Friday, September 28, 2018

Concerning the Welsh Bard

To mark the online launch of my new book Taliesin – recovering the poetic self I would like to share an excerpt from this work that is written not only for writers but for anyone who wants to develop a more poetic relationship to the world. The book is now available in paperback and kindle format through amazon. 
      The passage below explores Taliesin’s relationship with his environment, his ability to summon the wind, i. e. work with nature rather than against her. The passage includes a number of exercises that can help writers know their environment more intimately.

The River in all Rivers
To begin with we see a river the way we see everything else. As something out there and therefore separate, in the stasis of everything tainted with thought. 
A river is in constant flow. Film it and it becomes flat. Photograph it and it becomes fixed. Think it and it becomes abstract. Observe and it comes closer. Recall it vividly and it comes to life. The river out there begins to flow in you. Intensify this experience and your mind overflows into the greater river, the river not seen, not thought, but imagined.
     This greater river is its whole catchment, a web of tributaries narrowing into creeks, rivulets, trickles, wells and temporary springs; it comprises all moving water and all water patiently waiting in puddles, swamps, ponds and stagnant lakes; all the waters washed over granite and sucked into limestone, seeping through the gossamer of sand, soaking into the spongy earth, accumulating in underground aquifers, circulating through the arteries of rock.
     This expansive river holds every drop that has run over tarmacs and trickled down rooftops, raincoats and cars, that has skimmed over boulders, wetted every rock, touched every grain of sand, that has dripped from rain-soaked trees and slid over every kind of leaf, stem and bark;
And this greater river is linked to the river system of plants: the myriad slow-motion rivulets rising from root to stem, the column of water slowly moving at the speed of growth, every leaf a slow-release estuary feeding moisture into the vertical river, the invisible spirals of humid air that rise above us like imperceptible trees whose canopies are the visible clouds.
      This river beyond the river bed extends into everything wet, moist, fluid; it hovers in fogs, falls in a drizzle, and condenses in dew. We are at all times surrounded by it: we walk inside this invisible river, sleep in its subtle eddies, are carried by currents we cannot see. The same ubiquitous river spouts from taps, gathers in pots, pools in kitchen sinks, steams in baths tubs, churns in washing machines and wears polar icecaps in freezers and fridges. It extends into our bodies, mingles with our blood, flows through arteries and veins, pools in our organs and keeps the brain buoyed inside our heads. Inundated by this greater river our mind becomes more fluid, and our understanding pictorial and therefore poetic: the result is a beholding that is both thinking and seeing at the same time. 

Exercise 2 Imaginative contemplation
Choose an elemental force such as wind, cloud, rain, sea, thunder or drought, or a landscape feature such as a desert or a lake. Then contemplate it in all its manifestations like Taliesin does. Start with what you see or know or remember and expand from there. Water it with your imagination. Hear the thunder in all its tonal variations, observe the sea in all its changes, variations, moods. Attempt the biography of a raindrop, the genesis of a thunderstorm, the forming and reforming of clouds.
If you find this exercise difficult, follow Taliesin’s example and address an imaginary audience by using an entry phrase like ‘Know thou the rain…’ or ‘Consider the thunder…’

Have you considered the emerging of colour as the light softly beams into day, the growing lushness of green vegetation, the burnished pindan earth. Have you considered the moment of subtle shift, of the awakening world to hope. Have you considered the light that warms from the night’s chill. Have you considered the candle flame that opens the dark mystery?
The light in the window welcoming. The light of the stars remembering.
Have you considered the light of the epiphany of the new idea?
Have you considered the warming, hopeful creature that embraces the world, longitude by longitude, fondling the great planet in its generous, open palm, turning it slowly, moment by moment?                Dale Irving

