Sailing Through Life
Ships are interesting things. They delight and amuse us and, at the same time, are directly responsible for the continuation of mankind. Every culture has a great flood mythology. They almost all involve the flood as retribution for acts committed by mankind and all involve a ship of some sort.
The Kwaya, Mbuti, Maasai, Mandin, and Yoruba cultures of Africa all tell of a great flood. The Maasai story features a hawk being the messenger of safe times. The Sharapatha Brahmana stories of India detail a catastrophic flood and the main character gathers grain in a ship which he then boards and is saved. The Hopi American Indians tell of a flood that brings about an entrance to what they referred to as the Fourth World. The Abrahamic faiths also have a great flood, the story of Noah and a dove.
The Vikings buried their warriors in fields with granite-type headstones. A Viking graveyard was uncovered in Scandinavia and the graves were laid out in the shape of a boat. Recently six bodies were unearthed in England which bore Viking garments giving evidence that these mighty warriors did indeed exist and traveled in their boats to areas previously not thought possible.
While many of the flood myths feature an ark or wooden boat, other objects for storage were also called arks. The importance of boats and their various names has been largely overlooked by the average person but truly they play a large role in the mythologies of the world. Today many myths abound regarding the current waves of refugees arriving on distant shores in boats. Some discourage welcoming such visitors who often are simply seeking a chance to live and are based on inaccuracies and fear. For the myths of antiquity, though, boats were marvelous conveyances, both real and fantasy.
“They that go down to the sea in ships and do great business in the waters; these see the works of the Lord and his wonders of the deep.” This verse from Psalms could well be a summary of many of the world’s myths about ships and diplomacy amongst the cultures of the world. Ships were the means by which people traveled across the water, that seventy-plus percent of the earth that is not ground. When one went to sea, one was acting on faith and relying on skill. There were no shipping lanes in the ancient world and the only maps were the stars in the night sky and the bright sun, all celestial objects that were thought to be deities and myth-based entities.
Today we travel in many different ways but the reasons for our travels often are the same as our ancestors. We seek a better life; we are doing business; we are exploring the possibilities that life has to offer. Our ships of today travel not only on water but also on land and in the air.
John McDermott once wrote: “Life is an ocean and love it a boat; in troubled waters it keeps us afloat. When we started the voyage there was just me and you; now gathered round us we have our own crew. Together we’re in this relationship, we built it with care to last the whole trip. Our true destination’s not marked on any chart; we’re navigating the shores of the heart. ”
Reviewing the mythologies of the past helps us connect to the humanity that lived before us and reminds us that more will follow our time here on earth. We are all following a path, sailing through life eager to arrive at one or more destinations. What we believe and how we live our faith is our compass. A common type of compass is the compass rose, so named because it designated eight wind directions and thus looked like some renderings of a rose.
As with the ships of antiquities, mythologies often served as compasses for the directions people took in their lives. Vera Nazarian speaks of the compass rose and our sailing through life, following the myths in which we believe. “The compass rose is nothing but a star with an infinite number of rays pointing in all directions. It is the one true and perfect symbol of the universe. And it is the one most accurate symbol of you. Spread your arms in an embrace, throw your head back, and prepare to receive and send coordinates of being. For, at last you know—you are the navigator, the captain, and the ship.”