In 1988 P.B.S. sponsored The Power of Myth, where Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell. That series delightfully awakened me (and countless others) to the wonderful world of comparative mythology. Campbell has become for me what James Hillman calls an "ideational vessel for making soul," a living alchemical retort that allows the psycho-poetic substances of my own soul to mix with his, and transmute through interaction. That is the function of every great teacher--not to form the student in the teacher's image, but to expose the student to materials that cause a sublimation (an improvement or refinement) of the personality.
I will focus on one example taken from Inner Reaches where Campbell addresses the painting of the Navajo Pollen Path in which the spiritual sojourner must traverse the perilous path from below to the higher abode. The black and yellow characters standing on either side of the path--symbolizing duality--must be brought together or unified in order for the journey to proceed. In this view, Ultimate Reality is One. Only those living in fear and ignorance see separation. Campbell then compares this path of union to the biblical image of the two Cherubim (angels) standing at the gates of Eden to preclude Adam and Eve from returning to the garden from which they have been dispelled by God. This Hebrew image of divinely sanctioned separation is inferior to the Navajo and Hindu notions of dispelling the error of duality in order to return to The One. Campbell writes:[i]:
Similarly stated, James Hillman views metaphors "...less semantically as a figure of speech and more ontologically as a mode of being, or psychologically as a style of consciousness" (Re-Visioning 156, italics mine). Ontology is the study of being. Various cultures have various ontologies, and to understand a culture's metaphors, one must understand their fundamental ontology or "style of consciousness."
As an illustration, imagine you are visiting a culture that has never heard of computers. Imagine sharing something you suddenly deem unimportant to someone in that "computerless" culture, and exclaiming, “Oh, never mind, just delete my last comments from your mental hard drive.” They would have no idea of what you were talking about because they do not share the mental concept that precedes and informs your culturally conditioned metaphor.
Campbell does something like this when he says: “There can be no reading of the [biblical] images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind” (Inner Reaches, 114-15). Campbell's critique of the Hebrew story assumes the Navajo and Hindu constructs of ultimate reality as being "all one," not allowing for the Hebrew cultural ontological concept of the necessity of separation and alienation. Separation and unity are both archetypal and native to the human psyche. Campbell is imposing the unity conceptual construct on the Hebrew narrative. The construct of ultimate separation would have made no sense in the Hindu and Native American religious worlds which Campbell clearly favors as ontologically more correct or superior. Campbell embraces the Native American and Hindu view of unity as the ideal goal of spirituality, while the Hebrews incorporate the ontological experience of separation into their spiritual paradigm. This makes Campbell's critique of the angels with the flaming swords not only irrelevant, but wrong--at least with regard to the biblical mythology. The conceptual construct behind the Hebrew story of Edenic separation--with angels forbidding a return to the earlier unity--is one of divine duality. The metaphor is one of moving forward through knowing good and evil--requiring experiences of both God and Satan.
According to some Jewish, Christian and Jungian interpreters--this Hebrew notion of necessary separation and alienation introduces a radically new paradigm into Near Eastern religion and eventually the larger world. The animated dust-born human in Eden is neither wholly divine nor wholly animal, yet contains some elements of each while also evolving from both. Hegel calls this dialectical process the necessary path of duality toward Absolute Spirit, and the Jesuit priest and scientist Tielhard de Chardin calls it the Omega Point. Both union and duality are part of the eternal reality.
Unlike the Eastern and Navajo ego, the biblical ego was never "originally" one with God, and is not intended to be merged with God in the Eastern sense of ego- or self-obliteration. The Hebrew notion of what we call the ego-self is imagined as more like a seed pod made in the image of God. The human is ontologically separated from the originating "Divine Source" in order to morph into an entirely new Self by going through the various post-Edenic pathololgies (sufferings) of material and psychic existence--symbolized by pain in child birth and working by the sweat of the brow.[ii] In this view, the angels with flaming swords are divinely meant to keep the humans from returning to the Tree of Life. The metaphor indicates that the way to the spiritual life is forward, not backward. The Hebrew aim is not to unite the two separate beings--as in the Navajo Pollen Path--but to necessarily forsake the place of unity and journey through didactic, soul-making dualities.
