'Cosmos and History' and 'The Sacred and the Profane' by Mircea Eliade (1949, 1956)

A selection from Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return (1949) and The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion (1956) by Mircea Eliade.


Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return

"HAD WE not feared to appear overambitious, we should have given this book a subtitle: Introduction to a Philosophy of History.
For such, after all, is the purport of the present essay; but with the distinction that, instead of proceeding to a speculative analysis of the historical phenomenon, it examines the fundamental concepts of archaic societies, societies which, although they are conscious of a certain form of "history," make every effort to disregard it. In studying these traditional societies, one characteristic has especially struck us: it is their revolt against concrete, historical time, their nostalgia for a periodical return to the mythical time of the beginning of things, to the "Great Time." The meaning and function of what we have called "archetypes and repetition" disclosed themselves to us only after we had perceived these societies' will to refuse concrete time, their hostility toward every attempt at autonomous "history," that is, at history not regulated by archetypes. This dismissal, this opposition, are not merely the effect of the conservative tendencies of primitive societies, as this book proves.
In our opinion, it is justifiable to read in this depreciation of history (that is, of events without transhistorical models), and in this rejection of profane, continuous time, a certain metaphysical "valorization" of human existence. But this valorization is emphatically not that which certain post-Hegelian philosophical currents notably Marxism, historicism, and existentialism have sought to give to it since the discovery of "historical man," of the man who is insofar as he makes himself, within history.

The chief difference between the man of the archaic and the traditional societies and the man of the modern societies with their strong imprint of Judaeo-Christianity lies in the fact that the former feels himself indissolubly connected with the Cosmos and the cosmic rhythms, whereas the latter insists that he is connected only to History. Of course, for the man of the archaic societies, the Cosmos too has a "history," if only because it is the creation of the gods and is held to have been organized by supernatural beings or mythical heroes. But this "history" of the Cosmos and of human society is a "sacred history," preserved and transmitted through myths. More than that, it is a "history" that can be repeated indefinitely, in the sense that the myths serve as models for ceremonies that periodically reactualize the tremendous events that occured at the beginning of time. The myths preserve and transmit the paradigms, the exemplary models, for all the responsible activities in which men engage.

In the course of the book I have used the terms 'exemplary models,' 'paradigms,' and 'archtypes' in order to emphasize a particular fact- namely, that for the man of the traditional and archaic societies, the models for his institutions and the norms of his various categories of behavior are believed to have been 'revealed' at the beginning of time, that, consequently, they are regarded as having a superhuman and 'transcendental' origin. In using the term 'archtype,' I neglected to specify that I was not referring to the archetypes described by Professor C. G. Jung. ... I need scarcely say that, for Professor Jung, the archetypes are structures of the collective unconscious. But in my book I nowhere touch upon the problems of depth psychology nor do I use the concept of the collective unconscious. As I have said, I use the term archetype, just as Eugenio d'Ors does, as a synonym for 'exemplary model' or 'paradigm,' that is, in the last analysis, in the Augustinian sense [Seeing Jung, in Archetypes of the Unconscious, on Augustine's use of the term 'archetypes']."

Myths and History

...through the paradox of rite, profane time and duration are suspended. And the same holds true for all repetitions, i.e., all imitations of archetypes; through such imitation, man is projected into the mythical epoch in which the archetypes were first revealed. ...insofar as an act (or an object) acquires a certain reality through the repetition of certain paradigmatic gestures, and acquires it through that alone, there is an implicit abolition of profane time, of duration, of "history"; and he who reproduces the exemplary gesture thus finds himself transported into the mythical epoch in which its revelation took place. The abolition of profane time and the individual's projection into mythical time do not occur, of course, except at essential periods, those, that is, when the individual is truly himself: on the occasion of rituals or of important acts (alimentation, generation, ceremonies, hunting, fishing, war, work). The rest of his life is passed in profane time, which is without meaning: in the state of "becoming."

Just as profane space is abolished by the symbolism of the Center, which projects any temple, palace, or building into the same central point of mythical space, so any meaningful act performed by archaic man, any real act, i.e., any repetition of an archetypal gesture, suspends duration, abolishes profane time, and participates in mythical time.

In our day, when historical pressure no longer allows any escape, how can man tolerate the catastrophes and horrors of history—from collective deportations and massacres to atomic bombings—if beyond them he can glimpse no sign, no transhistorical meaning; if they are only the blind play of economic, social, or political forces, or, even worse, only the result of the 'liberties' that a minority takes and exercises directly on the stage of universal history?

The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion

In the homogeneous and infinite expanse, in which no point of reference is possible and hence no orientation is established, the hierophany [appearance of the Sacred] reveals an absolute fixed point, a center.

Just as a church constitutes a break in plane in the profane space of a modern city, [so] the service celebrated inside [the church] marks a break in profane temporal duration. It is no longer today's historical time that is present—the time that is experienced, for example, in the adjacent streets—but the time in which the historical existence of Jesus Christ occurred, the time sanctified by his preaching, by his passion, death, and resurrection.

For those to whom a stone reveals itself as sacred, its immediate reality is transmuted into supernatural reality. In other words, for those who have a religious experience all nature is capable of revealing itself as cosmic sacrality.

...through reading, the modern man succeeds in obtaining an "escape from time" comparable to the "emegence from time" effected by myths. (...) Reading projects him out if his personal duration and incorporates him into other rythms, makes him live in another "history".