We see ourselves as Man The Tool User, but our Chimpanzee cousins also use a variety of tools. Humankind does have the capacity to improve infinitely upon the nature and use of tools, but the basic ability of tool-use is not really one to which we can make a unique claim  There are many in animalkind who use objects as tools. There is even the clever honey-finder bird of Africa who has learned to use humans beings as a tool. They lead humans to beehives, then the humans open the dangerous beehive and expose the precious honeycomb for the bird. Apparently the instinct to use objects as tools is part of our animal inheritance. Indeed, our oldest myth-stories are of the animals who taught us how to survive. Even fire, considered wholly of our domain, is brought to us by an animal. This would seem to be tacit acknowledgment of humankind’s relationship with the natural environment from which we emerged. Curiosity and learning were our newest, greatest gifts and we used them to explore and to imitate the fascinating beings around us. Monkey see. Monkey do. And in so doing we designed ourselves into civilized beings.

The arts of weaving baskets learned from watching birds weave their nests is only the most obvious tool-working technique which we borrowed from our animal relatives.

Nest-building, however, inspired humankind to invent a class of tool that does not exist in the animal kingdom. Carrying eggs home in their nest gets you more eggs than you can carry in your two hands while climbing down safely from the tree. A container that carries tools, yet frees the hands, is the one class of tool to which humankind can make unique claim. Other animals make tools and use them. Some even carry tools for a short time, but only humans make a toolkit to carry more than one tool in order to free the hands for tool use. We are actually not so much The Animal Who Uses Tools as The Animal Who Carries A Toolkit.

Basket-weaving is one of the oldest arts of humankind, with many examples surviving from the early Neolithic era and even hints of their use in the Paleolithic. Every available form of plant fiber is used for basket-weaving. Egyptian basketwork demonstrated a solid tradition and extensive development of the technique.

I point this out because one of the oldest recorded Egyptian hieroglyphs is nob, translated as “lord,” “sire,” “sir,” “prince,” “nobleman,” “master,” etc., terms of nobility and respect. The hieroglyph is a basket. The image of nobility symbolized as “that which contains us as a basket contains loose objects” is an elegant metaphor for the responsibilities of the nobility. The nobility unify the group identity and contain the disparate elements of the group. Their persons and roles were the “emotional baskets” which carried the multihued emotional and cultural strengths of the members of their households, villages and territories.

The basket which contains all the baskets, of course, is the house. These metaphors evolved in the African environment where house-building and basket-weaving are closely related technologies. The word “pharaoh” is derived from por-aah (pr-aa) meaning “Great House.” Pharaoh was the Great House which contained the individual baskets of nobility, all that they carried and protected.

Pharaoh was, first and last, symbol of the civilized unity of the Egyptian people, the ultimate cultural metaphor of their unique identity and ancient traditions. Indeed, the best definition of pharaoh is in the gesture of “being civilized,” with every nuance of art, humanity, compassion, technology and power implied in that term. Pharaoh was the representative, par excellence, of the civilized human being. Pharaoh’s toolkit built the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx and the grand temples along the Nile.

There has always been a hunger in the world for great magicians.

There are magicians everywhere around us but we have the wrong names for them and cannot easily identify them. The past century has seen the rise of many great magicians: D.W. Griffith, Hitler, Marilynn Monroe, John Lennon,  Martin Luther King, J.K. Rowling, Michelle and Barack Obama, so many others. There is no explanation for the power and impact of these people. There is no logic in the fanatical faith of their followers. It is not about logic. It is about magic.

Both science and mythology struggle to find the proper alignment of self and reality. Do you see the wind as the manifestation of an invisible presence or as the manifestation of invisible force? Is it magic or magnetic? Absolute angles or absolute Angels?

The members of an African tribe were told that germs were tiny creatures, too small to be seen, that got inside them and made them sick. They replied politely that the missionary had taught them not to believe in invisible demons anymore. The difference between mythology and science is often only in the spelling of the terms. They just have a different word for everything. Reality remains unaltered by vocabulary.

