A Thought Adventure

Thursday, December 17, 2015

29. The Mythological Event Par Excellence. II

Sacrificial killing

What I think the mythological event par excellence tells us is that the first sacrificial killing for the good of mankind made us aware, in one single instant, that death comes by way of murder but also leads to generation, and that the plants man lives on derive from the murder of a god. In every version of the myth sex and death are linked to each other and accepted as an inevitable sequence in the eternal cycle of death and resurrection
Only in Christianity is man made guilty for the god's death, and only in the Bible is the ‘fall’ of Adam and Eve seen as a human mistake that only God can rectify. Eastern religions see creation itself as a ‘fall’ in the sense of an act of will-to-be-more that’s absolutely necessary for life to come about.

The myth differs from the rites.
What about the differences between the ritual and the myth? For instance, if male sacrifice appears at the time of the breakthrough of consciousness, as I would have it, why does the myth place the event at ‘the beginning of time?’ I guess it’s because in the human mind time doesn't start until humanity first becomes aware of it, i.e., when entering the conscious stage.
Why does the myth say people lived forever and had no sexual organs before this momentous event? To me, it’s a correct description of an era when-sex was not yet connected with birth, and people didn’t know how they came into being nor that they were going to die. And in retrospect this benighted era stands out as an archaic paradise, a ‘dream time.’
Why did the food plants come up from the buried parts of the murder victim? Because people believed that crops magically depended on the sacrifice of the god that represented vegetation. And how come sex organs grew out only after they had eaten of the fruits of these plants? I think it’s their way of saying that they owe the gift of procreation to a god. This belief accounts for the sacral character given to sexuality in ancient times while also confirming that the price of regeneration is death. Sex may stand in the service of life but so does death, for both lead to birth.
Why did the murder happen? As far as I know, in no version of the myth is there a rationale for it. It’s presented as a fact, as inexplicable as it’s irreversible, probably because people find it too painful to face the part human beings play in this horrible event, and simply have to repress it.
Why, in the myth unlike in the ritual, does the murder take place before there’s any sexual act at all, and why have both the goddess and the sacred marriage dropped out of the picture? Again, because people needed to suppress unbearable facts, men not least who at the beginning of the patriarchal era wanted to forget the once absolute power of women--and even deny that it had ever existed. 

Who committed the murder? The myth doesn’t explain that either and probably for the same reason. In some Native American versions, however, the victim-to-be asks a family member or lover to commit the murder, i.e., he (or sometimes she) willingly sacrifices himself. 

But how on earth could people connect such natural human processes as sex and death with murder? To many preliterate peoples there are no natural causes, says Lévy-Brühl, because they attribute everything to interference from some mystic force, like witchcraft or spirits. And since they know why something occurs they aren’t interested in how.
Sum up
I propose that the mythological event par excellence describes the first male sacrifice, and that the shock it inflicted was so strong that people everywhere chose to bury the circumstances around it in their unconscious. The myth serves the same function in our collective experience as the dream symbol in an individual’s life: to both remind people of a crucial occurrence in their past and offer them a chance to come to terms with it. Not only has the mythological event something true to say, it is indeed an important psychological truth.

An example of the remarkable tenacity of this universal myth is the way Christianity re-enacts the pagan murder drama complete with cannibalism. In the Eucharist service we find a latter-day version of the ritual killing and devouring of a god. For the congregation  to partake of bread and wine, symbols of the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ, is to commemorate that the god died for them

But this ritual also keeps alive the guilt that clings to the believers for the god's death,  and in so doing demonstrates that the tendency to repeat the childhood trauma that was never made conscious (what Freud called the repetition-compulsion and saw as one of the “fundamentals of human behavior”) may apply also to society as a whole.

Now over to what finally brings the matriarchal era to an end. See next post.

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