Memories Immediate and Delayed
Now it is time to write about the river down the road, the clouds in sight, the rain that is falling right now, the lime-tree in front of you. You can do this either through direct experience in the present or by remembering such an experience at a later date.
      In the first case observe what is before you in great detail and then write about what you have just seen, heard, sensed, and felt. The more attentive you are, the more fully you can immerse yourself in your surroundings, the more senses you involve, the more satisfying will be the result.
      The second option starts in the same way but reserves the act of writing for a later time. Wordsworth called this ‘recollection in tranquillity.’ Through sustained practice memories that appear faint at first can in time become uncannily intense. You may hear a long forgotten frog splash nearby, feel the cool breeze on your cheek, or see a black swan gliding inconspicuously in the shade of a boathouse. Sensations you hardly noticed can come to new and sometimes unsuspected life. And this life can lead to feelings that resonate deeply with the riverine world.
      Here, of course, it is important to distinguish self-referential emotions from feelings that inform. If for instance, you dislike the water because you resented swimming lessons you are experiencing a self-referential emotion. Behind such emotions exists deeper, more receptive and highly resonant layers of feelings that can tell you how the brackish water lapping at your feet feels rather than how you feel about it. These layers subtly imitate whatever you see, hear, and experience. Becoming aware of layers means to be reddened in the presence of red, lifted into the flight of gulls, widened by the thin horizon skirting the sea, quickened by waters tumbling over granite boulders. The qualities of rock and river, weather and wind, lake and sea will begin to shape your writing. A slow flowing river will steady your rhythms, wet your page with watery consonants and pool the right vowels in the right places. A rugged mountain range will toughen up your prose, the size of a pond determine the length of your poem and the staccato of sedges inform the meter of your verse. Your language will become more artistic and onomatopoeia will occur of its own accord.
     So will synaesthesia. You will begin to sense the colour of cold, hear the high pitch of yellow, see the sharp contours of precise thought. Awake to this layer you will start to experience the velvety texture of indigo skies and the soft touch of cobalt blue lining the horizon. Living into this ‘language before words’, you will start to sense the personality of the river, the individuality of the storm that stopped you in your tracks or the being of the landscape you live in.     

Exercise 3 Mining Memories
No matter if you work with immediate experience or pictures drawn from the past you will need to recollect them in the act of writing. Do this using as much detail as possible. See and hear again what you have seen and heard. Excavate obvious and not so obvious experiences and become aware of the sensations accompanying them. What matters is that you shift from reactionary feelings to feelings that inform as you enter into a dialogue with more than yourself. Allow the cloudscape to shape your feeling and the river to pour through your pen.
      The example below captures an experience with the Derbal Yerrigan or Swan River at Heathcote near Perth, Western Australia.

The River - June Solstice
The river, fat with sky
waits for us to arrive;

as we step
out of the car
it breathes out.

A solitary plume of vapour
hangs above the water
close to the shore

moulding and re-moulding
a shape without sides
turning the morning
on its floating axis.

The body of mist
leans into space

it opens to reveal
a swarm of droplets,
ecstatic in first flight;
they spiral up
scaling the light,

and we find the river
is standing before us

like a snake standing
on its tail

and we wait
on the shore
of the year

for the sky
to consume

its own skin.
Jennifer Kornberger

The next step is identification, becoming one with. The aim of identification is to know something the way you know yourselves. This requires a radical shift of perspective, a thorough transformation of the self into another by dint of will. And though this may be far beyond your scope, it is not beyond that of Taliesin, your poetic self. This self already knows the ‘who’ of the river, the numinous presence that makes the Wye into the Wye, and that distinguishes Danube from Don.

Exercise 4 Becoming one with
With this in mind continue with the same topic and stretch the poetic imagination to the point of identity. This means not just describing the river or bushland, but becoming it.
      You can attempt this artistically by using the ‘I am’ form, giving river or cloud or wetland your voice. Doing this, the ordinary self may be stretched beyond its comfort zone, but the poetic self will be right at home for it has never left. It is the river and will gladly speak in its tongue. So rather than speak about the river, let the river, the beach, the open fire, speak through you. Give the wetland, piece of bush, patch of coast, your voice. Trust that your attempt will make the river, lake or pond incline toward you, become your muse, someone to write with rather than write about. Instead of being a lonely writer squeezing poetry from dried-up pen you might find yourself inundated with ideas….

