Source 182: The following source comes from Jeremy Griffith’s books Freedom: Expanded Book 1 and The Great Exodus: From the horror and darkness of the human condition

The Story of the White Bird of Truth

A description of it from Jeremy Griffith’s book Freedom Expanded:

There is a very famous parable or story that I understand originated with the Hottentot people of southern Africa that also beautifully describes the incredibly difficult, heroic journey humanity has been undergoing. Sir Laurens van der Post has written about itin fact, his 1994 anthology Feather Fall is named after the parable. It starts with a hunter seeing in a pool of water the reflection of a great white bird, which is described as ‘the white bird of truth’, which we can now understand is the liberating truth about the human condition. After seeing this wondrous image of the white bird of truth the hunter sets out on a heroic journey to find it, leaving behind his friends and villagein effect, leaving behind his innocent childhoodto begin his ascent of this great mountain, at the top of which lives the great white bird of truth. As the hunter begins his lonely climb he can still hear in the distance the happy, joyous laughter of those he has had to leave behindimplying that as a result of his journey he has to suffer becoming corrupted and alienated from his original happy, gregarious, social innocent true self and world. As he ascends, gremlins begin to appear amongst the rocks, taunting him by saying, ‘You have become such an egocentric, angry evil person, why don’t you give up?’, or words to that effect. His doubts grow but still he struggles on. Eventually, as the mountainside becomes steeper, the hunter starts finding steps that have been carved in the rock face by others who have gone before him. He makes use of these steps but when they eventually run out he still doesn’t give up. Instead, he carves further steps, but as the years go by his energy wanes. Eventually in his old age he can go no farther and lies down to die, but just as he is about to die a white feather flutters down and comes to rest on his forehead, symbolising that the hunter has found some truth and added to the accumulation of knowledge that would one day lead to the finding of the full truth about the human condition, which is the great white bird of truth that resides at the summit of all human endeavour and which has now, after all the efforts of all the humans who have ever lived, at last been found.

A more in-depth description of it from Jeremy Griffith’s 2006 book The Great Exodus:

The period of procrastinating about taking up adulthood that took place from 15 to 21 years of age in the case of the individual, or during the second half of H. habilis’ reign in the case of humanity, can be visualised as standing on a ridge between two valleys. Behind us lay the valley of our enchanted childhood, the ‘Garden of Eden’ where we all lived happily, extremely sensitively in a non-upset, cooperative state. Before us lay a hell of smouldering wasteland of devastation and destruction, the wilderness of terrible upset and alienation. Of course we did not want to go forward into that wasteland but retreat was also impossible. How could we leave all that happiness, laughter and togetherness behind, but turn our back on it we had to. We couldn’t throw away our conscious mind. We couldn’t stop thinking and while we practiced thinking upset was an inescapable by-product that could only be ameliorated by finding understanding of our corrupted stateand that understanding lay at the other side of that terrible wilderness of devastation, aloneness and alienation.

Fiona Miller described very clearly the consequences of resignation in her resignation poem: ‘Smiles will never bloom from your heart again, but be fake and you will speak fake words to fake people from your fake soul…From now on pressure, stress, pain and the past can never be forgotten / You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories…You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy…You will become like the rest of the worlda divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate, pretending it doesn’t exist / There is only one way to escape society and the world you help build, but that is impossible, for no one can ever become a baby again / Instead you spend the rest of life trying to find the meaning of life and confused in its maze.’

For a long time we sat on that ridge procrastinating, trying to resist the inevitable. Gradually we taught ourselves to avoid looking back at our lost, happy innocent world because looking at it only made the journey before us impossible. Instead of looking back we forced ourselves to focus ahead and try and find something in that wasteland that would bring us some happiness to make the unavoidable journey through it bearable. There were only two tiny positives that existed in that journey ahead. These positives were ‘tiny’ because the happiness humans could derive from them was in truth no comparison to the happiness we had while we were living in the magic state of our soul’s true world.

The first tiny positive was that at least there was the adventure to look forward to of trying to avoid the inevitable disaster of complete self-corruption as much, and for as long as possible. We may be going to ‘go under’become totally corruptedbut at least we could hope to make a good fight of it. In fact, as will be described in the next 21-year-old-plus stage, by the age of 21, young resigned adult men in particular could have so blocked out the fact they had resigned and resignation’s corrupting consequences that they could delude themselves that they might even be able to win their resigned egocentric struggle to prove their worth through winning power, fame, fortune and glory. The second, in truth tiny, positive in the resigned existence was romance, the hope of ‘falling in love’, which can be now understood as the hope of escaping reality through the dream of ideality that could be inspired by the neotenous image of innocence in women. Men could dream that women were actually innocent and that they could share in that innocent state. For their part, women could use the fact that men were inspired by their image of innocence to delude themselves that they were actually innocent. As was explained in Section 22, sex became used as an expression of this dream of being ‘in love’.

