A Better State

A Better State

Pentecost 3


Altruism is the focus of our series this Pentecost.  We are talking about how we turn ordinary living into something extraordinary.  Known as the “Ordinary Time”, Pentecost challenges us to not only “talk the talk, but walk the walk.”


Selflessness or altruism is not a new concept.  It has been around for as long as there have been living things on the earth.    Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are full of videos of animals helping other animals, even those outside of their own species.  A mother cat adopts a baby squirrel or rabbit; A lion befriends a bear or a dear; a dog and cat are not only playmates but bunk together.  There is even a video of a four-footed animals splashing water on a fish that somehow ended up on dry land, saving the fish’s life – that is, once the human put down the camera and helped the fish back into the water.


That last example is a great illustration of how, sadly, many of us react and act.  Taking the video was more important to the person than instantly helping the dog save the fish’s life.  After a minute, the human did step in but – seriously, if your life was in danger, would you want a video recording of it to be the primary goal or would you want someone to put down the camera and help save your life?


An integral part of good living and living well is to develop a healthy mental state.  Mental well-being affects everything we do and everyone around us and with whom we do things in life.  There are two clichés I want to use to illustrate this.


The first is “It is better to give than to receive.”  Scientific research has proven this is actually true.  One of the best things you can do for yourself is to do something for someone else.  In one study multiple sclerosis patients were encouraged to participate in support groups as mentors for those newly diagnosed with the disease.  It was expected that the newly diagnosed would gain support from the group.  What was not expected were the health benefits on those serving as mentors.  They showed improved health, greater function and mobility and an improved outlook not only on themselves but also on the future.


The second cliché is “What goes around comes around.”  History has proven this but so has science.  While we make advances in science, medicine, and technology every day, we also keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again, culture to culture, and century to century.  Doing something for another builds a strong sense of community and that community will in turn support you when it is needed.


None of knows what the next two hours will bring but when we have a positive attitude, feel capable, and are a part of a community of caring people, we are better able to cope and face the future.  That makes the world a better place and might just help rewrite some of those past mistakes so that we stop repeating them.



Myth of Cannot

The Myth of Cannot

Pentecost #181


This series began towards the end of May.  Although not a strict religious blog, nor even perhaps spiritual, it is organized according to one of the several Christian calendars and, as we’ve have touched on previously, sometimes those divisions have an influence on the series being discussed.  For instance, January 6, 2015 through February 17th was the division called Epiphany, based upon the season of the same name on the calendar of religious institutions with an historic episcopate.  During Epiphany, we discussed epiphanies of mankind, those inventions that often are overlooked and yet play an important role in our lives.


During this current series on mythology, we have discussed the spirits whose stories encompass the literature known as mythology.  This division on the calendar is called Pentecost and celebrates for those who believe in the holiest of all spirits, the essence of the monotheistic deity of the Christian faith and the third part of their Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost.  We have traveled the world in learning and discussing ancient myths and, sometimes, their modern-day counterparts.  After all, without the Norse mythologies, we would not have the Marvel comic book hero known as Thor or the current wave of zombie fever based upon ancient voodoo myths from Africa which traveled with slaves to the Caribbean and United States.


Usually it is on Friday that I answer questions or comments but today I will do so because, quite frankly, the world’s events have led me here.  As previously discussed last Friday night a great tragedy befell the City of Lights, Paris.  It was a city that felt prepared; it was a city that felt it was ready.  In a few short hours, it became a city that realized one cannot fully prepare for the future.  All we can really do is our best and then continue to do our best when tragedy befalls us.


As you know, my own family had a crisis happen to us mid-September.  A family member was involved in an automobile accident.  Through no fault of her own, a family member became a part of a physics problem, the problem being how many times can a sport utility vehicle better known as a Jeep roll on a crowded busy highway during rush-hour traffic.    Then the physics problem became a series of chance encounters and blessings.  The vehicle had no hard top, only a soft canvass covering.  The car behind my family member was being driven by a registered nurse who instantly went to said family member and enlisted the aid of two other drivers to extricate her from the vehicle once it stopped its tumbling journey of over three hundred feet.  They cut the canvas and her seat belt and pulled her to safety.  Emergency crews arrived quickly and transported her to one of the best trauma centers for such injuries in the world.


My family member arrived at the hospital unconscious and unresponsive.  I will not lie.  It was a scary time and then an even scarier sight to see her in the intensive care unit, alive and yet, seemingly not alive.  Taking that first step into the room where she was, seeing all the equipment keeping her alive, I would have thought my mind would have been focused on prayers or amazement or fear.  Instead I heard my grandmother’s voice reciting a family saying I have heard over a million times in my life from family members of all ages.  “Can’t never could do anything but jump in the lake and swallow a snake and come out with a belly ache!”


At a moment when the statistics were not in our favor, when everyone was horrified and petrified, I stood with perfect posture and smiled.  “She will get through this,” I stated.  A few people shuffled their feet and looked down.  After all, I am older than most of them and they were taught to respect their elders.  Others just shook their heads and looked away.  My older son, with his wife lying comatose, was the only one to look me in the eye.  “Yea?” he asked.  “Of course,” I replied.  “Tell me when believing in “can’t” ever accomplished anything.  After all…. “Can’t never could do anything but jump in the lake and swallow a snake and come out with a belly ache!”


