Knowing and Not Knowing

Knowing and Not Knowing

Pentecost 38

Historian and author Kenneth C. Davis has been called the “king of knowing” by amazon.com His many books both for children and adults on the subject of history and man could attest to the fact that he does indeed know many things. He explains our fascination with myths and the supernatural spirits that were the focus of them as this: “Myths were a very human way to explain everything.” In his book “Don’t Know Much about Mythology”, he states: “Myths explained how the Earth was created, where life came from, why the stars shine at night and the seasons change.”

Davis likens the mythologies of the world and mankind to a car wreck on the side of the road. He explains that we have all passed by such an event. Whether one is traveling in India, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Monte Carlo, or Ohio, accidents happen. As we slow down and then carefully continue pass, it is human nature to begin to wonder how the accident occurred. We do not simply accept that there is an accident on the side of the roadway. We begin to create a story about how it might have happened. “The driver was going too fast for the conditions.” Perhaps the driver was distracted by the road construction across the way on the other side.” “I wonder if the driver was drunk or maybe texting and driving.”

Humans seem to have an innate need to create a story about what we see, experience, or have felt. Davis says that “Myths may have begun, in the oldest sense, as a way for humans to explain the “car wrecks” of their world – the world that could see as well as the world they could not see…. Long before we could know the age of a rock and before men walked on the moon, there were myths.”

We are all connected in that instant that we become a long line of traffic waiting to pass the car wreck on the road. Suddenly, in our busy lives going many different directions, we become as one, all affected by one event that probably had nothing to do with us, an event created by total strangers we will never meet. With that one occurrence in one moment of time, we are connected; we are the same.

I have been asked again why a series on myths when the purpose of this blog is to create conversation about real things, real people, and real solutions. Myths began as real truths. They were the stories that explained life, which spoke to the souls of mankind about the spirit of life. They were what made the world evolve for our ancestors and what gave them the impetus to go about their daily living. In this season which is named for both fifty days after the Easter of the Christian faith and to celebrate the believed coming of what is called the Holy Spirit, we are discussing the spirits of the world, those ancient beliefs that propelled mankind forward and celebrated its being. We are celebrating the stories of man and those stories are what we now call mythology.

Gather a group of people in a circle and whisper one word in another’s ear. Then ask that person to whisper it in the ear of the person to their left and so on until the whispered word gets back to the first person. Usually the word has undergone transition. What started as People often becomes purple; what was whispered as Gorgeous can be heard at the end as justice. I remember speaking as a ten year old to an older relative who had a hearing problem that the older person vehemently denied. The conversation went something like this: Me: “I like your new stove.” Relative: “Really? What it terrible?” My older relative thought I had said “There is a storm in Georgia.”

The mythologies we know today have undergone similar transitions. The story told to illustrate the honesty of the first president of the United States of America is one about a cherry tree innocently chopped down. It is a good story and easily remembered by children. The story is told to encourage them to always tell the truth, even if you know you will receive a punishment because you are confessing doing something that was in error or wrong. Historians doubt the farm on which George Washington lived as a child ever had any cherry trees. Perhaps the story was first told over dinner where a cherry pie was served. We may never know. The purpose of the story, however, is as valid today as when first told.

Plato coined the term myth to describe stories that were about imaginary figures, invented characters. He wanted to create an authorized version of stories for mothers to tell children which would be considered good allegories. He felt the “tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.” The mythologies of mankind have become more than just elaborate fiction, however. Homer once said “All men have need of the gods.” Myths became the victims of elaborations and use as allegories. Plato may not have wanted this purpose but he himself made great use of the allegory, a story told to Illustrate something in a different way, to convey a greater and universal truth that would stand for all eternity.

Perhaps the story of Cronus castrating his father and then becoming the father of Zeus is too far-fetched for you. Maybe Zeus swallowing his own children seems absurd. In a world that frowns on cannibalism, it is my hope that no child is ever actually eaten by a parent … or anyone else, for that matter. Perhaps then the story of Zeus later spitting back out those same children is the stuff of nightmares for you. It is a gruesome picture to imagine, one best left in the pages of a Stephen King novel.

However, children do grow up with parents who are overbearing and who try to make the child live a life the parent desires, not the life the child wants. Such parents override the needs and talents of the child to create the life they dream of and desire for their child without listening to the child. They take over the child’s life instead of guiding them and providing for them in a healthy manner. They justify their actions by saying the child is happy when, in reality, the child has never been given the chance to experience anything else. Sometimes, especially if the child turns to drugs and/or alcohol to escape such a life, the parent will back off and become the loving guiding individual a parent is meant to be. The child may not have literally been eaten alive and then spit back out but figurately, one could say that has happened.

