Choice and Families

Choice and Families – Pentecost #155-158

Pentecost 155 – Choices

Today is All Hallow’s Eve, a holiday which has its roots in Celtic mythology.  While In America the custom of children wearing costumes and going door to door to receive treats only dates back about one hundred years, those customs and the holiday dates back to at least the sixteenth century in Great Britain and Ireland.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania loves to brag (and rightly so!) about its Mummer’s Day Parade.  Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans, Louisiana have their costumes and joyful Mardi Gras festivities.  Rio de Janeiro draws the world with its glorious Carnival.  Clearly mankind loves a party!  Halloween, the more common name for All Hallow’s Eve, or Samhain or Calan Gaeaf were all much more than simply excuses to dress up for a party.  Ancient Celts believed in Aos Si, the spirits of the dead who could, at this liminal time, return to earth.   These spirits were presented food or drink left as an offering and it was believed that dressing up as these spirits would protect one from harm.

In the ninth century A.C.E., the Christian church made November 1st a church holiday.  November 1st was named All Saints Day (originally All Hallows Day, “hallow being a synonym for saintly’).  In the fifteenth century the custom of sharing “soul cakes” was instituted. This custom was even incorporated by William Shakespeare into the action of his play “The Two Gentleman from Verona”.

Many use Halloween as a chance to step out of their everyday persona.  The term “trick or treat” is only about seventy years old, although the concept was evident in Wales in the seventeenth century.  AS a child I remember towns and municipalities offering an extra school holiday if the youth of the area restrained themselves from trickery or malfeasance.  It really boils down to a matter of choices, doesn’t it?

In Nigeria, there is a culture known as the Yoruba.  The Yoruba believe that a person’s success in life is based solely upon the choices made – not in life but in heaven before one is born.  The Yoruba word for choice is “ayanmo” and the road to achieving one’s choice is thought by the Yoruba to be ….patience.  The Yoruba name for their supreme deity for this matter is “Ori” which translates as “head” or “mind”.  Everyone has a choice.  Those who choose a wise head will have success and a life of relative ease.  Those who make foolish choices will not find success.

The Yoruba believe that even their gods need Ori to help guide them through life.  Thus Ori is both a personal and a collective concept.  Holidays are also both personal and collective.  Hopefully, if you celebrate today, you will do so by making wide choices.  And I also hope your choices in living will help you be a better person.  We all need to make better choices and the world can always use another person who is trying to be better.

Pentecost #156 – And Then ….

The Yoruba also believe that each of us is really a part of a trinity.  They believe in the “emi”.  The word translates as “breath” but refers to the spirit of each of us.  The emi lives in one’s heart and lungs and is fed by air breathed in through our nostrils.  The emi is the very core of a person, that which is responsible for our very living, our actions, our thoughts, our loving.

This wonderful culture also has a myth of the second part of a person, the “ojiji”.  The ojiji follows a person and is the shadow or shade of a person.  When we die, the Yoruba believe our ojiji will wait in heaven for our return.  [I confess I found this such a lovely thought.  We are never truly alone; we always have our shadow, even when we cannot see it.]

The Nigerian tribe of the Yoruba gave the third spirit of the trinity the name “eleda”, although some call it “ori”.  These names are translated as “guardian soul”.  It is believed that those who have died will return to the tribe as infants.

One never really escapes one’s past in these myths yet there is a chance for retribution and confession.  We all have made choices that left us wondering “What was I thinking?” and left others if we were thinking at all.  The nice thing is that there is usually always a chance for “and then…”.  All we have to do is find the strength to start again.  It is not easy but life is always worth it.  So, by the way, are you.

Pentecost 157 – Liongo

We talked about the Kamba culture of Kenya earlier this week.  Like most African countries, Kenya is a land rich in diversity and many cultures.  The Swahili and Pokomo people live in eastern Kenya and one of their mythical heroes is the poet Liongo.  There are seven cities which claim to be the birthplace of Liongo; no one known which claim is true.  He was described as being as tall as a giant and very, very strong.  Legend tells that Liongo could not be wounded by any weapon but, like Achilles in the Greek myths, Liongo did have his vulnerable spot.  We, like Liongo, all have our weak areas.  Not everyone can be an expert or authority is all matters.  We all make mistakes; hopefully, we learn something from them.

Liongo is not really remembered just for his might or the fact the he was the king of Ozi and Ungwana in the Tana Delta and of the Shanga on Faze or Pate Island.  There are a great many songs and gungu dances whose lyrics are poems attributed to Liongo and written in Swahili.  This is fitting because, with the introduction of Islam and the change in succession from mother to father, Liongo found himself arrested.  He escaped his shackles during a loud and celebratory song sung by a nearby crowd outside the prison.  The myths of Liongo open chapter of his tale with a song.

Liongo eventually was killed by his son who knew that a needle driven into his navel would prove deadly.  There is an old adage about choosing one’s confidants wisely and Liongo’s death testifies to this adage.  Of greater importance is making sure we not only are aware of our weaknesses but respectful of them and those of others.  On this day when so many are celebrating, we need to remember to be good stewards of our fun.  The real thing to fear is ignoring the wisdom in living a healthy and safe life.

#158 – The Family Tree

Trees in Africa are tantamount to life.  It is understandable that many tribes and clans have given themselves names that include trees.  Without trees, man would not have wood for fire and food would quickly spoil without the ability to cook it.  In areas where grass is hard to find, goats climb trees to eat the green leaves.  Other animals use trees as perches before capturing their meal.  Trees are where bees make their hives in Africa and those hives provide honey.

African mythology tells that each tree has a spirit and some have more than a few.  It has been a long-ensuing debate as to whether trees are spirits or are just inhabited by them.  Regardless of where you stand on that topic, the spirit is recognized and all seek to hear its voice.

Together, trees create a family.  Forests are just large tree families and continue to be revered and respected.  Drums in Africa are made from wood and the carver works very carefully to preserve the voice of the spirit of the tree.  The boat-maker also works to keep the spirit of the wood happy.  Otherwise it is believed that an unhappy spirit will sink a boat.

Namibia has a tree that is said to open its branches and swallow people whole.  In Zaire there is a myth about the man who married a tree.  His children, born of the tree, were said to have learned the secrets of the forest spirits and grew up to become respected herbalists.

We may not instantly think of a tree when we think of the word family and yet, an illustrated genealogy is called a “family tree”. Interesting, huh?  The popular song from the 1970’s “We Are Family” is singing through my mind right now.  I live near a wooded area and, given that we are in the middle of a light rain which is the precursor to a promised storm due later today, the trees and their spirits seem to be singing.

We are a long way away from Arbor Day, six months for those of us in the United States of America.  Yet, every day is a day to respect the trees.  Every day is also a good day to respect family – yours, mine, and the family of mankind.  After all, we really are family.