As you look outward (or inward!) in today’s world, what is the Mystery that you behold?
Here is a little background in which to frame my question…
I have been revisiting Campbell’s ‘four functions of mythology’, in particular the first function. When reading his various works, it is apparent that descriptions of this ‘first function’ especially have morphed over time and different aspects are variously emphasized.
First and importantly, recently while reading ‘The Importance of Rites’ from the book “Myths To Live By” I came upon an interesting discussion of this function which previously had escaped me and brought a new clarity and understanding. From this essay dated 1964 we read:
What appeals to me in this discussion is the simplicity of the idea that there is a transformation of myth through time which is a result of the consciousness of a people and their perceived sense of mystery. This is easily understood and rings true. Campbell goes on to point out that for today’s cultures our most mysterious neighbors are no longer the animals, plants nor stars:“And so let us now ask what the proper source of awe might be for the race of mankind today. As pointed out by Frobenius, it was first the animal world, in its various species, that impressed mankind as a mystery, and that, in its character of admired immediate neighbor, evoked the impulse to imitative identification. Next it was the vegetable world and the miracle of the fruitful earth, wherein death is changed into life. And finally, with the rise in the ancient Near East of the earliest high civilizations, the focus of attention shifted to the mathematics of the seven moving cosmic lights…”
When I read that “the center of mystery now is man himself”, I ask if that is the case for ‘now’, why would it not be applicable to ‘then’. Are human beings so different that ‘man as mystery’ did not arise in the consciousness of early humanity, or rather is it that the immediacy of the ‘animal masters’, plant kingdoms and celestial orbs was so engaging that the mystery of ‘life eating life’ was subjugated to more pressing concerns?"Frobenious points out that we have demythologized those through our sciences, and that the center of mystery now is man himself: man as a Thou, one’s neighbor; not as “I” might wish him to be, or may imagine that I know and relate to him, but in himself, thus come, as a being of mystery and wonder."
What follows are some excerpts which elaborate some of the different nuances of the first function. First we have a nice summary description from the 1970 essay "Schizophrenia—the Inward Journey” as it also appears in “Myths to Live By”:
From his “Man & Myth” series audio lecture “The Necessity of Rites” Campbell emphasizes the dawning realization that the nature of life is monstrous; namely that “life lives on life”…"The first (function) is what I have called the mystical function; to waken and maintain in the individual a sense of awe and gratitude in relation to the mystery dimension of the universe, not so that he lives in fear of it, but so that he recognizes that he participates in it, since the mystery of being is the mystery of his own deep being as well".
One of the first discussions of this appears in “The Masks of God—Creative Mythology” circa 1968. As Campbell puts it, a "living mythology" will"Traditionally the first function of mythology is to reconcile consciousness to the preconditions of its own existence. That is to say to the nature of life. And when you realize that life lives on life, you might summarize it by saying … ‘now I’ll eat you, now you eat me’, you will realize that this is something for consciousness to assimilate."
"waken and maintain in the individual an experience of awe, humility, and respect, in recognition of that ultimate mystery, transcending names and forms, 'from which,' as we read in the Upanishads, 'words turn back.'" (p. 609)
He writes of coming to a revelation of the unity between one's self and all things -- and of
"the profound rightness of the basic conviction in Vedanta: it is not possible that this unity of knowledge, feeling and choice which you call your own should have sprung into being from nothingness ... rather this knowledge, feeling and choice are essentially eternal and unchangeable and numerically one in all men, nay in all sensitive beings…Tat Tvam Asi "(That you are)
So once again I ask… When your eyes open (or close!) what is the Mystery for you?