“In my opinion mortals have created their gods with the dress and voice and appearance of mortals.” Xenophanes recognized our need to have recognizable deities in the Fifth century BCE. We need the same today, although, if they are deities, we expect them to be larger than our mortal life. We elaborate to emphasize and in doing so, these characters of ancient myths have become impossible to ever really have lived. Their lessons, though, remain as valid today as when first told.

We will never know the true original stories just as we will never know what tomorrow will actually bring. American writer and humorist James Thurber said it best: “It is best to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” Thank you for your comments. I do read them and appreciate them. They create a conversation that, by its being, illustrates the known and directs our paths to the unknown, in search of tomorrow’s knowledge.

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The Power of Day

The Power of Day

Pentecost 37

Imagine a journey of a thousand miles, rather one thousand, three hundred and forty-five miles to be exact. Now imagine walking that distance. In determining the length of time, walkers often use something called Naismith’s Rule. William Wilson Naismith was a Scottish mountaineer and key founder of the Scottish Mountaineering Club. He firmly believed that the mountains of Scotland deserved the same respect as those of the Alps, the famed mountain range found in Austria, Germany, and Italy. An avid walker in Victorian times, Naismith devised a way to calculate the amount of time it would take to complete a specific walk. Based upon his own formula, Naismith determined one could walk three miles in one hour. He allotted for both climbing up his beloved mountains and for going back down.

Naismith allotted one minute for every ten meters of ascent and one minutes for every twenty meters descending. His calculations, however, are for the somewhat professional walker and do not fully allow time to enjoy the scenery nor do they account for heavy foliage, boggy soil, and even attempting to avoid brambles and poison ivy. A more modern rule for walking is allowing two and a half miles per hour and the occasional break time.

If we were to walk our one thousand three hundred and forty-five miles, on relatively flat terrain, it would take approximately 53.8 hours or two-plus days. However, on our journey, which is the distance from Germany to Greece, we must allow for the mountains we would encounter. There are plentiful Alps walking tours from Germany to Italy and most offer an itinerary that includes Bavarian villages, alpine meadows, numerous summits, and delightful villages. The average time estimated for such a journey is ten days. That still leaves us with five hundred and twenty four miles from Italy to Greece and here we would encounter difficulty. There simply is no way to “walk” from Italy to Greece unless one goes barely touches Italy and instead goes through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, and finally to Greece. Needless to say, we would be almost doubling our travel walking time and walking we must because airplane travel had not yet been invented at the time of the Greek mythologies.

If we undertook such a journey, somewhere along day five or six (I am a slow walker, I confess and would most likely slow us down a bit) we would reach the Pitzal Valley and the glorious glacier tongues that hang from the steep walls of the mountain pass known as Seescharte. The area is very near to the location of the “Glacier Mummy” or Oetzal, a discovery we have previously discussed. The spirituality of nature is accompanying us all along our journey which is very fitting for our discussion of Greek mythology because the greatest of all the Greek gods has a connection with such a journey – his name.

The deity we know as Zeus is really a Greek version of an Indo-European deity called Dyeus or Dyews. Dyeus was the patriarch or monarch in the deity society and was considered the god of the daylight sky. The Indo-European or Indo-Germanic mythologies believed in a deity who was able to manifest many forms at various levels, being at times male and at other times female. This deity was eternal, could not age nor could it be destroyed unlike some mythologies which account for the gods and goddesses aging or being injured or killed. Germanic mythologies were full of gods being maimed as were Norse and Celtic deities.

 

Carl Jung, a noted psychologist, compared the eternal deities such as Dyeus to archetypes dwelling in what he called the collective unconscious: “Archetypes are like riverbeds which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at any time. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life has flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed.”

 

There once was a medieval rune or alphabet which described Zui as the “father of the Gods” with a thunderbolt to display his power as the supreme sky God. Zeus was believed to control the powers of the sky, the clouds, etc. His father was said to be Cronus and his mother Rhea. Since Cronus had taken power from his own father, the story tells of his distrust of his own children. In imaginative storytelling form, Cronus is said to have swallowed all of his children except Zeus, hidden by his mother. This story of salvation of an infant by being hidden by the mother is not only found in Greek mythologies but is revisited in the Abrahamic faiths’ religious story of Moses.

Legend has Zeus assuming power and then forcing Cronus to regurgitate or somehow revive the children he had swallowed to full life. The Titans, brothers and sister of Cronus, attempted to regain their once-held power from Zeus and his Olympic deities and a ten-year battle ensued known as the Titanomachy. Then Zeus found his reign challenged by the Giants which led to another battle called the Gigantomachy. Both battles had been encouraged by Gaia, the earth mother goddesses of all but eventually, after even being challenged by other deities on Mount Olympus, Greek mythology gave Zeus his lasting place as the Father of Greek mythology.

