Neil Simon

Neil Simon


Literature and Life


Few playwrights have achieved the success that Neil Simon has.  Fifty years ago he had four plays on Broadway at the same time, each playing to standing room only audiences and receiving rave reviews.  Today is Sunday and it is the day I have kept for writing about my favorite writers and/or books.  Today will have two posts but first, it is with great sadness that I report that today is also the day of Neil Simon’s passing.  This post is dedicated to Mr. Simon while the later post will be about a book of essays.


I learned to count collating pages of television scripts and the first time I read a play, the format felt right at home.  Novels seemed a bit wordy but plays were a format I knew and loved.  Neil Simon was one of my first playwrights to read and adore, although in hind sight much of his work was probably ill-suited for a young girl.


Marvin Neil Simon was an American playwright, screenwriter and author. He wrote more than 30 plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, mostly adaptations of his plays. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.  He has said that he wrote comedy because he wanted to make people laugh.  His parents had a tempestuous marriage and escaping to the movies to watch comedies was one way Simon survived.   “I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude … do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting.”


Simon himself had a stated preference to writing in longhand and never used computers.  He preferred thin ruled paper, often buying up a dozen or so pads or notebooks of it in London since it is very hard to find in the USA.  He compared it to the lines of music manuscript paper and liked being able to see quite a bit of writing at one time.  He emphasized the lyrical quality of dialogue and indeed his character’s speeches were like lyrical songs.


Neil Simon began creating comedy for which he got paid while still in high school, when at the age of fifteen, Simon and his older brother created a series of comedy sketches for employees at an annual department store event.   To help develop his writing skill, he often spent three days a week at the library reading books by famous humorists such as Mark Twain, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and S. J. Perelman.


When asked by the Paris Review what his great gift was as a writer, Simon pointed to the “construction” of his comedies, which are typically built around a dilemma involving characters of opposing wills and wants. “By the time you know the conflicts, the play is already written in your mind,” Simon explained. “All you have to do is put the words down. You don’t have to outline the play, it outlines itself.”  Elaine Joyce Simon wrote in the afterword to her husband’s collected “Memoirs: “If you’re looking for the heart and soul of Neil Simon, you’ll find everything you need to know in ‘Brighton Beach Memoirs’ ”.  Recent revivals of “The Odd Couple” and “Sweet Charity” have proven the timeliness of Neil Simon’s writings.  The man who wanted to make us laugh is still doing it. 


“Don’t listen to those who say, you are taking too big a chance. Michelangelo would have painted the Sistine floor, and it would surely be rubbed out by today. Most important, don’t listen when the little voice of fear inside you rears its ugly head and says ‘They are all smarter than you out there. They’re more talented, they’re taller, blonder, prettier, luckier, and they have connections.’  I firmly believe that if you follow a path that interests you, not to the exclusion of love, sensitivity, and cooperation with others, but with the strength of conviction that you can move others by your own efforts, and do not make success or failure the criteria by which you live, the chances are you’ll be a person worthy of your own respects.”  Rest in peace, Neil Simon and thank you.





Beauty Within and Outside

Beauty Within and Outside


Pentecost 2018


Two years ago we delved into mythology during Pentecost and this is a reposting of one of those posts.  The ancient world used mythology to explain both their world and their curiosity.  Generally there were the villainous gods and goddesses but there were more those of goodness and beauty.  In all the mythologies there was a relatable aspect to each and every deity.  They served as a point of reference for understanding ourselves and our fellow man.  Perhaps when looking within our own beings to find that which is good and beautiful, we should reflect back on the mythologies of the past.


In Norse mythology we found ourselves almost in a comic book with their gods and goddesses reminiscent of action heroes.  With Celtic mythology, it was as if we had walked through a tome of literature with their wood nymphs and magical spirits reflecting the basis for the stories and movies of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”.  Greek and Roman mythology proudly proclaimed with great statues their mythologies, some of which still stand today as do columns from their great temples.


In the mythologies of the Far and Near East, you will be excused if you sometimes forget we are not walking through a lovely botanical garden.  I think these emphasized more than any others all of creation in explaining how nature played a most important role in their legends and admonitions for better living.  As we will learn, it is not unusual for one object such as a flower to have multiple meanings, depending of the myth or spirituality being discussed. 


