The Miracle of Journey

The Miracle of Journey


Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018


The Posada is a celebration of nine days (sometimes more) which depicts the journey of an older man named Joseph and a young girl of faith who was his betrothed named Mary.  An upcoming census required Joseph to return to the land of his ancestors and because Mary was his responsibility, she accompanied him.  It might have been an inconsequential story except for two things:  Mary was a virgin and yet, she was also quite pregnant.


Modern-day posadas are celebrations regarding the travels of Mary and Joseph which culminate in the birth of Jesus, the baby Christians believe to be the son of God, the Christ Child, their savior, the Messiah.  The word “posada” translates as “inn” but the true meaning of this celebratory event is the learning for us to be gracious hosts, not just for iconic figures but, since we all are on a journey, for every person we encounter.  This is especially timely as many are traveling to the southern borders of the US seeking recognition not for a census but to save their lives, recognition as human beings trying to find safe havens and the dream of a future for their families.  The census for Joseph would affirm his right to live and claim a heritage.  Today people are traveling great distances hoping to claim a future.


The world of Mary and Joseph was a difficult and dangerous place and conditions were harsh.  The couple had to leave their home in Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee, to register for a Roman census.  Much as the colonists lived in 1774, Joseph was being taxed without representation since he was living outside his ancestral home.  The two had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem.  It was a journey that went uphill and downhill.  Most travelers were on foot but, given Mary’s impending birth, Joseph had procured a donkey.


I don’t know if you have ever ridden a donkey but I have.  Their backs are quite bony which makes them ideal as pack animals and most uncomfortable as riding animals.  Many of those traveling for the census would have averaged up to twenty miles a day but it is safe to estimate Mary and Joseph only accomplished ten miles daily.  The trip through the Judean desert would have taken place during the winter with daytime temperatures in the upper 30’s (Fahrenheit) and nighttime temps below freezing.   To protect themselves during inclement weather, Mary and Joseph would likely have worn heavy woolen cloaks, constructed to shed rain and snow. Under their cloaks, they would have worn long robes, belted at the waist and foot protection would have been heavy tube socks with enclosed shoes.


The environment through which they traveled also offered challenges.  The heavily forested valley of the Jordan River in Palestine was not a pastoral scene.   Lions and bears lived in the woods, and travelers had to fend off wild boars. Archeologists have unearthed documents warning travelers of the forest’s dangers like those Joseph and Mary might have encountered.  “Bandits, pirates of the desert and robbers” were also common hazards along the major trade routes like the one Joseph and Mary would have traveled, explains the Rev. Peter Vasko, a Catholic priest and director of the Holy Land Foundation, an organization that works to retain a Christian presence in Israel and promotes the restoration of sacred Christian sites there.  The threat of outlaws often forced solitary travelers to join trade caravans for protection.  Bread and water were carried by Mary and Joseph to eat along the way. “In wineskins, they carried water,” said Vasko. “And they carried a lot of bread. . . . Breakfast would be dried bread, lunch would be oil with bread, and herbs with oil and bread in the evening.”


Today the Posada is celebrated by people hosting a package for a night and then passing it along to the next family.  Normally, if traveling to Bethlehem at any other time, Joseph and his family would have been invited to stay with family members but given the extreme number of pilgrims due to the census, they had nowhere to go.  The Posada replicates the concept of inviting people into one’s home.  The Posada package is generally a basket containing the figure representing Joseph, one for Mary and an animal figure to denote the donkey.  Often a journal accompanies the figures for the hosts to journal about their evening.


Joseph and Mary’s hardships would have begun more than a week before the birth of their son, when the couple had to leave their home in Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee, to register for a Roman census.  They had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem.  I arranged to pick up my Posada via email and my drive, ironically enough in an SUV called a Journey, only took 8 minutes, covering approximately 3 miles.  A thorough study of journeys reveals that a journey is much more than just movement from one place to another. Journeys are about learning and growth, and they have the potential to teach people about themselves and the society in which they live. An Imaginative Journey is one in which the individual doesn’t in fact have to go anywhere in the physical sense. The physical journey is replaced by an expedition that is fueled by the human capacity to imagine. Imaginative Journeys create endless possibilities. They can offer an escape from the realities of life, and are frequently used to comment on social or human traits and characteristics.  I discovered the Posada to be both.


Over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They likely traveled with a caravan of other travelers, perhaps with others returning for the census for the safety and companionship of traveling in numbers.  There are no archaeological remains that allow us to know exactly what route they took—perhaps the shorter but more demanding walk along the trade route through the center of the region, or perhaps the flatter way through the Jordan River Valley.  Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking.  If they went earlier then some believe, then they encountered not the cold wet winter but the blazing hot summer months.  At any time, it would not have been a pleasant nor comfortable trek. 


Politics necessitated this trip of Joseph and Mary and today politics are still influencing those making their own pilgrimage. Today, visitors to the Middle East can walk this route for themselves, and encounter beautiful views, rural villages, olive fields, hospitable local people and, yes, even Samaritans.  Called the Nativity Trail, it was developed by Palestinians as part of the Bethlehem 2000 Project as a tourism and economic development project.  The trail began in Nazareth, hometown of Mary, and stretched straight down through the West Bank to Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth.  Sadly, shortly after the trail was inaugurated, the second intifada and subsequent closures and checkpoints made the trail almost impossible to walk from 2002-2008.  In 2008, the trail was revived with an altered route to avoid new settlement areas and other obstacles.  The trail also now usually begins in Faqu’a in the northern Palestinian Territories rather than Nazareth because of the logistical difficulties of movement between Israel and the West Bank.


