on Mar 19 in Essays & Reviews by

I spent this weekend at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara attending a conference about “modern dilemmas, mythic sense and ancient imagination” called Leaping Between the Horns. The speaker, Michael Meade, is a wily and wiry fellow who’s been stalking the ancient stories about humankind for the past 35 years.

I first saw Michael in the early nineties. He was big on the Men’s Movement circuit along with Robert Bly and James Hillman — an author, a great drummer, a storyteller and a kind of in-your-face realist. He was good then; he’s gotten better with age.

For one thing, he’s mellowed, which is to say, his edge is sharper and he doesn’t need to thrash around . His criticism of modern culture and the geopolitical mess we’re in doesn’t need histrionics or even much evidence the way it did back when he challenged the Gulf War I in rooms filled with testosterone-toting Vietnam Vets. He is an amazing listener, and can hold the tension in arguments — big arguments for a long time.

I’ll no doubt be mulling over and writing about things for a while, but what really struck me was how he’s kept the spring in his step and his sense of humor as he’s watching the leaders (and citizens) of the U.S. and many other mainstream cultures and countries violate all the secrets in the stories of the ancients that he tells. Over the past ten years too, he’s expanded his primary mission, which is helping troubled youth through his foundation, the Mosaic Project.

Here’s the beginning of one of several essays on his website.

“We know that civilizations and empires are born, take shape and die. Such knowledge is part of being modern. We have Rome to refer to, the pyramids in Egypt, the collapse of the British Raj in India. Empires begin with a discovery of new values, the power of ideas and images newly appearing. The poet Francis Ponge offered that the new values are always taken directly from the cosmos, then magnified and distorted. What follows is the elaboration …dogmatization and refinement… then schisms arise, followed sooner or later by catastrophe.

Whatever the originating values may be, they come to seem undeniable and monumental, presenting as a mono-theistic religion, a fixed secular ideology or a mixture of both. Something fixed and seemingly irrefutable compels belief and causes people to feel chosen by history or heritage or god.

It seems the nature of mankind and of history to repeat the cycle again and again; each empire prolonging the classical period of dogmatization and refinement as long as possible. Inevitably, the empire becomes imperial, the One standing over and against the many, a mono-culture in contrast to the raucous diversity and inferior confusion of the surrounding world, a unique entity standing against the multiplicity of the world of things and the confusion of nature. Meanwhile, catastrophes accumulate on the edges, while the originating values and principles decline within the ruling state…”


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