The lotus flower is one such example.  Known officially as the “sacred lotus”, this aquatic plant holds a major place in the mythology of India.  Before we discuss its spiritual aspects, though, let’s discuss its physical ones for they also are something a bit magical.  The delicate white and pink flower grows on top of thick stems that look almost like stalks.  The roots of the lotus plant are firmly planted in the soil at the bottom of a fresh water pond or river.  Lotus plants usually grow to an average height of five feet, or about 150 centimeters, spreading horizontally to a little over three feet or one hundred and eighteen inches.  The leaves of the plant themselves can reach a span of over twenty-three inches or 60 centimeters while the blossoms can be up to almost eight inches in diameter or 20 centimeters.


Of greater interest to botanists is how the lotus plant seems to regulate its flower in spite of its environment. Researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia discovered lotus flowers blooming in the Adelaide Botanic Garden maintained a constant temperature of 30-35 degrees Centigrade or 86-95 degrees Fahrenheit in spite of the ambient temperature of the surrounding environment dropping to 10 degrees Centigrade or 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Nelumbo nucifera, the scientific name for the sacred lotus is also called the Indian lotus, or the Bean of India.  It plays, as mentioned before, an important role in the mythologies of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.  Hindus worship the lotus in connection to the gods Vishnu, Brahma, and Kubera as well as the goddesses Lakshmi, and Saraswati.  Vishnu is often called the “Lotus-Eyed One” and used as an example of beauty and purity.  It is said that the lotus flower booms from the navel of Vishnu and uncovers the creator god Brahma in the lotus position of yoga.  The unfolding petals of the flower are symbolic of the expansion of one’s soul and the promise of potential.  The Hindu interpret the blossoming of such a pure white flower from the mud of its roots as a spiritual promise.  Brahma and Lakshmi are the spirits associated with potency and wealth and also have the lotus as their symbol. 


In Buddhism, the lotus flower is symbolic of creation and renewal as well as original purity.  It is mentioned in one of the sacred texts of the Bhagavad Gita:  “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.  Not surprisingly, the lotus is also connected with other Eastern spiritualities.  The Chinese scholar and student of Confucius Zhou Dunyi said: “I love the lotus because while growing from mud, it is unstained.”


The petals of a lotus blossom are said to have once numbered over a thousand and the thousand-petal lotus is a symbol of unending spiritual enlightenment.  It is more common to find an eight-petal lotus, although only five are original petals, the other three a modification from the stamen.  Considered one of the “eight auspicious signs” of Buddhism and Hinduism, the eight-petal lotus is also used in Buddhist mandalas.  [Mandalas were discussed in our Advent 2014 series and I hope you have been able to find some to view.  There are now coloring books for adults that feature mandalas and it is a most relaxing way to leave the real world and connect spiritually while relaxing and meditating.]


The eight petals of the lotus also relate to the Nobel Eightfold path of the Good Law of Hari Krishna and the eight petals of the white lotus correspond to the Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law. This lotus is found at the heart of the Garbhadhatu Mandala, regarded as the womb or embryo of the world.  Many Deities of Asian Mythology are illustrated on a lotus flower.  According to some myths, everywhere the Gautama Buddha walked, lotus flowers appeared and blossomed. 


Hopefully today wherever we walk we will also leave a trail of beauty.  First, though, we must open our eyes to all that is around us and see the beauty within as well as portrayed by the outer appearance.  Each of us had the muddiness of a past but with faith and good deeds, we can blossom and leave the world a better place.  We all are a thing of great beauty in our being.

A Detour of Fate


A Detour of Fate


Detours in Life


Pentecost 13




I organize three hundred and sixty days of blog posts into an arrangement I can identify with – liturgical seasons of the church calendar.  A recent follower asked me what Pentecost had to do with detours and as I began to explain that the division for arranging these posts often had little to do with the actual season, I realized the wisdom in the question. 




Pentecost is a season to put one’s faith into action and nowhere is that more evident than when we are faced with a detour.   Detours seldom are accompanied with shouts of joy.  More often than not, we are dismayed when they pop out and hope/pray that they will not delay our journey.  Pentecost is all about the journey and so are detours.




