MYTHOLOGY, in its most proximate sense, means the science of the collected religious myths, or legends, handed down to us from the gentile nations of antiquity. It is that part of the history of mankind which treats of the various conceptions of the Divine held by the Human Race in ancient times. It is, therefore, the study of ancient Theology—and from this, of ancient History, and as such affords one of the most interesting as well as noble and useful studies of human life. Man is a man solely from the reception of the Lord and according to that reception; for the Lord is the One Man. The study of the life of mankind is, therefore, simply the study of the various degrees and qualities of the reception of the Lord by mankind during its successive ages. Mythology especially affords such a study, for it treats of nothing else than of the Religion of the Ancients, veiled in numerous diverse forms; all of which are so many different paths in which we may wander from the East or the West, the North or the South, to the wonderful, beauteous temple of the Ancient Church. Many before us have entered upon this study, have wandered in these paths, but, because these are dark and mysterious and labyrinthine, and because the wanderers had no other guide for their footsteps than their own intelligence, they have never yet found that temple of wisdom. But the men of the New Church who are blessed with the Divine Truth of the Lord in His Second Coming, have not only learned that such a temple exists, but are gifted, also, with an unerring guide toward it; with a lamp for their feet and a light on their path.
"Well, therefore, may we enter upon this our pilgrimage to the Temple of the Lord's Ancient Church. Our wandering will carry us through distant lands and hoary ages, full of wonders and mysteries; through scenes of shadow and of light; through dark and ancient forests, in which strange and hideous animals roam; and through pleasant fields filled with lofty temples, pyramids and cities; through regions peopled with demons, and through tracts inhabited by gods. Without a heavenly guide no man can, unharmed, pass through these forests and deserts and fields; but, as Swedenborg, on his visit to the ancient heavens and hells, was accompanied, protected, and guided by an angel sent from the Lord so also may we, unharmed and unbewildered, pass through all that is false and evil in the ancient world, and at last reach our goal; for our guide and protector is the Lord Himself in His Heavenly Doctrines. And we will there find the doors of the temple of the Ancient Churches wide open to us; we will be able to enter in and be instructed in the wisdom of the ancients; we will find the Lord alone worshiped there in His Word, before which we may prostrate ourselves together with the men of the Lord's Ancient Churches. When pursued in this manner, with this guide, the study of the ancient mythologies will prove of wonderful benefit.
It will illustrate, as if by magic pictures, the operations of the Lord's Divine Providence in the universal history of mankind, revealed in the Word. It will shed a great and new light over the ancient nations, their worship and customs, mentioned so often in the Letter of the Word. It will confirm and illuminate in our minds the important Doctrines revealed in the Writings concerning the development of mankind, and make more rational and complete our understanding of the many references to the ancient mythologies, which are found so abundantly in the Writings, as illustrations of the Doctrines.
This study will further widen our intelligence in general, by preparing planes in the mind, into which the angels of the Ancient Churches may inflow, and bring new illustration, and a stronger sphere of those loves in which they were: the love to the Lord and the love to the neighbor. It will serve to humble the pride of us of the twentieth century, in showing us that the worldly wisdom of this age is but as darkness to the light of the ancient wisdom. It will show us also the origin of those falsities and evils which have destroyed the first Christian Church. We shall hence be able to see more objectively those hells from which they have sprung, and that the same idols and false gods which destroyed the Ancient Churches are, even at this day, ruling in the Christian world, and are therein worshiped. Thus we shall be able to shun the false and the evil of the ancients, and to collect and use those treasures of good and truth which lie buried in the ruins.
And, finally, it will beautifully confirm this Doctrine, that the New Church is to be the Crown of all Churches that have been, because the Revelation, given to it by the Lord, is the Crown of all previous Revelations. In the New Church, decay and idolatry will be impossible, for there, one visible God is acknowledged and worshiped in the Glorified Human of the Lord Jesus Christ.