Monday, March 19, 2018

Global Hive

For those who are interested in Global Hive (Weltenwunder Bienenstock) I have published a chapter from the book that is not only of interest to those who care for bees, but for everyone who wishes to gain a fresh perspective on current calamities and how they can be solved.  My aim with this book was to think outside the bee-box, to apply a different, wider and more imaginative approach that avoids the kind of thinking that has led to the bee-crises and other ecological disasters. Incidentally this is also the chapter that has given the book its name:

22   Global Hive

The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything. Albert Einstein

One can feel powerless confronted with colony collapse. Economic pressures and pervasive paradigms conspire against the survival of the bee. Political action does not match the speed of decline. My only hope is in the imagination that mobilises the global economist in each of us, the bold, marginalised thinker we all harbour inside ourselves and the undiscovered politicians that we inevitably are.
In Switzerland recently I was impressed by the high level of direct democracy. There are voting booths everywhere and everyone is ready to participate in public affairs. The alpine republic exemplifies civil rule. Minor matters and major affairs are decided upon by a population prepared to shape its own future. Laws are made by the people for the people. Regulations are localised to suit the situation at hand.
I would like to see a voting booth for global concerns such as the protection of our environment, the salvation of the bee: a means to directly participate in decisions relevant to us all. The environmental crisis is a global concern demanding global action: deforestation of one part of the world affects all others and rising sea levels encroach on all coasts. Pollution is never just local and climate change is ubiquitous. As problems cross borders our national structures are powerless. A worldwide crisis demands worldwide eco-democracy. A global voting booth for planetary concerns would provide the means to engage the economist, politician and visionary in every one of us.
To the intellectual mindset this might seem impossible on logistic and political grounds. There is no infrastructure in place to deal with the administrative complexities, nor is there a unified political body to implement the results. But what seems utopian to the intellect is well within reach for the imagination. To the imaginal mind eco-democracy is not only possible, it is already established. The global voting booths are already there. The infrastructure is in place and well equipped to accommodate all levels of civil participation. I am talking about the most widespread, effective, sophisticated and powerful of all voting booths: the cash register. This is the global voting booth: an unequalled tool to take responsibility and vote for the better or worse of this planet.
Here our daily choices have immediate effect. Every one of our decisions subtly alters the world. We can buy coffee or fair-trade coffee, or coffee that is fair-trade and organic or even biodynamic. Every purchase is a vote. Our dollar is our most political tool. What we spend flows back to the product’s origins, and contributes to the proper or improper treatment of land, of workers, farmers, societies. With our daily decisions we endorse better or worse ways of transport, more or less trustworthy companies, wholesalers, retailers. We say yes or no to artificial fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides. We prevent or promote sustainable farming, support or neglect fair returns. We have a hand in what happens to the land, the seas, the air: we put our ten cents worth of opinion on one side or another of the global scale.
The cashier registers our global care. It is our thermostat of environmental awareness. Compared to this our political choices leave us powerless because they hand responsibility to parties, politicians and governments. The true political arena is the global voting booth. In the parliament of dollars our opinions are registered and put into action. Here every one of our choices changes the world: we join the battle against economics without care, and commerce without conscience.
As consumers we are intimately connected to the world. This tin made in Poland contains sardines from Norway, olive oil from Italy, garlic from Spain and spices from all over the world. Every week our shopping trolleys fill with olives from Portugal, cheeses from Holland, sugar from Brazil, butter from New Zealand, tea from Taiwan and rice from India. What we purchase in Perth today becomes reality in Indonesia tomorrow. Every shopping trip is a tour around the world, every meal a culinary circumnavigation of the earth. It is the same with all products. Wool from Australia may be spun in England, dyed in Italy and manufactured in China. Complexity increases when we step from simple products to elaborate machinery. Everything comes from everywhere. Every car is an assembly of the world. ‘Made in China’ is a partial truth, ‘Made on Earth’ the complete reality.
This makes conscious consumption a worldwide feedback loop, while thoughtless consumption tightens a noose around the neck of this earth. Whatever we choose, we support. A conventional product may be farmed without regard for the earth: it may deplete the topsoil, spoil the water, pollute the air, diminish biodiversity, impact on forests. It may have travelled halfway around the world, acccumulated unenecessary food-miles, wasted fuel and lost much of its freshness. When we buy a burger from a food chain we salivate on unsavoury practices, social exploitation, monoculture, artificial fertilisers and pesticides that burden our stomach as they burden the earth.
Through every financial transaction we become poison or nutrient for the earth, engage ourselves in monoculture or diversity, suppression or liberation. We need to ask the compassionate questions. Is this a spoonful of honey poison for the world? Does this jar seal the destiny of bees? Will saving this forty cents pollute a river? Will this additional cost sustain topsoil, this cheque save a forest, this transaction counter climate change?
The answer to these questions must not remain abstract. Knowledge may stir our conscience but not alter our action. The mindset that allows beekeepers who love their bees to treat them cruelly will likely encourage us to continue with consumption without care. What is needed is economic imagination. The more accurately we imagine pesticides penetrating the soil, polluting the groundwater and entering plants, bugs, bees, birds and beasts, the more we feel responsible. The moment I imagine in detail, I am connected. And the moment I feel connected I care: the possibility of conscience turns into actual compassion and compassion into action.
This picture can be developed further: we can picture the circulation of goods as an exterior circulation of our blood. In this picture we become the perceptive heart mediating between what we take and what we give. Products lose abstraction if we can see, feel and sense them all the way back to their origin. We need to imagine the money for a bottle of milk flowing back to the udder of the cow, to the farmer and the land he cares for, the soil he treats, the landscape he maintains, the culture he upholds. And we need to feel ourselves as part of this money flow and all its effects. The taste on our tongue is the lesser part of our transaction. What matters is how our actions taste to the world. While it is important to buy healthy food for our well-being, it is more important to buy it for the benefit of the earth. When we consider the latter we become the heart of the global economic circulation, the sense organ that maintains the world.
This awareness is the morality we need to maintain our planet. In the Middle Ages morality centred around synagogues, mosques, churches. There were few choices and everyone lived, worked, prayed and died inside a close circle of circumstance. The world is local no more. Every one of our actions has worldwide effects. Morality is in the market place. The department store is the cathedral and the shopping mall the congregation hall.
Without imagination, consumption is ignorant egoism, a selfish and ultimately destructive cult. With imagination the necessity of self-care becomes the opportunity to care for the world, and the shopping mall of consumption transforms into a global hive.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Time Times Two

