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Living Myth

Mosaic presents Living Myth, a podcast with Michael Meade, renowned mythologist and storyteller. Meade presents mythic stories that offer uniquely insightful and wise ways of understanding the current dilemmas of the world we live in. Living Myth proposes that genuine solutions to the complex and intractable problems of our world require both transcendent imagination and cohering, transformative narratives.
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Mar 23, 2022

On this episode of Living Myth, Michael Meade addresses the question of how can we hold things together when the world around us is falling apart. He finds surprising insights and compelling answers in the ancient tales of the recreation of the world known as Earth Diver myths.

We live in a world that is falling apart; climate crisis says that, the brutal war in the Ukraine says that, and the fact that almost anything can divide people says that in a painful way every day. It makes sense that it can be hard for any of us to “get it together” during these turbulent times. So, what does it mean to get it together when everything around us is falling apart?
 
One answer comes from the tradition of alchemy where Coagulatio refers to the element of earth and the process for bringing things together through creative practice. It makes sense to look to things that are stable, like the solid earth beneath our feet. Yet, part of what unsettles us now is that the Earth itself is in danger. How do we, as frail beings in this upside down world, get it together when it is not even clear that the earth itself can hold together?
 
Surprisingly, coagulatio describes how the creative process begins with facing the chaos and consciously descending into darkness to find the source of renewal. In mythology, the process of conscious descent into darkness appears in the themes of the Earth Diver stories found in traditions from ancient India to Native North America.
 
Some versions of the Earth Diver myths appear as tales of a second creation or a re-creation that occurs when the created world has become worn and corrupted. Amongst the first peoples of North America, some variants tell of a time when a rend or tear in the world caused a young woman named Earth to fall from the heavens. As she fell there was nothing below except the dark primeval waters; but the birds and animals arranged for her to land on the back of a turtle. Then, the woman who fell from the sky instructed the animals to dive down into the dark waters and find some mud that could be used to continue creation.
 
Many animals descended to find the mud of creation, but all failed until a muskrat managed to bring a little ball of mud from the darkness below. Then, the woman who fell from the sky took the mud and spread it out in all directions until it became the earth. After that she directed the process through which the earth was seeded with trees, grains and vegetables and other plants.
 
It is significant that Mother Earth comes from the heavens above, but also generates the creative energy that arises from the darkest, deepest place. When seen as a collective dream of humanity, Earth Diver myths depict the emergence of creative energy and greater consciousness that comes from below. The earth itself, as the source of life ongoing, shows us how to serve creation and preserve life by descending into the unknown or unconscious depths in search of more bits of “prima materia.”
 
In alchemy, prima materia signifies the primal materials and core energies from which life on earth is formed. Prima materia was also the name of that bit of hidden matter in the psyche of each person which, if brought into conscious awareness, turns out to be what truly matters when the world turns dark. In the other words, something meaningful is trying to emerge from the very confusions and conflicts inside each person’s psyche or soul.
 
The emergence metaphor continues when the mud of creation is handled by someone at the surface; it becomes activated and begins to grow and spread. In these troubled times, when darkness has fallen over the earth, each of us are potential earth divers. If we would descend into our own psyches, we would find something to bring from unconsciousness into conscious awareness. In that sense, we each have something to offer that can spread in its own way and contribute to bringing things back together again.
 
Another important aspect of Earth Diver stories occurs where the animals who take on the mission of diving into darkness are not themselves heroic. They possess no supernatural powers and even those who succeed only manage to bring up a bit of the mud of creation. In other words, helping creation to continue on earth is not a matter of willful heroics. In this time of upheaval and collapse, no one is required to save the world. Yet, we each are implicated in the process of diving down and bringing back our bit of the mud of creation, our contribution to ongoing creation on earth.
 
In some versions of the myth, the woman who fell from the sky was pregnant with twins intended to assist in the continuing process of creation on Earth. Yet, it turns out that the twins are opposites, sometimes described as “good mind’ and “bad mind.” Whatever the good twin does to enhance life, the bad twin does the exact opposite; so that life on earth involves conflicting energies that can become intensified.
 
Eventually, the twins must face off against each other. At the point of almost losing, the good twin is encouraged by the voice of Mother Earth speaking directly to him, encouraging and reminding him of the importance of continuing creation. Inspired and strengthened by the energy coming to him from below, the good twin wins the battle. Thus, creation can continue; but not even the best intentions or good deeds can cancel the opposing energies and darker thoughts of his twin from being part of the world.
 
At times on earth, the dynamic balance between light and dark falters. The darkness in the world grows and begins to shift things back towards the primal chaos at the beginning. During such a shift, the earth becomes plagued with an overshadowing of the light as the forces of arrogance and ignorance expand. There comes to be a darkening of the way that blocks the living path, a faltering of the dream of life ever trying to be born in the depths of each human soul.
 
In one sense, Earth Diver myths serve as warning tales about the dangers that can upset the entire world. On another level, they offer ways of understanding times like these when the troubles have already become so great as to be worldwide, and so deep as to be existential. On yet another level, Earth Diver stories become teaching tales intended to awaken, to inspire and to embolden each human soul.
 
Diving down to make conscious our deepest inner gifts shows how we must surrender to a path or a project that requires all our goodness and positive energies, while also bringing to light all the negatives and oppositions within us. In order to be fully alive, we must bring up our best and worst selves, as being tossed back and forth by extreme changes and conflicting issues serves to awaken the sleeping potentials in each person's life.
 
In that sense, we either add to the growing darkness in the world or else become agents of creation and help bring back to consciousness the essential life forces and the healing energies that have become lost. In that kind of consciousness making process, we rejoin creation. We learn again how to serve the Earth, which is secretly trying to inspire and embolden us to become part of a radical transformation in which the earth revives and the world renews itself again.

 

Thank you for listening to and supporting Living Myth. You can hear Michael Meade live by joining his upcoming free online event “Coping in a World Gone Wrong” on Thursday, April 7.

 

Register and learn more at mosaicvoices.org/events. 

 

You can further support this podcast by becoming a member of Living Myth Premium. Members receive bonus episodes each month, access to the full archives of over 400 episodes and a  30% discount on all events, courses and book and audio titles. Learn more and join this community of listeners at patreon.com/livingmyth.

 

As always, we appreciate you leaving a review on wherever you listen to this podcast and sharing it with your friends. On behalf of Michael Meade and the whole Mosaic staff, we wish you well during this challenging and uncertain times and thank you for your support of our work.

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