My hosting of the Posada included a Jewish lullaby known as “joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine”,  the telling of the Nativity story in a song called “Mary Had a Baby Boy”, and a celebratory song by a Shira (Jewish males) group entitled “Rachem” (pronounced ray-him).  Rachem means both mercy and compassion and I am positive both were sought the night of Jesus’ birth.  Participating in the Posada certainly reminded me to offer both to others.


We all have the chance to make an everyday miracle by offering mercy, kindness, and compassion to all we encounter on our daily walk of life.  The story of Jesus’ birth is a literary hero’s tale, whether you believe in the spiritual aspects of it or not.  It also writes the first chapter of each day’s opportunity for us to become hero in our normal paths of life.  Every hero story has the hero being presented with a challenge.  At first the hero will refuse the challenge, doubtful of success.  We certainly should all be able to relate to that.  Eventually though, the hero accepts the challenge and takes that first step, committed to do his/her best.  Most of us do not have to walk ninety miles or more, though some will this week alone.  For us to do something wonderful, we only have to offer a smile, a helping hand, be generous in our sharing with others. 


The Posada serves to remind us we all are travelers and will, at some point in time, rely on the kindness of others.  Ursula La Guin stated that it was good to have an end to one’s journey but in the end it was the journey that mattered.  The Posada celebration is half over today but for those of us living, we have just begun today’s trek.  Arthur Ashe believed success was a journey, not a destination.  The same might be said of living.  Last night the Posada figures slept under the watchful eye of an angel statue while in another room Puerto Rican wise men statues inched closer, awaiting the Feast of Epiphany in seventeen days.   My Posada will end in a few hours, having been an everyday miracle in itself but the journey for us all is just beginning. 

Power of the Voice

Power of the Voice

Pentecost 110


Last night a new winner of America’s Got Talent was announced.  The television franchise can be seen in around the world.  First developed by Simon Cowell for Great Britain and shown as a pilot, the program being aired in a complete format was delayed and the first full show of the franchise was “America’s Got Talent” in 2006.  There are now fifty-eight versions airing in fifty-eight countries.  While vocal talent is not the only talent allowed, more vocalists have won the competition than any other talent category and last night was no exception.


“The thinking man must oppose all cruel customs, no matter how deeply rooted in tradition and surrounded by a halo. When we have a choice, we must avoid bringing torment and injury into the life of another, even the lowliest creature; but to do so is to renounce our manhood and shoulder a guilt which nothing justifies.”  By far the most expedient way to do this is with our voices.


During this series of making the ordinary extraordinary, we are talking about effecting positive change.   You are someone who can make a difference and no, it will not always be easy or popular.  At the beginning of this year I wrote about how I left a meeting because a song that was going to be sung contained a derogatory term, a word of discrimination that I felt I could support.  My leaving attracted no attention but it made a statement.  I did not want to leave.  It was a great meeting with really great people but…I could not contribute to the discrimination of a group of people either.   I took a stand.


That’s the most important thing a human being does.  They take a stand for their cause.  They give a voice to their cause.  We often overlook the power of speech.  Ask someone who has difficulty with speaking and you will suddenly realize how important it is.  For the six million to ten million in the United States alone with speech impediments, life is not easy.  They are sixty-one percent more likely to be bullied and eighty-two percent more likely to be unemployed, despite their talents, intellect, and skills.


This coming October will be the fifth anniversary of the death of a charming seventeen-year-old young man.  Attractive with a great personality, it seemed like his future was bright with potential.  For James, reality was much different that the outward appearances.  He was bullied and lived in fear of being asked questions by his teachers, questions that would require an oral response aloud in class.  His online persona was delightful but his in-person persona was shy and reticent.  Teased and bullied whenever he spoke, James preferred to let his computer do his talking.  You see, James was a stutterer.  The world saw only that one simple characteristic and heard only the hesitated speech, not the beautiful thoughts.  On a fall day in Virginia, James ended the abuse and took his own life.  Peer pressure would not allow James to be himself and in the end, it caused him to take his own life.


The winner of America’s Got Talent 2016 sang for her audition a song about being different.  It was a song she wrote herself and broke a few so-called rules of music theory but it was a heart-felt song and struck a chord with many in the viewing audience.  The brief song told of wondering who we are and the pressure to be just like everyone else.  It ended with the glory of being unique and an individual.


We should not insist that only those who talk have perfect speech any more than we should only listen to songs that follow some arbitrary group of rules for musical composition.  If we did, then we would be listening to the Gregorian chants of the early 12300’s and the Beatles who never have been given a recording contract or concert venue.  There would never have been the Big Band era of music followed by rock and roll.  Michael Jackson and Prince would have never become household names.


None of us are perfect but we can use our talents and our imperfections.  We all have an obligation to our planet and neighbors to be the best representation of ourselves we can be.  For some, that might mean adopting healthier habits; for others, stop being afraid of people who seem different.  Last night, for a twelve-year-old girl named Grace Vanderwall who played the ukulele it meant standing in front of an audience and singing.


We all have our skills and our “not so good at that” areas.  Then use your voice to make the world a better place.  Last night it was wonderful to be Grace Vanderwall but in truth, every day is a great day to be her.  She is authentic and true to herself.  We all need to use the power of our own voice and be ourselves.  We will all know the amazing grace we offer the world and be winners when we use the power of our voices.


