myth


Random quote of the day:

“It’s important to live life with the experience, and therefore the knowledge, of its mystery and your own mystery. This gives life a new radiance, a new harmony, a new splendor. Thinking in mythological terms helps to put you in accord with the inevitables of this vale of tears. You learn to recognize the positive values in what appear to be negative moments and aspects of your life. The big question is whether you are going to say a hearty yes to your adventure….the adventure of the hero—the adventure of being alive.”

—Joseph Campbell, interviewed by Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

crows

I love crows. Yes, I know. Crows are a hard sell to many people, but I am unrepentant. I’m fascinated by their intelligence, their creativity, and that look of presence when their eyes meet yours. So I was eager to read this book.

It surprised me when it arrived: a thin volume, only 113 pages including the index, but unusually weighty because it’s lavishly illustrated (every other page) on high-quality, heavy paper and beautifully put together. It takes great advantage of the space between the covers, cramming in so much information that the weightiness of the book seemed as much from the information as the heavy paper. Using it, I was able to verify that, yes, that exceptionally large dominant crow hanging around my house was indeed a crow and not a raven; and I was able to pick out the adolescent packs and understand their behavior better. Also what some of those screaming matches were about.

Their intelligence and resourcefulness make it easy to understand why crows have become such an integral part of so many mythologies, so much folklore. Their association with the trickster mythology is so ancient that it is shared in both Australian Aboriginal mythology and Native American. Considering how long these populations must have been isolated from each other and from the rest of the world, that’s rather impressive. There are trickster associations in European mythology as well.

But they aren’t just viewed as tricksters and evil omens. In some Buddhist traditions, they are regarded as protectors of the Dharma—cosmic law and order, among other things. In Hinduism, they are considered to be embodiments of the recently deceased, and to be messengers and information-givers. This echoes the Norse idea of Huginn and Muninn, the ravens who constantly brought information to Odin. And in some American Indian tribes, crows are considered not only tricksters, but creators of the world.

Ms. Savage covers various mythologies concerning crows, the latest scientific research, as well as keen observations of crow behavior throughout the ages. I guarantee you’ll have a different appreciation of these wise guys once you’ve read this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Did you know—?

Crows are the only non-primates who make tools. Other critters use what they find around them as the occasional tool, but crows will actually take what they find and reshape it to accomplish tasks. They have complex social organizations and their own languages (topping 64,000 different calls). They love, they hate, they grieve, they practice deceit as well as bravery, they reason, are tender and harsh. They hit all the standards we declare are solely-human characteristics. They’re not only as amazing as I always suspected—they’re more amazing.

An excerpt:

[Avian researcher Carolee Caffrey] was observing a nest through a spotting scope when the breeding pair returned to feed their nestlings, only to discover that their nest had been raided by a raptor in their absence. “In all my life, I’ve never heard such horrible, bloodcurdling screams as the crows made at that nest. The male flew away after a minute or two, but the female stayed behind and, for the next four hours (until Caffrey reluctantly left), tended a surviving but injured nestling by nuzzling it, picking up its neck, and preening the side of its head. All the while, the crow uttered mournful-sounding oohs.

Another, more lighthearted one:

Scientists wanted to test the reasoning ability of some captive crows so they devised a complex series of boxes, some of which had bait inside, many that were empty.

[The crow named] Hugin figured out the rule on the first morning of the trials…His companion Munin, by contrast, couldn’t even be bothered to look. Instead, as the dominant bird in a group, he preferred to bide his time until Hugin found the food; then he would muscle in and gobble up one or more of the tasty tidbits….Socially subordinate though he was, Hugin was no pushover. On the first afternoon of the experiment, he came up with a countermove. When Munin began to press in on him, Hugin would interrupt his foraging, fly over to one of the unrewarded clusters, and start opening empty boxes. He kept at it, opening and opening, until Munin came to join him; then, as soon as he saw his rival nosing around the wrong cluster, Hugin would dash back to the rewarded boxes and take advantage of his head start to grab a few extra morsels.


libra-fullmoon

Odd beliefs cling to the face of the moon—and why not? It hangs above us in splendid glory and from the first blink of consciousness, primates must have gazed on it in wonder and fright and superstition. It’s inside of us, too, its cycles shaping the ebb and flow of our internal tides. The moon is a very powerful object, pulling and deforming the shape of the earth as it rotates around us. Why shouldn’t it also pull and deform the creatures that crawl upon the earth?

