Thoughts on the Elephant Club

There once was a village all of whose inhabitants were blind. A king who was traveling by, stopped to spend the night outside the village. The king had elephants in his entourage, and since no one in the village had ever encountered an elephant before, several villagers visited the king's camp to find out what elephants were like. When they returned, they told excited groups of their neighbors what they had found.

The man who had felt the elephant's ear said, "It is much like a rug, broad and rough, hanging from a branch."

The man who had felt the leg said, "It is like a pillar."

The man who had felt the side said, "It is like a wall."

The man who had felt the trunk said, "It is like a huge snake," but the man who had felt the tail said, "More like a vine."

The man who felt the tusk insisted the elephant was like a spear.

Each of the blind men who had felt some part of the elephant gathered adherents to his version. Each founded a school, and to this day, in the village of the blind, those who hold one understanding of the elephant do not speak to those who hold a different understanding except to try to convince them of the error of their ways.

We are joined in fellowship to search for the elephant -- for the deeper larger reality that underlies the bits and pieces we perceive. It is by some inner conviction of rightness, by some intuitive sense, that we believe the elephant to exist, and because there have been others who have reported that this is so. It is by this same sense of recognition, this affect of things upon our intuitive sense, that we may know the elephant whenever and wherever we may find it, and we must hold firmly to that inner knowing, and not be led astray, for it is our only compass in this quest. Religion, along with myth, art, music, speaks directly to this deeper unconscious level, bypassing the rational mind. It is this fact of religion, this affective element, that is its power, and therefore, the part that we most feer, as it makes us vulnerable to manipulation. It is possible that by making this deeper knowledge more conscious, we can still partake of its transformative power, without falling victims to superstition and manipulation.

Let us, therefore, reexamine the materials of religion (myth, sacrement, and ritual) from a different point of view: one more personal, symbolic, developmental, and affectual.

Let us propose a hypothesis: that if we look carefully at religious myth and ritual, we will find a consistent pattern of human spiritual development. Let us examine these materials to see if this is true, and, to learn whatever we can that may help us consciously co-operate in our own process of development.

Let us also examine our own lives and personal experiences for what we feel to be symbolic of deeper reality, because the elephant is alive and well walking through each day with us, sometimes speaking to us, sometimes pointing out things for our notice. Let us, therefore, encourage in ourselves and each other a more personally symbolic life, as we learn to listen more carefully for the elephant.

Finally, let us learn and study, and experience, and then let us bring what we can into our community, for its energy and resources are our energy and resources, and its wealth is, indeed, what we share.


Mary Walden
February, 1985

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