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Home Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006) Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005) Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Rites of Passage (Spring 2006)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Spring 2006)
Notebook for Topics in Literature: Imaginary Worlds (Fall 2005)
Notebook for Effective Writing I (Fall 2005)
The Four Functions of Myth:
THE METAPHYSICAL FUNCTION: an experience of the mystery and wonder of creation; an experience that leads to an awareness or understanding of the “ground of all being”—in plain language, I think Campbell means that the myth brings the participant into an experience of God, or an experience of wonder at the existence of God. In even plainer language: How does the tale imagine God? What does it lead the participant to imagine? (Notice I want to move beyond the term “reader.”)
Genesis: How does “Genesis” imagine God? In this story God is formless, a disembodied voice, something very abstract—a “spirit”—invisible. What’s the implication? How do we recognize that? Are we completely unfamiliar with disembodied voices? Not really. We’re all familiar with our inner voices; our thoughts are also invisible, but powerful. The metaphysical implication seems to be that the closest we can come to giving form to God is to make God “language,” a voice that speaks meaningfully to us, that creates the world by the ability to recognize that world’s existence—God is an awareness, a consciousness, a voice.
Blackfoot Genesis: How does “Blackfoot Genesis” imagine God. The Blackfoot God is also a creator; does language play the same role here as it does in the previous story?
THE COSMOLOGICAL FUNCTION: the myth creates an understanding of the shape of the cosmos, the total universe; the entire world is infused with meaning and purpose because everything has its place in the cosmic scheme.
Both Genesis stories tell us where we’re from, where we are now, how we got here, what went wrong to bring us to our current situation. The Blackfoot Genesis tale stresses how people are the same stuff as the rest of creation—no better and no worse; a little stronger than some, a little weaker than others. The animals are our brothers and sisters; we are all connected in a vast web. If one area of the web is damaged, the entire web suffers. The biblical Genesis tale tells a different story: it stresses that people are the “pinnacle” of creation, that we stand apart from and ahead of the rest. We are granted “dominion” over the rest of nature. We are the creatures who will take control and dominate nature. For many thousands of years, our culture has been trying its best to enact this idea, with some success and some failure.
The biblical tale tells us that Adam and Eve are literally outside the gates of Eden. They were once in Paradise but they’re in Paradise no longer. Where are they? They seem to have been tossed into our world. They’ve been tossed out of the Garden and into raw Nature, with us. How do they handle it? They seem to have lost everything. Is it a tragic tale? If it is a tragedy, whose tragedy is it?
The Blackfoot tale tells of a circumscribed territory where the Blackfoot tribe are very well provided for; they aren’t “tossed out” of Paradise like Adam and Eve—and yet their failure is also one of disobedience. They failed to defend their territory as they were instructed; they allowed invaders to establish a foothold. For that they’ve had to witness the destruction of the buffalo, and their entire culture. They seem to have lost everything, too.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL FUNCTION: the myth communicates the cultural codes of behavior, the moral and ethical “laws” for people of that culture to follow. These codes help define the culture and its prevailing social structure.
These become pretty obvious in the biblical Genesis:
In the Blackfoot Genesis tale:
PEDAGOGICAL FUNCTION: the myth leads us through particular rites of passage that define the various significant stages of our lives—from dependency to maturity to old age, and finally, to our deaths, the final passage. The rites of passage bring us into harmony with the “ground of being” (a term often used by Joseph Campbell to refer to an unnamed, unspecified universal mystical power) and allow us to make the journey from one stage to another with a sense of comfort and purpose.
Although this doesn’t seem an obvious function of the
Genesis stories (their emphasis seem to be metaphysical and
cosmological), there is a pedagogical angle to beneath the
surface. The story does deal with a passage; it’s subject seems
to be the passage from childhood to adulthood, from innocence to
experience, from ignorance to knowledge. How do Adam and Eve make
this passage? How are we to understand our own passage from
childhood to adulthood? Do the lessons of the Genesis tale
still apply? Is this what we can expect from adulthood?
What must Adam and Eve face as they leave the Garden? Adam and
Eve leave behind a world of freedom and leisure and enter a world of
labor, of work; they assume a conscious awareness of themselves; they
will reproduce, have children of their own, and they’ll have to be good
parents if they can manage it. What are the passages into
adulthood for us? Similar, different? Does the tale still
speak to us, of us? Does it have the power to resonate with our
experience, provide a sense of comfort and harmony as we pass from our
own childhood into adulthood?
Questions? Contact me.
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