Seeking the Miraculous

Myths have a vital meaning … they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe, which immediately falls into pieces and decays when it loses its mythological heritage, like a man who has lost his soul — Carl Jung

The MET [Metropolitan Museum of Art] is overwhelming. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. There are too many remnants of history to catalogue. The trajectory of all civilizations encompasses an intricate and perverse struggle for land and power and the control of men’s minds. Oswald Spengler believed that the dawn of all civilizations signaled the beginning of a culture’s demise.



Spengler’s argument was that every culture, in its infancy, lived with knowledge of the miraculous – with the ability to accept the potential of a capricious universe. As cultures evolve into civilizations they quickly decay and seeking salvation in the midst of decadent chaos becomes routine. The pursuit of salvation becomes simultaneously, a frantic search and an unattainable trope. Spengler’s “Magian World View” [see: The Decline of the West] also closely parallels Jung’s theories of how the primitive mind was able to more readily access the unconscious and ruminate on the aberrations of the natural world. Jung observed that primitive tribes invested in psychic happenings or myths:

Myths have a vital meaning … they are the psychic life of the primitive tribe, which immediately falls into pieces and decays when it loses its mythological heritage, like a man who has lost his soul. 
(Jung and Kerenyi, ”Essays on a Science of Mythology” 73)

Egyptian gallery

Egyptian gallery

I see evidence of the miraculous everywhere I look in the galleries of ancient civilizations. I can never go into the MET and only look at the “European Wing” or the “Early American Wing”. I have to walk through the ancient Greek and Egyptian rooms – and it is always as if I’m seeing them for the first time. They hold an indescribable marvel. It’s like being on a mythical voyage to a time when things were known that were never recorded. Multiple Gods and Goddesses presided over Heaven and Earth and explained what could not be fully understood by men: birth, death, and nature. The Gods wrought nature’s fury as well as the Nile’s benevolence and the abundance of wheat fields – pre-genetic modification.

Ancient man navigated the seas by looking at the stars. Now, we consult GPS to find our favorite restaurant. Our Paleolithic ancestors followed the herds and flourished. Who can even locate a herd today? I take the same picture of the Goddess Sekhmet again – this time with an iPhone. The Goddess Sekhmet stares back at me vaguely exasperated.

“You again? How many damn times are you going to take my picture?”

I can’t help it. I can’t help but think that if I stare long enough at the remnants of a lost world there may be a message, a signal, a miraculous event that will confirm the universe is unfolding as it should, that another Earth-like planet will be revealed, that dinosaurs will emerge from the sea, that I’ll discover how to time travel…

Temple of Dendur: detail

Temple of Dendur: detail

Later at home while checking e-mail, I listen to the somber drone of Wolf Blitzer in the “Situation Room”. He confirms that Chinese cyber-spies have accessed US weapons defense systems…. It’s all technology – all ephemeral. Cyber space is just that – space. Long after we’re gone – our digital networks disintegrated – after we’ve exhausted every conceivable natural resource and blown up all our enemies, there will still be found remnants of ancient and miraculous cultures on Earth. The Gods and Goddesses of ancient worlds will sit, stoic in the rubble of some epic non-biodegradable field of crap and iPhone shells. They will still be watching over the Earth – waiting, amused at the demise of yet another promising species.

— Deborah Johnstone

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