Sunday, September 11, 2005

BLACK ELK

CAMPBELL: … what happened … was that he had a prophetic vision of the terrible future of his tribe. It was a vision of what he called "the hoop" of the nation. In the vision, Black Elk saw that the hoop of his nation was one of many hoops, which is something that we haven't learned at all well yet. He saw the cooperation of all the hoops, all the nations in grand procession. But more than that, the vision was an experience of himself going through the realms of spiritual imagery that were his culture and assimilating their import. It comes as one great statement, which for me is a key statement in the understanding of myth and symbols. He says, "I was myself on the central mountain of the world of the world, the highest place, and I had a vision because I was seeing in the sacred manner of the world." And the sacred central mountain was Harney Peak in South Dakota. And then he says, "But the central mountain is everywhere."
That is a real mythological realization. It distinguishes between the local cult image, Harney Peak, and its connotation as the center of the world. The center of the world is the axis mundi, the central point where stillness and movement are together. Movement is time, but stillness is eternity. Realizing how this movement of your life is actually a moment of eternity, and experiencing the eternal aspect of what you're doing in temporal experience - this is the mythological experience.

So, is the central mountain of the world Jerusalem? Rome? Benares? Lhasa? Mexico City?

MOYERS: This Indian boy was saying there is a shining point where all lines intersect.

CAMPBELL: That's exactly what he was saying.

MOYERS: And was he saying God has no circumference.

CAMPBELL: There is a definition of God which has been repeated by many philosophers. God is an intelligible sphere - a sphere known to the mind, not to the senses - whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. And the centre, Bill, is right where you're sitting. And the other one is where I'm sitting. And each of us is a manifestation of that mystery. That's a nice mythological realizaiton that sort of gives you a sense of who and what you are.

Power of Myth, pp. 88-89
The central mountain of the world. Olympus. Sinai. Fuji. Sumeru. Elbrus. Horeb. Tabor. Carmel. Gerizim. Kailus. Tlaloc. Gerizim. Uluru. Blanc. Sauvage. The Sermon on the Mount. Golgotha. (Mount as hill.) Temple mounts: the ziggurats of Mesopotamia, Tikal, Palenque, Tibet. (Can anyone out there name others? I'm in a naming mood...)

As for the intelligible sphere, here, there, everywhere: for some reason this puts in mind (at least my mind today) Cantor's paradox: that in an infinite set of numbers, there are as many odd numbers as numbers. Likewise, in an infinite number of beings, there would be as many odd beings as beings. Which makes an odd being like myself feel less alone. I think I'll go back to my reading now.

(For more on the life of that Sioux shaman Black Elk, see here and here. For a translation/scription of Elk's Earth Prayer and Mountain Vision (and poetic these are, indeed), see here.)

1 comment:

Greg said...

Good post. And for me it's Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park. But I think for the Pennacook, it was Mount Washington.