Believe in You

Believe in You

Pentecost 59


“We have this need for some larger-than-life creature.”  It may seem a bit ironic that one of the leading authors of a book on a giant, human-like mythological creature that may be real is actually an expert on much smaller animals.  Robert Michael Pyle studies moths and butterflies and writes about them but in 1995 he also penned a book about the supposed primate known, among other names, as Yeti, Bigfoot, or Sasquatch.


The giants in the American Indian folklore are as varied as the different tribes themselves.  It is important to remember that although they are grouped together much like the term European, the designation of American Indian applies to many tribes, most of which are now extinct.  Many millions of Americans over the past two hundred years could and should claim American Indian ancestry.  The story of Bigfoot is the story of their ancestral mythical creature.


The Bigfoot phenomenon is proof that there is a real place for mythologies in the present day.  The past several years saw people viewing a popular television program, “Finding Bigfoot” which aired on the Animal Planet network as well as being replayed via internet formats.  A group of four traveled the world, speaking and exploring the myths about a large, here-to-fore undocumented bipedal primate thought to be a link between the great apes and Homo sapiens.   One member of this group was a female naturalist and botanist but the other three were educated men in other disciplines.  To date, the three men have yet to convince their female scientist companion of the existence of the myth known as Bigfoot although she has dedicated several years of her life to searching for something she claims not to believe exists.


Even the more popular terms are modern additions to the myth.   A photograph allegedly taken by Eric Shipton was published with Shipton describing the footprint as one from a Yeti, a mythological creature much like a giant snowman said to inhabit the mountains of Nepal.  Several years another set of footprints was photographed in California and published in a local newspaper.  This time the animal was described as “Bigfoot” and a legend dating back to the earliest settlers in North America had been reborn.  The interest in such photographs is proof of the opening quote of today’s post.


The Lummi tribe called their giant ape/man mythological character Ts’emekwes and the descriptions of the character’s preferred diet and activities varied within the tribal culture.   Children were warned of the stiyaha or kwi-kwiyai who were said to roam at night and steal children.  There were also stories of the skoocooms, a giant race which lived on Mount St. Helens and were cannibalistic.  The skoocooms were given supernatural powers and status.  A Canadian reporter also reported on such stories and he used a term from the Halkomalem and named the creature “sasq’ets” or Sasquatch.   Rather than to be feared, though, some tribes translated this name to mean “benign-faced one.”


Mythologies of such giant creatures can be found on six of the seven continents and if mankind had been able to survive on Antarctica for thousands of years, there would probably be some from there as well.  We do seem to need to believe in something larger than life, as our mythologies bear witness.  What if there was proof of these creatures?  What if they really did exist and perhaps still do?


The Paiute Indians, an American Indian tribe from the regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains also had folklore of such a character.  Their legends tell of a tribe of red-haired giants called Sai’i.  After one such giant gave birth to a disfigured child who was shunned by the tribe, The Paiute believed the Great Spirit of All made their land and living conditions barren and desolate as punishment.  Enemies were then able to conquer the tribe and kill all but two – Paiute and his wife and their skin turned brown from living in such harsh conditions.


In 1911 miners working Nevada’s Lovelock Cave discussed not the guano or bat droppings for which they were searching but bones they claimed were from giants.  Nearby reddish hair was found and many believed the remains were those of the Sai’i or Si-Te-Cah as they were also called.  However, some like Adrienne Mayor in her book “Legends of the First Americans” believe these bones and others found nearby are simply untrained eyes not realizing what they are seeing.   A tall man could have bones that would seem large and hair pigment is not stable and often changes color based upon the conditions in which it is found.  Even black hair can turn reddish or orange given the right mineral composition in the soil in which it is found.


What the mythologies of the world tell us is that mankind needs to believe in something. In ‘The Magic of Thinking Big”, David Schwartz writes:  “Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution.”


Maybe you believe in the yeti or Sasquatch and maybe you believe in the disproof of them.  We create giants in our own minds every day – those problems that seem insurmountable or the dreams that seem impossible.  The only Bigfoot that matters is that one foot that takes a big step towards progress, towards peace, a step taken with hope.  The dawn of a new day requires us to take a step forward.  If we believe in ourselves, that step will have purpose and accomplishment.  The longest journey really does begin with a single step.


The best thing to believe in is you.  Let yourself be your creature to believe in today.  Walk away from fear and into your bright future, a future in which you believe you can do anything.  The reality is you can do whatever you set your mind to doing.  Turn your fears into lessons and steps toward success.  Believe in yourself.  You are amazing!

Thinking Woman

Thinking Woman

Pentecost #189


The really neat thing to me about the mythology of the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere is that their mythologies are alive.  They are not simply stories of the past.  They are lived out by the cultures from which they arose and they continue to be told and augmented.  Rather than just be a neat campfire or bedtime story, these mythologies are still being woven, created with each new telling.  Artist Lauren Raine describes mythology this way:  “Myth comes alive as it enters the cauldron of evolution, drawing energy from the storytellers who shape it.” 


The Thinking Woman is not just an American Indian myth, although she is prominent in the cultural oral tradition of many different tribes.  The Greek mythological character Penelope’s name literally means “webbed vision” or “web on her face”.  In some cultures, Thinking Woman is called Thought Woman.  The Pueblo called her Thinking Woman; The Navajo Referred to her as Grandmother Spider Woman or “Na’ashje’ii’sdfzq’q”; the Hopi Indians knew her as ‘Sonukfang”.


