Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Ancient Druids -- part three

Decorated stone at Newgrange, Co. Meath, Ireland.
Older than the pyramids, it figures in the later
Celtic sagas (as Brú na Bóinne).
photo: Johnbod
The adaptation of foreign cultural traits by any society can be short-lived or it can last for a very long time. Stories incorporating Newgrange were being written down about 2,500 years after the building of the monument and have remained popular more than a thousand years after that.

Mythology and religion retains details longer than any other agency of syncretism because their subjects are often core to the human psyche. Beliefs can contact levels of the unconscious deeper than that of the dream state, and because we cannot consciously understand their essence in full, they can often impart a numinous experience we rarely achieve by other means. Whenever a religion becomes extinct, it is almost always because it has been replaced by a new religion that has gained great popularity, or because the older religion has been actively suppressed. Such things do not happen rapidly and the oldest conflicts that humans experience have religion as their basis. This phenomenon is relatively modern, with the existence of prehistoric religious wars being highly debateable. Most often, in the ancient world, others religious beliefs were far more respected than they are today. The modern world has become so used to religious conflicts that many people abandon religion for that very reason.

Also harmful to religious belief is a shift away from the metaphors that characterized much ancient thought to a confusion with historicity. Vast numbers of people now require a belief in the literal truth of religious texts that their first authors were using as metaphor. Joseph Campbell said that people are killing each other over their choice of metaphor. In a real sense, we are devolving in that subject. Societies are shifting too far toward Logos and too far away from Mythos to maintain a balanced psychology. When nationalisms (which are also a strong force) enter the conflict, the decline accelerates.

An understanding of the above is essential for what comes next in this series.

Today's entry is short because of a couple of appointments -- much more tomorrow!

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