A Few Musings On Myth, Ritual, Reality, And Rsis

Yesterday, I happened across the following quote posted on twitter:

“Cult expresses itself in two ways: myth and ritual. While myths are sacred stories about Gods and Goddesses, ritual is a symbolic act which expresses a mystic relationship between man and Deity.”-Swami Bhajanananda

This was being responded to by the modern-day Hindu sage Angiras, and while his full reply is instructive, it was the initial tweet of his that I took as a jumping off point:

“Myth supplies the raw material for the most fundamental ritual ingredient & ritual input: The ritualist’s state of mind.

And it does so in two distinct ways: ++”

Now, as for what I said in commentary upon this … I have not really altered nor edited this from its original form except to transpose it from the most immediate constraints of the twitter medium. 


As you know, I kinda feel like it’s an artificial separation to delineate “Myth” and “Ritual” as anything other than a broadly coterminous/overlapping spectrum.

Like, Eliade’s rather insightful key point was the notion of Eternal Return – where the ritualist (and not just the ritualist – the entire society at large) would participate in myth, re-enact myth and immanentize it (back) out into their world around them.

One of the intriguing things I noticed about a number of Vedic hymnals [and I have not been able to track the main one down again 😦 ] is that this understanding is made reasonably direct and explicit in some verses.

I suspect that the way to look at reality (and, for that matter, Capital R Reality) is that Myth , much like other elements of empowered Language or certain laws of physics – represents underlying structures , patterns inherent to reality.

We wind up participating in them, whether we know or not that we are doing so – whether we know that they even exist. And it is the genius of the Rsi to ‘see things clearly’ and to become aware of these patterns and consciously promulgate them so that others may follow.

In this, I would therefore come at what you have said from the other way around – namely, that the most fundamental ingredient is the Myth and its patterning itself ; it has existence a-priori to the ritualist – and shall continue to persist in some form long after he is gone.

Although having said that, this opens up the rather intriguing concept of there being multiple ‘grades’ of myth and pattern – with some of the more culturally specific and later reproductions of the pattern being more accessible but also more transient.

But precisely because these are more accessible, they may be more immediately useful for allowing easier participation by more people in direct consequence.

Depth versus breadth, it seems, is something of a tradeoff :/

Like, to use an example – the generalized notion of the Chaoskampf – we would perhaps say ‘Dharma-Yuddha’ ; war of Rta (Orlog) against Chaos … that’s a really big and deep monomyth, mytheme .. and very difficult to participate in yourself in a fully conscious manner.

So we have secondaries to that – still great capital M Myths in their own Rite [i have a bad habit with those sorts of puns] – like the Striker/Thunderer deific fighting the Demon Dragon of the Water : a pan-Indo-European mytheme.

And then we have the rather more specific forms that this combat takes in the Vedas … in which all manner of details may happen to shift amidst those broad brush-strokes [some not having the Striker/Thunderer involved like that as thse are different myths kinda..]

And then somewhere out in the 21st century we have a pale reflection of this when somebody makes a movie featuring a knight killing a dragon – which is much more accessible, much broader in scope in some ways .. and also so much more limited precisely because of it.

Yet at the same time, it is much easier to explain to some-one “oh, Our Guy [Our God] is fighting a monster that threatens us” than to say “there is Cosmic Order immanent to fabric of reality and it is under threat from Chaos “

Which, of course, leads to that wonderful line from RV IX 63 – ” इन्द्रं वर्धन्तो अप्तुरः कर्ण्वन्तो विश्वमार्यम | अपघ्नन्तो अराव्णः || “

Wherein as we can see .. the Myth has become operationalized ; and we are shown how to meaningfully ‘play our part’ therein.

It’s the same understanding at the root of the ‘moral’ of the myth of Devi Shakambhari fighting Durgamasur – namely, that the space in the ritual for people is the space in the myth for people – work to contribute to the Divine Law War Effort through sacral conduct.

Not least because in that particular instance, the point of the myth’s promulgation is to ‘argue in the alternative’ and show what happens if this is not done ..

