Spirits to Faith

Spirits to Faith

Pentecost 70

In the beginning the sky flashed and the air thundered. The rivers flowed and then one day were dry even though the clouds continued to drop moisture in various forms. Science explains all these phenomena but before we had the science, we had the experience. After the experience came the supposition and for ancient man, the mythologies of the world.

In a world whose population numbers roughly six billion people, over fifty percent practice Abrahamic monotheism of one type or another. Abraham, a single male being, has served as the father to three religions – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

From Mesopotamia to Rome, the myths of ancient cultures to the earliest of pagan religions of the northern landscapes of the planet were polytheistic. These polytheistic societies used their deities to explain the elements in life over which they had no absolute control. Things like earthquakes and storms were the handiwork of angry gods.

After nearly ten thousand years, polytheism evolved into monotheism. The cultures of Greece and Rom with their assimilated mythologies became the foundation of a monotheistic belief. As science evolved and facts became known, the need for many deities was reduced.

We still have many cultures and continents to explore in our discussion of mythologies. The fabric of mankind is vibrant with the mythological stories which weave together to form the tapestry of mankind. During August, though, we will take a slight break from the stories to explore the mythologies and the names of the one god of the Abrahamic faiths. The focus of many became one deity with over eighty-six names that can be related to the multiple gods and goddesses of the Greeks and the Romans. While the Greeks built temples for worship and connected their mortal living and dying to the deities, it was the Roman culture that integrated such beliefs and worship into all facets of their personal and public living.

Perhaps now would be a good time to think about the mythology of your own story. What are those facets of the past that most appeal to you? What carries greater meaning for you – trending fads or traditional beliefs?

Albert Einstein once said: “Everyone should be respected as an individual but no one idolized.” Our lives reflect the answers to those questions. Just as many things go into the twenty-four hours of each day that we live, so did many aspects of mythology coalesce to create the one deity with many names, many believers, and many facets. It is important to ponder just what we hold most dear and what provides us with our inspiration for our movements and interactions with our fellow beings. What name do you assign to that which you venerate?

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

Pentecost 62

Recently a friend was cleaning out a storage space and came upon a tattered piece of paper. Ready to discard the paper, A family member hurriedly snatched said piece of paper out of his hand. “This isn’t trash! This was the first note B— wrote to me!” Knowing his children and that the person mentioned had not grown up to be a treasured friend but was simply a passing acquaintance, my friend was confused. The child explained that receipt of this note meant acceptance in a new school, recognition, and led to a sense of confidence. The paper ended up being discarded after several months but now my friend realized how important what seemed like trash had been. He had found it at a time the same child was going through another transition and finding the note once again led to a renewed sense of purpose and recognition of self.

Our beliefs should give us a sense of well-being, a confidence to go forward in our living. Beliefs that require destruction might be beliefs that need a second or third consideration. We also need to remember that what is uplifting to us or even comical is not always perceived by others in the same manner. Where my friend saw a dirty crumpled piece of paper, his child had seen a memory of hope.

The deities of these ancient mythologies have similar stories. They may seem comical to us but to those living in the times, they offered hope, guidance, and confidence. The roman had deities that protected the home and community called Lares. From an ancient Etruscan word meaning “lord” (more in the sense of protector and not actual Lord), these Lares were honored with niches in homes and statues on dining tables.

The Lares protected much more than just a doorway or entire home. They protected an entire city or region. Often portrayed as twin males in some form of movement or play, the Lares were frequently though to borrow the hounds or dogs belonging to the goddess Diana. The dogs were assist them in chasing away thieves or evildoers.

Arriving in Italy after the Trojan War, Aeneas brought back twin deities known as the Penates. Whether or not they were considered to be Lars, they were seen as protectors of Rome. These two youths were often depicted seated as opposed to the Lares youths which always seemed to be dancing or playing. The Penates were often represented at the dining table and before meals were consumed, thanks and prayers were said to them.

We protect what we hold dear, even if it is a tattered piece of paper. This is the reason many in the United States feel they need to carry and have access to firearms. Sadly, though, another shooting in a public venue has proven that such access can lead to tragedy.

