THE CREATION OF MYTH
On Mythic Rituals and
On Mythic Rituals and Ceremonial Activities
Reaching back into the primal history of mankind, collectively-held cultural memories of the fateful events of the past were maintained through the regular observance of public rituals that involved the whole group mimetically dramatizing the cosmogonic mythos. These were ‘memorializations’ commemorated on particular “holy days” when some important celestial event had previously occurred.
That is not to suggest, however, that the principal function of a myth was to provide an explanation or justification for an otherwise unintelligible ritual (as in the Myth-Ritual school of mythological thinking). — Just as it was widely held that every celestial phenomenon had its counterpart in human events affairs — As above, so below; — so also was it likewise accepted that the actions undertaken by human groups could affect planetary affairs on high — As below, so above.
These rituals were understood as structuring agents of the universal cosmological order, that functioned to bring the human microcosmic order on earth below into accord with the celestial macrocosmic order above. “So mote it be." ... “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
— The mythic rituals served as a virtual mesocosm — a mediating, middle cosmos through which the social microcosm of the human group was meant to be brought back into its proper relation to the macrocosm of the astronomical all. And this was done by mirroring, as nearly perfectly as possible, the regular order (as well as the occasional disorder) of the "wandering stars” — the planets.
As above, so below: As below, so above. — Through the nostalgic pangs of the knowledge keepers who transmitted the stories, and the psychic anguish experienced by the audiences who received and relived them, the rituals dramatized and re-enacted the cosmogonic events enshrined in the mythos. — And through imitating the mythic structure of the world’s first beginning, the correct ritual enactment of the mythos was widely believed to ensure the very order of the world.
New Year Equinox traditions & Rites of Sacred Kingship
The collective, community-wide ritual performance of the mythos was typically a highly formal affair distinguished by group behaviors we would today consider to be “religious” in temperament.
In New Year rites of the spring and/or fall equinoxes (and other prescribed seasonal settings related to various phases of the calendar), the contents of the Creation mythos were acted out and realized perhaps more fully than anywhere else. These seasonal feasts were universally regarded as marking the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, which closed one cycle and opened yet another cycle of time.
There was a great variety of customs in different communities and traditions — but everywhere these rites were considerably uniform in graphically dramatizing and effectively actualizing the cosmogonic processes and realities known and expressed in the local mythos.
In such societies — as we see for example among the Babylonians and in Egyptian and Mexican civilizations — dramatic public rituals were developed to perennially reenact the original process whereby the cosmos was first divided up and established in its present state. In such cases, a new beginning (for example New Year’s celebrations) dramatically reproduced these events, — thereby re-affirming the structure of the cosmos — and virtually re-creating the original beginnings of things as they are today. All New Year Equinox customs were based on the same ancient modes of thought, and formed parts of the same "primitive heathendom" practiced by our forefathers long before the dawn of history.
In many of those ceremonies re-enacting the generation of what was necessary to the well-being and livelihood of the community, explicit references were made to myths which explained how the decisive deeds of the sky-gods first brought our modern state of affairs into manifest being.
Ruling families in ancient civilizations frequently justified their position by invoking myths — for example, that they had divine origins. Enthronements of new kings were commonly associated in many traditions w new creations of the world. (Examples are known from imperial China, pharaonic Egypt, the Hittite empire, Polynesia, the Inca empire, and India.) — Portions of these peoples’ New Years Equinox festivities, as such, concerned themselves with rituals connected with the renewal of sacred kingship as well. ...
Ritual Inversions of Cosmic, Agricultural & Social Orders
In many societies, these New Year celebrations were accompanied by a temporary abandonment of all social rules, — justified by mythical themes involving a transition period between one age and the next in which boundaries between the cosmological domains are broken and chaos returns to rule — only to be overcome as a new order is instated, or the old one restored.
This was common in festivals in which the social order was temporarily suspended or reversed (as in the ancient Roman Saturnalia or the modern carnival celebrated in many Roman Catholic countries) in which the body politic participated in freedom to break all bounds in order to recover the boundless vitality and fecundity that originally came forth out of primordial chaos. A new life for the cosmos, society, and the individual is supposedly obtained through the abolition of the order of the old — a theme we find retained in much later pagan or primitive rites of passage (such as initiations into adulthood, or sacred priestcraft, or other types of brotherhoods).
Ritual Destructions & Blood Sacrifices
The dire seriousness behind the expiatory functions of the ritual also accounts for some of the more extreme group practices that accomplished the re-enactment of the mythos. — Such practices included: . . . . human or animal sacrifice.
Bloody ritual sacrifices were typical of most if not all traditional myth-making cultures. ... Such customs were invariably related to mythical events in that the sacrificial activities were themselves originally part of the mythic narrative being re-enacted live.
Related examples include ritualized group combat, such as those against a primordial dragon. When the victim of the sacrifice is a primal monster, the emphasis is on the stabilization of the creation through the death of the monster.
While the felt reality of the mythos seemed to justify the violence involved with the rituals in the eyes of the participating population, the mythos itself was not invented as a pat explanation (or apology) for the more gruesome acts partaken by the group. — Rather, the ritual was invented to ward off the potential recurrence of the gruesome events remembered in the mythos, by mimetic proxy acts of sacrifice.
— In all such instances, the concept pars pro toto (the part for the whole) was at the same time always a totum pro parte (the whole for the part). ... The effectiveness of such interchangeability is perhaps most strikingly demonstrated in the vicarious sufferings experienced in the course of ritual sacrifice. Such “magical exchanges” were by no means deception, but rather the expression of the genuine validity of corresponding "equals."