It seems like an unlikely journey for one name to travel – Dyeus to Zeus. How the name traveled those one thousand-plus miles by mere word of mouth is something only history knows. The power of this daylight deity, though, is long-lasting even in our world today. More work occurs in the daylight than in the night. People seldom fear the day and even our word for gods, deity, is derived from the Latin form of the name.

Today we think of daylight and many think of the sun. Exposure to the ultra violet rays known as UVA and UVB can have negative effects but they also provide us with some positive effects. Our eyes need exposure to light for a number of reasons and even our personalities can be affected by the lack of such light. It is not hard to understand why the Greeks made their most powerful deity the god of the sky. The rain provided necessary water for sustaining life in all forms and most natural disasters seemed to start in the sky.

In more recent times, mankind has attempted to alter the timing of the day with the introduction of daylight savings time. First developed in colonial times, more and more countries are using this tool of time to seemingly create more daylight workability. While there is a higher incidence of health problems associated with the week before and after the switch to the time adjustment, there are some health benefits. Now implemented in over seventy countries, daylight savings time can reduce energy consumption and major crimes, increase recreational activities, and lead to an overall better sense of wellbeing. The power of the sky god seemingly once again is recognized.

The real value of any belief is the light it sheds on our own lives. It is said that when we walk in the light, we are aware and better able to conduct ourselves as we would want. Certainly visibility is improved, not just for our eyes but for our intentions, our goals, our going forward in life. As we walk through our life today, we need to seek the light and set our goals up high, perhaps as high as the sky. American writer Louisa May Alcott explained: “Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.”  I hope today you find your own personal light and are able to move forward, following your dreams and writing your own myth, your own story of personal success.

Robin Williams, Michael Curry, and Moving Forward

Robin Williams, Michael Curry, and Going Forward

Pentecost 36

As you know if you read daily, this blog is not about me. I do not tell you my favorite clothing designers or what I ate yesterday. If you are new to this blog, let me simply say it is designed to be a starting point for conversation and introspection. Yesterday, though, the spirits converged and I must ask your indulgence while a discuss a personal issue.

In 1973, the Episcopal Church elected a man to lead them forward. It was at a time in which most would have gladly NOT been elected. The Episcopal Church was considering the ordination of women as well as possible changes to both their Book of Common Prayer and the Hymnal. These were not simple decisions and both had created divides within the congregations. Many threatened a mass exodus.

A Presiding Bishop was elected, a surprise to many since he came from a southern diocese and these issues were most definitely progressive in thinking. Some probably voted hoping this man would simply sweep the discussions into the garbage but that did not happen. Others claimed it was a very narrow victory and would lead to the destruction of the church. I also was not happy with the outcome of the election but for different reasons.

This man was one of the finest I had ever met. He had confirmed me, initiated programs that emphasized and offered guidance to the young people of his diocese and calmed concerned parishioners about upcoming changes. Quite simply, I was selfish and wanted him to remain with us. I realized, though, that God had many of the same feelings about this man and that the church as a whole needed him.

A year after his election I moved and learned that many did not like this man. He not only stood tall, he stood firm in his faith and leadership. He did not instantly win friends or supporters but five years later the church was still intact and going strong. Women had indeed moved behind the altar to do more than clean. Worship still continued in spite of the various trial liturgies that shook the congregation up. No longer could someone go to church and move through the liturgy by rote. Now we had to pay attention and think about what came next and what we were saying.

Yesterday the Episcopal Church underwent a similar transition. This time they elected a ground-breaking Presiding Bishop. Twelve years they had done the same when they elected Katherine Jeffers-Shori to be the first female Presiding Bishop. Yesterday another Southern bishop was elected, this time the first African-American, Michael Curry. Like Bishop John Allin, Michael Curry stands firm but with vigor. No one sleeps through his sermons and no one will sleep through his tenure as Presiding Bishop.

The late great actor Robin Williams was also an Episcopalian. His faith integrated with his comedy in his list of ten reasons to join the Episcopal Church. Some of them included “All of the pageantry, none of the guilt”; “You can believe in dinosaurs”; “Pew aerobics”; “Church year is color-coded.” The Right Reverend Michael Curry will give us more, I am certain – more smiles, more reasons, and more leadership.

Following the spirit of one’s beliefs is not supposed to be easy. We should not be able to do it by rote. Life is all about transitions and many of them come with discomfort, pain, and yes, even fear. If we believe, though, that faith should alleviate our fear. Moving forward requires taking a step in a positive manner. Sometimes we will stumble and sometimes, we will soar. It is important to remember that we learn when we are picking ourselves up, though, not when we are busy soaring.

