THE AGE OF MYTH
IN THE LIGHT OF THE NEW CITY.
New Church Life  p 141.MYTHOLOGY, in its most proximate sense, means the science of the collected religious myths, or legends, handed down to us from the gentile nations of antiquity. It is that part of the history of mankind which treats of the various conceptions of the Divine with the Human Race in ancient times. It is, therefore, the study of ancient Theology—and from this of ancient History, and as such affords one of the most interesting as well as noble and useful studies of human life. Man is a man solely from the reception; for the Lord is the One Man. the study of the life of mankind is, therefore, simply the study of the various degrees and qualities of the reception of the Lord by mankind during its successive ages. Mythology especially affords such study, for it treats of nothing else than of the Religion of the Ancient, veiled in numerous diverse forms; all of which are so many different paths in which we may wander from East or the West, the North or the South, to the wonderful, beauteous temple of the Ancient Church. Many before us have entered upon this study, have wandered in these paths, but, because these are dark and mysterious and labyrinthine, and because the wanderers had no other guide for their footsteps than their own intelligence, they have never found that temple of wisdom. But the men of the New Church who are blessed with the Divine truth of the Lord in His second coming, have not only learned that such a temple exists, but are gifted, also, with an unerring guide towards it; with a lamp for their feet and a light on their part. Well, therefore, may we enter upon this our pilgrimage to the Temple of the Lord’s Ancient Church. Our wandering will carry us through distant lands and hoary ages, full of wonders and mysteries; through scenes of shadow and of light; through dark and ancient forests, in which strange and hideous animals roam; and through pleasant fields filled with lofty temples, pyramids and cities; through regions peopled with demons, and through tracts inhabited by gods. Without a heavenly guide no man can, unharmed, pass through these forest and deserts and fields; but, as Swedenborg on his visit to the ancient heavens and hells, was accompanied, protected and guided by an angel sent from the Lord, so also may we, unharmed and unbewildered, pass through all that is false and evil in the ancient world, and at last reach our goal; for our guide and protector is the Lord Himself in His Heavenly Doctrine. And we will there find the doors of the temple of the Ancient Church wide open to us; we will be able to enter in, and be instructed in the wisdom there in His Word, before which we may prostrate ourselves together with the men of the Lord’s Ancient Churches. When pursued in this course and with this guide, the study of the ancient mythologies will prove of wonderful benefit. It will illustrate, as if by magic pictures, the operations of the Lord’s Divine Providence in the universal history of mankind, revealed in the Word. It will shed a great and new light over the ancient nations, their worship and customs, mentioned so often in the Letter of the Word. It will shed a great and great and new light over the ancient nations, their worship and customs, mentioned so often in the Letter of the Word. It will confirm and illuminate in our minds the important Doctrines revealed in the writings concerning the development of mankind, and make more rational and complete our understanding of the many references to the ancient mythologies, which are found so abundantly in the Writings, as illustrations of the Doctrines.
This study will further widen the intelligence in general, by preparing planes in the mind, into which the angels of the Ancient Churches may inflow, and bring new illustration, and a stronger sphere of those loves in which they were: it will serve to humble the pride of us of the nineteenth century, in showing us that that the worldly wisdom of this age is but as darkness to the light of the ancient wisdom. It will show us also the origin of those falsities and evils which have destroy the first Christian Church. We will hence be able to see more objectively those hells from which they have sprung, and that the same idols and false gods which destroy the Ancient churches are, even at this day, ruling in the Christian world, and are therein worship. Thus we will be able to shun the false and evil of the ancients and to collect and use those treasures of good and truth which lie buried in the ruins.
