Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby


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Also on this website:

Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story

PLAGUE: A NOVEL ABOUT HEALING.

About ordering


Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series


  Articles and Excerpts:

Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"


The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington


A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium


Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"


"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths.

You're Not A Wave

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?


Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right



Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

The Two Loves


Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality


 "The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross &
the Dark Night of the Soul."

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice

Meditation

Historicity as Myth

Pilgrimage

No Stealing


Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

The Hero's Journey as archetype

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption


Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
 
Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes


The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis


The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3:
Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4:
A Course in Miracles


The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated


In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

About Alien Abduction

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?


The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

Kip and Toby, Activists


Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

Our friend Tom Nash


 
Book Reviews


Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois


Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass



TECHNIQUES OF THE WORLD SAVIORS:



labyrinth

Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
by Toby Johnson


from The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell (Celestial Arts, 1990)


This article has 4 parts. This is the first part
Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4: A Course in Miracles
~

Perhaps the most eloquent possible symbol of this mystery is that of the god crucified, the god offered, "himself to himself." Read in one direction, the meaning is the passage of the phenomenal hero into superconsciousness. . . But also, God has descended voluntarily and taken upon himself this phenomenal agony. God assumes the life of man and man releases the God within himself at the mid-point of the cross-arms of the same "coincidence of opposites," the same sun door through which God descends and Man ascends--each as the other's food.

(Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, p. 260)

 

Joseph Campbell's approach to myth was exemplified in his style of weaving together stories, images, and metaphors from different traditions. That the myths can be intermixed in order to clarify their deeper meaning, as Campbell did in The Hero With a Thousand Faces in order to extract what he called the mono-myth of the hero's journey, presumes that the various traditions arise from a common source "which [has] remained as constant throughout the course of human history as the form and nervous structure of the human physique itself." (Hero, p. 257)

This is a presumption that the individual religions--especially those in the West--would disagree with, each claiming hegemony over the others, each maintaining that it alone has truth. That kind of exclusivism has resulted in the history of wars, persecutions, and autos-da-fé ("acts of faith" as religious executions were ironically called)--from pre-Biblical times to the present day, from Ireland to Iraq--that make many modern individuals understandably cynical about religion. It just doesn't make sense.

Joe's facility and willingness to intermix the tales simply dismisses the objectionable exclusivism and, in passing, demonstrates a whole different epistemology of religious truth. It certainly spoke to me and transformed my understanding, simultaneously saving my religious impulses while satisfying my modern sensibilities.

In my account of my work with Harvard sociologist-researcher Toby Marotta , In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld, I presented such a weaving together of myth themes to demonstrate the major point of that book: that the social problems of the sexual underworld--prostitution, pornography, drugs, violence, even molestation--derive more from the condemnations of sexuality in our culture than from the inherent disorderedness of bodily urges. The discovery of our research, in mystical terms, was that how we look at the world determines what we see and that spiritual vision is supposed to transform what we see in order to save it , not to condemn it.

There's a Buddhist aphorism to that effect: Fools live in a foolish world; bodhisattvas live in a bodhisattva world, buddhas live in a buddha world. It's no wonder then that men like Jerry Falwell or the Reverend Wildmon, founder of the American Family Association, see sin and debauchery all around them, even in a holy--if, admittedly, erotically charged--parable about Jesus like Nikos Kazantzaki's Last Temptation of Christ; or that some of their ilk, like Jimmy Swaggart, end up falling into the muck they generate all around them.

Using some notions straight out of Campbell and some out of my own insights, I want to demonstrate how we can find the wisdom of saving the world and the flesh in surprising places. After all, in a buddha world, even the grass is enlightened and every story is a lesson in enlightenment. In Joel Chandler Harris's story of Brer Rabbit and the Tar-baby, for instance, we find a classic description of the hero's confrontation with the world and a hint at the wisdom by which the hero saves himself and the world.

 

Brer Rabbit and the Tar-BabyBrer Fox tried time and time again to catch Brer Rabbit, but time and time again Brer Rabbit got away. Then one day, Brer Fox got him some tar, and made himself a Tar-baby. Then he took this here Tar-baby and sat her in the road and then he lay off in the bushes. By-and-by along came Brer Rabbit--lippity, chippity, chippity, lippity--just as sassy as a jaybird.

