And then came …
In many countries this is the time that children go back to school, beginning another year of academic study. This time of year is characterized by new textbooks, new notebooks, new laptops and usually new clothes or school uniforms, necessary because children grow. It is easy with an infant to see growth. After all, from one six month period to another, many changes occur, physically and emotionally. With toddlers the intellectual growth becomes evident as they learn to test the boundaries they previously took for granted. No longer can one put the child in a crib and rest assured the baby will remain there. AS the child grows intellectually, their problem solving skills develop. Hungry? Push the chair over to the counter, climb up, open the cupboard, find the cookies hidden at the back and…instant resolution for the hunger!
Somewhere along the later teen years we seem to stop emphasizing our own personal intellectual growth. Once our heads stop growing, we seem to think so should our brains and minds. The mythologies of our Pentecost series are not presented in a timeline but rather geographically. I have done this for three reasons. First, I like organizing things by region. I think it lends itself better to our imagined connections to these stories and using one’s imagination is critical when discussing ancient legends proclaiming warriors of the soul and spirits of the universe. Secondly, we have no real proof of any timeline and, I believe, some of these stories appeared at opposite ends of the earth but at the same time. I also have no proof of that but we do have evidence of other things. For example, castanets and finger cymbals served the same purpose and are played very much the same and yet, appeared on earth at about the same time. Their difference is the material with which they are made, material that is native to their respective cultures.
Thirdly, mankind grew and spread and some believe the ancient mythologies did as well. Certainly, Greece influence those of the Romans. I believe that as mankind traveled to other regions, so did the myths and beliefs of the people doing the traveling. Regardless of their age, these stories still packed a powerful punch when told and retold. To believe that older myths no longer have impact today discredits the very nature of storytelling. While by the end of this series we will have discussed many myths and mythical characters, the world has many, many more with which to delight your mind and grow some new thoughts.
It is easy to get wrapped up in the telling and to forget that myths are like neighbors, the neighbors that the cultures of mankind truly are. While one culture was developing one skill set, another was not necessarily sleeping. Rather, they were busy doing their own thing. Before Alexander the Great had reached the Indus River, what would become the farthest point of his empire, Buddha had been born and buried as had Mahavita, founder of the Jain religion.
Karl Jaspers, a noted German philosopher, described the period between 900 to 200 BCE as the “Axial Age”, a pivotal time in the development of mankind’s spiritual growth and religious development. Axial refers to relationships, the axis being the central point around which things revolve. Jasper pointed to this period during which four main world traditions developed: Confucianism and Daoism in China; Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism leading to the Abrahamic faiths in Israel; philosophical rationalism in Greece. Many believe we are still in this period while others feel we have diluted the messages they presented to the world.
Today we consider the mythologies of our ancestors as being either religious or spiritual. We might be surprised to discover they probably would have not considered them either. Whether the stories were of Thor striking the heavens with his hammer to create lightning or an offering of either material sacrifice or whispered prayer to a deity omnipotent, the intent was the same. The purpose of their believing was to create change, positive change in one’s living.
AS we begin tomorrow to study India’s mythologies in depth, I hope we remember these are not just stories told to an primitive audience that have no meaning today. These are primordial stories, a genealogy of mankind. If our lives are to have any meaning today and for tomorrow, we must recognize our origins and those things that gave life meaning. We could learn quite a bit from those early beings that lived what we might consider very elementary lives.
In her book “The Great Transformation” Karen Armstrong emphasizes this: “What mattered was not what you believed but how you behaved.” The intent of all the mythologies we will explore during this series is that5 fact that they were told to explain and improve life. The worships, the sacrifices, the rituals were not merely drama or entertainment. Their purpose was to profoundly change the believer.
All too often today we go through our daily lives like robots or lemmings following the current trends as we attempt to swim upstream to some imaginary prize or status. The mythologies of the past were all about creating a better tomorrow, inhabited and lived by a better mankind. Tomorrow will be determined by what we do today, how we live today. Who we harm, who we ignore, what will attract our attention, where we will spend our money…These are the things that define us. These are our mythologies of today that we ourselves will write. To complete our title question: And then came… The answer is you.