Inside and Outside the Mouth of God: The Boundary between Myth and Reality Author(s): Wendy Doniger

O'Flaherty Source: Daedalus, Vol. 109, No. 2, Intellect and Imagination: The Limits and Presuppositions of Intellectual Inquiry (Spring, 1980), pp. 93-125 Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of American Academy of Arts & Sciences Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20024668 Accessed: 09/07/2010 04:21
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WENDY

DONIGER O'FLAHERTY

Inside and Outside the Mouth The Boundary between Myth

of God: and Reality

1. Introduction
Do myths remind us of passionate moments in life, or are those moments com

us of pelling they remind myths? This is no longer a burning question in the study of in part because we it and mythology, despair of ever answering in part because it has gone out of fashion. For, ever since the massive takeover of mythology by the social science cartel, myths have been set to work at practical rather than spiritual tasks, while, on the other hand, contemporary theologians in their intellectual mufti are embarrassed a formulation that cuts so close to by to the question of whether or not there the bone of ontology, really is anything uout there," and, if so, what it is. But within the myths this has always been, and still is, an issue of great and it has fascinated a line of scholars that extends from Plato moment, through Jung to Eliade. In returning to this basic question about the nature of mytholo gy, Iwill both challenge and stretch the insights of these scholars, while locking horns, en passant, with the social scientists and their theory of the function of I hope to show that even those who (like myth as social charter. Moreover, have denied the validity or value of or who (like Claude L?vi Freud) myth, see its function in rather than irrational constructions of reality, Strauss) logical can contribute of the irrational truth of greatly to our understanding myth. it is my contention that recent speculations by natural scientists about Finally, because
what brain is "out (i.e., there," "in here"), as well allow as us about to take the mechanism seriously the of memory of in the myths human not only assertion

that there is indeed something out there, but that itmay be far more "there" (in the sense that, as Gertrude Stein remarked about Oakland, there is no "there" than what is referred to as reality.1 there) normally are as many definitions There of myth as there are and as mythologists, of reality as definitions and I do not intend to a many philosophers, pick fight with any of them at this point. In this essay I will make use of several over of myth and reality; defini definitions lapping but not, I think, contradictory tions of myth, like myth variants, build up a composite image of something that cannot be said once and for all.2 Moreover, since the very point of many of the texts I will be using is that one is forced to modify radically one's definitions of and reality in midstream, I will often use the terms in one sense at the myth of a passage and in a very different sense at the end. I beginning hope the 93

94 context will stretch
to pay them

WENDY

DONIGER

O'FLAHERTY

guide the reader when the ambiguities the words beyond their normal usages, Iwill,
extra.3

become

and if I dizzying, like Humpty Dumpty, try

cannot pin down our definitions of myth and reality, we can at least indicate the general area in which the terms vibrate, like a group in set theory or also known as the atoms of a table in the theory of indeterminacy. Reality, material or historical existence ("Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist"), generally refers to that is the hunting ground of the natural sci the phenomenal physical world ences often poaches on it4). It is also roughly equivalent to com (though myth sane mon in that it is agreed upon by most and sense, "common" people, and so forth, and "sense" in that it is rationally apprehended by sight, touch, or can be measured in standard units of time and space. Reality to each mapped of us is the span of existence that we live through and perceive. Though myth, too, is "common" in that it uses recurrent, traditional, shared imagery (and may If we of reality5), reliable link between individual perceptions in that it draws upon highly personal and "non-sense" that is nei and expresses them through a medium (albeit universal) experiences nor methodical Where but rather imaginary or metaphysical. ther rational as cognitive maps the "real science have been described and (of memory world"),6 myth is a cosmic map of the intersecting territories of reality and fantasy.7 Just as it is possible to find a linguistic prototype by tracing back historic lines until they converge,8 so too we may seek the realm of myth by following
certain convergent lines. That we attempt to translate myths from one culture

in fact provide the most it is both "uncommon"

to another implies the presupposition of a common core not only of experience, but also of the symbolic system to express that experience. We map out one territory from the study of symbolic systems (poetry, ritual, theatre) and anoth
er from our awareness of human experience (our own and what we learn from

anthropology), history, psychology, which myth is the map.
It is not necessary, I think, to

and where

they

intersect
unconscious

is the

land of
to

postulate

a collective

in order

recurrence of certain figures in this landscape, enduring explain the uncanny is probably as good a word as any, and one hal motifs for which "archetypes" to It is, however, necessary lowed by a usage stretching back beyond Plotinus. the ways in which myth and reality intersect, or, rather, to under understand that myth arises from a common under stand the ways in which we presuppose or experience of reality. standing are not myths; and they occur they are elements within myths, Archetypes as well, particularly in those that aspire to achieve in other symbolic modes
what myths often achieve. In our secular world, the myths that express our

fusion of fantasy and reality are found not only in the remains of ancient sacred to children, in scriptures, but also in dreams, the theatre, films, in stories told
works these of art, and, most of as all, in our own actual on various expressions being ranged experience.9 a continuum One of common might view sense or

spanning (from the agreed criteria of validity, between reality and imagination, and anthropology, "hard" end) science, history, through drama, ritual, film, and and literature, to (at the "soft" end) dreams and personal fantasy. Myth are incorporated to greater or lesser degrees in all these personal experience forms of cognition.

"You naughty boy. itself. of the they reported to Yashodha. "Limit" may be construed as a barrier or as a borderline between two adjacent territories. thinking. "All of me." in sport taken the form of a human said to the god. that resonance is precisely the point of this essay. We will begin with the everyday phenomena complementary second type. "Then. and progress from there to the reality of ostensibly "mythic" experience. 2. as a place where an apparent barrier to human understanding may be forded or breached the translation of one person's reality into another's through the mediation of by To this end. sky. and space and herself. the world of events occur myth. When the myth of Yashodha opens. as a boundary line where fantasy defining myth and reality meet. the reader will surely recall his own favorites that tell a very similar tale. Instantly was as she had been took her son on her She but her heart was before. I will limit myself primarily and reality. to human understanding By in the second of these senses. we learn that the child is God. opened eaten have you "I haven't. it is the life of a harried mother with her mischievous child. that peels back the cover from ostensibly "real" experience." false beliefs come to understand true with the far corners of the and universe. Though myth and Shakespearean myths that I know best. and that glances or at least unreal inside his mouth there is a world that appears to be mythical Hindu . suddenly. look at my mouth them instead you believe yourself. outside the mouth of God is regarded as real. Yashodha why took Krishna by the hand and scolded him and said. of the earth with its mountains and oceans. a common sense world with ring one moon and one sun in the sky. Then. when she into the mouth of the child. The Unreality ofReality:Myths of the Mouth ofGod "scientific.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 95 turns on the question of limits (the pivot of all the articles My analysis of myth in the present symposium) in two ways. But we do not remain on this level for long. powers boy." "This is my son. and the moon and stars." When she had and the orb myths of this sort pull the carpet out from under reality by lifting the barrier expressed by the image of the mouth of God.10 deal explicitly with the question of intersecting and self-consciously levels of to the Indian. we think we know what reality is. "Krishna has the mother eaten dirt!" god Vishnu). Such a myth is the story of Krishna and Yashodha: Myths that apply One day of Krishna when (who the children was an were incarnation playing." she and he child. who had his mouth." dirt?" said Krishna.11 flooded with love for God. and she saw her own village or an illusion Is this a dream and confused. God in the illusion reality spread his magic of what Yashodha lost her memory had occurred. open up. I hope to show how itmay be used in the first sense. and myths that lay bare the magical nerve in apparently imaginary phenomena are two genres. I have selected from the great variety of myths a few that myth. lap and even as her son. Greek. of the second type often make use of the image of entering the mouth Myths of God. On the narrative level of in which gods participate as dramatis personae. she saw in his mouth the whole Then the wind. as "I exist. She became fabricated by God? of this little frightened Or in this way." common sense criteria to apparently mythic. and lightning. the are If boys lying. own mind? in my is it a delusion Or is it a portent of the of delusion son? For God's in me such power my inspires "This is my husband. whom she greater regarded form of maternal love.

Come I am your here. and Vishnu taught Then him to return inside His Vishnu swallowed belly. Ultimately. and. he the protagonist myth progresses. the earth This time this for hundreds he saw the sun of years. Markandeya foisted upon him. Krishna erases the vision of reality and substitutes for it the illusion that he is not God but merely her son. it takes place outside the real hierophany the mouth. whereas discovers that God is her child continues to ensnare Yashodha. for the point of the enlighten ment is the transition. the experience of takes place inside the mouth. The about the mouth and then flooded had of God: it with been he water. Out of pity for her in her fear and confusion. This illusion is maya. a who blazed boy seen I think I have so like once boy hidden that Markandeya mused the the illusion of God. As the is gradually released from his delusions. my father. reality . for him. out as before. Ya shodha cannot sustain the vision ofthat world. banyan look at him. illusion. She thinks it may be or an illusion or portent sent God. I think not bear to I'm sage Markandeya for many thousands tree. This illusion is made of maternal love. The actual starting point is arbitrary. sleeping or Am I crazy. Markandeya began son. In confusion and being to swim at first thinks that some sort of illusion is being Like Yashodha. For her. had been he his vision thought So. But continues Markandeya ends up with the double experience of a new to move back and forth between the two worlds until he image of both at once. could never calamity ing really happen. the divine magic that makes the phenomenal world seem real to us when." true nature him His and love. swallowed in the midst the and roamed inside his belly of years. of Vishnu's he roamed mouth. fooled away. "Do not to him with bowed Markandeya commanded once more. and she rejects it permanently. god. Markandeya to hear in peace. a dream. the motion across the threshold?in either direction. the persistent belief that God is not (or not merely) a child. belly god. by the fourth of these options. she cannot bear the idea that that a dream or a hallucination of her own might be reality. not knowing he has just escaped from think that God is a child and that and Yashodha the illusion. and then a little he again slipped in the branches of a could sage. while Yashodha's momentary is never repeated. like her. as she herself realizes while gazing inside the mouth of God. dreaming? imagin for such a that the world has disappeared.96 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY that we have assumed to be uniquely (since it replicates the world real). and the sage lived there the true nature longing again before. He did not and the ocean himself recognize because of God's and he became terrified. in the and as soon as he was back of the Then he was swallowed again. Then he saw the there. We who read the myth know it is making. be afraid. as well as an inversion of the third: the rest of her life is an illusion.13 terror. Both Markandeya themselves may be dreaming or crazy. of God. by god on earth. they But the myth of Markandeya goes on to develop a view that is the inverse of understands the truth of the the myth of Yashodha. by but Vishnu said. Markandeya vision and becomes identified with the enlightened narrator of the myth. wondering. I must be and he was amazed. he gets it backwards: when he falls out of the mouth he feels he has entered an illusion. it is not. in the view of classical Hindu philosophy. One out of the he the sacred places mouth and day slipped visiting god's saw the world shrouded in darkness.12 The After child plays an important Vishnu slept burnt the universe of role in another myth to ashes the cosmic at doomsday ocean.

