One of the most enigmatic places on Earth is Easter Island. Situated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,400 miles from its nearest neighbour, it produced a now extinct civilisation which should not have been able to socially evolve, who built mysterious stone statues that stared out to sea.
Why their hundreds of statues were built, no one knows. But so fascinating are they that most people fail to realise that this is not the greatest mystery of the island.
Rather, the Easter Islanders seemed to have the most peculiar writing. Known as Rongo Rongo, it has been found on numerous wooden carvings; and despite decades of research by our cleverest cryptologists, no one has yet decyphered what the writing means.
Many thousands of miles away, on the banks of the lower Indus River in Pakistan, stand the ruins of the city of Mohenjo Daro. Built during the enigmatic Harappan civilisation, the entire culture seems to have died out in the early 2nd millennium BC. Hence, little is known of the people, or how they lived.
One thing the people of the city did leave behind was an enigmatic script that, to this day, no one has been able to decypher. Many of the characters are of strange dancing men holding various objects in different positions in their hands.
Looking at the script, you get the sense of the genesis of Hindu gods; their vibrancy as they dance, holding various objects in their many hands. But there is someting even more interesting about this script.
SCRIPTS FROM THE GODS
If you compare many of the characters to Rongo Rongo, they are very similar. Indeed, this similarity is so obvious, yet so totally impossible, that few academics dare to admit the similarity.
Pseudoscholars by the dozen would look at this similarity, note the thousands of miles that separate these totally isolated ancient communities, not to mention the time difference, and decide it is evidence of contact through a lost civilisation such as Atlantis.
I do no such thing. Rather, I ask the question: do these ancient scripts - the only ones left to us from a very ancient time - offer the possibility of a joining of the human psyche at
a species level, the two scripts being evidence of an early psychic togetherness?
One of the least researched mysteries of the human mind is Glossolalia. From the Greek ‘glossa’, meaning ‘tongue’, and ‘lalia’, meaning ‘a talk’, we know the phenomenon better as ’speaking in tongues.’
First mentioned when the Holy Spirit fell upon Jesus’s disciples soon after his death, the ability to speak in tongues is associated with Pentecost. At the centre of the Pentecostal denomination, speaking in tongues is a sign of reaching ultimate Oneness with God.
Once a person has spoken in tongues, it is a recurrent phenomenon, involved in direct communication with God. Up to Medieval times, it was thought of as directly associated with the Holy Spirit.
But when heretical groups such as the Waldensians began to practice it, the Church authorities decided it was a phenomenon only associated with the initial descent of the Holy Spirit to the disciples. Hence, from then on until the Pentecostals, it was seen as a sign of demonic possession.
FRAGMENTS OF A LOST TONGUE
Glossolalia is distinct from a similar phenomenon, Xenoglossy, which is the speaking of a language the person didn’t know he possessed. Whether spoken harshly, as in supposed demonic possession, or softly, as directed by the Holy Spirit, Glossolalia in interesting in that many of the sounds are similar, regardless what language or culture the person comes from.
The utterances cannot be identified as a known language, and linguistic analysis of taped ’speakers’ seem to suggest that the tongue consists of various language-types.
In this sense, Glossalalia seems to be evidence of a shared pre-language.
We can see, in Glossolalia and speaking in tongues, the real possibility of a species connection, in the deep past, between script and language. However, so few examples of either exist today for us to ever prove such a psychic link between our methods of communication.
A COLLECTIVE PSYCHE?
More interesting for study is body language, where it has been shown that humans throughout the planet do have a shared language. New language forms in texting or on
the internet are equally interesting concerning the ease with which they by-pass specific languages, as if we can identify and perfect an international communication form.
Such fragments of understanding can only lead us in a direction rather than offer theoretical possibilities of global roots to communication. But they do strongly hint that, rather than our psyche being based upon our individuality - for example, our minds being specific to the person - we are actually more connected than we think at the deeper level of the mind, as if we are the product of ‘outside’ influences, rather than personal mentation.
If outside influences were ever to be proved to affect the personal human mind, then the first place to look would be to see if there were known influences upon us which seem to supercede personal thought. If such an influence could be found, and can be shown to belong to the species of man rather than man the individual, then outside influences would have to be taken more seriously.
There is, infact, a known influence that is not only seen at the species level, but throughout life on Earth. This influence is instinct, a most definite evolutionary survival mechanism that seems to be at the base of life interaction in nature.
Our inexplicable feelings of fear, our ability to remove our hand from a hot surface without thought, are evidence of its existence, and its role in keeping us safe. And instinct
has been a major problem for philosophers and psychologists throughout the history of mind theory.
It was the Medieval theologian St Thomas Aquinas who first suggested that instinct was regulated by nature. However, as human reason began to exert its influence upon religious belief, instinct began to prove impossible to rationalise. Indeed, arch-materialist philosopher John Locke had no recourse but to God to explain instinctual behaviour.
God had not quite gone out of fashion in the late 17th century when Locke used God as a repository for annoying bits that wouldn’t fit the materialist model. But 18th century
moral philosopher Francis Hutcheson could not use God to hide such intellectual failings.
Hence, to him, instinct was evidence of action prior to thought and consequence. However, this was stating the obvious, without offering explanation. Erasmus Darwin attempted a more rational explanation of instinct by advising that animals developed habitual behaviour because of the stability of their environment.
