The Descent into the Underworld
The greatest challenge to any human being is the fact of death. And the realization that we are going to die may be one of the most significant features of the human species, setting it off from all others. Existentialism, which denied the dualism of body and spirit, is an understandable and even admirable response to Enlightenment theology and the antiseptic demise of funeral charivari. Shamanism may be the most universal feature of human religion, perhaps of human society itself. In each case of epic return from the dead a historical era passes and a new one is born, and there is a space between them when the clocks and calendars of neither era are applicable, and new—and at the same time globally valid—things can happen. Sometimes the descent and return is identified with the Fall; sometimes it is seen as a return to nature; but perhaps it is always a transforming encounter with death that changes the view of time.