Science remains skeptical. Oh, not about the pull of the moon on earth’s tides and geography, but on the claims of its influence on human beings. ER doctors, police, mental health professionals may all come up with strong anecdotal evidence of altered behavior during full moons, but scientists—who require replicable studies to believe things and are no fun at all—find it hard to take such things seriously. Even when they do produce a study that suggests some aspects of moon lore may have a basis in fact, they are quick to point out that a single study must be viewed with a certain amount of cynicism. Sometimes even by those who produced the study.

Take for example the belief that a full moon leads to restless sleep. A study from 2013 suggests there may be some basis to this. Christian Cajochen and his colleagues at the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel decided to do sleep studies on 33 volunteers and found that around the time of the full moon, the kind of brain activity associated with deep sleep decreased by 30 percent, participants took slightly longer to fall asleep than they did at other times, and slept on average twenty minutes less overall. What I find most significant is that their levels of melatonin also diminished during this period. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles.

However, when interviewed by National Public Radio, Cajochen was quick to downplay his own study, saying the findings might not hold up in a larger investigation. Other scientists remain adamantly and steadfastly skeptical, demanding more research before they take anything to do with moon madness seriously. Like I said, no fun at all.

A 2014 study at the Max Planck institute found no significant connection between the lunar cycle and sleep.

Research published in March of 2016 of 5,800 children between ages 9 and 11 in 12 different countries found that they slept about five minutes less on nights with a full moon.

So. The search for truth continues. So do the myths. I suspect science will never be able to completely convince those on the front lines of moon madness triage that there is no correlation. As for me, I will continue to “purify” and “charge” my crystals by the light of the full moon. You just can’t be too careful about such things.

This is an interesting overview of scientific studies on moon madness.

thanksgiving-food-catering-Denver-Spices-Cafe

I’ll be taking part in the annual American Turkey Bacchanal (otherwise known as Thanksgiving) and won’t be posting a folklore blog this week. But…

Here’s a very interesting website with lots of Native American Turkey mythology.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it!

crow

I love crows. I’m fascinated by them, although I never lose track of the fact that although they are intelligent and amazing animals, they are wild, and they are predators as well as scavengers. They survive in the real world any way they can—picking up road kill and pet food left outside, catching smaller birds and critters to eat. Whatever it takes.

In mythology, crows are often trickster deities. As the name implies, these deities exist to play tricks on humankind, but the tricks have a deeper meaning. They put people on alert to the shifting nature of reality, reminding them not to get so caught up in the surface of things, to not always believe what your eyes tell you. Beware. Be smart. Do what needs to be done. That’s how you survive.

It’s a tricky business when a human strikes a deal with a trickster. You may get what you asked for, but it won’t necessarily be in a form that’s any good to you, or it may come at a time when you no longer want it or need it. Knowing this, I saw a crow outside my window one day at work and thought how lovely one of his shiny black feathers would be in an art piece I was working on. So I thought, what the hell? I’ll ask him. (In my mind, of course, so my officemate wouldn’t think I was crazier than she already thought.)

“Mr. Crow, I would like one of your shiny black feathers to use in an art piece. If you agree to send me a feather, I will burn sage and juniper leaves in your honor.”

I waited for my feather. At lunchtime I even walked beneath his tree looking for it. No feather. I laughed at myself, but that night I burned the sage and juniper anyway. No feather. I stopped looking for it.