This is getting closer - instinct and habit do tend to occur without thought - we rarely make a conscious decision to pick our nose. But 19th century psychologist William James didn’t help much with his idea that human nature is a combination of blind instinct and rational thought.
That great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud decided that understanding instinct was pointless. Better just to accept it exists. Indeed, man could be fundamentally driven by two instinctual drives - his sexual and his ego instinct.
However, animal behaviourist Konrad Lorenz seemed to find a new depository for instinct by sealing the argument in fixed patterns of behaviour due to our genetic inheritance.
Of course, none of the above ideas encapsulate a genuine understanding of instinct. And perhaps the reason for this is that all the above named looked for an understanding within
an individualistic umbrella.
With the exception of Aquinas, any study of instinct had to first accept that man was an individual, unable to be driven by outside forces. And herein lies the problem. Instinct is so obviously an outside force than an assumption of no outside forces clearly invalidates any possibility of explanation.
There is evidence of outside, species forces at work in mythology. All early cultures had myths, and they can best be seen as stories that validate a particular culture, offering identity in creation and custom, and meaning in terms of a moral code.
The first known analyser of myth was the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who coined the term, ‘myth’, itself. He considered them fictional accounts of the past based on true events, but massively distorted. He hoped that as man became more responsible, myths would disappear.
Early 20th century anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski went deeper. To him a myth in a primitive society was not just a tale, but a reality lived from the past to the present time.
A myth was living with the believers every day, providing a link with the past, and guidance for the future.
In this way, a myth is a guide, leading to custom. However, anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss saw myths differently. Rather than attempts to explain social arrangements, they were the use of linguistics to provide signs in society to legitimise institutions. Myths exist to account for conceptual categories of the mind.
To a certain extent, this is mumbo-jumbo - an attempt by high intellectuals to place complications on simple concepts. Roland Barthes went on to further denigrate myth by reducing them to systems of communication with no more validity than the storytelling capability of cinema or television.
THE POWER OF MYTHOLOGY
What such myth analysis fails to comprehend is the power of myth. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud realised this power by identifying in myth the expression of universal, but unconscious, drives. Like instinct, this begins to place myth on a species level.
And myth analyst, Joseph Campbell, took this universal understanding to new depths. To him, myth has four functions: to bridge local consciousness to universal realms; to provide images which interpret the local in terms of a universal consciousness; to empower moral order in an environmental awareness; and to provide individual integrity with oneself, one’s environment, and the universe.
Regardless of where the myth comes from, these four factors prevail, with creation accounts placing man in his environment and allying all to a universal concept; and in creating custom and taboo through allegory, leading to social order such as marriage, family structure, and morality.
PATH OF THE HERO
At the centre of all myth, Campbell identified a character called the Hero. This is a single hero who follows a single path. He may have a semi-divine birth. He will have a childhood of confusion, leading to a need to understand himself. This will send him on a series of quests, sometimes involving conflict, with others involving enlightenment. The quest will be transforming, and in transforming himself, he transforms society.
All myth has this central character, ranging from Beowulf to Baal, Osiris to Hercules, Gilgamesh to King Arthur. And a similar life-path can be found in major religious figures, from Moses to Buddha, from Mohammad to Jesus.
But perhaps the most important element of this myth-making is that the same process lies at the heart of the successful person. He, too, has to rationalise what he is in early life, sending him on a career path that will lead to transformation in his circumstances; and it is an inevitability that in being successful, he will in some way transform his little bit of society.
This outs a myth for what it really is. It is the allegorical retelling of the story of human endeavour and aspiration. It is a joining together of humanity with the deep past and the universal similarity of us all. And no one understood this better than psychoanalyst, Carl Jung.
ENTER THE ARCHETYPE
Jung identified in his patients the existence of psychic images and symbols; images he classified as archetypes. Such archetypes, he realised, manifested in myth, dreams and folklore, and he saw them as universal - mental images passed on through inheritance from our primeval past.
Such theorising became the rockbed of his theory of a collective racial unconscious to which we can all connect. Principal among Jung’s archetypes were the Sage, the Hero, the Earth Mother, the Child, the Judge, and the Trickster, all seen as outer, species, influences upon the psyche. They are not formulated personas, but urges that lead the individual through life by connecting with the conscious.
The beauty of the archetype is that it exhibits characteristics of the human psyche, while being adaptable to the individual’s cultural beliefs. We have already seen this in the identification, in myth, of the Hero. But it goes much deeper.
The Earth Mother can be identified in dieties such as the Greek Demeter and Gaia and can also be seen taking form in the Christian Virgin Mary. The Sage is usually seen at the top of the deity hierarchy, embodied in the Greek Zeus or Roman Jupiter.
As for the Trickster, the most vivid image in Western culture is that of the Devil himself. And we can see that, as in the Hero, what Jung’s archetypes express are the various elements of our own minds and urges.
We like to think of ourselves as individuals, responsible for our own lives. And whilst this is perfectly correct on a simple level, if we go deeper into our mind and culture, a communality breaks out to show that we are not the individuals we like to claim.
Rather, ‘outside’ forces constantly pound and shape us. From enigmatic scripts and primeval tongues, through instinct, to the universality of the mind as expressed in myth, we are One. There is a language of the gods; and it speaks directly to our inner mind.
(c) Anthony North, February 2008
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