What Is, Duality, and the Mother
#148 – And It Came to Pass
Not everyone cares about the beginning of time and the earth. For the ancient cultures that lied on the banks of the Nile, the Niger, and the Congo Rivers, their myths were more concerned with social institutions, families, and the relationships of mankind. However, other cultures like those of the Dogon, Yoruba, and Bambara developed lengthy and complex myths about creation.
Some African myths originated from different cultures yet share some very interesting commonalities. The Dogon believed twin creator spirits known as “Nummo” were hatched from a cosmic egg. The egg is a common starting point for many myths of various cultures. Another common element in African mythology is the snake. Cultures in both northern and southern Africa believe the world was formed from the body of a giant snake which, at times, is said to cover the sky in the form of a rainbow.
Africa also has a variety of myths about how death became a part of the world. Most of these begin with a supreme deity or spirits who intended for mankind to be immortal. The reasons for death being a reality are many and varied. Some blame it on simply a mistake. Others are much more imaginative. In one myth, a chameleon is sent to earth to give the good news of life everlasting. Unfortunately the chameleon travels slowly and cautiously and is outrun by a quick-moving lizard that carries the message of death. The Mende culture found in Sierra Leone has a similar tale. The Mende version has a fast-moving toad bearing the message “Death has come” overtaking a dog. The dog stopped to eat and so his message of “Life has come” arrived too late.
We have all had those instances where we almost won the lottery or almost got that job or perhaps saw the person ahead of us purchase the last pie of pie. What we need to remember is that it is the present that is important. The best chance for a lasting legacy and immortality is a life lived in kindness with generosity. Those are the people who live on forever in the hearts of all.
#149 – Two Better than One
Growing up I knew several sets of twins. They were nice but after that first moment of “Oh!”, I have to admit we treated them just like any other kids. In many African cultures, twins were regarded as sacred beings. Some cultures of the Niger and Congo regions view twins of opposite sexes as being representative of the duality of life.
Many believe life is a duality of many things, many opposites – good versus evil, hot versus cold, male versus female. This list could go on and on but you get the idea, I am sure. Technically, duality simply means “two”. Could life really be an existence of two states? Are we both good and evil? Can something be both tangible and intangible at the same time?
Many of the world’s myths continue to be retold because, in spite of their fictitious beginnings, they also contain elements of fact. While the Fon myth of Mawu having a rainbow serpent may sound ridiculous, one cannot deny that an ice-cold ocean does exist at the bottom of the world. The Norse legend of the god Thor creating thunder with his hammer striking the air sounds incredulous and yet, it is the coming together of supper-charged particles of heat against colder ones that creates the noise we call thunder.
Anthon St. Maarten once explained our need for such duality in our lives. “If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day. Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation. In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every cause.” [I love this quote and would be happy for you to comment on favorite quotes of yours.]
Most of us are not all one thing or another. We are complex beings living in a complex cosmology called life. What is simple is that we can leave the darkness and grief and move forward, one step at a time, creating light in our lives and for others.
Pentecost #150 – Mother of All
A mother is more than just a female being. A mother gives life and the term is synonymous with helping someone grow in life. As varied as the world’s cultures are, the words for mother are surprisingly similar. Mom, mum, mam, mata, mama, and ma are all terms used worldwide for one’s mother. Of greater interest to me is the fact that all children, regardless of culture or location, have their first word or two be “mmma”. IT’s as if they realize their mother gives them life and each new experience comes from that initial one.
The earth is considered by many African cultures to be a mother-goddess since it is the earth that gives and sustains all life. Without the natural elements which emanate from the earth, there would be no life.
Many cultures on the African continent believe their deities are a part of the earth and all that it within on the earth. There is a myth from the Zulu people that tells of a lake of milk beneath the topsoil on which we walk. Cows, sheep, and goats, like all cattle, eat the grass and then, within their bodies, somehow the milk is produced. The ancient cultures assumed the grass grew from roots deep within the soil, roots that they felt were nourished by this deep milk lake.
Even in our modern times, it is believed there are four basic elements – water, air, fire, and wind. Ancient African cultures believed the sky with water and air were parts of the earth. They saw the wind coming from caves in the earth and the earth’s mountains. Fire lived in the earth (think volcanoes) but also in wood (think trees). Thus, all four of these basic elements came from the earth to help them live.
Recently Pope Francis, himself an acclaimed and highly educated scientist, chastised the world’s industry and governments for refusing to believe in climate change and global warming. He stopped short of advocating we worship the earth as a god but he strongly encouraged we respect the earth. Whether you believe the African myths or believe in any spirituality or religion at all, one cannot deny the mothering the earth gives us all. We should show her some respect but being better stewards of the earth and life.