Whole Lotta Rosie

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Ritual or ceremony is a form of cultural expression occurring the world over, across millennia, perhaps since the Aurignacian period (43,000-26,000 BP)[1] when, arguably, our mythologically astute “second mind” had attained the ability to communicate, in lasting images, our sense the Mystery of life and death.

Aurignacian culture, tool-making industry and artistic tradition of Upper Paleolithic Europe that followed the Mousterian industry, was contemporary with the Perigordian, and was succeeded by the Solutrean. The Aurignacian culture was marked by a great diversification and specialization of tools, including the invention of the burin, or engraving tool, that made much of the art possible.[2]

We’ll address the misuse of the term “art” in this context later, perhaps I’ll devote a post to it. Meanwhile, archaeologists and cultural and philosophical anthropologists, just to name a handful of academic disciplines, will argue the details of what is generally, at this point in the historical discussion, considered to be our “modern human” origin within Africa and our subsequent migration, our roundabout diffusion, likely branching out simultaneously, into the rest of the livable planet, plate tectonics, land bridges, climate change and ice age transmigration across the rising seas included. Exactly when and where and how it all came to pass that primitive or animal or pre-self-aware mind developed or evolved, for better or worse, into second mind is a fascinating, multifarious study on its own but here I’m concerned with the perpetuation of vital ritual and affecting mythological imagery, with the expression of fully functional, living myth versus the later developments of doctrine, dogma, creed or otherwise rote, petrified administrative religion.

Surrendering to the Divinity. Or divinity. Invoking the goddess. Or Goddess. Evocation of the divine or Divine. Participation in the myth and mythology. Cherishing the Mystery. Participation in ceremony and ritual. Identification with imagery. The dynamics of symbolism, of effective and affecting metaphor. Myth is metaphor, by the way, an idea I maintain throughout the DOP. Moreover, the identity is a unidirectional one, a unidirectional congruence as I call it, expressed thus:

  • Myth => Metaphor

That is to say, myth is always a metaphor but all metaphors are not necessarily myth. Krishna, The Buddha and Christ, for example, are all myths (not falsehoods or embellishments but rather to be understood as true fiction in the Romanticism sense) and therefore metaphors (symbols) of embodied Divinity. Alternatively, when we say “she runs like a deer” which is a metaphorical image, an identity, a combining of two otherwise disparate things or ideas into an unforeseen third thing – the image of a woman and a deer combined into something different and intentionally more evocative than either – we are not necessarily referencing a myth. Unless the image of the woman-deer is fleshed-out, as it were, into a fully functional mythology possessing the four essential components of (1) awe, (2) cosmology, (3) sociology and (4) pedagogical psychology.

What of the images, then, displayed at the beginning of this post? The first is that of the famous Venus of Willendorf, a Aurignacian figurine, abstract of course, found at Willendorf, Austria, originally colored with red ochre, 30,000–25,000 BCE currently in the Natural History Museum, Vienna. The second is a stage prop used by the famous Australian rock band AC/DC, appearing notably as part of their 2009 concert at River Plate stadium in Argentina.

Recall Campbell’s idea of the “affecting image.” The female form rendered – amplified – to outrageous, even comical affecting and mythologically effectual extremes. Breasts. Buttocks. Belly. Prominent genitalia. Woman as symbol, celebrated. The image of the goddess essentially unchanged across 30,000 years. Also present, mythology being keen to symbolize the play of opposites, after all,is the devil: Hell and the otherwise dark yet equally vital satanic energy of the shadow – that part of all of us that we most often tend to suppress but that thrives within us all regardless and, when we’re presented with a proper or “safe” context, can be expressed for what it is; namely, the male yang to the female yin, our own dual nature that reflects and expresses the duality nature of the cosmos. “In Taoist metaphysics,” according to wikipedia.org, “distinctions between good and bad, along with other dichotomous moral judgments, are perceptual, not real; so, the duality of yin and yang is an indivisible whole.” In terms of psychological well-being, it can be argued, we must find a way to express our duality, our dark and light, male and female aspects. Short, that is to say, of appropriating the freedoms of others and otherwise functioning as a tyrant. You must find a way, suggests Campbell in Pathways to Bliss, to express your shadow so as to right-size it. I’m paraphrasing but the essence of psychological well-being, hence mythological well-being, culturally and personally, is to express one’s negative energy – because as energy it has value – in a positive manner; you must learn to find a way to do that or suffer.

Oh, no, you may say (perhaps like an academic), the context of the imagery is different – the Venus is a prehistoric ritual object and the other a rock show prop; one possesses serious spiritual implications and the other, well, it’s just for fun, it’s only rock ‘n roll (as another very famous band sang), it’s just entertainment. Hence, we can never really know for certain, let alone be confident enough to declare a theory that associates the rituals, if they really did exist, of the Aurignaican and the 21st century. Um, watch one of the AC/DC videos, again if you’ve already seen it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMvE0yFnR0I

Mere entertainment? And a sexist exploitation of women, at that? I would argue that we’re witnessing, and the AC/DC audience experienced, full-on, fully immersed ecstasy, release and spiritual fulfillment. Call it possession. Devil horns, Rosie riding the locomotive – all the sexual innuendo that is so much visceral, primal fun – note that there are perhaps as many women in the audience, heterosexual, homosexual and, who knows? – third or fourth gender folks, too. But it’s hardly all about sex. Sex is energy, sex is key to the mythology, yes. But sex isn’t the whole story, it can’t be, otherwise the audience would not respond like they do, becoming unhinged, as a group, at the unforeseen third thing that happens when the image and music are churned into a rollicking, unforeseen third thing – a direct experience of metaphor. It happens. This is ritual.

