How the Wind Blows
Since I have been “under the weather”, a phrased used to imply illness brought on by existing weather conditions, it seemed like a good time to discuss a common theme found in mythology around the world but most especially in the mythologies of Egypt and Africa, two of our primary discussions for the month of October. [Note: To ensure you don’t miss anything, there will be postings in the Am and PM for the next several days.]
Every culture has a Creation myth. Since myths were used to explain, instruct, and/ or answer the most elemental question of all – “WHY?”, I do not find it unusual that each culture has myths that correspond. After all, living on the same planet means we are going to experience some of the same occurrences and ask the same questions. Last year, during Advent, we explored various spiritualities and religions around the world based upon their Creation myths. Right now seems a good time to explore the “flood myths” that, like mankind’s beginning, are found in every culture.
We will begin with the land and culture most often associated with mythology – Greece. There are actually several flood myths that the Greeks believed. One speaks of Zeus sending a flood to destroy all who lived during the Bronze Age. In an effort to save him, Prometheus is said to have warned his son Deucalion to construct a chest. Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha floated for days in this chest as all but those who sought refuge in the highest mountains perished. As a sacrifice to Zeus, once Deucalion and his wife landed safely on Parnassus, they threw stones over their heads. Those thrown by Deucalion became men; those thrown by Pyrrha became women. It is said the Greek word for people, “laoi” comes from the root word “laas” which means stone.
It was believed by the Greeks that this first race of people found themselves destroyed due to their wicked ways. Deucalion, however, was pious. Another Greek myth has Deucalion loading his family and all animals onto an ark and with God’s help, the animals remained together without incident while onboard the ark. In one story, the flood waters escaped throughout a drain or hole in Hierapolis while an older legend states that the ark found dry land on Mount Othrys in Thessaly. Another version states Deucalion and his ark landed on a peak known as Phouka in Argolis which was later known as Nemea.
A myth told by the Megarians stated that Megarus, son of Zeus, escaped this same flood by following the calls of cranes until he swam to the top of Mount Gerania. The Greek culture has another myth that places a great flood occurring in the time of Ogyges who is considered to be the founder and first king of Thebes. This flood covered the entire world and left the country without a king until the reign of Cecrops, the mythical king of Athens who had a serpent’s tail instead of legs. An ancient Greek proverb which describes “weeping for/like Nannacus” also refers to a flood myth. Nannacus was king of Phrygia and lived before Deucalion. He was said to have foreseen his own death and those of his people in the coming of a great flood. After this flood, the legend states that Zeus commanded Prometheus and Athena to sculpt mud images which Zeus then breathed life into. The location of this is known as Iconium after the Greek word for images.
The Romans also had a variety of myths regarding floods. In one, it was said that Jupiter chose water to cover the earth because he feared setting it afire would cause the heavens to ignite. Early cultures had no defense systems to guard against flooding which is, after all, a natural phenomenon. In the past week, country sides in Indonesia, Guatemala, and the southeastern Atlantic seaboard in the United States of America have all suffered from devastating floods.
What exactly is a flood? The European Floods Directive states that a flood is “a covering of land that is usually dry”. There are a variety of types of flooding. Riverine flooding occurs along or because of a river while areal flooding is when a low-lying area receives more water, usually from snow melting, than usual. Estuary or coastal flooding often occurs as the result of weather patterns. This type of flooding is often due to a combination of high winds and tidal patterns but is often exasperated by the addition of high water flowing from nearby rivers.
There is also urban flooding. Typically this occurs from overloaded sewage systems that simply cannot handle the capacity of water going into them via street gutters, etc. This problem can also be attributed to urban sprawl and the building of neighborhoods in areas that perhaps cannot support the accompanying systems found in urban areas such as water supply, sewage, etc. Flood damage has increased in the United States in the past century in spite of better planning and forecasting.
Tomorrow we will continue to explore flood myths and celebrate the resiliency of the human spirit in surviving them. Flood damage can be a truly life-changing event both in ancient times and modern times. Immediate physical damage and life-threatening conditions are not over once the flood was/is survived. The immediate losses and repairs are followed by personal needs, business concerns, and rebuilding. Just as with any big event one survives, the psychological trauma must also be considered. Additionally, the destruction to ecosystems, vital to mankind’s survival, must be addressed.
It is easy to understand why every culture has at least one flood myth. They not only give answers to the world’s ever-changing landscape at the hands of natural weather events, they also give testament to the human spirit. We all get “swamped” by life at times. The important thing to do when that happens is to hang onto our beliefs and live our faith.