Myth and Mind: The Origin of Human Consciousness in the Discovery of the Sacred

Nixon, Gregory M. (2010) Myth and Mind: The Origin of Human Consciousness in the Discovery of the Sacred. Journal of Consciousness Exploration & Research|, 1 (3). pp. 289-337. ISSN 2153-8212

[thumbnail of Describes how mortal knowledge created the need for myth and mind, so the could awaken to the larger, supersensory realm once experienced as sacred.]
PDF (Describes how mortal knowledge created the need for myth and mind, so the could awaken to the larger, supersensory realm once experienced as sacred.) - Published Version

Official URL:


By accepting that the formal structure of human language is the key to understanding the uniquity of human culture and consciousness and by further accepting the late appearance of such language amongst the Cro-Magnon, I am free to focus on the causes that led to such an unprecedented threshold crossing. In the complex of causes that led to human being, I look to scholarship in linguistics, mythology, anthropology, paleontology, and to creation myths themselves for an answer. I conclude that prehumans underwent an existential crisis, i.e., the realisation of certain mortality, that could be borne only by the discovery-creation of the larger realm of symbolic consciousness once experienced as the sacred (but today we know it as the world — as opposed to our immediate natural environment and that of other animals). Thus, although we, the human species, are but one species among innumerable others, we differ in kind, not degree. This quality is our symbolically enabled (culturally constructed) self-consciousness, the fortress of cultural identity that empowers but also imprisons awareness.

Item Type:Article
Uncontrolled Keywords:myth, mind, consciousness, sacred, culture
Subjects:G Geography. Anthropology > GR Folklore
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
G Geography. Anthropology > GN Anthropology
Abram, D. (1996). The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World (New York: Pantheon).

Ardrey, R. (1966). The Territorial Imperative: A Personal Inquiry into the Animal Origins of Property and Nations (Springfield, IL: Atheneum).

Bachelard, G. (1987). On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, introduction & trans. C. Gaudin (Dallas: Spring).

Barfield, O. (1977). The Rediscovery of Meaning, and Other Essays (Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP).

Barthes, R. (1972). Mythologies, trans. A. Lavers (New York: Noonday). Original in French 1957.

Beamish, P. (2004). ‘The science of ceta research, C/R’. Accessed online 4/26/04:

Benson, J., Greaves, W., O’Donnell, M., & Taglialatela, J. (2002). ‘Evidence for symbolic language processing in a bonobo (Pan paniscus)’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (12), pp. 33-56.

Bickerton, D. (1995). Language and Human Behavior (Seattle: UP Washington).

Birenbaum, H. (1988). Myth and Mind. Lanham, MD: U Press of America.

Blumer, H. (1962). ‘Society as symbolic interaction’, in A. Rose, ed., Human Behaviour and Social Processes: An Interactionist Approach (Boston: Houghton Mifflin), pp. 179-192.

Burkert, W. (2002). Homo Necans: The Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth (2nd ed.), trans. P. Bing (Berkeley CA: UP California). Original in German 1972.

Burtt, E.A. (1924). The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science: The Scientific Thinking of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Their Contemporaries (re-published 1999 Amherst NY: Humanity/Prometheus).

Campbell, J. (1969). The Masks of God: Primitive Mythology (revised ed.). vol 1 of Masks of God, 4 vols, 1959-69 (Harmondsworth UK: Penguin). Original 1959.

Cassirer, E. (1953-57). The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, 3 vols., trans. R. Manheim (New Haven: Yale UP). Original in German, 1923-31.

Cassirer, E. (1944). An Essay on Man: An Introduction to a Philosophy of Human Culture (New Haven/London: Yale UP).

Cassirer, E. (1946a). Language and Myth, trans. S.K. Langer (New York: Dover).

Cassirer, E. (1946b). The Myth of the State (New Haven & London: Yale UP).

Chauvet, J-M., Deschamps, É.B., & Hillaire, C. (1996). Dawn of Art: The Chauvet Cave, trans. P. G. Bahn (New York: Abrams).

Chomsky, N. (1975). Reflections on Language (New York: Pantheon).

Crapanzano, V. (2004). Imaginative Horizons: An Essay in Literary-Philosophical Anthropology (Chicago: U of Chicago Press).

Damasio, A. (2000). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (Orlando, FL: Harcourt).

Damasio, A. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain (Orlando FL: Harcourt).