And to be sure, there is narrative here and fully functional mythology: there is a sense of awe, of cosmology, sociology and pedagogical/supportive psychology. It helps to examine the entire event, from the ticket buying, the promotion that took place, the arrival of the day of the show, the gathering audience and their own pre-show rituals, the variously modest and extreme devotion demonstrated by the fans – from donning plastic devil horns to tee shirts (and their removal), to acquiring tattoos to instigating mosh pits and the ignition of flares! – it’s possible to imagine ancient Egypt and the arrival in the streets of the mighty Pharaoh and his (or her) entourage: I used to assume that any such regal display was merely demonstrative; some dull, stately procession akin to the old Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, say, which possessed its own modest magic, but now I tend towards the idea that people – the beleaguered, workaday populace – must have gone likewise out of their heads (this phrase is apt), both consuming and creating the energy of the event, of the ritual, of the participation in the myth, being carried away into a realm of powerful evocation and invocation of the Other.

What about the idea of worship? The audience members at River Plate may be more or less possessed, frenzied at times, but they are not worshipping the band members. They aren’t that silly or adolescent or, well, stupid. Rather, they are worshipping, if anything, themselves and their place – their little transitory moment in time and place. The four otherwise pedestrian looking, late-middle aged musicians on stage are merely the triggers, their music the context. Merely? The video has 105,000,000 views and counting, incredible.

The nature of a mythological trigger is another grand topic. May I suggest here that in terms of the goddess and attendant male energy, there are many examples of mythological precedent, my favorite being Kali, the Hindu goddess, who bestows birth and death at once. She is horrible and beautiful, astride her consort Shiva, himself prone, in trance, present and yet not present, observing yet not observing, sexually vital (the erection symbolized by the cobra) while physically inert. The two are one. Kali symbolizes time and Shiva, eternity (timelessness). Within Time Crime I leave it to Mr. Z. and Professor Wilhelm to elaborate upon the following remarkable image which I did not pursue obtaining rights to republish (gaining rights to images was not in my budget):

Kali by the famous Indian painter Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906)

Kali astride Shiva. Rosie astride the locomotive. But the Venus of Willendorf – where is the yang to her yin? Perhaps a complimentary figure existed, perhaps not. Perhaps she functions as a cosmic whole? Perhaps other figurines from the Aurignacian help elaborate the point – are these objects perhaps inclusive of both the female and male principles?

Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Aurignacian Culture…” britannica.com, retrieved 6.26.2020

The indie scholar can enjoy pursuing the intuitive connections.

Meanwhile, there must be humor present. Humor, after all, as Campbell himself implies, is present within any fully functional mythology, personal or cultural. Why? How? I can only point to the fact of it – the humor present in all classical, fully functional myths. Pick one. It’s there. It has to be. People are funny. And people respond passionately to humor. Sex, for example, if nothing if not funny.

Humor is vital, hence it adds vitality, necessary mythological authenticity, juju, jazziness, juice and compelling zeal to the narrative. Otherwise, the story eventually falls flat, loses its luster and, in the end, its power. The power of myth. And if only Joe Campbell could have witnessed the modern ritual that is the AC/DC concert at River Plate in 2009. He of course had attended a rock concert in nineteen eighties, when members of the Grateful Dead approached him and invited him to a show. Campbell, in the biography by the Larsens, dutifully impressed with the cultural significance, the mythological vitality, suggested something to the effect that there were more people at a Grateful Dead show than may have made up the population of entire ancient city. River Plate stadium holds 70,000. And of course there have been rock shows with even larger audiences, in excess of 100,00 at some outdoor venues. Usually in South America, as it happens.

And what of cultural eccentricities, cultural iterations of mythic themes? What is it about South American rock concert audiences, for example? At this stage in the history and mythology of rock music, of rock shows, of rock, let’s call it, there is something about the collective energy, perhaps the collective unconscious of South American culture, combined of course with the technical and logistical practicalities of touring bands that perhaps limit exposure and utilize large venues, that particularly responds, in visceral, cathartic, expressive, essentially classically primitive (without intending to use the word in pejoratively) terms, to the music and imagery. 105M hits? Just watching the audience at River Plate is in many ways as thrilling as watching the band – this speaks to the inviting (or off-putting) power of ritual – they are energy expressed.

Why? Ritual. What is it? Often enough, depending upon the context, it involves – seeks – Dionysian, unhinged abandon. Participants seek to be brought into and carried out of themselves at the same time, which may be described as the condition of spiritual ecstasy, of mystical transcendence. It is participation in and identification with the myth. It is an living, breathing experience of metaphor. Things change but this essential quality of human nature, of personal and cultural veritelos apparently does not. Ritual spans the ages. The technology of ritual changes but our need, our demand for it does not.

[1] BP indicates “Before Present,” namely, before January 1, 1950, a date referencing, somewhat arbitrarily, the decade of origin of radiocarbon dating. An otherwise temporally fuzzy archaeological term that seeks to sidestep the politically unsavory B.C. and A.D. monikers which these days bear too much cultural bias.

[2] Encyclopӕdia Britannica, “Aurignacian Culture: Prehistoric Technology and Art,” britannica.com, retrieved 6.26.2020.