I have complete confidence in the future although right now I have no knowledge of it at all. What I do know is what I believe. I believe in my faith; I believe in the power of faith. I also believe in mankind. Life is an aerobic exercise and we all need to exercise the goodness that is within us. Let your spirit soar and help a stranger today. After all, when we help another, we help ourselves.

In a city known for being the headquarters of the Mormon Church, Salt Lake City, the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church of the United States will continue its business. The nine day conference is not just about electing a Presiding Bishop. There are many things yet to do, just as we each have many things yet to do in our lives. From a southern diocese comes a man with fifteen years’ experience as a diocesan bishop, a man who had led what many considered to be a diocese of conservatism that yet, boasts one of the longest sitting minority bishops ever. Bishop Curry is proof that we need to act on fact and faith, not misconceptions or myths of gossip.

“I remember just realizing it was an experience of the Holy Spirit, for real,” Bishop Curry said, referring to the election of his predecessor, Bishop Katherine. About his own election he stated: “Today, I had that same feeling. I think that’s a sign of our church growing more deeply in the spirit of God and of the movement of God’s spirit in our world.”  Amen.

Football, Furies, and Fate

It Always Happens in Three’s: Football, Furies, and Fate

Pentecost 35

This post would most likely have been better two days ago, Pentecost 33, or tomorrow, Pentecost 36. My apologies to those who love numbers and consistency, etc. for the discussion of groups of 3’s on a day that is decidedly not evenly divisible by three. The fact is, though, numbers only have the power we assign to them.

Let’s take the number 357. In base ten the first number, 3, means three hundred. The second, 4, means forty and the last, 7, means seven or seven ones. In base four, however, it is a different story; 35710 converts to 112114. While you may not be a mathematician, numbers are something we all use and rely on around the world. Numbers denote power.

The deities of the various world mythologies were all about power. A power is an exponent to which a given quantity is raised. You may not have realized it but power is a numbers word, a mathematical concept. The word exponent, the basic definition of the word power, has many synonyms: backer, promoter, advocate, champion, model, example, explainer, interpreter, booster, or a fan. In math, an exponent is a number or expression placed to the upper right of a number that tells how many times that number or expression is multiplied by itself. For example, 23 equals 8 or 2x2x2 which is…8.

Common men, elected officials, trending Hollywood actors and actresses, top-of-the-charts musical talents, and winning sports figures all have power because we give it to them with our fan following. We become the exponents by which their status is multiplied to star status. We boost their popularity by seeing their performances, buying their music, wearing their jerseys and going to the games. They remain, however, the same people when they lose. What is different is that they have no exponent by which their presence is multiplied. The women on the US and China soccer/football teams are the same women awaking today that awoke yesterday. The difference is that today, the US team came out victorious in the World Cup quarter finals.

Greek mythology has its own trio of beings, two of them in fact. Known as Erinyes in Greek, the Furies were said to have been born from the spilled blood of Uranus after his fateful encounter previously discussed with Cronus. The blood is said to have fallen on Gaia and gave to these three a primeval birth, making them very different from the other immortals of the time. Their names tell their demeanor: Alecto or Never-Ending; Tsiphone or Voice of Revenge; Megaira or Envious Anger.

The ancient Greeks never uttered the names of the Furies aloud. Much like the movie “Beetlejuice” in which the uttering of the main character’s name three times would call him and create mayhem, destruction, and death, just calling their names was said to have power. It was believed that the Furies could drive a person insane.

Another trio from Greek mythology was called the Fates. Known as the Moirai, these three were said to have originated as birth deities and most likely their intended purpose was to predestine the life of each upon birth. Daughters of Nyx or Night, these goddesses were known as Clotho or Spinner, Lachesis or Drawer of Lots and Attopos, Inevitable.

Both the Furies and the Fates were depicted much like old women. The Furies were considered evil hags with snakes and whips. They brandished torches at their victims and sometimes were seen as chasers of the guilty, even in the underworld. The Fates were old women who sat spinning. Clotho was said to spin destinies on her spindle while Lachesis measured lengths with a rod and Alecto snipped the lengths with shears. There is some dissension over whether or not the Fates could control the gods and goddesses or whether they too were subject to the Fates. Eventually only two remained – birth and death. It is said that Zeus assumed the role of Lachesis by measuring the lifespan of the mortal mankind.

Today many will awake in the USA and rejoice over the Women’s Cup victory. Some will proclaim it fate since US teams have been victorious over Chinese teams in the past. Others will shout for joy and say it is the result of hard work, diligence, personal talents, and teamwork. A few will be bitter and find a referee’s call they feel was unjust or a player’s move they think illegal. Hardly anyone will give the power of the outcome to the ball itself, shrug their shoulders and murmur: “That’s the way the ball bounces.