Although these two positives were only tiny, resigned adolescents gradually built them up in their mind so they appeared as big positives. They had to mentally posture themselves in such a way as to be able to leave that ridge and take up that journey to find the greater liberating understanding of their upset, corrupted condition. There is a very famous story that describes exactly the journey they had to undertake. Its origins are said to be from the Hottentot indigenous peoples of Southern Africa. In this story the search for the greater liberating understanding is described as the bird of truth. Instead of a valley of wasteland that had to be crossed to reach the liberating truth this story talks of a mountain that had to be climbed. Each generation cut another step up that mountain. Laurens van der Post often refers to this story in his famous books about the Kalahari Bushmen people, a people closely related to the Hottentots; in fact his 1994 book is titled Feather Fall in recognition of this famous story in which each generation, in cutting its step in the accumulation of knowledge, is rewarded with its feather of enlightenment towards that final enlightenment of the human condition humanity sought.

Olive Schreiner presents a version of the story in her 1883 book, The Story of an African Farm. The passage is eleven pages long so I will only include the very beginning and the very end: ‘In certain valleys there was a hunter…Day by day he went to hunt for wild-fowl in the woods; and it chanced that once he stood on the shores of a large lake. While he stood waiting in the rushes for the coming of the birds, a great shadow fell on him, and in the water he saw a reflection. He looked up to the sky; but the thing was gone. Then a burning desire came over him to see once again that reflection in the water, and all day he watched and waited; but night came, and it had not returned. Then he went home with his empty bag, moody and silent. His comrades came questioning about him to know the reason, but he answered them nothing; he sat alone and brooded. Then his friend came to him, and to him he spoke. “I have seen today,” he said, “that which I never saw beforea vast white bird, with silver wings outstretched, sailing in the everlasting blue. And now it is as though a great fire burnt within my breast. It was but a sheen, a shimmer, a reflection in the water; but now I desire nothing more on earth than to hold her.” His friend laughed. “It was but a beam playing on the water, or the shadow of your own head. Tomorrow you will forget her,” he said. But tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow the hunter walked alone. He sought in the forest and in the woods, by the lakes and among the rushes, but he could not find her. He shot no more wild-fowl; what were they to him? “What ails him?” said his comrades. “He is mad,” said one. “No; but he is worse,” said another; “he would see that which none of us have seen, and make himself a wonder.” “Come, let us forswear his company,” said all. So the hunter walked alone. One night, as he wandered in the shade, very heart-sore and weeping, an old man stood before him, grander and taller than the sons of men. “Who are you?” asked the hunter. “I am Wisdom,” answered the old man; “but some men called me Knowledge. All my life I have grown in these valleys; but no man sees me till he has sorrowed much. The eyes must be washed with tears that are to behold me; and, according as a man has suffered, I speak.” And the hunter cried: “Oh, you who have lived here so long, tell me, what is that great wild bird I have seen sailing in the blue? They would have me believe she is a dream; the shadow of my own head.” The old man smiled. “Her name is Truth. He who has once seen her never rests again. Till death he desires her.” And the hunter cried: “Oh, tell me where I may find her.” But the man said: “You have not suffered enough,” and went. Then the hunter took from his breast the shuttle of Imagination, and wound on it the thread of his Wishes and all night he sat and wove a net” (pp.159161 of 301).