I will be the first to admit I am not a huge fan of spiders.  I probably border on having arachnophobia, in fact.  I am amazed, nonetheless, at their ability to weave such fine webs and marvel at their ability to use such delicacy to capture their prey.  We’ve discussed the Spider mythology of African cultures and, as mentioned before, even the Greeks made reference to the web of life.  It is in the mythologies of the Western hemisphere that we really see the emphasis on the connectedness of mankind.


Many cultures have always referenced a female creator spirit.  Some historians and archaeologists feel that Christianity is the influence behind male creator deities but, in truth, we have no real basis for this.  While it is an undeniable fact that women bear children, they cannot do so without a male.  In mythology science takes a back seat so some believe the first creator made the world from a discard blood clot while others believe the universe was woven from a great spirit’s imagination.


In her book “The Trail of Spider Woman”, Carol Patterson-Rudolph wrote: “It is through the poetry of myth, mask and metaphor Spiderwoman comes alive. The rock surface of an ancient petroglyph site is merely a veil between the observer and the other transcendental realms; it becomes a portal through which to enter the world of Spider Woman. “


The Keres tribe believed that in the beginning there was only one being, a spider named “Sus’sistinako”.  Being all alone, she sent her thoughts out into the galaxies or space.  With these thoughts, Sus’sistinako wove together the universe.  Under the earth she placed the Corn Mother, “Iatiku”.  Credit was given to Iatiku for creating the physical and emotional elements of the world, even the concept of fun called Koshare, a clown supposedly made from her own discarded skin cells.


Like another deity we recently discussed, Iatiku was two-fold.  One part stayed underground and it was to this characterization that the dead returned.  The other piece of Iatiku lived in the world and gave life to it.  Iatiku had her own myth which featured her two daughters.  One was named after her mother with the other named Nautsiti.  Eventually, daughter Iatiku became the mother of the Indians while Nautsiti became the mother of the “whites” or Europeans.


The Thinking Woman or “Tse Che Nako” spun her webs from her imagination.  Her stories became real as she continued to spin, organizing life into patterns that continued to grow in size and complexity.  Her webs continue to be woven and, the Pueblo believe, we become part weaver and part storyteller as we also are part of the web.


The mythology of Thinking Woman has no real ending.  There is even one version of her story that predicts she will return.  Historian and writer John Loftin mentions this:  “Spider Woman was the first to weave. Her techniques and patterns have stood the test of time, or more properly, the test of timelessness – because they have always been present. It makes sense that one would follow the instructions of a deity who helped form the underlying structure of the world in which one lives…..…..Weaving is not an act in which one creates something oneself – it is an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.”


So what web will you weave today?  Do you believe as Loftin does that weaving uncovers what was already present? It is an interesting concept, I think.  Our lives are a web of interconnected relationships, even for those who feel disenfranchised.  No one becomes born alone.  Our very introduction to this universe took at least two people – the female and male parents.  And because infants are unable to feed themselves or even find food, none of use reached the age of five or six years without the help of others.


Let me give you one more quote from anthropologist Carol Patterson-Rudolph:  “The Navajo have their own version of Spider Woman. As with all metaphors, Spider Woman is a bridge that allows a certain kind of knowledge to be transmitted from the mundane to the sacred dimension………they believe that an individual must undergo an initiation before he or she can be fully receptive to this kind of knowledge. Thus, to the eyes of the uninitiated, Spider Woman appears merely as an insect, and her words go unheard. But to the initiated whose mind has been opened the voice of this tiny creature can be heard. This is the nature of wisdom, conveyed through the metaphor of Spider Woman.”


No matter how independent we think we are, we need those who make up the strands of our webs of living.  “What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision? The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”  In her book “From a Broken Web”, theologian Catherine Keller posed these thoughts.


No matter how delicate or ethereal a spider’s web might appear, they actually are very strong.  I think sometimes we underestimate the webs in our own lives.  We might not want to “bother” someone and ask for help.  Perhaps it is the fragility of our own ego that prevents us from doing so.  At this time of year, depression is at its highest.  We need our webs to give us strength.


Today when someone mentions the word ‘web”, a spider is not the first thing that comes to mind.  “Web” is the nickname for the Internet, the World Wide Web of technology that connects us all whether we like it or not.  I read a statistic that is probably an exaggeration but it mentioned that an infant’s vital information will be posted on the “web” within an hour of its birth.


Today the myth of the Thinking Woman or Spider Woman is most often seen in the weavings of the southwestern Indian tribes.  The pattern of the cross of the Spider Woman has become an important and popular symbol.  The cross represents balance with the unification of the four directions or elements of the world.  In the middle, though, is the most important element for it is the unifying force, the center.


Ecologists reference a great web of life and even physicists have an entanglement theory.  There really is no denying that we are all connected.  Neith was the primal weaver of ancient Egypt while Celtic mythology references the web of Wyrd.  In India the great jewel net of Nedra has each gemstone reflecting every other gem.  The Greeks believed the great weaver spirit gave Theseus a thread to lead him through his personal labyrinth.  The original myths of Thinking Woman told of her sitting on one’s shoulder, whispering correct choices.  Psychologists might call this our subconscious while some religious people might consider it an example of a guardian angel.  Perhaps she is there with us, guiding us through the labyrinth of our own lives.  Clearly we all need to be Thinking Men and Women, living to weave a web that benefits all.

A Disappearing Act

A Disappearing Act

Pentecost #184


They are one of the oldest legumes known to mankind.  They grow along the Rocky Mountains and were a staple of the tribe for which they are named.  Along with a blue maize or corn, they are all that remains of a most interesting group of indigenous people to live in North America.


