From Myth to Man

From to Myth to Man

Pentecost 13

It is the play of children to pretend to be heroes. Parents smile as their progeny wear pillowcases as capes and jump off an ottoman pretending to fly. Modern-day comic book characters often have their basis in a mythological deity or some bearing. We don’t consider it an evening of mythology to go see the latest Marvel character movies but our ancestors would have and been delighted.

Welsh mythology is better known as simply folklore. Sometimes a combination of neighboring territories, the tales of the Welsh were among the first to be Christianized. Their spiritual gods and goddesses became kings and queens in their oral and later written history. While most of us shake our heads at attempting to pronounce the Welsh names which are full of consonants and few vowels, it is the Welsh legends that have perhaps lasted better than many others. They are also harder to separate, fact from fiction.

It is in the Welsh tales that we see mankind really seeking answers to the natural world. For instance, why did owls only fly at night? From the fourth branch or section of the Mabinogion, a collection of Welsh literature, comes the tale of the magician-created Blodeuwedd. The magicians were two brothers, Math and Gwydion, who made the young woman to be the wife of a man known as Lleu Llaw Gyffes. Gyffes had been condemned by his mother and forbidden to marry a human. The brothers created the fair Blodeuwedd who proves unworthy. She is unfaithful to her husband and then kills her lover to hide her unfaithfulness. Blodeuwedd is then turned into an owl as punishment, forever to fly only at night and live alone, being ostracized by other birds.

A popular television program for the past decade has been the science-based “Mythbusters”. Taking their name from the popular 1970’s films “Ghostbusters”, two stunt men and property managers in Hollywood set about to debunk popular sayings or myths. The myths of the modern world are more commonly known as urban legends or mere gossip. For the ancient world, however, myths were spiritual and scientific. The “Mythbusters” program uses science to prove or disprove their myths, using the art of mythology must as the ancient world did in explaining the natural world.

Our mythological characters in modern times are more commonly known as comic book characters. Festivals such as Comic Con and Dragon Con celebrate the fantasy that dwells in all our imaginations. While it is possible to take such pretend play to extremes, for the most part such events are harmless and can even be healthy. Fantasy is a part of our mental processing. It not only can bring out the best in us, it can give birth to hope and new inventions. This past Epiphany we discussed various inventions and their inventors. Every single one began with a dream and a perceived need.

The mythologies of antiquity were an attempt to explain the natural world. What they really portrayed was mankind’s place in it. In Bataille’s book “the Absence of Myth”, it is offered that science and the industrial revolution and subsequent industries have stolen our need for such mythologies. Of course, such a proposition becomes a myth itself and simply defines the role these periods of history have upon mankind. There is still much to learn and I’m sure more myths to be written, told, sung about, and recreated.

Acclaimed fantasy writer Phillip Pullman explains our need for such stories: ““After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” We are all storytellers, in my humble opinion. We weave the hours of our day into a story in which we then live or review. We awake in the morning and then construct a story of upcoming events. We dress for the character we will portray that day – corporate executive, gardener, shopper, etc. As we close our eyes to sleep we then replay the story we lived, sometimes repenting and sometimes with pride.

Hopefully we play the character of ourselves with honesty. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”  Patrick Rothfuss, in his book “The Name of the Wind”, describes accurately how very much we are like the children who pretend to be Superman or Batman. The story we tell ourselves becomes the story we live and shapes who we are. But that is only part of the real story.

We are deeply affected by the actions and words of others, both by what they do as well as by what they do not do…or say. We do not consider ourselves mythological gods or goddesses but we, too, have power as Eric Morgenstern writes: “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” Just as the natural world affects us, we affect others.

Perhaps the most famous of all mythology weavers of the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century is writer Stephen King. He has enthralled and horrified readers and movie goers for over two decades and his stories are often quoted in current movies and television programs.  King has developed the characteristics of the ancient myths down to a fine art. “The 3 types of terror: The Gross-out: the sight of a severed head tumbling down a flight of stairs, it’s when the lights go out and something green and slimy splatters against your arm. The Horror: the unnatural, spiders the size of bears, the dead waking up and walking around, it’s when the lights go out and something with claws grabs you by the arm. And the last and worse one: Terror, when you come home and notice everything you own had been taken away and replaced by an exact substitute. It’s when the lights go out and you feel something behind you, you hear it, you feel its breath against your ear, but when you turn around, there’s nothing there…” .

Stephen King’s words about reading and books can also be applied to the things we worship as well as the people who are characters in the story of our life. “There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.” Live your life according to your own terms – not being a snob or just playing it safe. Take a chance on peace, on hope, on trying something new. Live according to your beliefs and have the courage to stand up for them without hurting others or their right to do the same. Tomorrow we will delve into the myth that became a king and later a president. Today, I hope you write a beautiful story for yourself.

A Delightful Fate

A Delightful Fate

Pentecost 11

The season of Pentecost celebrates the time when Christian believers received the spirit of their deity. The mythologies of the world celebrate the spirits of one’s beliefs. The world fate often is used as one’s destiny but in truth, the word comes from the Latin “fatum” a form of the verb “fari” which meant to speak. Thus one’s fate was something spoken, a decision. It became a word that ultimately meant one’s destiny since what one said reflected what one believed and how one lived. The spirits that help influence this were known collectively as the Fates, much like the Greek Moirai, a group of spirits who determined the course and end of one’s life.

We tend to think of mythological creatures as being larger than life; most deities are as well. After all, we want those spirits that can affect the history of mankind to do so with great fanfare. We think of miracles as large “Hollywood-style” productions. While the focuses of some spiritual beliefs are calmer, even their main characters possess great power and knowledge.

