Saturday, 24 December 2011

Living in myth

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In their early years, the Numenoreans lived in myth - they were fallen men, and they did not live in paradise exactly - although it was close; but they lived in myth in that they had a personal relationship with the world and (most of the time) they lived in meaning.

They had a broad angle, inclusive, deep perspective on life - later they focused-in so as to achieve power over the world, developed blinkers, ignored much of their perceptual field.

Life then felt unreal, their world was dead and subject to their will, they felt alienated, sought satisfaction in mastery, conquest, and pleasure...

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I sense something similar for Byzantium at its best - that people lived inside the Christian myth.

Their lives were experienced within the Christian myth (and not merely interpreted in terms of the Christian myth).

Again, this is not perfection nor paradise; because men are fallen, and life is suffering (substantially) - but this wretchedness was experienced (I believe) as within the Christian mythic frame.

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This can be seen most clearly in the lives of the Orthodox Saints. It is not that they lived lives of perfect worldly happiness, but that everything which happens to them is felt as being within providence; the worldly is perceived within the Heavenly frame.

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For this to happen, the myth must be true.

And what must be true is that the world is alive, intelligent, relevant to and concerned with 'me' and has a direction.

When the Numenoreans ceased to believe in the true myth of their origins and condition, they became 'modern', they fell again and were destroyed.

When moderns lost their belief in the wholeness of undivided Christianity then in all forms of Christianity and paganism too (a gradual and still incomplete process) - they lost their ability to live within myth: at most they could pretend to live in myth or according to myth (intellectually-appreciated) - they did not experience life as myth.

Pretending doesn't work.

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And in terms of living within myth (not with reference to salvation) partial, legalistic, dry, procedural, anti-animistic and anti-pagan forms of Christianity do not work.

Yet it is possible to live within the Christian myth, if that is aimed for, and at least for some of the time, and to aspire and work towards the ideal of continuous dwelling in myth - but the myth must be known as true; and it must be the old Christianity of Saints and Angels, Miracles and Spiritual Warfare - if not precisely Eastern Orthodox in terms of denomination, then certainly in that spirit.

Such a life will not be paradise while on earth; but it may be real.

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3 comments:

Troels said...

I was curious to see your reference to Byzantium so (relatively) soon after reading Tolkien and the Study of his Sources edited by Jason Fisher, in which Miryam Librán-Moreno, in ‘“Byzantium, New Rome!” Goths, Langobards, and Byzantium in The Lord of the Rings’, says:

for Tolkien Constantinople stood for corrupt worldly politics, the unshakeable assurance that they were the sole possessors of truth
and right, and the forceful crushing of alternative or differing visions, such as would be embodied by Constantinople’s enemies and opponents, like the Goths, Langobards, or Franks.


Her work is quite convincing, actually (it is, in my opinion, one of the stronger essays in that collection, though the whole is recommendable).

bgc said...

@Troels -

on page 157 of Tolkien's Letters (near the end of Letter 131 - the huge letter to Milton Waldman) he compares Gondor to Byzantium ("proud, venerable, but increasingly impotent"). But of course Gondor is the centre of Men's civilization in Middle Earth - so JRRT surely cannot have been actively hostile to the Byzantine culture.

How well informed JRRT was about Byzantium I am not sure - Gervase Matthew (a real Byzantine expert) was one of the Inklings, and Charles Williams used his own version of Byzantium in his mythology... I would imagine that Tolkien resented that the Eastern Empire regarded Roman Catholics as break-away heretics, rather than the true Church.

(In this debate I side with the Orthodox and regard Roman Catholics as clearly the heretical breakaway - however this does not mean I personally am hostile to Roman Catholics and indeed plan to become one, specifically a member of the Anglican Ordinariate - probably!)

Furthermore, Byzantine culture was alien to that Northern-ness which Tolkien was rooted in (and so am I - I live in the Northernmost English city).

But the idea that JRRT would speak favourably of 'alternative and differing visions' sounds like politically correct nonsense!

Indeed that quote from Libran-Moreno is written in the mainstream modern academic humanities style of PC waffle which I know all too well; so I personally would not be inclined to read further in that essay! Anyone who writes like that cannot be on Tolkien's wavelength.

Dale said...

We live by faith, not by sight, and the Kingdom of God does not come "with observation."