or ladder. From an animistic perspective, all three of these worlds are not only connected, but also accessible to, and indeed part of every human being.

From an animistic perspective, because there is no separation between the material and spiritual world, we can also conceive of three “selves” with which to navigate these three worlds. For the animist, what most people think of as their entire identity, the every- day awareness of the conscious ego, or what Kahuna shamans call the “talking self,” is actually far from the totality of being. Our “higher” spiritual self has access to transcendent spiritual wisdom, and our basic self accesses our “lower” animal/visceral intelligence, the instincts and inherited tribal wisdom that have kept us alive as a species for many millennia. From this perspective, the admonition to “know thyself” takes on new complexity. There is a need to comprehend, understand, and harmonize all three essential aspects of being human and to bring our three “selves” into alignment and integrated partnership.

In this way, the triple-alignments of Mercury, occurring in the same degrees and also linking the above and below, can become a kind of axis mundi—a sacred linkage, connecting the three worlds and three selves. Remember, from a visual standpoint, the image of Mercury’s retrograde journey is that of a disappearing act: from above to below, and back to above. Images often tell a story. The visual transformation process that Mercury performs every four months, of disappearing in the west and later re-appearing in the east, also happens to the other planets at various intervals and was mythologized by the Babylonians and Egyptians as the journeys of various gods through the underworld.

Of all the Greek gods, only Hermes was able to fully traverse the axis mundi and visit the heights of Mount Olympus as well as the depths of Hades. Sky astrologers can use these visual and mythical perspectives to better understand Mercury retrograde.[7] After Mercury passes evening elongation, his highest appearance above the horizon in the west at dusk, he is in the process of slowing down and descending. Later he turns retrograde and becomes invisible, disappearing in the west. After making the invisible inferior (below) conjunction with the sun, Mercury re-appears in the east and then makes his highest appearance above the eastern horizon at morning elongation. Visually, Mercury is “switching skies,” appearing in the same degrees three times: first as evening star, then becoming invisible and making the inferior conjunction, and finally crossing for the third time as morning star.

Source: Mercury, Animism, and the Axis Mundi | Rubedo Press

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The Remains of Elmet: a collaboration by Ted Hughes & Fay Godwin

The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet witnessed “Druidism; Britons, their fight against Rome and their adoption of Romanism; the start of Christianity and the clash with Rome’s catholic Christianity; a Bardic tradition in a Brythonic tongue and then in the highest quality Latin, the struggle against the English; the struggle against the Norse; the coming of the Normans; civil war in the 12th century; Scottish raids; the rise & fall of the Percy’s; the bloodiest battle in the Wars of the Roses; religious rebellion in the Tudor times; sieges and battles in the English Civil War; the growth of great estates through the 18th century; the centre of the Industrial Revolution. “

– John Davey

Elmet (Elmed/Elfed) called Elmete Saetan or “the dwelling place of the people of Elmete” came into prominence following the evacuation of the Roman Legions from Britain after 407-410 A.D. As such it is synonymous with the origins of Arthurian legends much corrupted by later generations.

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The Ancient Kingdom of Elmet has inspired bards, poets, photographers and authors, among others, with its history, legends, landscape and folklore, not least of all the Arthurian legends, though that connection is for another day.

One such body of work inspired by the landscape and history, is the collaborative Remains of Elmet. Collaborations between poets and photographers became increasingly common in the late twentieth century. Among the most successful was Remains of Elmet (1979), by photographer Fay Godwin and poet Ted Hughes.

Remains of Elmet

Remains of Elmet marks a departure from Hughes myth laden sequences of poetry which he produced in the 1970s. After the likes of CrowCave Birds and Gaudete,Remains of Elmet appears downbeat by comparison with its sparse lines of verse and bleak black and white high contrast photographs of the West Yorkshire landscape as taken by Hughes’s collaborator on this project Fay Godwin. ” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet
Fay Godwin, Remains of Elmet

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Fay Godwin, Ruined Farm, Stanbury Moor, 1979

“Hughes’s poetic vision of the Calder Valley, a region formerly referred to by the Celts as ‘Elmet’, is not a wistful and rose-tinted appreciation of the area he grew up in. His poems depict a weather beaten landscape and people and the vestiges of industrial enterprise, religious custom and ancient tradition. Here, the only survivor among these remains, the only ‘thing’ to flourish, is nature as it reclaims the land from those who inhabit it. This underlying conflict is foregrounded by allusions to the First World War where the valley is at once an extension of the Western Front and a site of remembrance with repeated allusions to the cenotaph and the war dead. Survivors of this conflict and the generation of inhabitants who have witnessed its economic demise become anachronisms, symbolic of an inertia crippling attempts of tame the valley.” – The Ted Hughes Society

Fay Godwin is very much a writer’s photographer, in more senses than one. Poets and novelists are drawn to her work, and she worked closely with several.”