In 1691, a Scottish minister named Robert Kirk put pen to paper to tell of a different type of mythological creature. His characters were not new and had been a part of Celtic folklore and myths forever. Once depicted as being quite tall, by the time Robert Kirk wrote of them, their size had been greatly reduced. “These Siths or Fairies they call Sleagh Maith or the Good People…are said to be of middle nature between Man and Angel, as were Daemons thought to be of old; of intelligent fluidous Spirits, and light changeable bodies (like those called Astral) somewhat of the nature of a condensed cloud, and best seen in twilight. These bodies be so pliable through the subtlety of Spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear or disappear at pleasure.”

The word” faeries” has an often disputed etymology and the faeries we see pictures in children’s books are a relatively new version. Their origins are a melting of various elements of mythologies and folklore from different parts of the world. Many believe they were originally minor goddesses, spirits of nature who took their revenge upon mankind when the natural world was mistreated. Thus the term faerie has been used to indicate trolls, goblins, gnomes, or ethereal spirits. They are sometimes called wee folk, good folk, people of peace, or the Welsh “tylwyth teg which translates as “fair folk”.

Celtic faeries are said to live in nature, often hiding, and are portrayed as a diminutive race driven into caves and underground by invaders. These enchanted creatures either protected the good people or could extract revenge upon the evil. In western parts of Europe ancient mythologies described faeries as personified aspects of nature, similar to the ancient gods and goddesses who had their origins in personified elements of life and questions about it.

The advent of Christianity in the first century ACE had no room for such mythological creatures as faeries. The Irish banshee and Scottish “bean shith” were referred to as a ghost, a woman who lived underground. There was no room in the Abrahamic faiths for such creatures. Their angels might seem like faeries but they were divine creatures, not creatures of nature. While medieval England portrayed faeries as both helper and hindrance, Victorian England explained mythological creatures as aspects of nature and faeries as metaphors for the night sky and stars.

Faeries are also found in ancient Greek mythology and are closely aligned to the Greek word “daimon” which means Spirit. The nymphs the classical poet Homer wrote about in his works “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” could be considered faeries. The Roman penates, lares, and genii from Roman mythology were also faery creatures. It is easy to see how the word “daimon” came to mean evil faeries known as demons.

I think the real benefit of our mythological spirits and stories is found in the Victorian definitions of them. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which something is compared to another thing, both things being very different. One example is: “The road was a ribbon of moonlight.” Victorian England sought to justify the telling of these stories without compromising one’s religion. They became metaphors, much like the stories found in the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths. The difference was that religious stories were held to be true while myths were considered fables of the imagination.

The real test of validity lies in the spirit of the believer. In 1891 W.B. Yeats wrote: “Do you think the Irish peasant would be so full of poetry if he had not his fairies? Do you think the peasant girls of Donegal, when they are going to service inland, would kneel down as they do and kiss the sea with their lips if both sea and land were not made lovable to them by beautiful legends and wild sad stories? Do you think the old men would take life so cheerily and mutter their proverb, ‘The lake is not burdened by its swan, the steed by its bridle, or a man by the soul that is in him,’ if the multitude of spirits were not near them?”

The legends and myths of the world give us a better understanding of both the world and mankind. Like the word fate, they speak of what we believe, how we live, and ultimately how we will die. Whether you consider something folklore, mythology, or doctrine, the spirits in which we believe shape our lives. “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.” Those words from the classic “Beowulf” are an example of the importance fate has been given by mankind. For many, fate is an inescapable shadow. For others, fate is merely the road upon which we travel, neither threatening nor constrictive.

The characters of the myths of man are really metaphors and if we take heed, they can assist us in our living. We might not live on the top of Mount Olympus but we can make every abode our own palace and live our own beliefs. Small children delight in the stories of faeries and often have a favorite. Such differences in their likes and dislikes are seen as individual, not threatening. Yet as adults, we often see the differences in beliefs as fearful. Hopefully one day we can truly learn from such myths and create our own fate, a road of success for all built upon a foundation of respect and reverence for all life. As William Ernest Henley wrote in his “Echoes of Life and Death”: “It matters not how strait the gate; How charged with punishments the scroll. I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Past or Present?

Past or Present?

Pentecost 10

Yesterday’s post focused on Cu Chulainn, the Hound of Ulster. There are many tales of this great Irish figure, one about his battles with a giant and another regarding the war between Ulster and Connaught. The war began with the men of Ulster becoming ill, supposedly the result of an ancient curse. Cu Chulainn, not being an Ulsterman, did not succumb and fought against the Connaught singlehandedly. The armies of Connaught were led by their queen, Medb, who Cu Chulainn allowed to escape once he’d defeated all her men. The battles had exhausted him to the point of death and so Cu Chulainn strapped himself upright to a large boulder and prepared to die. The war goddess Morrigan (from an earlier post) perched upon his shoulder in the form of a crow as the brave Irish hero drew his last breath.

The Ulster myths, of which there are roughly one hundred, are not just stories of the Irish culture but tell of the people themselves. Cu Chulainn supposedly allowed Queen Medb to escape because he refused to hit a woman. In his battle with the giant, Cu Chulainn, did as others had done and chopped off the giant’s head. However, unlike his predecessors who had then run away and let the giant to pick up his head and replace it, Cu Chulainn remained and offered his own. The giant refused and declared Cu Chulainn the bravest man to ever have lived.

The gallantry the Irish hero showed to the female queen bespeaks of centuries old wisdom respecting the female of the species. After all, it is the women of a culture that provide for its future generations. No one has ever lived that was not born of a woman. Ancient cultures recognized this and respected the vessel of the children. You might argue the wisdom of allowing a great leader to escape. You might even claim such an act discrimination since it is doubtful he’d have allowed a male king the same chance. What cannot be disputed, though, is that we are in fact all born from females.