Deacon, T. (1997). The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain (New York: Norton).

d’Errico, F., Henshilwood, C., Lawson, G., Vanhaeren, M., Tillier, A.-M., Soressi, M., Bresson, F., Maureille, B., Nowell, A., Lakarra, J., Backwell, L., & Julien, M. (2003). ‘Archeological evidence for the emergence of language, symbolism, and music: An alternative multidisciplinary perspective’, Journal of World Prehistory, 17 (1), pp. 1-70.

Dewart, L. (1989). Evolution and Consciousness: The Role of Speech in the Origin and Development of Human Nature (Toronto: UP Toronto).

Dodds, E.R. (1973). The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: UP California). Original 1953.

Donald, M. (1991). Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP).

Dunbar, R. (1998). Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP).

Edelman, G.M. (1992). Bright Air, Brilliant Fire: On the Matter of Mind (New York: Basic Books).

Eldridge, N. & Gould, S.J. (1972). ‘Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to phyletic gradualism’, in Models in Paleobiology, ed. T.J.M. Schopf, pp. 82-115 (San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper, & Co.).

Eliade, M. (1954). The Myth of the Eternal Return: Or, Cosmos and History, trans. W.R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton UP). Original in French 1949.

Eliade, M. (1963). Myth and Reality, trans. W.R. Trask (New York: Harper & Row).

Eliade, M. (1964). Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, trans. W.R. Trask. Bollingen Series LXXVI. (Princeton: Princeton UP).

Eliade, M. (1969). The Quest: History and Meaning in Religion, trans. W.R. Trask (Chicago & London: UP Chicago).

Eliade, M. (1978). A History of Religious Ideas: From the Stone Age to the Eleusinian Mysteries (vol 1), trans. W.R. Trask, 3 vols, 1978-85 (Chicago & London: UP Chicago).

Eliade, M. (1978-85). A History of Religious Ideas, trans. W.R. Trask, 3 vols, 1978-85 (Chicago & London: UP Chicago).

Eliade, M. (1990). Journal I: 1945-1955, trans. Mac Linscott Ricketts (Chicago: UP Chicago). Original in French 1973.

Eliot, A. (1990). ‘Introduction’, in The Universal Myths: Heroes, Gods, Tricksters and Others (pp. 1-15), ed. A. Eliot, 2nd ed. (New York: Meridian).

Fitch, W.T., & Hauser, M.D. (2004). ‘Computational constraints on syntactic processing in a nonhuman primate’, Science, 303, pp. 377-380.

Frankfort, H. & H.A. (1949). ‘Myth and reality’, in H. & H.A. Frankfort, T. Jacobsen, & J.A. Wilson, Before Philosophy (Harmondsworth UK: Penguin), pp. 11-36.

Funk, I.K., editor-in-chief (1938). Funk & Wagnall’s New Standard Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Funk & Wagnalls/Collier).

Gallagher, S. (2001). ‘The practice of mind: Theory, simulation or primary interaction’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8 (5-7), pp. 83-108.

Gallup, G.G., Jr. (1970). ‘Chimpanzees: Self-recognition’, Science 167, pp. 86-87.

Gallup, G.G., Jr. (1987). ‘Self-awareness,’ in Biology and Ecology (Comparative Primate Biology, vol 2), eds. G. Mitchell & J. Erwin, pp. 3-16 (New York: Wiley-Liss).

Gans, E. (1993). Originary Thinking: Elements of Generative Anthropology (Stanford: Stanford U Press).

Giegerich, W. (1993). ‘Killings’, Spring 54: A Journal of Archetype and Culture: The Reality Issue (Putnam CT: Spring Journal). pp. 5-18.

Gimbutas, M. (1988). The Language of the Goddess (San Francisco: Harper).

Girard, R. (1979). Violence and the Sacred, trans. P. Gregory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP).

Greenspan, S.I., & Shanker, S.G. (2004). The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, and Intelligence Evolved From Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans (Cambridge MA: Da Capo Press).

Griffin, D.R., ed. (1988). The Reenchantment of Science: Postmodern Proposals (Albany: SUNY).

Guggenbühl-Craig, A. (1991). The Old Fool and the Corruption of Myth, trans. Dorothea Wilson (Dallas: Spring). Original in German 1980.

Hagège, C. (1990). The Dialogic Species, trans. S.L. Shelley (New York: Columbia UP). Original in French 1985.

Harman, W. (with J. Clark). ed. (1994). New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science (Sausalito: Noetic Sciences).

Hauser, M., Chomsky, N., & Fitch, W.T. (2002). ‘The faculty of language: What is it, who has it, and how did it evolve?’ Science, 298, pp. 1569-1579.

Havelock, E. (1986). The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present (New Haven: Yale UP).