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, even when traveling down a detour.  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.”




Our attitude in approaching a detour will often make all the difference as to whether it is a hindrance or an opportunity.  Our own spirit as we embark upon what is often a strange new path will enable us to learn and enjoy our journey, even if it is an unexpected detour of fate.










Pen It!

Pen It!

Pentecost 5


Your day is busy and hectic and if you read the previous post, just got busier because you are now spending time exercising before work and your commute is taking longer because you are walking more during it or perhaps even bicycling.  Well, hang onto your chair because I want to add another ten minutes to that early morning routine or bedtime regimen.  You can add it to your lunch hour, if you want.  The important thing is to add this next tip in making your ordinary life a but extraordinary.  I want you to start a journal.


If you are anything like me, you already have a journal lying around some place.  Even your desk calendar can become your journal. Just remember to keep it in a drawer unless you want the entire office to know your thoughts.  That is what a journal is and how it differs from your desk calendar.  The calendar is a to-do list of items, meetings and deadlines.  The journal is you reactions to those things or your dreams in spite of those things.  The calendar is a schedule of actions.  The journal is a diary of your soul.


“I don’t have time to journal!”  Succinctly put, yes you do.  Take five minutes and start a journal.  I know one mother who writes her in the bathroom between her shower and her make-up.  Another coworker also writes his during his commute.  Keeping a journal is one trait most successful people have in common.  It brings focus into your thinking and can help determine patterns.  More importantly, it is proof that you are alive and your life has purpose.


Your journal does not need to be a novel.  Start out planning to write three sentence day.  One can be about the past; the other two about the present and the future.  Past: “Yesterday was not as productive as I wanted but I still have a job.”  Present:  “I woke up before my alarm clock today.”  Future: “I really hope eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch is gonna help pay for a great vacation this summer.”  Before you realize it, you will begin journaling what you learned from that day’s schedule being messed up, how you realized you can sleep better and awake more rested, and yes, even write about that great vacation those sandwiches helped make happen.


Even those of us who tend to have staycations can benefit from journaling.  With our journal we can keep track of our thoughts and plans, change them as desired, and grow from them.  Bert McCoy describes one benefit this way:  A journal “bridges inner thinking with outer events”.  It cvan also allow us to put our adult eyes of today on past events, many of which happened in our childhood but still affect our living as adults. 


A journal is not a class assignment.  No one is going to error check your spelling or grammar.  Simply put your thoughts done in a way that you can read.  It is not judgmental and neither should you judge your writing.  It is simply an extension of your thoughts but, once on paper or in an e-diary format, can help illustrate your thinking and living.


Journaling is not a new concept.  Augustine of Hippo once explained his own:  “Why, then, do I set before you an ordered account of so many things? It’s certainly not through me that you know them. But I’m stirring up love for You in myself and in those who read this so that we may all say, great is the Lord and highly worthy to be praised. I tell my story for love of your love.”


Journaling puts us in touch with ourselves so that we can make needed changes and rejoice in our good attributes.  Take a few minutes and find an old notebook.  Start your journal today.  Celebrate you and your living will become a celebration.


Open – Day 10

12 Days of Kindness

Christmas 10



The teacher read the message reluctantly.    The sender’s name was not familiar and yet…  There was something familiar about it.  While his life history wasn’t a secret, the message did reference a position he’d held for only one year.  Hesitantly, he responded and the answer he received confirmed that the message was indeed from a former student, a student at a school he’d been at for only one year.  The former student just wanted to say thank you, thank you for believing in his class, in opening their minds to the world outside their own small town and rural countryside.


The student had traveled the world while the teacher had not traveled outside their home country.  The student thanked the teacher for showing him life was about taking risks while the teacher was considered a planner, non-spontaneous in his living.  The irony was not lost on the teacher.  He had received a beautiful thank you note for teaching the student lessons that were not evident in his own life.  He had no regrets, though, and was glad the student had surpassed the teacher. 