The Irish tales interweave their heroes much like the cultures of earth are interwoven in its history. Two other Ulster tales center around women. Deirdre of the Sorrows tells the story of a young woman and her father, a storyteller to the king, attempts to control her life. Upon her birth, her father was told Deirdre would bring ruin to Ulster so the king had her raised by foster parents until she was of an age that he could marry her. Deirdre had other plans and dreamed of marrying a man of a certain description. Being told of a knight to the king who bore resemblance to her dreams, she met, fell in love, and then married the man known as Naoise. The couple then fled to Scotland. The King Conchobar learned of their marriage and offered the couple safe haven back in their homeland of Ulster. However, the king had lied and upon their return ordered Naoise killed by one of his knights named Eoghan. Deirdre’s punishment was to spend half a year with Conchobar and half with Eoghan. She refused and committed suicide by throwing herself from a chariot. Other Ulster tales also include stories of love, perhaps ill-suited or ill-chosen and the ultimate death of one or more of the couples.

Such stories as the Irish Ulster tales serve to strengthen the culture from whence they sprung but that also provide insight to the priorities of the people. The Irish have always valued loyalty above life and are known for fighting to the death. They have been a country divided for centuries both by regions and religion. These ancient tales also bear witness to an area divided between two factions. They also tell of the commonalities of both, regardless of the period or cause for the split beliefs.

Of particular interest to me is the story of Cu Chulainn and the giant. The Irish hero slayed the enemy but then remained. He did not fight and run but he fought for the cause and then remained behind to lead into the future. All too often armies have invaded, left hundred and sometimes thousands slain in their wake and then left. Any survivors have pitifully little with which to begin the rebuilding process.

If a cause is so great that one must take the life of another, is it not equally great enough to remain and rebuild? All too often monies are allocated for defense with none for the rebuilding or rehabilitation after the fighting ceases. This leaves the survivors still struggling, this time in a fight for their lives. It is not enough to eradicate a plague or an evil dictator. Those are important but that is only the present. We must take steps to carry the present into the future.

A common theme around election time revolves around taxes. In almost every nation in the world, people pay some sort of taxes and those people want to know they are getting their money’s worth from the taxes they pay. Everyone wants the best for themselves and there is never enough money to go around. The fact is most of us paying those taxes have the basic necessities for life. Certainly the lawmakers do. Too often such taxes are funding a luxurious lifestyle for lawmakers while their constituents are going hungry.

Life is not only about slaying giants and dragons. Life is also about slaying the unnecessary hungers in our lives, the desires that really serve no purpose except to make us look better than our neighbor. We need to fight the good fight that needs our attention but then we need to turn our energies towards the rebuilding process. When we stay to rebuild, to help another regain their life, then we are truly being heroic. It is not the big gun that makes one a great figure but the little daily humanitarian things we have can do that makes one legendary.

Spirit of Trust

Spirit of Trust

Pentecost 9

Yesterday I mentioned how different places in our world seemed to concoct the same or very similar mythologies near the same time period. In today’s world there is seldom trust in the spirit of unity, in those things that connect us and define us as being part of mankind. These ancient stories serve to strengthen that argument. Today we have people kidnapping young children and waging wars all to prove their culture is the greatest or their belief system the only one that should exist in the world.

The stories of the Greek Achilles and the Irish Cu Chulainn, known as Setanta as a young child are very similar, though perhaps appearing at both different and similar times. Most of know the story of Achilles and we will visit it in this series later. The name Cu Chulainn may be unknown to you; you might know him better from his nickname, the Hound of Ulster.

Achilles and Cu Chulainn were similar characters, both described as being of both mortal and immortal descent. They also both exhibited courage so great as to be called unsafe, the ability to create pronounced fear in their enemies, a sense of personal worth, and what was known as a frankness of speech. They also both had a weakness that led to their downfall.

Cu Chulainn bore similar traits with other mythological characters – the Persian Rostam, the Germanic Lay of Hildebrand, and the Greek Hercules. Unlike many mythological characters who play an important role in their own being but only in their own being, Cu Chulainn has been kept alive throughout the history of Ireland and not just in the retelling of its myths.

In a country that has been divided for much of its history, both Irish nationalists and Ulster nationalists in Northern Ireland claim him not only as a valuable Celtic hero but as their own cultural hero. It is a statue of Cu Chulainn that stands outside the Dublin General Post Office to commemorate the Easter Rising of 1916. In Belfast he is depicted as a defender of the city and his image appears in many murals. The same statue of Cu Chulainn created by Oliver Sheppard is used in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. This statue was used as the design on the ten shilling coin in 1966 as well as the 1916-1966 Survivors’ Medal. The Military Star for the Irish Defense Forces also contains the image of Cu Chulainn on the Obverse.

Cu Chulainn is just one example of the commonalities of man, even of enemies. Perhaps that is one of the greatest benefits mythology has for us. It connects us not only to ourselves and the natural world; it connects us to each other. The characteristics of Cu Chulainn were foretold to his parents at his birth and he did indeed grow into them. Though his mythological life was short, he has lived on. We, too, have relatively short life spans when considering the life of the world into which we are born. However, everything we do also leaves its mark.

Cu Chulainn also has a connection to the state religion of Ireland, The Roman Catholic faith. It is said that when Patrick returned to Ireland to do his mission work for which he was granted sainthood, Cu Chulainn appeared before him to warn him and possibly guide him. After all, the mythological figure known for good deeds, protection, and “frankness of speech”, would have none no less. Most likely, Cu Chulainn advised Patrick to not only have faith but also trust – trust in the mission and trust in mankind. We all could learn from both Cu Chulainn and Saint Patrick.