and he does this by being shocked into a state of metaphysical and a philosophically love of the god. The per does change his view. in contrast with the priate enlightened deluded woman's view of god as her child (Yashodha. Mary). the level on which he was meant to live. on this side of the mouth of God). Both Yashodha two points of view. in this he enacts the "true" perception of reality appro to the male sage (Markandeya. the myth jars us out rather. The doomed androcentrism females15 inherent is somewhat in the Hindu pattern perhaps of saved males the and thin mitigated?and explained?by For. of simply accepting the level on which we happened to be before we encoun tered the myth. familiar maternal in the opposite way: Markandeya does change his view of what hand. he is moved of the vision in the myth is not logical but irrational and emotion suasive power al. read tionality grounded many ers of the text would follow him on this path. but his womb. For us. as readers of the reality is myth. Doubtless. in addition. works ra reality is.14 sage. in which Shukra is seized by a female demon who has teeth and eyes in her vagina.17 Shukra is merely one Indian example of the hero who journeys through the gates of hell or through the jaws of the dragon who guards the gates of hell." "This is my son"). she swallows him not with her upper mouth but with her lower. the situation is the reverse: the reader (or hearer) is. The demonic sage Shukra is swallowed by the god Shiva and then emitted through Shiva's phallus in the form of seed. made immortal by becoming the child of the god mortality who gives birth to him. the divine sage Kaca is in turn swallowed by Shukra and emitted through his side. the frame of the story what the text attempts in The myth attempts within doctrine of illusion to nonphilosophical the culture: to teach the philosophical Hindus who dwell in the common sense world of materialism and sci worldly the world in which reality is defined by normal. conventional hu ence. however. that and Markandeya mediate between of the omniscient narrator or enlightened (who knows that reality is on the sage other side of the mouth of God) and that of the blinkered in the participant drama (the other villagers or inhabitants of Vishnu's who think that stomach. to redefine his concept of reality. social. man existence ("This is my husband. Outside the myth. since he is a man and a but lapses back into emotional involvement. Within the myth of this lesson is a failure: she does not change her view of what reality Yashodha. Since she is a woman. and others would not. the vagina dentata. The myth of Markandeya. several options are presented: one could play the role of Yashodha or the role of for each of us must find the level on which he prefers to live?or. it dismantles our rational disbelief even while it fails to overcome Yashodha's of rationality (in clinging to the phenomenal world) and irrational combination into the comfort ity (in backsliding from her moment of pellucid enlightenment on the other love of the god). able. The symbolic femaleness of the swallowing god becomes literal in a final variant in this series. Jesus). survives a number of encounters with such devouring females with Odysseus . metaphysics he cannot live for long on any level other than the metaphysical. Markandeya. in ly veiled female gender of the divinity who swallows the protagonist.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 97 she cannot live for long on the plane of and a mother. In any case.16 Each of these sages emerges with the secret of im and is. side the mouth of God is not merely his belly.

the universality correlative experience of feeding semen to the vagina) may well the subsequent so often unconsciously chosen to explain why this particular corporeal image is to the meta express so abstract a concept as the transition from the physical does help us to under physical world. (who is androgynous in his birth as well as in his form) proves his existence to the skeptical Pentheus as the sacrificial victim in place of the god himself or of the usual by using him and hypnotically The god draws Pentheus helplessly into the whirl surrogates. That and mythic collapsing profane Pentheus is forced to behave like a child and is then killed by his own mother has further significance in the context of the myths of Shukra and Kaca (who are devoured by gods who then give birth to them from male wombs). Levels of Reality inDreams and the Theatre: The Last Visible Dog are the myths characters often believe (mistakenly) they dreaming. taemnestra.21 Eliade puts be the basis of the universality may a the case well: "The unconscious private mythology. with her hollow cave in the middle of her body. Scylla is the most blatant of these. But the truth or falsehood of the Freudian gloss in no way diminishes the role of the myth in jarring us into a reassessment of the nature of the reality to dramatize sets out explicitly of the world. are are dreaming in a often perceive (rightly) that they participating they that they have actually crossed over to the other side of the is. thinks it belongs. lined with teeth full of black death. And mythologists suggest both that dreams incorporate and that mythology elements of traditional. where Pentheus time together. spectacles. Pentheus.18 but she is followed hotly by Charybdis. and Cly Circe. (in Mo tempore). of the myth that he denies. nor to assess of the vocabulary of dreams that the universality the oft-challenged hypothesis of the vocabulary of myths. It can even be said that modern man's only real contact with cosmic sacral ity is effected by the unconscious. arbitrary and elusive. This is not the Within while occasion to review the extensive literature on myths and dreams.20 projection of the experience of being fed milk at the breast (and Indeed. the Freudian hypothesis stand the processes of creative thought. by transposing the myth from the ancient past pool into the present moment. is dismembered by the mediating women. In Euripides' Bacchae the worshipers of Dionysus devour him ritual the animals in whom he dwells (primarily cattle). personal fantasy is built up out of shared elements pooled from individual dreams. people who think other. the Bacchae. Dionysus struments.19 as ritual so often does. wiser observers suggest that..98 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY their "hollow caves" and toothy mouths. life unconscious . ly by devouring the way in which who rejects the god by steadfastly refusing to acknowledge the god's human in the myth has taken over his reality. on the contrary. the Sirens. or in the creations that arise out whether of the in his dreams and his imaginative (poetry. one could gloss this corpus of myths fear of being devoured by the mother of a deep and widespread (a pressions of oral aggression) or by the whore (the myth of vagina dentata). the fact that the it may appear to 3. myth?that into mouth of God. as ex On the psychological level. games. For the myth between myth and reality is highly mobile: though boundary it is ultimately be firm and permanent. Calypso.. To this extent. shared mythology. displays the structure of .

like the victim of a practical joke who wakes uncertain which a room in which the rugs and chairs a drunken up after night to find himself in to the ceiling and the chandelier appears to grow out of the have been affixed is the story of the Chinese phi ground.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 99 etc. the tale within the tale within the doors. Which One device that Carroll uses to blur the boundaries is a variant of the tradi tional technique of the Chinese box narrative. of two of the narrators Myths receding a woman no end to the boxes. . he was not butterfly. as on the Dutch Cleanser can: image a Dutch Cleanser can with a a holding picture of woman holding a often . This is a serious ques tion. he did a butterfly flutter he a a time a start Tsu ing about enjoying itself. although a door.24 A delightful modern variant of the Chinese myth of the dream is the work of Woody Allen: Stories The that tween half the rent. He was part of my dream. A famous literary example of the dream turned inside out is the episode of the Red King in Through the Looking Glass. were known and loved in classical antiquity. and the doors beyond doors. Suddenly he whether he was know or whether butterfly dreaming Chuang of this sort. . When the backyard. further the reader's assumption that he is on the very outside of the box? challenging the last one in the line of listeners?rather than part of the story being told to yet someone else. the book it appears that Alice has dreamed that the Red King dreamed that Alice saw him dreaming of her. soon Emperor Ho Sin had a dream in which he beheld a palace greater than his for through the portals of the edifice.23 that he was But a a butterfly. common sense in such a way often deliberately as to leave the ob reader understructure is the "real" level. A famous example of such obfuscation losopher Chuang Once awoke was upon with Tsu: Chuang Tsu dreamed Tsu that Tsu."22 Stories fuscate the about dreams. . do you think it was?"27 dream. of like stories about myths. perhaps imported from India or China.25 Opening a hundred now out in realized he had entered doors and was the Emperor or was dream awoke now he was in a dream in a cold being sweat dreamt and by couldn't his bail the characteristically the myth emerges as a Allenesque incongruities. Ho Sin suddenly found he . too! . but Lewis Carroll will not let us solve the riddle so easily: "Let's consider who it was that dreamed it all. in a tone of myth but one that is wasted on Tweedledum. an appeal to the emotional truth of who simply remarks. or the doors within position in the chain (Alice and the Red King). an imply that there is sketching infinitely that may be represented visually.). he found another led door. . in which Alice tries to prove that she Despite is real by pointing out that she is crying. the dream/ its classical mixture myth through reality reversal. The twist comes when Carroll reverses the tale. and he was who had he was Chuang Chuang dreamed again. of course?but then I was part of his .26 his head remained somewhere be young again. which seventy. . of the magical and the banal. "I hope you don't suppose those are real tears?" At the end of great contempt. Stepping his body became and sixty-five to another. . It did not know that it was Chuang Tsu. if he dreamed the recall bondsman.

"34 Richard does not merely make the ly myth he lives." painting en ab?me make use of that The metaphysical implications of this mise peculiar juxtaposition of the banal and sublime (the "incongruity" of myth28) that serves and Perelman before him. which often carries with it the implication there is a play. 4. The Chain Reaction between Reality and Myth about the role of the audience in the play Hindu literature is self-conscious in salvation was the subject of within the play. He is finding the fragments of the myth. he is playing amyth?or. for the place where the protagonists reality. and therefore participating in. himself to Christ betrayed by Judas. he also finds it. with himself as the pivotal level of "reality. playing two myths. . and the Woody Allen's humor (as it served Benchley and then outside narrators of comic myths centuries before them).31 Drama built upon archetypes functions as plement The within the enactment of a myth. by seeing. one was led unconsciously myth . drama (or film) often takes the place of The Frogs. to carry his purified emotion through the scene he is about to act?and line create. He is Christ again in the holiness which is violated?but he is particular Christ in the infidelity around him. In Russell Hoban's a can of illustrated like the Dutch Cleanser can. as in A Midsummer Night's Dream. rather. . Velasquez's that picture so a woman painting makes on use of this device facing a mirror. Aristophanes' the communal ritual that was a frequent (though certainly not inevitable) com to the traditional myth. merely with another the reality based on historical myth. the out finding his supporting script. the common end between of the continuum reality and fantasy. the "last visible dog" on serious purpose. Of all literary forms.100 Dutch Cleanser can with WENDY a DONIGER of O'FLAHERTY .33 somewhat to facts32 (a reality that is. person sense al reality competing in its turn. (aman with that the a mirror) observer is ingeniously can trace the hung images in the Prado inside the a wall it again. The use of aesthetic experience much discussion. but hardly the photographic of "Wie es eigentlich gewesen ist" that the nineteeth century histo representation rians thought they had snapped). but also serves a far more book for children. but in Hamlet and his explicit the depiction of historical characters conscious of their roles as actors. but also in the surreal humor of great comedy such as In our day. in is the supreme master of the play within the play. find a release from the hell of their heaven. becomes a symbol for dogfood. an entire myth tragedy perceives. Yet he also events of his life and constructing to which his inner in a less specific way. is itself part of a play? the play.29 is the play locus classicus for this onion-layer technique of storytelling that the audience the play. But Richard II is not merely acting out a play. "Richard is By comparing corresponds. not merely Shakespeare use of the device. within which witnessing of a play within another (metaphysical) play. perhaps part drama best reproduces the effects of myth. most powerfully through the cathar sis of the tragic drama. Richard II acts out a play that he constantly rewrites and plays closer as an alternative. Richard ismaking his own to the actual into a myth by selecting classical fragments that correspond life a dramatic truth out of them. the enactment of the into the proper stance of the devo of Krishna.

must not tell stories like Plato Like Aristophanes. he was inspired to discover what role he was playing. had been it. for better or for worse.36 Euripides were harmless. produce real events (forming the character of young men as the school master instructs children). in disguise. "his" Bellerophon took hemlock as a result of seeing the play. like Richard II. in turn. She says that dreams that pass through the gates of horn come true. and Plato fears that people will find a bad myth. his depiction of the myth: "The story I told about Phaedra was true. but.35 knowing playing all along. This very Greek line of reasoning is also found in Plato. both find his and make his myth.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 101 to decide what role in the tee. where. and one that justifies rather than condemns intersect. one need look no farther than Sophocles' assure Oedipus Rex. the viewer was not merely inspired to play (mother. Thus as the schoolmaster speaks Aeschylus accepts the assertion that real events do lead to myths about real events (that the in their story of Phaedra was true). who says that the enacts what haunts us in dreams when logos fails us. or friend of Krishna). brother. but turns around and asserts that the myths. or commit murder or eat forbidden things (a possible reference to and so on. Moreover. these thoughts.37 But Aeschylus's he argues. saying that took hemlock out of shame because of Euripides' married women depiction of Here Aeschylus blurs the for her stepson Bellerophon. since poets speak to young men (in the world of the theatre) to children (in the world of reality). turn. cannibalism). wasn't it?" does not deny this. and Aeschylus final rebuttal takes yet another tack: he says that even true stories. when immoral. but Eros . To this Aeschylus that his depictions objects. play accusation that Euripides had put "unholy matings" on the stage?in particular the incestuous passion of Phaedra with Hippolytus.39 Penelope advances a similar argu ment when Odysseus. tyrant suppressed even in sleep. should not be put on the stage. the love of Stheneboia fourth wall between theatre and reality: the audience becomes part of permeable is being judged not only for the actions of the drama by reacting to it.3* affirms the power of myths to grow out of reality and The individual could. are present in everyone (an early argument for the someone will lie with his mother or with a of the dream/myth): universality god or an animal. we that about the gods to children even if they are true. tells her that her dream of an eagle killing the that her husband geese in the house means (Odysseus) will return to kill the suitors. a is implicit in the argument This assumption In answer to Aeschylus's within a play whose protagonists are playwrights. is the tyrant in all of us. cosmic drama he wished like Richard II. without in Aristophanes' The Frogs. Plato warns. For a vivid Greek example of the unconsious the play used as a play within device to prove the reality of myth. about (as Plato pointed out) but never do. Bellerophon by depicting and anonymous women who go to bed with their brothers? with Stheneboia. to make reality. lover. and myth use it to construct an evil reality. Sophocles has Iocasta Oedipus about the prediction that he would that he need not worry sleep with his since everyone knows that that is something that men always dream mother. a had called Oedipus and that Euripides replies happy man. a claim that mythic drama and reality do in fact Euripides counters this with but on a different plane. Euripides but for the actions of the "real" women who and Stheneboia. with grotesque irony.