But the greatest thing by far is to have command of metaphor; it is the mark of genius. Aristotle

Writers are Pythias by default. In creating fiction rather than fact they produce what did not exist beforee. The capacity they use is the imagination. It is the essential, indispensable tool of creative writing, and one of the best ways to develop this ability is through the making of metaphoric stories.
The process is simple. Students chose a topic and then translate this topic into a metaphor or ‘seed image’. They start with this initial image in their mind’s eye. This image is then further elaborated. The image is worked with until it unfolds into a story. The challenge for the writer is to use imagination rather than intellect, to think in pictures rather than concepts. To do this is not easy. To allow an image to freely unfold is a fine art that requires practice.
Most students will experience a definite struggle between their intellect and their imagination. The mindset they have will battle with the one they aspire to. This results in tales dominated by the intellect: the plot feels contrived or too clever, the outcome predictable; the composition lacks a sense of wholeness and the writing has no lustre.
The reason for this is reliance on linear thinking and the scientific paradigm that underpins it. Creative writers are not, of course, necessarily scientists. Yet they, like everyone else, have imbibed the scientific paradigm. Like a fish in water they are unaware of the water that is in and around them. And the moment they attempt to engage their imagination in earnest, their intellectual habits spring up to constrain them.
A creative writing teacher can usually tell when this happens. After a while students will start to notice it in the work of their fellow writers. In time they may come to recognise it in their own writing, in hindsight at first and eventually during the process of writing itself. Then they are not far from allowing the image to develop of its own accord, without interference from the intellect or from their subjective psychology. The former ties the writer to collective conventions, the latter to their personality. Both relate to the past.
Both are left behind the moment the writer stays fully present in the forming of images. The metaphoric mind, rather than relying on what already is, opens to the future. Undetermined by what is known, the imagination engages with the here and now of everything new. The moment the writer is able to live into one image and then see it through to the next, the writing becomes fresh. The plot, though unpredictable, possesses a logic of its own. Beginning, middle and end form a coherent arc. Every part of the story resonates with every other and reveals an indivisible totality. Everywhere is necessity and nowhere coercion. This is the natural state of a tale that has been allowed to unfold of its own accord.
The end of such stories is both surprising and obvious. Surprising because there was no way of foreseeing it. Obvious because it fits seamlessly with the arc of the tale.
A good story achieves this by means of metaphor; firstly, through the ability of metaphors to unite separate things and ally them to what is intrinsically whole. And secondly, through the innate mobility that allows metaphors to resonate with the future. The future is never fixed. It is always alive, changeable, fluid. Concepts are often too rigid to accommodate this vital flow. They hear only the message they want to hear.
Metaphors differ radically from concepts. Rather than being like moulds that shape everything according to their own design, they are like wax, willing to be given shape. They are fluid, mobile and flexible like the future itself and hence uniquely suited to express what wishes to come. Unfettered by the past they are open to what is new. They are organs through which the future can articulate itself. 
I suggest we distinguish two streams of time: one that runs from the past into the present and another that runs counter to this current. We are familiar with the first: it is linear time, tied to the law of cause and effect. We have, as yet, little affinity with the second. Unlike the Greeks, who developed elaborate rituals to avail themselves of this current, we have no tools to put it to use.
It is not, however, entirely unknown to us, as we engage this counter-current in every new insight and creative act. Unobserved, it serves ground-breaking ideas and inspires innovative approaches. We apply it in every moment we appreciate art. Consider how the music we hear is never just the music of the moment alone. We hear the totality of the piece through every cadence. As we listen we anticipate what is to come and weigh what we hear against the scale of the whole. Even if we have never heard the piece before we somehow know roughly what to expect.
Writers do the same when they write. They are sensitive to this second current. They meet it the moment a story takes over; the tale tells itself; a passage develops a life of its own. Suddenly they are in the presence of more than themselves. They realise that the tale is beyond their telling, the composition beyond their ken. Making use of their imagination, they have been made use of by their muse.
The muse is real and capable. In fact more capable than the writers themselves. 
The self that is active in such moments relates to our ordinary self, as the future relates to the past. It is not who we usually are but who we aspire to be and long to become. This part of ourselves is more potential than realised. It is still in the process of becoming and it has, by virtue of its emergent nature, a natural affinity with the future. It is this nascent, growing, potential self that we apply in every creative act, and that we must employ if we wish to learn what the future has to teach us today.