Magic, “true magic,” is wholly a function of will power and only of will power. The cause and effect of magic are not tied to physical law. Levitation differs from flying only in the source of lift energy. Flight can be examined, explained and duplicated. Levitation cannot. Anyone can make a machine or an engine. The instructions for these are simple and direct—but how do you make a leader? An artist? A kind person? A psychotic? How do you make someone love you? How do you make someone vote?

Getting people to agree with each other is the most powerful magic we have and the most difficult to perform. Technology uses physical law to shape and change reality. True magic is the power to change people’s behavior, beliefs, hopes or fears, to make people do something that will change reality and to motivate them only by means of will power. Stage magicians who use sleight-of-hand trickery and con men who use outright fraud have always been pointing to the truth. Their real magic lies in their ability to make us believe that we have witnessed physical law overcome by will power.

The dismissal of this kind of magic as “merely psychological” is an attempt to defuse its awesome power. We are afraid of its reality, yet in the same response we yearn to control it. We do not elect leaders, rather we elect the magicians who made us believe that they can overcome physical reality with political will power. We do not choose our entertainment, rather we rejoice in the will-o’-the-wisp phantasm that catches our delight, leading us beyond mundane thought. We are not so much thinking animals as feeling beings who think.

Being fully civilized requires the use of both technology and magic. Medicine has been the first science to acknowledge that some degree of magic is needed to make the technology work. Magic and technology are as different, and as much alike, as differing orders of infinity. Technology is really very simple. True magic is so profoundly complex that often those who use it best have the least understanding of it. True magic can turn back on the user and undo them. Black magicians are as common as any other and can masquerade as white, and vice versa. It is as subtle and as powerful as the difference between mind control and thought control, between self-control and mob control.

The magic of will power is a most difficult force to master, but once under control it is the single most powerful force on Earth, the highest magic. Even global famine created by the realities of physical law can be averted by the magic of human cooperation. With powerful enough human cooperation, we could survive even the death of the Sun itself, but only if a powerful enough a magician can make us cooperate.

Science and technology are needed to measure the reality of these changes, but only magic will make the better angels of our nature reach for the stars.

European mythology has at its core a metaphor for the inner world of psyche and the Self that starts with a tree. As Egypt’s mythological worldview was shaped by the contrast of desert and riverside, Europe’s worldview is all about trees, the dark under them, the sky over them. Wood is one of the five fundamental substances of physical reality: fire, water, air, earth and wood. The first man, Ask, was carved from an ash tree, his wife, Embla, from an elm. The World Tree, Yggdrasil, the mother of all ash trees, grows at the core of each human being, a vital mythological metaphor for The Self as defined by Carl Jung.

Students of mythology in general and northern-European in particular have spent generations trying to image Yggdrasil accurately. The precious tree was carved on Viking longships, drinking cups and church doors. The curling, interweaving branches and roots of Yggdrasil are iconic in Celtic and European mythology, yet exactly how Valhalla, the frost giants’ home and Midgard fit into those twining branches is still a curiosity curiously unresolved.

An important fact about the Yggdrasil-metaphor is that the rainbow is the bridge to Valhalla and to Yggdrasil’s worlds. Only gods and heroes can ride across that bridge. The gods ride across it daily to hold court. The secret to the rainbow is that it is a point-of-view phenomenon. You and I may stand shoulder to shoulder in the rain, but we cannot see the exact same rainbow. Oh, of course the difference is slight. That is not my point. They will not be, indeed, cannot be the exact same rainbow. A rainbow is a function of the angle between the Sun, your pupils and the water droplets in the air. My rainbow is not your rainbow. If you and I look at a photograph of a rainbow, sure. Then we see the exact same rainbow, but at one remove, an interpretation of a rainbow, not an actual rainbow. A rainbow is a metaphor of unique perception, the unique point-of-view of the unique individual’s self-awareness.