Life is about a great many things but perhaps the best summation is that life about being open.  Sometimes that means being open to going where life takes us and sometimes it simply means being open to what is in front of us.  Every day asks us to be open to the goodness in people, even when such goodness is very well hidden.    Each day also offers us a chance to be open to a positive perspective.


Your challenge today is to be open, to choose to see the positive.  After all, we awake each morning with a choice.  “You chose.  You chose to give away your love.  You chose to have a broken heart.  You chose to give up.  You chose to hang on.  You chose to react.  You chose to feel insecure.  You chose to feel anger.  You chose to fight back.  You chose to have hope.  You chose to be naïve.   You chose to ignore your intuition.  You chose to ignore advice.  You chose to look the other way.   You chose to not listen.
You chose to be stuck in the past.  You chose your perspective.   You chose to blame.  You chose to be right.  You chose your pride.  You chose your games. You chose your ego. You chose your paranoia.   You chose to compete.  You chose your enemies.  You chose your consequences.”  Shannon Adler’s poem is directed toward female empowerment but applies to both men and women.


Adler concludes:  “Choose to let go.  Choose dignity.   Choose to forgive yourself.  Choose to forgive others.  Choose to see your value.  Choose to show the world you’re not a victim.  Choose to make us proud.”  We cannot control everything we encounter in life but we can control how we choose to react.  Be open today to the positive choice, the lesson contained within the openness of living.


Leonardo da Vinci is reported to have said, “Pity the student who does not surpass his master.”  The student who cannot surpass the teacher is a student who has never been shown how to be open, the value of being open to life’s choices, the advantage of what being open can bring. 


American statesman Benjamin Franklin understood the challenge of being open to living.  “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  Be open top being involved in life.  “It’s opener, out there, in the wide, open air.” Even the children’s book “Oh The Places You’ll Go” by Dr. Suess recognizes the value of being open.  Try it today and you’ll give yourself a gift of kindness.

Thinking Woman

Thinking Woman

Pentecost #189


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

A Stolen Sun

A Stolen Sun

Pentecost #187


They were called the poles that held up the sky.  To many in modern times they represent religious beliefs or perhaps identification.  Totem poles were much more than the first name badges, however.  They were a type of family tree.  They represented what a family believed in and who, to a stranger, might offer hospitality.  It was easy to identify which families shared similar totems or beliefs and what those beliefs were.  Common to the indigenous people of the northwestern part of North America, totem poles often traced the lineage these “First Families” felt they had with animal ancestors.


A common representation found on totem poles is that of the raven.  There are many myths that feature the raven and in British Columbia, the mythology begins with the world covered in darkness.\ and the Kungalas tribe.  The chief of this tribe and his wife had a son they loved very much but unfortunately their son died.  Every morning the chief and his wife, accompanied by the entire tribe would grieve by the son’s corpse.  One morning a young man who seemed to glow was found sitting where the corpse had been.  The chief’s wife was convinced her son had come back to life and when asked by the chief if he was their son, the young boy answered affirmatively.


The tribe was overjoyed at the return of the chief’s son but the boy would not eat.  Finally a slave called Mouth-at-Each-End offered the boy a piece of whale meat.  The boy ate it and then began eating everything else in sight.  The son, in an effort to save his tribe from starvation, decided to send his reborn son away.  He gave the boy a raven blanket as well as berries and fish eggs to scatter on the land so that he himself would never be hungry.


The legend tells that the young man put on his raven blanket, which was nothing more than a complete skin from a human-sized raven, and flew up to what the Kungalas called the sky world, a world much different from theirs, a world of light.  He waited by a fresh water stream until the daughter of Chief-of-the-Skies happened along.  The boy changed himself into a leaf and when the girl partook of the water, she swallowed the leaf.  Soon thereafter a young baby was born to the girl.  The baby was the darkling of the Sky People but he would never stop crying.  They finally deduced he wanted to play with the ball in which daylight was kept.


The lad played with his ball of light for several years but one day put it on his shoulder and ran to the hole in the sky where the ball had once been.  Putting on the raven suit, he flew the ball of light back to earth.  He found the Kungalas by the Nass River eating what the natives called olachen or candle-fish.  He asked them to throw him a fish but they refused.  He then told them he wanted to make a trade – the ball of light for the fish.  The clan refused and began shouting insults at him.  The boy in anger cut the ball open, throwing light upon all the ends of the earth.