The names of the Furies are feeling we all have felt or wanted to feel. Most of us have been in situations that seem never-ending. Whether we like to admit it or not, we have all felt envy and perhaps that had led you to also feel anger. The powerless seldom think they have the power of revenge and often they are correct. My question to you is this: Should we want to assign power to revenge?

It is my humble opinion that revenge, one of the Furies, connects us to the Fates. It alters our destiny, shortens our options, and inevitably leads to more grief. Revenge is not a path to closure from an unfortunate incident. Remembering the good, the love that abounded, is a much better path.

This week in the USA has seen three important events…both illustrated with a flag, neither flag being anything more than simple fabric. It is, as discussed earlier this week, a myth, a a fictional story, to assume a flag has power and yet, they often do. They become exponents that incite, encourage, and explain. The flag used by the Ku Klux Klan has been retired and removed in many locations. Its history will never be erased but its purpose, never a good purpose for the health of mankind, has long been outlived. It was time for Lachesis to cut the thread of its life.

Another flag with rainbow color has become a flag for supporting same-sex legal marriage. With a ruling from the highest court in the USA which stated all couples should have the rights afforded to some, this flag has been spun and worn proudly. It too has no power except as a pretty ornament but for many, it was a sign of freedom. For Constitutional scholars, it was an inevitable ruling.

Many today will shout “Team USA” and proudly wear their flag of the USA. Their white stars on a blue field accompanied by red and white stripes will proclaim their pride and the power they feel their country has. Some will disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling while others will support it. Hopefully, all we come together in weaving a brighter future for the nation and all nations. They will, however, conveniently forget that other nations like Canada passes such legislation on same sex unions ten years ago as did several European nations.

One event does not define one’s path. We cannot let our anger destroy us. We cannot move forward seeking only revenge. We cannot let our current satiation be seen as the inevitable life we will forever walk. We can find joy in each moment, take pride in our potential, and create a brighter tomorrow. That is the real power of living.

Myth of Being

Myth of Being

Pentecost 34

It was Plato who first used the word “mythologia”, a Greek word meaning the telling of story using imagines characters. Plato lived around the time 427-347 BCE. To first understand Greek mythology you must consider the land from whence it sprang.

Greece was surrounded by water and, at the same time, divided into regions by the mountains and broken coastline. Forced to adapt and live with the terrain of their homeland, sailing became a necessary part of life for the early Greeks. It also provided communication, both within the country and with others.

Greece was naturally broken into smaller areas by the terrain, mountainous and yet lush. The earliest families of what would become city-states within the country were featured in the works of such poets as Homer proudly proclaimed their connections to the gods and goddesses whose stories were told to explain the natural world and the existence of mankind. The city-states of Sparta, Mycenae, Thebes, Athens, and Corinth were just a few actual city-states mentioned in these myths.

The Greek artists told and illustrated their deities to show how the gods and goddesses often determined the outcome of the efforts of mankind. Universal themes such as love, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, pain, deceit, beauty, and destiny were all motives and influencing factors in these stories. Although some would later attempt to connect these Greek gods and goddesses to actual men and women who had once lived glorious lives that become divine in the telling, most historians agree that Plato was right in defining these stories as being based upon imagined characters rather than real human beings.

The earliest Roman mythology bears little resemblance to the Roman mythology studies today. Rome’s conquest of Greece in the second century BCE led to the final assimilation of the two cultures’ myths, something that had begun earlier with the trading between the two sea-faring empires. The Greeks had a far more expansive collection of mythologies and the Romans eagerly embraced them. The one exception was the myth of the god Aeneas. A Trojan by birth, Aeneas flees the city of Troy during the Greek takeover to found the city of Rome. From this point forward, Roman history begins for many.

The Greeks, as previously discussed, made their mythologies into art. The oral traditions were written down and became the basis for many stories. The descriptions of the gods and goddesses became the basis for many sculptures and frescoes. Honor was given to these deities and characters in the form of temples and architecture has relied on these early edifices ever since.

For many people, living on this planet is taken for granted.  In fact, most of us take the very fabric of our lives for granted. We go through daily motions of arising, getting dresses, eating, working, and perhaps the chance for some relaxation and/or recreation. In too many industrialized countries, food is wasted while many go hungry. Basic utilities are easy. We turn on a tap and water streams out a faucet. We flick a switch and electricity brings light into the room, often accompanied by air conditioning or heat. Fossil fuels are turned into fuel that flows from a pump into automobiles that require an expenditure of less than five hundred calories to fill. For most of us, these basic commodities are thought of only when it comes time to pay for them. Otherwise, we awake each morning simply expecting them, relying on them to go about our daily lives.

The early Greeks wanted to know where these utilities and food items came from and why were they given or available to man. Life for them was not a given and their expectations were based on the gift of life, not the acceptance of it as a given. The poet Hesiod created the first Greek family tree of the gods and goddesses of their oral traditions and once created, this tree of folk lore grew in the retelling. The Greeks organized their stories and this is one reason they have remained so popular.