And, finally, it will beautifully confirm this Doctrine, that the New Church is to be crown of all Churches that have been, because the revelation, given to it by the Lord, is the Crown of all previous Revelations. In the New Church decay and Idolatry will be impossible, for there one visible God is acknowledged and worshiped in the Glorified Human of the LORD JESUS CHRIST
A STUDY OF
NORTHWEST COAST MYTHOLOGY
IN THE LIGHT OF THE WRITINGS
THE AGE OF MYTH
Many of the most interesting and significant British Columbian legends are set in the age between the creation and the flood, that epoch in which an occult relationship existed between the human and non-human worlds. We might, to distinguish this period from that which followed it, call it, “the age of myth.” During this epoch, “spirits, men and animals lived together like brothers.” This harmony was the universal norm, the cosmic standard; hence it is that stores set in this age provide the basic plots and situations of so many British Columbian legends, even some of those purporting to be entirely historical in our sense of the word. For this mythical past was also a kind of hidden and eternal present, and the old occult relationships might well erupt at any time through the brittle and flimsy surface of everyday appearances.
In this article we will concern ourselves mainly with Tsimshian myths and beliefs.
The pre-Christian mythology of the Tsimshian reveals a state halfway between animism and polytheism, neither of which excludes the inner monotheism which seems to have been particularly strong among the chief and nobles. The figures of the Myth Age may be divided into three categories—spirits of god-like character, heroes or demigods, and animal spirits or nekh-nokh (the Tsimshian word), possessing the qualities of distinct animals species in human form. The godlike spirits grants secrets or prerogatives, and often appears as a deus ex machina. The hero is usually the protagonist of the myth, and the nekh-nokh are the beings from whom he rests secrets or prerogatives, or who, more rarely much more frequently in this role in the mythologies of other Northwest Coast peoples.
Many of the main Myth Age characters seem to fall into one of the three categories which I have named, arbitrarily, Monster Slayer or Strong Man, Wise man, and Ascending or Self-Transcending Person.
Monster Slayer or Strong Man is typically a weak and lazy young man in appearance, despised by his peers as a ne’er-do-well. However, this seeming weakness is the natural result of his submission to the supernatural: he is secretly gaining spiritual power, A Monster—usually a sea monster—appears to threaten the village. The warriors cannot kill it, and they are about to give up in despair.
At this point the despised young man appears and offers to fight the monster. They deride him; but he insists on being allowed to prove himself. Finally, when all else has failed, they contemptuously allow to go to what they think will be his inevitable destruction. But, surprisingly, he defeats the monster. Often by defeating it he acquires its power, and becomes a kind of submarine demigod, king or “chief.” In the Tsimshian version of this myth, he becomes both a submarine and subterranean god, or “earth-supporter.” The Tsimshian hero of this category was called Aemelk. Other Northwest Coast figures which fall into the same category are Konakadet of the Tlingit, Kagwaii or Su’san of the Haida, and Yakdzi of the Kwakiutl.riors cannot kill it, and they are about to give up in despair.
At this point the despised young man appears and offers to fight the monster. They deride him; but he insists on being allowed to prove himself. Finally, when all else has failed, they contemptuously allow to go to what they think will be his inevitable destruction. But, surprisingly, he defeats the monster. Often by defeating it he acquires its power, and becomes a kind of submarine demigod, king or “chief.” In the Tsimshian version of this myth, he becomes both a submarine and subterranean god, or “earth-supporter.” The Tsimshian hero of this category was called Aemelk. Other Northwest Coast figures which fall into the same category are Konakadet of the Tlingit, Kagwaii or Su’san of the Haida, and Yakdzi of the Kwakiutl.
Wise man has a wife whom he dearly loves. She is stolen from him by the Killer-Wales, the Chief of the Killer-Wales or the Undersea Lord. He descends to their kingdom, rescues his wife, and returns to earth to become a highly respected man among his people. In many versions he is beheaded, and his head becomes an oracle. In many versions he defeats or tricks the monsters of the undersea world by singing to them, or charming them in some other way. The resemblance of this myth to those of Orpheus and Perseus is obvious.
The name of the Tsimshian Orpheus was Gunarhnesemgyt, which means “Listen to What I Say.” Similar to Gunarhnesemgyet are “Real Person” and Nahnannesemgyet among the Haida, and Soogwilis among the Kwakiutl.
