What is, Duality, and the Mother

What Is, Duality, and the Mother

Pentecost 148-150

#148 – And It Came to Pass

Not everyone cares about the beginning of time and the earth.  For the ancient cultures that lied on the banks of the Nile, the Niger, and the Congo Rivers, their myths were more concerned with social institutions, families, and the relationships of mankind.  However, other cultures like those of the Dogon, Yoruba, and Bambara developed lengthy and complex myths about creation.

Some African myths originated from different cultures yet share some very interesting commonalities.  The Dogon believed twin creator spirits known as “Nummo” were hatched from a cosmic egg.  The egg is a common starting point for many myths of various cultures.  Another common element in African mythology is the snake.  Cultures in both northern and southern Africa believe the world was formed from the body of a giant snake which, at times, is said to cover the sky in the form of a rainbow.

Africa also has a variety of myths about how death became a part of the world.  Most of these begin with a supreme deity or spirits who intended for mankind to be immortal.  The reasons for death being a reality are many and varied.  Some blame it on simply a mistake.  Others are much more imaginative.  In one myth, a chameleon is sent to earth to give the good news of life everlasting.  Unfortunately the chameleon travels slowly and cautiously and is outrun by a quick-moving lizard that carries the message of death.  The Mende culture found in Sierra Leone has a similar tale.  The Mende version has a fast-moving toad bearing the message “Death has come” overtaking a dog.  The dog stopped to eat and so his message of “Life has come” arrived too late.

We have all had those instances where we almost won the lottery or almost got that job or perhaps saw the person ahead of us purchase the last pie of pie.  What we need to remember is that it is the present that is important.  The best chance for a lasting legacy and immortality is a life lived in kindness with generosity.  Those are the people who live on forever in the hearts of all.

#149 – Two Better than One

Growing up I knew several sets of twins. They were nice but after that first moment of “Oh!”, I have to admit we treated them just like any other kids.  In many African cultures, twins were regarded as sacred beings.  Some cultures of the Niger and Congo regions view twins of opposite sexes as being representative of the duality of life.

Many believe life is a duality of many things, many opposites – good versus evil, hot versus cold, male versus female.  This list could go on and on but you get the idea, I am sure.  Technically, duality simply means “two”.  Could life really be an existence of two states?  Are we both good and evil?  Can something be both tangible and intangible at the same time?

Many of the world’s myths continue to be retold because, in spite of their fictitious beginnings, they also contain elements of fact.  While the Fon myth of Mawu having a rainbow serpent may sound ridiculous, one cannot deny that an ice-cold ocean does exist at the bottom of the world.   The Norse legend of the god Thor creating thunder with his hammer striking the air sounds incredulous and yet, it is the coming together of supper-charged particles of heat against colder ones that creates the noise we call thunder.

Anthon St. Maarten once explained our need for such duality in our lives.  “If we never experience the chill of a dark winter, it is very unlikely that we will ever cherish the warmth of a bright summer’s day.  Nothing stimulates our appetite for the simple joys of life more than the starvation caused by sadness or desperation.  In order to complete our amazing life journey successfully, it is vital that we turn each and every dark tear into a pearl of wisdom, and find the blessing in every cause.”  [I love this quote and would be happy for you to comment on favorite quotes of yours.]

Most of us are not all one thing or another.  We are complex beings living in a complex cosmology called life.  What is simple is that we can leave the darkness and grief and move forward, one step at a time, creating light in our lives and for others.

Pentecost #150 – Mother of All

A mother is more than just a female being.  A mother gives life and the term is synonymous with helping someone grow in life. As varied as the world’s cultures are, the words for mother are surprisingly similar.  Mom, mum, mam, mata, mama, and ma are all terms used worldwide for one’s mother.  Of greater interest to me is the fact that all children, regardless of culture or location, have their first word or two be “mmma”.  IT’s as if they realize their mother gives them life and each new experience comes from that initial one.

The earth is considered by many African cultures to be a mother-goddess since it is the earth that gives and sustains all life. Without the natural elements which emanate from the earth, there would be no life.

Many cultures on the African continent believe their deities are a part of the earth and all that it within on the earth.  There is a myth from the Zulu people that tells of a lake of milk beneath the topsoil on which we walk.  Cows, sheep, and goats, like all cattle, eat the grass and then, within their bodies, somehow the milk is produced.  The ancient cultures assumed the grass grew from roots deep within the soil, roots that they felt were nourished by this deep milk lake.

Even in our modern times, it is believed there are four basic elements – water, air, fire, and wind.  Ancient African cultures believed the sky with water and air were parts of the earth.  They saw the wind coming from caves in the earth and the earth’s mountains.  Fire lived in the earth (think volcanoes) but also in wood (think trees).  Thus, all four of these basic elements came from the earth to help them live.

Recently Pope Francis, himself an acclaimed and highly educated scientist, chastised the world’s industry and governments for refusing to believe in climate change and global warming.  He stopped short of advocating we worship the earth as a god but he strongly encouraged we respect the earth.  Whether you believe the African myths or believe in any spirituality or religion at all, one cannot deny the mothering the earth gives us all.  We should show her some respect but being better stewards of the earth and life.

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.