Mystery or Miracle?
It was in medieval Europe that mythologies began to appear as tableaux, living pictures or drama of the stories of mankind. Originally these tableaux, or living pictures, were a group of actors posed so as to illustrate the story. There was no dialogue; there were no songs. The “tableau vivant” was, in modern terms, a 3-D representation of how an artist might have drawn a scene about the story. Much like the window displays in large stores, the living actors posed as mannequins and presented one aspect of a well-known legend or myth.
In the fifth century ACE these tableaux began to find their way into religious services, often accompanied with a chant or antiphonal hymn. These later were embellished with dialogue and action. Referred to as mystery plays, taking their name from the Latin word “misterium” which translates as “occupation”, these plays grew in popularity. Another form known as “miracle plays” focused on the redemption of the lead character and his transforming his/her life based upon their beliefs. Many commonly held facets of religion had their beginning in these miracle and/or mystery plays rather than actual scriptural texts.
A similar issue was apparent in Chines mythology. Separating fact from fiction, history from mythology, mortals and immortals is a task many have engaged in for centuries. The Chinese myths considered their deities who possessed supernatural powers to still be human. Thus, Pangu whom we discussed yesterday is known as the First Man. The most important gods still followed and worshipped today are considered to be the first Chinese emperors, Three August Ones and the Han dynasty warrior Huangdi, also known as the God of War, being just two examples. Some Daoists believe their founder Lao Tse or Laozi to be a god and the “Dao” refers to the knowledge given to man.
Demons were also present in Chinese mythology. Known as the “gui”, they are the “second soul” which is separated from the higher soul or “hun” at death. Hindu mythology is like a finely woven tapestry in which all the threads are interconnected. China also had its own Aryan invasion and Hindu mythology developed throughout this time. As is the case with all mythology, it also seeks to explain in narrative form religious and philosophical comprehension of the universe in which we live.
The symbolism of medieval cathedrals begins at the front door and often, even that has symbolism with its design and placement. The same is true of Hindu temples. What is we applied that same thought to our actions in life? What if we did only those things that would lead to our being better?
Remember, mystery originally meant occupation and a miracle was the highest accomplishment possible in life. If you look up the etymology of the word “mystery”, much will be learned about its usage in medieval times. In the fourteenth century the word gained popularity in theological circles as a religious truth which was derived from divine revelations. Its usage during that period came from the French word, “mistere” which meant secret or hidden meaning. The French word came from the Greek word “mysterion” which translated as a secret rite or doctrine. The Greek word originally was “mystes”, one who is initiated, and the earlier “myein” which meant to close or shut. The English word “mute” comes from this word.
However, that is not the entire story of the word mystery. The Greek words came from an even older Latin word, “ministerium” or the older “misterium”. “Ministerium” was an updated form of “misterium” which meant occupation. “Ministerium meant one’s service in an occupation or a ministry one performed and both date back to an older word, “maistrie”, or mastery. So our mystery of life has a direct connection, much like the threads of Hindu mythology to one’s mastery of life, also known as a miracle.
For some today is the first day of the new week. For others it is a holy day. For many it is a day for relaxing, and for some, a day full of college football. Regardless of whether today is a special day for you or just an ordinary day, it is a day that has mystery. We are living this hour without an absolute knowledge of what three hours from now will bring. We will go through our daily chores, our normal occupation of living. The question we might ask ourselves is this: How will what we do make us masters of our own life? What can we do today to create a miracle for ourselves and others? Will today be just another ordinary day or will we today write a new story, a new mythology of our being? Mystery, miracle, or mundane – the choice is yours.