Yesterday was Trinity Sunday for many denominations in the Christian world. It is a day that is deemed holy, not for anything that occurred in scripture but because of the doctrine of the faith. It was Saint Patrick that introduced the concept of the Holy Trinity to the masses although it was not a new concept. Patrick took a clover and stated that while it was one flower, it contained three parts – “three in One”. Patrick described the embodiment of the Supreme Deity, God, as being the same: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He encouraged believers to embrace all three and to trust in the Holy Spirit, formerly called the Holy Ghost, in living a goodly life, following their beliefs.

Retired Episcopal Bishop and American Indian from Oklahoma Bishop Steven Charleston knows a great deal about spirits and believing in them, trusting them in our lives. “Trust is the key that unlocks the door. In each of our lives there come those moments when we must take a first step. However much we have studied and planned, hoped and imagined, there are realities we cannot predict or control. In the end, we can only take a chance, moving forward by the instinct of our faith. Life changing choices are always a risk. It is for this reason that the Spirit stands beside us. When the path before you is unclear, listen and listen deeply. Seek the word of an ancient wisdom. Trust the love of God in all things. The first step will still be yours, but you will never walk alone.”

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Pentecost 8

Mythologies or folklore? Stories or fables? There are many names given to the tales told in times past. Some bear great meaning while others were mere conveniences. Two days ago we discussed the Irish mythological character Bran. There is also an English myth about a man named Bran who had a large cauldron which gave eternal life to those who partook of it. The English Bran became known as Urien. Before that name change, though, the English bran reportedly invade Ireland in a story akin to those told about the English legendary figure King Arthur.

The word myth comes from the Greek “mythos” which meant word, talk, or story. The tribes of North America had many such terms. The Chinook called these stories ik!anam; the Kwatkiutl, nayam; another tribe, spektakl and still another, adaox. Alaskan tribes told adaork tales. Every culture has had a word for what we call mythologies. For most cultures, there were oral traditions passed from one generation to the next. Luckily for us, some were actually transcribed and we have records of these written beliefs. Cultures vanish as mankind dies but the stories told remain.

Some historians point out that following generations simply repeat and elaborate on past tales. However, too many similar legends arose in contrasting parts of the world to believe they are merely coincidences. We have no real proof of the earliest beginnings of myths but it is logical to assume that all of mankind felt the need to create such myths about creation and life. There are indeed many similarities among known myths, so many that some believe they all originated from a common point.

The names of gods and goddesses appear in many forms. Even the simplest of names, “A” can be two different gods. The god Marduk actually has over fifty names; Ra, 75, Allah, 99 or 400 depending on your definition of a name, Odin over 200 and the goddess Shiva over 1000 names. In some cases it is a matter of the type of transcription used. Chinese for example can either be Pinyin or Wade-Giles when translating into English. Even the names we know can be leading. Lancelot is a central character in the English Arthurian tales and yet his name is French.

The purpose of this blog is to start a conversation, to get us thinking outside of our daily, humdrum boxes and to think expansively and as humanitarians. The first step in being humanitarian is to recognize our commonalities. Myths are a great example of this. The similarities, the very reasons we have them, and the likeness within the stories remind us that no matter our location, eye shape, skin color, or socio-economic circumstances, we are all the same creature at our basic core.

The last two posts were rather long so today’s post will be much briefer. The questions posed are not any easier, though. How do you see your neighbor? Do you recognize what you have in common or do you only see what is different? There is an ancient children’s rhyme that references the concept of a name and words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt them.” Words may not break bones but they can break a person’s soul.

The power of Odin was not diminished when the Romans renamed him as Mercury. The English respelled it as Wodan and the German Wuotan but the basic god remained the same. We may not think a person’s feeling change when we call them a less attractive name but it can. We are not gods and goddesses. Our power often comes from our interactions with others. How did you treat those around you today?

The mythologies existed as histories and patterns of living. They also served as directions for behavior. It is hard to change our behavior and even harder to not go along with the crowd. We are worth the effect, though and so are our neighbors, those people with whom we share our planet and world. As henry Cloud noted: “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.” We are simple people; we are neither gods nor goddesses. We are an influence to those we encounter, just be our being. People may see our faces and hear what we say but it is how we treat them and make them that can make us a legend in their lives and our own.

Spirit of Forgiveness

Spirit of Forgiveness

Pentecost 4

As mankind learned how to understand the nature that surrounded him/her, it became possible to live in one place. There was no longer a need to travel when local water supplies were exhausted. There was no longer a need to travel to find weather suitable for living and finding food sources. Food being a basic human need, the gods and goddesses associated with such are evident in every culture throughout the history of mankind. Also present are the fertility gods, not only to represent the desire for fertile plants which would result in plentiful harvests but also for healthy families. After all, a healthy family is the most basic need for one’s future.

The past week in the television world has been full of the news of a very popular and some might term fertile family. The stars of a television reality program entitled “19 Kids & Counting”, James ‘Jim Bob” and Michelle Duggar were known for being the parents of nineteen children. They were also equally known for their conservative Christian views and their international mission work in places like Central America and Nepal.

What is not as well-known is the fact that, in a demographic like conservative Christians, the program’s title was in error. Jim and Michelle Duggar would have been considered to have had twenty-one kids since they lost two during pregnancy. The program began airing under the title “14 Kids & Counting” and continued through their last miscarriage, the birth of their four grandchildren (two more are expected this year), and the wedding of three of their children.

The mention I make of their being a parent to twenty-one children is not just me being nit-picking. It is the core of the debate in this country regarding abortion rights. The moment when life begins has been the subject of many of the world’s religions and the mythologies of the planet. The Duggars were always on the side of the anti-abortion proponents which believe that a life is begun at the very moment of conception. It is confusing, therefore, that they consider themselves the parents of only nineteen children.

