Below is a catalog of academic papers with brief excerpts. All were written during the course of Pacifica Graduate Institute’s Mythological Studies PhD program. The name of the professor for whom I wrote the papers is listed as well.
God as Being
God Complex, Professor Patrick Mahaffey, PhD
It is important to make distinctions between the concepts of “God,” “gods,” and “other” esoteric, occult, and generally nonmaterial realities. Our current society is, like me, materialistic-by-default, and therefore nonphysical realms do not exist until proven—or experienced—otherwise. This leads to a massive oversimplification in the collective unconscious with regard to these various terms.
The Lord, Sin, and Free Will
Christian Traditions, Professor Elizabeth Terzian, PhD
Modern Western Christian groups appear to share a single mission: to gain new members. Their message usually appears something like this: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? Billboards, bumper stickers, church marquis and radio talk show hosts repeat this message so frequently that it has become a ubiquitous part of the American social fabric. When one examines the New Testament, however, certain passages seem to indicate that not everyone has the freedom to choose. Rather, the Lord works in ways that simply don’t fall into human logical systems, and as such, he specifically excludes some people from his chosen flock, and actively causes some to sin.
Ma’at: Polytheistic Intelligence
Egyptian Mythology, Professor Edmund S. Meltzer, PhD
In the book The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses, David Miller–with contributions by Henry Corbin and James Hillman–explores the implications of polytheistic reemergence in the context of a largely monotheistic modern society. The form of polytheism referenced most frequently is that of the ancient Greek deities, while the form of monotheism discussed is largely Judeo-Christian. Drawing from another polytheistic society, that of the ancient Egyptians, this paper will suggest that ma’at is a principle that gives coherence to the sometimes awkward attempts to hold the “many” and the “one” at the same time.
Dante: Vision in Paradise, Deconstruction in Purgatory
Dante’s Commedia, Professor Dennis Patrick Slattery, PhD
As Dante the pilgrim traverses Hell, Purgatory, and finally, Paradise, he undergoes radical transformations. He pulls his will together, burns through what modern readers might call his “karma,” and his understanding of love undergoes a revolution. However, all that transforms within him pivots on this faculty: vision. This is not only vision in the sense of eyesight, but rather, a modality of knowing that is at least as vast as the creation through which Dante travels. The faculty of vision, however, is only possible in the wake of what might be called “deconstruction”: the undoing of the “sinful” aspects of his character, such that he becomes more transparent to the light of Heaven.
Job as a Revolutionary
Hebrew and Jewish Mythology, Professor Christine Downing, PhD
Great curiosity descends as I read the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible. Many questions are raised in my mind, but perhaps foremost are these: what evolutionary function does this story serve, and what does it communicate about the author? The story reveals the underlying assumption that bad things should not happen to good people. It forces individuals to question this belief, and to question the very nature of morality, of right and wrong.
Nothingness in Sufism
Islamic Traditions, Professor Zaman Stanizai, PhD
According to Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh, the previous master of the Nimatullahi Sufi Order, the goal of Sufism is nothingness (Nurbakhsh, A.). This “nothingness” is poetically illuminated in a variety in Sufi writing, a selection of which will be explored in this paper. “Nothingness” is one way of describing the indescribable: one way of pointing to God.
Robert Bellah’s Religion in Human Evolution: An Analysis
Religious Studies Approaches to Mythology, Professor Laura Grillo, PhD
This paper presents a critical reflection on the book Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age, written by sociology professor Robert Bellah. The Preface, and chapters one and two were reviewed for this purpose. The object of the exercise is to demonstrate my facility to identify the “methodological approach” of the author (loosely understood as “perspective,” “worldview,” or “interpretive frame”) and the value or limitations of that approach. As this paper will attempt to show, Bellah demonstrates his exceptional facility to recognize the methodologies he employs, and identify the methodologies of other writers.
