As many of you know, I am a strong believer in the metaphorical interpretation of many classic works, (and Homer in particular). I recently read the book Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor, a collection of works by Joseph Campbell and edited by Eugene Kennedy. To me it shows how universal the use of metaphor is in expressing the inexpressible, in expressing myth. Thou Art That! What a perfect metaphor right there. Not a simile, not “thou art kinda like that,” but a metaphor: You Are That. (If you have to ask what “That” is, I can only recommend that you read the book.)
It deals primarily with Judeo-Christian texts and metaphors, and will not convince anyone who was raised to think that the events described in the Bible were actual historical happenings, but I believe it is important to keep trying. It is similar in its approach to another book I’ve recommended, The New Man by
Dr. Maurice Nicoll.
I don’t know if these two men ever met, although they were both followers of Carl Jung (Campbell in fact edited his works into The Portable Jung), but the same message comes through in both works: the stories of the Bible are really metaphors for one’s own spiritual quest. That our real purpose on earth is to make the journey, the nostos, “from darkness and death to light and life,” in the words of Douglas Frame.
This was a lot easier to believe when language had not fallen into such literalness. When it still operated on at least two levels at once. When it still exhibited “fossil poetry,” as Emerson said. Or, as Campbell says, “The metaphorical language of both mythology and metaphysics are not denotative of actual worlds or gods, but rather connote levels and entities within the person touched by them. Metaphors only seem to describe the outer world of time and place. The real universe is the spiritual realm of the inner life. The Kingdom of God is within you.” (op. cit. p. 7)