It is usual to deride mythology in modern times. It is considered to be the hand-maid of superstition which like its comrade mysticism invades only primitive minds. It is declared to belong to the ‘Tribal Horizon’ that preceded the ‘Prophetic Horizon’ according to Dr. John Murphy, the Professor of Comparative Religion, Manchester University. The Tribal horizon is given to strong imagination; it is mythopoetic and given to dramatization; using images it aims at wish-fulfillment through dramatic imitation rather than prolonged thought. Indeed professor Bergson has also stated that since imagination is one of those strong traits of the primitive man by which he conjures up perhaps more fears than joys, raises up more spirits than ever can people the globe, it must be considered to be different in kind from the imagination which we call scientific and logical, involving abstract thought and concepts and an awareness of the ethical principles involved in abstract justice, love and law. He calls this the myth-making function which is a virtual instinct. This myth-making function which is considered to be the primitive method of response, instinctive and not intelligent, hangs round the edge of intelligence as fringe. We must also know that instinct strives to preserve the social fabric or solidarity whereas intelligence, seeking individuality, almost seeks to break up this solidarity. But as Nature is more concerned with society, than with the individual, we find that in advanced societies wherein intelligence has assumed the prominent and dominant role, the solidarity of society is sought to be achieved in two ways; through the virtuality of the instinct as myth-making function, or through intelligent planning. But more often than not the more elemental force gathers strength and the residue of instinct which survives on the fringe of intelligence, which cannot exercise direct action however, informs intelligence and side-tracks and defeats the intelligence itself. There is strength in this manifestation, but it is a strength that diverts or deviates the course of ascent of Úlan. As such it is something to be carefully guarded against. Mythology is a substitute for action, even as drama or poetry may be considered to be. This is the general thesis of Bergson.
We must note in this connection, that intelligence is as much social as instinct, but its methodology of integration of social life is radically distinguished from the animal organization – which works on the principle of an invisible anastomosis, especially amongst the bees, white ants and ants. But what intelligence seeks is the free intercourse of minds based on intelligence. Another act of the matter that has to be noted about mythology, or rather when one takes up the mythological as real, is what has not been considered. We know that the best example of mythology which has developed at great and prolific length after having reached the horizon prophetic is Hinduism. Other mythologies have undoubtedly been prior to the proliferation of thought which discovered the One Unity of the Divine in the abstract concepts of Rta, Brahman, Vak, as what in Greek philosophy the Being, the Nous, the principle of love, repulsion, attraction, and cause. The Hindu thought, it is said, fell down to the ritual mysticism during the period of the Brahmanas but resuscitated itself during the period of the Upanisads which again underwent a development in Buddhism on the one side and degradation in popular Hinduism in the other. Later however it again lifted itself up in the pure philosophy of Sankara, where the concepts of mythology were completely ruled out and thought in its sheer conceptuality was enthroned. Thus true mysticism – conceptual mysticism of intelligence became the pinnacle of our philosophy.
We must ask ourselves whether this is religion also, for it is constantly stated that ‘a religion without God’ and mythology would be beyond human mind and intelligence. Religion when it is merely the struggle for liberation from all bonds of perception and practical conduct undoubtedly does not need a God for its attainment. Thought in its rigid self-introspection and attaining the supreme concept thorough negation of all that it is not, will have arrived at that final concept through supreme effort of thought itself. As Plato stated it ‘Religion is the consummation of wisdom in self-knowledge’. Philosophy ends in the vision of the eternal Ideas or Idea. But theology looks to the Knowledge of God. Religion should embrace both. Thus wrote Paul Elmer more interpreting the Religion of Plato.
Thus we find that philosophical thought finally realizes the highest concept. It is the business of Religion in a sense to make that concept the guiding star of our conduct in relation to ourselves and in relation to others. This involves the belief in the possibility of the application of that High Concept into practical life which in social. The universal dispersal of this concept into each and everything, or what is known as the sense of pervasion of all creatures by the Divine which makes them our own selves, one with us, is possible only through theology. How has the One become the Many? The problems of philosophy are the realizations of the impossibilities of conceptual solutions. It would perhaps not do to say that ‘All things are full of mystery (enigmation), both in poets and in philosophers. And for my part, I like rather their spirit of reverence towards the truth than the boldness of the moderns. For of matters dimly perceived by human weakness the more becoming interpreter is Mythology’ said Maximus of Tyre.