Recently, a veterinarian in Florida had his personal dog I his office. A child made what the dog perceived to be a threatening move and the dog reacted in a manner to protect himself and his owner. Now the dog is scheduled to be euthanized although legal action to prevent such as been initiated. The child was not permanently physically damaged and certainly the parents of said child should have had a better handle on what the child was doing. Not all dogs feel comfortable with young children and even those who do frequently expect them to understand dog behavior – jumping and growling being standard forms of play and communication for canines.

I do not know the man who committed the shooting in the movie theater last evening in a small town in Louisiana. He was almost sixty years of age and Caucasian. No other details have been released as of the time of this writing. The dog in question is a breed known for its congeniality and friendliness. My point is this – There are no guarantees in life, even with the protection of the Lares or God or if you practice daily meditation and live in harmony with nature and man. Life can still get messy.

What we can do and should do is make sure we do not act in such a way that imposes our will upon others without their consent. There is no purpose in living with arrogance or hatred. We as a family of mankind, a race of intelligent beings, can do better than we have been.

Puppies are delightful. They approach live with exuberance and some caution. They slip and slide and get right back up. They bring a smile to our face and give us unconditional love. They grow to being family companions and protectors, much like the Lares of antiquity. What if we grew into being protectors of each other – not with weaponry but with kindness and charity? What is we approached every day with the energy of joy that puppies bring to life? What is we lived a life of puppy love instead one of anxiety, peer pressure, and chaos?

We all are worthy of recognition and acceptance. Comfortable people, people who feel at ease with themselves and their fellow man, do not seek ways to harm, do not walk avenues that maim and cripple both themselves and their victims. What if we treated strangers as if they were already our best friends? It was with the Lares that dogs became known as man’s best friend. Today, I hope as you pass a stranger, you share a smile, give them a little bit of patience, and show respect to all. Today I hope you recognize the love within you and the potential it can offer the entire world. We all need a little puppy love.

Breaking the Chains

Breaking the Chains

Pentecost 59

Mythology comes from the imagination but much of the stories of ancient times do have a basis in the history of the period. After all, a story teller must have some point of reference for his/her listeners, right?

We’ve already discussed how Rome was found in the eighth century BCE. The myths of Rome are plentiful but the one of the strongest following is that of Romulus and Remus. Having established the city and named it after himself, Romulus was not the proud ruler of men….and only men. His laborers and warriors were all male and no region wanting to grow can do that with only men. Even for a story full of gods and goddesses, the lack of the female and the mothering of successive generations must be included.

The Feast of Consualia, a festival invented by Romulus after discovering a buried temple to the god Consus, drew neighboring families to Rome. Romulus had sought permission for his men to marry women from surrounding towns but had been rejected. He hoped that such festivities were attract women who would be impressed by his brave men. This story was written about by Roman historian Livy and the Roman writer Plutarch. It is in ancient Rome that the lines of fact and fiction become blurred and forge together in the history of the culture.

The neighboring town of Sabine was well represented by men, women, and children. In Livy’s own words written in his history i, cap 9, here is an account of what happened next. “When the games began, and each was intent on the spectacle before them, at a signal given, the young Romans rushed in among the Sabine women, and each carried off one, whom however they used in the kindest manner, marrying them according to their own rites with due solemnity, and admitting them to all the rights and privileges of the new commonwealth. The number carried off on this occasion amounted to near seven hundred; but this act of violence produced disastrous wars between the Romans and the Sabines, which were at last happily terminated by the mediation of the very women whose rape had been the cause of their commencement.”

The myth is that the Sabines returned home without their virginal brides and returned to fight with their king Titus Tatius. They soon discovered their women assisting the Romans and, according to legend, at one point, the women rush forward imploring both sides, their fathers and their new husbands, to lay down their arms. Romulus and Titus agreed to a ceasefire and an alliance. Sabine politicians held seats of power within their newly formed allegiance with Rome being the capital. The allies remained together for centuries to follow.

