Before looking at creative mythology as it flourished with authors mentioned in previous posts of mine, I would like to focus on the main trends influencing and shaping modern creative mythology. Those main trends are: the classical heritage, the Celt-Germanic myth, Islam and Gnosticism.
The classical heritage has definitely help shaping modern mythology in many different ways. Gottfried works have taken on Apollo and the nine muses. These same muses accompanied Dante through his hells into paradise and the purgatory. Virgil’s Dido is another example of women characters taken by medieval writers to build their mythological stories. Another interesting character has been the sanctum of the winged serpent: this figure of transcendent form, who represents the same world – that suffusing power that is symbolised in another bowl by the rapture – inspiring potion in the chalice of the goddess mother of all being. The serpent below Apollo, who descends and splits in three: the lion, dog and wolf, symbolising past, present and future.
Homer led to the Aeneid and Homer’s Hade led to the Divine Comedia. Another important author was Horace, representative of Roman satire, who also influenced post traditional writing works. Ovid’s cosmology and cosmogony, in harmony with contemporary Platonism, was also a great influence. Ovid’s work Metamorphosis helped not just understanding latin poetry, but also became a treasury of morality. Lastly, just to mention Lucan, another Roman author, as the virtuous of horror, who also served in the underworld and its witchcraft magic.
The second great trend influencing creative mythology was the Celt-Germanic heritage. Native north european lore was the chief inspiration of the Golden Age of courtly Romance. Works such the old Runic script, passed from Hellenised gothic provinces northwest of the black sea. This script mentions of the figure of Othin, self-sacrificed on the world Ash as an offering to himself, to gain wisdom of those runes. The Sutton Hoo ship burial demonstrates Frankish, Scandinavian, Central European, Byzantine and beyond learning and contact. The gentle poet Caedmon, legend of the Zen patriarch Hui-Neng, reflects on the wisdom beyond learning. Caedmon applied to literature the techniques of traditional Germanic Bardic verse and to the rendition of biblical themes in Anglo-Saxon.
Beowulf, a story that was aimed at aristocratic public, is an old germanic Hero-legend story of the monster and dragon killings of a Scandinavian king ancestral of the Logar Anglian line. It is possible that originally in the Beowulf saga the monsters were conceived not as fiends, but as the guardians of natural forces, to be not killed, but quelled and integrated. In fact, their residence in the land below the waves suggests an association with those chthonic powers that have always been recognised as dangerous and frightening, yet essential to all life. Beowulf shows an old germanic virtue but only about loyalty and courage, pride in the performances of duty, and for a king, selfless, fatherly care for his people’s good. Beowulf’s joy, furthermore, in the site of the earthly treasure, is even decidedly unchristian, for the work is everywhere alive with love for the wonder of life in this world, with not a word of either anxiety nor desire for the next life.
There are parallels in the Beowulf with the bear and the bear’s son, the distribution of whose appearances in north America as in Eurasia, points to a background in that primordial cult of reverence for the bear. A second beast of Celt-Germanic legendary background of Europe is the pig, the boar, who appeared in the planting and agricultural mediterranean culture complex. We find the association of the pig with the underworld journey, just like appears in Tristan and Isolt.
The Celts, like the Germans, were patriarchal Aryans, but were transformed in their westwards drive to the sphere of the great goddess and her killed and resurrected son. Examples found of this great goddess are found in South Spain, Syria and Sumer, pointing to a pre-Celtic megalithic art, 2500 BC, at the time of Bronze Age Crete, in which amongst the chief divinities was the great goddess of many forms and names, whose son and spouse was the ever-living, killed and resurrected lord of immortality: Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, etc.
The third influence that creative mythology received was the legacy of Islam. Around the 8th to 12th centuries AD, the muslim world had superior scientific and philosophical minds. They had an active trade with areas in the East , Russia and other European regions. There are evidences of Norman and Moslem contact in Spain and Sicily. It is during those centuries that Spain received a literary invasion, merging Moslem and Christian culture. This is felt in lots of European writings: poems of Ibnu’l-Arabi influenced greatly Dante’s Divine Comedia; there was also influence by writings such the Arabian Nights in the King Arthur story; there are similarities between the commentaries of Averroes and those of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In Byzantine times, classical works in science and philosophy were forbidden and destroyed, so the only places where these works were found and conserved were Ireland, the Gupta India and Sassanian Persia. Arabs did not care much about philosophy or other similar social science disciplines, but Bagdad, under Persian rule and between 750-1258 AD, became the capital of arts. At the same time, the golden ages of the East thrived, the centuries 618-1279 AD, of T’ang and Sung in China; Nara, Heian and Kamakura in Japan (710-1392 AD; Anghor in Cambodia (800-1250 AD); and in India the temple art of Chalukya and Rashtrakuya, Pala, Sena and Ganga, Pallava, Chola, Hoyshala and Panda kings (550-1350 AD).
Finally, Gnosticism was another current of thought influencing modern mythology. Christian religion established that the corruption of nature was due man’s fall. Gnosticism, instead, believed that the corruption of nature was due to its Creator. Gnostics strove for release from corruption through a systematic disobedience of those laws in either two ways: through asceticism or orgy. Gnosticism was persecuted by Constantine and further emperors, however, it did not stop. It influenced Manichaeism, another current of thought, which prospered with prophet Mani. This was a current which, in the Near east, was supported by Persian Sassanian ruler king Sapur I, from who it rose and spread. This was a current of thought based on a mixture of Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Christianism, with the old testament Creator identified as Angra Mainyu. The evil inflicted by the creator could only be overcome through asceticism or orgy, the latter seeing as an agape, a love feast.
Therefore, Gnosticism, the Islam, the Classicists and the Celt-Germanic world have been the main influencing bodies of creative mythology.
By Dr Joseph Campbell.
Image taken from: http://www.mypoeticside.com/poets/caedmon-poems