Brer Fox, he lay low.

This story of Brer Rabbit parallels an Indian folk story of the Buddha. Long before he was incarnated as the wise teacher who would enter nirvana in his lifetime, his spirit lived as an heroic, young adventurer called Prince Five-weapons. On the journey back to his father's kingdom, following completion of his martial training, he came to a dark and forbidding forest in which lived a fierce ogre called Sticky Hair. He was warned to go another way, but he was confident and fearless and set forth straight into the ogre's domain.

Brer Rabbit's confrontation with the Tar-baby was a little less intentional, but soon no less militant. For when the Tar-baby did not respond to his salutation, even after hollerin', in case the Tar-baby was deaf, Brer Rabbit took it upon himself to teach the Tar-baby a lesson in civility. So he threatened to whack her upside the head if she didn't take off her hat and say howdy.

Brer Fox, he lay low, and the Tar-baby just stayed still, saying nothing. Brer Rabbit drew back his fist and took her a whack on the side of the head. His fist went right into the tar and stuck there. After threatening to hit her again if she didn't let him loose, Brer Rabbit fetched her a whack with his other hand. And that stuck too.

Brer Rabbit kicked the Tar-baby with first one foot, then the other, and finally, in desperation, butted her with his head 'til he was stuck firm to the Tar-baby in five places. Just then Brer Fox sauntered forth from his hiding place and, just as innocent as a mockingbird, greeted Brer Rabbit. This time it was Brer Rabbit that ain't sayin' nothing. Well, Brer Fox was pretty pleased with himself. He'd caught Brer Rabbit fair and square. Ain't nobody made Brer Rabbit try to strike up an acquaintance with the Tar-baby. And nobody invited him to stick his hands, his feet, or his head in the tar. He did that all on his own. And now he'd be stuck 'til Brer Fox went and lit a brush fire, pulled him out of the tar, and barbecued him for lunch.

Brer Rabbit saw he'd been caught dead to rights and he talked mighty humble. "I don't care what you do with me, Brer Fox, so long as you don't fling me in that there briar patch."

Seeing as how it was going to be a lot of work to make a fire and apparently not caring whether lunch was cooked or raw, Brer Fox reckoned he could just hang the rabbit. "Hang me just as high as you please, Brer Fox, but for the Lawd's sake, don't fling me in that briar patch," said Brer Rabbit.

Seeing as how he had no rope, Brer Fox decided to drown the rabbit. "Drown me just as deep as you please, Brer Fox, but don't fling me in that briar patch," said Brer Rabbit.

Seeing as how there was no water around, the Fox said he'd just skin the rabbit. "Skin me, Brer Fox, snatch out my eyeballs, pull out my hair, tear out my ears by the roots and cut off my legs," said Brer Rabbit, "but please, please, Brer Fox, don't fling me in the briar patch."

Well, Brer Fox was pretty fed up with Brer Rabbit's whining. He really didn't care about eating him so much as he did hurting him as bad as he could. So he caught him up by the hind legs, pulled him out of the Tar-baby, slung him around in the air, and flung him right into the middle of that there briar patch.

There was a considerable flutter where the rabbit struck and Brer Fox hung around to see what was going to happen. By and by he heard someone calling to him, and way up the hill he saw Brer Rabbit sitting on a log combing the tar out of his fur. "Bred and born in the briar patch, Brer Fox, bred and born in the briar patch. Briars can't hurt me," sang Brer Rabbit as he skipped off just as lively as a cricket in the embers.

 

Sitting Buddha by Wil Biggers

To become a hero, the Buddha had to overcome fear and trick death. When he was seated beneath the Bo Tree on the Immovable Spot, where he would soon attain his enlightenment, he was assailed by Kama-Mara, the Lord of Desire and Death. To put an end to the temptation he touched his hand to the earth, proclaiming his right to be there. And the earth mother-goddess roared in a voice of thunder that terrified Kama-Mara and all his minions, so that they fled, leaving the Buddha in peace. He had seen that so long as he stayed grounded, firm in his resolve, unfrightened by the illusions of fear and desire, he was unstuck.

But the confrontation with Kama-Mara over the right to be on the Immovable Spot was not to come for several incarnations after Prince Five-weapons' battle with Sticky Hair. He had another adventure to deal with first.