About three weeks later I was driving down the busy thoroughfare of Olympic Boulevard, late to a doctor’s appointment I absolutely had to make. The boulevard has a wide, parklike strip of green down the middle dividing the eastbound and westbound traffic, but absolutely no parking on that section of the street. I pulled to a stop at a light, not thinking about anything in particular except how late I was and what a hurry I was in. The light turned green and I stepped on the gas—and at just that moment a lovely, shiny black crow feather seemed to appear out of nowhere, blowing along the green strip of grass just beside my car.

In about five seconds flat I had a decision to make: do I stop the car in the intersection and run after the feather, provoking outrage in the cars behind me; or go east to the nearest turn around, come back and search for the feather, provoking the drivers on that side of the boulevard; or do I let the feather go and proceed to my appointment? Most people who have heard this story say at this point, “You should have stopped for the feather!” But in the seconds required to make my decision, I had an epiphany. I had to let the feather go. It was not that I had asked too much of Mr. Crow. He had been willing to give the feather, but wanted me to appreciate his cosmic joke. It was as if he said, “You make the decision whether you want to live in the world, or in the spirit world. The choice is yours, and my feather is the symbol.” On this day, I chose to live in the world, and continued on to my doctor’s appointment.

I laughed long and hard at the splendid joke I’d played on myself. The trickster cannot trick us unless we are willing participants. We are the ultimate cosmic jokers on ourselves. In the years since, I’ve also realized the other part of this lesson is that we sometimes have to let go of our notion that we can control life, nature, the randomness of events. . . anything, really. If we’re going to keep our sanity, we have to reconcile ourselves to this fundamental lack of power, and learn to live with life’s basic unpredictability. We have to be careful not to buy into the illusion of the world, of controlling and bending nature (life) to our will.

And so there came a day I told this story to F. while walking back to Avalon from the Wrigley Monument on Santa Catalina Island. She appreciated the irony and we laughed a great deal when I got to the part where the feather blew in front of my car and I had to leave. At that precise moment, the crows in the eucalyptus trees lining our path joined in, breaking into a loud and raucous cawing as we passed.

And so there came another day when I realized once and for all that a relationship had ended. It was a painful ending to an association that never stood much of a chance, but I’d walked into it with eyes wide shut, believing I could make of it what it wasn’t. On that day, I knew I had to give it up, that it had never really been mine. As I walked back to my car, I thought about the lessons of the tricksters and how very badly I had fooled myself. There on the ground, centered just behind my car’s back bumper, was a lovely, shining black crow feather.

 

freya

I was into a goddess phase for awhile. Empowerment, all that jazz. My personal belief structure has broadened since then, become (I hope) more nuanced and more inclusive. I no longer feel the need to make it a goddess vs. god universe. I like to joke that I worship the Holy Hermaphrodite, but that ain’t much of a joke. We’re all part of the same creation, yin and yang. We need to cut each other some slack.

I acquired this statue of Freya during that goddess phase, but mostly I wanted it because of that face. Who could resist it? She has such an open and serene expression that it makes me happy just to look at her. Surrounded by her gigantic necklace, Brísingamen, her hands folded meekly, you’d never know she was such a kickass female—a war goddess. That appealed to me, too, at the time. It still does to a certain extent, but what also appeals to me about Freya are her other associations with love and fertility, and her personal longing for love. Her husband, Odr, was frequently absent, you see, and she cried huge tears of red gold for him. Which proves yet again that no matter how strong and powerful we are, we can still be laid low by love.

If we’re lucky. The capacity to love is a blessing. Being laid low by it is a symptom of how open our hearts are. I was looking hard for love when I acquired this statue of Freya, a perpetual search back then. She resided in my bedroom in my old apartment, standing atop a cabinet my father made for me to hold my huge collection of earrings. Given her Brísingamen, it seemed an appropriate place for her.

Am I still looking for love? Not in the same way I was back then. I am not so particular about the kind of love I receive, not looking only for a mate. Love of any kind is a blessing, and the fires that drove me to find a partner are banked low these days. I wouldn’t turn it down if it came my way, but I don’t feel the need to seek it. Things change. Fires of all kinds renew. Phoenixes rise from ashes, and so might my quest, but mostly I’m glad not to be consumed with it anymore.

