Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The La Tène religion of the Celtic elite ― part 5: Comparative mythologies

Joseph Campbell (late 1970)
photo: Joan Halifax
As the Druids moved across Gaul, Britain, and beyond, they would have encountered many different expressions of the indigenous deities, and would have noticed, as Tacitus did later (Germania, 43), similarities in some of their characteristics and their stories to that which they were already familiar. Of course, they have left us no written account of those experiences but we do have Tacitus' observation:
"The Naharvali proudly point out a grove associated with an ancient worship.  The presiding priest dresses like a woman; but the deities are said to be the counterpart of our Castor and Pollux.  This indicates their character, but their name is the Alci.  There are no images, and nothing to suggest that the cult is of foreign origin; but they are certainly worshipped as young men and as brothers."
Almost two thousand years later, Joseph Campbell's intellectual journey around the mythological world found vast numbers of such similarities in all religions and myths. They differed in details and these differences he arranged in what he called mythogenic zones. Campbell was influenced, in his method, by C. G. Jung and discusses such in Chapter One (The Enigma of the Inherited Image) of Primitive Mythology, the first volume in his Masks of God series. Campbell was aware, too, of all of the ramifications of his study and wrote, in his Foreword to the series:
"Looking back today over the twelve delightful years that I spent on this richly rewarding enterprise, I find that its main result for me has been its confirmation of a thought I have long and faithfully entertained: of the unity of the race of man, not only in its biology but also in its spiritual history, which has everywhere unfolded in the manner of a single symphony, with its themes announced, developed, amplified and turned about distorted, reasserted, and, today, in a grand fortissimo of all sections sounding together, irresistibly advancing to some kind of mighty climax, out of which the next great movement will emerge. And I 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. ..."
I see, in Campbell's last lines given above, a terrific example of my ideas about the sliding scale of Mythos to Logos: He first gives the medial position: "by reasonable men to reasonable ends" and we can see this in any balanced study that is not being used for political partisan purposes, or to manipulate people into adopting a particular philosophical viewpoint. The Mythos end is revealed in "by poets to poetic ends", and I think that James Joyce's Ulysses serves as a good example, being not only a modern, Celtic, retelling of Homer's Odyssey, but also pertinent to Campbell's interest in Joyce which was manifested in the posthumous compilation of Campbell's writings about Joyce: Joseph Campbell, Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce, 1993, Edited and with a foreword by Edmund L. Epstein, Ph.D. I can think of no better examples of the Logos end, "by madmen to nonsense and disaster" than the usurpation of historical cultural matters by modern political states which is especially strong with dictatorships and totalitarian governments (Stalin executed archaeologists who would not bend to his will), but it is also expressed by the very existence of UNESCO which places all cultural matters under the complete control of the state and was also founded with positive thoughts about both eugenics and a single world government. I find this especially surreal as UNESCO was founded shortly after all the atrocities of Adolf Hitler, who held exactly the same perverse ideas. I have elaborated on this theme in Deconstructing Cultural Heritage as it applies to Property.

When, in the previous paragraph, I speak of Mythos or Logos ends, I am not referring to the extreme ends: Mythos around there be expressed by  a catatonic state where no reality was being utilized, or perhaps a complete departure from reality into fantasy, or utter emotional breakdown, and the Logos end zone can be expressed in the psychopath who is completely unable to look inward and who can thus only, consciously, project their own psyche on to others. As I said, it is a sliding scale and extreme ends might not even be actually possible.

A British Druid
by William Stukeley 
I believe that within the Druid culture, various parts of this scale were manifested, by different people at different times, but that the culture, itself was situated somewhere around the middle. Rome, which destroyed Druidism was, of course, further along the scale toward Logos. Modern societies are also further along the scale toward the Logos end, much to everyone's detriment, and that can be easily demonstrated by historicism within religion and a correspondingly lower appreciation of metaphor within the same; the popular belief that myth = false, a tendency to affect change through force, and the usurpation of culture by political states and through the use of law.

There are still a few topics to cover before I enter into a more detailed analysis, through iconography and history, of the nature of the La Tène religion and how it came to evolve, so stay tuned and I will continue tomorrow. I promise that your patience will be rewarded!

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