Hierophany: Excerpts from Mircea Eliade

Myth is an extremely complex cultural reality, which can be approached and interpreted from various and complementary viewpoints. In short, myths describe the various and sometimes dramatic breakthroughs of the sacred (or the “supernatural”) into the World. It is this sudden breakthrough of the sacred that really establishes the World and makes it what it is today.

In one way or another, one “lives” the myth, in the sense that one is seized by the sacred, exalting power of the events recollected or re-enacted. “Living” a myth, then, implies a genuinely “religious” experience, since it differs from the ordinary experience of everyday life. The “religiousness” of this experience is due to the fact that one re-enacts fabulous, exalting, significant events, one again witnesses the creative deeds of the Supernaturals; one ceases to exist in the everyday world and enters a transfigured, auroral world impregnated with the Supernaturals’ presence.

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What is involved is not a commemoration of mythical events, but a reiteration of them. The protagonists of the myth are made present; one becomes their contemporary. This also implies that one is no longer living in chronological time, but in the primordial Time, the Time when the event first took place.

Man becomes aware of the sacred because it manifests itself, shows itself, as something wholly different from the profane. To designate the act of manifestation of the sacred, we have proposed the term hierophany. It is a fitting term, because it does not imply anything further; it expresses no more than is implicit in its etymological content, i.e., that something sacred shows itself to us. It could be said that the history of religions, from the most primitive to the most highly developed, is constituted by a great number of hierophanies, by manifestations of sacred realities. From the most elementary hierophany to the supreme hierophany.

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In each case we are confronted by the same mysterious act, the manifestation of something of a wholly different order, a reality that does not belong to our world, in objects that are an integral part of our natural “profane” world. The crude product of nature, the object fashioned by the industry of man, acquire their reality, their identity, only to the extent of their participation in a transcendent reality.

The Experience of Sacred Space makes possible the “founding of the world”: where the sacred manifests itself in space, the real unveils itself, the world comes into existence . In the homogenous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation can be established, the hierophany reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.

To re-experience that time, to re-enact it as often as possible, to witness again the spectacle of the divine works, to meet with the Supernaturals and relearn their creative lesson is the desire that runs like a pattern through all the ritual reiterations of myths.

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Images:

Unai Shipash, Pablo Amaringo

Canto XXXI – Dante’s Divine Comedy, Gustave Doré

Picture of Mircea Eliade

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