Beauty Within and Outside

Beauty Within and Outside

2018.07.21

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.

Believe in You

Believe in You

Pentecost 59

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Thinking Woman

Thinking Woman

Pentecost #189

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

A Disappearing Act

A Disappearing Act

Pentecost #184

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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.

Breaking Through

Breaking Through

Pentecost #182

 

There was water everywhere and mother of the children of the spirit of all possibilities realized that something was needed for those animals that could not live in the water.  The one who could envision anything and everything was called “Kitchi Manitou” and he was the creator of the Ojibwa people, a tribe of the First Nations of Canada.  There are many variations of the mythology of Kitchi Manitou.  In most, there are lesser Manitous, the spirit of the wind, the Sky God woman who bore Kitchi Manitou’s children, and the water Manitous.

 

The Water Manitous were not happy that Geezhigo-Quae, the Sky God, was having the children of Kitchi Manitou and they flooded the world with water.  Sky Woman as the deity of the sky was called realized she needed to help those animals who could survive in the water.  Suddenly she saw an animal that, although it breathed air, could swim.  She called the big giant turtle to help and other animals that could swim.

 

Their myth stated that if Sky Woman had some of the soil from which Kitchi Manitou had made the world, then she could recreate some land and save the animals that could not survive in the water.  The giant turtle tried to dive to the bottom of the ocean but it could not reach the depths it needed to reach to get some of the soil.  The other animals tried, the loon and the beaver.  No one had any success.  Finally the last animal to try was the small muskrat.  Everyone was losing hope and fear was taking control.

 

We all have recently felt the fear in many due to the recent tragedies last week in Paris and today in Mali.  When almost two hundred people are taken hostage it shakes all of our confidence in the safety of our homes and lodgings.  Many do lose hope and even more have reacted in fear.

 

The muskrat in the Turtle Island myth of the Ojibwa knew that same fear.  However, in the myth, the muskrat decided that no one else was left and it was it time to make the effort.  Muskrats are not very deep divers so no one had much confidence.  The muskrat took several deep breaths, according to the legend, and then disappeared beneath the surface of the waters.  The day turned to night and the muskrat did not reappear.

 

A new day dawned in our story and suddenly Sky Woman saw something floating in the distance.  It was muskrat but he had perished in his quest.  Suddenly they notice something held tightly in one of his paws.  It was the soil, the soil needed to make new land for the animals and the children Geezhigo-Quae, the Sky Woman would bear, the children of Kitchi Manitou.  The little, lowly muskrat had done what no one else could, what no one else had the faith to do.

 

Sky Woman rubbed the soil on the back of the big giant turtle and suddenly a continent grew.  The Ojibwa mythology says the land was called Turtle Island; we know it today as the continent of North America.  In time the children of Geezhigo-Quae, who now was given the name Nokomis, and Kitchi Manitou were born and they in turn had children who then had their own children.

 

In time, this family that had its beginnings on soil that took root on the back of a turtle made possible because of a lowly muskrat who gave his effort for the good of all, spread across the land of Turtle Island.  They became known as Ojibwa, Chippewa, Ottawa, Pottawatomi, and Mississauga.  Today we call them Canadians and Americans.  All due, according to the myth of the Ojibwa, because of a muskrat who tried, who did not give in to fear but instead gave life his very best.

 

We have all those times when fear rises to the forefront of our emotions.  Fear is not always a bad thing.  It can protect us and give us cause to rethink our actions.  However, when it comes to the very essence of life, we cannot let fear define us.  We have a choice in everything we do and sometimes things are not as successful as we might like.  This does not mean that we have failed, though.  The muskrat is not extinct and the Ojibwa believe it is because one gave his life for the world.

 

Life offers us many lessons every day.  We can learn from our experiences or we can let them defeat us.  The husband of one of the victims in Paris wrote this week to the terrorists:  “I will not give you my hatred.”  We cannot give life our fear.  Life needs our efforts.  We will thrive when we break through our fear to try.  The success is in the effort, not the results.  Results are seldom quantifiable so who can say what real success is?  To define success depends on perspective.  When we realize that we win when we live a life of faith and goodness, then winning becomes possible in every way for everyone, even a little muskrat.

 

 

 

 

Myth of Misery – In Honor of Paris

Myth of Misery – In Honor of Paris

Pentecost #176

It is an interesting question.  Is every story a myth?  The answer is no.  Only those stories worth hearing over and over become the mythology that mankind preserves.  Those stories are the ones with reason, the stories that teach us, that improve our living.

When we first began this series, these stories we’ve explored during the season of Pentecost, we defined the word “myth”.  We talked about how it means story but more recently has come to mean falsehood.  Actually the word means a traditional story.  The history of the word goes back to the ancient Greek “mythos” which literally meant a story told by mouth.   In the “Dictionary of English Folklore”, Simpson and Roud described myths as “stories about divine beings, generally arranged in a coherent system; they are revered as true and sacred; they are endorsed by rulers and priests; and closely linked to religion. Once this link is broken, and the actors in the story are not regarded as gods but as human heroes, giants or fairies, it is no longer a myth but a folktale. Where the central actor is divine but the story is trivial … the result is religious legend, not myth.”

All too often those stories that seemed to have no basis in science became known as untruths, hence the definition of a myth being a falsehood.  In the past three hundred years, archaeology, the science of discovering historical truths, has backed up some of those stories.  What once seemed too fantastical to be real now has been proven to be true.

There have always been those who misappropriate the truths of existence for themselves.  Their stories have taken mythology and turned it into ravings of lunatics.  The search for a perfect race, for instance, takes ancient stories and used them to justify the killing of millions.

Yesterday another group tried to live out such a mythology of misery.  The serenity of Paris as Parisians and tourists went about living and celebrating life was shattered.  Far too many died.   “Did you see them lying where they died?  Someone used to cradle them and kiss them when they cried.”

Life comes with challenges but the challenge of yesterday for those in Paris was uncalled for; it had no purpose.  History is full of instance where someone used others to inflict pain – not for a noble cause but for greed.  Until the generals calling the plays put themselves on the front lines and risk their lives, we should question their motives.  They risk nothing while others risk everything.  It is a falsehood to believe that by inflicting pain on another, a person will rise above all of mankind.  There is no culture that has profited from such actions.

“At the end of the day there’s another day dawning and the sun in the morning is waiting to rise; like the waves crash on the sand, Like a storm that’ll break any second, there’s a hunger in the land, there’s a reckoning still to be reckoned and there’s gonna be hell to pay.”  Today the sun will rise on the city of Lights.  The air will be thick with grief and the memories of those who died will cloud the vision of those who lived them.  The fear will hang over the city and yet, life will go on.  As one of the oldest and most valiant of European cultures, Parisians will persevere and once again rise above the tragedy.

Today, we offer to Paris our love and our support.  I hope that “every day you walk with stronger step; you walk with longer step.  The worst is over.”  The actions of the cowardly terrorists yesterday will ultimately accomplish nothing except to strengthen the resolve of good people.  Misery never is the final victor.  “God on high; hear my prayer.  In my need, you have always been there.”

Prayers for Paris are in my heart today.  The light will again shine forth in the beautiful City of Lights.  Evil will not be victorious as long as mankind believes in the mythologies of goodness and peace.

[Quotes  not given attribution are from lyrics of songs from “Les Misérables”, music by Claude-Michel Schönberg, original French lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, with an English-language libretto by Herbert Kretzmer.]