It is a common beginning: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? One might ask the same of the Christian Holy Trinity and the Greek myths. Hesiod divided them into three main categories of section of the family tree of existence for the Greek myths. The primordial gods and goddesses, the most ancient of them, represented the basic elements of the universe: day, night, earth, sea, sky, etc. These ancient deities were embryonic is giving rise to the Titans. The Titans existed so that the Greek storytellers could explain the physical features of the elements such as mountains, oceans, rivers, and so forth. The Titans gave birth to the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the more familiar Greek characters many of us have grown up hearing and pretending to be.

Greek mythology had other groups of three – the Furies and the Fates being two such examples. As we continue to delve into the classical mythologies, we can see the beginnings of the Abrahamic stories of the Abrahamic faiths start to take shape. For some this proves that are simply stories and without basis. For others, it proves that mankind is a continuous family, regardless of locale, and that we are in fact truly all connected.

Mountain of Potential

Mountain of Potential

Pentecost 33

For most of us, the abodes of the super powerful beings that inhabit the mythologies and stories of folk lore live in imaginary places: the ice castle-like setting to which Superman returns; the deep dark and technologically equipped cave of Batman; even the time traveling telephone booth of Dr. Who. These places stir our creative juices and light the fire of our imaginations. None look like what we see outside out windows. Most are able to be visited only in theme parks that attempt to create them to encourage visitors and continue the myths.

Mount Olympus may very well be proof of the old adage: If you can dream it, it can become real. It is unknown who first wove the original tale of Gaia emerging from the Chaos. Known as Mother Earth, Gaia is given credit for giving birth to the rest of the world and its features. Other Greek myths give that place to Eurynome, often portrayed in the form of a dove. What we do know is that Greek mythology speaks of Ourea as being the mountains, a child of the earliest deities.

But there are many mountains so how were the stories to account for this? In true storytelling format, the one birthing of the Mountain deity Ourea became ten. Known as some of the primordial gods and goddesses, these original spirits were called “ourea” and named Aitna, Athos, Helikon, Kithairon, Nysos, Olympus 1, Olympus 2, Oreios, Parnes, and Tmolus. Timolus, like Uranus and Pontus were considered parthenogenetic children of Gaia. It may seem unlikely that one female could alone give birth but there is scientific basis for such which is actually rather common in lower vertebrates and some plants.

We also do not know which came first – the legend or the naming. Most believe the mountain we now today as Mount Olympus was named after the stories. It makes sense. Olympus is the tallest mountain in all of Greece. The most concise stories of the Greek gods and goddesses are found in the writing of Homer. His early epic poems, the Iliad and the Odyssey, give no exact location for Mount Olympus and several mountain ranges actually are named such.

It makes sense, however, that Mount Olympus we visit today is the one of which Homer wrote. The highest peak, Mytikas, is at a height of 9750 feet or 2918 meters. Visible above the cloud line, Homer described it as being free from storms. Second tallest of the Balkan Mountains, the rocks of Olympus are relatively new in terms of earth’s geographical history and today is a World Biosphere Reserve.

The Mount Olympus in Greece is not the only Mount Olympus, though. Washington State, in the United States of America, also boasts a Mount Olympus, one with an international history. For centuries, the American Indians of the area, the Quileute tribe, called the mountain something sounding like “o-Sky”. Some speculate they were saying “Oh-El-Ski”; others believe it to perhaps be “Oh-Sky”. The name has never been translated and the similarity to the mountain rising up to the sky, an English word, is merely coincidence most likely.

In 1774 a Spaniard named Juan Perez saw the mountain in Washington from aboard his ship in the Pacific Ocean. He named the mountain El Cerro de la Santa Rosalia after a Spanish saint who lived in the mountains alone. Perez would have been unable to know just how isolated his “Peak of Santa Rosalia” actually was but his name fit. Alas, it only stood as the name for four years.

On July 4th, 1778, a British explorer saw the same mountain aboard another ship in the area. This explorer, John Meares, called the mountain Mount Olympus and remarked that it looked like a home to the gods.   In 1792 Captain George Vancouver officially named the mountain on an official map. Attempts in the ensuing years to rename the mountain have failed and the name stands today.

The Olympus of the Greeks boasts fifty-two gorges, and dozens of smooth peaks. Once lions roamed its lands but today even the deer have mostly disappeared. Thirty-two species of mammals have been documented on Olympus with twenty-two species of reptiles. Over 1700 types of flora call Olympus home and, although it is known as the home of the gods, few really were said to live there.