Tomorrow will be the one week anniversary of the Paris tragedy.  Life has continued, at a time when, for some, that seemed impossible seven days ago.  For some, though, fear has replaced faith and cannot has replaced confidence.  At the time of the World Trade Towers tragedy on September 11, 2001, I lived near an airport and a very good friend was a pilot who had flown the routes that ended in tragedy that day.  I revisited those feelings Friday night as I hurriedly emailed friends in Paris, just as I had done fourteen years ago for my friend the pilot.  I remember the strange stillness of silence around the airport for three days as all planes were grounded in the US after the events at the World Trade Towers, The Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.


I understand how fear can knock on the door of our souls.  Today I had a delightful and insightful conversation with someone in another country (Thank heavens for modern technology!).  She is a life and career coach and during our conversation she made a wonderful analogy that applies to both simple living and professional career paths.  She likened letting past and present hurts prevent us from succeeding to driving a car with one’s foot on the brake.  The quote is from Anne Jenett, the friend with whom I conversed earlier today.  [While this blog today is not an advertisement for her, I encourage you to check out her twitter feed, Anne Jenett @UnfoldYourDream and website, www.UnfoldYourDream.com.]


None gets into a vehicle just to stay in one place.  We get in the car to go somewhere.  Likewise, no one really wants to stagnate in one place in life.  We want to be successful in whatever it is we are doing.  There is no purpose in living the “cannot”.  It is a myth to think it can be profitable and yet, many of us do just that.  We let fear keep us from being who we are.  Currently, I am ashamed to admit, there are many in my own country, the U.S.A., who are clamoring to deny refugees a chance to find life here.  In the past week I have written about how every culture in North and South America sprang from emigrants.  No culture originated on these two continents.  Someone gave their ancestors a chance, the chance that many would now deny current immigrants.  Is it because they think there is no more room or is it because there are following the myth of cannot?


Life is not a race; it is a pace.  My family member is still under institutional medical care but can now breathe on her own, slowly feed herself, and eat regular food.  The road she is traveling is still very long and there will be detours ahead with speed bumps for us all.  Yet, she refused to let the Myth of Cannot direct her life and she is beating the odds each and every hour.  The “Can do; let’s give it our best effort!” attitude of her medical team and family is the reason for her success.


Tomorrow we will continue our discussion of the earliest cultures of North America.  Today, though, I hope you give great thought to the Myth of Cannot and then make sure it does not direct your choices and actions in life.  After all, like my grandmother often said … “Can’t never could do anything but jump in the lake and swallow a snake and come out with a belly ache!”

The Great Mystery

The Great Mystery

Pentecost #179


In one week the United States of America will celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is a day set aside to commemorate a harvest dinner held approximately one year after the first wave of English settlers had arrived on the northeastern coastline of the New World.


An American Indian friend recently described the event from her perspective.  “Almost four hundred years ago some of my relatives hosted a harvest dinner and invited some religious refugees who were nearly starving.  Two years later all but less than thirty of the tribe had died from diseases the Europeans had introduced to the tribe.  My relatives died living their faith and so they died a noble death, a death of honor.  Today their tribal name is all but forgotten, remembered only in the name of the state where this dinner we now call Thanksgiving took place, a dinner hosted by the Massachusetts Indians.


When Christopher Columbus discovered islands near the coast of the state we call Florida, there were possibly almost ten million people living in what today we call the U.S.A.  There were an estimated five hundred separate tribal groups, each unique and diverse.  About half of the fifty states in the U.S.A. have names taken from American Indian names.    While over four hundred of those tribes are now considered extinct, their names live on in the present.  The biggest myth about American Indians, though, is not from their culture but from Hollywood and a few literary works.  The stereotype of a grunting savage makes for good copy and screen time but simply is not true.


Many tribes did share similar beliefs and customs.  Historians have organized these into Indian nations.  Two tribes sharing like belief systems and societal characteristics were the Sioux and the Lakota.  Their central spiritual deity was called Wakan Tanka, a name which translates as “the Great Mystery” or “The Great Spirit”.  Wakan Tanka was said to be the universal spirit which was found in everything.


The Sioux and Lakota believed that, in the beginning, the very beginning, before anything had presence, Wakan Tanka existed in a dark, unknown void called Han.  The first thing to exist was Inyan, an entity that appeared as a rock.  Inyan released his energy which became the blue blood of the seas and oceans.  Another thing that came from Inyan was the earth goddess Maka.


Maka had characteristics of discord and negativity and she used them to complain that she had been made from Inyan.  Maka wanted to have been created as her own being.  She also protested living in Han.  In the dark void, Maka could not see herself or even a reflection of herself.


A third deity was the sky god Skan.  Skan was more spiritual than physical and served as a judge of all matters.  He heard Maka’s complaints and took action, splitting Han into two parts.  Maka was also divided between the two sections of Han.  In the upper world, Maka was known as Anp, living in the light.  Below the earth, Maka would live in the darkness of Han.