“From an urban life as a 60s north London wife, mother and hostess, she set out on a long journey into the wilder landscapes of Britain, sometimes in company, sometimes alone, often on foot, and built up over time a body of work that reflects a deep sense of place and the poetry of place. In 1970 she met Ted Hughes, with whom she formed a creative partnership which was to result in his lament for the Calder Valley, Remains of Elmet (1979). Perhaps the best known of her collaborations, this volume was very much poem-led. She responded strongly to his vision of the ruined mills, the “melting corpses of farms”, the Satanic majesty, the sluttish subsidy sheep, the black chimneys, the cemeteries, the millstone grit, the willow herb. It was through Hughes, she said, that she got to know England.” Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

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Fay Godwin, Top Withens

Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s
Fay Godwin on a Photographers Place workshop in the late 1970s

“Attuned to each other, like the strings of a harp
They are making mesmerising music,
Each one bowed at his dried bony profile, as at a harp.
Singers of a lost kingdom. “

(from Remains of Elmet)

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Ted Hughes

“Throughout his creative life, Ted Hughes has used his poetry to tap the universal energies and to channel their healing powers towards the sterility and the divisions which he sees in our world. All his major sequences of poetry work towards this end, and Remains of Elmet represents an important step in Hughes’ ability to achieve wholeness and harmony through the imaginative, healing processes of his art.

In his pursuit of these regenerative energies, Hughes appears to have adopted the role of poet/priest/shaman, and it is a role which carries responsibilities that Hughes takes very seriously. He is aware of the creative/destructive powers of the energies he courts, and he has a superstitious belief that by fixing these powerful energies in a poem he can affect both writer and reader “in a final way”. Consequently, Hughes has experimented with many methods of summoning and containing these energies and, whilst he is skilled at using the rhythms and the rituals of poetry for this purpose, in his longer sequences he most frequently turns to “the old method” of religious and mythological ritual in order to obtain the imaginative healing he intends.” © Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

For more on Elmet

sources:

Margaret Drabble on Fay Godwin

The Ted Hughes Society

Ann Skea – Regeneration in Remains of Elmet

 

 

 

The Oracle of Delphi – Know Thyself

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.” – Richard Bach

I was watching a tv documentary last night by Michael Scott about the oracle at Delphi (link for UK readers http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00w4jtx ) and he was explaining how those who visited the Oracle should have paid more heed to the motto at the site, which read “Know thyself”.

Most of us are familiar with the phrase, but many people don’t spend the time thinking about its meaning, and still less spend the time learning to “Know Thyself”.  It means understand yourself, but so much more than merely self observation.

The quote above from Richard Bach explains far better what Michael Scott was getting at – that the answers given by the Oracle were ambiguous, and could only be understood when a person interpreted them using their own intuition. It’s often said that we know the answers to our own questions, so why is it that we don’t trust our own answers?

Usually, this is because we have limiting beliefs about ourselves. We are basing our ideas about ourselves on what others say about us and others. A woman recently told me that her mother had always told her before a job interview that she wouldn’t be “what they are looking for”, regardless of the work. The mother’s limiting observations were not only related to interviews but to other areas of the woman’s life, and it was only many years later that she realised how much her mother’s words had affected her beliefs about herself.

We have all been affected by similar words from others, quite often without being aware of it, and we are also unaware that many of the beliefs we hold are not our own. So how do we undo this past conditioning? How does one “Know Thyself”?

We can start by listening to what we say, or write. Whenever you say “I am….” this or “I am…” that, stop for a moment and ask yourself if you really are, or if that is what you have come to believe, based on what others have said either about you or about other people.

What if you’re not sure? Start to become aware of your own emotions, your reactions to what people say or do around you – are those reactions genuine or conditioned? What pushes your buttons? When you notice what has pushed your buttons, then start to ask why?

You’ll be surprised at the answers you come up with. And when you begin to understand the answers, you’ll also begin to trust your own answers more, and will be on the way to understanding what the motto meant at the temple to the Oracle at Delphi. You already know.

For an earlier, more esoteric post on the subject of  to Know Thyself, see here: https://supersededotcom.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/stairs-of-gold-giorgio-tavaglione/