A similar story is told in the Book of Judges, found in the Holy Bible, a book of scriptures and stories about the Jewish and Christian faiths with many crossover characters found in the Koran. Here is the description of Chapter 21 of Judges from Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary with verse numbers for the chapter given: “The Israelites mourn because of the desolation of Benjamin, and consult the Lord, 1-4. They inquire who of Israel had not come to this war, as they had vowed that those who would not make this a common cause should be put to death, 5, 6. They consult how they shall procure wives for the six hundred men who had fled to the rock Rimmon, 7. Finding that the men of Jabesh-gilead had not come to the war, they send twelve thousand men against them, smite them, and bring off four hundred virgins, which they give for wives to those who had taken refuge in Rimmon, 8-14. To provide for the two hundred which remained, they propose to carry off two hundred virgins of the daughters of Shiloh, who might come to the annual feast of the Lord, held at that place, 15-22. They take this counsel, and each carries away a virgin from the feast, 23- 25.

Mythologies are stories, stories that were told to illustrate an aspect of living. A common aspect since the dawn of time has been the use of women as a commodity. They are the only ones in the species who can give birth and thus have a value that no man can duplicate. Sadly, this has led to gender bias and acts of violence against women. In some cultures they are seen a nothing more than breeding animals and felt to be too dangerous if educated or respected.

This has led to many women perceiving themselves as victims. Victim mentality is not a condition that results from a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is an acquired or learned trait. No one is born with it but rather, develop it because of how they perceive they are treated, a perception that in the case of many women is justified. Victim mentality is a personality trait wherein someone perceives they are always the recipient of negative behavior, a “poor me” attitude.

For me, the lesson of the Sabine women is one of breaking the bond of victimization. Several years ago a young girl was tortured for no other reason than she was riding a bus to her school. Her injuries were plentiful and deadly yet she persevered and remained strong. Last year, that young girl Malala received a Nobel Peace Prize. She continues her fight for the education of all, especially women, in her Middle East native lands and worldwide. She found strength in her injuries rather than bondage to the fears of others.

Persecution exists. It is a sad fact of life. However, it is not a natural phenomenon but rather, the result of another’s fears. We can find it in the humanity of ourselves and others to combat such fears and turn them into strengths. Empathy is a vital component of our everyday living. Empathy is a state of mind in which we vicariously experience the feelings, thoughts, and attitudes of another, often unlike ourselves. The word comes from two Greek word, “em” meaning before and “path”. The Greek word “path” comes from the word “paschien” which means to suffer. It is interesting to me that empathy translates as before suffering because if we live with empathy, we can stop suffering.

The Sabine women found strength in their position and used their love of family to stop a war. Most wars involve fighting of cultures that share a common bond or ancestry. How glorious it would be if people of opposite sides found a similar strength. How many lives could be saved? What new alliances could be forged?

Losing one’s victim’s mentality does not mean giving in nor accepting inappropriate behavior. We can and should seek resolution that teaches. I myself give a person three chances to apologize and see what I perceive as the error of their ways. Then I continue on, realizing their right to be, in my opinion, wrong. During that time in which I bring up the matter in order to give them a chance to correct their discrimination or wrong-doings, some might feel I am wallowing in my misery. I disagree. I think I am showing hope for their potential in becoming the better people I think they are. Ultimately, though, it is the choice of each individual to be as smart and kind or as rude and small-minded as they choose. We cannot let their beliefs and actions victimize us, though. We cannot then become a part of our own persecution by living in it day and night.

Life is about moving forward. The past should have our respect but the future is built by our living our faith, living in such a way that our beliefs are evident with each word and every action. IN the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “A ‘No” uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a “yes” merely uttered to please, or, what is worse, to avoid trouble.” It takes courage to break the chains of peer pressure, of overcoming past hurts. It also makes for a great life and bright future.

Double Trouble

Double Trouble

Pentecost 57

Within the past ten days, there have been two days in which my numbering of the days of Pentecost was in error. It was my own “double trouble” that perhaps could be explained but really has no bearing on the conversations so…why bother? (Blame it on computer issues and just being so happy something got types that I failed to double check the numbering!)