Although very closely aligned to the Southern Baptist denomination, Jim Duggar had his own independent church which first started meeting in his own home. This was a common practice when the colonists first lived in the United States. The recognized national religion was the Anglican faith of the English colonists but there were also Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans. The Roman Catholics set about building places of worship but the other groups often met in someone’s home. Later, as the land was explored, the Anglican community had family chapels which served entire neighborhoods. The area of Maryland known as the Eastern Shore was populated with Chapel Churches, those informal meetings for worship that were under the jurisdiction of one parish that served a large geographical area. The Duggar following soon outgrew the Duggar home, though, and another building was found. In fact, real estate became Jim and Michelle Duggar’s livelihood and today remains their primary occupation.

Also a concept which dates back throughout time is the role of women in the life of man. Recently a couple celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary. I had been present at their wedding and remember it well, not so much for the actual wedding or how my friends looked but for the sermon preached. It was the first time I had heard the Baptist belief that the man in the “brains” of the family and the woman the “heart”. In the sermon preached that day the pastor explained how the man is to make all the decisions since the female of the species if weak and not as intelligent. What struck me that day was how similar the Baptist and Roman Catholic thinking about women were. Two denominations which are often at polar ends on every subject were parallel in their discrimination of women.

The recent fracas regarding the Duggar family concerns a belief they hold which is very similar to the female belief I just mentioned. I should note that there are also other religions and denominations which believe similarly. The Duggars believe that men are very visual creatures and as such are tempted by the female form. Although they do not believe women should be leaders or ministers in an official capacity due to their lack of ability, they somehow believe women are completely accountable for the sexual desires of the men who they might pass on the street. Women are apparently responsible for the sexual morals of every man, known to them or a complete stranger. It is for this reason they are to dress modestly. This is also the reason Islam required women to be fully or partially covered and why, for many years, both the Roman and Anglican churches believed women should cover their heads when in worship. It is the reason behind a nun’s habit.

In 2006 a television production company and studio, Harpo, was sent an anonymous letter regarding the Duggar family. They forwarded the letter which mentioned a criminal infraction of the law to the appropriate authorities in the hometown of the Duggar family. A police report was begun and an investigation followed. No action, however, was taken as the statute of limitations, the time for prosecuting, had passed. Earlier this year, with no apparent reason given other than a blind attempt to uncover such gossip, a magazine filed paperwork under the Information Act asking to see any and all police reports regarding this family. The freedom of the press guaranteed by the US Constitution enabled such a request to be filled and the magazine received a copy of said police report. The police report was initiated in 2006 regarding incidents which allegedly occurred in 2002. It should be mentioned that they first news of such events came from the perpetrator himself, the Duggar’s oldest child and son.

IN the police report the parents of this child, Jim and Michelle Duggar, made note of the corrective actions they themselves undertook towards their son. It was a heartbreaking time for them. They lived their religion as best they could and yet, their son had committed grievous acts, sins, against his neighbors, some of whom were his own female siblings while he himself was a child – at least, to most of us he would have been a child.

The laws in Arkansas regarding marriage are not the laws in most of the United States. They are reminiscent of another time and place and are very similar in age requirements of the laws in many third world nations. There are also other southern states with similar laws. These laws maintain a very young age for marriage, even though in every other aspect these children would still be considered children. Because of the laws in his native Arkansas, the oldest Duggar child would have been eligible to marry at the time he committed these acts. For many, that would have made him an adult in such matters.

There are many other issues involved in discussing this case. While the family believes that men cannot control their sexual desires, one does wonder if a man seeing a sleeping female can then accuse the female of being enticing while sleeping. Also the age of the offender must be considered. In every town there are kids of that same age “making out”, exchanging innocent kisses and exploratory touches behind the baseball bleachers, under the boardwalk on the beach, while walking home from a local school event or at the movies. Are these kids simply being curious or are they hardened sexual offenders?

The Roman Church began limiting women in their role in life when a female leader of Scots held back the world’s strongest army and prevented any Roman presence in Scotland. Although the two countries and cultures have a long-standing battle from their shared Gaelic roots, it was this Scottish female who prevented the Romans from even attempting to touch foot on the island nation of Ireland. Scripture began to emphasize Eve’s role in the ejection of Adam and Eve from their Garden of Eden home. The allure of the female became to root of all sin and the reason for discomfort during childbirth. It may seem like all fertility gods were female but the truth is that the Egyptians had a male fertility god known as Min in the fourth millennium BCE. They at least believed that mankind was responsible for his/her feelings, not just the female of the species.

The Duggar television program has been removed from the airways and whether or not it returns remains to be seen. What can be seen is a lack of attention to detail and the last twelve or thirteen years of the offender’s life. What is not seen is a spirit of forgiveness. I completely agree that the parents did not according to law or common sense in their reactions to their son’s misdeeds. Nowhere is made mention of any help for the victims of these misdeeds. Did anyone care about them? If they needed nothing, then one must question how severe the misdeed were.

I do not believe the police report was complete and deeply regret the witch hunt this magazine undertook in a misuse of the freedom of the press. Said report was last week ordered destroyed by a sitting judge. While this is highly uncommon in an ongoing case, the statute of limitations made such an action possible and some would claim even advisable. After all, paperwork that has no purpose has no need to be kept, even if only for gossip mongers to use.

I do not believe women are the root of all evil. The parent of sons myself, I held them as accountable for their actions as I held myself or my daughters. If men are the “brains” of a the world, then why are they not being held to a higher standard of accountability? You cannot expect to be both boss and servant, guys. If you are smart enough to interpret scripture, then you can interpret a recipe or how to operate a vacuum. Science has proven that bearing a child does not give a woman hidden insight into why that baby is crying. Experience and a will to accomplish does, though.

The most troubling aspect for me of this Duggar incident is not whether or not they overstayed their time on reality television. I think the term reality TV is a misnomer and a lie. No one acts on camera the same as they do off camera. Leaders from every country in the world have been caught with open microphones and prove that statement. It is not even the Duggar family belief system that enabled them to think the actions of their son were not completely his fault since as a male he is at the mercy of how women present themselves. It is not the lack of follow-up for these actions nor the also lack of follow-up actions of the local authorities and legal system.

The only person who has made a statement in this case is the perpetrator. He admitted his actions at the time, two years before proposing to his wife, and now before the media and in resigning his position as a Washington, D.C. lobbyist for such conservative Christian views. He confessed before man and his deity and asked for forgiveness. In a nation of countless religions and spiritualities based upon the concept of forgiveness, this young adult who has led an exemplary life since the time of these misdeeds, this young man has found a nation of bullies and little of any forgiveness except from his wife.

This lack of so-called religious response is the most troubling to me. It was not just the Emperor Marcus Aurelius showing clemency to the vanquished after his success against tribes that defined forgiveness. Almost every religion and spiritual belief system includes forgiveness. In the Judaic belief, if one sincerely confesses his/her sin to another, that person must forgive. In the Christian faith the messiah Jesus Christ speaks of showing forgiveness one to another. In Islam, forgiveness is encouraged between believers because Allah forgives. Forgiveness is one of the six cardinal virtues in Hindu and the Bhai faith states: “Love the creatures for the sake of God and not for themselves.”

I personally like the Hawaiian practice of Hoʻoponopono, which is an ancient Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, combined with prayer. The were no ancient gods or goddesses of forgiveness and yet, early man did forgive. Not always and that is why we had wars but wars really solved nothing. Today we still have wars and they are still creating more chaos than providing resolutions.

The real tragedy for me is that the television network which aired the Duggar family has lost a chance to be who they claim to be – The Learning Channel. I personally am not that sad to let the Duggar clan go back to their own lives, out of the spotlight and without benefit of cameras or microphones. What I think we now need is a series on how to forgive. Clearly we need lesson in that. We also need to believe in reconciliation and rehabilitation. When we forgive others, we help ourselves. That is the premise for every religion and spiritual system that practices forgiveness. Those that don’t practice forgiveness wither away. Our future depends on our ability to reconcile our past with our present in preparing for a future. The spirit of forgiveness is a walk forward, not a cold stone statue but a living, breathing ability to believe in tomorrow.

Winds of Faith

Winds of Faith

Pentecost 3

The religious season of Pentecost began when a group gathered and felt a strong wind. To many of us living in what we term the “modern world”, believing that a breeze could be evidence of faith might seem strange. All too often when someone speaks of religious matters, others characterize their speech as merely hot air. For the earliest of man, though, nature was evidence of life and meteorological events, signs from their Creator.

In his book “Hear the Wind Sing”, Haruki Murakami references this. “For example, the wind has its reasons. We just don’t notice as we go about our lives. But then, at some point, we are made to notice. The wind envelops you with a certain purpose in mind, and it rocks you. The wind knows everything that’s inside you. And not just the wind. Everything, including a stone. They all know us very well. From top to bottom. It only occurs to us at certain times. And all we can do is go with those things. As we take them in, we survive, and deepen.”
At some point, man noticed patterns in nature and questioned their existence. This led to questions of our own existence. “It’s the questions we can’t answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question and he’ll look for his own answers.” Patrick Rothfuss recognized the importance of questions but for early mankind, such questions needed answers.

Stories were told in an attempt to answer such questions, stories that connected man and woman with nature. As these stories were shared, they found audiences and in the retelling, gained adjectives and adverbs, descriptive phrases which helped to clarify but also expanded the tales. The earliest of these stories are lost in antiquity but archaeological evidence does remain that gives testament to their being.

Robert Guisepi is a historian interested in the Stone Age, the time of Paleolithic Man (and Woman). In 2000 he wrote: “The Stone Age is a prehistoric cultural stage, or level of human development, characterized by the creation and use of stone tools.”  It is believed that early mankind developed the ability to make and use tools somewhere between 600,000 and 700,000 years ago. The earliest evidence of such prehistoric tools dates back to the Pleistocene Age. Man became a food gatherer and hunter and assumed responsibility for his extended life.

These are important events because, according to various creation stories or myths, man was given the earth and all he/she needed. Images engraved on the wall at Trois-Freres in France depict hunting scenes which dates to 38,000 to 8000 BCE. Another artifact is the Chariot of the Sun, found when a bog in Denmark was drained. It is thought to represent the Sun God who would travel across the sky in a chariot. Early man/woman needed an answer as to how the sun moved from sunrise to sunset. This was one answer.

As the hunt became a part of everyday living, the existing mankind felt a need to connect with the animals being hunted. Shaman, medicine men, and spiritual/religious leaders would dress as animals and dance around. Since the female bore the children who were the future, fertility goddesses were female and were celebrated to ensure the next generation being present and healthy.

Agriculture was also important and Neolithic Man added such gods to the mythologies being told and worshipped. A clay statue found in Szegvar, Hungary dates back to 5000 BCE and portrays a man with a farming tool. Another prominent deity of the Stone Age was a bird goddess. She took her place among the hunting rituals from the Ice Age and the world of mythology became firmly planted in the history of man. Soon, the Bronze Age would see even greater strides in human development and a very important male sky god would lead the way for the mythologies of the Greeks and Romans known today.