Achilleus Underground: Underworld Mythic Motifs in the Iliad
Mythologies of the Underworld, Professor Evans Lansing Smith, PhD
In this paper “underworld” is used in a sense synonymous with “otherworld,” though with an emphasis on chthonic themes. Unlike such figures as Heracles, Odysseus and Aeneas, the main character, Achilleus, does not make a descent to the mythical geographic location of the Underworld. Rather, in ways this paper will explore, the underworld ascends to the Ilion battlefield.
Beauty and the Beast
Folklore and Fairytale, Professor Evans Lansing Smith, PhD
This paper is an attempt to capture in words what is ultimately impossible to capture in words: the kernel at the center of the “beauty and the beast” tale, the “enlightening message,” as von Franz calls it, with a focus on the particular incarnation alive today in the Western psyche.
The Clearing: Divine Paradox in Moby-Dick and Beloved
Epic Imagination, Professor Dennis Slattery, PhD
Though distant in subject, structure and narrative voice, these two novels, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, share unexpected common ground. Both are remarkable for their breathtaking poetic treatment of suffering, brutal exploitation and killing. Both weave their narrative fabric in the rich territory where the struggle for survival overlaps with a desperate will to break barriers. And both, somehow, amidst the carnage, create an opening through which reaches the presence of the divine.
Native to Earth
Native Mythologies of the Americas, Professor Paul Zolbrod, PhD
Whether considering language differences, the impact of terrorism and genocide on ethnic groups, or the vast technological gap, the worldview difference is massive: it is as though what we call Native North Americans and mainstream Americans could be from entirely different planets. This paper will focus on a major aspect of this worldview that significantly contributes to this divide: the absolute centrality of life itself—in all of its wondrous diversity—to Native North American spirituality.
Symbolism of the “Vajra” in Vajrayana Buddhism
Buddhist Traditions, Professor Patrick Mahaffey, PhD
At the core of Vajrayana Buddhism is a living symbol that embodies the essence of enlightenment itself: the vajra. Originating in Hinduism, the Sanskrit word “vajra” means both “diamond” and “thunderbolt,” (Magalis “Diamond”) though the ritual vajra instrument looks like neither…the teachings of Buddhism point to the potential for enlightenment at the core of every human being, or said another way, “Beings are Buddha in their nature” (qtd. in Ray viii).
Rustlers’ Rhapsody: When Stereotypes Turn Back Into Archetypes
Mythic Motif in Cinema, Professor Ginette Paris, PhD
While the opening scene—crafted to look like an authentic oldie—is just over two minutes, it summarizes decades of nostalgic American cinema against which the rest of the story unfolds. The opening credits announce “Rex O’Herlihan, the Singing Cowboy…and his Wonder Horse, Wildfire” in typefaces similar to what you’d find at the beginning of a John Wayne or Gene Autry film, both iconic “singing cowboys” who enjoyed god-like popularity among American audiences in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Lady Liberty and the Mythology of the United States of America
Approaches to the Study of Myth, Professor Lansing Smith, PhD
The word “mythology” itself arouses suspicions in a society that prides itself on logic, reason, and its nonsusceptibility to anything it deems archaic, superstitious, or just overtly emotional. But the fact remains that millions, if not billions of people have been inspired—in the truest sense of the word—by the mythic majesty of The Statue of Liberty. But can Lady Liberty accurately be viewed as a mythological figure?
Hillman Lost & Found: From Impossible Contrarian to Indispensable Visionary
Archetypal Psychology, Professor Ginette Paris, PhD
In…Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, articulates ideas that force the reader again and again to entertain very unconventional points of view. He twists word meaning, introduces his own jargon, and champions the virtues of, in essence, non-virtue. One is never quite sure what he personally believes to be true, and when you think you might be finally getting a basic idea, he suggests that lies are often “psychologically necessary” (160), subtly and not so subtly undermining any sense the reader may have of a solid understanding of where the author is coming from. Hillman confirms this shiftiness and confusion as deliberate, saying explicitly, “Rather than explain I would complicate, rather than define I would compound, rather than resolve I would confirm the enigma” (152).
