Soteriology (say soh-Tear-REE-ol-oh-gee and impress your friends and neighbors! Or no one at all, really. That’s where I live) is the study of doctrines of salvation. I love this word. It’s a good complement to eschatology (es-KA-Tall-oh-gee), one of my favorite words, the study of end times in religions. I am fascinated by both. I’m not religious, myself. I have a hard time relating to religion. But I’m drawn to books about it, and I love the stories. Inner Tacky Catholic, you win again. (I recently had to tell a real Catholic how to do Hail Marys, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.)
A book I just picked up and started tonight, Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism by Mircea Eliade turned me on to this new-to-me term. In the introduction, he claims (in 1961) the only soteriologies the Western world has the Other World wants are Christianity and Communism. I think he’s missing out on Capitalism. All three have symbols of things that will help the individual rise above circumstances–the American Dream is such a strong Capitalist symbol, it’s all but inescapable as we talk about the state of our economy. I just started though, so I’ll let him make his point before I start getting on about him being wrong. It’s obvious already he’s smarter, better read, and better educated than I am. Observe:
Symbolic thinking is not the exclusive privilege of the child, of the poet or of the unbalanced mind: it is consubstantial with human existence, it comes before language and discursive reason. The symbol reveals certain aspects of reality–the deepest aspects–which defy any other means of knowledge. Images, symbols, and myths are not irresponsible creations of the psyche; they respond to a need and fulfill a function, that of bringing to light the most hidden modalities of being. Consequently, the study of them enables us to reach a better understanding of man–of man “as he is,” before he has come to terms with the conditions of History. (Foreword, p.12)
The sections of the book are interesting, and are great for such a slim volume (less than 180 pages). Slim volume–isn’t that trite. Skinny little book, how’s that. No one says that. Anorexic tome. Really, ELLE is fatter than this puppy. September Vogue could give it a hernia if Images and Symbols tried to carry the damn magazine across the threshold. But I digress.
From the table of contents, it looks like he deals with the idea of the center as a symbol, time and eternity, knots and gods who bind, shells and pearls, and other aquatic symbols, including baptism. (Aren’t all religions wet? Even if you aren’t in the first three rows? I guess the water of life shows the now, as the prophet Muad’Dib teaches us.)
I’m also reading Hero with a Thousand Faces right now, as well as a book of Latin American folktales and a book of Chinese folktales. I can’t get enough myth and deconstruction of it.
Why? I feel like being pulled out of here right now. It’s not that this is a bad place. I just don’t feel like participating right now. Reading was one of my first escapes. Reading and writing. I’m doing a lot of both right now. Because, unfortunately, I do have to participate right now. The best that I can do is sequester a little space away for myself in the nighttime. Dig a little cave for myself and line it with velvet words and make walls out of books. I think I’ll pop a little popcorn with salt and black pepper and read stories of other times and places and why they were told. Sounds lovely.