Henshilwood, C., Sealy, J., Yates, R., Cruz-Uribe, K., Goldberg, P., Grine, F.E., Klein, R.G., Poggenpoel, C., van Niekerk, K., & Watts, I. (2001). ‘Blombos cave, southern Cape, South Africa: Preliminary report on the 1992-1999 excavations of the Middle Stone Age levels’, Journal of Archeological Science, 28 (4), pp. 421-448.

Hillman, J. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld (New York: Harper & Row).

Hillman, J. (1989). ‘Back to beyond: On cosmology’. In D.R. Griffin, ed., Archetypal Process: Self and Divine in Whitehead, Jung, and Hillman, pp. 213-231 (Evanston IL: Northwestern UP).

Hockett, C.F. (1960). ‘The origin of speech’, Scientific American, 203 (3), pp. 88-96.

Illich, I. (1993). In the Vineyard of the Text (Chicago: U of Chicago Press).

Johanson, D. & Johanson, L. (with B. Edgar) (1994). Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins, Companion Volume to the Nova video Series (New York: Villard Books/Random House).

Keller, H. (1910). The World I Live In (New York: Century).

Klein, R.G., with B. Edgar (2004). The Dawn of Human Culture (New York: John Wiley & Sons).

Kolakowski, L. (1989). The Presence of Myth, trans. A. Czerniawski (Chicago & London: UP Chicago). Original 1972.

Kristeva, J. (1989). Language the Unknown: An Initiation into Linguistics, trans. A.M. Menke (New York: Columbia U.P.). Original in French 1981.

Lacan, Jacques (1977). Ecrits, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Norton).

Lakoff, G. & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the Flesh (New York: Basic Books).

Leakey, R. (1994). The Origin of Humankind (New York: BasicBooks).

Leeming, D.A. (1990). The World of Myth: An Anthology (New York & Oxford: Oxford UP).

Libet, B. (1965). ‘Cortical activation in conscious and unconscious Experience’, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 9, pp. 77-86.

Lieberman, P. (1998). Eve Spoke: Human Language and Human Evolution (New York & London: Norton).

Long, C.H. (1963). Alpha: The Myths of Creation (New York: George Braziller).

Lord, A.B. (1960). The Singer of Tales (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP).

Lorenz, K. (1966). On Aggression (New York: Bantam).

Maclagan, D. (1977). Creation Myths: Man’s Introduction to the World (London: Thames & Hudson).

Malik, S.C. (1995). Reconceptualising the Sciences and the Humanities: An Integral Approach (New Delhi, India: Manohar).

Malinowski, B. (1926). Myth in Primitive Psychology (New York: Norton).

McCrone, J. (1999). Going Inside: A Tour Round a Single Moment of Consciousness. London: Faber & Faber.

McKenna, T. (1993). Food of the Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge, A Radical History of Plants, Drugs, and Human Evolution, reprint edition (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell).

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1973). Consciousness and the Acquisition of Language, trans. H.J. Silverman (Evanston IL: Northwestern UP).

Morris, C.W. (1993). Symbolism and Reality: A Study in the Nature of Mind, reprint#3 (Amsterdam: John Benjamins). Dissertation, University of Chicago, 1925, original. Symbolik und Realitat, reprint#2, introduction & trans. A. Eschbach. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1981.

Moussaieff Masson, J. & McCarthy, S. (1995). When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals (New York: Delta/Dell).

Müller, F.M. (1873). Introduction to the Science of Religion: Four Lectures Delivered at the Royal Institution, with Two Essays on False Analogies, and the Philosophy of Mythology (London: Longmans, Green, & Co.).

Needleman, J. (1975). A Sense of the Cosmos: The Encounter of Modern Science and Ancient Truth (New York & London: Arkana).

Neumann, E. (1954). The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton UP, Bollingen Foundation). Original in German 1949.

Neumann, E. (1983). The Great Mother, trans. R. Manheim (Princeton: Princeton UP, Bollingen Foundation). Original in German 1955.

Noble, W. & Davidson, I. (1991). ‘The evolutionary emergence of modern human behaviour — language and its archeology’, Man, 26, pp. 223-253.

Noble, W. & Davidson, I. (1996). Human Language, Evolution, and Mind: A Psychological and Archeological Inquiry (Cambridge UK: Cambridge UP).

Ong, W.J. (1982). Orality & Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London & New York: Routledge).

Pattee, H.H. (1995). ‘Evolving self-reference: Matter, symbols, and semantic closure’, Communication and Cognition — Artificial Intelligence, 12, (1-2), pp. 9-27. Special Issue: Self-Reference in Biological and Cognitive Systems, L. Rocha, ed.