The Greeks used their mythologies to idealize aspects of mankind and their worship was to emphasize, explain, and enlighten various features and characteristics of mankind. The website sacredsite.com explains: “The deities believed to have dwelled upon the mythic mount were Zeus, the king of the gods; his wife Hera; his brothers Poseidon and Hades; his sisters Demeter and Hestia; and his children, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Athena, Hermes and Hephaestus. It is interesting to note that these Olympian gods and goddesses were understood in ancient times as archetypes representing idealized aspects of the multi-faceted human psyche. Worship of the deities was a method of invoking and amplifying those aspects in the behavior and personality of the human worshipper. Zeus was the god of mind and the intellect, and a protector of strangers and the sanctity of oaths; Hera was a goddess of fertility, the stages of a woman’s life and marriage; Apollo represented law and order, and the principles of moderation in moral, social and intellectual matters; Aphrodite was a goddess of love and the overwhelming passions that drove humans to irrational behavior; Hermes was the god of travellers, of sleep and dreams and prophecy; Athena was spiritual wisdom incarnate; Hephaestus was the god of the arts and fire; and Ares represented the dark, bloodthirsty aspect of human nature.”

The word dwell is often used in discussing these Greek deities but it should be noted that where they dwelled was not exactly their home. Much like many in today’s busy world spend more time at the office than in their own abodes, the gods and goddesses used Olympus as an office rather than a place of comfort and relaxation. Mount Olympus was more of a metaphor for the power of the mountain and perhaps the power of home to all of us.

Olympus today represents potential – potential of the power of stories but also potential of the power of mankind working together with the natural world. Once considered a holy place, today Olympus still offers sanctuary for those who seek its power. What we need to learn is that, for the Greeks and their gods, just like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz”, there really is “no place like home”.

Home should be a human right and today so many have become refugees who must flee their home. Our world is really our Olympus – the earth and the universe. The International Space Station has become the one place where diversity meets science and basic human dignity in the cooperation of nations and mankind. If we can do it in space, we must be able to do it on earth. After all, no one ever reached the summit of Olympus without first taking a step at the bottom. Potential is reached by slowing taking each step as it comes. The journey leads to success and the mountain summit reached in glory.

Myth of Power

Myth of Power

Pentecost 32

Legend or myth has it that the man known as Saint Andrew was crucified on two pieces of wood reminiscent of the Roman numeral for the number ten of “X”. For most who call this man Saint Andrew, there are two different myths about who he was and how he came to be a disciple of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. Both come from scripture, one being that Andrew, a common name of the time, followed the traveling preacher now called John the Baptist. The story says that when Andrew saw John’s cousin, Jesus, he immediately recognized him as the promised Messiah John the Baptist had been preaching about and become a follower of Jesus. Another story tells of Andrew and his broth Simon Peter out fishing when the man Jesus calls to them and invites them to be “fishers of men”. Whether you follow the story of Luke or of John, all agree that Andrew was present at the final meal Christian mythology calls the Last Supper.

After the death of Jesus, Andrew embarked on travels of his own, continuing to preach as John the Baptist and Jesus had done. He traveled along the Black Sea into Kiev and other regions. For such travels and preaching, he is considered the patron saint of Ukraine, Romania, and Russia. Andrew was tied with ropes to a structure known as a crus decussate or saltire, an x-shaped cross. He hung there until he died, martyred for his beliefs. The Eastern Orthodox cross has near its base a similar cross piece that makes the bottom reflect such a symbol.

Many legends and myths abound regarding Andrew. One tells of a ship carrying Andrew that ran aground on what today we call Cyprus. Andrew supposedly went ashore and struck his staff in the sandy soil, causing a spring of healing water to erupt. There are others regarding Cyprus as well as Malta and places within Romania. Those in Kiev lay claim to visitation by Andrew although some historians doubt this is true, believing that some just wanted to be able to make the claim to aid in tourism.

It is not disputed that Andrew’s relics or partial remains ended up in Scotland. The Roman emperor Constantinople was aid to have had “divine guidance” in sending these relics to Scotland. According to legend or myth, in 832 ACE, a group of Scots and Picts charged into battle with the mighty Angles near the modern city of Athelstaneford. The Scots’ leader Oengus prayed top Saint Andrew, vowing that if he experienced victory, he would make Andrew the patron saint of Scotland. The legend states that on the morning of the battle a crus decussate or saltire appeared in the sky, formed out of clouds. The modern-day flag of Scotland reflects a white saltire against a blue background. A 1320 declaration named Andrew to be the “first to be an apostle” and the patron saint of Scotland. Saint Andrew crosses, the saltire proudly displayed on the flag, were carved into Scottish fireplaces to ward off evil spirits and worn to offer protections from witches.

