Posted February 14, 2013 by Cooper Point Journal in Campus Life

Michael Meade at the Longhouse: Mythology for our Times

Michael Meade gave an elaborate lecture and Q&A session at the Longhouse at Evergreen on February 8, named “Why the World Doesn’t End” after the recently published book that he was promoting.

Meade discussed mythological themes of eternity and the end of the world, proposing throughout the lecture that the world is something that has always and will always exist, and—invoking Shakespeare—that we are “players” that “enter stage left, and leave stage right” on the ever-changing and ever-persisting stage of the cosmos.

“I want to make an argument, a statement that this world doesn’t end,” he said, opening the main theme of the talk. “This,” he gestured to the world around him, “is the front of the world, and the world behind us [in the past] is eternal.”

“The end of the world is the most predicted time that never happened…Every time a ‘0’ is added to the calendar, people think it’s the end, because it looks like the end,” he said, referring to the hollow space within the symbol for the number. “[The] two big mistakes [are that] everything’s gonna end, and that everything’s gonna be new. What happens is you get both.”

Ends as Purpose

“We are meant to turn eternity into time…Human beings are stretched between eternity and now,” he said, proposing that the world “grow[s] opportunity for soul [to exist].” To Meade, the soul is a process of the world, not a thing in and of itself. “[By] grow[ing] our soul in the world…we automatically become beneficial to the world.”

After reading an excerpt from his book regarding “starting at the end,” he explained that the etymology of the word ‘end’ tells of “a loose end” or “remnant,” and that the end of anything is really only the possible beginning of something new, because nothing truly ends if remnants are left behind to be turned into something else.

He also touched on the etymology of  ‘apocalypse,’ from Latin ‘apocalypsis,’ meaning simply “a time of great tension, a time when conflict intensifies before [things become] anew.”

Contemporary Religion

Incorporating a critical look at popular contemporary religions as part of his broad mythological analysis, Meade spoke on monotheism. “The [monotheistic] story is supposed to be metaphorical,” he stated. “[Monotheists] are separated from eternity, because they think heaven is a completely different place…This is the place where [we] find the divine,” he said, alluding to the world itself.

“It always comes as One, but that One comes as Many,” Meade said, later adding to this sentiment by saying, “It takes variety and multiplicity to make the world work.”

“Zen Buddhism is the quickest way to get [to that understanding],” he said. “It’s sharp stuff. You know how Jesus said to ‘bring a sword,’ to be realized? Buddhists take that very seriously; they actually bring swords. They say, ‘If you meet the Buddha, kill him.’” He then explained this metaphorically: “If you’re not making a new path, you’re not following the Buddha.”

Myth as Metaphor

Meade told a story of a woman weaving a never-ending garment, constantly getting new ideas about how it should continue, which she added as she went, crocheting and crocheting. She used porcupine needles to do this work; and to continue, she occasionally had to gnaw on a certain part with her teeth, which were worn down to nubs.

She would get up now and then to stir a stew boiling farther into the cave she resided within, and sometimes while doing this, a wild dog would come and tear at her garment, forcing her to start over.

He elaborated upon this metaphorical narrative with his perception that the world has a creative genius beneath it, never knowing what’s coming but always attempting to express itself in novel ways with what it happens to have.

Opening up time for the audience to respond with what they thought about the story, he explained the “importance of flaws” through the Q&A that followed – that the imperfections we perceive are an integral part of the world, because they “keep us involved in the world, and make us unique.”

He added to this with an anecdote that traditional Japanese pottery is left with one spot unglazed, so that part of the pottery is not cut off from the world. “Perfection is not the point,” he said; “it’s uniqueness…Wholeness has holes in it – do you know what I’m sayin’?” he asked rhetorically, chuckling.

Creativity and Sacrifice

In response to an audience member’s reference to the pain the woman in the story must feel at the exposed nerves of her brittle teeth grinding against the porcupine quills she was using, Meade said, “We have to burn our lives away at something…[The woman is] wearing her teeth down in the service of beauty…In order to make anything happen, something must be sacrificed. The word ‘sacrifice’ means ‘to make sacred,’” he added.

“The genius of the woman is that she takes the porcupine quill that would hurt her and she turns that around,” he said, explaining that we ought to use our creative spirit to mitigate worldly pain. “In mythology, there’s no blaming stuff, because it’s trying to look at the bigger picture. The [interfering] dog, [for instance,] is there as an aspect of the world, not as the problem.”

“The reason we go ‘over the hill’ is to see what the hell’s over there,” he later said. “It’s not all about succeeding. You learn more from failure…One’s genius and one’s wounds hang out together.”


Meade is the founder of the Mosaic Multicultural Foundation, which exists to “create cross-cultural alliances, creative mentoring relationships, and educational projects…actively seek[ing] to encourage greater understanding between people with diverse and divergent backgrounds and experiences,” which includes “mentoring youth and developing elders, finding common ground between those in opposition, and shaping community events that unite people of various cultural and spiritual backgrounds.” He is the author of numerous books, which can be found here.

By Tyler Jones