Clinschor and the Curse of Castration
Arthurian Legends, Professor Evans Lansing Smith, PhD
The severing of male genitalia amounts to a fate near to, or even worse than death for the victim. One can understand how damage to his scrotum rendered The Fisher King, Anfortas, a miserable cripple, wishing for death. But to understand how Clinschor, the preeminent villain of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, became a mad sorcerer after having been “leveled off between his legs” (329), that calls for a more in-depth investigation.
“Pathways to Bliss”: Mythology and Personal Transformation
Cultural Mythologies I: Joseph Campbell, Professor Dennis Slattery, PhD
When I saw Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation, I immediately choose [this book]…I wondered what an intellectual like Campbell would say, having made an academic (and popular) life and career out of studying mythic and spiritual materials, many of which tell us to look beyond the mind. In other words, being an academic and having a truly spiritual perspective seemed—on the surface—contradictory… I realized while reading Pathways to Bliss that—based on the title—I had expected a sort of catalogue of great religious and spiritual traditions and how they each point toward nirvana, awakening, enlightenment or bliss. While this book was perhaps in some ways a catalogue, moreover it was a synthesis—in Campbell’s own words—of what leads to the transcendent.
A Mind Like No Other: We Need C.G. Jung Today
Jungian Psychology, Professor Glen Slater, PhD
…as a doctor Jung’s insights rested on a lifetime of direct observation and treatment of human beings in clinical and therapeutic settings. Further, he lived from 1875 to 1961, experiencing first-hand the transition from a strictly rural, land-based existence to an urban, industrialized environment, and he lived in Europe during both world wars. …it is clear from Jung’s memoirs and other writings that he personally experienced supernatural events and psychological upheavals and was thus forced to investigate the depths of his very own psyche as a matter of survival…Jung’s insights into the nature of human consciousness are offered from a dramatically advantageous, largely unparalleled perspective in the history of psychology, and perhaps in the history of philosophy.
Vévé: Symbolic Meaning and Cross-Cultural Associations
African and African Diaspora Traditions, Professor Laura Grillo, PhD
Vévé are images drawn on the ground for ritual purposes in the Vodoun culture of Haiti (also spelled “Voudoun,” and commonly referred to as “Vodou” or “Voodoo”). The images are symbolic and in some cases literal representations of the loa (meaning “deity” or “mysteries,” also spelled “lwa”) and their attributes. Vévé are also rendered as artistic works. This paper will review a selection of the most common images found in vévé drawings, the religious and occult symbolism, and similarities to images found in the art and ritual drawings of other cultures.
Atlantean Secrets De-Coded: An Alchemical and Depth Psychological Perspective
Alchemy and the Hermetic Tradition, Professor Evans Lansing Smith, PhD
Szar, the hero of the four-volume epic Atlantean Secrets, undergoes a complete metamorphoses from “unrepentant sleeper” to “Great Warrior” (Sagan 234) and high spiritual initiate. This paper will analyze his process as depicted in the first volume, Sleeper Awaken!, identifying the alchemical symbolism at the core of a limited selection of scenes and themes from the story as written by the author, Samuel Sagan. This paper will also integrate the language of depth psychology as it relates to alchemy, drawing on the book by Marie-Louse von Franz, Alchemy: An Introduction to the Symbolism and the Psychology.
Violence in Greek and Roman Mythology: An Introspective Survey
Greek and Roman II, Professor Christine Downing, PhD
For the uninitiated, the mention of “Greek and Roman mythology” conjures visions of graceful marble statues, great Zeus on his throne, and fleet-footed Hermes; all framed by majestic columns and stately figures in togas. Some may recall scandalous love affairs, Prometheus and fire, and perhaps the Trojan War. As a naive student of these subjects, I was not prepared for one thing: some of the most horrific, graphic violence in the entire history of literature. This paper will survey a selection of extreme, perhaps gratuitously violent episodes depicted in Greek and Roman literature, that is, situations in which the perpetrator does not just kill his or her victim (usually for some actual or imagined wrong), but takes violence beyond the bounds of war and retaliation, into the realm of sheer evil.
