This article is the latest in a series on the theme of whether we can find a new mythology, a common visionary story, to unite humanity in an attempt to solve the world’s problems. (For a guide to the whole series, see under Mythology near the bottom of the Blog Index page.)
In the most recent article I described the spirituality of the Perennial Philosophy, which had its origins in Eastern religions. I discussed the possibility that this philosophy may need to be developed, that the material level of the universe is something to work on, rather than something to be escaped, as taught by Hinduism and Buddhism. This article will continue that discussion, the topic being Western spirituality, which also has much to teach us. A spokesman for this point of view is the late George Trevelyan, whose book A Vision of the Aquarian Age: the Emerging Spiritual Worldview¹ is my main source for what follows. (Other important Western spiritual traditions are Theosophy, inspired by Helena Blavatsky, Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy, and the teachings of George Gurdjieff. Less well known, but I believe equally significant, are the writings of Raynor C. Johnson. These are not distinct from each other, but contain much overlapping material.)
If it is going to unite humanity, the most important ingredient in any new mythology must be the recognition that we humans are one family working together for a common goal. This must be true if the Earth is a living superorganism, which I believe it is, of which humanity is an integral part. On this point Trevelyan says: “We as human beings are intimately and inextricably part of the whole of nature. In this way, we proceed to discover that Planet Earth is truly alive, a sentient creature with her own breathing, bloodstream, glands and consciousness. We human beings are integrally part of this organism, like blood corpuscles in a body. We are, moreover, points of consciousness for the Earth Being” (p15).
He endorses the specific points that I emphasised in my article on the new mythology and science. He would also be in agreement with the Perennial Philosophy’s understanding of the cosmos, that there are other non-material levels to the universe, and that nothing exists except consciousness. He says that “everything is ultimately spirit, in different conditions of density” (p101), and that there are “different levels of consciousness — of which earth is the lowest and densest” (p11). It follows that “the whole is alive and is the work of Mind, of some Intelligence” (p7), what we might call the Divine Mind.
As well as being collectively true, the new mythology must appeal to each individual at a personal level, must be something that everyone can commit to heart and soul. I believe that the following ideas have that potential.
Humans are spiritual beings, souls (other similar terms are essences, monads) incarnating into bodies. There is a well known saying “the body is a temple”, thus the body temporarily houses the preexisting soul. As the rockstar Sting sang: “We are spirits, in the material world”.
Trevelyan says that the soul “incarnates for the purpose of acquiring experience in the density of earth matter”(p8). “What occurs in life is not a sequence of chance mishaps, accidents and misfortunes, but a pattern that is, in some mysterious way, planned… Our higher self has somehow chosen its own destiny” (p12–13). “Preexistence implies that a soul chooses voluntarily to incarnate. At the same time, the spiritual guides and the Higher Self help us in the period before birth to find the right access into earth life. And this would entail, among other things, choosing our parents” (p42).
During the process of incarnation, however, the soul forgets this plan for its life — the ancient Greeks spoke of it being immersed in Lethe, the river of oblivion. It is therefore the task of life to gradually reawaken, to remember this plan. As Joseph Campbell said: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us”, that is to say, let go of the plan of the unaware ego, and discover the destiny that was planned by the higher self. Elsewhere he said: “If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living”².
There are helpful agencies to assist in this process of reawakening; as Trevelyan says: “We may be certain that we have invisible guides and helpers who can lead us through to the light” (p23). Who or what exactly are these guides? Since they are invisible, it is hard to be precise, but words that have been used to describe them are higher self, spirit guides, guardian angels, daemons.
The best method of which I am aware for reconnecting with the higher self is dream interpretation. It may not be true of all dreams, but some ‘Big’ dreams are beyond doubt communications from the higher self, offering guidance, even instructions, for living, albeit expressed in symbolic language.
We should be prepared for the possibility that this guidance will come as a shock. We may be deeply enmeshed in a way of life, or a particular worldview, whether religious, philosophical or scientific. In such cases, as Arthur Bernard says in his excellent book God Has No Edges, Dreams Have No Boundaries, “dreams say think again”. Directly relevant to my theme of a unifying mythology, he also says: “Dreams are trying to guide the human race into creating a more aware and informed world. You may not realize what a crucial role you play in this drama, but your dreams do”³.
Inner dialogue or meditation may also be helpful. Other possibilities are divinatory practices, including I Ching consultations and Tarot readings. Synchronistic events, in the Jungian sense, can also suggest directions for one’s life. As Trevelyan says: “Most of us have experienced events which appear to have been strangely and ingeniously planned, and which cannot, we feel, be explained away by coincidence. These events can be ascribed to our spiritual guides, and, if we admit their existence in our own lives, we must acknowledge it in everyone else’s. If a pattern reveals itself in small happenings, there must be a great web of direction influencing all lives, and national evolution as well” (p152).
Life is not purposeless, not meaningless. We are born for a reason. Let us connect with this great web of direction which is trying to organise our lives, both individually and collectively. It is positive, wants the world to be a better place. I like to call this the Holy Spirit.
1. 1977, later edition Gateway Books, 1994
2. The Power of Myth, Doubleday, 1988, p91
3. Wheatmark, 2009, both quotes Pxii