In this net the hunter catches these particular birds: ‘A human-God’, ‘Immortality’ and ‘Reward after Death’, but these proved to be a ‘brood of Lies’. He then goes down the valley of ‘Absolute Negation and Denial’ to the mountain of the Truth where Wisdom tells him if enough white, silver feathers from the wing of Truth are gathered by men and woven into a cord for a net then that net can capture Truth. Wisdom says ‘Nothing but Truth can hold Truth’ (author’s emphasis). He is told after leaving the valley he can never return even though he should weep tears of blood to try and return: ‘Who goes; goes freelyfor the great love that is in him. The work is his reward’. On setting out ‘the child of The-Accumulated-Knowledge-of-Ages’ joins him but the child can only walk where many men have trodden. On the way he is tempted by ‘the twins Sensuality’, whose father is ‘Human-Nature’ and whose mother is ‘Excess’. He then goes through ‘Dry-facts’, ‘Realities’ and ‘False Hopes’ till he can look back over the ‘valley of superstition’. Finally he climbs up the mountain of Truth until the path ends at a wall of rock into which he starts cutting steps: ‘And the years rolled on: he counted them by the steps he had cuta few for each yearonly a few. He sang no more; he said no more, “I will do this or that”he only worked. And at night, when the twilight settled down, there looked out at him from the holes and crevices in the rocks strange wild faces. “Stop your work, you lonely man, and speak to us,” they cried. “My salvation is in work. If I should stop but for one moment you would creep down upon me,” he replied. And they put out their long necks further. “Look down into the crevice at your feet,” they said. “See what lie therewhite bones! As brave and strong a man as you climbed to these rocks. And he looked up. He saw there was no use in striving; he would never hold Truth, never see her, never find her. So he lay down here, for he was very tired. He went to sleep for ever. He put himself to sleep. Sleep is very tranquil. You are not lonely when you are asleep, neither do your hands ache, nor your heart.” And the hunter laughed between his teeth. “Have I torn from my heart all that was dearest; have I wandered alone in the land of night; have I resisted temptation; have I dwelt where the voice of my kind is never heard, and laboured alone, to lie down and be food for you, ye harpies?” He laughed fiercely; and the Echoes of Despair slunk away, for the laugh of a brave, strong heart is as a death-blow to them. Nevertheless they crept out again and looked at him. “Do you know that your hair is white?” they said, “that your hands begin to tremble like a child’s? Do you see that the point of your shuttle is gone?it is cracked already. If you should ever climb this stair,” they said, “it will be your last. You will never climb another.” And he answered, “I know it!” and worked on. The old, thin hands cut the stones ill and jaggedly for the fingers were stiff and bent. The beauty and the strength of the man was gone. At last, an old, wizened, shrunken face looked out above the rocks. It saw the eternal mountains rise with walls to the white clouds; but its work was done. The old hunter folded his tired hands and lay down by the precipice where he had worked away his life. It was the sleeping time at last. Below him over the valleys rolled the thick white mist. Once it broke; and through the gap the dying eyes looked down on the trees and fields of their childhood. From afar seemed borne to him the cry of his own wild birds, and he heard the noise of people singing as they danced. And he thought he heard among them the voices of his old comrades; and he saw far off the sunlight shine on his early home. And great tears gathered in the hunter’s eyes. “Ah! they who die there do not die alone,” he cried. Then the mists rolled together again; and he turned his eyes away. “I have sought,” he said, “for long years I have laboured; but I have not found her. I have not rested, I have not repined, and I have not seen her; now my strength is gone. Where I lie down worn out other men will stand, young and fresh. By the steps that I have cut they will climb; by the stairs that I have built they will mount. They will never know the name of the man who made them. At the clumsy work they will laugh; when the stones roll they will curse me. But they will mount, and on my work; they will climb, and by my stair! They will find her, and through me! And no man liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself.” The tears rolled from beneath the shrivelled eyelids. If Truth had appeared above him in the clouds now he could not have seen her, the mist of death was in his eyes. “My soul hears their glad step coming,” he said; “ and they shall mount! they shall mount!” He raised his shrivelled hand to his eyes. Then slowly from the white sky above, through the still air, came something falling, falling, falling. Softly it fluttered down, and dropped on to the breast of the dying man. He felt it with his hands. It was a feather. He died holding it’ (pp.167169).

While all the deadening escapism, evasion and denial that humans have had to practice throughout humanity’s journey to find liberating understanding of the human condition have been necessary, the process was going to eventually lead to almost complete estrangement or alienation from our soul’s happy, loving and all-sensitive world. Humans would be left as waifs wandering in a terrible wilderness of the darkness of denial and its alienation. The book of Genesis in the Bible contains this accurate description of our species’ unhappy banishment from our original Godly, soulful, Garden of Eden state: ‘Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence, I will be a restless wanderer on the earth’ (4:14).

While all the deadening escapism, evasion and denial that humans have had to practice throughout humanity’s journey to find liberating understanding of the human condition have been necessary, the process was going to eventually lead to almost complete estrangement or alienation from our soul’s happy, loving and all-sensitive world. Humans would be left as waifs wandering in a terrible wilderness of the darkness of denial and its alienation. The book of Genesis in the Bible contains this accurate description of our species’ unhappy banishment from our original Godly, soulful, Garden of Eden state: ‘Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence, I will be a restless wanderer on the earth’ (4:14).

The courage of all humans who have lived during humanity’s heroic 2 million years in adolescence where they had to face the inevitable total self-corruption by the end of their lives has been so immense it is something that is, and possibly will be for all time, out of reach of appreciation. Like the story of the feather fall, Joe Darian’s 1965 song, The Impossible Dream, from the play The Man of La Mancha, contains this wonderful description of the courage needed by humans to accept their horrific destiny while they painstakingly contributed their little bit to humanity’s long term goal of finding understanding of the human condition and by so doing achieve the seemingly ‘impossible dream’ of liberating humanity from its paradoxical condition of appearing to be bad when in fact it was good: ‘To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe / To bear the unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go / To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar / To try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star / This is my quest, to follow that star / No matter how hopeless, no matter how far / To fight for the right without question or pause / To be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause / And I know if I will only be true, to this glorious quest / That my heart will lie peaceful and calm, when I’m laid to my rest / And the world will be better for this, that one man scorned and covered with scars / Still strove with his last ounce of courage, to reach the unreachable star.’