The tribe is known as the Anasazi Tribe and they lived and then disappeared between 550 and 1300 ACE in an area now called Mesa Verde, Colorado.  IIN 1870 a photographer accidentally discovered remnants of the Anasazi civilization, a most sophisticated culture for its day and time.  Their life was based on agriculture and they invented innovative and creative ways for irrigation as well as constructed hundreds of miles of roads.  They did not have the wheel nor do we believe they had the means to transport animals except by foot.  Their homes literally hung on the hillsides and mountains and even today are accessed only by the most skilled of mountain climbers using modern ropes and pulley systems.


The word “Anasazi” exists in the Navajo language and translates as “ancient ones” when spelled Anaasazi.  However, it is also very similar to the Greek “Anasa” and “Zi” which translates as breath lives.  Some believe the name was the name of their queen and literally meant “Long live the Queen!”  Archaeologists have found evidence of the Anasazi in Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado, the “four corners region” as it is now known.  Many consider the tribe disappeared due to drought and a subsequent lack of food.  However, then the question is asked – Why not simply move elsewhere?  Others believe the tribe became disenchanted with their deities, the gods of their mythology and, once angry with the gods of their culture, they left, disappeared to…?


Today the closest neighbors of what would have been the Anasazi lands are the Hopi Indians.  Theirs is a culture very different from the Anasazi and no one believes they are descended from them.  It is very interesting that, while the Anasazi people have disappeared, one of their most prominent deities has not.  The Anasazi were the first to have myths about Kokopelli, the god of harvest, fertility, and plenty.  The Anasazi believed that a visit from Kokopelli would bring a bountiful harvest and good luck.


Kokopelli is claimed today by most American Indians and indeed many tribes have myths about him or a similar character.  Most described him in like fashion:  “ . . . everyone in the village would sing and dance throughout the night when they heard Kokopelli play his flute. The next morning, every maiden in the village would be with child.”  In modern times Kokopelli was compared to A Shakespearean character from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, Puck.


With these myths from the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere, the newest lands of mankind’s living, we can see the similarities between all people.  Whether named for a Greek Queen or being used for a Shakespearean character, the history of myths and cultures follows similar paths.  Sadly, what does not disappear are our less than admirable traits – discrimination, fear, jealousy, and greed, among others.


What legacy has remained of the Anasazi includes their beans, a legume similar to the pinto or kidney bean and their blue corn.  What remains of the American Indians, even those extinct tribes are their words and names.  Almost half of the fifty states within the United States of America have American Indian names.  Other words, though create their own mythology.  American Indian words are often used to evoke images of might and strength.  A four-wheel drive vehicle originally created for military use became popular with the general population and one of their first models was named after a southeastern tribe – Cherokee.  Another model used mainly for off-roading was given the name of a southwestern tribe – Apache.  The military also appropriated American Indian names for one of their helicopters, the Chinook, and a missile, the Tomahawk.  Currently sports teams of all levels use American Indian names and the National Football league is embroiled in a dispute of such regarding the Washington Redskins.


For many, such appropriation of words from these indigenous peoples ensures that they will not be forgotten.  History sometimes is written for the victor and, in many cases, these indigenous tribes were not victorious in maintaining their lands or the ability to continue their culture.  Colonization sometimes becomes annihilation.


We can face that same dilemma when we are confronted with societal pressures ourselves.  Maintaining a lifestyle that adheres to one’s beliefs is not an easy task.  Remembering that faith is the strongest weapon is sometimes forgotten when we see the stories that terrorists create.  Nonetheless, faith is strong and it becomes stronger when we live it.  Faith is to be used, exercised, displayed, illustrated, and renewed each and every day.  We and we alone are responsible if our faith disappears.  It isn’t a magic act to live one’s beliefs.  It just takes doing it and that is the strongest force of all.



We Came-We Saw-We Ruined?

We Came-We Saw-We Ruined?

Pentecost #174

As a schoolchild in grade four, our geography material was presented in the guise of an around-the-world airplane trip.  Each person in the class had a job connected with our “flight”.  A few were travel agents, some were hotel owners in the cities were visited, others were museum guides in the countries were visited, several had the job of tourist, two lucky girls were the stewardesses (I was one!) and two boys thought they had the dream jobs of pilots, that is until they had to do the math involved with number of suitcases per traveler, etc.  Since it was quite a few years ago (No, I am not telling exactly how many!), it clearly was a memorable way to present world history.

One of the things I remember the most about that trip around the world was how different other cultures were and how much trouble my fellow students found themselves in when they mocked these cultures.  Our imaginary airplane had a time machine in it that would take us back to the earliest times of each country.  In England we had a mock jousting contest; in Spain we built a cardboard ship celebrating the Spanish Armada; in Italy we made our own plaster and “painted” a fresco.

It is very easy to read these myths I’ve briefly presented from the world’s cultures and laugh.  That would be doing them and us a grave injustice, though.  It may seem like these myths were the imaginings of a primitive people but these were actually very sophisticated cultures for the most part.  While the Incans did not have a written system for communication, they developed a highly complex and effective roadway system that was the great-great-grandfather of many highway and autobahn systems today.

The Mayans lived in what is now called the Yucatan Peninsula and Guatemala.  The land is so fertile that farming was easy and their main crop of corn or maize was in surplus each year.  Without concern for their food sources, the Mayans spent their time on other endeavors.  They were excellent mathematicians and astronomers and developed a hieroglyphic system of writing that was used in the printing of books.