Pepperberg, I.M. (2000). The Alex Studies: Cognitive and Communicative Abilities of Grey Parrots (Cambridge MA: Harvard UP).

Percy, W. (1975). The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man is, How Queer Language is, and What One has to do with the Other (New York: Noonday).

Pfeiffer, J.E. (1982). The Creative Explosion: An Inquiry into the Origins of Art and Re-ligion (New York: Harper & Row).

Pinker, S. (1994). The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language (New York: William Morrow).

Postman, N. (1996). The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School (New York: Vintage).

Povinelli, D. (1999). ‘Chimps or chumps?’, The Economist (Dec 11, 1999), p. 81.

Premack, D. (2004). ‘Is language the key to human intelligence?’, Science, 303, pp. 318-320.

Ricoeur, P. (1967). The Symbolism of Evil, trans. E. Buchanan (Boston: Beacon).

Ricoeur, P. (1998). Courage and Conviction: Conversations with François Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. K. Blamey (New York: Columbia UP).

Rosenthal, D. (1993). ‘State consciousness and transitive consciousness’, Consciousness and Cognition, 2, pp. 355-363.

Ruhlen, M. (1994). The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue (New York: John Wiley & Sons).

Saussure, F. de (1959). Course in General Linguistics, eds. C. Bally & A. Sechehaye, trans. W. Baskin (New York: Philosophical Library). Original in French 1916.

Savage-Rumbaugh, S. & Lewin, R. (1994). Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind (New York: John Wiley & Sons).

Scarre, C., ed. (with Smithsonian writers) (1993). Smithsonian Timelines of the Ancient World: A Visual Chronology from the Origins of Life to AD 1500 (New York: Dorling-Kindersley).

Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2002). ‘Size, power, death: Constituents in the making of human morality’, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 9 (2), pp. 49-67.

Sommer, J.D. (1999). ‘The Shanidar IV “flower burial”: A reevaluation of Neanderthal burial ritual’, Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 9: pp. 127-129.

Sorenson, E.R. (1998). ‘Pre-conquest consciousness’, in Tribal Epistemologies: Essays in the Philosophy of Anthropology, ed. H. Wautischer (Aldershot UK: Avebury). pp. 79-115.

Sproul, B. (1979). Primal Myths: Creating the World (New York: Harper & Row).

Stevens, W. (1954). The Collected Poems (New York: Vintage). Copyright renewed 1982, H. Stevens. ‘Sunday Morning’ originally in Harmonium, 1923.

Stringer, C. (2002). ‘Modern human origins: Prospects and progress’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London (B), 357, pp. 563-579.

Tattersall, I. (1998). Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness (San Diego: Harvest/Harcourt Brace).

Tattersall, I. (2002). The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human (New York: Harcourt Brace).

Teilhard de Chardin, P. (1959). The Phenomenon of Man, trans. B. Wall (London: William Collins Sons).

Texier, P., Porraz, G., Parkington, J., Rigaud, J., Poggenpoel, C., Miller, C., Tribolo, C., Cartwright, C., Coudenneau, A., Klein, R., Steele, T., & Verna, C. (2010). ‘A Howiesons Poort tradition of engraving ostrich eggshell containers dated to 60,000 years ago at Diepkloof Rock Shelter, South Africa’. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913047107

Trask, R.L. (1995). Language: The Basics (London & New York: Routledge).

Veyne, P. (1988). Did the Greeks Believe in Their Myths? trans. P. Wissing (Chicago & London: UP Chicago).

Von Franz, M-L (1995). Creation Myths: Patterns of Creativity Mirrored in Creation Myths, revised edition (New York: Shambala).

Wade, N. (2006). Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (New York: Penguin).

Watkins, C. (1982). ‘Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans’, appendix in Houghton Mifflin Canadian Dictionary of the Engish Language, ed. W. Morris (Markham ON: Houghton Mifflin Canada), pp. 1496-1550.

Watts, A.W. (1963). Editor’s Foreword, in C.H. Long, Alpha: The Myths of Creation, pp. xiii-xiv (New York: George Braziller).

Wells, S. (2002). The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (Princeton: Princeton UP).

Wells, S. (2007). Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project. National Geographic Society.

Wills, C. (1993). The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness (London: HarperCollins).

ID Code:126
Deposited By: Dr Gregory M Nixon
Deposited On:15 Sep 2010 06:40
Last Modified:06 Feb 2021 14:41

Repository Staff Only: item control page