Saturday, November 26, 2016

The Structure of Myth

The Remorse of Orestes, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1862

When we try to pluck out anything by itself, we find it hitched to the whole world.             
John Muir

If a typical tourist comes to Delphi today, he or she may hear of Apollo’s victory over the Python and perhaps the tale pertaining to his divine birth. But in doing so, the traveller will hear a story that never existed in isolation. Like any other tale, the tale of Apollo was embedded in a complicated, highly organised cosmos of stories from which it derived meaning. Today we encounter in parts what was once whole. In this way we are all bookish tourists and typical in our piecemeal approach to myth. We contemplate the nose without the face, the face without the body. We forget that every story is embedded in the body of Greek mythology just as this sentence is embedded in the structure of the English language.
This makes myths into highly-complex realities. They constitute a body of meaning in which the whole is dynamically present in every part. This body is expressed in time, and at the same time independent of it. The plot is not just impelled by the past. Mythical time is a totality in which before and after, future and past, are linked in intricate, non-linear ways: The fate meted out to Orestes is not just caused by his filial duty to kill his mother because she had murdered his father. 

His destiny is linked to the destiny pattern of his family line of which incest, betrayal, filicide and cannibalism are but the temporal expression. His fate is implicit in that of his ancestor Tantalus (who dared to test the omniscience of the gods by serving them the flesh of his own son) in the same way that the car pre-exists in a carriage and a carriage in the first conception of a wheel.  Orestes is part of his family destiny, as this destiny is part of the Greek myth.  (Tantalus’s own transgressions fit rather tightly into the topic of generational conflict that made Zeus overthrow his father Kronos, and Kronos castrate his progenitor Uranus.)
To the artistic eye the fate of a major character such as Orestes arises like an absolute necessity in the body of Greek myth. Orestes belongs to that body as a finger belongs to the hand. His destiny is there from the beginning even if it manifests only at the end. In myths the future draws the past towards its realisation. 
In this trans-temporal sphere concepts like cause and effect did not apply as they do now. They are appropriate to physics. In the metaphysics of myth a single effect is never entirely explicable by a single cause. Cause and effect are also interchangeable. An event is pushed by the history at its back and drawn by the future in its front. Past and the future conspire to reveal in time what is essentially beyond time. The story is trans-temporal: it is there before it is told, complete before it unfolds
This qualifies the mythological mindset as one that partakes in wholeness. This this is what makes the encounter with myths so salutary to us who tend to understand everything as the typical tourist understands the story of Apollo: in isolation. If this tourist relates the story to the body of Greek myth he or she will do so after the fact of separation. The wholeness achieved is counterfeit. Most knowledge today is of this kind: a body glued together after it has been cut apart. This has its uses, but also its downfalls. It is brilliant when it comes to the construction of machines, devastating when applied to nature, which is intrinsically whole.
This intrinsic wholeness has remained unobserved in nature and elsewhere because it has remained unobserved in the mind: thinking in time, we remain unaware of the thinking before time that partakes in wholeness.  
In this thinking every thought is linked to others in in the same way as Orestes’ destiny is linked to that of his family, and that of his family to the totality of Greek myth. Every concept is embedded in a body of meaning like a fingernail on a finger: the existence of a spoon necessitates that of a fork, a fork that of a knife. The concept of cutlery implies that of tools and tools that of technology and so on. The links between a spoon and CD player may not be immediately obvious, but they are there in the same way as the links between the fingernails and the optic nerve: far apart for immediate perception and yet related through the overarching reality in which they exist.
