Mythic Imagination


Writing with characteristic insight, Bruce Charlton writes a comprehensive metaphysics of knowledge:

The hierarchy of knowledge…From highest to lowest…

  • Imagination — attained by Intuition

  • Rationality — attained by Reasoning, including Logic ( ‘Philosophy’)

  • Empirical Evidence (‘facts’) — attained by Observation, including Experiment (‘Science’)

…What, then, validates ‘Imagination/ Intuition’? The further assumption of divine revelation – which needs to be both internal and external – we need to have something divine within in order to respond to divine revelations from without.

Some time ago, your author (writing under the pseudonym Vijay Prozak) crafted a an essay titled “Philosophical Essence of the Northern Traditions” for the first volume of Northern Traditions (now re-booted as Mimir: Journal Of North European Traditions) in which the concept of mythic imagination features heavily.

The essential idea of mythic imagination comes from Immanuel Kant, who wrote of the root of knowledge as being intuition; combined with other notions of the “acausal” or “synchronous” nature of metaphysical structure, this suggests a situation in which object and subject influence one another under certain conditions, possibly reifying the object through a convergence of both entities. In this way, the ancients were able to awaken a metaphorical style of imagination which connected them to intuition, and in doing so, brought about a world which came alive with the supernatural.

That disturbs our modern notion of material causes. For the modern person, gods must exist in some tangible form in order to be real, instead of being observed through a combination of insight and creativity. If we need to know why God has died and we have killed him, it is that our method of understanding precludes any possibility of the supernatural which rests on an informational “lattice of coincidence” perceived in the patterns found in objects more than their material order itself. This view is consistent with Germanic idealism, which holds that all of existence is information-based or thought-like, and therefore, that hermetic principles of attraction can render things incarnate — even those removed from us by time and space.

When we say that the universe is “infinite,” this applies to more than material dimensions; it is also informationally infinite, suggesting that possibilities which exist may not be directly present but can be induced to manifest. In this sense, the patterns of thoughts which match up to patterns of information can attract those, and bring them from non-existence into daily presence. This makes the ancient focus on honor and clarity of thought come to life as what it was: a method of maintaining connection to a metaphysical world which did not exist removed from our world, but immanent within it, like another dimension discovered through a qualitative improvement in thinking.

This concept was described in some detail as a leap of faith but also, an evolution in cognition:

When we get past the modern mindset of linear logic, called rationality, we can begin to think clearly again. The energy spent forcing complex data into simple data structures is over. Instead, we join it all at once. The process called “mythic imagination,” by which we use our imagination to construct metaphorical narratives around the whole of reality, comes from this.

Mythic imagination beats scientific analysis for anything but materials science. It allows us to see patterns, and not just in isolation, but across time and beyond even the material world. At this point, we see how linear causality is only part of the story, and a complex causal system must underlie all that we see and feel.

Joseph Campbell wrote most convincingly about mythic imagination and the possibilities it exposed, explaining both why those are inaccessible to us today and why the ancient experienced a world with more balance and purpose than modern people hope to experience. Fred Nietzsche describes this condition as being dreamlike and inspiring the greatness of ancient civilization more than need:

Pascal is right in maintaining that if the same dream came to us every night we would be just as occupied with it as we are with the things that we see every day. “If a workman were sure to dream for twelve straight hours every night that he was king,” said Pascal, “I believe that he would be just as happy as a king who dreamt for twelve hours every night that he was a workman. In fact, because of the way that myth takes it for granted that miracles are always happening, the waking life of a mythically inspired people — the ancient Greeks, for instance — more closely resembles a dream than it does the waking world of a scientifically disenchanted thinker. When every tree can suddenly speak as a nymph, when a god in the shape of a bull can drag away maidens, when even the goddess Athena herself is suddenly seen in the company of Peisastratus driving through the market place of Athens with a beautiful team of horses — and this is what the honest Athenian believed — then, as in a dream, anything is possible at each moment, and all of nature swarms around man as if it were nothing but a masquerade of the gods, who were merely amusing themselves by deceiving men in all these shapes.

Under this view reality becomes sychronous, or composed of manifestations which have not a single cause but a similarity of structure which makes them manifest independent of which is subject and which is object. This finds compatibility in another Kantian vision, in which he described our knowledge of reality as the product of a mental filter which reduces vast formless chaos to recognizable objects. Somewhere in that blaze of intensity are things we have overlooked, and with mythic imagination, we can give them metaphorical form and render them into existence as we know it.

While the modern world is based on reducing reality to symbols that make subsets of the whole stand for the whole (synecdoche), the ancient world is based on an integrative ideal where all parts of reality work in parallel and the patterns between them are the actuality, as opposed to the material substrate in which they are expressed. It is no surprise that this worldview leads to the discovery of forces beyond our “control,” or ability to force our intent on the world by reducing it to equal bite-size portions, and that these threaten the empire of the Ego which currently controls the West.

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