When discussing the founding of the city of Rome, many people take a similar attitude. Known as the Eternal City or the City of Love or even the City of Seven Hills, Rome stands as it always has and continues to – a proud metropolis able to withstand time, evolutions, governments, wars, and even the millions of tourists who flock to it each year. The City with a city within, referring to the Vatican City, Rome’s history is also a tale within a tale.

Most mythologies tell the story of two babies, raised by a wolf and later by a shepherd. The wolf is an important though minor aspect of this story because the wolf was considered a sacred animal of the god Mars who is the father of these two babies. Their mother was hidden away in a convent of sorts where women served a period of approximately thirty years in service to Vesta, a goddess of virginity and purity. These women were known as Vestal Virgins as part of their service included taking a vow of innocence in carnal matters. Women were viewed as both life givers and life confusers, temptresses that could change the course of history.

The mother of these twins who would be named Romulus and Remus was the daughter of a twin herself. Her father was Numitor, ruler along with his twin Amulius of Alba Longa. The twins, sometimes called simply brothers, did not always agree and on one such occasion, Amulius seized control and had his brother Numitor imprisoned. Numitor had only one child, the daughter Rhea Silva, and Amulius had her taken to the temple of Vesta to avoid her claiming her father’s throne and/or power.

Numitor was a grandson several generations later of Aeneas, the central character of Virgil’s “Aeneid”. Archaeological findings date the beginnings of Rome to 750 BCE while the stories of Homer and Virgil place Aeneas’ travels to the area which would become Rome somewhere around 1220 BCE. To account for the discrepancies, there are tales of roaming bands of warriors, and mythologies woven to fill in the gaps between Aeneas and Numitor. Archaeology has provided proof of inhabitants in the area surrounding Rome that date back to the eleventh and twelfth centuries BCE, and it is believed those people were from the Latium culture.

Our focus is on the twin, though, so let’s continue with their story. As they grow up, the shepherd and his wife tell the two of their birth and together the twins travel from the countryside to the city to claim their legacy. They overthrow their uncle Amulius and free their grandfather. (Their mother had been buried alive as punishment for not upholding her vow of chastity which is why the twins ended up in the river and found by the wolf and shepherd.) Numitor regains control of Alba Longa but the twins want their own kingdom and leave home in search of it. The settle on the area of seven hills and begin development. Here there are also various stories but one of the more common ones is that Remus mocks Romulus for building a low wall to protect the city. He hurdles the wall and easily clears it to prove his point. In anger, Romulus kills his twin and continues building the city which is called Rome.

Mythologies aside for a moment, let’s look at what we can prove about the founding of Rome. As mentioned, there were Latini or Latins in the area. They were descended from the Indo-European tribes that settled on the Italian peninsula somewhere during the second millennium BCE. Within a thousand years, the Latins were a culture in their own right. They congregated in the area known as the Alban Hills and were able to effectively defend and prosper their way of life, a way of life influenced by the Iron Age of southern Italy and the Villanovan civilization of southern Etruria. They lived in huts and, after cremating their dead, placed the cremains in hut-shaped urns, decorated with geometric figures.

In 600 BCE, the peoples of Etruria expanded into Latium and settled in Latium, the area around the city we now call Rome. Etruscan art and ways of living intermingled with the Latini culture. Rome became a powerful city and in a little over a hundred years, the Etruscans were driven out in a civil uprising made successful by an alliance between the Greeks and the Latins. The departure of the Etruscans, however, meant the effective leadership was gone and Latium soon lost its standing and great wealth. The Latin league was a delegation of representatives from all of the Latin cities. They would elect a dictator to command the army and the city of Tusculum was not the seat of power. The Latini were not the only people in the area, though, and soon became threatened by the neighboring Volsci and the Aequi. After decades of fighting, Roman authority in Latium was assured and the Latin country became modeled after the city of Rome.

Throughout the historical facts as well as the myths about Rome, there is a consistency of dual behaviors and histories: Aeneas, a Trojan who escapes the Greeks as they celebrate the victory over Troy; Numitor and Amulius; Romulus and Remus; Etruscans and Latini; Volsci and Aequi. Each duality, whether fact or fiction, had a significant effect on the city we now today as Rome. Rome celebrates both its mythological beginnings and its culture of warrior and art.

