…the essential characteristic of the mythical structure is the emergent awareness of soul (Gebser 61).
In the schema of Jean Gebser, the mythical structure is the mode of awareness that appears prior to the mental-rational structure of consciousness. It is characterized by a two-dimensional, unperspectival level of awareness. There is no real awareness of space, and only a natural awareness of time. This means an awareness of the movements of time through natural events, such as the changing of seasons, the moon cycles, the movement of planets, etc. This all occurs in a world without spatial awareness. The cyclical movement of nature is the predominant human point of view at this time. It is cyclical, so there is no movement forward in space. It is only circular movement from pole to pole; it doesn’t go anywhere. It is an endless circularity. The shifting between poles seems to create a unique energy that initiates the emergence of a new consciousness. Thus, from this experience mankind creates symbols and myths. The emerging of imaginative thinking signals the emergence of the individual soul.
Such is the world of humans around 40,000 years ago, the era of late Cro-Magnon man, or “European early modern humans” (EEMH), as scientists now call the humans of that age, and his descendants. They begin to form a symbolic and mythological worldview, bringing about the emergence of the soul, and begin to distinguish themselves as individuals. The Ego, at this point, is certainly not yet developed, but it is starting to form. This is the advent of the road to self-consciousness.
Prior to the mythical structure, the soul is not regarded as being that important. In the fully mature mythical mode of consciousness, however, soul becomes very crucial, indeed, to the human experience. Gebser explains that
Myth is the closing of mouth and eyes; since it is a silent, inward-directed contemplation, it renders the soul visible so that it may be visualized, represented, heard, and made audible (Gebser 67).
what is viewed inwardly, as in a dream, has its conscious emergence and polar complement in poetically shaped utterance (ibid.).
This is the advent of imagination. Prior to the mythical structure, “vital connections reach awareness and are manifested in emotional forms” (ibid.), whereas the mythical has “an imaginatory consciousness, reflected in the imagistic nature of myth and responsive to the soul and sky of the ancient cosmos” (ibid.).
Some very important archetypal motifs become evident in mythology in the period from about 20,000 B.C.E to the point when consciousness mutates to the mental structure around 500 B.C.E: stories about the cosmos, especially the Sun and Moon; the genesis of the earth and of mankind; myths of sea voyages, such as that of Odysseus; all other Greek myths, especially those of Hades, Narcissus, and Athena. This is not to mention the comparative myths of humans around the world. Joseph Campbell aptly demonstrates the importance of these.
On the importance to us today of this form, and all other forms, of consciousness that have emerged, or are emerging, Gebser sums up succinctly in this statement:
Everyone who is intent upon surviving–not only the earth but also life–with worth and dignity, and living rather than passively accepting life, must sooner or later pass through the agonies of emergent consciousness (Gebser 73).
This agrees with James Hillman’s position that the nature of the soul is to pathologize.
Gebser, Jean. The Ever-Present Origin. Trans. by Noel Barstad and Algis Mickunas. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1985.
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