In 1524 the Spanish conquered the Mayans.  Spanish missionaries encouraged the Maya to use the Latin phonetic alphabet that comprises Spanish in recording their own history.  While their cities and temples had been destroyed, this allowed a continuance of their history and culture.  Today over three hundred thousand people speak the Maya language, one of the largest number of native-speaking groups in the world still using their ancient dialect.

The Mayan recorded creation myth was written anonymously somewhere between 1554 and 1558 ACE.  In 1700 it was translated into Spanish by a Roman Catholic missionary.  Shortly thereafter, the manuscript disappeared and resurfaced around 1850.  Entitled “The Popol Vuh”, this Mayan creation myth is a literary masterpiece of lyrical poetry and beauty.  There is evidence of Christian influence and some of the wording is reflective of the beginning chapters of the Old Testament.  Here are a few sentences.  “In the beginning, only the sky above and the sea below existed in the eternal darkness, and they were calm and silent, for nothing existed that could move or make noise.”  Further on is written: “Hidden in the water under green and blue feathers were the Creators.  These great thinkers talked quietly together in the water, alone in the universe, alone in the darkness of the eternal night.”

“The Popol Vuh” is a beautiful story and probably one of my most favorite creation myths.  It is not a series of grunts and banging of sticks, what one would expect from cave men portrayed in cartoons.  It is the story of a sensitive, intelligent people.  All too often we think of missionaries as having to go in and explain modern civilization to the people they are supposedly “saving”.  I do not discount the importance of missionaries.  However, we need to remember that we are all brothers and sisters and if we have value, so do the natives of the areas to which these missionaries are going.

Hopefully, as aid arrives and progress is made, culture is not sacrificed.  Google the Mayan creation myth and read it for yourself.  It is a beautiful story and, although William Shakespeare is a favorite of mine, I think you will find “The Popol Vuh” easier to read and just as lovely.   We all need saving at times.  We just don’t all need to throw away our past.  It is a part of who we are and teaches us so very much about the present and the future.  Towards the end of this creation myth, the Creators exclaim “So let it be!  … In the dawn of the universe, let the light of early morning shine upon all that we have created!”  My wish for today is that you respect all that was created and that the light of creation shines upon us all.

A New World

A New World

Pentecost #172

In our travels through the mythologies of the planet, we learned about remains found buried under frozen lands in Europe and Asia and followed belief systems across mountains to Mediterranean lands..  We conversed about the multitude of natural spirits from the islands of Great Britain and Ireland.  We explored the spiritual thoughts and lives of those in the Far East and Middle East.  We then went to the cradle of civilization, the area where it is believed the first beings walked.  In Africa mankind flourished and the number of cultures blossomed.  We then traveled to lands down under and island hopped across the Pacific, seeing the joy in living these ancient cultures expressed through their aboriginal art and music.  Now we are in the newest of all cultures, exploring what, in terms of the earth, are the babies of cultures.

The two continents of North and South America have always been called the New World.  Once never imagined to a world civilization that imagined a flat earth and later described the unknown as region as “Here there be dragons”, these two continents represented a different world.  They are the only two inhabited continents in which all ethnic groups were immigrants.  Regardless of the lands they came from and the cultures they recreated here, they then had to survive countless invasions.

Creation myths of the two Americas can be put into two categories.  One includes those of the Mayans and Aztecs we’ve already discussed, myths that cover the creation of the world.    The Mayan myths utilize beautiful poetry to describe the efforts of their deities in fashioning a mankind they found pleasing.  The Aztec myths have a more international connection.  The series of world created and discarded in the Aztec tales are similar to the Greek ages of man and the four age of man the myths of India proclaim.  The Aztecs also incorporated blood sacrifice into their stories, sacrifices comparable to those of the early Jewish histories.  Like the Mayans, poetry also played an important role with the Aztecs.  The other category of creation myths emanating from these two continents is more culture specific and focuses on the creation of a particular ethnicity.

I need to pause at this juncture and mention the beautiful islands of Caribbean.  They too were settles by native of other lands.  We will not focus on myths of this region, though, because the travelers to these islands not only brought their culture, they also brought their myths.  And, being as they were on islands, these myths remained true to their original versions.  In other words, we have already discussed these stories that were the result of ships from England, Spain, and Africa.  IN the Caribbean the emphasis was not so much on where they came from but in how they were living, the spirituality of now.

So who were these emigrants to this New World and where did they come from?  In Canada they are called “First Families”.  In the United States they are known as American Indians due to erroneous beliefs that they came from India; most likely they came from the area of the Caucus Mountains, often under Russian rule.  (A myth about the discovery of North America tells that the Italian explorer sailing under the Spanish flag Christopher Columbus landed on a Caribbean island thinking he’d reached India, proclaiming the natives as “Indians”.)   In the southern hemisphere they are simply tribes of history, people who met the Spanish and Portuguese and who learned to live in the varied landscapes of their continent.  Archaeologists tell us that these groups all are related, their ancestors having crossed the Bering Straits from the Asian continent to what is today known as Alaska over thirty thousand years ago.  Some followed the Pacific coastline and continued through Central America to South America.  Others traveled east to settle on the Atlantic coast and then move south.

