After 20 years of research and writing, my book, In Their Right Minds: The Lives and Shared Practices of Poetic Geniuses (2015) Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, is available from the publisher in a very well-made paperback edition. Initially a #1 Hot New Release in Neuropsychology and Poetry/Literary Criticism on, it can also be acquired on Amazon in most countries, either in print, a Kindle edition, or both. If you are interested in consciousness, creativity, poetry, psychology, and/or the paranormal, I think you will find it an illuminating read. You can read the first chapter for free on Amazon!

Disentangling the Voice from the Mind(s) that Created It.

Michael Conforti, a Jungian analyst and author, just published an excellent blog post on this subject. See “Sacred” Abuses in the Name of God, Self and Other – A Call for Clarity in Addressing Archetypal Truths. His prime example is Abraham binding his son, Isaac, preparing to kill him at God's command. Michael suggests that we question Abraham's own motives.

A friend of mine who recently went on a tour of sacred sites in Israel told me that, according to her guides, Abraham’s act was caught up in co-existing regional mythologies. In fact, children were routinely sacrificed in the pagan world, but many verses in the Bible defended against the practice. [Search "Moloch" on Wikipedia for some hair-raising accounts of how this was done.] Similarly, the stories of the Creation and the Flood were first recorded in the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, serving as models for the accounts in the Bible.

Along with Julian Jaynes, who also cites Abraham's story, I believe that "divine" voices come from the right hemisphere where the visually and sensorially resonant language of poetry and the symbolic imagery of religion go hand in hand. The right hemisphere processes all of our senses and, whereas the left hemisphere is more responsible for encoding episodic memories, the right is more involved in retrieving them.

I maintain that anything that we have read, seen or heard in the past can be retrieved as fodder for the myth-making mill of the right hemisphere whose over-arching mission is to get the big picture, find solutions to difficult problems and make sense of everything. It seems logical that Abraham, at a stressful time, might have dissociatively adopted a rival's ritual practice, but for the staying hand of an “angel,” an agent of his better self.

The whole notion of mythic stories has long fascinated me. Mythmakers tell fabulous stories. Just like modern fiction, film, and nightly news reports, the ancient mythic stories rampantly portrayed sex and violence. Every culture seems to have needed these stories to explain the origins of the cosmos or of their land, to concretize and humanize their deities, to justify their rituals and to cultivate appropriate moral attitudes in the community. The gods and goddesses of myth are the play actors in eternal dramas, stretching back to the beginning of time and still recurring nightly in our dreams.

However, myths are neither eternal nor universal, only long lasting and widely diffused. Depending on the historical and geographic context, the language of myth can be constructed, reconstructed, or deconstructed to reflect newly emerging political, social and religious agenda. Karen Armstrong's A History of God traces the trajectory from the paleolithic Mother Goddesses, to the Babylonian gods and goddesses to the one God of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Each relied on the prior religion's stories, but expanded or revised them to create their distinct vision. Poetry and religion remain inextricably entwined from the beginning of time. Muslim accounts of Muhammad's ascent to heaven, for instance, inspired Dante's Divine Comedy. Dante's Divine Comedy and Yeats's A Vision inspired James Merrill's epic poem The Changing Light at Sandover.

"Divine" commands are still operative in the modern world. It is particularly dangerous when political leaders, who can be both psychologically grandiose and have actual power, suggest as much. Both male and female politicians have made these claims. However, a command to sacrifice a child seems like a masculine construct to me. In Ancient Greece, the man-killing Medusa and the child-killing Medea were most likely male-constructed stories about mythic women. On the other hand, in most cases where voices have instructed individual women to kill their children, like Andrea Yates who drowned her five children in a bathtub, they were experiencing psychotic commands.

The simple fact is that we all adopt myths to guide or justify our actions, when we are actually defending against inner chaos or exploiting our path in the external world. One can only imagine, in a tribute to John Lennon, what a better world it would be if, instead of following the mythic marching orders, we routinely questioned our personal motives, then proceeded to do the right thing, not just for ourselves, our family, our political party, or even our country, but for the larger good beyond self interest. The results could be genuinely cosmic. Imagine!!


Brendan said...

Great post, Carol. Two questions I have:

1. What happens when a previous myth is incorporated in the foundations of a another (like the Abraham tale above, an adaptation of myths in currency at the time)? Is the end that the new faith can grow further having kept roots in its older foundations? The Christian Church built was from the Jewish religion: did this make it more supple in adapting to its conditions of modernity, or did it mire it further in the mud of tradition, so that the Church was, so to speak, frozen in its tracks?

2. Do you imply that our conscious evolution depends upon a resistance to myth and tradition - defying the gods, so to speak (or declaring them dead) in order to assert the full valence of the individual voice? I truck in many myths, and somehow I've come to believe that the further back one looks, the better one can envision the future. But maybe that's just vetigal bicameral thinking.

Thanks for stopping by my blog the other day -- if you want to see a real sample of the sort of backward-forward poetics I just touched on, see one of my "Letters To A Dead Shaman" (the most recent is "The Ice Harrows" -

Cheers - Brendan

Carole Brooks Platt, Ph.D. said...

Hi Brendan,

I think all new religions, as well as poetic movements, grow out of old ones that must be surpassed in order to exist at all, while retaining elements of the former. It's the same thing that happens in the poets I study, who admire their predecessor but must move on to prove their own self-worth, a Bloomian surpassing of the predecessor poet. Let's face it: the founders of religions are basically poets hearing the Word in the Jaynesian sense.

There's an article by a FB friend worth looking at on the transition to the Christian New Testament from Jewish roots as well as attracting Greek converts to the fold I just read this morning:

Use all the myths you want, they're all based in the archetypal imagination with personal and social shadings for their moment in history, I'd say.

Cheers, Carole

Nadira said...

I would tend to concur with your concluding paragraph. Myths and legends would have to be discarded if they do not align themselves with what would contribute to our harmony, both personal and societal. For e.g my whole being militates against the myth that when Prophet Mohammed ascended to Heaven,he saw that the majority of those burning in Hell were women..and the implication has been...most certainly a male construct, that women are intrinsically evil and lead others astray. A lot of what we read in the scriptures would have their origins in our tribal beginnings. It would be foolish to take them all literally. Even allegories are taken in a very literal sense , much to the detriment of humanity .

Carole Brooks Platt, Ph.D. said...

Thanks for your informed comment, Nadira. I totally sympathize with your reaction to real women suffering under the onus of the male mythic imagination and its subsequent dictates.