Monday, December 27, 2010



For the last two weeks, I've been in the grips of a mild obsession brought about by a random event that seems anything but random. First, a little background.

Thirty years ago or so, partly because of a scholarly interest related to my graduate school studies and partly because of simple personal interest, I became deeply interested in the symbols of mythology, both as they related to the history of religion and as they applied to human psychology. For several years as a young man, I read everything I could get my hands on from Jung, Joseph Campbell, Eric Neuman, Sir George Fazier,  and other such people.

One thing led to another, and I started a family, began a career, and my interests moved onto to other things: gardening, politics, science, publishing. My collected works of Jung not only weren't on the shelves anymore, but I couldn't even tell you for sure what boxes they might be found in.

Then, two weeks ago, though, while riding the bus to work, I glanced up at two illuminated billboards on adjoining faces of an office building near the downtown basketball arena, Target Center. One electronic sign was advertising the University of Phoenix, the other was a commercial advertisement for Bacardi rum. Nothing particularly unusual about that, but what leaped out to my view was that the symbol for the University of Phoenix was, predictably, the mythological bird the Phoenix, renowned for rebirth from ashes. The symbol for Bacardi, on the other hand, is the somewhat sinister bird of the night, the bat. The juxtaposition was striking, to say the least, and it seemed impossible that it was mere coincidence these symbols of light and dark, rebirth and death, should appear adjacently and simultaneously.

Jogged from sleep,  I began to see symbols everywhere in the days after that; in the partial sunrises engraved on building entries, in the intertwined snakes on the office stationary of my medical clinic, in the peacock that still stands for NBC broadcasting, in the arch and ornament of a road bridge spanning the Mississippi.

From boxes in the basement, I've now retrieved dozens of yellowing books on the subject matter, and on my busride today was thoroughly engrossed in Joseph Campbell's "Masks of God: Primitive Mythology."  Also out of the boxes are Jung's titles on alchemy and collective unconsciousness, waiting for me at home.

The time must be right, because what I now lack in sheer scholarly stamina I now seem to make up for with perspective.  Now in the last trimester of life, I read things much differently, and with greater understanding, than I was an impatient though energetic young man of 20.

I feel like I'm rediscovering a favorite hobby, and can't wait for the long bus rides to and from work.