The Value of Myth

If it doesn’t relate, then don’t celebrate.

Io Saturnalia, Good Yule, Cheery Solstice, Happy Holidays, Happy Ashura, Enlightened Bodhi Day, Good Boxing Day, Joyful Kwanzaa, Merry Christmas.

What ever your myth or belief, be it a joyful and happy season of celebration. Speaking of myth, have you heard about the dueling atheist and Catholic billboards that adorn the opposite ends of the Lincoln Tunnel in New York?

Erected by the Atheist Americans and The Catholic League respectively, two dueling factions – those who believe and those who don’t, have been dukeing it out over the souls of New York residents or at least dukeing out the idea of myth.

The fight is over the reality of the birth of Christ, or in a more general sense, the truth behind Christian theology itself. Erected by the American Atheists – the sign reads You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON!

If the sign isn’t a simple enough statement their reason for erecting it can be found on their website which says:

Statistics show that nearly 50 million Americans are atheists. Some use names like freethinker, agnostic or humanist to describe or modify their position, but atheism (the absence of a belief in a deity) is broad, and encompasses all those terms. If you don’t have an active belief in a god, you’re an atheist. It’s a very good thing.

Millions of atheists are closeted, choosing to go along to get along, and feigning religion to their friends, family, and coworkers. American Atheists understands the pressure to fit in, but we maintain that for people to love you, they must know the real you.

An interesting inclusion in this list is the Humanists, which is where much of Freemasonry can trace its ideals back to – especially in the equality of man, the democracy of the lodge, and the more esoteric ideas.

Leon Zeldis, in a paper ENGLAND AROUND 1717 – The foundation of the first Grand Lodge in context, published at Pietre-Stones, says:

The Masonic lodge was a refuge of peace and tranquility at a time of political uncertainty, when the memory of religious warfare was fresh in the memory of all men, when the first discoveries and inventions were transforming the economy, and opening new perspectives of progress, when the hope that rationality and humanism would banish from the hearts of men the evils of fanaticism and intolerance. This was the fertile ground on which early speculative Freemasonry germinated and grew, spreading its branches throughout the western world.

This is not to say that the Humanism of the late Renaissance was the same as today, but its difficult to say that they are much different. Their similarity was in the study of Scholasticism which focused on the preparation of men to be doctors, lawyers or professional theologians, and was taught from approved textbooks in logic, natural philosophy, medicine, law and theology. Perhaps, even, in the study of Reason itself.

At the time of the Renaissance, it was a lesson for churchmen and Popes to study these new ideas which, even at that time led to the challenging of old beliefs.

Back in modern day, the Catholic League erected their own sign in response that reads:

You Know It’s Real: This Season Celebrate Jesus.

Originally, the competing sign was erected as a rebuttal or response to the Atheists sign, but with a more specific argument, truly the reason to celebrate Christmas, the Christ’s Mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Some onlookers, quoted in the New York Post commented that the rebuttal was unnecessary, that its a “it’s tit for tat, [which] defeats the spirit of Christmas”

Perhaps which side of the fence you come down on about the signs depends on your own personal beliefs, which are a very hard things to argue against. What stuck me about it was the need that we each have for Myth, whether its the season or reason.

Its an obvious omission to any who have read the Christmas story that fresh mountain pine trees and sparkly glass ornaments were absent in the telling of the nativity. Gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold were present, but they are a far cry away from the modern day giving of an iPad, an LCD HD TV, or a brand new and Bow-Tied Lexus.

So obviously the holiday didn’t originally celebrate in the manner we do today.  The first use of the Cristes mæsse (Christ Mass) wasn’t recorded until 1038, a thousand years after the birth of Christ – well before the giving of the latest Call of Duty Black Ops game.

So there must be some other reason for our focus of celebration, most likely our celebration of the myth.

Joseph Campbell, in his book The Power of Myth, says:

“The individual has to find an aspect of myth that relates to his own life. Myth basically serves four functions.

1. The Mystical Function – The wonder of the universe, the wonder of the self, and the awe before the mystery.

2. Cosmological Dimension – the dimension of science showing the shape of the universe but in a way that the mystery shines through

3. Sociological – The supporting and validating of a social order.

4. Pedagogical Function – how to live a human lifetime under any circumstances.

So, even if it challenges the reason of some, the need and value of Myth is every bit important as it is to question them and ask yourself how they relate to your own sensibilities.

Campbell goes on to say:

“The story that we have in the West, so far as it is basedon the Bible, is based on a view of the universe that belongs to the first millennium B.C.  It does not accord withour concept either of the universe or of the dignity of man.  It belongs entirely somewhere else.”

This seems to be where the American Atheists are leaning, but get lost in the weeds of just disconting everything that fails their dogma test (missing the dogmatic-ness of their own proposition)

Campbell goes on to offer his idea of multicultural acceptance describing its Humanistic leaning as being “trans-theological.”  saying further “it is of an undefinable, inconceivable mystery, thought of as a power, that is the source and end and supporting ground of all life and being.”  Said another way, the myth transcends the source and takes on a more significant role.

This strikes me as the difference between Faith and Religion, the practice should follow the belief, not the other way around. We often celebrate a holiday or event without knowing its precise origin or purpose. What matters is how it relates to us today, what it means to us in the now.

If it dosen’t relate, then don’t celebrate.

If the myth of the event does not excite the mystical in you, then celebrate the mundane.

If your not of a religious bend, then pick another reason to celebrate the season. And, if that’s not good enough, then don’t try to wreck it, or shape it, for others.

This is where I believe the American Atheist’s  sign misses the mark.

Rather than condemn the beliefs of others – why not appeal to the 50 million atheists they claim affinity with to provide them an alternative to what they see as unreasonable celebration of Myth with their own unique celebration of Reason.

Happy Holidays – what ever your degree of leaning in your traditions.

Posted in Masonic Traveler and tagged , .

A devoted student of the Western Mystery Traditions, Greg is a firm believer in the Masonic connections to the Hermetic traditions of antiquity, its evolution through the ages and into its present configuration as the antecedent to all contemporary esoteric and occult traditions. He is a self-called searcher for that which was lost, a Hermetic Hermit and a believer in “that which is above is so too below.” Read more about Greg Stewart.

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