While the the Navajo Pollen Path and Indian sushumna path require one to march through the fearful angels into the peaceful center, the Hebrew path requires the nascent soul to march away from the angelic sentries, and away from unified Edenic in order to enter the educational problems of earth-life. In the Hebrew view, there is room for both unity and duality in a soul-making world that requires one to first leave the peaceful center, journey through a world of pains and troubles, and eventually return to the peaceful center as a unique person or self. In other words, Campbell's disparagement of the Edenic flaming-sword metaphor is mistakenly based on his Hindu presupposition of unity rather than the Hebrew presupposition of separation prior to reunion. Neither ontological concept is necessarily wrong, but each is looking at the existential quest from a different angle.
EARLY CHRISTIAN INTERPRETATIONS OF EDEN
A soul-making view of Eden was developed by the second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons when he appeals to the biblical phrase, “man was made in the image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-27), pointing out that the Hebrew Bible used two different words distinguishing between God's ‘image’ (tselem) and God's ‘likeness’ (derooth). "Image" suggests potential while "likeness" suggests actual. The aim of human existence is to move over a period of time from potential to actual. Just as the seven earthly days of creation moved from chaos to orderly completion, so too does the human (the first Adam) develop over a period of years from the raw chaos of God's embryonic image into the completed form of God-likeness found in Christ (the last Adam--I Cor. 15:42-49). This Edenic Adam (human) was comprised of three elements: material dust, divine spiritual breath and a living soul. There was an intentional and purposeful distinction between the divine spiritual nature, the material nature and the animated or soulful human. Irenaeus imagined that the Hebrew mythology viewed human existence as a co-mingling of these disparate or separate elements over a lifetime with a view to making something entirely new--a completed Human.[iii] Irenaeus put it like this:
So when Campbell says, “There can be no reading of the images of God and Satan as metaphors of any kind. They are invisible, supernatural facts,” he seems to be forcing the biblical myth into an Eastern conceptual construct of unity and return to a lost union. For Campbell there is "no reading" of the biblical ideas of Satan and God as metaphors. I beg to differ, and wonder if he is likely having a beneficial compensatory reaction to his ultra-dualistic Catholic upbringing, but wrongly forcing the Hindu cultural construct onto the Hebrew myth.
SOUL-MAKING REQUIRES SEPARATION AND DUALITY
For many Jews and Christians, separation and dualism are a necessary condition for transformation into what the Eastern Orthodox Church calls theosis—becoming divine. That is why Process Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, "The Old Testament is the story of the evolution of consciousness without equal in the literature of the world" (Religion in the Making).
Clifford Geertz includes facticity in his general definition of religions when he says,
order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic" (Hale, Part 1). In other words, “authoritative factual accounts” and an “aura of ‘factuality” do not contradict myth or necessarily contaminate metaphors, especially when the cultural conceptual metaphor is not fully understood. Myths most often present themselves as factual and authoritative. That is why James Hillman can refer to the "fiction of science" as well as "science fiction."
Finally, from an archetypal perspective, ‘literal facts’ are just as necessary, and perhaps symbolic, as ‘metaphors.’ If hard religious facts are dogma, then these dogmatic kernels are the solidified seed pods of the wilting and wilted mythical flower which contains the next myth. Dogma is the seed of myth, the dead husk of the new emerging idea (archetypal pattern of consciousness). Dogma and fact are as necessary to myth as metaphor. The ‘nonsense’ is just as necessary as the ‘sense.’ Campbell was a genius in detecting the old husks, cracking them open and stripping away the old shards, and releasing the new seed ideas into a cultural soil ready for new images of soul.