Maka was still not satisfied and found something else about which to complain, even though she had decorated herself with water, forming lakes and rivers which were the jewelry of her earthly terrain.  Skan created a fourth deity known as Wi.  Wi also caused shadows.  This was most important because the Sioux and Lakota felt shadows represented the spirit of all things, spirits that although individual were also connected.


Anp and Han shared the sky, one being day and the other night.  I like that analogy.  After all, we are all separate and yet joined, unique and yet the same.  The American Indians recognized their commonalities with the English immigrants as well as their differences.  Mostly, though, they viewed the world through the lens of their faith and offered peace.  Hopefully we can all follow their example and make peace a life habit and not an ancient myth.  The great mystery of living in peace with one another is simply to be kind to one another.

Master of What Universe?

Master of What Universe?

Pentecost 73

The back story of what has become a very successful franchise varies depending on who is doing the telling and so, the real story of Masters of the Universe may never be known. It is known that a certain individual decided not to mass produce toys based upon a then new film called Star Wars. It is known that Star Wars became a huge success and still is making millions of dollars with their films, toys, costumes, coloring books, toothbrushes …well, you get the idea.

It is also known that the original person who passed on the marketing opportunity of these items decided he could come up with his own and be just as successful. Instead of borrowing names from mythology or making up complicated ones that were indicative of their character, he decided to go for simplicity. He also wisely created a few marketing items when he when in to pitch his idea for both the toys and the film. Banking on the simplistic approach that he felt would appeal to all, he named his protagonist He-Man and his villain, Skeletor. It worked and the Masters of the Universe franchise became a huge hit.

Many people claim that the idea of a monotheistic deity had similar beginnings. With all the polytheistic deities, things got complicated and so, someone decided to simplify. Instead of several or thousands of gods and goddesses, they devised a story of one, one that would be the master of everything and everyone.

The name of this monotheistic god which is Adonai speaks to this concept. Like the movie franchise, there really was a he-man of sorts, a tyrant in Canaan known as Adoni-Besek. There was also a fertility god of the Canaanites named Adon who later appears in mythological circles as the Greek god Adonis. Adonis was part mortal and part immortal and ended up walking that line between mortal and something else quite a bit in his life. Some stories have him marrying his mother and others tell of him being killed while in the form of a boar whose blood later spilled onto white roses, turning them red and the rose then becoming the flower we now as the anemone or Adonis rose. Even in death, Adonis was said to spend half the year on earth with Aphrodite and the other half in the underworld, mastering both in a manner of speaking.

All of these names are said to be derived from the Egyptian sun god, Aten. Many discount this theory, though, and most feel the Hebrew name Adonai came from the Phoenician word “Tammuz”. We have to remember that most did not feel it was respectful to say the name of this monotheistic deity aloud. In prayers they would say “Adonai” and then in casual references use HaShem which, although similar to our He-Man character, really means simply “the name”.

Strictly translated, Adonai means “my lords”. The singular form, Adoni, refers to a royal personage and not a deity. This fact might be of particular importance as the concept of just one gods had to have been startling. Using words that were plural in form, even though they were describing one god, probably had a subconscious effect in helping make the transition from many gods and goddesses to just one, one who was truly the master of all.

Who is your master? Is it a deity or spiritual practice or is it something which can be purchased on Rodeo Drive in Hollywood? The marketing ploy which led to the success of both films mentioned earlier is not anything new. I do not mean to anger anyone but the writings of all three Abrahamic faiths have similar marketing tools found within them. Buy into this, be successful. Follow these rules, find happiness. Do this, be wonderful. The concepts are pure advertising 101 and yet, we tend to think their presence demeans the message.

Not being the wealthiest person on the planet, I like a good bargain. What I have discovered is that sometimes the less expensive brand is just as good as the trendy, fashionable, more expensive brand. My cheaper product has the same ingredients; it just doesn’t have the high advertising cost that needs to be recouped. Sometimes the store brand works just as well.

When it comes to faith, however, I think you need to not just do the “store brand” – that religious practice everyone else is doing. Whether it is Hindu, Christianity, Islam, or some non-denominational love-all brand, it should speak to your specific needs and personality. Your soul needs that nourishment. You need to find the deity that enables you to be the master of your universe in a healthy, productive way of life. Each of us can find the He-Man or She-Woman inside of us all when we connect to the deeper spirituality that speaks to our needs and dreams. When we do, we will indeed be a force that can move mountains and create a masterful universe for all mankind.

Purpose and Porpoise

Purpose and Porpoise

Pentecost 47

Many of us would consider a walk along a sandy beach at sunset to be something close to a perfect setting. One year on my birthday I had spent the day visiting with family. We found ourselves walking along the ocean’s edge, the setting sun a beautiful backdrop as the day neared its end. Looking out on the ocean we realized there were animals swimming close to the kids who were splashing about less than three feet from the shoreline. Getting to within two feet of the kids, mimicking their movements, was a school of dolphins. Or were they porpoises? After all, for most of us, they are the same thing, right?

Much of what we know about Greek mythology is the result of one man’s writings. The poet Homer believed that man held his fate in his own hands. Man was not simply a creature to whom life happened, according to Homer. Man had the ability to make a life, to act and not just react. Homer used the myths of his ancestry to create a foundation of excellence for which one should strive. Because of Homer, the Greeks developed a culture for and of excellence and were possibly the first ancient culture to think outside the box of simply living to get by, to attempt to achieve lasting greatness.

