Anyway, though, all the religions and myths are true as metaphor. If you take them as literal truth, you will find yourself attempting to believe things that no rational person could possibly believe in light of all that we’ve learned about the world and the universe and that’s been true for centuries. And I’m not just talking about Judeo-Christianity – the Norse cosmology is pretty far out and the Hindus think the Universe came out of an egg, though they don’t specify what type of bird or reptile laid it, as far as I know. Point being, you can’t take that shit literally.
Conversely, if you read it a metaphor, then it all makes perfect fucking sense. If any myth doesn’t make sense when you read it as a metaphor, then you need to meditate on it for a while until it does make sense which they all do. Granted, it does take some practice to learn to read myth as metaphor, especially when you were raised up on the idea that some myths, specifically the ones we believe, are facts whilst others, i.e. the ones they believe, are lies. Nonetheless, I learned to do it and I’m functionally illiterate, so anybody else can do it, too. Below are some things that one might be helpful to know:
- You are the main character. In any myth, of any age or tradition, always identify with the main character. All myths are stories about the inner workings of all individuals regardless of age, race, gender or what-have-you, so they’re always about you. Jesus in the wilderness being tempted by the Devil? You’re Jesus. Arjuna on the battlefield at Kuru? You’re Arjuna. Thor dressing as a giantess to retrieve Mjollnir? You’re Thor. And so on, no matter what myth you’re reading. It is slightly more complicated for women, as so many of the main characters of myth are male, but in my experience, women are used to having to identify with male characters, so it shouldn’t add much of a burden. It’s also true that none of us are or should be entirely male or female - or rather, none of us are entirely yin or yang, all of us being a more-or-less equal mixture of the two – and the “male” main characters of myths really stand for the yang/active aspect of any individual, so any female can identify with Arjuna in her active roles, which won’t be totally accurate since women have other, mysterious shit going on, but will serve the function.
- You are all the other characters. Just as you are you in your dreams and you are also all the other characters, so are you the main character and all the other characters in myth or they are some aspect of you. So when you are Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, you are also the Devil who says “Cause these stones to be made bread”, which is another way of saying “Instead of pursuing the goal you have taken on, sell out and make money” and, if you’re smart, you’re also Jesus saying “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God”, which is another way of saying “I ain’t in it for the money, asshole”. Unless you are in it for the money, in which case you might as well stop reading now and fuck off.
- All myths have the same underlying story – how to live a good, meaningful life. That is a fact. No matter what the myth seems to be about, the message under the surface is always the same thing: identify the thing that truly matters to you, establish a goal and pursue that goal no matter what. Anything that diverts you from pursuing that one goal is a trap laid by the Devil to prevent you from pursuing the goal. The most common trap is money, because it’s the easiest. Jesus’ goal was to die on the cross to redeem humanity from sin. Arjuna’s goal was to reclaim his throne from the usurper. Thor’s goal was, in the story mentioned, to get Mjollnir back from the giant who stole it, but that was merely a short-term goal which was necessary for his long-term goal which was to use Mjollnir to fight the giants and monsters in the final battle at Ragnarok, a battle in which he was to die, as were all the Gods and all the giants and all the monsters and all the people except two, but it doesn’t matter that his goal was ultimately destined for failure because that never matters. Whether you ever attain the goal is irrelevant. Actually, if you’ve set yourself a goal that is attainable, you’re thinking too small. Any goal less than the complete transformation of the world is nickel-dime shit and not worthy of consideration.
You might not know what your goal should be. That’s fine. Just pick something that seems like it might be your goal or something that seems like it could feed into your goal or just pick something. Parcival didn’t start off with the Grail. He left his mother’s little house in the woods because he saw some knights and thought it would be cool to be a knight. His mother died of heartbreak, but that’s fine since she was just an impediment and she wasn’t really his mother since we’re talking about myth. She was just a representation of the childish part of him which longed for security and comfort. Leaving her dead in the road, Parcival left to become a knight which was a necessary step toward his real goal, which he couldn’t’ve known about before he became a knight at Arthur’s court, which was the Holy Grail. See how that works? So whatever you start with, provided you start sincerely and with conviction, you’ll find yourself finding out along the way what your true goal is and it won’t be money. It can’t be stressed often enough that money is never going to be the goal. If you happen to get some money, that’s fine, but it is never the goal.
- Animals are the body. Somewhere along the line, Parcival really fucks up and is informed by a messenger of God that he will never, ever, ever find the Holy Grail because he fucked up so bad. Parcival decides to continue looking anyway, because looking for the Holy Grail is his goal and therefore the only thing worth doing whether he can ever achieve it or not. He doesn’t know what direction he should go so he lets the reins go slack and lets the horse choose the path. This kind of thing happens a lot in myths. Somebody follows a dog deep into the woods or is lured from the road by a whip-or-will or is convinced by a snake to taste the forbidden fruit. This always means that they are following the wisdom of the body. You have to remember that the brain just thinks it’s in charge. The body also has desires and needs and sometimes the body is smarter. (I recently fell while climbing a rock-face on a mountain. My body twisted in air in a way my mind couldn’t have made happen, which caused me to have a bruised foot rather than a broken leg.) Sometimes, you’re better off just letting the body decide.
The holiest animal, by the way, is the snake, because it sheds it’s skin as the moon sheds it’s shadow, which is a symbol of casting off mortality; because it’s vital life force is not diverted by limbs; and because it is in constant contact with Earth which is the source of our being. Snake trumps all other animals.
- Women = nature; men = society. That’s really why men have all the chores in myths. Men/society has to be active. Women/nature doesn’t have to do anything because it just happens. Again, metaphor. Not actual women and men, who have to sometimes be active and sometimes not.
- Nothing interesting happens when you follow the rules. Not that you always want interesting things to happen. Most of the time, following the rules is a good idea and will help you get along better with your neighbors, which is why the rules are always laid out clearly in the first chapter of the holy writ. Generally they’re good rules and will prevent squabbles. However, when it’s time for adventure, the rules have to go. If the wise people say “Don’t go north”, you go north. If God says “Don’t eat the fruit”, eat the fucking fruit. If your father says “Don’t fly too high”, you fly too high and if the wax holding your wings together melts and you fall in the ocean and die, well, that happens.
Knowing when and in what way to break the rules can be dicey. The guide should be whether the rules are helping you achieve your goal or not. Jesus was asked about keeping the Sabbath and he said “Was the Sabbath made for man or man for the Sabbath?” a rhetorical question that meant “don’t bother me with the rules. I’m after my goal”.
- Paradoxes are the mile markers on the holy road. When you encounter a mutually exclusive pair of truths, treasure the moment. You are a temporal and finite being attempting to have a relationship with that which is eternal and infinite. You will never understand it. That’s fine.
- Experience matters more than understanding. Religions and myths are maps to sacred places, how-to guides for finding that which really matters. In themselves, they matter about as much as a menu matters to one who is starving. Do you want to read the Kama Sutra or do you want to fuck? I’ll tell ya, the Kama Sutra ain’t that interesting. Whatever religion you pursue, whatever myth you read, whatever path up the mountain you follow, the thing that matters more than anything else is the experience.