Mythology Today

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

In the obscure past, when the human race was very young and not yet aware of itself, those who had preceded us through this phase of growth, seeing our seemingly endless struggle in the throes of ignorance, took pity on us. They injected their own mental capacity into the dim clouds of consciousness that passed for mind and endued the proto-humans with the potential self-awareness that would enable us to take cognizance of our environment. We were endowed with the ability to fabricate and use tools, to plant and harvest edible substances, to learn and understand, this last proving the greatest gift of all. Thus human beings were equipped to live content and successful lives.

How did those wise graduates of our present kingdom convey to unthinking beings their own awareness and comprehension? For these human proteges were even less adapted to thought than a newborn baby is today; they had not had the numberless life experiences that preceded our present incarnations. Their minds were clean and as yet unsullied with material knowledge, for they possessed only the most primitive of skills and faculties. They were not encumbered with prejudices and opinions that would discolor their view of the world. No memory had been amassed to undergird new experience and serve to build further remembrance. The beginning of the truly human -- i.e., thinking -- race thus posed a unique problem: a learning mind can amass knowledge and understanding only on the foundation of previously gained experience and memory. The Greek myths wisely called Memory (Mnemosyne) the mother of all the muses -- the arts and learning -- for they were indeed born of her and together they represent the means to acquire the sum of human wisdom in one or another form.

Those earliest humans had no such soul memory on which to build. Not until some progress had been made could they grasp even the simplest of concepts. But once some experience had been gained, progress must have accelerated rapidly. This phase of evolution gradually made possible communication of ideas from mind to mind and allowed a conscious acquisition of lore which could be transmitted and put to use. The wiser of them could then make rapid progress and convey their understanding to others. It is well known that the most effective grasp of new information comes from passing it on to others.

So the wiser ones descended from their lofty condition, sacrificing their own progress to share with us the gains they had made in past ages. They have been called "sons of mind," for theirs is the mentally mature intelligence which ignited our unfinished or potential mind into self- or reflected consciousness: they are our predecessors on the Jacob's ladder of evolution. As soon as the young humans were able to receive and profit from intelligence, teachers appeared who could convey to those who were ready the rudimentary mental echo of universal wisdom. This enabled further awakening and a comprehension of the fundamental laws of nature so that we might become worthy to cooperate with the gods in their labor.

The time is long gone when we first received the gift of mind, and many ages of darkness have come and gone. Our mentors, however, devised an ingenious method to convey knowledge of our origin, present purpose, and future expectations, consisting largely of stories and legends that represent in familiar terms the grand vistas of universal wisdom, myths which give us the insight needed to pursue the path from ignorance and innocence to understanding. Convincing evidence of their importance resides in the myths' longevity, for were they not of permanent value to humanity they would not have endured any longer than modern bestsellers, which flare into a temporary popularity only to vanish from human ken.

Symbols represent the more recondite mysteries which enable us to go forward. Thus life is portrayed as a path that can lead the aspirant to lofty inspiration; the teachers are those who have graduated from the school of human existence. The immense periods of time required for learning the lessons nature provides may be symbolized as aeons, titans, giants, or other greater-than-human beings. The awareness that will make the budding god-self grow in natural ways toward the goal may be represented variously as a golden fleece or a golden goblet filled with the "wine" of wisdom. Natural phenomena are often seen as faerie or similar imaginary forms; those human beings, guided by nature's laws and able to transcend the drag of material grossness, are the legendary heroes who exemplify the success attained. Weaving such symbols into appealing tales, myths convey intuitive understanding in proportion to each person's ability to perceive it.

Once the human race had received the self-aware ability to make decisions, we became responsible for our choices. We still are, but we have yet to learn how to select right courses of action and shun the divisive and inferior. All too often we learn by the pain we have earned at the hands of unforgiving karma, while right choices bring their own reward in kind.

For far too long have we persisted in ignoring the blessed wisdom of greater nature, preferring to rely on our puny strength to mold the world in ways we consider desirable. Not until we personally experience an earthquake, tornado, or other natural catastrophe do we concede that nature always has the upper hand and in time can and will adjust all inequalities, even though we often fail to see a connection between cause and effect. If we recognized the never-failing wisdom, thinly veiled in all ancient traditions, the human predicament would be greatly relieved and mankind would be less prone to suffer the delayed effects of its own unwisdom. We may feel assured, moreover, that mankind has never been without guidance, nor will we be abandoned by the wise who care for humanity. Even now the timeless tales remain to steer us through the shoals of our difficulties. The ancient cosmic laws are represented in the many myths which can explain and elucidate our course, describing to us our purpose and potential glorious future if we only choose to heed them.

The immense strides made in modern science during the past century, coupled with a far greater freedom of thought and expression than has existed for some twenty centuries, make it possible for us better to fathom the language of myths. Much of mythic lore, long regarded as mere entertaining fiction, is actually science of a high order which we are able to grasp only when we have gained an equivalent knowledge (cf. The Masks of Odin, passim). Much is also inspiring wisdom, surpassing by far the dogmatic and foolish superstitions that often pass for religion worldwide. The ancient teachings of humankind demand an open mind and a compassionate heart to be understood.

All this, too, the myths relate. One story tells how the innocents were ousted from Eden. Prometheus in Greece, Loki in the north, Quetzalcoatl of Mexico, and other heroes tell essentially the same tale of mankind's birth in innocence, growth through intelligence into arrogance, gradually maturing to intuitive wisdom, enabling us in due course to gain the status of junior gods with further prospects of unimaginable grandeur.

  • (From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1999. Copyright © 1999 by Theosophical University Press.)

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