Theology without mythology leads to a strange production. But have we no criterion by which we could understand mythology? It is not likely that there are two kinds of mythologies as I have hinted, the mythology that proceeds from the height of intellectual Understanding and the mythologies which are fancies and fantasies of minds seeking the satisfaction, through day-dreaming and dramatization, which are substitutes for action and thought in its rigid logical spin? The failure of most thinkers later on to understand the mythological references in the Vedic and Brahmanic literature (for even at the stage of the Brahmanas we find the lack of a sure understanding of the original figures, resulting in numerological mysticism, ritual mysticism, ritual mysticism, and sacrificial mysticism, must be considered tragic. The Upanisads, especially the smaller ones, gave up the pursuit of mythology whilst the Puranas involved themselves in continuous mazes. There is a tragedy in the myth-making function, which whilst it seeks to illustrate a profound experience, and where it is not merely for the sake of story-weaving or mere dramatization, and is didactic, different, from the kind even there from the stories known to us as Pancatantra it proceeds from a level altogether different from the ‘fringe’ of instinct that hangs to the intelligence.
We should proceed on certain assured lines in respect of mythology. It would not be wrong to deny that, after all, language seeks to represent experience of the physical objects. The interrelationships, which are observe, between objects give rise in intellectual beings of lower order just the realization of that particular relationship between two similar objects and nothing more. He is particular-minded. But a higher intelligence would be able to deal with any two objects provided the relationship is perceived. The intelligence focuses itself not on objects but on the relationships. It is possible that the myth-making function seizes upon this aspect of intelligence, and at once encloses it in its dramatization and novel-constructions, constructiveness being also as instinct. This is to particularize the relationships. Escaping from this particularizing of the relationships intelligence seeks to discover the rationale of all relationships and seeking to minimize its multitude. This the myth-making function finds it difficult to follow up. But it has also its substitute simulacrum, the mana, the Numinous of Rudolf Otto; but as will be seen this is a power not a concept, and not a relationship. But thought also attains a virtual abandonment of all relationships in the totally Absolute Relationless Existence, within or without according to some mystical thinkers like Sankara and Bradley, but some philosophers hold that it is the internally related to Absolute. Thus we are pressed to accept the mythological or instinctively mythological figure of a universal power on the one hand, and on the other, a concept of highest value to thought or intelligence. Religion as Theology had to solve the riddle, and it tried it by reducing power to the level of Avidya, subordinate to the concept, which is the Vidya.
Philosophy may be forced to evaluate and super-evaluate the conceptual understanding of reality, where the concepts may have an essential existence or more properly non-existence; but it is true that theology or the science of God has either to transvalue the concepts by revealing these concepts as intrinsic to experience or else discover a host of other concepts which will reveal the laws of the consciousness known as religious, which is persistent and elemental, to which man reverts after each defeat of thought, and from which he escapes only to be reminded of the reality fundamental to experience. It is in mythology that this elemental structure of reality is retained and acts as the powerful lever to conduct. But the dangers of an unenlightened mythology or an escape-mythology are great, and would profoundly affect our ascent into rational existence and through it to a spiritualised and divinized consciousness. It is the business of a philosophy of religion to rescue the discrimination, never wanting in the ancients, but which has been cut adrift and lost in the movement of history that has but preserved that which was as near aboriginal as possible. The value of a critical analysis of mythology which would sift the true from the mass of untrue and instinctive rationalizations would be enormous. But what shall we be guided by in this effort? It may be asked. Our answer is that the apparatus we shall construct shall not be merely the ‘consensus of opinion’ or agreed-similarities of the manifestations of the mystico-mythological fancy all over the world. Indeed the solar mythologism that prevailed in all periods and in all stages of mankind will point to the grave dangers of linking up the advanced with the primitive manifestations of the Solar Myth. Nor should there be the obsession that all the Puranas in the East and higher religions are true and have to be accepted till disproved. Rather it should be the other way about. In the name of super-spiritual experience the ancient fancies come in and are spread by the followers with a zeal and pseudo-rationality that imperils the fuller and finer under standing of pure mysticism. The ‘Education’ or drawing out of the rational and casual principles and morphological principles from the structure of spiritual experiences of every order to which eminently belong the mythologies of higher religion, is the desideratum. The concept of Avatar for instance, is a crucial example of the grace of the Divine illustrated in a variety of ways as the incarnation of the Divine as Son, as Lord Saviour, or Teacher and Prophet, in almost all the Higher Religions. The mythical stories woven round these figures, conceptualized or otherwise, and the creation of personas about them bearing names strongly reminiscent of the part they play in the eternal drama of individual life are palpably patent.
The truth is that the human mind is, as intelligence, rational; it will revert to reason provided it is given the chance. But it is also willing to experiment with truth and learn from the errors of its ways, and be stronger and more vigorous for every renewed adventure. It also probes and learns. Mythology of the higher order always whets its explorative fantasy; and the business of a philosopher may be, as M. Bergson has come to see in his last work, forced to clear the path of torrential mystic force of all the weeds of ‘closing mythos’, not indeed of all mythology, for his story reads like a Modern Myth of the Elan Vital with its threefold vyuhas of instinct, intelligence and intuition, but of all that have the inherent power of enclosing and stepping down the energy of growth of more and more widening consciousness.
A Science and philosophy of mythology thus seems to be necessary.