The myth addresses a common concept of ravens being trickster spirits and, as any farmer can tell you, there might be some truth to that.  What I find most interesting is that the type of fish the people were eating at the end when the boy returns to earth is so specifically identified.  The candle fish has many names such as olachen, eulachon, hooligan, oolichan, or ooligan.  Found along the Pacific coast of the northwest coasts of both the United States of America and Canada.  The name eulachon is a Chinook tribal name but some of the other names come from English and Irish names.


The candle fish during spawning season packs on an extra fifteen percent of body weight and if caught, was sometimes dried and then used as a candle.  It is a very greasy fish and they were often processed for their oil.  The oil was then traded and the trade routes were often called grease trails.  The fish eats smaller fish along the ocean floor and is an integral part of the aquatic food chain of the region as well as being a staple of the tribes in the area.


The boy wanted to trade one small beam of light for the sun he had stolen from the Sky People.  Would he have made the trade?  We will never know.  He was considered a trickster so perhaps not.  By refusing the simply give up a fish which gave them both artificial light and sustenance, the Kungalas gained sunlight.  Many might say they made the better trade.


We should not forget the name-calling aspect of this story, though.  None of the tribe’s people seem to have tried explaining their refusal.  Instead they laughed at such a suggestion.  All too often in today’s world we are very quick to judge and yes, some engage in name-calling.  When we offer an option perhaps not thought of by the masses, we are considered to be instantly wrong.  When someone doesn’t go along with the proposed scheme, they are called stupid or a spoil=sport.


Not every scheme is a winner and there are certainly enough unscrupulous people out there that it makes good sense to be leery.  Good communication is also vital whether we are agreeing or refusing.  Can grief return a loved one to life?  Science would tell us no but maybe we need to look at how we are defining “life”.  The chief’s son, if he had not died, would have become the leader and it was the duty of every leader to lead the tribe into a better future than before and to provide for the living.  Certainly having the sun in their lives helped…until it got too hot as in yesterday’s story.


Most of us have lost a beloved family member.  We have a variety of ways to keep that person’s memory alive.  Some make scrapbooks while others dedicate memorials or establish scholarship funds.  The simplest thing is to live a life that would have made that loved one proud.  When we lose a loved one it seems as if the sun of our own personal lives has gone dark.  Finding our own way back into the light can be difficult.


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day for Americans and, while many will celebrate with friends and family, some will be alone, left to grieve as the tribe did in loss of a loved one.  I fervently hope that if you are one of those who will be sitting in the dark, that you find a glimmer of light.  Volunteer at a homeless shelter or assist at a soup kitchen.  Being alone is not a crime nor is it shameful.  Being alive, though, should be celebrated and we all have things for which to give thanks.  And even if you are staying home tomorrow, give thanks that you have a home.  You will get to have your celebratory holiday meal in your comfortable clothes or maybe even in your pajamas!


The raven has had something of a misnomer for hundreds of years.  A member of the Corvus genus, ravens, along with crows which are a close cousin, are actually some of the most intelligent birds on earth and ravens live an amazing thirty years.  In the colonial period of the U.S.A. ravens and crows were an integral part of both agriculture and urbanization.


The light is not just about being bright in the company of others but walking in goodness and peace.  If you are reading this, you are a blessing to me.  We may not all seem to give light to others like the candle fish could, but you sustain me and are a bright light to me.  Daily I give thanks for you.  It is one of my prayers that you are blessed and walk in peace.

Coming to an End

Coming to an End

Pentecost #185


Mythologies address many of the same questions we still ask today.  A universal question that had plagued humans forever revolves around the question “What next?  What happens when we die?”  Often, when someone dies, eulogies extol the person’s life.  Sometimes details of the passing are mentioned as if it will alleviate our grief.  Maybe we want to know such details because it helps us understand the concept of death.  Reading the mythologies of the world, we realize that the legends of the world’s cultures seem to treat death as one colossal “OOPS!”


