I have been watching the Mythos Series featuring Joseph Campbell; it is an interesting series for those who enjoy comparative religion studies and understanding the universal archetypal images as the roots of the particular mythologies worldwide. In Mythos II, Campbell laments the confusion of the Symbol for the archetype. This has, of course, been the issue in the West, but this confusion seems to be part and percale with all cultures. He points to India and Hindu culture, where people also confuse the Symbol for the literal thing.
Robert A. Johnson, the Jungian psychologist, also talked about this; he called it the flattening of the levels of understanding, reducing the spiritual to the material container, and Symbol. After thinking about this and looking at it from a Jewish Mystical perspective, this seems to happen at the intimate intersection between the World of Action (the Material/Physical World) and the Spiritual World that connect us to the World of Formation. From our perspective – a world of Spirit that interpenetrates the World of Action.
In psychological terms, the Human Animal and the Soul. The Human Animal, the body, and the Soul/Consciousness are, in most cases, a competition. The Animal wants to literalize the Symbol because it has to be concrete for it to grasp it. The Soul/Consciousness, however, can see past the physical to the “spirit” of the Symbol. In that way, the Symbol in its particular cultural dress becomes transparent to the deeper esoteric meaning.
However, when Aristotelian Reason gets intermixed with the Literal and Particularist interpretation of the Bible, the Mythological Construct stultifies and petrifies. This happened to exoteric Judaism before the esoteric tradition was yoked back with the lay tradition and became more significant in the everyday understanding; This change can be attributed to the Ari (Isaac Luria) and the Baal Shem Tov (Israel ben Eliezer).
Exoteric Christianity, however, and broader Western society does not understand what has happened. With the rare exceptions of a few Gnostics still alive and trying to preserve the living Western tradition.
The Jewish Sages have this to say:
The Jewish sages therefore recommend that every person say to himself “for me the world was created.” This does not mean one should regard oneself as the center of the universe and everything was created to serve one’s ego. Quite the contrary. Rather understand the phrase to mean: “For me the concealment of G‑d was created in order that I should reveal G‑dliness in this world and thereby rectify it.” This is the task G‑d created for us: to reveal the inner dimensions, the G‑dliness, contained and yet hidden in this world. Thus, the world of Asiya, the world of Action, is really the ultimate purpose of Creation. For here, more than anywhere else, G‑dliness is hidden. And G‑d can be revealed here even more than in the worlds above.The Kabbalah
This is what is meant by:
so that your days and the days of your children may be prolonged on the land which the Lord swore to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.Deuteronomy 11:21
So long as the people keep the “levels” intact, so long as they do not totally forget the meaning behind the Symbol, they will survive as a people. But so will their culture and nation as a “group” or “tribe”, if they keep the cultural dress.
The “Heaven” (the Transcendent/Universal) keeps the Soul connected to it’s source; what it is. While the “Earth” the Particular ethnic mythology, keeps the Animal connected to its herd; the Tribe, Culture, Nation.
The Eastern and Western Traditions are a pair of opposite goals.
Eastern Traditions seek a way out of Samsara, out of the cycle duality. They seek Moksha and Nibbana. The Western Traditions, such as they are, seek an exuberant participation mystique; that is we are to choose, willfully – Life – existence, and participate in its mystery; while understanding that Life involves both pleasure and suffering at its core.
This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live;Deuteronomy – 30:19
The first half of life, in a healthy society, the person is educated in the cultural dress of their cultural myths. The second half of life, usually starting about 35 – 40, the person should, using what they were taught in the first half, travel their own path of Individuation. Jospeh Campell called it “Following your own Bliss”. The “Bliss” here, however is of a spiritual kind rapture is another name for it. Material pleasure is a substitute; but so are intellectually, conceptually derived ideologies. One is a pleasure of the physical, the other of the rational. Rapture is a spiritual pleasure that can only occur when one is intimately engaged with the divine itself.
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth, for your love is better than wine. Because of the fragrance of your goodly oils, your name is ‘oil poured forth.’ Therefore, the maidens loved you. Draw me, we will run after you; the king brought me to his chambers. We will rejoice and be glad in you. We will recall your love more fragrant than wine; they have loved you sincerely.Song of Songs – 1: 2-4