One myth from these ancient immigrants tells of twelve brothers.  Their families became argumentative and so the brothers scattered to the four corners of the world so that each might have their own lands to rule.  I find it very interesting how often the number twelve reappears in the myths of the world.  Considered a “perfect number”, twelve does seem to pop up wherever we go.  The Sumerians developed a twelve-month calendar based upon the twelve lunar months, the twelve times the world has a full moon in a year’s time.  They also divided a day into twelve hours with six being in perfect sunlight.  Twelve is also found in the Bible, including the twelve sons of Joseph and the twelve disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.

Yesterday we explored the Aztec creation myths – at least five of them.  Like those of the Incas, the Navajo, and the Iroquois, these stories tell the origins of their ethnicity.  Like other cultures, there are other myths such as fertility myths and those of a protector deity, a caring god.  The Algonquin myths feature a need to control their environment while the Inuit wanted to placate their deity.

Perhaps it is in the Americas that the mythologies of the world come together.  Each tribe considered themselves a separate entity, a separate culture.  While today some may lump them together as tribes of American Indians, they saw themselves as unique being.  I like that because, after all, each of us is our own being and we are all unique.  I find it sad how easily people are categorized without civilization really seeing them for who they are.

Henry David Thoreau said it much better than I ever could.  “Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again.  And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are?

We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”

The Fifth Sun

The Fifth Sun

Pentecost #171

The Aztecs settled in central Mexico sometime around the sixth century ACE.  By the 1300’s they founded the city of Tenochtitlan which was actually on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco.  Tenochtitlan became the city of the Aztec Empire after the city-state joined forces with the two other Nahua city-states of Texcoco and Tlacopan.  Destroyed by the Spanish three hundred years later, this is now the heart of Mexico City and the basis for the mythical Aztlan, the origin of the word “Aztec”.

Aztec mythology is fascinating to me, mainly because their stories tell of creation gone wrong…several times gone wrong.  The supreme or first deity of the Aztecs was a spirit called Ometeotl.  Yet, although he was the first and considered their god, their supreme being, Ometeotl was not responsible for creation.  He did have four children who were known as the Tezcatlipocas,  and each was associated with a compass point.

Creation myth #1 tells of an earth occupied by giants who ate, of all things scary, berries.  Yep, you read that correctly.  The world was full of giants who ate berries.  In this creation version, the son/god of the north battled with his brother, the sun/god of the west.  The western deity won the battle but the northern brother was a poor sport and returned to earth as a jaguar, destroying the world and everything in it.

Creation legend #2 has the western deity ruling the heavens after creating human beings with a penchant for nuts.  (And yes, you read that correctly…nuts) In this myth, the Black Tezcatlipoca, the northern son/god/brother returns as the wind.  His mighty wind destroys most of everything in this tale with a few human beings left to become monkeys.

Creation story #3 has Tlaloc, the god of the rain and most likely the brother associated with the southern compass point since his name translates as ‘earth”, as the ruler supreme or the Third Sun.  In this myth, Quetzalcoatl, the western deity, sends rain which floods the earth.  A small number of people survive by being transformed in birds which are able to live above the deadly flood waters.

Finally we have Creation myth #4 which features Chalchiuhtlicue, the goddess of water, being in charge.  Her turn also ends with a flood, this time a flood of her own tears of blood.  In this legend part of mankind survives by being turned into fish.  I should not that these are not the only stories featuring these children of Ometeotl.  They are many others and they are indeed all fascinating.  Many are connected to the Aztec calendar and all play a role in making Mexico what it is today.

But…back to Creation.  Frustrated with the lack of success in creating the world, the four sibling gods (and one goddess) decided to work together.  Quetzalcoatl went to the Underworld to recover the crushed bones of all who had died.  He mixed some of his own blood with their ashes and resurrected them.  Aztec mythology believes this to be the final Creation myth.  The differences in mankind are attributed to the varying fragments of bones brought back from the Underworld.

Many of the world’s myths focus on perfect deities that, in spite of their perfection and power, still have problems.  This Aztec Creation myth, and yes there are others, not only has imperfect results directly accountable to the gods themselves instead of mankind, it applauds the concept of teamwork.  The fifth sun, the one that did work, was the teaming of all four spirits.

Myths that speak of destruction are quite common.  Myths such as this Aztec legend that tell of destruction followed by rebirth or recreation are found in other cultures.  The Norse myth of Ragnarok or “end Rulers” speaks of an apocalypse (No, not the Zombie Apocalypse!) that will destroy the world and then give birth to a new, fresher one.  The Abrahamic religions have the scriptural story of Noah and the Ark.  In that tale, the world is destroyed by a great flood and, once the waters recede, life begins anew.

From the Norse mythology of Scandinavia to the earliest beginnings of the three most popular world religions originating in the Middle East to the landscape of Mexico and a city built in the middle of a lake, we have a rather common theme in mythology.  Is it coincidence, fate, or the fingerprint of a higher power?  We still are looking for answers here in the 21st century.  We are still reading the ancient myths while we write new ones.  Like a classic novel, the preceding chapters help give context to what is being read/written today and hopefully, what tomorrow will bring.

The End…or Not

The End…or Not

Pentecost #168

You may not have realized it but we are not really here.  No, there isn’t a theoretical physics problem.  The world, as we know it, ended on December 21, 2012.  At least, many felt it was supposed to, according to the Long Count calendar, of three calendars of the Mayan culture.

The Mayan are the original inhabitants of Mexico and Central America.  They have lived in what today we call the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas regions in Mexico and in Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras in Central America.