Now the seriously intriguing question, with this understanding of Myth and the emanations or refractions of Myth in mind … is if the Rsi is able to perceive these Myths, their structures and the mechanisms / openings that we may take our place and participate therein.

Just how much control does one actually have once one is inside a mythic structure. How much agency – authorial agency, indeed. Can one move within the myth as a fish in water? (which presupposes a current and a tide and flow .. and also ‘bigger fish’, as they say..)

Or is the whole thing running on tracks like a monorail and incapable of serious deviation (at least – without serious derailment as the consequence), perhaps only have some measure and degree of control of the speed with which one goes through to the telos.

Or, as a third possibility, might we ‘hop’ from one myth to the other once one is in progress, perhaps ‘patching’ from one point to the next to short-cut our way from the beginning of one to the middle of another to the terminus of a third.

Now ultimately, I suspect, there are only Two Who have such ultimate authorial agency – the Gods that are simultaneously the Producers, Directors, Script-writers, and Lead Actors in the Cosmic Play. And They have already set in motion the ultimate mono-myth of the universe , the central axial about which ten thousand times ten thousand more subsidiary cogs of myth in these more refractory senses shalt turn.

However, I do think that just as one is able to ‘enter’ a ritual, commission a rite [and we are cognizant that in some cases there is no such choice – the ritual, the rite believes in you and you are pulled into it whatever you may happen to have (not) thought about proceedings – so, too, one may be able to invoke a Myth ; and then watch as it reworks its way through our immediately surrounding reality – and changes everything to be more subtly resemblant thereof.

This is not, I don’t think quite like that “we become more like that which we meditate upon” – although that maxim is not unrelated … Rather, it is a case of even if we are not meditating upon it , dressing like a doctor and hten being surprised we are now in a hospital.

An intriguing potential example of this I took a look at awhile back concerns the Murti of Cybele [Durga] in Madrid. The statue went up in the 1700s as an ornament – and yet over next century and a half, the city wound up re-orienting around Her

Nobody intended for it to happen – nobody human, anyway – and yet, happen it did. So that by the 20th century, the city’s literal shape and planning had changed, and so too had the culture to be more closely ‘fitting’ to the aura of myth that radiated out from this statue

Although the one that really had me thinking, was a certain pattern in Pakistani military hardware naming … and also Pakistan’s experience of the past few decades in I suspect fairly direct consequence.

Namely, these guys spend years naming their missiles etc. after “Conquerors of India”. Not realizing or perhaps just not caring that the figures they are invoking – are Afghan or Central Asian Muslim warlords that also steamrolled the Muslim kingdoms in Pakistan’s territory. Hence, when Pakistan in 1980s, 90s, 00s, 10s, winds up being seriously destabilized by Sunni extremists coming from west to east and from Afghanistan, Taliban etc. [consider the JeM attacks on Pakistan’s government in 00s after it dared to try and restrain JeM] … Well, you see … the Pakistanis sought to invoke a certain sort of myth – human myth, historical myth, sure .. but myth all the same as they conceived of it: namely that of Muslim conquest of India. And named all these important cultic objects of state (nuclear missiles) for it. And then .. well, the pattern, you see, it has established itself. They invited it in, invoked it – and so they are overrun by Muslim militants from Afghanistan dangerously weakening their own state instead.

Because that too is the pattern. The actual pattern ..

Myth has its own internal logic – logos, indeed, may be the apt Greek term for this – and we are arrogant in the extreme to presume that when we call it up, call it down upon us that we get only the parts that we want.

It takes quite the authorial agency and deft skill of pen and voice (still much less, “imagination”) to be able to singularly “rewrite reality”.

Hence, I suppose, why the most resonant myths, with the rites associated, are simply ‘displacing’ the anarchic mythless space instead

[oh, and as applies that Pakistani example … I suspect without having thought about it too much, that another part of the reason they are failing at their attempted mythic invocation – is because an actual truth to the myths in question is – India Endures, India Prevails. ]

But yes .. the State as the Ritualist exerting agency in a Mythic (re-immanentizing) context is .. .. well I suppose it makes a certain sort of sense. We’re just scaling it up from what is more ordinarily expected.

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