Language mirrors these overarching realities. The preposition ‘in’ immediately implies that there is an ‘out’ - and everything in-between as well as adjacent to it: invoking every possible relationship be it spatial or otherwise: ‘in’ thus derives its meaning through the context in which it exists, and how it, as an isolated entity, is intimately related to this context.
This may sound terribly abstract. Yet it is on the back of such seemingly terrible abstractions that we understand even the simplest things. We are composers inside a complex music we don’t even know exists. We handle this music as we handle the grammar of our mother tongue: with utmost perfection, without knowing the laws.
We are too occupied with the one-at-a-time products of the mind to give heed to their production, too focused on the particular to see the whole. We forget that we can only understand the part because we have already, albeit unconsciously, understood the whole.
Heraclitus, the most profound of early Greek philosophers, called this sphere of wholeness the Logos, of which he said:

Although the Logos is common to all, many live as if their thinking was their own. They separate from the Logos with which they are in touch at every moment, and therefore the Logos on which they depend at all times remains foreign to them….

Today we must not remain foreign to a realm on which every thought and hence every one of our actions depends. Oracular culture was still aware of this realm and contacted it through rituals. It is the same realm from which artists draw their inspiration, scientists their insights and inventors their innovations. Most importantly it is the realm we must draw from more consciously if we wish to think thoughts that contribute constructively to the world, that is thoughts that do not forget the wholeness on which they, as well as everything else, depends.
Admittedly direct contact to this realm requires philosophic rigour and meditative dedication. But there are other, easier, more indirect approaches: one of them is through imagination and metaphor.
Metaphors, by virtue of their innate connectivity, emphasise wholeness. They connect where the intellect separates. They join hitherto isolated things and establish a surprising, yet in hindsight obvious, relationship: They provide a moment of poetic evidence. And in that moment we have a glimpse of the wholeness that the intellect hides. A window opens into a trans-temporal world. We feel satisfied because context has been restored, and wholeness renewed.
The moment we think in images we approach wholeness. We engage with realities in which before and after, cause and effect, are relative rather than absolute. Time is not the irreversible arrow shot by the archer of accidental creation. It is a translator of tacit knowledge, the medium through which potential becomes manifest.
Seen from this perspective the future appears less arbitrary. It exists as immanent potential. It has intent present in a fluid state that allows for freedom. Metaphors invite this intent to dawn on the horizon of the mind. They are mobile enough to resonate the fluid state of potentials in transit. Open where the intellect is closed, they offer an antidote to isolation. They are remedial, particularly when used in community.
This makes the development of our metaphoric mind more than an entertaining pastime. It offers an alternative mode of cognition that can complement the one we already have. Above all it provides a canvas for the future to paint itself unobstructed from the limitation of the intellect.
This makes the work with metaphor a first, modest and yet very real beginning for capacities that may initiate a new paradigm. 

The Remorse of Orestes, from Wikipedia 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Myth and Reality

After finishing the Delphi Project I am working on a book to document our work with collective imagination. The following essay explores the mythological mindset as a forerunner of contemporary possibilities in this realm.