In his “Hobbit”, J. R. R. Tolkien wrote: ““Voiceless it cries, Wingless flutters, Toothless bites, Mouthless mutters.” One could take his words and apply them to the earliest question of man – Who am I? It may seem silly to us that man ever believed in some of these mythologies but to them, they were answers. They provided a reason for being and a start to answering the eternal question all mankind asks: “who am I?”

How we live is based upon how we believe. The mythologies of yesterday are the story lines of today’s movies. Raking in millions of dollars and euros, etc., they tell of an interest that man still has for these gods and goddesses. Most would disclaim believing in them and yet, we still read them and watch their portrayal on the big and small screen and stage.

Is there a sky god who dominates our lives or is it just the theory of popularity and whatever is fashionable at the moment? Do we still dress ourselves up to connect with our world and perceived needs? Our lives are light years away from those of the earliest Ice Age citizen and yet, we have much in common with them. All too often we feel caught in the storms of life. Just as our ancient ancestors did, we seek understanding and reasons for such. Hopefully, we can learn about them and us as we study these mythologies of our history. The future can be scary and life is often challenging and requiring courage. Jeff Bezos advises to “Lean into the wind”. We should, as we go through our daily living, remember the words of Winston Churchill: “Kites rise highest against the wind – not with it.”

Spirit of Freedom

Spirit of Freedom

Pentecost 2

The human spirit is fairly simple in its design and in its living. While there are myriads of complex systems within the body that houses the spirit, history has proven that our basic core desires are the same regardless of the location, period, or economic factors of the person.

Perhaps that is why the mythologies of antiquity hold our attention. They unite us in asking and providing answers to the basic questions mankind has always had. Paramount are the common threads that weave the lives of us all into the history of the world. The struggles and the victories repeat throughout time just as the fables and stories are repeated in different colors with different and yet the same basic stories.

The stories of our histories are not just myths, tales with a shred of truth that have been elaborated and exaggerated. Some are painfully honest and bear witness to the conflicts life presents. Today in the United States of America many will pause to pay homage to those who died fighting for others. Just as the spirit of Pentecost came for all, so the victory of freedom for one becomes a victory for many.

The American philosophy about basic freedom being for all was eloquently presented by Thomas Jefferson: “To preserve the freedom of the human mind then and freedom of the press, every spirit should be ready to devote itself to martyrdom; for as long as we may think as we will, and speak as we think, the condition of man will proceed in improvement.” Thirteen colonies dared to risk everything for the spirit of freedom which was the spirit of human dignity. They dared to engage one of the world’s most powerful nations for this cause, knowing that the struggle was worth everything for without such freedoms and dignity, life would be worthless.

I realize that some of you will be reading this in countries without such freedoms. You still have your heroes, though; you have in your own history those who have fought for your rights. Today as we in the USA honor our own heroes who have passed, I hope you will honor your own. “While there’s nothing one of us can do to bring back those loved ones, we can celebrate who they were, how they lived their lives, and remember how their lives were lost, in a struggle dedicated to the eternal truth of freedom and the human spirit,” stated former US Statesman Donald Rumsfeld.

We look very different; we speak very differently; we even eat different foods. We all still live and in our living, share basic needs and desires. Whether one’s hair is blonde or black, one’s skin is yellow or brown, one’s height is tall or short….We all feel and strive to improve. Kahlil Gibran once said “Love is the only freedom in the world because it so elevates the spirit that the laws of humanity and the phenomena of nature do not alter its course.”

Today I invite you to tell the stories of your own heroes. Tomorrow we will jump into the stories of the Ice Age and the heroes and gods of which they speak. As Joseph Campbell described, “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive. “A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Today, as we honor those who have died, let us live by telling their stories.

Pull up a comfortable stool or chair and gather a few friends or family. Today is for remembering our past and recognizing that it is the road on which we will walk our future. We owe so much to those who have come before us. Their sacrifices, their struggles, and their examples are all glorious lessons from which we can learn and be proud.

Everything Old…New Again

Everything Old… New Again

Easter 47

At one time Greece had been known for its culture, its arts, its science of which philosophy was a major school. It was also known for democracy. However, democracy became little thought of with the fall of the city states of ancient Greece. It was not until a group of upstart colonists dared to take on a major European nation that a democratic society would once again make news.

The theory of knowledge had been a mostly German field until the middle of the nineteenth century. Few English-speaking people spoke German and so advancements made in philosophy and metaphysics stalled after the fall of the Roman Empire in England. Their contributions were in moral and political philosophy and since during this time England rules over twenty-five percent of the world, the application of these towards public policies had a powerful impact.

The Philosophical Radicals were led by Englishman Jeremy Bentham and they spearheaded reform movements in prisons, education, and laws governing sexual activity as well as corruption in government. These movements continue to be the hallmark of liberal movements today. Bentham advocated the policies of Scots-Irish philosopher Frances Hutcheson: “That action is best which procures the greatest happiness for the greatest numbers.” Known as Utilitarianism, this philosophical movement weighed the usefulness of an action and judged it accordingly. “Everybody is to count for one, and nobody for more than one.”

Another prominent Philosophical Radical was John Stuart Mill. Homeschooled by his father, Mill would become the most well-known of all English-speaking philosophers in the nineteenth century. It was mill who coined the term Utilitarianism and he also advocated for women’s equality. Writing a two-work volume in 1843 entitled “A System of Logic”, Mill combined philosophy as a whole and updated the empiricist philosophy without its skepticism or theology.   In another work “On Liberty”, Mill wrote: “the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. You liberty to swing your arm ends where my nose begins.” Mill was the first since Plato to advocate for female equality. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” I should add that in writing, the masculine pronoun was used as a formal designation, not as a specific for of gender identification. In stating “his”, Mill referred to both men and women.