Greek gods and goddesses looked amazingly like humans. Made in the image of mankind, these deities often masqueraded as humans. Think about the psychological undertones of this. The Greeks were satisfied with themselves so they had no need of creating deities that were better looking. Unlike the Judeo-Christian God who is said to have made man in His image, the Greeks made their gods in their image. Of course, being gods and goddesses, they could do more than mortals. The Greeks built temples for the worship of their deities but the deities came to them, not the other way around.

Ancient man first conceived the concept of a deity, a god, in the form of a woman. The greatest power early man had was that of reproduction. It was in fact the only part of any creation that man knew anything about and could replicate. A mere mortal could do nothing to create a flower except take care of the flower in its current generation. Mortals did nothing to cause the sunlight or the rain and they had no idea at all where the air they breathed originated or how it continued to be present. They only knew, slowly, that these things were necessary. Human reproduction was the only thing over which they seemed to have any control and so, it was something they could not only understand but also worship with clarity. Human reproduction was also the only way that the species known as mortals could continue and so, reproduction was considered sacred. The first deities were, in fact, of the female variety since women were vessels necessary to the creation of mankind.

The mind of a human being is a mind that evolves and is, in itself, a magnificent storytelling machine. We operate based upon identification and comparison. The first thought when we see something is “Do I have a point of reference for this?” Our mind identifies a bed because of the shape and assumed function. That is why a bed looks like a bed and a box of similar proportions as the bed looks like a box and not a bed. The Greeks were able to have a polytheistic culture because their gods and goddesses were created in their image and therefore had points of reference that could be easily understood.

Like a story that expands with each telling, the forms and powers of the Greek deities began to go beyond the physical image of mankind. A prominent female deity in the Greek culture was the Sphinx. With the head of a woman, the Sphinx had the body of a lion and the wings of an eagle. She posed a question to those seeking to enter the city of Thebes and, in keeping with Greek mythology, punished the visitor if she received a wrong answer. “What being in one lifetime goes on four legs, at another time on two, and yet when it is old, goes on three?” Legend states the any travelers not knowing the correct response would find themselves crushed in the lion paws of the Sphinx, strangled and asphyxiated.

The name Sphinx is from the Greek word “sphingo”, meaning to bind tightly. Perched high upon the rocks, the Sphinx posed her question which led to the inevitable death of all travelers on the road. Oedipus was the only one to correctly answer the Sphinx’s question. Arguing with a companion over who should go first, Oedipus kills the companion and then proceeds to give the Sphinx a one-word answer – man. He explains that as an infant, humans crawl around on four appendages; as adults, they walk upright on two legs; as older people, men and women often employed the use of a stick or cane, thus going about with three limbs to hold them upright. Upon receiving the correct answer, the Sphinx hurls herself down the roads to her death and Oedipus is made king of Thebes.

The Greeks used their stories to explain how life could be shaped by man. Just as the Romans would later appropriate their deities, the Greeks used those of older cultures. The Sphinx is one such example. The Egyptian Sphinx is much older although it was renamed with the Greek named due to the similarities in description – another example of relating to what is known. The Sphinx itself is both a Greek deity and an Egyptian one. The Egyptian Sphinx was a male deity of more ancient times than the Greek one and resided outside the city of Giza. It was forgotten by the world until it was rediscovered by the armies of Napoleon in 1798. Other Sphinx statues have been erected all over the world and can be found today in Paris, Russia, Scotland, and even in the USA in Las Vegas.

The Greeks used mythology to illustrate what could and did happen to mankind in daily living. They compared to what was known in order to dream about the unknown, make assumptions, and then proceed to discover new things. They were not so concerned with what happened after one’s death, as in older cultures, but in what happened in the here and now. That had no point of reference for the unknown after life but they could easily relate to daily living that we all conduct.

Standing on the shores of the ocean that day, I was at peace with the here and now. Watching the sea animals mimic the human children was delightful. After all, dolphins are known to be gentle creatures and very friendly. It’s not like they were swimming with whales, a more threatening creature due to its own legends. The playful dolphins or porpoises (Who can tell them apart?) seemed to be the perfect addition to a beautiful scene. Thing is, though, I did not know whether they were dolphins or porpoises and porpoises…well, they aren’t the same as dolphins. They are not the same species. Porpoises are, in fact, whales.

It is important that we examine and explore that which we hold in reverence. Not every person in a cult or radical group is fully aware of the intentions of their leaders. Blindly following because it is fashionable can lead to one’s own destruction as well as the deaths of many. Religion get a bad rap not because worship is wrong but because of how we do it, or how we don’t think about what we are doing. We need to make certain what we are, in fact, worshipping. We need to know whether we have a purpose or are simply following a case of mistaken identity, like the porpoise. We need to make sure that which we revere is worth the journey of our life.

The Chinese Viking

The Chinese Viking

Pentecost 20

Yesterday we discussed the Viking creation myth. Tomorrow we will continue with the story of how the Norse mythology accounted for the characteristics of its culture. I would be remiss, however, if I failed to mention that these warriors, noted for both their skill on the water and their fierce spirit were not the first giants nor was Norse mythology the first mythology to speak of giants.