Tholos, Sanctuary of Athena Proneia, Delphi, Greece

Myth and Reality
Understanding mytho-poetic realities is not easy. They slip through the vanishing point of the perspectives we superimpose upon them. We are left with a heap of bones without a body. And from this heap we assemble a skeleton of misconceptions.
The most notorious of these misconceptions is the notion of myth itself. What today is generally understood by this word is the very opposite of what it once meant. No matter if our meaning is naïve fancy, projection of psychological realities, or artful imaginations spun on the heirloom of an older, more imaginative age, it will carry the mark of unreality. Even if we love myth it is hard to escape the condescending feeling of having been emancipated from it. Like the fabled tooth-fairy we treat it as a standard story that casts a charming spell on children, but is otherwise irrelevant. 
Our intellectuality is a hurdle to comprehension of myth. In fact, the notion of myth, the way we understand it today, did not even exist in pre-intellectual times. The content we associate with myth, of course, was current. But it was not a ‘myth’. It was reality. It was part of the perceptual horizon that held the pre-intellectual world in place: not a story that is learned at some point but an envelope of meaning one existed within. It was history, genesis, explanation, orientation, a way of seeing, a lens to look through.  It was to the ancient Greeks what our paradigm is to us: a collective way of experiencing, seeing and interpreting the world.
To us the table is real because the table is there. We see it and others see it too.  There is no need to doubt its reality. We take its existence for granted; and we do the same with everything else that enters the sphere of our perception.
The early Greeks did the same. Yet their perceptions differed from ours. Creatures that we confidently assign to personal fancy were shared perceptions: where we merely see a river the early Greeks saw a river god.  Where we perceive a well, they beheld a nymph, that had a name, a history and attributes that translated into the particularities of place.
No one believed in gods because there was no need to believe in them. They were experienced rather than surmised. The difference between Zeus and Agamemnon was that the Olympian god was a fair deal more present than the Greek leader. That’s why he was a god. 
But how can we who sit in front of computers, use smartphones and travel with aeroplanes, make sense of realities so different from our own? Here the philosophic insights of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (marvelously researched by Owen Barfield), can come to our aid. 
It is well known that the English poet distinguished between personal fancy and objective imagination. It is not so well known that he further divided the imagination into primary and secondary.
By secondary imagination he understands the images and metaphors a skilled poet produces, pictures of universal rather than subjective relevance.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge  1772 - 1834 
By primary imagination Coleridge understands the artistic-poetic capacity that every human being applies to create the perceptual world; everything we see: the trees in front of the house and the table inside of it. He means to say that everything that we perceive as being out there has previously been put there by an unconscious activity we employ at every moment to create the reality we inhabit. Through primary imagination we acquire a particular brand of reality in childhood and share it from then on with those around us. This activity is the poet, painter, sculptor and architect in us all who shaped this world to the specifications of our cultural community. And it is this inner artist who continues to maintain it later. At any moment we recollect what we have created in childhood. We become curator of reality, constantly repeating and reinforcing the parameters of the world we exist in. (Poets, artists and innovators typically retain some of the creative momentum in later life.)
Two hundred years ago this was too daring an insight to be taken seriously. Today there is much evidence to support it. A telling example is people who are born blind and operated on at a later stage of life: What happens when they open their eyes for the first time? What do they see?
Not what most of us would expect. For them the world we take for granted does not yet exist. All they see is a bewildering flicker of colours. The flood of sensations makes no sense whatsoever to begin with. Nothing is there before the inner artist commences work. Only gradually do impressions of blue knit themselves into a pullover, and various sensations of ochre, beige and brown flatten into a surface of a table. Their mind still has to create what for others is habitually fixed: the seemingly solid reality they inhabit.
This illustrates rather marvellously the action of primary imagination. It is the artist that paints the world we inhabit, the architect that designs its structure. Above all it is the builder who lays down the foundations that we accept as solid, unshakable reality.  What is real and what is not, what we perceive as inside and what we perceive as outside, what is fixed and what is not fixed depends on the brand of primary imagination we have imbibed in childhood.
The brand we imbibe today differs from that of the early Greeks. Both are possible interpretations. Both reveal relative rather than ultimate truths.  Both create a highly consistent and meaningful world that is absolutely real to those who inhabit it.
It is extremely important to be aware of this fact. Older paradigms cannot be understood as long as we naively believe in the sole reality of our own.
Each way of experiencing the world needs to be understood as equally valid and hence on its own terms, within the parameter of its own perceptual realties. Otherwise we only excavate our own opinions: we mistake the meaning of myths and fail to learn what they have to teach: another perspective on reality that can widen and complement the one we already have.

I highly recommend Owen Barfield's book What Coleridge Thought

Images from Wikipedia: