The natural world is subject to a single universal law: everything changes. The cycle of birth and death applies to humans, mountains, relationships, nations, and solar systems. All phenomena have beginnings and ends; they are temporary.
In contrast, the source is unchanging and eternal. The distinction between the temporary and the eternal, or the relative and the absolute, forms the basis of all ancient cosmology and theology.
Without exception, the ancestral teachings from every cultural tradition on Earth maintain that an essence or soul leaves the body at death, and transmigrates to other realms. Although the spirit realm has been conceived of in a variety of ways, the fundamental cosmology remains the same: This realm into which life is born and dies is temporary and limited by the law of change. The afterlife, however, is eternal, and the unifying force of creation unites all beings as one. From this perspective, far from being merely the end of life, death is perceived as a return to the source.
Stories crafted to inspire transcendental understanding have been passed down from generation to generation. These are the foundations of all cultures. The urge to create ritual enactments of sacred stories, to maintain the memory of origin and purpose, is the fountain of all religions.
As we can have no direct sensory experience of the eternal realm, mythology uses symbolic language, appealing not to literal truth, but more to intuitive understanding. Just as a dream can shed light on shadow areas of individual consciousness, mythology stimulates illumination and self-realization for the whole group.
Through the medium of sacred stories, our ancestors have spoken to us across the ages, from storyteller to storyteller, throughout the generations. Sacred stories offer solutions to the questions of origin, meaning and purpose. They provide a bridge with the ancestors, and help to maintain the memory that links us organically with the source. This is not the personal memory of past events, but the memory that unites all.
The stories themselves have subtly evolved, as they are part of living cultures. At times, stories were abandoned or fell into disuse, only to be resurrected once more by future tellers. They have crossed cultural and language boundaries, and been retold countless times with new heroes and different gods. The very process of how stories have served us through the ages is another mark of the subtly adapting vital principle. As unconscious needs emerge within cultures, the collective imagination, drawing on ancestral memory, responds to satisfy those needs.
The sharing of sacred stories was ceremonial. The storyteller was a messenger who brought the eternal truth to life for the whole village or clan. During the telling, our predecessors were drawn together by the rhythms, the rhymes and the potent imagery, which touched a deep ancestral chord. Ritual responses united them in laughter, song and tears, and the evocation removed them from the world of planting, , building, cooking, cleaning, gathering, grieving, arguing, courting, and the other pre-occupations of everyday life. During such ceremonies and sacred rites, the memory of common origin, and the bonds that united were restored. In possession of the memory of oneness, we were enabled to maintain the connection between heaven and earth, within ourselves.
In more recent times, the oral tradition has been eclipsed by the written word, and the telling of ancestral stories has all but vanished in literate societies. The publication of definitive versions of holy texts has frozen the fluidity of the form, and some traditions have succumbed to dogmatic authoritarianism.
The era of science has further obscured access to these deep resources, by emphasizing the importance of literal facts, and thereby turning us away from the intuitive or symbolic mode of comprehension that mythology relies upon. The scientific perspective remains resolutely focused on the material world. According to this mindset, alchemists and mystics were mistaken in their belief that matter is informed by spirit. Quantum physics combined with genetic science, we are told, will unravel all the mysteries of the universe, including creation, evolution, time, and death. The afterlife, or the spiritual realm of healers, shaman, and clergy, is considered ungrounded superstition, rooted in insecurity. It does not exist, other than in the human imagination, and is therefore of only marginal scientific value, in the department of cultural anthropology.
As a result of these ravages of ancient traditions, human beings, for the first time perhaps, in our long history, are on the brink of denying the existence of the spiritual realm in its entirety. Tribal literalism dominates religion, and confuses the messenger for the message. The cult of science dismisses metaphors as untrue, and proselytizes for a universe prescribed by mathematical reasoning. This polarization could hardly be more intense, and whichever side we are on, we can only see half the story. Meanwhile, there is a deep confusion taking hold in the minds of many. In the digital age, we have more answers to more questions, and all at our fingertips. Yet, the feeling of powerlessness, demoralization, and despair has never been greater.
The human mind is governed by polarity; good exists relative to bad, light to dark, high to low, wet to dry, war to peace, and inside to outside. Duality informs our every action, and pervades our every thought. As the polarisation becomes more extreme, we experience increased disconnection, and feelings of unreality and loss, and a myriad of delusions. These symptoms find their ultimate expression in the proliferation of chronic disease that characterizes this era.
Ancestral memory lies within us all, and helps to unite us with the source. This unity transcends the polarity of the mind, because it is centred in the heart. However, due to our current lifestyle, the food we now eat, and inherited disturbance, we barely have access to it.
If we have the ears to listen, and the heart to respond we can hear ancient wisdom, carried across the ages, within the sacred stories. However, no single tradition has the whole picture. Each one is part of the whole, and plays its part by holding a piece of our collective memory. When we listen with wonder, and suspend our disbelief, we hear a resonance that sounds around the whole circle, like a singing bowl.
The stories in this book have been selected from all directions, to create a mandala of ancient teachings. They are arranged as a medicine wheel, and follow the cycle of the year. Each story carries its own fragment of the whole. Place yourself in the centre, and witness without prejudice. Accept the polarities as different aspects of the unity, and you will hear the resonance. It will sound from deep within you, calling you to remember who you are, and why you are here.
Extract from The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Tristmegistus
Creation is both matter and spirit.
The crude and the subtle are two parts of the One.
The whole limitless universe, with its infinite diversity, is the expression of Oneness.
The macrocosm and the microcosm.
As above, so it is below.
The sun and the moon rule over the Earth, as king and queen.
All forms are nurtured into being by the wind, earth, rain and warmth.
Once spirit has manifested, it must then return to spirit –
This is the in-breath and the out-breath of creation.
Through manifestation and spiritualization, two become one,
And creation perfects itself.
Translation from Aurelium Occultae Philosophorum. Georgio Beato