When things are clear as mud, I find a book off my father's shelf. Alan Watts' "Myth and Ritual in Christianity” fits the bill as the Earth turns toward bare-treed November, the time to 'hold fast to the center.' Watts describes a Christian mythos keeping with a Perennial Philosophy that people all around the world throughout history come up with.
The emphasis, for Watts, is on the poetry of a good myth, on understandings that live in a mind attuned to the present, free from the ego and historical time and the science and metaphysics of the Western system of thought.
Myths don't make it onto the daily news, but one has stuck with me since childhood.
The basics of it are this: Dionysos appears on some cliffs above the sea, a ship of pirates going by; 'Must be some rich prince, let's take him hostage,’ they say; they seize him and bind their young nobleman to the mast, but fetters will not hold; strange things begin to happen on the ship; grape vines grow, vessels overflow with sweet wine; and then Dionysos turns into a lion and pounces. The pirates, terrified, jump into the sea; hardness and extremism in the flesh, they are turned into dolphins, put to good purpose, in tune with nature; and the god Dionysos, having understood the moderate old helmsman's wise heart, commands him to stay. And as the sailing day reached the dusk, I imagine they had some wine together.
I wonder if there's a better myth suited to the world right now.
Eric Asimov, of the New York Times, reminds me of the value of keeping a good Chianti around, a true middle of the road graciously palatable red. At a very reasonable price, the fruit is balanced with the tactile experience of that source of all things, as if one could taste the acorn, the pinecone, the rocks and places where the Earth has received enough of its own history to tell a story.
In what terms can we express the reality of life? Sometimes, like wine, we need the leap of faith that is truth wrapped in myth, perceived and understood, accepted, at deeper levels of the mind.
Exposure to myth allows us to comprehend the truth of other persons. With a head full of Cuchulains and Quixotes, of goddesses who mingle with shepherds, we get the human psyche, the person standing there before you, unbound, unpacked from the imposed.
Like wine, myth allows us back to that archaic time when people talked to each other, really talked, about nature and reality.
And sometimes, there is a reward, a good simple pleasure, to counter the tyranny of the majority, the glass of Jean-Luc Columbo 2010 Cornas the wine rep poured; it sat out on the shelf by the bourbons, untouched, me feeling unworthy of a big complex Syrah, and five hours later, at the end of the shift, it tasted great and I kept coming back to its exotic refined depths.