Individual Evil: Evolution of the Villain in Ancient Greece
Myth and Philosophy, Professor Michael Sipiora, PhD
In the past one thousand years Western society has taken the presence of a “villain” for granted in literature, theater and film, whether tragic, comedic, or a genera in between…Indeed, it seems nearly impossible to have a story without a villain, even if it is just a neighborhood bully throwing snowballs, as in the movie A Christmas Story (1983)…Though we find villains aplenty in, for example, Shakespearean tragedies, ancient Greek epics and tragedies are the surprising exception: it is unusual to find a villain in these very foundational stories.
Ritual, Professor Laura Grillo, PhD
The contemporary social phenomenon explored here is the rash of church burnings committed by Black Metal band members and fans in Europe—centered in Oslo, Norway—in the early 1990’s. Individuals accused and convicted of the crimes were openly and vehemently “anti-Christian,” and the burnings were a way for them to publically and unequivocally express their anti-Christian beliefs. In this same period of time, and involving the same group, three deaths occurred: one suicide and two murders. An additional murder was committed by a Black Metal-associated group of juveniles in East Germany. Here I am considering that the burnings—not the murders—were ritualistic in nature.
What makes a ritual efficacious?
Ritual, Professor Laura Grillo, PhD
According to Richard Schechner in his article Performance and Ritual, “Ritual emphasizes efficacy—getting something done (i.e., a prayer answered, a god propitiated). Entertainment emphasizes the pleasurable and aesthetic qualities of a performance” (7042)…However, given the very nature of ritual, it is clear to me that there needs to be a greater focus on what Schechner mentions only briefly and in parenthesis in his quote above: “a prayer answered, a god propitiated.” Indeed, I don’t believe that I can separate my own experience of ritual from the greater context of spiritual practices…Below are three elements that convince me that a given ritual—or in fact, any spiritual practice—has been efficacious. The main definition of ritual I am working with here is a fairly loose one: a spiritually directed practice in which some level of transformation occurs during or as a result of the process.
“In the Fall, And the Winter”: Dream Symbol Amplification
Dreams, Visions and Myth, Professor Walter Odajnyk, PhD
As I settled in for the night on July 8th, 2006, I finished up reading Samuel Sagan’s Atlantean Secrets, Book 15: The Book of the World of the Gods…There followed a vivid dream which has stayed clear in my memory ever since. The dream was in two distinct and very different parts, yet the one clearly followed the other. (“Gathered Forever,” Soundcloud)
Oedipus the Nightmare: Western Civilization’s Incestuous Relationship to Mother Earth
Greek and Roman I, Professor Christine Downing, PhD
Oedipus is a story filled with pain. It’s a story of a man who “knew not what he did,” but through his own volition unearthed the horrible truth, and then cut himself down in the unbearable face of it. Both Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell are widely quoted for stating that myths are collective dreams, and that dreams are personal myths. Looking at the Oedipus myth from Robert A. Johnson’s four-step dream analysis framework, the implications of the Oedipus nightmare myth point to collective guilt at humanity’s mistreatment of Mother Earth.
Ganga & Dharma: The River Ganges and the Fate of Humanity
Hindu Traditions, Professor Patrick Mahaffey, PhD
It’s impossible for a modern Westerner to comprehend the magnitude of the Ganga River and the Hindu culture that has grown up over thousands of years along her 1,560-mile length. (For comparison, the distance between Los Angeles, CA and Chicago, IL is 1,744 miles.) By the time the river reaches the ocean at the Bay of Bengal, it is up to five miles wide. According to the BBC movie Ganges, one in ten people on the planet —over half a billion—live within the Ganges River Basin. Saints, sadhus, cities, agriculture and modern industry share the same ground and the same river, not to mention native plants and animals. In some very real ways, Ganga Ma—as she is called by many of Hindu faith—is in fact the cultural mother of the Indian people, as well as providing the water that makes life possible.