A Chinese creation myth starts out with the world in chaos and the chaos soon encapsulated itself into what the Chinese called a cosmic egg. Cosmic in modern times refers to the metaphysical or something from space but in ancient times cosmic was a synonym for universal. The Chinese referred to the chaos becoming a cosmic egg meaning all the universal became one in its birth. It is at this point that Chinese mythology branches out with different versions of the story coming forward.

In one version the egg contains a sleeping person who one day awakens, stretches, and like a young chick does, cracks the egg open. The person is called Pan Gu and the lighter parts of his cosmic egg form the sky with the heavier parts forming the earth. The created the separation of earth and sky and also began yin and yang, the two opposing elements of the universe that are so prominent in Chinese beliefs. Pan Gu awakes already larger than the typical man and he grows ten feet each day for 18,000 years. As he grew taller, Pan Gu pushed and shaped the earth into its present shape. Exhausted, Pan Gu falls asleep and dies. After his death, Pan Gu’s body parts became mountains to help anchor the earth and establish boundaries. His breath is said to have become the wind and clouds; his voice thunder; his eyes the sun and the moon. The world’s rivers were Pan Gu’s blood with his veins becoming roads. The rain was his sweat and his bones rocks, his teeth metal. His hairs on his head became the stars and his skin turned to soil while the hairs on his body became the vegetation growing out of the soil just as his hairs had grown out of his body.

Another version of the Chinese creation myth has the egg lying dormant for 18,000 years. Within the egg during this time, the perfectly opposable concepts of yin and yang were developed and balanced, causing the sleeping soul inside to awaken and emerge from the egg. This creature, depicted as a hairy giant is named Pan Gu who has horns on his head and who always wears furs. In this version Pan Gu creates the world and separates the yin from the yang with one mighty swing of an axe. The earth is the yin and the sky is the yang. With each passing day, the sky grows ten feet higher, the earth ten feet thicker, and Pan Gu ten feet taller. As in the other version, Pan Gu dies after 18,000 years. This story has his breath becoming the wind, mist and clouds. His voice is thunder, his left eye the sun and his right eye the moon. Pan Gu’s head become the mountains and extremes of the world, his blood, the rivers while his muscles the fertile land adorned with his fur which becomes the forests and foliage along the landscape. His bone marrow becomes sacred diamonds; his bones transformed into minerals of the earth. The Chinese saw the stars and the galaxy of space as the facial hair of Pan Gu and their rivers were his blood transformed.

In some versions of the creation tale, Pan Gu is accompanied by four animals: a turtle, a phoenix, a dragon, and a qilin. The phoenix was a mythical bird said to arise from the ashes and in modern times has become a symbol for reincarnation and recovery from disaster. In Chinese culture it was sometimes called the fenghuang, a combination of two words meaning male and female used to represent yin and yang. The fenghuang was also known as the “August rooster” and depictions of it were used on a national Chinese symbol during the early twentieth century. It is sometimes referred to as the “ho ho bird”. The phoenix was considered to represent great power from the heavens.

The qilin is also a mythical creature. It was a hooved creature usually depicted with fire all over its body. Prominent in Chinese and other Asian cultures, the presence of this chimerical animal whose body appeared to contain parts of other more commonly known creatures occurred during the passing or birth of a wise man or great ruler. Some of the versions tell of a unicorn rather than the qilin but it is interesting that whether a qilin or unicorn, Pan Gu’s mythical helper is a four-footed cloven animal. This he has animal helpers who crawl, walk, fly, and breathe fire while being able to both walk and fly.

In some of the versions of Pan Gu’s tale, he himself creates humans out of the clay of the earth. In other versions, the fleas from his fur fall to the earth and become animals which evolve into humans. IN the tales of Pan Gu sculpting humans from the clay, he places them in the sun to dry. Some get more light than others which explains the different skin hues of mankind. A great flood appears and Pan Gu is forced to hurriedly gather his human sculptures. Some are not fully dried and this, to the Chinese, explains why some humans are crippled or disabled.


The earliest recorded stories of Pan Gu appeared in the second century ACE and the writer’s name has been found carved into the side of a wall of a cave. Xu Zheng lived during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history making these myths some of the earliest to be recorded and their authorship a known personage. Primarily a character in Taoist beliefs, Pan Gu is also mentioned in Chinese Buddhist mythology. After the death of Pan Gu, it is said that the Chinese goddess Nuwa used yellow clay to firm humans. These humans were said to be extremely smart but soon Nuwa tired and began making humans with a rope dipped in the clay. The humans created this way were not as smart.

We’ve discussed before the interesting phenomenon about the history of mankind in which similar things appear on the planet at similar times but at great distances from each other. It is not that unusual for the various mythologies to seek to answer basic questions like who are we and where did we come from and how. What is interesting is that those answers seem to have so much in common. The barren icy topography of the Norse mythology is very far away from the Chinese Asian continent. Given the lack of communication and travel restrictions, it is somewhat safe to assume that neither had knowledge of the other. And yet, both sought to explain giants and the infirmities of man.