According to mythology, death is a mistake, and was not originally part of any deity’s great plan of creation.  After all, who spends time on a masterpiece work of art only to then destroy it?  So, if death was not an intentional part of life, why does it exist?  Who made the mistake that resulted in the consequences we know as death?  If you answer to that last question was mankind, then you would be incorrect in your answer.


Rarely can one find a mythological story that puts the blame on humans for death.  And those that do address mankind’s mistake as just that – a goof or, in the case of the Burma culture, a failed attempt at humor.  In Burma, a country that now goes by the name Myanmar, legend tells of a man who tried to play a joke on the sun god by pretending to be dead.  Perhaps his attempt to “prank” the sun deity was the first game of “playing possum”, a children’s game in which kids pretend to be asleep.  At any rate, the Burmese sun god was not a deity with a well-developed sense of humor.  He took the man’s joke and made it a reality, causing people to really die and making death a part of life, the final chapter.


In the Pacific Island culture of New Britain, it was a twin deity that goofed up.  To Purgo was a twin.  His twin was mentally superior and when To Purgo was given a message to take from the gods to mankind, he sort of mixed it up.  In his confusion, he transposed the subjects of the message.  Instead of telling mankind that people would live forever and snakes would perish, he stated that mankind would die and snakes would be eternal.  As a result, death has been a part of humanity ever since.


The Dogon culture of Mali also has a myth about death, humans, and snakes.  The Dogon believed that a person did not die; they were simply turned into snakes.  The Dogon legend tells of a young woman who wished to purchase a cow.  The deity Amma told her the price of the cos was “Death” but the young woman did not understand the answer correctly.  She agreed to the purchase price.  Soon thereafter, the young woman’s husband died and his death was the first of the rest of the world’s acquaintance with death.


There is also a Moroccan myth that talks about death as a temporary state of being.  People would simply fall into unconsciousness and then, later, would seem to “wake up”.  This was the way of living for quite some time until a prophet’s daughter named Fatima gave in to her petty feelings about a rival.  The rival’s daughter became ill and Fatima saw this as a way to inflict pain on the woman she perceived to be an enemy.  Fatima asked her father to arrange for the very ill daughter of this woman to actually die a lasting death. This she felt would cause her rival great pain and the woman would no longer be a competitor to her.  Her father granted her wish.  Later the son of Fatima was seriously wounded in battle and he also died.  Fatima waited for him to “wake up” but her father told her what she had wished for the other woman was now the law of the land and her own son would not be awakening from his death.  Death it seemed, in accordance to her wishes, was not permanent.


The Blackfoot Indians also have a tale about death.   Their creator had one of the best names, albeit a bit sexist, I have studied – Old Man.  It does make sense.  I mean, the one who created all would be older than anyone else, right?  And the male nomenclature was not shared by pother tribes as we will read about later in the week.  For now, though, our story is about Old Man, the creator deity of the Blackfoot Indians.  Old Man had taken clay and formed a woman and a young boy.  This was the beginning of the human race, the Blackfoot tribe believed.  One day the woman asked Old man about their lifespan and Old man conceded he had not thought that far ahead.  He suggested they throw a buffalo chip (dried waste from the prolific animal that gave the indigenous people both food and skin for clothing and shelter material) into the water.  “If it floats,” Old Man promised, “People will die for four days but then return to life.”  No knowing all the aspects of floatability of a buffalo chip, woman was unsure of this plan.  (In fact, there are many variables as to whether a buffalo chip will float or not.) The woman proposed replacing the dried chip matter with a rock.  She convinced Old Man to use the rock, saying “If it sinks, life will end in death as you said.”  We perhaps can understand her feeling the rock was a better choice because rocks were solid.  Unfortunately, that which made the rock a comfortable choice for her also guaranteed life would end in death.  Even if one can skip a rock across the water’s surface, it will eventually sink to the bottom of the river or lake bed.


Perhaps the real end of life occurs when we exhibit a lack of faith and then engage in a penchant to try to control everything ourselves to the benefit of only ourselves.  Maybe the way to longevity in life and perhaps immortality is found in having faith and living a life that benefits all makind, living our faith and not just talking about it.