myth that is his a dream from the gates of horn) for a "mere dream" (from the gates of reality. individual conscience. of course. . that the myth in the theatre expresses a human truth shared assumption the audience is implicit in Aeschylus's accusation of Euripides: the effect of by was not to establish a social law and Bellerophon the myth of Stheneboia ("Don't commit incest. is not a d?gag? sage but a very much engag? for often the one who is swallowed who emerges from the liminal jaws to give birth to a culture and to estab hero. the audience. an insight clear as day to the Greeks 2. applies to many myths.500 years before Sig mund Freud made it a canon. Myth as the Inverse of Social Charter of the mouth of God are the opposite of social charters. of course.41 This is reinforced by virtue of their erotic relationships a Aristophanes' equation of the audience with the sinners in hell.40 She is. The social Myths charter theory has an impeccable Durkheimian pedigree and remains canonical as well as for Eliade. the ritual of initiation for which the swallowed the archetypal model). a true a That Oedipus is fooled into mistaking myth (that is. indeed. know the reality not only of Oedipus's incest but of our own. are to the natives a statement of a more relevant reality. it is even applicable to certain aspects of the myths of the mouth of God. precipitates is the fear of being For. the the play play within guilt is known but him directly into the episode of (unsuccessful) repentant prayer. primeval. fates. nor to inspire antisocial behavior ("How incest?" arguing on the lines that violence on television causes about committing children to grow up violent).") or to reinforce an already existing social law ("Aren't you glad you don't commit incest!")."43 This description. who cites Malinowski's for most anthropologists today. Athena. by which the present life. to the extent that (as Shaw pointed out) conscience truth through the drama is the in of mythic caught. and she thinks that her dream of horn. the myth: for we. as wrong as Iocasta was.42 in Hamlet has the same effect on Claudius that the myth of The myth/drama Stheneboia had on the Greek wives: it makes him face not only the fact that his even the fact that he is guilty. the public experience strument of conscience?not but of cumulative of social conscience. motley group The who include sexual miscreants. by show were already participating in the myth of Stheneboia by ing them that they with their sons. with the motive for ritual and moral actions. straightforward definition: "These stories . greater. and unconsciously commit suicide out of shame at the sudden realization of their own incestuous impluses. lish its ritual forms44 (including. as well as with indications as to of course. by Zeus and then myth provides their crafts. 5. is an example of such a combination of reborn to teach the Greeks . an illusion (like those that were and Yashodha ivory) is Markandeya thought they This illusion is raised to yet another level by the next frame of experiencing). but to reveal an already existing reality. one that was masked It made women denied. .102 those that pass through was not from the gates WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY the gates of ivory do not. how to perform them. and the knowledge of which supplies man and activities of mankind are determined.

th?se my forms of ascetic yogic mortification fantasies that establish the boundaries of the real Hindu world. the actual ing goddess and determines the myth. a "more relevant reality" that inspires certain action. where each piece of the landscape is recognized as totally familiar when you get there. To the extent that myth arises out of reality and has an effect on reality. Myths that lead them grow up. or simply chicken-and-egg.48 The myth extended. and some falsehood.47 Repressed Hindus of extreme rejoice in myths and erotic Tantric orgiasticism. they inspire the witness of the mythic drama to reassess his view of reality or even to act in a different way. the drama is more real than fantasy. an insight that is at the heart of the tragic drama. individual conscience might indeed inspire action.45 function inspire "archaic man. told to children influence how they ergistic.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 103 as social charter is also manifest in the "moral primer" The myth of the myth of history. But it is also suggested that the experience precedes shared fantasy of the demonic goddess inhibits the sexual activity of young married men in India. L?vi-Strauss imagines certain impossible to allow us to go on situations in order to show that they are impossible. the myth is not a reflection of behavior but a cause of it. and Plato disapproved of myths precisely because they did not Aristophanes teach people the right way to behave. in this limited function as social touchstone exercises a complex inter Myth syn relationship with society that could be described as cybernetic. to reenact certain rituals. in both views. but also to allow ously to experience at one remove what it is actually like to translate fan its witness into reality. supplies a target or (positive negative) that establishes the full range of being unreal. thologies provide to totter on the brink without making it possible actually falling into it. but you measure reduce the gap between you and the shore. now a world whose bounds have been an ideal no less useful for if only by a little. the myth of the decapitat is based on the child's overabrupt weaning." in Eliade's formulation. there can be no or end it is a cycle. to have Hamlet to drink hemlock. children grow up with certain cultural preoccupations to tell certain kinds of myths to their children. The mythic drama serves vicari not only as an escape valve to release intolerable tensions. there is some truth. and psy anthropologists of shared "nuclear fantasies" transmitted in India from mother chologists speak to child and later modified by individual experience. In this view.46 But many myths ultimately depart from the limitations of the social charter. on the contrary. The element of cumulative but it inspired bad ac and to that extent it might be regarded as prescriptive.50 Clearly. . and they are "social" in the sense that they may be shared as well as common bodies of or cumulative of moral conscience experiences But they are not social charters. It is the scale. Thus. traditional knowledge. they They do indeed reveal motifs. symbiotic.51 particular starting point point: Myth has been defined as "a cosmic map of an unknown country. living with an insoluble paradox. like the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise: you never reach the all your leaps in terms of the distance by which you shore. and then to come back to the realm of the possible. less real (and hence less tasy costly49) than reality. In this view. and Claudius tions: Greek women shang has pointed out that myth haied. the myths showed how inevitable "bad" behavior was.

as a child patches a disintegrating Teddy bear. after the victory of world. itmakes us realize that it is not as For the myth does was (or as our lawmakers told us it was) to as we thought it figure out simple what to do. patching theories with epicycles. Rilke's description of the effect of viewing a statue of Apollo speaks of this: "Du muss dein Leben ?n dern. as that the divine pre myths at first the Greek among everywhere in the Christianity. The obverse of this process is the attempt to establish the reality of apparently mythic phenomena (on the other side of the mouth of God). "54The myth achieves this effect not through logic or example (positive or our emotions as it punctures our assumptive world. despite our manipulations. Later it was argued that. because the myths (or the gods who were not be true (or real): The the subject of myth) were immoral.53 itmerely not tell us what to do. capricious . stealing. negative) but by activating In our everyday life we cling to our private cosmologies long after they have them up as scientists patch their outlived their power to sustain us. cannot be the poets sented true?triumphed. Aristophanes not be). remains the same. only how to understand what he was doing anyway. and Plato argued that.This the objection thesis?more particularly ty."."52 In this.104 only WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY it does not tell you how to get there. . as L?vi-Strauss points out. myth tells us that we must do something. by intellectual elites and finally. Plato and Xenophanes condemned them both. This is why.55 the adventures and arbitrary their "immorali behavior. because in these works "the gods do all manner of things each oth which men would consider disgraceful: adultery. Greco-Roman and Hesiod about the gods Xenophanes argued that the stories told by Homer could not be true."56 in the it is in fact possible to believe in the myths without believing Although or the reverse.57 er. we are forced to realize that the world down under its own weight. Truth Criteriafor Myths led to a re The positive or negative moral effect of myth on its audience or assessment of the truth "reality" of myth in theWestern world. Yet. are the myth of Christ's Passion did not quite different from paradigms. gods. they were immoral (and (though Plato also implied that they might therefore were not to serve as social charters). the gods could not be both immoral and immortal. they could attacks was target of the rationalists' primarily their and unjust decisions of the Gods. myth is never an answer to the prob lets us recognize those problems as mythic. we make in the superstructure of our lives?a bigger house. although myths might be true At first. We have seen the myths of the mouth of God attempt to undermine one's the way in which real phenomena in the reality of apparently confidence (on this side of the mouth of God). myths tell Richard II what to do. jerry-built construction topples In the end. lems it allows us to state. but the myth offers a trans forming change of perspective. a minor or major alterations a younger wife?until the whole different job. deceiving In other words. That the good and the true are one and the same is part of our heavy legacy that one Sanskrit word from Plato. 6. too. or how to act when you do. in India. the ideas merge so completely .

But this assumption is not shared by traditional or archaic cultures: "In societies where myth is still fables or stories?from alive the natives carefully distinguish myths?'true' them call 'false stories." and he regards the task of the mythologist structures of the mind. but it is certainly true of myth. which they to cultures have often attempted selves against the rationalists. everything that exists is a mental be regarded as extreme when applied merely projection. and what is good. The king eventually verifies his story by pro ducing the wife. . mythmaking in "scientific" beat the realists at their own game. the myth. and friends that he had in the Outcaste village."58 Most "civilized" people assume that myths are not true.' "59 And in the course of defending tales. rather than the mind mythology as the search talking about "reality. The alizes text uses this story to prove that." an for the "constraining enterprise that he regards as a transcendental "Kantism without of subject. apparently. here. disappearing at court. related to our own "is") means not only what is true. did not deny that they were true). the proof of his experience is the of his own identity (when he reveals knowledge or characteristics that no proof one but he would have. tales in which a man steps somehow There are many Indian and Tibetan over the threshold into the world of myth and lives there for many years before own world. he lives there for many years." and L?vi-Strauss describes . L?vi-Strauss maintains is simply the mind talking about the mind. one person's private illu sion is just as real as any other part of reality: "The illusion in the king's mind on the minds of the outcastes as having reflected itself though it were a reality ."61 objectivized This view that. In one Hindu story of this type. never left pearing during the brief time that the courtiers think has elapsed. That the hero wins the secret of immortality secret of his own identity is usually regarded as the point of the metaphysical it is the physical point. which he has.' it is because the Greeks proclaimed 'myth' twenty-five centuries ago. since all that is real is the mind. The myths. since all is illusory. since the mythology atheism is not looking for a truth basis "out there." This makes the mythical pattern an "autonomous object.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 105 (sat. came to be jected unreal: "If in every European defined as quintessentially language the word it to be such denotes a 'fiction. may perhaps to physical that reality. during by entering from the village and reap (being swallowed by the jaws of hell). children. until. he commits suicide a fire begetting children. where he reappears only a split second after his returning to his (in the time scale of the people of that world). to prove the reality of myths terms. the evidence of the reality of mythic journey. he then produces some departure sort of physical proof that he has been in another world." That is. at least. becomes in the physical world. marrying and a famine." it finds it "in here. . a king disappears from his court and materi in a village of Outcastes. but the shameful things that Aeschylus ob what is real. proof that is accepted of by his amazed family and friends. and that are accepted as true" by the sur "historically and the fact that he has not aged (as he would have done had he viving villagers) and the stayed in this world).60 Japanese myths present a dislocation time in the opposite direction: the hero returns after his mythic journey to find that everyone in his village has aged terribly. by depicting to (though he.