The name of the Tsimshian Orpheus was Gunarhnesemgyt, which means “Listen to What I say.” Similar to Gunarhnesengyet are “Real Person” and Nahnahnesemgyet among the haida, and Soowilis among Kwakiutl. The heroes of the category Ascending or Self-Transcending person usually ascend to heaven. Often they do so in search of a bride, and go through great hardship to win her from the tyrannical old Sky-Chief, obviously an aspect of the Drowsy God and a surrogate, or functional deputy, of the Divine seen as implacable law. These myths are full of images of light and color, as opposed to the dark coloring of those of the first category, and the mixed dark and light shades of those of the second.
The Bella Coola Salmon Prince is one such figure. On his ascent to haven he finds himself in a great house, the House of Myths. The House of Myths is, in Bella Coola mythology, a great house in the heavens, the home of the god Alkuntam. Here resided, at one time, the prototypes of all created things: everything in the universe escaped the sun was made here, under the direction of Alkuntam, and sent into the spatial world. For this reason it is called “Where Everything Was Begun,” “The Place Whence Came the Falling Down,” “The Place Where mankind was made,” and also, more mystically, “The Place of meeting” or “The Council House.” While this is not stated in the versions of the myth we possess, it is quite possible that the Hose of myths is in fact the physical sun, since everything was made there except the sun, since the Sun Spirit and Alkuntam, when he is “in the sun,” may enter the House of Myths; thus it appears that the house of myths may also be seen is, a solstitial constellation, most usually a constellation of the summer solstice. The chief of the house is the Sun Spirit (an aspect of Alkuntam, as we have seen, and often confused with him), and he puts salon Prince through a number of tests. However, the contest results in the final defeats of the Sun by the Salmon Prince. The Sun, accepting his defeat, sends the prince back to earth with his daughter. In the three types illustrated above, we have a figure for each great division of the natural world, and thus, by correspondence, of the spiritual world: the Sea and the Interior of the earth (Strong man), the above World of the Earth (Wise Man),
and the Heavens or the Sky (Self-Transcending person). Each figure represents a peculiar kind of Shamanistic experience. The Shamanistic pattern on a comparatively low level, is perfectly clear in Strong man, who is characteristically lazy, dirty and timid (as shamans are said to be before their enlightenment), a prey to self-doubt, disturbed by spiritual influence which order him to do things seemingly outside his will, and addicted to solitary musings. His conquest of monsters is a typical Shamanistic “harrowing of hell”: shamans were expected to undertake journeys into the spiritual world, and to encounter supernatural monsters or spiritual beings which they overcome, appropriating their spiritual power and enslaving them for the good of the people. Ascending or Self-Transcending person represent that exalted kind of shaman who approaches the enlightenment of the true mystic. It is notable that he does not overpower or outwit monsters. Rather, a superior god puts him through a series of apparently arbitrary and cruel trials. Ascending Person transforms his own inner nature by a series of spiritual conquest which are in fact self-conquests, or conquests of temptations, and at the end he becomes, as it were, transfigured.
Thus it can be seen that these three personages represent three levels of spiritual experience—Monster Slyer the equivocal semi-magical world of the ordinary shaman, Wise man the world of the gifted, wise and kindly man with mystical insight and occult skills, and Self-Transcending Person the world of the mystical visionary who has risen above daily concerns. A close study of the imagery of the myths leads one to the inevitable conclusion that these figures also represent sets of cylindrical and astronomical phenomena, probably, with some form of the goddess-figure who appears in various guises in Northwest Coast mythology, the stages of the day and the year, and the four quarters. Such a discussion, however, is beyond the scope of this paper. At the same be too strongly emphasized that most of the correspondences and significatives which seem to exist in Northwest Coast mythology should be referred rather to cosmology. This is not to deny (indeed, I affirm) that this cosmology has very ancient roots in the science of correspondences.