Although establishing itself as a nation at the end of the eighteenth century and reaffirming that at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was at the end of the nineteenth century that American philosophy came to be recognized. The “American Pragmatists” were three professors that came out of Harvard University – Charles Sanders Pierce, William James, and John Dewey. Considered the most original, Pierce believed that knowledge was activity. “The real, then, is that which, sooner or later. Information and reasoning would finally result in.”   Pierce believed we gained knowledge when we participated in life. Knowledge, he felt, was not the result of being a spectator.

William James offered a similar opinion. “Everything real must be experienceable somewhere, and every kind of thing experienced must be real somewhere.” During the twentieth century the American philosophers led the charge in believing that none of the knowledge we possess is absolute, even science. All known knowledge is infallible, often improvable, and usually replaceable. What is “known” by one generation is questioned by later generations and often disproved or expanded upon to the point where it changes the original knowledge.

IT was the shy, not very studious John Dewey that would become the most influential of the pragmatic American philosophers. Dewey saw efforts to gain knowledge were most successful in the field of science and maintained this was because we learned by doing. Science had, after all, a structure process. The scientist began with a defined, critical form of inquiry, followed an accepted form of study and experimentation, and the drew logical conclusions which resulted in gained knowledge. “The more interactions we ascertain, the more we know the object in question.”

Few of us go through our daily lives thinking about which school of philosophy we are living. Most of us engage in mundane tasks without much though at all. Are we selling ourselves short when we do this? Watch a child taste guacamole for the first time and you will probably have a smile on your face. The soft texture will not give an indication of the taste for the first timer. Indeed. Most children are accustomed to sweet tastes in a similar texture so the taste of the guacamole would not only be tart bu totally unexpected. The puzzlement and then almost certain frown would be obvious.

Less obvious are our own feelings at times. Those are the instances in which we are tempted to follow the crowd and let public opinion be our conscious.  Those are the times that cult leaders are able to sway followers. Not everyone who buys the latest iPhone will become a member of a radical cult but the hallmarks are very similar. When we seek acceptance instead of personal knowledge we open ourselves up to losing ourselves.

John Dewey wrote: “What is sometimes called an act of self-expression might be better termed on of self-exposure; it discloses character – or lack thereof – to others. In itself, it is only a spewing forth.” Dewey was a leader in modern education which, up to that point, had been the imposition of strict knowledge against mostly unenthusiastic students.

How we live shows our character whether we realize it or not. It is the simplest and most complex form of self-expression that we have. We must be certain that it becomes an accurate representation of who we are and what we believe. One cannot claim to believe in religious and/or spiritual charity and be a miser and deny others basic human rights and dignities. How we will spend the next twenty-four hours will illustrate our own personal philosophy of life, our personal philosophy of self. Who will we pass today in our living? What knowledge will we gain?

Me, Myself, and …Who?

Me, Myself, and …Who?

Easter 46

US President Theodore Roosevelt stated: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” At what seemed to be the height of his career, Roosevelt was stricken with polio. In a position where appearance of strength was paramount, he was reduced to a wheelchair, leg braces, and crutches. Suddenly his challenge was not the legislature, it was not even the battle raging halfway across the globe and the genocide being attempted by Adolf Hitler. His real battle was with his own body. He had become his own worst enemy.

As the German Idealism School of philosophy gained steamed, religion faltered. Philosophers were suddenly declaring God, any god, was dead and maintained along with Nietzsche that “Art raises its head when religions relax their hold.” The very same religion that had brought about such wonderful works of art as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the gorgeous architectural cathedrals of medieval times, and countless works of prose and poetry, was now seen as the enemy of the artist.

Last night in the United States, two arts competitions held their finales. Like similar competitions held in many countries around the world, one singer took home the title in “The Voice”. He was a soft-spoken teenager who played a guitar and lived a simple life with an equally soft-spoken African-American coach from the south. The more flamboyant “Dancing with the Stars” also held their finale and its winner was in direct contrast with the quiet teen singer. The dancing trophy went to the Russian immigrant professional and his partner, the daughter of superstar actor parents. Although it may not seem like winners Sawyer Fredericks and Rumer Willis have much in common, they both met their worst enemy – themselves – and achieved victory.

We all have challenges in life but the greatest challenge by far is the challenge of self. Descartes maintained that our knowledge of our own mental conditions differs greatly from our knowledge of our external world, including what we know about what others are thinking. Philosophy has always encouraged questioning and different opinions and when it comes to defining “self” and “self-knowledge”, it is no different. There is much dissension and lack of agreement about what constitutes the self and how we know it and then its influence on our other knowledge. The philosophy of the mind is very important.

As we conclude our discussion of philosophy we will discuss the philosophy of self and how it interplays with living in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. First, though, I think it important that we take a look at ourselves. How we define ourselves greatly influences how we define and view others. I once had a friend who would say “I see you”. Unfortunately, he did not see the real me – the” me” I know. He saw what he felt I could do for him and his characterization of me was solely based upon his expectations of me. His expectations colored what he saw and resulted in his ignoring who I thought I was.

Spiritualist Rumi stated: “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I want to change myself.” All too often we do not want to change ourselves. It is, after all, the hardest thing in the world to accomplish. First we must admit we need changing. That means something about us is not quite right, may be wrong, or we might not be …shudder…perfect. Fact is, none of us are perfect and none of us are right all the time. If we are lucky we are right maybe one of out every one hundred times. That’s okay, though, because our imperfections are our path to greater knowledge.

“We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.” Actress Katherine Hepburn never considered herself a philosopher but she was correct in her statement. No one can change us – no belief system, no philosophy, no government – until we want to change ourselves.

Author Bene Brown explains: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”

Madeleine L’Engle wrote in her book “A Circle of Quiet”: “A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.” What will you become today?