" did not remain on board after all. they reject the theophany. and we may assume that some rationalization such as. but at that other time he went aboard the ship for Pylus. and the good people who do believe?Homer. This plain man mediates between the evil suitors who do not believe (or. The latter two first "wonder" and Nestor. spoke might think he was allowing his audience the option (which the post-Homeric rational so often took) of interpreting or this allegorically ist Greeks psychologically: was does not leave it there. The Common Sense of Magic to establish the reality of myth through "scientific" common sense Attempts When Homer evidence are legion in world mythology. come back with the ship he borrowed from Noemon. they rebuke her and then say. But Homer inspired the realists on their home territory. "Mentor has gone away. of men. later. time and space are also the basis of the myths of the mouth of God."62 the transformations in time and space described text are in the Hindu Now. Noemon rip in as lead the fabric of reality: "I noted Mentor going on board Telemachus's ship er?or else it was a in all ways. But this is what I god who resembled Mentor wonder at: I saw noble Mentor here. is a god at once makes elaborate plans to inlay the horns of a heifer with dess. 7. Such dislocations of transformation")." So. Mystic and texts redefine time just as Einstein did. yesterday morning. he Telemachus (on his own). Noemon worries that some sort of divine monkey business is going on with his ship. his audience. certain mythic myths and certain scien to explain the way in which the brain uses tific theories use the same metaphor images to map space and time."64 The suitors' reaction to this cognitive is to ignore it. worse. (though even when she Mentor. or by taking the form of Mentor. they think (wrongly. doesn't care about Athene. "Perhaps Noemon did they shrugged it off with or "Perhaps Mentor not see properly. similar to certain features of the hologram. The image in the king's mind is broken down and rebuilt in another place (the "inverse Fourier the king's memory becomes a hologram. makes it possible to illustrate such objectified thought and to provide empirical proof of its reality.67 Nestor . returns and Athene her too. when Odysseus speaks to him. who wants to sail it to Elis to see his twelve brood mares and to break in amule. as we know and they later find dissonance65 out to their peril) that it has no reality for their story.106 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY text: "I believe that more it in terms not unlike those of the Hindu mythology. than anything else. and (within the story) Telemachus and then immediately realize that the pseudo-Mentor like Noemon. like the quark that appears to move from here to there but arrives there before it has left here. We are told that Athene insists on meeting on his voyage to Nestor in the form of Mentor and accompanied Telemachus tells the suitors about a disquieting conversed with Nestor. tells us that Athene to Telemachus one in a dream.66 Like Yashodha and Pentheus. he recognizes as Athene but the suitors think she is he addresses her as Mentor). But the man who does "wonder" at it is the most matter-of-fact to he just wants Telemachus Noemon Noemon. do not care) that Athene was on the ship.63 which exists outside of strikingly time and space and thus can reverse time." turns into a swallow and flies up to the roof.

figure as well as in Clark Gable's distrust of the flimsy barrier in It Odyssey. temporal. avoid the theophany and the dangerous transi tion to the other side of the barrier70 (the intercourse with the gods that Plato to incest or bestiality). as a poet?the alone has one foot in the world of myth and the other in the world of reality. out exacting the revenge on which they had been intent before the intervention of Medon. banal authority: of the reality of the myth either vanishes or is judged too physical proof ambigu ous to be returns from the Land of Oz (in the persuasive. . when Dorothy film The Wizard of Oz). Usually. Medon's argument has a crucial effect on the actual events of the to the suitors are apparently their impervious theophany. nor rest ever so slightly above the ground. they are Although never culturally validated. but by the epitome of the U."68 Medon but he recognizes had used to describe Athene/Mentor. is manifest in the who resists the myth: Oedipus. But then he uses the same . reports. A notable to this pattern is the film exception Miracle on 34th Street. is a mortal or a god. phrase that Noemon narrator of the tale within the tale?he that she is a goddess. a goddess standing beside Odysseus. in fact. and their feet like a "hovercraft. the myth.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 107 not normally gold and sacrifice it. in which the existence of Santa Claus (who is literally on trial) is finally established not by any sacred authority. Yashodha. Happened One Night. from time to time hard proofs are still sought. For. the suitors in the Pentheus. who is of always the witness course not believed by adults. not to be drawn across the border from reality into myth. the however. Thus the poet's testimony to the deus ex machina has the effect of an actual deus ex machina. Thus. look for companion sweat. she discovers that the magic red shoes that would have a dream. As archy the cockroach remarks. the in which these rules appear present them as a means by which one can myths avoid close encounters with gods. when believed. or not you are One common sense test to see whether living a myth is laid If you are in doubt as to whether your these telltale signs: gods do not blink or does dust settle on them. is simply not believed. Odyssey: though in this passage) are persuaded that and relations (to whom Medon friends speaks and they turn back with there is.11 Sometimes the very vehemence with which the myth is denied on one level is testimony to its insidious power on another. i believe in ghosts / of course i do not believe in "you want to know / whether them / if you had known / as many of them as i have / you would not / believe in in our skeptical times.S."72 But generally."69 Significantly. "I myself and resembled Mentor stood close beside Odysseus When Athene appeared before Odysseus as an immortal god. evidence that he does to assimilate this extraordinary but is able immediately of his ideas about what is possible. as it proved her adventure to be true (and not merely appeared to her Kansas friends) have fallen off on the way back across the barrier. the theophany them either. Indeed. The reasonableness use of the banal detail of made convincing through the mud in Krishna's mouth. changes reality. When the out explicitly in several Sanskrit texts. their garlands never wither. . . The fear of listed as tantamount the desire theophany. hobnob with the gods event within the range of mythic is experience Noemon's mule or the makes her penultimate appearance the bard Medon Mentor/swallow. Postal Service. in the ambiguous form of saw an immortal god who in all ways. Almost is a child.

Stories about pregnant males are often and out of the myth in this way.73 For. have less course a man can't really give birth to a child. he died in young decided grew. assume wife to and of a certain to. of bawdy humor and events that are physically possible. however. So far. for he had the restored. only then. figure the of the flesh with where. that all grown-up who retains knowledge knowledge infants have but that disappears when the child learns to speak. the regarded child.108 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY tea party with Mary Poppins Banks children return from a magic (a classic of the mythic and the banal). by Shukra. likely to happen.78 One rico lactate and therefore. We have already alluded who is swallowed and given rebirth given rebirth by the god Shiva. agony.75 The myth leads the reader down the garden path.74 8. pleasures enjoying of childbirth. demigod not to return. recalling as the for the full nine months husband suffered to find a passage for the delivery. a of the mythic world. but not the former.76 Again. Mary Poppins parents. who is swallowed and myth. a vulva out of an elk's liver. and order to eat the wedding banquet. myth. stories of the mouth of God are often told without challenge. and Kaca. wishes The Trickster. was gave birth without in breast-feeding as "a great miracle". The Problem of the PregnantMale Hindu the myths of often play cat-and-mouse common sense criteria of with the demand made common sense by myth wanders for in suspension reality. for other Hindu to not mind becoming pregnant. He makes breasts out of an elk's kidneys. the Hindu myths Where moves can Trickster cycle physical and metaphysical standards of what is into common sense. and he tricks the chief into accepting him as a woman and marrying him to his son. and the latter fact. the pains and her fancy. luring him into a suspension and then suddenly bringing him up short with a reminder that of of disbelief. and so he invoked a male god to produce milk from his (the god's) the latter was regarded as reasonably thumb. they know that the crumbs on the rim combination of Mary's hat can only be explained by the fact that she had tea while suspended to try to explain that to their upside down by magic. become a laughingstock chets back and forth between possible. but they know better than as the is the only starling in the book explains. These But some texts pollute the myths with common sense: The wanted attend. and finally. the North Ameri degenerate sense to from common in the opposite direction. straddling the threshold between the worlds of reality and liminal to the myths of Shukra. like a bit player. while is no one apparently expected the king to be able to lactate. She With demigod asked her and her was too husband kindness beautiful a to attend child she party great with so that she could to take the embryo he did so. to marry a chiefs son in who is always hungry. another she embryo she went magic to to power the party. he had trouble. who took Her unable go out of affection any shape.77 The distinction not simply amatter of the different powers of mortals and gods.80 .79 We are there fore taken off balance when the text goes on to tell us that the Trickster became pregnant and gave birth to three boys. we are still in the world of common sense. but draw the line when they begin gods do in heaven. Other male pregnancies one king became pregnant and but equally hard-nosed consequences: tragic any labor pains.

but even to abandon all. by contrast. nor by undermining reality. to the other side. pragmatic validity This thirst for order fuels the prime criteria for both a scientific theory and a (or regarded theory is abandoned myth: elegance and repetition. because it expresses an essential and useful truth. he of the Bhagavad Gita? the jaws of the God84?when doomsday epiphany of the first atomic bomb. Robert Oppenheimer's dice. fact the world is ordered. entific and mythic "Elegance" razor: one wishes to account for as many facts as possible to Occam's simplicity. from an unexpected ally: to the committed and myth are essentially ingly apparent that both science belief that there is order in the universe. the substantiates and the evolutionary advantage of jumping to conclusions of believing inwhat cannot be logically or rationally proved. Elegance the high value placed on repetition of the theme and variations tends to produce a myth that accounts for as little data as possible with as many theorems as of God. is extravagant: with as few theorems as possible.86 The of cognitive aesthetic dissonance).85 These patterns are the archetypal elements of myth. The Freudians reveal its truth basis in male pregnancy envy and in sublimation use it as an effective androcentric mythmakers through anal creation.81 the idea that men can do anything that women for the socially convenient metaphor can do. primeval androgyne. The religious basis of this belief as Einstein's much-quoted remark that God does emerges from such statements he not only plays not play dice with the universe (though in Hindu mythology invocation of the but cheats as well83) and in J. The Science of Myth: This boost The Constraint of Elegance received a and science has recently between myth rapprochement It is increas the natural sciences themselves. to the side of reason and but by trying to drag the myth science. Myths elegant and logically beauty. so that the attempt to bridge the gap must come about not by blurring the line. it is possible. value of but a more of myth. this is the function elegant theory.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 109 the underlying These traditional stories fight against great odds to maintain belief in the pregnant male. Our underlying the detonation witnessed biological to jump to conclusions. 9. our assumption that the world is real at of sci are.82 But the these myths are part of an uneasy world in which the line stories that challenge between myth and reality is still rigidly defined. also affects the artist's manipulation when cumulated data are accommodated only more persuasive. The mythic truth of the pregnant male extends into the broader corpus inwhich the hero achieves rebirth by being swallowed and released by of myths a a male god who plays the role of a goddess. has high survival value if in directive to see patterns. nevertheless. Laplace boasted that he did not "need" the hypothesis to believe in things that science no longer finds necessary to men unfashionable There . not only to restructure our assumptions 87 but scientists a jettison theory a new theory that is both more by persuade us with their emotional about the real world (as scien elegance tific theories do). An established as inadequate) not merely upon the discovery of new facts (for cherished theo ries generate epicycles and corollaries almost beyond endurance in order to ac commodate upon the contradictory creation of data. significant differences between the processes in scientific terms generally refers to conversion. in myth.

each other up. mathematical from departs considerably the microuniverse reality. universe are more similar than has previously though in fact it ought beings not using to surprise the same us. highly reality. that their ways of looking at the holding been supposed. Common sense. capable of finding their way around with the aid of conventional choose time. our maps according to what universe we wish to move in at any given We . a new set of terms for dealing with intellectual material. mental since both scientists to map and the equipment mythmakers same universe. nature needs. The point is. when they do conflict."89 Science's laboratories are Bauhaus. . not necessarily here. as Einstein once join myth remarked. a part of myth rather than a part of reality. The are not mutually exclusive. Man's life is cheap as beast's. that science that the universe obeys certain disquieting each other's more outlandish like two drunks and myth substantiate claims. New Yorkers who recognize the truth "maps" in Saul Steinberg's brilliant map of the planet as seen from 9th Avenue (with amere brown blob. a somewhat similar of provide conception in nature. impossible an hour a day"). that is. too.93 things ("half it is worth noting that the two systems. cognitive dissonance incompatible. Mythmakers. however. As scien in restructuring tists become more adventurous their reality (and most revolu are made discoveries tionary by young scientists. and China and Russia as vague streaks on the horizon Jersey and Chicago) are also perfectly beyond the isolated points that are Los Angeles street maps. like myth. not of nature. are human The value of myth for science lies in providing a change of metaphor that creates a fresh focus. are Finally. Solutions creativity the lack of such meta that may not yet be conceptualized.92 quire metaphors phors is another sort of "constraint" that works upon science but not upon to the detriment of science and the advantage of myth. have had more practice than scientists in believing the White Queen. and those of the macrouniverse that relate . as close as possible to the six Eden not yet invaded by the serpent of common sense). Indeed. is what we are taught by the age of six (while certain Jesuits allowed one more year for a similar indoctrination). . the palace of razor is one of a number is baroque and rococo. comes into play. of implying that both science and myth prove laws of time and space. a source of and thus serving both to explode mental logjams and to provide to scientific problems often re in the search for answers. We learn from the special and general theo ries of relativity and quantum and nuclear mechanics that But the the laws nature This that of relate to us the nature . . ordinary sensory experience. rather.110 tion who in are its on theories. serves once the arbitrary nature of these scientific constraints again to and science in a common enterprise. . common sense is an attribute of culture. Occam's myth merely of constraints of logic or reality that science must apply to the "melange of the various actual or created elements of our memory."90 while fantasy must not. common year-old's sense is thrust unceremoniously into a dusty old attic along with the astrolabes and the perpetual motion machines.88 the side of But WENDY need Lear: DONIGER is irrelevant "Allow O'FLAHERTY to not the nature economics more of than King mythmakers.91 One must beware.

THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 111 10. which he constructed These moments but are not limited to. and. power of the events. as the banality of myth demonstrates. in retrospect. The film The Wizard of Oz comparison. arrives in the land of Oz. banal tragedy?news tenced to prison. But these experiences momentarily lift the artificial barrier that we have imposed between myth and reality. a sen of failure or desertion. goes along for a quarter of an hour until Dorothy opens the door. We watching the sunrise or sunset. . to everyone. when one "lives" the myth. our frame of reference. formalized suddenly changing from child to adult. particular animals. falling in love. The same feeling overcomes us in moments of more modern and an accident. that.96 Seemingly these things are highly neutral. even as this banality forges the essential bond with the reality of the myth. with life are so classical that they often border These passionate on the trite. tragic myth of Christ. listening to sublime music. We recognize the respond to the confrontation of real life because we recognize certain archetypal elements myth in moments common to myth and life. they appear These evocative passions often sweep along in their flood the solid. It is something fates just as much as the Greek heroes do. overlays There were are placed upon when we the same page. particular geographical places?the grey pony on the Irish coast in Riders to the Sea. death (ours and our parents'). and men that happens observed over and over again. joy?plunging watching geese fly south. lying out under the stars. we seem to follow two maps at once. here again myth confront an actual experience and reality and respond times to it as we would of a myth. like out of a cheap novel or a dream. so that we gaze back we had entered. we realize that we have not been alive until now. remarked that pens Jung are "myth is not fiction: it consists of facts that continually repeated and can be to man. life retroactively transfigure Eliade tells how. but what of ourselves? Do we find myths or make myths in our lives?or both."94 Richard II recog have mythical nized two myths at once: the shared. "one is seized by the sacred. like Richard II? The argument for the former is the argument for the archetype: most deep passions and the matrix of circumstances in which make immediate contact with what underlies the great myths. in rites of passage: the experience of birth (ours or our childrens'). something Hollywood-sent their they may embarrass us to the point where we hesitate to acknowledge power over us."95 He is speaking of "archaic man" and of particu exalting lar ritual events. those smaller mythic moments. as if two celluloid intersect. which he found. mugging. All at suddenly upon the myth that unknowingly encounters once. The Recognition of Myth inLife At certain crucial moments. by all that has gone before has not been real. marriage. out of and the myth of his own particular character. and looks out into a world in glorious technicolor. and only then do we realize that we have been accepting the convention of filming in black and that we had not missed the true colors. this hap even to the "plain man" like Noemon. galloping on a young horse. being encounter these primal echoes also in classical occasions of into the ocean. include. Their juxtaposition with the everyday quality of the genuine rest of our lives makes them seem overblown. banal details that are the flotsam and jetsam of human nature and human culture?particular colors. This is how mythic moments in white. climbing mountains.

a social role). repetitions are focus on the events and details and patterns that are such stuff as myths made on. and the death of the shepherd child as a sacrificial substitute for the future king. . . to expose she burst taking shall not Our her man's knees begged dead caught child will wronging receive by your masters. he makes use of the stan dard archetypal motifs of the birth of the hero: the slaughter of the innocents. . but he also achieves ."97 patterns are archetypal. the highborn child secretly transferred to shepherd stepparents. . but it is always someone's phallus. a taste for Beaujolais) Jungians to the someone structured within a context (a past. we then event as the ignore those details in selecting the mythic elements of the ones that are real. purely archetypal phallus in a box until he needs it. but they are not merely archetypal. no means its life. just experienced pre-conceived pattern of fictive passion. just as some paranoids really are surrounded by aware of II as self-consciously enemies. These structuralists) are the banal details that. and . the more actual the history . myth persuasive. like Noemon's mule."98 let alone the may well be archetypal (for Jungians as well as Freudians. The does appear in some myths (the castrated. Even when we feel that we are finding a myth with all its details right in our details in lives. But then Herodotus vividly imagines the state of the mind of the shepherd mother whose own child had been stillborn: the more When she saw be the child so big as it was. the kind we often refer to as self-dramatizing. . plans and the child that survives will not lose the child. To some extent he has this thrust upon him (as a figure of great political power and personal charisma). uses actual historical details to link myth with history. just as films about invisible people have to put clothes or paint on order them so we can tell they are not there."101 mythology Herodotus did it too. "For you nor shall we have laid our ill. as we pattern that is mythic. Some people. producing archetypal well as in myth. . Paradoxically. true like Yashodha's for us. details Shakespeare that "remind us of the accidental objects which are there all the time for us These to stub our toes against. But because we know how the myth goes. what kind of zipper?). so beautiful. royal burial.99 or the disembodied that the Trickster keeps phallus instrument of Erica Jong's "zipless fuck"100). a kind of it becomes with almost magic properties. And we select elements that can be naturally structured in a a pattern of and irony and paradox. Shakespeare paints Richard malicious the fact that he is acting out amyth. but other people really do seem to have mythical lives. but even here one has anonymous the details of the frame (what kind of a box. make the myth real and also our own. we are also making the myth by framing it with nonarchetypal to see it. . regard every moment in an apparently ordinary life as mythical. him a and into tears. makes tenderness it both more toward mythic the child-god and more Krishna."102 This makes human the insight. someone with manifestations or (to switch from the (a tone of voice. phallus an and instinctive response in real life as rank-and-file). In narrating the birth of Cyrus. they are colored with culturally specific and personally The specific "manifestations.112 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY drawn by a kind of charged with evocative detail to which we are helplessly as Richard II "the emotional surrender to a centripetal force.

relation and between the the circumstances manner in which of the it is creation which by the individual. origins. Myths experienced seen as their real and whatever myths. attempts to live a myth."103 The problem for us now is quite the reverse: we no longer have the sense the truth of the myths. myth one must live now. it does at least enable us to myth as Rilke says. ied in a tradition. that they are experienced all of us.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 113 own of his life and his ability to project this by his perception of Oz made into the minds of the people around him. Ours is a lonely mythology of we find it not in churches but in films. "Archaic man"?the an endangered but not yet extinct species." implies) (wrongly. who seek it out and allow it to break in on them. traditional ritual. with the result that the individual feels as L?vi-Strauss that it is in fact coming from "out there. comics. in this sense is both solitary and communal: solitary. change perhaps our lives. Though the against does not tell us what to do in such situations. Eliade writes: "At lives his myths?is a certain moment in history?especially inGreece and India but also in Egypt? an elite to lose interest in this divine history and arrives (as inGreece) at begins the point of no longer believing in the myths while claiming still to believe in the Gods. but we still the new "archaic" man differs from the Eliadean prototype: in illo tempore. properly speaking. Myth is "democratic history" transformed from tedious statistical generalization into a detailed history at once universal and personal it is. Here he allows it to be drawn out into the community. Mythic man as I have defined him is remarkably mind . a timeless history and hence hardly history at all ?though in the usual sense of the word. the man who lived the lived it in a group and in a shared. to let them to value them. surrendering disturbing and totally personal emo tions that often threaten one's existence as a social creature or one's common sense as the creature atheism own of realism and materialism. and ultimately. spite. origin. a message ed with a that.104 is coming supernatural particular are from anonymous: are the moment they as elements embod they exist only are the individual listeners receiving from nowhere. as the myths of the inversion of social charter demonstrate. as the Wizard perception so that it became the in the Emerald City wear green-tinted everyone glasses events seem to happen more often to people who believe Emerald City. to a belief in the reality of myth. live through many people who their own common sense. to the myth against the group. of the irrational are collective. of our conscious a hold on us when our passions reach the patterns lay myth. and our and solipsism. of course. L?vi-Strauss describes the paradox in by somewhat different terms: It is a consequence of the myth. or "myth-hood" even such events become converted. in that the myth Myth are among the most private and ic experiences in highly personal. recognize them. Mythic in the mythic dimension. experience. or in or to live Because. mythical against man who spot at which the myth originally asserted itself. When the myth is repeated. this is it is credit why We have seen that L?vi-Strauss's denial of a "there" anywhere but in the human leads him to objectify myth within the individual. There is a second way in which gods. communal. The communal role of the myth that has become absorbed in this way makes it into sacred history.

(The myths of "common sense"?the pregnant male and the Trickster?are an exception to this. characters shock of recognition the mythic (Yashodha. TheArt of Myth: Bricolage out of the evocative Sometimes piecemeal personal myths are constructed are in themselves bits of archetypal flotsam and jetsam. mythic 11.105 but mythic man as Eliade defines him cannot exist except in a sacred community. initiate to various shocks?physical mutilation). canonical the cruci in a sacred taken fixion has lost its power as a shocking mythic where myth image. the truth of the old story. the experience for which the myth has prepared not only the in the ritual. it is now regain is (at least for the secular individual). its meaning for the individual outside the special ranks of sacred commu losing is now our secular. Myth our our own lives. a mere story. but we. less powerfully perhaps but certainly far more frequently. as we have the myth. the same it narrates shock the over shock. ing its meaning by contrast. chaplain) actually a Christ Pierre Cauchon perish in torment in every age to replies. This is what the myth is about. see it coming and take it in our stride. Markandeya. fear. experience Penelope). and the symbolic experience of being swallowed and reborn. "Must then save those that have no imagination?"106 We lack the imagination to be shocked by our own myths and are forced to learn mythic truths the hard way. fragments: remarkably few occur over and over. These self-selecting out of the many things that might happen in myths. was once. The stories no loss of community longer set has changed context the role of myth are no longer in life. by living through them. traditional to the myth. that shares vicariously initiate but the community where myth is bereft of ritual and has become amere story?a religion deprived of a congregation?it has once again begun to draw to itself a kind of ritual and community. hence. and it is about it narrates shock. and in his need to transcend limits. sleeplessness. These recurrent fragments are what L?vi-Strauss has . but they surprise us not through their insights but by moving the conventional frame of reference of the myth. the main arena in which shock of recognition takes place is in our own lives. again. lovingly about finding your own treas repeated by Martin Buber and Heinrich Zimmer. as familiar outside in Shock of the charac totally and recognition In play at tug of war within societies.107 Within the myth. the readers. theology. we can still be shocked by the myths of other people.114 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY similar to the nineteenth the individual who stands apart century Romanticist. Yet. ure in the home of a stranger in a foreign land. through the theatre and. had he (the seen it. for the rational Greeks and their heirs. the through film and "cult. Meanwhile. In our world. seen. when myths with but Epilogue Charles dreams of meeting Joan after she has been burnt at the stake. from the group in his innocence and inspiration. we have nothing left to build nities. Many seriously. as he has now. the ritual functions a physical. he dreams that the chaplain apologizes for what has happened and says that. and these rituals do in fact subject the experiential complement torture (fasting.) The myth shocks ters inside it because terms. personal theology. he never would have acted as he did. and over however. In the to Shaw's Saint Joan." Yet.

