“Myth is the history of the soul”
William Erwin Thompson penned those words. The Paradise myth, along with all the legends and stories about the “First People” handed down through the ages, are vivid and haunting reminders of our origins. Who among us does not have a deep desire to live in Paradise—or for Paradise to be restored here on Earth? It’s the unconscious impetus in our quest for the American Dream: “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s what we seek and hope to find in most of our endeavors to make a comfortable and happy life for ourselves and for our families—and why we go to the wilderness and camp out in the forests and national parks. We want to be in Paradise, if only for a few days and nights filling our eyes and hearts with “Kodak moments,” camping out under the stars, and sitting by a stream of cool, clear water drinking in the golden silence and peaceful beauty of the Natural World.
Ken Burns has performed an outstanding service bringing the pristine peace and beauty of the natural world to the television for all to enjoy with his documentaries on the National Parks and Monuments airing on PBS again this weekend. Thanks primarily to John Muir, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln, thousands of square miles of undeveloped lands and mountain ranges have been preserved and set aside for us and our progeny to visit and be nourished by and reminded of the Paradise our planet Earth still is—inspired even to do our parts in keeping it that way.
VISIONS and MEMORIES of PARADISE
I’ve been reading my friend Richard Heinberg’s MEMORIES and VISIONS of PARADISE for the second or third time since it came into my hands many years ago, and my longing for Paradise has been quickened once again, this time with even deeper yearning. Reading some of the stories about a once Golden Age when we were more angelic than human, and we spoke with the animals who “spoke” with us, I can almost taste the clean, fresh air and feel the pristine, magical Eden atmosphere. Here are a few memories from Richard’s book of what our ancestors, the “First People,” were like in the mythical Garden of Paradise:
“The myths and traditions of the ancients do not portray Eden as the sort of technological Paradise that our present civilization tends to project into the future. If the Golden Age really existed, it must instead have been, as the Chinese describe it, an Age of Perfect Virtue—an age in which
they were upright and correct, without knowing that to be so was righteousness; they loved one another, without knowing that to do so was benevolence; they were honest and leal-hearted without knowing that it was loyalty; they fulfilled their engagements, without knowing that to do so was good faith; in their simple movements they employed the services of one another, without thinking that they were conferring or receiving any gift. Therefore their actions left no trace, and there was no record of their affairs.” *
They were kind and affectionate:
“The ability of human beings and animals to understand one another resulted in a condition, according to fifth-century B.C. philosopher Empedocles, ‘All were gentle and obedient to men, both animals and birds, and they glowed with kindly affection towards one another.'” *
They were radiant and could fly:
“According to virtually all accounts, human beings in the paradisal age were possessed of qualities and abilities that can only be called miraculous.
“They were wise, all-knowing, and able to communicate easily not only with one another but with other living things; moreover, they could fly through the air, and they shone with visible light.” *
They were wise and godlike in appearance:
“In contrast to the contemporary view of early humans as dull and brutish, the myths speak of them as sages. In Jewish folklore, Adam is described as being so wise and so beautiful to behold that the creatures of the Earth mistook him for the Creator and, together with the angels of Heaven, bowed down and chanted, ‘Holy, holy, holy.’ It is also said that God revealed the whole of the future to Adam, as well as the geography of the entire Earth. In these respects, Adam resembled Adapa, the Babylonian First Man, who ‘was equipped with vast intelligence …. His plane of wisdom was the plane of heaven’” The ancient Mayans similarly described the four First People as wise and all-knowing. According to the Popul Vuh, the Mayan book of lore and customs, the people of the first age were so perceptive that when ‘they lifted up their eyes … their gaze embraced all; they knew all things; nothing in heaven or earth was concealed from them.’ These created ones rendered thanks, saying,“‘Truly, thou gavest us every motion and accomplishment! We have received existence, we have received a mouth, a face; we speak, we understand, we think, we walk; we perceive and we know equally well what is far and what is near; we see all things, great and small, in heaven and upon the earth. Thanks be to you who created us, 0 Maker, 0 Former!'”*
AN AGE OF INNOCENCE
The Golden Age was an age of innocence; its inhabitants simple and childlike—much like the late and memorialized Mr. Rogers as portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie “Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” With Richard’s permission, I will share a few excerpts from his thoroughly researched and captivating book, with little if any commentary from me. I invite you to just read the stories and let the magic they still hold enchant your heart as you ponder them deeply in your imagination. They may even trigger up memories of Paradise from out of the collective unconscious, as they did for me, and quicken in you an inspiration to live as though in Paradise. Perhaps the adage “To become, act as if” may apply in our shared work of creating a heavenly home for our Creator here on Earth. Legends tell of a time when the Creator lived with his Creation and walked with Man in the Garden of Eden. Listen to these stories.
ONCE UPON A TIME all human beings lived in friendship and peace, not only among themselves but with all other living things as well. The people of that original Age of Innocence were wise, shining beings who could fly through the air at will, and who were in continual communion with cosmic forces and intelligences. But a tragic disruption brought the First Age to an end, and humanity found itself estranged from both Heaven and Nature. Ever since then we have lived in a fragmented way, never really understanding ourselves or our place in the Universe. But occasionally we look back, with longing and regret, and dream of a return to the Paradise we once knew. . . .
The tribes of central and southern Africa preserved myths of an original time when the celestial God and human beings were friends, before the separation of Heaven and Earth. It was an age that was typified in the saying of the Ngombe tribe of Zaire: “In the beginning there were no men on earth. The people lived in the sky with Akongo and they were happy.” Ethnologist Paul Schebesta recorded the following tradition from the Bambuti Pygmies of central Africa:
After God had created the world and men, he dwelt among them. He called them his children. They gave him the name of father. … He showed himself a good father to men for he so placed them in this world that they could live without much effort and were above all free from care and fear. Neither elements nor animals were inimical to man and foodstuffs grew ready to his hand. In short, the world was a paradise as long as God dwelt among men. He was not visible to them but he was in their midst and spoke to them.”
Summarizing African myths about the First Age, folklorist Herman Baumann wrote:
In the view of the natives, everything that happened in the primal age was different from today: people lived forever and never died; they understood the language of animals and lived at peace with them; they knew no labor and had food in plenitude, the effortless gathering of which guaranteed them a life without care; there was no sexuality and no reproduction—in brief, they knew nothing of all those fundamental factors and attitudes which move people today’
It was only when the people set themselves against the other creatures that God was driven away and the original harmony of Nature was destroyed.
And that will be the consideration of my next post in this series. Until then,
Be love. Be loved
* Richard Heinberg, MEMORIES and VISIONS of PARADISE — Exploring the Universal Myth of a Lost Golden Age.