In fact, the withdrawal of participation need not result in an alienated, meaningless, empty dead end. It can lead to what Barfield called “reciprocal participation”.
This is a phase in which the inner life of the individual is felt to reflect, and be reflected in, the rediscovered inner life of the cosmos and, possibly, of God. It’s a kind of return to the earlier experience of original participation, though with a crucial difference.
Life can now be owned by the individual, who can approach it with more conscious, subjectively forged purposes and intentions. To put it another way, a degree of human freedom enters the world.
It’s like noticing the difference between the innate poetry of words and the delight found in a deliberately formed metaphor or verse. The awareness of participating in life is no longer located, primarily, in externally shared rites and music, but internally, in minds. We are not just conscious, as many animals clearly are. We are not just self-conscious, as ancient peoples were. We can nurture our consciousness relatively independently.
We don’t just delight in what’s disclosed but in the power of disclosure, too.
Barfield writes: “[Man] has had to wrestle his subjectivity out of the world of his experience by polarizing that world gradually into a duality. And this is the duality of objective-subjective, or outer-inner, which now seems so fundamental because we have inherited it along with language.”
But if our distant ancestors were not onlookers but immersed participants and myth-makers, the development of language has enabled us to take an inner step back, and that brings new possibilities with it.