Autumn is harvest time. It is also that time in which farmers and gardeners begin to prepare for the next growing season. 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, and find the cookies hidden at the back. Bazinga – 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, some think so should our brains and minds. Ancient cultures told stories to keep educating. Regardless of the age of the stories or the listeners, these stories still packed a powerful punch when told and retold.
AS the nights grow longer and the days shorter, we spend more time inside and with each other. The family stories and cultural myths get retold, gathering a new audience and reaping a new and different harvest. With the coming holidays, these myths and stories are enacted and retold.
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. To these cultures, though, they were similar to the stories we tell today. 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.
These were not just stories told to an primitive audience that had no meaning. 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 need to harvest the truths from the past in order to move forward today. We could learn quite a bit from those early beings that lived what we might consider very rudimentary and ordinary 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. The future is ours to harvest but it will be based upon what we do and plant today.