The Myth of Must

The Myth of Must

Pentecost #183


Recently thousands of people have been forced to flee their homeland or die.  They have no clear vision of where they are going or what their life will be like but they know what will happen if they stay and so they feel they have to leave.  If they wish to stay alive and give their children any chance at life at all, the answer of whether to undertake the unknown and treacherous journey is simple …They must.  While no one can fault a parent or another human being for doing what they can to preserve life, there is another type of “must” that affects us all in a much less severe way but that can be just as deadly.  It is the mythology of must.


We often think of peer pressure as something that only affects children but in reality, peer pressure is something that affects us all.  Young people are leaving their lives to become part of terrorist cells because the social online presence is a type of peer pressure.  Just like a supposedly cool kid at school who offers other students drugs, these radical unhealthy groups offer the promise of popularity, of purpose, or being a part of the “cool crowd”.


Adults face peer pressure but it often is in the form of competition.  And just like the kids at school, we often fall prey to the myth of must because we too want to be liked.  The easiest example of this type of mythology is the child who throws a temper tantrum in the store to get a certain toy.  The parent often gives in, feeling they “must”, because they do not wish to be considered a bad parent or to become the object of other shopper’s attention as their child throws a temper tantrum in the middle of the store.


There are other examples, of course, of this type of myth, this peer pressure that we all feel.  It might be in someone purchasing a certain type of car – the old “everyone is buying this” excuse.  It can be something as minor as a type of pencil or color of handbag, to something a bit more necessary like a certain style of clothing or shoes.  It might be a particular address or “the right side of town in which to buy a home” or a popular after work pub or bar.  Let’s be honest – we all are followers of the mythology of “must”.


Peer pressure is not always an obvious thing and neither is the feeling that someone “must” adhere to the societal norms, even when doing exactly opposite of the more common societal norms.  It can be as direct as someone telling you what to do.  However, it can be a subconscious activity that is associated with a location or group of friends.  I once had a friend who only drank coffee away from home in large group settings.  Coffee was not something he associated with home but something that was a “must” at the workplace and at large meetings.


Many American Indian mythologies were less about past events like creation and more about how one should live.  Today’s post is actually yesterday’s post because yesterday was a “relaxation day”.  I cannot fully explain how often yesterday I thought about this post and how I was not writing it.  Usually, I think about the post for about two hours but yesterday, I thought about it every hour.  Not writing it was an exercise in my own personal “must”.  To be sure, my relaxation day probably was not as casually relaxing as it could have been.  I put up two fences and repaired a third; I moved some very large and heavy antique furniture; I began to organize some bookcases.  During all of my physically exhausting relaxation, I continually thought about the fact that I was not writing the post for that day.


I decided about eighteen months ago to make this a daily blog posting and I made a conscious decision not to make the posts all about me, what I ate, what I wore, who I saw, etc.  About six months later, my day had gotten behind and I was frantic at my posting for the day being late.  A family member asked why I was so upset and when I explained asked who was putting the deadline on me to write the post before midnight.  It was an excellent question which brought up a great point and a huge part of the myth of “must”.  The answer was no one.  No one was making me post anything that day, no one except me, myself, and I.  I was revisiting that conversation in my head Friday night and so I decided that Saturday I would test myself.  Could I not post something?  I got confess…it was hard not to write!


In our busy lives and in a world that revolves around competition, we often are our best allies and worst enemies – all because of the myth of must.  Being mature means doing what is best for ourselves and the world.  It is not about fancy cars, expansive homes, snazzy clothes, etc.  It is not even about who has the most toys.  It is about owning our lives and being responsible, not just for ourselves but for our world.


The mythologies of the indigenous people of almost every location but especially in the Western Hemisphere focused on living together, living in peace.  War is not friendly to our environment nor does it help our planet.  Turning away refugees and putting labels on people alienates; it does not unite.  The natural world is full of proof of the saying “United we stand; divided we fall”.  Did you know this saying comes from a collection of mythologies?


There are illustrations similar to the original myth from which this quote comes from.  The stories are basically the same.  A group of people, a family of sons in the original Greek myth, are bickering and not getting along.  The patriarch gives each a stick and asks them to break it which each member does.  Then the patriarch bundles the sticks together and gives each person a chance to break them bundled together.  They cannot.  Hence, the moral of Aesop’s myth – “United we stand; divided we fall”.


