I took the image of Figure 1 this past Saturday at Highfield Hall in Falmouth, Massachusetts. When photographs get categorized, this one would be called an “Abstract” or an “Interior.” But it is more, and I wish there was a category “Myth” or better “Mythic Allusion.” Because, this image and its kin immediately evoke an allusion within our mythic or spiritual psyche. When I saw the scene, I immediately thought of Moses ascending to heaven, denied entrance to the “promised land.” Moses ascends Jacob’s ladder to God.
But it is much more than Moses. The Sumerian goddess Inanna rises up from the underworld to resurrect the world. Both Jesus and Mohamed ascend to heaven. They too bring resurrection to mankind, and it is the Christian path to climb Jacob’s ladder to be with God.
Ascent is a central theme in Campbell’s “Hero of a Thousand Faces.” It represents a rebirth, literally passage through a second, and this time spiritual, womb. Even the simple act of entering a cathedral represents ascent to a higher plane. We rise from the plane of mundane everyday life to a higher plane of sublime spirituality.
You can see this sense of rebirth by ladder in Figure 1. The ladder leads through a sort of passageway to “the light.” The windows are brilliant, and you can not quite make out their form. I don’t want to over dramatize. But I believe that this kind of photographic theme is immediate and visceral in what it evokes. It appeals to a common set of stories. And if I may be allowed one more, there is Dante’s story of the “Ascent from Hell” (again the Underworld).
“Lo duca e io per quel cammino ascoso
intrammo a ritornar nel chiaro mondo;
e sanza cura aver d’alcun riposo,
salimmo sù, el primo e io secondo,
tanto ch’i’ vidi de le cose belle
che porta ’l ciel, per un pertugio tondo.
E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.”
“The Guide and I into that hidden road
Now entered, to return to the bright world;
And without care of having any rest
We mounted up, he first and I the second,
Till I beheld through a round aperture
Some of the beauteous things that Heaven doth bear;
Thence we came forth to rebehold the stars.”
La Divina Commedia – Inferno