It is through our myths that we see our spirit, the human spirit that lives in each of us. Whether you believe we were created from a cosmic explosion or by the hands of a loving creator, we share so much in common. The pain we feel is the same pain another feels. Stomp on a toe and it will hurt. Crush the spirit of hope and the soul will wither. Feed the light within each of us and peace has a chance to blossom.

A Viking Tale

A Viking Tale

Pentecost 19

When Jacqueline Kennedy referred to her husband’s tenure as a new Camelot, we understand that she meant it was a golden age, like that of King Arthur. When the Greek government dubbed a campaign to rescue ethnic Greeks from behind the walls of the Iron Curtain “Operation Golden Fleece,” we understood that they were invoking an ancient name to communicate that these people belonged to them. Each generation of storytellers adds another layer of fact and fiction to the myths, such that the themes and characters of myths are timeless, and endlessly relevant, as they are reinvented and reapplied to the lives of each new generation.

It was in 2013 that the lead character of the computer-animated musical fantasy “Frozen” sang the following: “The snow glows white on the mountain.” Like many films, this highly successful film was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Snow Queen”. The nineteenth century Danish tale also served, many believe, as the premise for one of the characters in the twentieth century book by C. S. Lewis, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”.

Andersen’s tale of seven stories depicting the story of the Snow Queen had its roots in Norse mythology. Like many myths, the earliest ones of the Northern Germanic tribes that settled in Scandinavia, Denmark, Norway, Holland, and Iceland centered on creation. The Norse myth of creation begins in the land between two celestial areas of contrasts. The frozen land of Niflheim and the hot land of Muspell both portrayed the landscape of Iceland which has both frozen tundra and bubbling geysers.

According to the legend, the heat of Muspell takes a toll on the frozen glaciers of Niflheim and as the ice begins to that and melt, an evil giant the Norse named Ymir appeared. A cow of formed out of the melting snow and produces milk for the giant to drink. As the heat continues, the giant Ymir sweats and from that sweat, two more giants are created. The cow known as Audhumla licks the ice and another giant called Buri is freed from his frozen lair. The giants rule the skies and the stars and one has a son which marries another’s daughter. Ymir continues to be evil and is disliked. He is later killed by the children of the god Bor and his body made to create the rest of the world. From his skull, the Norse believed the sky was created; from his brains, the clouds. Ymir’s bones became rocks on the earth and his blood the rivers and seas. However, all but the god Bergelmir and his wife drown in the overflowing blood of Ymir.

One of the children of Buri, the god freed from the ice, is known as Odin. His brothers are Vili and Ve and the Norse believed these three could breathe life into inanimate objects. When everyone else is drowned by the blood of Ymir, Odin, Vili, and Ve give the remaining children of Bergelmir a region in the east known as Urgard for their home. The three brothers then use the last remaining part of Ymir, his eyebrows, to erect fortifications around their own home, Asgard.  The brothers were, according to the myths, out walking along the coastline one day and came upon tree trunks that had washed up on the shore. They breathed life into them creating humans. Odin is said to have given the trunks breath and life; vili, emotion and intelligence; Ve, the senses of sight and hearing. In some of the myths, Ve also is said to have bestowed upon the humanoid shapes, expressive features, and the ability to speak.

From the lifeless tree trunks now transformed with new life as humans, came the first man and woman. In Norse mythology they were called Ask and Embla. Because they also needed a home, the creator gods as the brothers were called, created a new realm for the humans that was called Midgard or Middle Earth. Between the realm of Odin, Vili and Ve known as Asgard and Midgard was a bridge. This bridge was known as Bifrost and looked very much like the natural phenomenon we know as a rainbow. Ask and Embla were given the responsibility of caring for their Middle Earth realm and for populating it with more of their kind.

Norse mythology often gets forgotten in its origins and most of us think of the exploits of later humans from the region which we know as of Vikings in thinking about tales from this region. We think of the land of Wales from whence the writer of the most popular tales of Middle Earth came or the New Zealand landscape where the films were made when we think of Middle Earth. Few realize that we live on the original Middle Earth. Perhaps this is where the true beginnings of the heavens, earth, and hell trilogy came.

The readings we have of the more modern day religious tales bear witness to similar beginnings in part to the mythologies of mankind. This should not be taken as evidence that such readings or scriptures are false. The best stories incorporate what the listen knows as familiar with what is trying to be told or taught.

Mythologies were the original lessons of life for ancient mankind. J. Michael Straczynski explains: “The point of mythology or myth is to point to the horizon and to point back to ourselves: This is who we are; this is where we came from; and this is where we’re going.” Straczynski feels we have lost our purpose in the last century and are merely wandering through life aimlessly. Perhaps that is the attraction of such modern day myths like the popular film series” Star Wars” and the British television program that has run for the last forty-plus year, “Dr. Who”.

Mankind may indeed be hungry for heroes like Odin. What we forget is that however life became breathed into our bodies, we do have life and we can become an integral part of that mythological struggle we know as life if we but place ourselves in it. Too often we go through life reacting instead of creating. The Viking warriors were present in their moment and lived. Tomorrow we will go deeper into Norse mythology, the land of giants and their stories. Swedish prehistoric rock paintings tell the stories of wars between the Vamir and Aesir and how the Vikings became giants. Until then, ponder this….How did they know they were taller than the rest of mankind? Some mythologies still have secrets for us to uncover.