The Prince took his name from the five weapons he bore: poisoned arrows, sword, spear, and club, and his own body trained in martial arts. With these he expected to slay the ogre who, in turn, took his name, as one might imagine, from the thick hair all over his body into which stuck any weapon used against him.

Sticky HairFive-weapons, upon finding the ogre, smote him with his arrows. They stuck in the hair. Then he tried his fabulous sword. It too stuck. One by one the weapons, including, of course, the Prince's hands, feet, and head, got stuck fast in the ogre's hair. But the Prince was undaunted.

Hesitating before eating him up, the ogre asked the youth, "Why are you not afraid?"

"Why should I be afraid? Death is certain in every life," declared the Prince. "Besides I carry in my belly a thunderbolt for a weapon you cannot withstand. If you eat me up, the thunderbolt will blow you to pieces. And, in that case, we'll both perish."

Sticky Hair, not quite as difficult to convince, but just as credulous as Brer Fox, submitted to the wisdom of the future Buddha, was converted, practiced self-denial, and became a divine spirit dwelling in the forest.

 vajra

Each of us is equipped with five weapons. For, as Campbell points out (following A. K. Coomaraswamy and others), the five weapons are the five external senses with which we contact the world. Sticky Hair and the Tar-baby represent that world. In his enlightenment the Buddha discovered that the world that threatens to eat us up, tear out our ears by the roots, and cut off our legs is but the physical manifestation of our thoughts and experiences, like a dream or mirage. But when we engage the world through our senses we become stuck in it. We take it seriously. We become imprisoned in our own creation, caught in the form we give to our experience of self, valuing one thing over another, succumbing to fear and desire, resisting life. We get stuck in the world because we fail to look beyond it, understand it in a greater context, or take responsibility for our participation in its creation.

The hero is wiser than the world. Oh, Brer Rabbit had got himself stuck all right, but when he saw the nature of the Tarbaby and the grinning face of Brer Fox, he very quickly got wise. What he knew--that Brer Fox didn't--is that rabbits are different from foxes: that people live in different universes with different assumptions, expectations, aims, and values based on their upbringing and experience. Because the fox was so full of hate and lived in such a one-dimensional world, he assumed because he himself wouldn't want to fall into a briar patch Brer Rabbit was telling the truth when he pleaded with him not to throw him into them there briars. The fox fell for the ruse and the hero got away.

Young Five-weapons revealed to Sticky Hair that besides the physical world in which swords cut and clubs crush and mangle, there is an etheric world in which Sticky Hair's defenses could not protect him. In Indian thought, there were not five senses but six, for mind was considered a sense. It was through the power of mind to observe the other senses, and to discover the wisdom that death need not be feared, that the Prince was armed with the lightning bolt in his belly.

This bolt, by the way, is the power that transforms Billy Batson into Captain Marvel in the modern comic book myth. Invocation of the mantra "Shazam" (an acronym for the heroic qualities of Solomon's wisdom, Hercules' strength, Atlas' stamina, Zeus' power, Achilles' courage, and Mercury's speed) reminds the hero trapped in the illusion of human personality of who he really is and releases super powers.

If even comic books and Saturday morning television reveal the essential wisdom, why do we fail to possess the powers? The Buddha answered that, of course, we do possess them: Behold the universe we have created. But we are so mesmerized by that creation that we do not remember our ego-transcendent identity and we do not realize that we are creating it just the way we want to.

Our modern vantage point allows us to observe ourselves (though it is precisely this ability which is responsible for our loss of belief). We are conscious of the operation of our minds. Just as our minds are responsible for the advances we have achieved, so are they for the problems that have resulted. And yet only our ability to observe ourselves can solve these problems which, like Tar-baby and Sticky Hair, seem to trap us more deeply the more we grapple with them. Only a change in consciousness, in how we perceive the world, can save us from being trapped in it.

The wisdom of the mythological teachings is always, in part, concerned with how to get unstuck from the world, how to see with the spiritual eye beyond the senses to who we really are. This wisdom is what is conveyed in the stories of the heroes' journeys, for the heroes are always seeking their true identity.

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This article has 4 parts. This is the first part
Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara
Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection
Part 4: A Course in Miracles


About In Search of God in the Sexual Underworld

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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