The words of Titus Lucretius Carus illustrate this duality each of us face with our past and present as we strive to make a future. “So each man flies from himself (vain hope, because it clings to him the more closely against his will) and hates himself because he is sick in mind and does not know the cause of his disease.”  It is important in honoring our heritage not to get bogged down in it and begin to simply run around in circles. Numitor and Amulius, Romulus and Remus were, in a very real sense, fighting themselves rather than their brother. We each have at least two sides to our personalities. The victor is he or she who can successfully meld all that we are into a productive being that can move forward successfully. We must honor our past but remember that we live in the present. We have no future if we cannot move forward each day, living our beliefs and showing charity to all.

Attention to Duty and Love

Attention to Duty and Love

Pentecost 53

Last week at shape.com, Charlotte Hilton Andersen wrote about love at first sight and how it is not the key to a lasting and satisfying romance. Andersen reported on findings based on a study from the University of Texas that interviewed over one hundred and sixty couples with relationships lasting from three months to fifty-three years. The research showed that knowing someone for a period of time led to lasting love, not love at first sight.

Dido and Aeneas, two popular characters of Greek mythology and central to Virgil’s “Aeneid”, would have disagreed with the Texas study. The founder of the Roman city of North African coastal city of Carthage, the former prophetess who was originally from Tyre greeted a group of veterans of the Trojan War. The stately queen naturally was introduced to the leader of the soldiers, a brave warrior named Aeneas. IT was, according to legend, love at first sight and seemed like the perfect match.

Aeneas is considered one of the ancestral founders of Rome and after living together with Dido as man and wife, the gods sent a messenger to remind him of his supposed destiny. Aeneas was to found a new city, not stay in Carthage and rule as king to Dido’s monarchy. Anxious to fulfill his duty, Aeneas makes his apologies to Dido and leaves. As his ships leave the port of Carthage, Dido takes her own life, vowing that Carthage and Rome would always be enemies.

Carthage had been settled by Phoenicians from Tyre and grew to become a very successful and wealthy city. Although it had its differences with the Greeks and in spite of Dido’s proclamation, Carthage and Rome enjoyed a beneficial partnership and ally status for quite a few years. However, unlike relationships that seem to thrive with more time, Carthage and Rome grew to become enemies in what history called the Punic Wars, Punic being the Latin name for Phoenicians.

In 264 BCE, Rome decided to become a part of a dispute on the island of Sicily which was a Carthaginian province and involved soldiers from two cities – Syracuse, supposed by Carthage and Messina, supported by Rome. What began as soldiers from two minor cities grew into all-out war between Carthage and Rome for control of Sicily. Carthage was clearly the more dominant naval power and yet, within twenty years, Rome had scored a huge victory and gained its first province – Sicily.

In all there were three wars between Carthage and Rome. The three Punic Wars as they are known took place over almost one hundred years and eventually led to the destruction of Carthage in 146 BCE and Rome acquiring yet another province – Africa. Rome also moved troops into Macedonia during the same year as the fall of Carthage and within a year, Rome had a mighty empire that stretched fromt eh Atlantic coastline of Spain to the border between Greece and Asia Minor, the present-day country of Turkey.

Interestingly enough, the poet Virgil who penned the love-struck tale of Dido and Aeneas might also have written some of the best advice for finding true love and how to live with loyalty, adhering best to one’s duty and destiny. “Time passes irrevocably.” I like that – time, the countless seconds of life, continue forward conclusively. I have found great comfort in that one essential truth.

Virgil’s other quotes also concur with the Texas study on how to have a lasting relationship. “Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered with endurance.” “Endure the present and watch for better things.” Anyone who has ever argued with a spouse knows that being right does not make you a winner. Sometimes staying the course and giving up the distinction of right and/or wrong is the winning prize.

What about those who follow duty? To those engaged in conflict or a seemingly impossible struggle, Virgil offers this: “They succeed, because they think they can.” “They can conquer who believe they can.” Sometimes we do our best on the job because we want a raise or promotion or, like Aeneas, feel it is what we are supposed to be doing. It all comes down to not only love of another but also love of ourselves. Virgil had a hint at how to achieve success at living, whether it was living one’s work or finding romance: “Love conquers all.”

