THE CREATION OF MYTH
As Below, So Above: The Main
Objects of Regular Ritual Activity
As Below, So Above:
The Main Objects of Regular Ritual Activity
Regular Ritual Activity (1): Sustained the Structure of Society
Because myth was, above all, a social phenomenon embedded in every aspect of society, functioning more or less as an all pervasive model for all aspects and areas of cultural life, the preservation of social structures and their functions was dependent upon the ongoing preservation of the local foundation myth and its regular ritual performance. — And because those myths held that the whole world, including man, had a supernatural origin and history, their explanatory power regarding the shape and structure of society become most significant during the prescribed times when the traditional meanings of the people’s lives and livelihoods were believed to become indeterminate, ... and threatened by supernatural forces of disorder.
Recurring regularly each year on either the vernal or autumnal Equinox, mythic rituals that dramatized the primary events that had originally imparted meaning to the peoples’ history (events such as the natural disasters of flood and fire . . . ) had the utmost social utility of sustaining the traditional structures of society by regularly reactivating the original motivations that had bound the community together in the first place. The communal recollection and celebration of the mythos enabled the community to participate in the fundamental modes of orientation that had originally defined the cultural life of their ancestors in such specific manners to begin with. Conducting these rituals largely at specific ceremonial ‘memorial’ sites, expressly designed and constructed for such purposes, further provided for the imparting of the knowledge that established and stabilized the peoples’ collective identity, as well as the ongoing reproduction of the group’s cumulative cultural memory as a collective whole.
Not only was the mythos regarded as authoritative and true by the entire community, the rites that evolved from the themes and tropes of the mythos seemed to really “work” — in the sense that the rituals were seen as sympathetic means of ensuring the renewal and continued well-being of the community and their homeland in the larger context of the global stability of the created world order.
Such dramatizations were performed expressly to emphasize the permanence and efficacy of the central themes of the myth; — for the cosmological Forces that were understood to be holding together the present structure of the heavens and the earth were understood to be the very same forces integrating and undergirding the shared meanings and values held in common by their culture.
The notion of annual renewal included a renewal of individuals and of society as well as of the world and the cosmos. There was thus an active sense of a ‘Sympathetic Parallel Correspondence’ between the three main domains germane to myth, i.e., Astronomical, Geophysical and Ethnological. — Mankind was believed to hold a particular integral place among the universal natural order (because of blessings given by the gods to man, mankind’s duties to the gods, etc.), and the festivities held annually below were expressly believed to help sympathetically ensure the ongoing stability of those three domains from on high.
Such “magical” propositions were at the very crux of these mythic rites. — Here lies the basis of all sorcery and magic, such as rainmaking, ritual, and the countless other forms by which early “magical” man tried to cope with nature. The very fact of the enacted ritual, supplanting the chaos of nature with a defined and directed action, enabled early man to act for himself, for his own betterment and self-preservation. The group, beginning to grow dimly conscious of itself as a collective unity (or group-ego), began to free itself from the participation mystique of its earlier relationship with nature, breaking Nature’s spell, as it were, with a counter-spell of his own. — Moreover, these same “magical” propositions may also help account for how, despite later struggles in facing earthly warfare, disease, famine, etc., some of these peoples still managed to cohere as more or less solid communities, serving the causes of the group to their utmost ability, keeping the forces of social fragmentation at bay.
Regular Ritual Activity (2): Renewed the Natural World
Observing the rituals of old, preserving the ancient myths, and passing them on with care to the next generation seemed to serve as a very active way to affirm the natural order and seasonal cycles of both the heavens and the Earth. The successful performance of an appropriately timed ritual enactment of the mythos was often seen as necessary to ensure the very order of the world, its regular continuity and future growth.
In such ritual festivals, the lost time of pre-history was regenerated and the cosmogonic activities of the world’s creation were re-presented. The tribe, the community, celebrated Creation in story and rite (— in ... , .... and dromena —) because if they did not, if a renewed Creation be not firmly established in the human community, if there was no ritual for its celebration, if there was no re-enactment for its re-instantiation — creation itself could simply stop. Everything would fall apart, collapse upon itself, and return into an unidentifiable, indescribable unspecialized primal chaotic mass. — But the public act of participating in the ritualized repetition of the world’s creation held the power to affirm the patterns of the world and perennially reset the Creation of the present cosmos or world age in motion, as it were from the beginning, all over again.
The time of the Equinox marked the beginning of a new era; and the season of spring would soon come to confirm it — not only as a physical phenomenon of nature, but also as affirmation of a sympathetic relation between human conduct and the right behavior of Nature. So long as man kept straight upon his path of regular ritual observance, then Nature’s orderly processes of seed-time and harvest would go forward too, ushering in the complete renewal and recommencement of all aspects of life, both above and below, on which the ongoing well-being of mankind’s world depends.
— Thus also we often find that a model of the total gestalt of the culture’s worldview or cosmovision is often implicit, if not obviously and completely explicit, in the ritual setting where the culture dramatically re-enacted their mythos. Participation in the regular recollection and celebration of their cosmogonic mythos enabled the community to more directly participate in the larger life of the cosmos around which their cultural world had been orientated from the start.
Regular Ritual Activity (3): Warded Off Cosmic Catastrophes
And the more we look, the more we find that most cosmogonic myths were concerned with origins not only in the sense of the valid foundation (or “ground”) of the world not only as it was before, and how it eventually became the way it is now; — but even more importantly, they were also deeply concerned with how the community could best conserve and safeguard the current cosmic world-order, in harmonious concert with the starry gods above, the way it is now.
All over the globe, traditional mythos of the planets in conflict went hand in hand with deep concern for the well-being of planet Earth and the livelihood of the creatures living upon her. Indeed, early societies of the ancient world were, by and large, almost obsessively concerned with warding off any impending catastrophes that might further threaten the viability of human society. The catastrophic devastation caused by flood and firestorm recounted in foundation myths were widely understood to be recurring phenomena in a larger cosmic drama that could be influenced by religious ritual.
Thus, regular periods of ritual renewal were adopted, to commemorate the occurrence of one or more catastrophic events that had transpired between mankind and the gods — on cyclically recurring periods of “sacred” or “holy” days -- during which it was held that the world, or the continued existence of the cosmos as an integrated totality, was once again at a heightened risk of returning to an older state of chaos and disorder.
Because the cosmos was mankind’s home, the continued viability of the present world order was the central, crucial issue at the center of all these group ritual practices. — No matter where on the globe one’s home was situated, or how different the heavens and the earth may have appeared from one place to another, ameliorating the threat of new floods and firestorms seems to have been the strongest motivating factor behind the ritual practice of dramatizing or re-enacting the mythos. — As above, so below.
These ritual activities thus also served as a 'magical’ or sympathetic medium of exchange between the surviving communities of humans below and the departed gods above. These rituals were universally undertaken with the express expectation that their committed performance had the ‘power to’ ward off future recurrences of the same natural phenomena that had overwhelmed their ancestors, and to affirm the perpetual renewal of the cosmos and the repeatability of creation. — As below, so above.
All in all, this seems to be the very practical origin of how one of the most ancient and ubiquitous traditional beliefs first came to be: — that Nature or, the World, or the Cosmos is itself moral, so that its very order is either actively conserved by man’s continual upholding of traditional beliefs and ritual practices, or, alternatively, entirely disturbed by the unruly “sins” of man.