When we allow ourselves to give in to the mythology of “must”, we give away a bit of our individuality.  If I purchase something because I like it, that is fine.  If I purchase it because of peer pressure, some group has made me feel I “must”, then I am giving away some of my personal power and individuality, that which makes me…well, me!


Conformity is not necessarily wrong but it must benefit the individual and not some arbitrary leader or group.  The greatest thing we have to offer the world is not a label of being most popular but a label of being the very best “we” that is possible.  I cannot be a great you but I can be a fantastic me.

The Moon and Death

The Moon and Death

Pentecost 143

In case you are wondering, time has not stood still.  My last post concluded with “tomorrow we will discuss….”.  I am aware that that “tomorrow” became almost an entire week and I do apologize.  Computer updates, Internet service provider equipment updates, utility company outages… It seems as though the fates and the universe conspired to to give me some peace and quiet!  While it is frustrating when technology is abruptly and unexpectedly turned off, it does serve to illustrate our dependency on such technology.  It is also a time to reflect, to regain some “personal time” and to reinforce human connections.

Our last conversation was about the San Bushmen of the Sub-Saharan region of Africa. Pentecost is a season of the Holy Spirit for those who observe it, an arm of the Christian concept of the Holy Trinity.  The Holy Spirit, known for centuries as the Holy Ghost, is said to embody the love and strength of the monotheistic deity Christians call God.

While this blog is more universal than one specific religion or spirituality, I do freely admit/profess to be a member of the Episcopal Church.  Because organization leads to freedom (paraphrasing American Statesman Benjamin Franklin), I opted to use the church calendar as my filing system.  Thus, blog posts have a theme and are numbered according to the day they appear during a particular “season”.  However, those posts are loosely based on that church season…very loosely.  For instance, during Epiphany this year, we explored unusual yet common inventions we all use every day.  These “epiphanies” of their inventors have greatly impacted our lives today.

During Pentecost we have chatted about the spirits of mankind through the stories of mankind – mythologies of the world.  We began as all things do – with beginnings, the creation myths of each culture.  Thus, our explorations of the world’s myths and legends have begun with the retelling of their creation myths. It was the creation myth of the San Bushmen that we examined in our last discussion.  The San Bushmen are a wonderful culture of the Kadahari Desert that has been over thirty thousand years in the making.  Even today, the power of the eland, the deer-like creature created from a portion of a shoe placed in water, is still respected.

The creator deity of the San Bushmen was /Kaggen and according to legend, he threw one of his shoes into the air and that shoe became the moon.  Our last story, Pentecost 142, told of the rebirth of the moon which explained the scientific phases of the moon.  When we last were together, we learned that the myth told of /Kaggen’s hope for all to experience the same rebirth the moon does every twenty-eight days.

Because of a rabbit, however, the San Bushmen do not believe in reincarnation.  The goodwill of the /Kaggen was evident in the moon wanting mankind to experience the same rebirth it achieved.  Unfortunately, as with any religion, the key was that one believed and in this story, someone does not.  The San believe their spiritual leaders, the shamans, could cross from the world of the natural being or reality into a supernatural world, the place of beliefs.  They believe this is done through a dream-like state, a state in which some believe the shaman dies.  Then, legend maintains, the heart of the shaman becomes a star in the night sky.

The myth of death for this culture tells of a human who could change into a rabbit.  As a rabbit, he grieved for his mother who had died.  In agony over never seeing her again, he refused to hear the comfort of moon which promised her rebirth.  The rabbit preferred his grief and misery and argued with the moon, denouncing all it proclaimed.  In anger, the moon is said to have lashed out, scarring the rabbit’s mouth.  “As for men, now they shall die and never return.”

Whether one believes in reincarnation and how one defines it is a personal belief.  We can and should relate to this myth, regardless of our beliefs.  You see, we can be our own worst enemies.  We need to believe in the power of our beliefs.  And then we need to live them.  After all, the whole point of faith is to provide direction and strength. Remember, a compass is only able to help us find our way if we use it.