The Andrew’s Cross has been used by many countries and groups throughout time to reflect devotion to a cause and strength. It is used, as previously mentioned, on the flag of Scotland and on the flag of Jamaica. It appears in reverse coloration from Scotland on the flags on the Russian and Imperial Russian Navy flags. A red variation on a field of white appeared as crosses swords on the Spanish Burgundy Flag, the flag of the Spanish empire from 1506-1701 and as a Spanish naval land battle flag until 1843. The Spanish burgundy flag was the first flag to fly over some of the Southern U.S. territories known as Southern states and it is reflected in the flags of two states today, Florida and Alabama.

Flags were carried into battle as a mythology, a myth that denoted bravery as well as identification. During the early months of the United States civil uprising known as the War Between the States, the lack of such designation proved the reason for friendly fire on both sides. The Confederacy could not use the flag of the country from which it had just claimed independence so a new flag was adopted in 1861, bearing a left hand corner with seven and later thirteen stars in a circle with three broad stripes, two red with one white in the middle. This first flag of the Confederate States of America was called the “Stars and Bars’ flag.

However, this flag was very similar to the flag used by the United States and could not be easily identified on a field of battle. Resulting causalities from friendly fire were experienced on both sides due to the flag confusion. A plan was devised to use a flag of a state militia, the Northern Virginia militia’s flag. This second official flag of the C.S.A. contained a difference left-hand corner on a field of white and was known as the “Stainless Banner”. The corner decoration contained a Saint Andrew’s cross with stars embedded within the bars of the saltire on a field of crimson. The white background on which the corner sat would allow for easy visibility. A third flag was adopted with a red vertical bar on the right-hand side to prevent anyone from thinking the second flag might be flag of truce. Known as the “red-stained banner” it was under this flag that the final battles were fought and that the Confederacy stopped fighting.

The flag known today as the Confederate Flag is a myth since it never flew over any troops during the War Between the States. A radical group, based upon a myth previously discuss (see The Myth Killing Mankind” published June 18th), adopted a flag using only the left-hand corner of the second and third C.S.A. flags in the late 1800’s. Their myth believing their race to be superior has been responsible for the killing of many innocent people, most recently this past week in a church in South Carolina. Their use of the flag does not denote bravery but rather cowardice, the failure to be brave enough to be with someone different, the lack of courage to grow and become diverse, a weakness not to be respected, revered or duplicated.

For many, any use of a flag of the Confederacy evokes images of family and of the willingness to stand up for one’s convictions. Although many now recognize the multiple layers the War Between the States enveloped, most do not believe any way should be fought for the right to enslave any part of mankind. In a country that was founded for the rights of the common man to exist, a country whose major documents of organization, incorporation, and legislation all boast the words supporting and commemorating “human rights and dignity”, no emblems promoting slavery should be displayed in a judicial or legislative setting.

No one should fail to honor their ancestors, even when those ancestors fought for a cause now discovered to be in error. There is pride to be had in having courage but it takes even greater courage to live one’s belief. The U.S.A. was founded on religious principles that espoused “All men (women) were created equal”. That is no myth and continues to be the compass point from which all legislation and rulings are based.

The states that comprised the Confederacy were beaten and in their defeat had much to regain. The ensuing one hundred fifty-plus years have seen these once-defeated people rise up from the ashes, actual ashes, of their homes to once again thrive and survive. The original inhabitants of Florida and Alabama were the Spanish and their presence is reflected in the red and white saltire flags those states wave over their government buildings.

The Southern states were left with little after the war because war destroys. War never builds. The real strength of these people is not a misnamed flag. It is a myth to believe that a decoration can give power and the flag of a radical, cowardly group should not be desired … unless one wishes to proclaim cowardice and ignorance. The best testament and honor the modern South has given its history is the revival of its cities, the strength of its economy. To admit defeat and become strong again is a testament to its citizenry, people who today boast more integrated institutions, corporations, and entities than any other part of the U.S.A.

Like Andrew, power comes from walking one’s faith. You cannot claim to be Christian without remembering the words of Christian mythologies that state all are God’s children and all are to be respected. It is a foolish myth of power to believe one race to be supreme and to wave a flag that never was really a flag. What passes today for the Confederate Flag was simply a logo of a radical group of man who breathed hate, a hate born out of a fear of the future. It is a painful and embarrassing part of history that needs to die a natural death of misuse.

The flags of our history are just that – flags of antiquity, the past. No one can move forward by living in the past. Reenactments may seem like honoring the past but they must be done with wisdom and not become weekend entertainments. War is not entertaining. Neither is hatred and it should not be advertised in a nation that was founded on human rights. Be proud of your ancestors but let them live where they did – in the past. It is a myth of power to believe that we prepare for the future by repeating the mistakes of the past. Let the past live in museums and on the pages of history books. Today is for living. Today we need to write our own history of success and mankind working having the courage to work together.