The Cosmogonic Cycle: Transformations

This is the second stage of the cosmogonic cycle. An overview of the cycle can be found here, and as usual, all quotations are from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces unless otherwise noted.

As Joseph Campbell explains, “the first effect of the cosmogonic emanations is the framing of the world stage.” In Emanations, the physical world is created from the unmanifest, mystic realm. The second stage, or effect, of the cosmogonic round, Transformations, is “the production of life within the frame: life polarized for self-reproduction under the dual form of the male and female.” Once the world is made manifest, in many mythological systems, the first primordial gods appear on the earth and create all the aspects of the landscape as well as the plant and animal life. These primordial gods are then succeeded by generation after generation of gods and pre-and supra-human beings until at last we come to the “human-historical form.” In the Transformations stage of the cosmogonic cycle, “the world of human life is now the problem.”

The initial emanation of the world is a ‘flowing outward‘ of energy into manifestation from the mystic dimension. This first half of the cosmogonic round describes the progressive constriction of consciousness: the first inhabitants of the created world are the figures of mythology, the gods and titans, and these “Created Creating Ones” gradually give way to “the sphere of human history.” As the cycle of human life moves on, the world’s connection with the mystic source of the universe is cut-off and lost to view, we see only with “the little hard-fact pupil of the human eye.” The gods can no longer carry the cosmogonic cycle toward its destiny because “they have become invisible.” Life moves away from its divine source, or as Campbell puts it, “Men’s perspectives become flat, comprehending only the light-reflecting, tangible surfaces of existence. The vista into depth closes over. The significant form of the human agony is lost to view. Society lapses into mistake and disaster. The Little Ego has usurped the judgement seat of the Self.” The world has become pinched off from the life-supporting source of the world – and worse, increasingly does not believe the mystic realm exists at all. It is now the work of the heroes, “more of less human in character” to realize the world’s destiny.

For Campbell, “the hero of action is the agent of the [cosmogonic] cycle, continuing into the living moment the impulse that first moved the world.” The hero’s journey leads them back into contact with the unmanifest, mystic realm which created and now supports the universe. The hero renews the flow of this energy into the world, moving life and the cycle forward. Here we find the true sense of the mythological motif of heroes born of virgin birth. As the world has moved away from and lost connection with its divine source, “the people yearn for some personality who, in a world of twisted bodies and souls, will represent again the lines of the incarnate image.” Those living in the disconnected world are lost and spiritually impoverished. The hero is needed to renew the force of life and faith back into this world, and therefore move the cosmogonic cycle along its round. The hero is born to a virgin because she remains “undefiled of the fashionable errors of her generation.” Her status of virgin refers to two things: first, that she has not been corrupted by this spiritually abase world, she has retained a connection with the mystic realm (and please, for the love of god, realize this has nothing whatsoever to do with sex); and second, that she is “a miniature in the midst of men of the cosmic woman who was the bride of the wind” – she is the human incarnation of the female energy which transformed the unmanifest energy into the visible world (see Emanations). So, the virgin birth symbolizes the birth of a spiritual life, which is precisely the sense of the hero’s journey: a spiritual quest to reconnect with the divine source. The hero himself, as son and “earthly reflection” of the “cosmic woman” and the mystic “Father” energy we call God, the hero seeks his true Father in order to release His energy back into the world and restore life.

Very often, the stories of the hero’s childhood include exile. The child-hero is banished from the land of his birth or otherwise excluded from his community. Like his earthly mother, he is separated from society because the source of renewed life cannot be found in the realm of death and disconnection. The hero “born to save the world” is exiled to “the mid-point or navel of the world,” this is the umbilical spot of the universe from which he returns as an adult to perform his heroic deeds. The hero renews the life of the world and then himself departs in death. But his death is not tragic, rather, it is the moment which “the whole sense of [his] life is epitomized,” for as the hero reminds us of the imperative that all things change and we must learn not to hold on so fearfully, so is his departure from the world a lesson in letting go. The hero teaches us how to embrace the fluidity of life. Each hero thus does not simply “save” or renew the world, he transforms it.

This continual renewal of life energy is what allows the cosmogonic cycle to continue. Yet, as the universe cycles through various phases of movement away from, and then back toward, the mystic source, so too do the succeeding generations of heroes evolve, one after the next, as the life of the universe progresses. In the transformations stage of the cycle, Campbell identifies five distinct stages of herohood: the hero as warrior, lover, emporer and tyrant, redeemer, and saint. The journey of each hero type has its own shape and means, and slowly turns the world’s progression back towards its mystic Source. For it is the universe’s destiny, as it is the hero’s, to return to the unmanifest dimension from whence it arose. For the birth of the world is a twin birth which brings forth not only the life of the visible world and all those in it, but also bears the world’s destiny: it’s death. This is the final stage of the cosmogonic round, Dissolutions, where the world – which moved away from the mystic realm with its emanation – returns and diffuses back into pure source. But, before the universe disappears, our next stop is to look more closely at the individual hero types which transform the world.

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About Sinéad Donohoe

A writer from London, Ontario. These are her adventures in writing, movie loving, and general mayhem.