An indication as to the manner in which the spiritual beliefs of the Ancient Church turned into cosmological-magical ones may be found by a comparison of Northwest Coast beliefs with those outlined in the so-called pseudepigraphical Book of Enoch.1
For a brief discussion of the Book of Enoch, See that heading in the Encyclopedia Britannica. See also AC 518-522 and AE 670 and 728. It is important that New Church scholars make up their minds as to whether the Book of Enoch which Bruce discovered in Ethiopia in 1773 is truly the book referred to in the above numbers, or whether it contains some portions of it. (The latter is more likely, since the book contains sections of differing age.) The fact that in Chapter LXXI the longest day is stated to last eighteen hours indicates to at least two editors of the text (R. H. Charles in the Oxford University Press edition of the Old Testament Apocrypha, p. 238; and Richard Laurence, Archbishop of Cashel, in his 1883 edition) that the book must have been written somewhere around the 49th parallel of latitude, yet internal evidence indicates the book was written in Northern Palestine, and we know the Most Ancient Church was in Canaan. It is interesting therefore that Chapter LXIV, verse 1, refers to the earth’s being “inclined” before the flood, and Chapter XVIII. V.
16, refers to stars “which transgressed the commandment of God before their time arrived; for they came not in their proper season.”
The early church looked upon the Book of Enoch as holy. Jude (14, 15) directly quotes it by name. More important is the fact that Our Lord quoted or paraphrased Enoch, which proves the holiness of this book.2
2 Here are a few parallel passages:
En. vi: “The elect shall possess light, joy and peace, and they shall inherit the earth.”
Matt. 5: 5: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
En. xciii: 7: “Woe to you who are rich, for your riches have you trusted. . . .”
Luke 6: 24: “Woe unto you that are rich! For ye have received your consolation.”
En. cv: 26: “And I will place each of them on a throne of glory, of glory peculiarly his own.”
Matt. 19: 28: “Ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
En. xxxviii: 2: “Where will the habitation of sinners be . . . who have rejected the Lord of spirits. It would have better for them had they never been born.”
Matt. 26: 24: “Woe unto that man through whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would be good for that man if he had not been born.”
Paraphrases or quotations from Enoch are also in the Book of Revelations, and, among the apostolic writings, in James, Romans, First Corinthians, Colossians, First and Second Thessalonians, First Timothy and Galatians. In the Last Judgment (Posthumous). 121 we read, “it was said that in a certain region of Africa there is form ancient times a book which they regard as holy. It is written by correspondences in a similar manner as the Word with us.” (see also SD 5809) & (8), to the same effect.) Could this refer to Ethiopic Enoch? Most NEW Churchmen are familiar with the numbers referring to the Ancient Word as having been lost in Great Tartary: could Slavonic Enoch, written in a South Russian dialect and first published in 1880, be part of it? We are obviously forbidden to regard Enoch as a forgery or a book of no importance, since Our Lord quoted it: indeed, this fact commands us to regard it as a most important book. Now much of the book is devoted to cosmology, even to a simple form of astronomy. It is apparent that these sections were meant to be of use on the scientific level; they give star names (none of them corresponding to any name known to us), describe the phases of the moon and the movements of the sun from solstice to solstice, explain the use of intercalary days and so on. Yet it is apparent that this “book of the revolutions of the luminaries of heaven” (Chap LXXI-LXXXI) has a spiritual and symbolic meaning as well. In other words, the cosmology is not an invented and arbitrary system, serving as a mere cover for deeper meaning, but exists in perfect correspondence with them; there is no separation of scientific and spiritual truths here. It seems to be set forth in opposition to the newer system of the cities, an astronomy tending towards astrology and magic which is the invention of the giants and rebellious angels described in Chapters VII-VIII. It is hard to imagine so primitive a system, which bears no relationship to either Egyptian or Babylonian astronomy and takes no account of the
“signs of the zodiac,” or of constellations known to us (cf. Job 38: 31, 32, where Orion, Arcturus and the Pleiades are mentioned) as having been set down in the second and first centuries B. C. the commonly assumed date of the book’s composition or compilation. If we wish to find an analogy to the cosmology set forth in The Book of Enoch we will find it among other written texts of the Near East, but among “primitive” peoples such as the Northwest Coast Indians. The observational methods are almost exactly the same. Indeed, one may find parallels with certain ideas found on the Northwest Coast and nowhere else—the spirits of the cannibalistic giants are identified with clouds (xv: 9; cf. also HH 549) which is a specifically Haida belief, and there is mention of a tree of living odors (XXIV : 9), an image which is found in Tsimshian myth.