The Mayan civilization developed as early as 7000-2000 BCE, the Archaic Period, as a hunter culture.  Crops such as maize and beans flourished and animals such as dogs and turkeys were domesticated.  (I have no idea why someone would want a pet turkey but …)  Archaeologists have unearthed villages dating back to 2000-1500 BCE.

The Olmec Period or Formative Period was 1500-200 BCE and represents the time when the Olmec culture appeared.  One of the oldest cultures in Mesoamerica, the Olmec lived along the coastal lands of the Gulf of Mexico.  They built great cities of stone and brick and were artists of great caliber regarding the art of sculpture.  The ruins of their temples and houses indicate the Olmec were of great stature and evidence shows that Shamanic religious traditions were common.  It remains a mystery exactly their origin and the reason for their demise.

In an area now called Monte Alban in the region of Oaxaca lived the Zapotecs.  The Zapotec Period dated from 600 BCE to 800 ACE and the Zapotecs laid the groundwork for much of what we call Mayan culture.  The Mayans would later refine and adapt the Zapotec art of writing, mathematics, and astronomy.  Other periods followed with great cities constructed.

As we explore the mythologies of South America, we need to recognize and then perhaps discard existing opinions.  Many consider these ancient cultures little more than tribes of cavemen.  The three Mayan calendars are just one example that these people were so much more than mere cave dwellers or ignorant people living off the land.

Mayans organized dates by the use of three calendars, thee very different calendars.  The civil calendar was known as the Haab and contained 365 days per each cycle.  A year consisted of eighteen months of twenty days each and one month of only five days.  The Tzolk was a divine calendar for religious services and had 260 days per each cycle that were broken down into twenty sections, each with 13 days.  The third calendar was the Long Count calendar.  An Astronomical calendar, it contained 7885 years per cycle.  The Mayans believed that the world would both end and be reborn at the end of each cycle of the Long Count calendar.

As 2012 approached, a new myth circulated on the Internet.  This myth used the Mayan Long Count calendar and encouraged people to go to a small village in France to escape the “end of the world”.  The surge of tourism to Bugarach helped local businessmen but nothing more.  It does serve to remind us of the power of a myth…and gossip.

There is nothing in nature that simply ends.  Death is but a step of many.  The buried become a part of the soil much like the spirits of the Australian Dreamtime.  The cremated and buried at sea become a part of nature’s cycle; their bodies are reborn into nature’s tomorrow.

Between December 31st and January 1st, our year both ends and is reborn.  We also can and should this every day.  The ending of one aspect of life is the birth of another.  Whether it be an hour, a day, or a new phase of life, time does more forward, offering us a chance to try, to struggle, to learn, and yes, to become victorious in living.  The world is not ending.  It’s really just beginning!

Catching a Wave

Catching A Wave

Pentecost 165

Just as our conversations about Norse and Celtic mythology did not follow a timeline, our exploration of the legends of Oceanica or Oceania will not follow a ship’s course or airline flight path.  In other words, we are going to go island hopping.  I hope you will join me as we explore the mythology of this wonderful part of the world.

Today we are catching a wave to Polynesia.  Polynesia is a wife and diverse section of the Pacific region and is thought to have been populated by people from Taiwan approximately five hundred years before European explorers reached the area.  Polynesia is comprised of different island nations such as American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, French Polynesia, Niue, Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

The diversity of Polynesia hints at the richness of Polynesian myths.  The Cook Islands are a nation of fifteen islands which cover more than 2.2 million square kilometers or 1,375,000 miles in the Pacific Ocean.  Although many have never heard of Kiribati due to its remoteness and poverty, the sun has no problem finding it.  In fact, the sun rises first here every day.

Polynesia’s mythology is a vast treasure trove of oral literature, based upon priestly castes and hereditary rulers.  The influence of the stories is found in the mythologies of New Zealand and Hawaii.  There also many variation of the same myth.  Polynesian gods such as papa and Rangi are characters in stories along with Tangaroa, the Tahitian creator and Maori’s deity of the seas.

The remotest island of Polynesia is Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island.  Tangaroa is also a deity on Rapa Nui.  Legend tells Tangaroa landed on the island in the form of a seal only to be killed, cooked, and eaten by islanders who refused to see him as a god.

The variations of the these stories have a common bond with our modern world.  After all, that is one of the reasons these stories still speak to us, delight us, instruct us.  But what can the myths of Polynesia teach us?  For one thing, they emphasize the importance of respecting our environment.  Polynesian mythologies are rich in a diversity of deities with gods, heroes, demi-gods, and tricksters.  One of the most popular characters in these myths was Maui, the name of one of the islands of Hawaii.

One of my favorite myths of this region has to do with food.  (Not surprising if you are a long-time reader of this blog and yes, recipes will return during Advent.)  One of the most basic good crops in Polynesia is the root vegetable known as the yam, a fraternal twin to the sweet potato.  The Maori myth, one of several touting the origin of the yam, describes how the deity Rongo-Maui traveled to heaven to visit his brother Wahnui.  Wahnui was the guardian of the yam.  Rongo-Maui stole the yam, hiding it in his attire.  He returned to earth and later his wife Pani became pregnant.  She gave birth to a yam which Rongo-Maui shared with all of mankind.  Thus this first yam became a staple in the Polynesian diet.

The yam is high in dietary fiber although the sweet potato tends to be higher in nutritional value.  Both are high in potassium, vitamins A, B6, and C.  There is even evidence they can reduce cholesterol levels.  Eating a yam once a week can give birth to a healthier life.  Living the goodness of one’s beliefs also gives birth to greater goodness and everyone’s life needs that.