I want to bring together the evolutionary causes at work behind myth and religion. I mentioned these earlier: Campbell’s view on the transition from hunter to planter societies, Philippe’s ideas about the paganism incorporated into Christianity, Spiral Dynamics, and the Axial Age.
To this I want to add Paul Shepard’s theory about Pleistocene man. Shepard believes that the transition between hunters and planters was the most important shift in social development… or disruption rather. This shift was world-wide and is comparable to the Axial Age.
Add this all up, and it gives us 2 major shifts connecting 3 major eras. Its Spiral Dynamics that allows us to map this out. (It goes without saying that this is all tentative.)
First Era: Prior to the post-Pleistocene shift, we have the vmemes of beige and purple. It seems that Campbell and Shepard are treating these two inseparably. As we know very little about the myths of beige, we don’t need to worry about it. Still, its beige that Shepard is somewhat romanticizing. In addition, I think the individualistic focus of red vmeme gets mixed in because the myths were written down during the development of the blue vmeme, and red came to represent all of the past. There is the theory that the vmemes switch between a focus on the individual and a focus on the collective, and it makes sense to me. So, beige and red would be individualistic which isn’t to say the individual has yet fully developed.
Anyways, to simplify, this first era is the Age of the Shaman… Campbell’s Shamanistic Titan seeking personal power through personal sacrifice. But the Shaman isn’t a monk… the Shaman is also the Warrior and the Hunter. Visions have power.
Also, this was the time when the divine man-animal was worshipped, the prototype of all later dying/ressurection gods. Here is a quote from a review of a book by Paul Shepard(along with Barry Sanders) titled The Sacred Paw:
They give a really good argument for the shifting of the emphasis of the myths from the Bear Mother to the adventures of her sons, who eventually become purely human heroes. The Underworld and Rebirth themes of the Bear Mother are slowly stripped form her until she is nothing but a memory.
Post-Pleistocene(or rather post-hunter/gatherer) shift: The cause of this is explained variously. Did the Ice Age traumatize the collective psyche of the human species? Or, according to Shepard, did the shift occur from within… for some unknown reason man falling out of alignment with his environment? Or was it some kind of Telos(God?) that propelled social evolution? And was this shift a good thing(an evolugionary advantage) or a bad thing(Shepard’s collective madness)? For our purposes, answering these questions isn’t necessary. All we need to know is that a major shift happened.
As for Spiral Dynamics, my guess is that this shift was red vmeme and also red shifting into blue. This shift probably occurred over a very long period of time.
Second Era: This is the beginnings of civilization proper: agriculture and city-states, and the great Matriarchies… this is very early blue vmeme which isn’t blue as we know it now. This era was blue in a more pure form, not adulterated by orange and green as found in the Third Era.
At this time, society became hierarchical and the caste system came about… and with it the division of labor. Life was extremely organized including religion… the visions of the shaman became the oracles that served the priesthood, and the myths became complex rituals. Life revolved around the seasons and the seasonal celebrations. This was where we got our celebrations of the Equinxes and Solstices as Solar symbolism was the focus.
(A shift within the Second Era) In the later part of this era, the Matriarchies lost power and written history began. But the Patriarchies were also blue and they retained the hierarchical structure even if a different gender was on top. The primary difference was that orange was beginning to develop with a reemergence of individualism, meaning the hierarchy was not quite as strict as previously. The shift between Matriarchy and Patriarchy is significant, but it isn’t my focus for the moment. The development of Patriarchy was a disatisfaction with the old ways. One explanation(that Jeremy Taylor brings up) is that the precession of the equinoxes altered the timing by which the Matriarchies had planted and harvested. This led to priesthood no longer being able to predict the seasons and so social unrest followed. This disatisfaction with the prior Goddess worship can be felt in the myth of Gilgamesh.
Axial Age: (Karl Jaspers first wrote about this, and Karen Armstrong wrote a whole book about it.) This is when first arose all of the world religions that we know today. Or, in the case of Hinduism and Judaism, when previous religions were revisioned. The Old Testament was written down for the first time during this time. Christianity and Islam were later manifestations of this Age.
Blue is still in power, but orange has developed enough to allow some incisive questioning of tradition. Also, green is first showing itself to any significant degree. So we have the development of rationality and self-inquiry along with a sense of social equality and justice. Liberation was the spiritual response and democracy was the political response.
Mythologically, we have the development of the savior stories as we know them today. Jesus doesn’t change the world by conquering nations. He changes the world by confronting himself, challenging the human condition. The prophets of this age tended to turn inward.
The agricultural city-states were being forced to develop new modes of politics. The Greeks developed democracy and philosophy. The great myths were being written down and questioned which meant man was no longer controlled by the gods, but could choose their own destiny. The heroes of this time often challenged the gods. Man could save himself, man was coming of age.
Third Era: The age of empires… symbolized in the West by the Romans and the later Catholic Church. Blue is still very much the dominating paradigm, but orange has become established. However, the green that showed itself in the Axial Age is squelched back out of existence not to be seen again until the Rennaisance.
Religion becomes more ritualized and homogenized than it had ever before. Using the Roman Empire as its structure, the Catholic Church destroys and/or incorporates every religion it comes into contact with. And this is why we have such a strange mix of mythologies in Christianity today. But also this paved the way for us moderns to see the universal truths behind all myths. (Buddhism did something similar for the East.)
During this time, Jesus the prophet and savior becomes the Ruler of the World.
To be continued…