Into the mystic


We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic

Van Morrison

Somewhere along the line I lost my fascination for what Walter Cronkite used to call Outer Space.

Sure, black holes and red giants possess a certain hellish Boschian charm, but let’s face it: OS is mostly vast vacuity. Oh, plenty of stuff swirls around out there, but the most interesting phenomena –  the aforementioned black holes, the birth and death of stars, etc., –  are so way out and so far apart that they offer no hope of cosmic closure to eschatological questions concerning the ultimate nature of things.

Our closer neighbors, the little stuff, your dinosaur-erasing asteroids, once in-a-life-time comets, barren planets, and birdshot meteorites amount to small change interest-wise. Mere detritus from Deism’s Watchmaker’s washing his hands of the entire enterprise.

In short, enormous stretches of faraway nothingness leave me cold.

outer space

For me, inner space is where it’s at.  By inner space, I mean not only the mysteries of subatomica, but also all that’s inside of us, e.g., that microcosmic flash-forwarding through all the evolutionary changes we undergo in utereo: dividing cells develop gills, lose tails, sprout lungs, etc.

We have evolutionary history embedded in our very beings.  Our brains are reptilian as well as humanoid.  Whether you buy into Jung or not, the idea of a collective unconscious – a storehouse of symbols passed down genetically – offers intriguing speculation.[1]


Jung’s conception of the collective unconscious presupposes a genetic transference of universal symbolic conceptualizations, a sort of mental equivalent of that evolutionary progress described above as we morph in the womb from fertilized egg to ameba to fish to flesh to human.  In other words, according to Jung, our mental heritage includes submerged traces of our ancestor’s obsessions – mother, other, trickster, crone, etc. – passed along somehow genetically as a sort of stillborn instinct that haunts us without our being aware of its haunting.

For, example, Jung considered the Trickster archetype a rudimentary mental relic from prehistorical times as evidenced in that archetype’s dominance in pre-agrarian myths.

The archetype appears in various cultures at various stages, e.g., Greek Hermes the infant cattle rustler, Norse Loki the shape-shifter, Native American Raven the sun-stealer, Br’er Rabbit the African transplant prevaricator, and, of course, Bugs Bunny the Brooklyn wiseacre cross-dressing seducer of Elmer Fudd.

elmer bugs

An excavation of our stratified consciousnesses uncovers layers of archetypes, the most primitive lying at the deepest layers, but it’s more complicated than that, because it’s as if the strata are always in motion, like the contents of a washing machine, the loin cloth and aerodynamic ski suit tumbling in a dynamic that might make loin cloth rise to the surface. E.g., check out on any fall Saturday engineering undergraduates at Georgia Tech or Clemson or Purdue stripped to the waist, applying the tribal colors, headed to the stadium to roar and screech like howler monkeys.

saisy bullet point


How instincts travel through the inner space of genetics is a mystery. I had a dog named Saisy who was a longhair German pointer/ border collie mix. On our walks, various strains of her ancestry would manifest themselves. A child on a bicycle teetering down our lane became a sheep to be guided (or as it turns out, driven into a drainage ditch). That was the border collie in her.  When she pointed after picking up a scent, that was the German longhair pointer in her.  When she barked ferociously at the UPS truck rumbling outside our house, that was the pure, unadulterated dog in her. I have no clue how science explains these genetic transfers.  For me, it’s a fascinating mystery, and I love mysteries.

I envy those shamans like Blake, Yeats, Jung, and Van Morrison who have gained egress into mystic, into inner space where they can commune with the spirits.  I suspect that if there is a God, we won’t find him searching above, in outer space, but below, in the deep mysterious realms of our own psyches. As some literalist put it to me one time, if Jesus upon his ascension were travelling at the speed of light, he still would be within the Milky Way.


[1] Although I think it’s a fascinating theory, the genetic transfer of memory seems to me impossible.

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