Fact, Fable or Future?

Fact, Fable or Future?

Pentecost 17

I recently posted an article I had the pleasure of co-authoring last year regarding spirituality and religion. I was asked to write the article which was to be entitled “Religion versus Spirituality”. I did not select the title nor was I successful in changing it. I did invite a spiritualist to join me in writing it. My purpose in doing so was an attempt to counter the title. You see, for me there is no “versus”. I have since learned that I am not in the majority in that thinking and that, interestingly enough, both theologians and spiritualists agree in the “versus”.

The stories of our creation are largely the basis upon which belief systems are built. If you believe the story, then it becomes a fact, a religious or spiritual tenet of doctrine. If you do not, then it is considered a myth. Myths with factual basis are referred to as legends and those with talking animals often as fables. Victorian literature romanticized some myths, especially those with the more diminutive spirits or deities and fairy tales were written.

All of these stories, regardless of what they are called, served a very important purpose and had a lasting and profound effect on the cultures of the world. For many they were sacred tales. For some they were a compass for moral living. Even for the nonbelievers these tales were a beckoning rod, encouraging exploration and discovery. The premises for these sagas were the benchmarks of living – birth, death, growing, learning, how the natural world operated, man’s environment, and possibly the proposition that there was more than what was experienced in one lifetime.

For many these myths reflect a collective wisdom, things common to all cultures. Three common themes in all cultures are myths about a great flood, a virgin birth, and the afterlife. Myths did not always end with a “happily ever after” although some explained the “in the beginning”. They all spoke of “once upon a time” and like life, expressed both positive and negative, good and evil, life and death. They not only served to teach ancient cultures, they remain popular in our own century today. They have been evident in the arts of the world from cave drawings to frescos to elaborate oil paintings. The reason is clear: They speak to us today as they did hundreds of centuries ago to our ancestors.

Dejan Davchevski wrote a very interesting piece published online in late 2014 at the website, the-open-mind.com. In this piece he continues the division between religion and spirituality by listing seven differences. I do not mean to take issue with Dejan’s thoughts. They are as valid as my own and I do respect that. Let me briefly list his seven differences. They are worthy of your notice. First, “Religion makes you bow – Spirituality sets you free.” Second, “Religion shows you fear – Spirituality shows you how to be brave.” Third, “Religion tells you the truth – Spirituality lets you discover it.” Fourth, “Religion separates from others – Spirituality unites them”. Fifth, “Religion makes you dependent – Spirituality makes you independent.” Sixth, “religion applies punishment – Spirituality applies karma.” And lastly, “Religion makes you follow other journey – Spirituality lets you create your own.”

I think how we undertake our journey tells whether or not Dejan’s words are truth. Much like the myths we are discussing in this series, the core value is what you believe and how you live it. For me, most of his comments are both right and wrong… on both sides of the hyphen. For me, many myths are wonderful bits of literature but I do not hold them to be universal truths. It is comforting, though, when as yesterday I sit in the middle of a thunderstorm with my smart phone telling me how close the lightning strikes are, to think of an ancient deity striking the ground of his mountaintop with a hammer rather than imagine electrically charged particles clashing due to changing air temperatures. I doubt said deity is going to drop out of the skies and hit me; the electrically charged particles….not so sure.

He portrayed a caveman brought back to life after a frozen hibernation in a Hollywood film designed for young adults and teenagers. The ensuing chaos felt by the caveman when confronted with the modern world is the basis of the film “Encino Man”. One of my favorite quotes about mythology and the darkness it sought to explain comes from Brendan Fraser, the same actor who portrayed the caveman in this film. “I guess darkness serves a purpose: to show us that there is redemption through chaos. I believe that. I think that’s the basis of Greek mythology.” Another quote speaks to the passage of time and the inventions of man. “Our grandkids will lead the lives of the gods of mythology. Zeus could think and move objects around. We’ll have that power. Venus had a perfect, timeless body. … Pegasus was a flying horse. We’ll be able to modify like in the future.” These words from Michlo Kaku might seem to be describing life in our current times.

Yesterday I changed a channel on the telly without moving my feet at all. Last week conjoined twins were separated and somewhere, during business hours in a plastic surgeon’s office everywhere, someone is striving to have a perfect body created. Life is too short for us to pick it apart and create divisions. The mythologies of the world are evidence of our commonalities. Continue the journey with me as we explore them and in doing so, perhaps learn something about ourselves.


Assumptions: To Be or To Be Told

Pentecost 16

A recent comment stated simply: “You are making an assumption.” Yes, I am. The commenter did not state the specific assumption to which they were referring but, generally speaking, any conversation requires an assumption for discussion on a topic to continue. I MAY OR MAY NOT BELIEVE THE STATED ASSUMPTION. This blog is not a personal diary of my journey. It has never been intended as such. It is a conversation about our journey, the journey of life that we all share. As English cleric and poet John Donne wrote in his 1624 “Meditations 17”: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesser, as well as if a Promontory were, as well as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee….”. [Spellings have been updated to current English standards.]