Myth of Being

Myth of Being

Pentecost 34

It was Plato who first used the word “mythologia”, a Greek word meaning the telling of story using imagines characters. Plato lived around the time 427-347 BCE. To first understand Greek mythology you must consider the land from whence it sprang.

Greece was surrounded by water and, at the same time, divided into regions by the mountains and broken coastline. Forced to adapt and live with the terrain of their homeland, sailing became a necessary part of life for the early Greeks. It also provided communication, both within the country and with others.

Greece was naturally broken into smaller areas by the terrain, mountainous and yet lush. The earliest families of what would become city-states within the country were featured in the works of such poets as Homer proudly proclaimed their connections to the gods and goddesses whose stories were told to explain the natural world and the existence of mankind. The city-states of Sparta, Mycenae, Thebes, Athens, and Corinth were just a few actual city-states mentioned in these myths.

The Greek artists told and illustrated their deities to show how the gods and goddesses often determined the outcome of the efforts of mankind. Universal themes such as love, hatred, jealousy, sorrow, pain, deceit, beauty, and destiny were all motives and influencing factors in these stories. Although some would later attempt to connect these Greek gods and goddesses to actual men and women who had once lived glorious lives that become divine in the telling, most historians agree that Plato was right in defining these stories as being based upon imagined characters rather than real human beings.

The earliest Roman mythology bears little resemblance to the Roman mythology studies today. Rome’s conquest of Greece in the second century BCE led to the final assimilation of the two cultures’ myths, something that had begun earlier with the trading between the two sea-faring empires. The Greeks had a far more expansive collection of mythologies and the Romans eagerly embraced them. The one exception was the myth of the god Aeneas. A Trojan by birth, Aeneas flees the city of Troy during the Greek takeover to found the city of Rome. From this point forward, Roman history begins for many.

The Greeks, as previously discussed, made their mythologies into art. The oral traditions were written down and became the basis for many stories. The descriptions of the gods and goddesses became the basis for many sculptures and frescoes. Honor was given to these deities and characters in the form of temples and architecture has relied on these early edifices ever since.

For many people, living on this planet is taken for granted.  In fact, most of us take the very fabric of our lives for granted. We go through daily motions of arising, getting dresses, eating, working, and perhaps the chance for some relaxation and/or recreation. In too many industrialized countries, food is wasted while many go hungry. Basic utilities are easy. We turn on a tap and water streams out a faucet. We flick a switch and electricity brings light into the room, often accompanied by air conditioning or heat. Fossil fuels are turned into fuel that flows from a pump into automobiles that require an expenditure of less than five hundred calories to fill. For most of us, these basic commodities are thought of only when it comes time to pay for them. Otherwise, we awake each morning simply expecting them, relying on them to go about our daily lives.

The early Greeks wanted to know where these utilities and food items came from and why were they given or available to man. Life for them was not a given and their expectations were based on the gift of life, not the acceptance of it as a given. The poet Hesiod created the first Greek family tree of the gods and goddesses of their oral traditions and once created, this tree of folk lore grew in the retelling. The Greeks organized their stories and this is one reason they have remained so popular.

It is a common beginning: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? One might ask the same of the Christian Holy Trinity and the Greek myths. Hesiod divided them into three main categories of section of the family tree of existence for the Greek myths. The primordial gods and goddesses, the most ancient of them, represented the basic elements of the universe: day, night, earth, sea, sky, etc. These ancient deities were embryonic is giving rise to the Titans. The Titans existed so that the Greek storytellers could explain the physical features of the elements such as mountains, oceans, rivers, and so forth. The Titans gave birth to the gods and goddesses of Olympus, the more familiar Greek characters many of us have grown up hearing and pretending to be.

Greek mythology had other groups of three – the Furies and the Fates being two such examples. As we continue to delve into the classical mythologies, we can see the beginnings of the Abrahamic stories of the Abrahamic faiths start to take shape. For some this proves that are simply stories and without basis. For others, it proves that mankind is a continuous family, regardless of locale, and that we are in fact truly all connected.