Sunday, August 31, 2008
Life lives on lives
A passage from The Power of Myth. Joseph Campbell discussing an Indonesian myth:
"In the beginning, according to this story, the ancestors were not distinguished as to sex. There were no births, there were no deaths. Then a great public dance was celebrated, and in the course of the dance one of the participants was trampled to death and torn to pieces, and the pieces were buried. At the moment of that killing the sexes became separated, so that death was now balanced by begetting, begetting by death, while from the buried parts of the dismembered body food plants grew. Time had come into being, death, birth, and the killing and eating of other living beings, for the preservation of life. The timeless time of the beginning had been terminated by a communal crime, a deliberate murder or sacrifice.
Now, one of the main problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. You don't kid yourself by eating only vegetables, either, for they, too, are alive. So the essence of life is this eating of itself? Life lives on lives, and the reconciliation of the human mind and sensibilities to that fundamental fact is one of the functions of some of those very brutal rites in which the ritual consists chiefly of killing—in imitation, as it were, of that first, primordial crime, out of which arose this temporal world, in which we all participate. The reconciliation of mind to the conditions of life is fundamental to all creation stories. "