that are not "nec ars (or Lear's) terms. explicitly and creatively (as Shakespeare does. even as Shakespeare are these so limited in number? do we make use of Why fragments Why such a small part of the available as the snail forms his shell in just vocabulary. and extending the life of the strengthening The Greek have been accused of myth. although is limited. too. tragedians having had a sinecure in the myths but all artists inherit and rework full-blown. and hence can be used extravagantly. so few of the maintained shapes he might make? Wittgenstein that. behind those that have been singled out.108 On another scientific the Fourier transformations break gratia plane. perhaps because they are all general types and hence.111 inheriting myths them to greater or lesser degrees. emotion is limitless. often. but this seems to be untrue when logic applied to the emotional content of myth. tritely (as do many hack novelists and subconsciously writers of science fiction). These leftover scraps are curiously akin to the building blocks of animal life in terms of the metaphor of the atom. he creates out of a true symbiosis of his personal theme and some that he has discovered in the myth. by definition. when we make our lives into and focusing on the myth myths by censoring out the nonmythic materials emes." in recognition of the way they function like the phonemes in a language (or "my-themes" in life) or the atoms in a molecule: they are the out of which any building-blocks myth will be constructed. We have seen how the bard in the Odyssey weaves the elements of his life (as an actor in the episode of the suitors' revenge) together with his traditional art (as the narrator of the tale). we are simply doing what the authors of the myths did in the first place. always present in latent fashion. not merely historical development of the elements.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 115 termed "mythemes. but also in the actual itself. Christ."110 These limitations apply to art as well as to be myth. Since the myth depth of meaning arises in the first place as a spontaneous growth in the human consciousness. works with the materials he is given. the instinct of the great artist is merely a later stage of the same process. essary" in Laplace's artis. like the French handyman of that name. but now the elements with which we build are not words but "real" elements. the facts of our lives as objets trouv?s. and must ingeniously construct any new item from the fragments of the old.109 the discarded elements "are over. since the mythmaker. For evolution from time to time throws up nonadaptive scraps that have no purpose or survival value. The artist mediates tween the official mythmakers and our instinctive or self-conscious myth-con struction in our lives. in which (as in music) the number of archetypes is limited. And in the theatre we bicycle's have seen Richard II building his abdication out of mythic scraps inherited from built his play on scraps from Holinshed. absorb within themselves all minor variations More (the manifestations). This process is also known as bricolage. He is a bricoleur who builds out of the my themes of his culture and his own individual genius a kind of metamyth. shaped by the basic artistic impulse. the sage Vyasa both tells the and per story and plays a key part in it (begetting several of the protagonists . Thus. In the Indian epic. or Yeats) or and. responding truly and tossed up by some influence in artistically to patterns in the myths. fertilizing his own experience. down and reconstruct three-dimensional forms as the bricoleur breaks down a seat and handlebars to make the head of a bull.

116 On present "naturally" nature and culture the point where is precisely my continuum. intone tiresome chants. on is common property. like the people we love. and Romantics find profound."114 For most people. the power of myth depends on the purity of the vision rather of the words or painted lines that express the vision. especially obsessively in its repetition. is artless. This argument refined in L?vi-Strauss's as able to mediate between for the "artlessness" assertion that myth the two opposed of mythology is not so much sign systems is somewhat more opposed to poetry and articulate of music is a poet. to the extent that mythology is "natural. Per when is sterile and mind sonal fantasy. The than the complexity artist makes use of this power and his own creative powers of transformation: "The more original his work. Myth. articulate speech. In this model. On about the circular molecular the other side of the barrier. myth is what survives even the worst trans lation. but still one must admit that the true artist does use archetypes special way. to the extent that tween music and mythology." Music. and one shock of recogni tion runs the whole circle round. the consists precisely shock is both that and the shock of seeing the familiar in a totally new way. The artist or inspired scientist must cross over the barrier into both his own unconscious and the traditional archetype.116 forming Kekul?'s WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY rituals that turn the tide of affairs)." like the colors like music." Thus. midway be manifestations tween them. is "cultural. intersect. "Genius all over the world stands hand in hand."113 One may Wordsworthian perhaps question are in fact so tedious to any but the most the raw archetypes whether jaded in a very tastes."117 . do not have to be beautiful or original in Myths. order to move us.112 The painter or musician extending them into new realms. L?vi-Strauss has said that. psychiatrists regard interesting. The critic may is primarily a difference in their raw state "are what children learn when complain that archetypes they tediously reiterate nursery rhymes. it transcends art. for artists. the aesthetic shock of surprise coupled with the personal shock of recognition. mythic meaning of the snake biting its tale and certain events of his own life. depends at great length the has developed and L?vi-Strauss be analogy special gifts. the shock of recognition in the inexplicable familiarity of the episode. and to shock us with is not of myth. tinkering with the elements of bricolage as nature itself does in the process of evolution. before they are used by the painter. frames the archetype with just enough banal detail to make it real but aesthetic grace or originality its familiarity. "the vehicle of poetry is though not everyone speech. makers apply strongly though here it in the use of repetition and recognition. numbing infinitely various in the that it creates from the limited archetypes. which by contrast. neurotic. seeks. of benzene was "enlightenment" structure a combination of the traditional. the more imperiously recognizable itwill be. between the creative processes of scientists and myth the differences as to individual fantasists and great artists. entering of the devouring muse in order to bring back the prize he the dangerous jaws builds out of the old archetypes. and make visual But as images that only fond parents delight in. while essential to the persuasive power poetry is what is lost in translation.115 artistic fantasy is unique. mythology it is artful. mythology it but to the extent that the natural or "real" element predominates.

for (as Yashodha though he forgot the first experience of the first time. he is largely responsible for the survival of are accepted as real. I have seen this before. the hero journeys to win the memory of the past so that we reenact that past in may recreating the myths.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 117 12. of course is from a thing .And as different as a real it is different. in the existence of something "out there"). this is the second time he has fallen out of Vishnu's mouth. we all generate to the again and again the same dragons (the variations in dragons corresponding considerable variations in biology and experience). as Lewis has the grace to have the old professor remark. C. For Eliade. The knew loved the old life. bumping finding her at the garden door in Wonderland. if one does not If one is not willing really believe in the existence of a world of ideal forms. one is likely to be thrown back upon Jung. as Alice kept Inevitably.120 right when suggest that "we all have the same kind of dragons in our psyche. Lewis's the theoretical structure in which myths Narnia is the land of Platonic forms: or a shadow and all. In Eliade's view. by entering guarded by the dragon at the barrier. What is it that we are reminded of when we the country of myth? This brings us back to the question with which recognize we began: do myths remind us of passionate moments in life. is in Asian's world. of course. . rather than a world of ideal forms or a racial memory: "Myth assures man that what he is about to do has already been done. . though why a little like this.This or as shadow life is from a dream. S. this is the treasure God(dess)." In his view. As Markandeya "I think says when he falls out of Vishnu's mouth. or are those mo ments compelling because they remind us of side of the mouth of myths? Which God is reality on? we find ourselves into Plato. explaining why we feel that we are reminded of something when in fact there is nothing "there" to be being reminded of.118 Narnia is that it sometimes looked Our real world. one is then left with the problem of However. though not complex ones (another point in favor of the and the Jungians may turn out to be fragmentary mythemes). . "It's all in Plato. now we can no longer avoid the question of why myths affect us. A more modest likelihood is that."121 there is still no though "scientific" evidence that this is so. this is a collective journey. . Remembering the Myth We have been talking about how myths affect us. What he finds inside Vishnu's mouth is his memory The mythic hero wins his memory of the past by being swallowed by the the womb-jaws of hell. all in Plato: bless me. is the land I have been waking looking reason I never we for all my it till now. what do they teach them at these schools!"119 to go all the way with Plato (that is. the brain does in fact appear to be able to hand down simple archetypes." He has. self walking back in Plato's pro Despite found distrust of the power of myth. they just as we all have the same kind of heart and lungs in our body. what we "remember" is the ancient time when the myth was first made real. gets hers). The idea of a collective transmitted like genetic information in the brain is no longer quite unconscious so fatuous as it once seemed. out of a universal biology and a universal experience on the planet Earth. and a collective . own And. copy of something only England .

remarks of the Indian epic. too. Eliade compares Freud's belief that or a back. poor sort like the two-way memory of memory that only works of the White backwards. lived events: Eliade."124 Queen. ismemory thought is distributed throughout the brain. with a reflection on the nature of the autobiographical journey. the recognition of a For the myths speak of nor the group has ever been before. leg brought analysis. a different kind of remembering. Moreover. Myth country where neither the individual ic memory. If one wishes to make it canny. Eliade in his own life sees the two memories He concludes his memoirs inextricably tangled. forms. episode before in earlier. one from which we learn.118 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY is won by it (the traditional. might because memory and the patterning of memory. Freud. a kind of concrete journey into the past to retrieve memory. in a traditional culture). is the object of the psychoanalytic trip. of early childhood with the collective "going back" into the primordial events of an individual return to the "Psychoanalytic technique makes possible myths: Time of the origin. of the same myth (the slightly varied leitmotivs of the adven parallel episodes tures of each of seven brothers). if the new event is similar to ones that have been previously seen. is an individual journey that may involve the a social charter?the rebellion against the imprint given by one's rejection of parents. we have heard the same words before (in the formulaic structure of ritual speech). that all call upon neurophysiology. but tions of d?j? vu (triggered by mechanisms not explain why certain archetypes that are rarely viewed (the grey pony in so many of us. K. names. "No Indian ever hears the Mahabharata Ramanujan we have heard the for the first time." one can relive certain traumatic incidents "going through memory. arouses a series as are. unlike "normal" memory. into the "I am seeing the power ofpersonal this for the manifesta explains. . reinforces the mental rhythms of memory. the repetitions given with. or myths. "It's a The sense of d?j? vu haunts the uncanny osmosis between myth and reality. on the most basic level. Yet."122 This. It will 'recognize' on and 'associate' events never. "in some circumstances a distributed mem ory might be 'confused' in the sense that itwill respond to new events as if they were seen before. as it does by the images for we A. for and culturally and preserved for those lived traditionally those actually lived by the individual doing the remembering. can remember things that have not yet happened. akin to the setting off of a burglar the "I remember" system is activated alarm by an experience first time" that should department. such as Proust's madeleines). in fact. of actual."126 Moreover. and colors. and. first of all. to expose it to the criteria of common sense. The structure of myths have heard the story before (over and over."125 D?j? vu is thus somewhat when a cat steps a wired surface. while other sea) "confuse the distributed memory" far more frequently encountered (a cocker spaniel on a sofa) do not. But a different."123 ends. is what makes the myth real. the associations or as is the contemplation of certain paintings or drawings. in of associations just as precious for the secret history of the soul Jungian about by hearing certain words. properly This be shunted perhaps. "a journey which takes place across different landscapes. archaic model of myth). Both Eliade and Freud seek for the memory in ritual. memory individual journey. by setting up a pattern at variance Repetition but ultimately parallel to (and hence able to replace). who remarks. seen or associated before.

but too. for it tension. in its own way. Though ence. repeated sound stimuli (the rhythmic ringing of a gradually adjust bell. also a quality of the mythic world. for example).128 In myth. and in myth they do. such have not yet occurred for the first time). of the fact that everything But this vision is. regardless of their content. moments in life when are familiar with myths recognize mythic People who and people who have experienced and they encounter them for the first time. the enduring patterns are not merely those that are repeated over and over. disturbed at first by each . so that the pattern of brain waves. Long's definition of myth is illuminating in this regard: Myth in the first place. artful repetition is the lifeblood of art and the security blanket of science. "what in science and fantasy. Children all the time: they experience the theophany that is denied to adults." on a television screen. Myth has always been associated for different reasons at different times: in the ancient with children.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 119 crude repetition is poison to art and superfluous to sci by experience. like bright children who skip first grade and begin in second without missing anything. as is often the case: in real life. children were regarded as the pure medium through which religious ideas of babes"). is Charles H. though we became manifest ("out of the mouths are as the only people still pay lip service to this idea."129 This "illogical but magically compelling repeti it becomes sacred. The child's freshness of vision is a function is new to him.132 the attempt to experience again what we never experienced for the second time?in We have the feeling of doing something life. in their lives are not surprised by the things that happen in understood passion myths. to them. children do not recognize recurrent experiences (since. in our time. mythology The myth would thus seem to be an inversion of reality. Myth as Child'sPlay in myths. 13. People who live lives in contact with that core seem to bypass many of the first times. or trivial. if it is to accept any connection. or as in the Bellman's I tell you three times is true. To experiences have a child see the first time as the second time is a logical paradox. when we meet it for the second time is it sacred.127 In personal fantasy. only tion"130 does not become tedious in myth. like calling World War I by that name in 1918. and myths are the (real) counterpart of the audience of the (mythic) theatre of they as children in myths. the first time. though world. Most people the "shock" aspect of the shock/recognition emphasizes to successive. how can and recognition this pervasive quality of memory we children are explain the equally pervasive presence of children in them?for the ones to whom appear in everything happens for the first time. and the world of children is the gods appear Aristophanes. as statements about the Snark. one sought by the psychoanalytic journey. as in we confront for the first time something that speaks to a special myth?when a substantial part of their core of passion and understanding. retroactively.131 Indeed. button producing talking images the pleasant and the traumatic. children generally regarded foolish enough to believe in fairy tales and superheroes (the last survivals in the Given of atheism). marvelous "A child seems willing even such a marvelous fact as the push of a repeated and part of his world.