Among the Indians, however, only the cosmology has survived. It is what we might expect from our knowledge of the Writings. Exalted religious symbolism is eventually lost in polytheistic or animistic fantasy; spiritual wisdom dies or is perverted; but cosmologies, being dead and hard like all scientific, do not decay in the same way but survive like husks, bones or the shells of sea-creatures.
If the Books of Enoch, which we must accept as sacred at least in part, contains the compilation referred to in the Writings, then it is the Key not only to the problems discussed in these papers but other problems of even greater significance.
We come now to the period just before the flood, and the story of the city, or town, of Temlaham. In essence it is the story of the development of civilization and the origin of arts.
I will recount the story as it was told me by Kenneth Harris the present head of the Fireweed-Killer Whale clan among the Gitksan, a branch of the Tsimshian.
Four hunters, Mr. Harris told me, were out after beaver, but they were having no luck. It was suspected that the wife of one of them must be deceiving him, because the animals are very sensitive to adultery, and do not come to the trap of a cuckold. Finally the leader of the four fell through the top of a beaver dam into the house beneath, and could not be rescued. They were sure this was due to the performing of a forbidden act, so they returned secretly to the village. There they discovered his wife in the act of adultery with a man from the village across the river, the son of its chief. When the couple fell asleep they crept up beside them and cut off his head. They then hung it over the gable of the house. The peoples of the Village across the river, when the prince was not to be discovered there next morning, grew suspicious. The chief sent a slave across the frozen river, to reconnoiter under the pretence of begging fire.
When the slave had confirmed the execution of the prince, the village across the river raided the village of the four brothers and destroyed it. The only people who escape were a young girl of noble lineage, Skawah, and her mother. The mother went in search of a husband for Skawah, somebody who would be able to avenge the destruction of her people. All the animals of the forest presented themselves—in their human forms, because all animals can appear as human beings—but they were rejected. Finally a god identified as the rays of the sun (the moon-spirit or the son of the sun god or sky-god in other traditions), descended and offered himself. After he had proved his power he was accepted, and taking the daughter under his arm, he carried her away to heaven. There she gave birth to four sons, who were trained in the arts of life. When these demi-gods were set down upon earth, they built the town of Temlaham according to divine specifications. The very house plans were divinely ordained. This was the first appearance on earth of the da’aq, the house of painted boards, with the floor excavated in two tiers and the exterior housepost in front. When the town of Temlaham was completed it was inhabited by the souls of the dead, restored to life by the creator. All this was before the great flood. Mr. Harris continued: God also warned his grandchildren of the flood, and instructed that they build their da’aq to a specific dimension, on which their descendant will survive the flood. The gilha’ast, or first totempole, a gift from their grandfather, was also to be the instructions of survival. The gilha’ast was a small spar-shaped pole. The instructions were that the pole be planted in front of Haklgout’s da’aq. [Haklgout was Mr. Harris’s titular ancestor.] This was done, and to everybody’s amazement, the gilha’ast grew until it pierced the sky. This is common knowledge to all other clans and tribes. When the flood did come, the people of Temlaham remembered the warning and the instructions for survival. The gilha’ast was cut down into three sections. The da’aq, which was already build to specifications, was moored to the gilha’ast. Thus the people of Temlaham were divided into three groups.