This rainbow bridge is the only way to get to Yggdrasil. The world tree, then, is within you. Your roots are the triple roots, and Herverlgmir, the “Boiling Spring,” is the lifeblood flowing within the many rivers of your inner world, carrying the furies, the energies and the joy of your living self.

Once the template of the rainbow metaphor places Yggdrasil properly at the inner core of every human being, the other fractal parts of the World-Tree metaphor fall into place.

 A Giant Cowlick

Older than, and ancestor to, the Yggdrasil story is the far-northern metaphor of Ymir, the giant created from primordial fire and ice, licked into shape by Audhumla, the Cosmic Cow. The current generation of gods—Odin and his kin—conquered Ymir and built the world from his body, notably, the heavens from his skull and clouds from his brains. His blood flows in the waters of the world; his teeth and bone are the rocks and mountains of the Earth. Even more notably, his eyelashes (sometimes translated as “eyebrows,”) are set around Midgard, the world of Man, as a protecting wall.

Why is that notable? Like the rainbow, it is a metaphor for the unique worldview of individual perception. The world “surrounded by eyelashes” and bound by the eyebrows is your visual field. Look around at the edges of your peripheral vision. What do you see there? Your eyelashes. Thus Midgard, the world built around the World Tree Yggdrasil, the world built out of the body of the giant Ymir (who knew how to grow an adult human body from a string of molecules,) is the world you live in, the inner and the outer divided by a line of eye lashes. The unique consciousness between your eyebrows is the ruler and “King Of The Gods.” You. Every single one of you.

 My primary area of study has been comparative mythology, with a heavy focus on ancient Egyptian writings and art. Why Egyptian? Sheer volume, for the most part—there is more actual source material surviving and available for study than for any of the other great Bronze Age civilizations. Egyptian use of visual and literary metaphor to communicate abstract concepts produced a surprisingly modern image of humankind and our place in the cosmos. Egypt may well be called “the gift of the Nile,” but they ran their nation with a sophisticated system of metaphor.

 Egyptians did not have the Celtic or European hierarchy of divinities, with a “head god” or “king god” over all, like Zeus or Thor. During the New Kingdom era, however, the temples which acquired the greatest political influence were the temples of Ammon; many textbooks on Egypt therefore list Ammon as “king of the gods.” The name Ammon means “hidden, invisible, secret.” The hieroglyph for this is a corner, a 90-degree angle, (an “L” with equal-length lines.) The metaphor is that the hidden mystery is “just around the corner,” present and functioning but not quite seen. It is within this present-but-invisible dimension that forms of energy function in the psyche.

It is a double-metaphor, in that the 90-degree angle is a metaphor for the fundamental and hidden laws of nature and physics, each dimension of reality separated from the other by 90-degrees, even the dimension of time. Ultimately it is these universal principles which Ammon represents, laws which man and pharaoh can use to advantage if those laws were understood and respected.

Ammon is a triple-metaphor in that it is also related to the word amen, which is both the western horizon where the Sun sets as well as one of the names for that dimension “beyond the horizon” that is the Afterlife, invisible to us but as close as if “just around the corner.” This invisible dimension was the counterbalance to the living reality we share together here “on top of the Earth.”

These essays are directed to this amen/Ammon system of metaphors, a means for using modern metaphors to create a similarly coherent psychological and emotional infrastructure upon which to build a successful life.

Myth=The Language Of The Self Talking To The Ego

Freud did not like to talk about it. Carl Jung called it the “self,” and identified this unifying function at the center of the human psyche with soul-like qualities, even as he shied away from actually calling it “soul.”  Whichever term you use, it is that bit of yourself at your core that feels permanent— you, to the best of your ability. It is also that part of you that knew how to grow an adult human from strings of molecules.

 The language of the soul/self is a language without words. Soul/self existed before words and will continue to exist when all words are spent. Thus to understand your own inner self—and for that self to understand you—you need a firm grounding in metaphor. Myths are not historically true in the sense that we mean history, rather myths are metaphors for the reality behind all truths. Learn to recognize and understand mythological metaphor and you will get to “see around the corner” to a larger worldview.