in myth or reality. who is truly shocked by the story that has come to be second nature to adult society. of establishing what goes on in the heads of other people. it is quite description us compatible with his analogy between myth and music. myths provide we may understand and a a thereby construct conceptual system through which . Thus. d?j? The child. "speech"). The Translation ofReality intoReality and Myth into Myth We the and say that children cease as soon as understand the learn the language of myth. to the Zen master. gradually stimuli.134 Myth our own myths. that they have not yet learned to boundaries as Not Possible or Not Important or. This double exposure is closely akin to the sensation of vu: the adult recognizes what shocks the child. whom of Chinese boxes: cynical adults tell myths they regard as are about children who experience true myth naively gullible. but it also provides a vocabulary with which to understand of translating reality.120 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY subsides and ignores subsequent stimulus. our own by drawing nature. For. finally. 14. This provides. them back with into that internal the myths pre intersects in passing.133 This is the time frame of the child. on place where a level logic of and this appears to fly in the rather than revealing. but certain Zen masters continue to react to each ringing of the bell with the change in brain wave pattern characteristic of the first stimulus.135 own reality. and these myths are foolishly ignored by the adults in the story. bad translations where supports words our are contention inadequate that experience both myth and takes superfluous. perhaps the final reason for the importance of children as keepers of the mythic vision is our belief that they have not yet ineradicably inked in the in their map of myth and reality. he can only accept it on its own terms. falling in love for the first time. point out portions of experience Not Real. in a complex series to children." this does not rule out the function that we are also tofeel have seen in the myths of the mouth of God: that myths good a way L?vi of expressing with. despite the etymological use to describe it in English and other European languages (from the Greek to survive remark about the ability of myth L?vi-Strauss's mythos. Properly understood. a means of addressing the far more serious problem myths. Myth is says inexpressible paradoxes. to understand they language. But the myths are not composed and transmitted by children. cannot respond to the hierophany with "com mon sense" or with a memory of actual events. by Yet we can best understand reason are misleading face of L?vi-Strauss's translating hub where them our into other myths. and as the double-exposure: second time for himself. they are the work of adults. is a way of expressing Strauss. though he shows that myths are "good to think with. basis of the word we myth is the opposite of language. by culture. In many children starlings. the ineffable. The adult view ic realities that own child a mythic ing the myth of the child (or viewing his experiencing ocean for the first time. or the event?seeing as a child) a kind of experiences hearing the myths that the adult loved temporal he feels the event as the first time for the child. and those of other people. a way of translating served by tradition. Though of myth as an instrument of logic. who frame the child's view with their own. the second time is just like the first time. a "real" the and m Mary Poppins language of sunbeams ways. mythic to speak world.

"136 but we have seen that neither of these propositions existential (mythic) experience and scientific (common sense. We share the structures on this level.139 The have. the manifestation. myth can be an instrument for the translation of reality into real a mirror ity. since there is a vast common ground on which we can meet. but by numerous specific examples in Asceticism and Eroticism in the elsewhere. they can If you read a book that changes your life and you give share your private myth. it If you fall they may hate him. with which the structures are built. begun to make peace between the rational Establishment and the irrational guerrilla enclaves of myth that have so often raided scientific territory. The historians have demonstrated that there is no such thing as an even theoretically and the anthropologists have cyni impartial observer. a roundhouse son's reality to another's. our hopes of getting undermined inside the heads of other cultures. but if they can remember how it felt to be in love. the same growing skepticism that has tend physical ed to disqualify these sciences as arbiters of reality has. not only rationally. but aestheti L?vi-Strauss is "to says that his ambition cally. It all depends on what one is looking for. and on another we share the fragments. The scientist may argue that "existential is essentially understanding while scientific understanding is essentially and eminently share private. in love and introduce the man to your parents. cally or otherwise. Indeed. The myths of the mouth of God provide image of conventional social evaluations of what is real and what is not real. ogy I have published particularly of Siva (New Mythology . a means of flying so low. finally. the my themes. is entirely true. the bare bones of human our last hope for a that can free us experience. The Jungian assumption that "we all have the same kind of dragons in our psyche" leads to the hope that "we can communicate. passing through the myth that expresses them all. They are. emotionally. relativistically linguists and philosophers the character of language as a possible defamed vehicle for hopelessly mutual understanding. to your friends. we may pull back the illusory curtain between them once and for all. So we References 1 in this essay can be supported not only by the few These and other generalizations I examples have mustered from the larger corpus of studies in mythol here. denying not only the claims of society but even those o? soi-disant physical reality as defined by New tonian science. For now that we on inherited to relax our stranglehold have been challenged Enlightenment of reality on this side of the mouth of God. but it might remind them it of the books that changed their lives. nonlanguage from these cognitive snares. intuitively. they may be baffled or bored by it.THE universal BOUNDARY BETWEEN where we MYTH can move AND REALITY from the track of one 121 per reality. that they can scuttle underneath radar of the and social sciences. as we have seen. real) experience have both the same limits and the same ability to transcend limits of communi cation. that alienation isn't the final human condition."137 in which systems of truths become mutually discover the conditions convertible to several different and therefore simultaneously acceptable subjects. perhaps."138 Even without that there is something "in there" (let alone the assumption "out there"). able. but we may move back through We cannot communicate to the archetype. are stripped down to our naked myths. mythic maps that chart a very different kind of enlightenment Better yet. so close to the ground of the devastating the human heart. we may be able to make use of maps on the other side.

pp. Symbols of Initia tion: The Mysteries R. 22. 93-96. ch. 229. for example. 91-93 for Scylla. pp. (London: Weidenfield 1966). 11. 1958. 4 ("Tweedledum dreamed it?"). 8This is the standard operating for the reconstruction of hypothetical procedure proto-Indo European language and culture. Hindu Myths. & Row. pp. 1976). 15For doomed ." Tsu.). A philosopher tells such a story in chapter 24St. 192-3. as well as articles by Jung and Eliade. particu paper by the other participants colleagues. Torchback. 22Mircea Eliade. 2.. "Fabulous Tales in The New Republic). Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (London: 7-9. appears complete pp. Also discussed Women. and discussed gynes. 6See the essay by Leon Cooper as map are alluded to 7Problems that arise from the definition of myth in by Jonathan Z. 1-11). 1973). 7-30 and 41-44). and Religion. Hindu Myths. 35-53. 9For dreams and the theatre. 280-9. and Other Mythi Women. 49-54. These the first briefly.." Woody and Allen. 3Lewis Carroll. section section 11. pp. (Ibid. (Bloomington. like Yashodha. pp. Hindu Myths (Harmondsworth: 1975). for experience. A full translation of this myth in Classical Hindu appears l3Matsya Parana by Mythology Dimmitt and J. O'Flaherty. 1-38 and 1. pp. myth 12A similar episode is described in the Bhagavad Gita (11. 18. Androgynes. and Myths. section section 3. 1978). the passages. 71-72. the second in full. A. "The Equality and Opinions. Androgynes. 1. 77 n. Smith. inMyth: A in Dreams. in O'Flaherty. Andro pp. For saved males. p. see Mircea Eliade. larly William 2Claude L?vi-Strauss. 297. per & Row. and O'Flaherty. when Arjuna sees a within Krishna's mouth fire that swallows them between his up the gods. 13. Kalika Purana females. "Map Is Not Territory. see the of Chicago Press.: Indiana Uni (ed. 12 ("Which 27Carroll. 10See below. Myth Symposium. 23Chuang 18 of The City of God. 264-72.) (New York: versity Press. and The Ori Penguin. Dreams. Through the Looking Glass. Many Press. for art. 205-9. p. K. 289-309. pp. 267-8. in O'Flaherty. Arjuna begs Krishna 167-8. 10. Mahony." Thomas Sebeok Ind. and students. 82-90.122 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY gins York: Oxford University Press. pp." J. Trask (tr. Brill. Myth and Reality (New York: Harper 1963). 8. am indebted to James Redfield 19I for this insight into the Bacchae. Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books. 1958). between dis 1970). for children's books. The text of this translated in O'Flaherty. 193. Augustine appears to a man to him certain Platonic in a dream and expounds the two meet later. pp. B. Joseph Campbell (ed.) (New York: Harper. of California of the per 1976). to be like a father with a son. 21See numerous "The Personal Use of Dorothy Eggan. passages modification of the traditional mythical 25This matter-of-fact beast is aWoody Allen speciality: beast with the head of a lion and the body of a lion. section ana 10. The Raw and the Cooked (New York: Har age Mind 1969). see below. and David Grene. 21-45. Willard 1975). See also the cyclic relationship Dutton. pp. O'Flaherty. Asceticism and Eroticism. by Zimmer texts are translated. in xlPadma Purana 6. jaws. passim. like Arjuna. cal Beasts (Chicago: University 1980). Women. 218-21. Women. though not the "The great roe is a mythological same lion. 1963). 14Though Arjuna forgets the vision of in the world of action. Smith in his volume of essays by the same title (Leiden: E. Androgynes. analysis and Markandeya in Heinrich of this tale of Vishnu Zimmer's Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization 1946). and the tale of Indra and the ants (in which (New York: Pantheon. (Berkeley: University of Evil inHindu Mythology here as my own arose out of tactful but of early drafts of this ceptions reproduced sharp criticisms in this symposium and by friends. the Bhagavad Gita. Beasts" (first published Mythical 26Ibid. Press. pp. 278. Temple (Philadelphia: University 253-6. p. ch. 2. ?6Mahabharata 12. 20See O'Flaherty. of Birth and Rebirth. When tells the man that he (the philosopher) had merely dreamt that he had explained the philosopher to the man. Here and this essay I have summarized rather than llBhagavata Pur throughout in full. 6. For other examples. crushing doomsday to return to his usual form. Without Feathers (New York: Warner Books. this is the whole for he must go on being involved being swallowed. 2. is male. 5See below. and Tweedledee") and ch. of Things ch. 4See below. personal fantasy and collective myth cussed by Meredith Skura in this volume. pp. he ends up outside Krishna and. 340-1. in abject terror. The Sav and Nicolson. Rites and l8Odyssey 12. p. 61-IS. section in this volume. sections 14. Brian K. van Buitenen Cornelia 1978). point of translated in and discussed see. 35-36 and 51-52. at the end). 1872). also told backslides Indra. 14.

