Thursday, December 4, 2008

Alternative Mythologies

Myths are "lies breathed through silver", thought C. S. Lewis - though Tolkien sharply contradicted him, holding that myths, insofar as they are tales of the literary craft, are not untruths, but works of sub-creation, made by man's imagination expressed in words in imitation of the Divine Mind's act of creation through the Word; and moreover, J. R. R. argued, the finest myth of all, because the true myth, is that of Christ: Whose tale is not merely the greatest eucatastrophe of all, having the archetypal "happy ending" of a fairytale, but a tale, so much more than an imagined myth no matter how wondrous, that is at once an account of the real world and a revelation of the deeper truth and surpassing wonder of reality previously hidden from all ages.

Unfortunately, modern man is unable to accept a true myth, or for that matter a Realsymbol as the Germans say, something that is both symbolic and also real - such as the Blessed Eucharist, symbolic of food, signifying its use as spiritual nourishment, and yet profoundly and verily the Real Presence of Christ as our truest meat and drink.  No, for worldlings a myth may be charming, readable and interesting, as the Greek and Roman, Norse and other classical myths are, but by no means true, an account of things as they are.  For something to be a myht is for it to lack veracity.  Similarly,the term "legend" - from legenda, "things to be read" - is debased to mean a false and fabulous tale.

Now, those who are not believers generally find the Christian myth not only untrue, but unreadable and uninteresting - those who like the classical myths don't so much enjoy the Bible or the lives of the saints, though I hope I'm wrong in making this generalization!  It remains the case, however, that even among those claiming to be Catholic or otherwise Christian by reason of a barely-remembered baptism, the majority live as practical atheists and agnostics, and display the most woeful ignorance of their religion's spiritual, æsthetic and narrative world (honorable exceptions excepted).  A priest of my acquaintance met some young British tourists in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, at the very site of Christ's Tomb, who were clearly unaware of even the idea of His Resurrection - they politely asked if His Body were indeed buried there, and reacted with shock at meeting a madman when he told them, "No, He is risen."

Thus it is that Adventide in the busy world outside of church is marked - before it even begins - with a cacophony of Christmas carols and hymns, to the extent that one is sick of them before Christmas arrives; but the hymns are supplemented and in popular iconography overshadowed by the endless cloying variations on Santa Claus, not to mention his wretched elves, labouring under inhumane conditions like unto a Stalinist gulag one imagines, at some vulgar toy factory on our melting northern icecap.  Thank you, Coca-Cola, for the advertising blitz that turned a half-correct recognition of St Nicholas, bishop of Myra and according to legend giver of gifts, into the rotund, heartily happy and totally this-worldly figure we all know so well, whether we wish to or not.  Even the older Father Christmas at least featured the name of Christ's Mass; but the burgeoning myth of Santa and his little helpers (don't forget the ballad of Rudolph!), complete with B-grade movies and animatronic representations in store windows, seems to push Christ in the crib into the background.  Why oh why do we in Australia even spray windows with artificial snow?

"'Tis the season to spend money, fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la... rack up credit, empty wallets, fa-la-la, fa-la-la, la-la-la!"  It is of course a loving and generous thing to give gifts that we may succour others and cheer their hearts, especially in memory of the great Gift that God gave us at Christmas: but divorced from this motive for shopping, Advent becomes the season of materialist indulgence, of shop-till-you-drop madness, of worry over needless and wasteful expenditure, leading to a horrid reckoning come January.  How many frazzled mothers are unnaturally dominated by selfish spoilt brats, demanding some useless toy of transient fame?  And how many adults succumb to shameful pleasures when the notorious office Christmas parties get out of hand?  All alike, deceiving and deceived, while the Voice of Truth eternal cries unheard.

Then, once Christmas arrives, instantly, all the "Chrissie-dec's" come down, and Boxing Day marks the post-Christmas sales, so as to clear shelf space for the monstrous Easter eggs, impossibly laid by a wholly mythical anthropomorphic bunny rabbit, like some cuddly Egyptian god, whose antics and sugary, fatty chocolate droppings shall beguile us and distract us from Lent all the way through until Pascha.  (And don't forget to stuff yourself on hot cross buns like a good consumer throughout those coming Forty Days...)  No more Octave, no more Epiphany, just as Advent has been so overdosed with good cheer and changed from a sober preparation for Christmas into a prolonged meditation upon its excesses, that we are relieved to end the "festive season" early.

I would wish that legendary Japanese department store be imitated, which in its attempt to get right a depiction of two mythologies, both misunderstood, put in its window Santa Claus crucified.


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