This is the Christian season of Pentecost. In John Donne’s time, it began with Whitsunday or White Sunday. It celebrated the Holy Spirit, just as Pentecost does but more emphasis was on the peaceful aspects rather than the passion. Often depicted by a dove, the Holy Spirit was a way of living the goodness that the faith required. Whitsunday was followed by Trinity Sunday, a time that celebrated the One-in-Three spiritual side of the faith. The color of the Trinity season was green, a color that depicted life. Also called the Ordinary Time, Trinity was a period of regular living, living that was considered possible only because of the Holy Spirit or, as it was called previously, the Holy Ghost.

The Episcopal Church in the United States changed their Book of Common Prayer in 1979 and in doing so, updated some of their observances. Whitsunday became what is always was – Pentecost Sunday, the hallmark of the season of Pentecost, a day previously celebrated not always on a Sunday but exactly fifty days after Easter. In a time where religion is considered more a trend than a belief, the passion and fire of the Holy Spirit was emphasized.

According to Dr. Robert Sweetland of Wayne State College, a myth has certain basic characteristics, regardless of the time in which it appeared or the culture for which it was told. The professor explains that myths are based upon gods or superheroes that can usually take our human form but are really immortal with supernatural powers. The stories take place in a culturally relevant setting with the timeframe being both past and present, something that may seem contradictory but in the myth makes sense. Every myth has a plot and every myth’s plot or storyline has action, suspense, and conflict.

A myth differs from a legend, though. Mythologies generally explained occurrences in the natural world and led to religious or spiritual customs that explored, explained, and sought to alleviate human strengths and weaknesses. Legends have a basis in fact and were often stories woven around a “real” person. While there may be evidence of a man named Jesus being from Nazareth, there is not the overwhelming body of evidence that he truly lived, preached, and walked the earth as there is about a man named Davy Crockett or the American female citizen living in the western part of the country known as Calamity Jane.

Is it an assumption to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the man that Christians call Jesus Christ? Perhaps. Was this Jesus who preached and traveled around with his twelve apostles merely a teacher like Plato and Socrates? Perhaps. I love that the commenter mentioned making an assumption because that is both how and why we live as well as how and why wars are started. If possible, I would give the commenter a standing ovation because truly, what we assume and how we then proceed makes all the difference.

Legends have some basis in truth although they are usually greatly exaggerated in the telling of strengths of the hero or heroine. Can a story by both myth and legend? How do we tell if it is a fable with talking animals, a folktale with the expected happy ending to the conflict of the story, a folktale that emphasizes and continues the culture of a region, a legend with some truth at its core, or a myth that seeks to helps explain the world and our place in it?

What we choose to believe is based upon an assumption. One of my favorite quotes is anonymous. “Faith is like Wi-Fi; it’s invisible but it has the power to connect you to what you need.” IF you are a Christian, then the story of Jesus is neither myth nor fairytale but real. The legendary aspects are miracles and not exaggerations. If you are not a Christian, then the story becomes a myth. If the man known as Jesus of Nazareth is a part but not the primary character of your beliefs, then some of his exploits might be considered a folktale or even a legend.

The French philosopher Voltaire wrote: “Faith consists in believing when it is beyond the power of reason to believe.”   We and we alone decide for ourselves what is an assumption and what is truth. It all begins with an assumption, though, and then what we do next explains what we believe. How we live portrays whether or not we take the story to be myth, legend, folktale, or truth.

Forever and Never

Forever and Never

Pentecost 15

In the early 1960’s Jay Lerner, a classmate at Harvard of President John F Kennedy composed music for a musical based upon the Arthurian legends which we discussed yesterday. Entitled “Camelot”, the Broadway musical was hit by all stanards. The songs, however, were even more popular. President Kennedy was said to be particularly fond of the concluding couplet lyric of the title song”: “Don’t ever let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was Camelot.”

President Kennedy, his wife Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy reportedly once said, was strongly attracted to the Camelot legend because he was an idealist who saw history as something made by heroes like King Arthur. After his assassination, a reporter wrote the Jacqueline Kennedy remarked: “There will be great presidents again,” she told White, “but there will never be another Camelot.” In this way, stated the reporter, Mrs. Kennedy sought to attach a morally uplifting message to one of the more ugly events in American history. Later reports dispute whether or not the quotes were ever said since the Kennedy family was very religious and believing in myths would seem at odds with their faith.

Similar contradictions might seem obvious throughout the history of mythologies. For those who believe, they were the basis for belief syst3ems. For those who did not believe, they were mere stories. As works of literature, the mythologies of mankind provided entertainment and engaged the audiences, regardless of location or period of history. As creation stories, they provided explanations for the beginnings of the world and mankind.

In the world of today where science and religion often battle, mythology bridged the gap between the two.   Myths illustrated concepts of morality, the very same concepts upon which most religions are based. They also answered one of mankind’s most consistent questions: Why do bad things happen? The occurrences in the natural world of such things like rain and lightning were explained as actions or responses of the gods and goddesses. If Zeus was mad, he struck the earth which caused lightning. If a goddess was saddened, he tears fell upon the planet as tears.

There is an old African saying: “God made man, because he liked to hear a story.” Whether they are telling the beginning of man or the reason for a part of nature, the myths told explained the experience of being alive. They served and continue to serve a profound purpose for us today. They illustrate our history and perhaps our future. What will be the story you write today?