. p. For the Japanese Press. 480'Flaherty. and cf." in The Language of the 1908). O'Flaherty. pp. 111 b-d. 43Bronislaw Malinowski. Messenger Lectures." published 1954). 35-53. 474) (K. 44I am indebted 45See H. to Judith Shklar for this realization. "Archaischer Neue Gedichte: Anderer Teil (Leipzig: Insel 54Rainer Maria Rilke. see Richard M. Le Guin also applies this line to the function of myth Verlag. 378 a. and for an comparison see Paul Ricoeur. in Parabola in Science and Archetype Fiction" first appeared 55Eliade. 49See below. 560-5. Shakespeare: Theatre and theWorld of Politics. Republic. of Greek Mythology in the Gita epiphany. 60Cf. I am indebted for this Bhaktirasamritasindhu Haberman 35Rupagosvamin's source. Narayana my Hindu Myths me to task thus: "The title is offensive. p. To the Hindu. Torso Apollos. analysis of the Greek use of the word 58Eliade. Tuttle 1961 and 1962). 981-3. for the fact that she happened a contrast between the story of Stheneboia. and Edmund (ed. "Myth in Primitive Psychology. . (where "The Last Visible Dog" on it is used as a symbol for as a yantra to meditate nothing and infinity). So. p. Shakespeare: Theatre and theWorld of Politics. 77-78. Androgynes. p. For a approach problem with the Indian view. 271-2. 38Plato. 108. Morris Carstairs. pp. Folk Legends of University Vt. to David 2." The Mouse and His Child (London: Faber and Faber. Leach. (Boston: Beacon Press. 29-30. (New York: Viking 1970). Co. 1969). 56Xenophanes to the 57This is the tip of the iceberg of the Greek of evil or theodicy. 148. Myth and Reality. (New York: Doubleday. in The Structural Study ofMyth and Totemism. Smith discusses in "Map Is Not Territory. pp." of Christ or of Adam and Eve and Noah 59Eliade. 1976. Androgynes. 27. J. 31 12. section See below. The Origins of Evil inHindu Mythology. Leach. I was caught up in this degraded "myth" a Hindu when Rao) reviewing (in Books Abroad. Science." Cooked (p. The Symbolism of Evil (Boston: Beacon Press. previous O'Flaherty. As L?vi-Strauss remarks in The Raw and the 33See the discussion by Judith Shklar in this volume. 34-35. 3. Myths and Symbols. also Plato. 149. 141. 42Aristophanes. 1979). too. Androgynes. 1958). E. 67-80 child uses the 120-6 (where the mouse is a play that satirizes Becket). Ind. Aeschylus pity Oedipus taking to be his mother. 25. 1979. Press. see O'Flaherty. which and therefore drove women was true and therefore either did not lead to such an act or would 571 d.: Indiana University 50G. (Bloomington. to function 108. after being "swallowed" Arjuna by Krishna hero par excellence. L?vi-Strauss Edmund R. Rose. which was not true 37Euripides may be implying to commit a real act of self-destruction. The Twice-Born Press. 274. The Glory ofHera The Frogs. Myth and Reality. p. 229. 57. pp. 8. Zimmer. The Savage Mind. as the Hindu of this function of history by Judith Shklar in this volume. also Bhagavata Purana 34. B 11-12. section 10.. section 4. to Professor Grene to see and for permission 32David Grene.) (London: Tavistock. Japan (Tokyo and Rutland. reality and they to the Christians. Dorson. . The Republic. R. Also. can never divest itself of myth. "The Story of Asdiwal". I am grateful now in press under the title of his expanded Messenger cite the manuscript Lectures. story. . p. 4. 114-5. . Women. (Berkeley: of California 1980). the stories of his sacred began by taking are as sacred as are the stories of the miracles are as much a literature are not myths. 87-88. Jaeger translation. view. returns. pp. 51 Skura in this volume. 156-67. 1194. 47Claude L?vi-Strauss. that Greek mothers and sons did in fact wrestle with 41For evidence 1968). pp. August personal Structural Anthropology. 13) "History completely 34Grene. 39Sophocles. as much for seems to as to bed an old woman 36The Frogs. have been justified even if it did. 1967). see Philip in 1926 and reprinted in 1959). pp. 30See below. Oedipus Rex. and 190-200 (where image the final resting place). 53L?vi-Strauss. Ursula K. on Fantasy and Science Fiction (New York: Putnam. Women.. For examples of attempted proofs of the reality of see Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions incarnations.: C. p. 400dyssey 15. 22. The chapter "Myth Night: Essays I (1976): 4. Slater. p. A Handbook (New York: Dutton. and the story of Phaedra.THE BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 123 myth as a function of the in a territories this "incongruity" intersecting 28Jonathan Z. p. See also my discussion of it inWomen. pp. See the article by Meredith 52David Grene. and Religion Magic. 29Russell Hoban. communication. 573 b. 1969). Myth and Reality. 149. S. 46See the discussion this problem. Cf.

/ Oh! Let us never. 1936. in the Chester collection (revised and edited by J. 85See the essay by Leon Cooper of Chicago The Structure of Scientific Revolutions 86Thomas Kuhn. 62L?vi-Strauss. 69Mahabharata 70Cf. 323. 9-16. 19. that people hang on to myths physical 22. 342-4. Mary Poppins Comes Back (New York: Harcourt. G. and Leon Cooper 63See the essays by Karl Pribram 2. Brace and Co. and Winston. Artola. King Lear. 438. 653-6. 24-27. Through the Looking Glass. Wilkinson. Women. analogy in the face of the lack of supporting evidence. Har monds worth: Puffin Books. 135. 11.124 WENDY DONIGER O'FLAHERTY gara Press. pp. in which refers to her "fantasy of the Zipless Fuck. 18-20. cf. 1945). 126. pp. pp. pp. 1975). Bombay: Nirnaya W. see of male pregnancies. F. Myth and Reality. 264-73. 14 of Leon Cooper's essay in this volume. Sa (2 volumes. 10. The Trickster. 81 of the Mythopoeic 64 Alan Dundes. section 87See below. Hull Answer Jung. compiled 1975). 205-38. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1954). 267. Shakespeare. 1964. 108 9./ Assure is nobody ought sure about!" (Hilaire Belloc. pp. 82?'Flaherty. That of the article by Leon Cooper 88From an earlier version in things that are not "necessary" is brilliantly in Hilaire mocked scientists do. 76Mahabharata 3. 10-11 and 341. pp." London: 1898. p. 22-23. 371-464. Rinehart 1973). Origins of Evil. C. 113-4 of the same issue. essay by Stanley Cavell 72Don Marquis. 95Eliade.. 5 ("Wool and Water"). in this volume. in this volume. pp. Dorje Ling. people continue University a close to the way even when these are flatly contradicted by the failure of their predictions. 1934). 71See the in this volume. "The Microbe. pp. T. Brace and Co. More Beasts for Worse Children. House. 1930). Asceticism and Eroticism. 1032-1105. 1-4. L. Arnold's from Sir Thomas of the Indian 1918). 100Erica Jong." p. Uncle Tompa. Beatty has an illustrated manuscript of this text. "Earth Diver: Creation Male. p. believe said to have seven tufted tails and other detailed Belloc's characteristics./ All these have never yet been seen?/ including "eyebrows us that they must be so. p. 223. were taken over and modified Carroll. 1965). 92See the essay by Stephen Jay Gould 93Lewis 94C. toJob R. 96). (tr. 54. 73P. "Odyssey in A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance 65The term was coined by Leon Festinger (Palo Alto: Stanford to maintain in which essential beliefs 1957) to refer to the way Press. the Tamil (Madras: pp." American Anthropologist. 830'Flaherty. and cf. 1-26. Text and translation 29 by George Adyar Library Bulletin 75Tantropakhyana version. ghosts. Quotation catalogue 3 volumes. But Scientists. p. (London: Wildwood in this volume. 90See ret. Riders to the Sea (New York: Random House. Fear of Flying she (New York: Holt. who of a tender green. 299-326. also Fritjof 91See the essay by Karl Pribram 1975). in fact. The zipless fuck was more than a fuck. Androgynes. II.. 77For these and other unchallenged myths O'Flaherty. p. that appears in this volume. 97Grene. pp. 67Odyssey 1. 3. pp. The Tao of Physics by Jung. ^Odyssey 3. Mary Poppins (New York: Harcourt. never doubt/ What to know. Routledge and Kegan Paul. Cf. Women. 96John M. poem about the microbe. miniatures to Valmiki attributed 61The Yoga-Vasistha-Maha-Ramayana. 1972). 330-70. in this volume. 24. (1962). "xxxiii. Androgynes. Synge. V. 11. and Women. 4. ^Odyssey 3. Press. 104-22. "Radin. in Alan Dundes. pp. 20-24. 75. Reprinted Analytical Essays in Folklore (The Hague: Mouton. which The Raw and the Cooked. O'Flaherty. Travers. Travers. Androgynes. 1%SauraPurana 62. p. 89Shakespears.) (London: Capra. 80Paul Radin. The Trickster (New York: Schocken Books. 139-42. See Tales a rich man's and translated by Rinjing Dorje (San Rafael: of Uncle Tompa. archy and mehitabel (New York: Doubleday. 130-45. pp. pp. iv. 24). 84See Reference 12. terms {Elementargedanken and 98Adolphe Bastion's Volkergedanken) 1935)." . S. 5-12. tale in which is very similar to a Tibetan the Trickster 79The story up to this point figure to have sexual intercourse with a out of the lung of a sheep and uses it successfully constructs vagina son. It was a platonic ideal. ch. above. (Chicago: University 1970). 74P. 95-96. L.

in this volume. 125See the essay by Leon Cooper 120Personal 121Le Guin. History. 108See the essay by Stephen Jay Gould in this volume. p. 116L?vi-Strauss. Myth and Reality. p. 134L?vi-Strauss. 124Lewis Carroll. 13 27 (10) (April 1966): 38. Myths and Symbols. 1957-1969. vol. The Language of theNight. Shakespeare. machine. 107-12. Long. G. Gardner points out that Norbert Wiener Penguin. 128See the essay by Meredith 129Lewis Carroll. l23Mircea Eliade. The Unwritten Philosophy and Other Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University 1950). The Raw and the Cooked. with L?vi-Strauss. (tr. Press. No Souvenirs: Journal. p. 341 110L?vi-Strauss. M. 133Charles T. Lewis. K. Altered States of Consciousness (New York: Wiley & Sons. ch. 118C. In The Annotated Snark.' Skura in this volume. from A. 153-5. communication The Language 126Personal Johnson. 109See the essay by Leonard Meyer The Raw and the Cooked. 219-21. p. The by Edmund Wilson sity Press. 102Herodotus is his own. The Raw and the Cooked. 130See the essay by Meredith 131See the discussion of repetition and the sacred in S. 115See the essay by Meredith Structural Anthropology. by Meredith in this volume. Saint Joan (Baltimore: Penguin. Myth and Reality. communication in this volume. Ramanujan.) (New York: Harper and Water"). 113See the essay by Leonard Meyer in Collected Poems and his Mosses. of theNight.. 104L?vi-Strauss.. Structural Anthropology. pp. 78. 210. Cornford. p. 27. Martin Gardner in (ed. p. 327. 141. memory Cybernetics discusses "Like the computing section the brain probably works on a variant of 12]) and remarks. Time.THE 101Grene. pp. pp. from Stephen Jay Gould. p. his book on American Skura in this volume. 46. "Hawthorne (Chicago: Chicago Univer was used term "the shock of recognition" for the title of 1947). Shaw. and Deity 1965). 79. pp. which BOUNDARY BETWEEN MYTH AND REALITY 125 I am indebted to David Grene for this text and for the translation. of neuronal mechanisms the duplication (as in distributive [see below. The Hunting of the Snark. see the essay Skura in this volume. (Manchester: Manchester University 132Personal communication from Charles H.) (Harmondsworth: 1962). literature. 111. F. Press. 127See the essay by Leon Cooper Skura in this volume. 1. 2. The Last Battle (Harmondsworth: 1964)." ^'Conversations Steiner. in this volume. Penguin. 1969). 139See the essay by James Boon . 119Ibid. 1UF. Encounter by George in this volume. 136See the essay by Karl Pribram 137Le Guin. 11. 105See the essays by Judith Shklar and Leonard Meyer 1966). p. 18. Tart. S. p. p. The Raw and the Cooked. 229. 122Eliade. Fred H. 79. 79. p. in The Hunting the famous principle expounded by Lewis Carroll of the Snark: 'What I tell you three " times is true. 117Le Guin. Through the Looking Glass. 18. 5 ("Wool in this volume." 114Herman Melville. p. The Language of theNight. p. 1977). 154. Jr. 154. 106George Bernard 107Zimmer. Brandon. Fit the First. in this volume. 112On this point and also Kekul?'s discovery. 138L?vi-Strauss. 103Eliade. & Row.

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