To Hold the Power

To Hold the Power

Pentecost 40

There is a wonderful  picture of yesterday’s discussion of syzygy to be found at that illustrates the planetary convergence of Venus and Jupiter with the earth.  I posted it on my twitter feed yesterday.  It shows a girl standing exactly between the two planets, appearing to hold each in her hands. The planet conjunction astronomical phenomenon, regarding three planets and their lining up in the night sky, is not that unusual and yet, when viewed as it appears in this photograph, seems like a miraculous event, something almost as unbelievable as a deity that could do the things the heroes and villains of Greek myths purportedly accomplished.

Imagine yourself finding a pleasant and protected field in which to live. There are a couple of trees that offer shade and a moving stream nearby. There is even a cliff overhanging that creates a type of cave, formed from the streaming of water down the side of the rocks. This all sounds a bit idyllic but more importantly, it affords a safe place to live. The absence of dense forestry means a fire can be built for warmth and to perhaps cook. Moving water means the stream is not stagnant and most likely not only is a source of safe drinking water but also fish that can be used for food. As the seasons change, the overhanging will provide cover from storms and in the winter, a cocoon of sorts for warmth. You can even stand on the top of the cliff to watch for intruders or other threats. Life is good.

This home we have imagined for ourselves is not unlike those of the earliest of mankind. As humans developed so did their abodes but at first we lived on the land and off the land. Mankind arose to see the sun peeking over the horizon. During the day it seemed to move across the sky until it vanished beyond the farthest of mountains and plateaus. However did it move? Suddenly, a storm unlike any other rains down upon you. One of the trees is uprooted and carried off. What could possibly have such power?

Accustomed to the daily sounds of the outside, imagine the difference when one hears thunder. Early civilizations seemed to realize that the thunderous clap heralded a dangerous companion of lightening. Today we know that when we hear the thunder, we take a risk in being close to lightening. In fact, if you don’t have an application on your smart phone like I do that tells you whenever there has been a lightning strike within five miles of you, you can determine how close the lightening is to you by hearing thunder.

Thunder is caused by the rapid expansion and contraction of the air surrounding a lightning bolt. In other words, you cannot have thunder without lighting. Ever. Sometimes, depending on the terrain, we can see the lighting without hearing the thunder but trust me, it is there. A lightning bolt is about five times hotter than the surface of the sun. The air surrounding it becomes super-hot and the air, as a result, expands rapidly in minute increments of time. However, this rapid heating rapidly cools and it is that heating up and then cooling off that creates the thunder.

At any given moment on our planet there are about 1800 thunderstorms. As I am writing this, I am experiencing the beginnings of one myself. There are on average twenty-five million lightning strikes each year; that equals more than a hundred lightning bolts every second. Lightning bolts can travels up to 60,000 miles per second and the average length of one bolt is between two and three miles. A tree can withstand a direct hit from a lightning bolt if it and the ground around it is wet enough. The electricity from the lightning strike will pass over the wet surface of the tree and go straight into the ground. Thunder can be heard from as far away as twelve miles from a lightning strike.

The speed of light is faster than the speed of sound so sometimes we see the lightning without hearing the thunder. Often people see the lightning and then hear the thunder. Light travels at 186,282 miles per second while sound travels at .211 miles per second, approximately. (Terrain will affect the speed of sound as will height. The acoustical properties of thunder are created by the different terrains and objects that the sound wave encounters.) If you start counting by second after you see a lightning bolt and then divide the number you are at when you first hear thunder by five, then you can determine how many miles away the lightning was. Another way to remember the connection is that every five seconds between seeing lightning and hearing thunder generally equals one mile.

Ancient mankind did not know that thunder was a compression wave caused by lightning. To him/her, it was simply power, awe-inspiring power. The ancient Greeks believed that if lightning struck a specific spot on the ground, a pearl would form. They, like all ancient cultures, deeply respected such natural phenomena. Almost every culture had a god of thunder, as this deity personified power. While there is no typical depiction of a lightning god and most cultures did not have one, the Thunder God was almost always the chief or king of all deities of the culture.

So we have imagined ourselves in a pleasant pasture of sorts, a field that allows us to live and find food sources and have drinking water as well as one that affords us shelter and shade. It is probably not too hard to understand why the Greeks gave their final resting place for souls deemed to be heroic or virtuous a name that involves a field. After all, the fields were good homes and if one was to remain for all eternity, it needed to be in a pleasant place. Historians and Etymologists differ as to the origin of the Greek’s version of heaven, the Elysian Fields. Some believe it derived from the word meaning to be struck by lightning or “enelysion”. It was believed that Zeus blessed a mortal by striking him with lightning. Others feel it has a more historic beginning, derived from the Egyptian word “ialu” meaning “reeds”. The Egyptians had in their mythologies a land called Sekhet Iaru or Reed Fields which meant a paradise of plenty for the dead to spend eternity.

Mere mortals did not hold the stars in their hands like our picture seems to imply above. Something more powerful than a person had to move the sun across the sky or give birth to the stars, didn’t it? Ancient man had questions and wanted answers. Perhaps they first appeared in his subconscious and connected with his collective unconscious. Perhaps the faint rumblings of distant thunder led to a dream which wrote the beginnings of a powerful immortal that could crack a whip and create lightning. Or maybe it was a chilly stormy, day and, sitting under the cliff, someone began to weave a story.

No matter how absurd it may seem to the purely scientific, drug-crazed invention to the purely rational or fantastical to the overly creative, if we really were to stop and think about the times and locales of our ancestors, it is not too difficult to imagine the mythologies they believed. In his book “Classical Myth”, Barry Powell writes about the Greek gods and goddesses: “Carved on the temple [at Delphi] were the exhortations “Know yourself” and “Nothing too much,” mottoes with a similar meaning: You are only human, so don’t try more than you are able (or you will pay the price). A recurring theme in Greek myth is the man or woman who loses sight of human limitations and acts arrogantly and with violence, as if immortal. And pays a terrible price.”

Ilona Andrews, in her book “Magic Strikes”, has a character describe the characteristics of the Greek deities: “You’re like a god from a Greek myth, Saiman. You have no empathy. You have no concept of the world beyond your ego. Wanting something gives you an automatic right to obtain it by whatever means necessary with no regard to the damage it may do. I would be careful if I were you. Friends and objects of deities’ desires dropped like flies. In the end the gods always ended up miserable and alone.”

For the prehistoric man, being alone meant eventual death, sooner rather than later. Although our mythologies seem like stories to alleviate the tediousness of daily living which was indeed harsh during that period, they more than likely were an answer to questions about power. What power created the world? What power moved the waters of that world, the sun, the moon, and the stars? Why could man jump but not as high as the sky? That latter question would be answered with a story of an apple and a man, a myth that resulted in gravity. All our myths have resulted in behaviors patterns, belief systems, but most importantly in the stories of our living. Perhaps that is the greatest power of all – to live a good life. That power is one we all share, much like Carl Jung’s collective unconscious. It is simply how we elect to use that power that makes will determine if we are productive or destructive.


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