I’m pretty much a Jungian about such things. The journey within, self-knowledge, is the true goal, the true gold. That’s our only shot at understanding anything truly meaningful about the universe. I believe there is a Higher Something, but our human minds can’t comprehend it. All godhead is the same but because we are fragmented creatures we come up with a multiplicity of aspects to portray that godhead. All paths lead back to the same source, and we can’t approach it with externals, but sometimes there are very nice things that help us see an aspect of that Something.

Some years after buying the Freya statue I decided that my mythic world might be a little unbalanced and (since my pocketbook was not as challenged) I also acquired Freyr, Freya’s brother and lover. Very phallic, but that’s probably food for another post. Freya seemed much happier having him around and so was I. We please our goddesses as we please ourselves.

I have lost touch with many aspects of my sacred journey, my mystical journey into the dark heart of myself and out the other side into the light. It’s a fairy journey, into and out again. I hope to return to that rediscovered country, to see what else it can show me, and to settle myself in the now instead of the hoped-for future and much-regretted past. These things in my room are merely touchstones, aspects of a more profound reality inside my own heart and soul. Looking at them fresh again, remembering why they were important in the first place, is part of the journey back to that forgotten land. Renewal waits around the next turn in the road.

*Inspired by Xavier de Maistre’s book of the same name, I will be journeying around my sitting room/writing room as the mood strikes me and reflecting on the larger life meanings of the things I find there. The things themselves are not important—they are just objects—but hopefully those remembrances and reflections will be of interest. Another irregular series that I will probably keep up with . . . irregularly.

horse
 

Here’s another ancient oddity, taken from Pausanias (2nd c. AD). In his “travelogue” called Description of Greece (also known as Guide to Greece) he describes a phenomena which occurs at the chariot racing stadia of Olympia, Isthmos, and Nemea. The translation below is public domain, by W. H. S. Jones , 1918. It can be found in its entirety here. Mr. Jones talks about a type of ghost or demon called a Taraxippus. He doesn’t bother translating that, but Peter Levi who did a Penguin Classics edition in 1971, translates that as “horse-scarer,” and it’s been rendered “horse frighteners” in other places (Theoi.com encyclopedia).

[6.20.15] The race-course [at Olympia] has one side longer than the other, and on the longer side, which is a bank, there stands, at the passage through the bank, Taraxippus, the terror of the horses. It has the shape of a round altar, and as they run along the horses are seized, as soon as they reach this point, by a great fear without any apparent reason. The fear leads to disorder; the chariots generally crash and the charioteers are injured. Consequently the charioteers offer sacrifice, and pray that Taraxippus may show himself propitious to them.

[6.20.16] The Greeks differ in their view of Taraxippus. Some hold that it is the tomb of an original inhabitant who was skilled in horsemanship; they call him Olenius, and say that after him was named the Olenian rock in the land of Elis. Others say that Dameon, son of Phlius, who took part in the expedition of Heracles against Augeas and the Eleans, was killed along with his charger by Cteatus the son of Actor, and that man and horse were buried in the same tomb.

[6.20.17] There is also a story that Pelops made here an empty mound in honor of Myrtilus, and sacrificed to him in an effort to calm the anger of the murdered man, naming the mound50 Taraxippus (Frightener of horses) because the mares of Oenomaus were frightened by the trick of Myrtilus. Some say that it is Oenomaus himself who harms the racers in the course. I have also heard some attach the blame to Alcathus, the son of Porthaon. Killed by Oenomaus because he wooed Hippodameia, Alcathus, they say, here got his portion of earth; having been unsuccessful on the course, he is a spiteful and hostile deity to chariot-drivers.

[6.20.18] A man of Egypt said that Pelops received something from Amphion the Theban and buried it where is what they call Taraxippus, adding that it was the buried thing which frightened the mares of Oenomaus, as well as those of every charioteer since. This Egyptian thought that Amphion and the Thracian Orpheus were clever magicians, and that it was through their enchantments that the beasts came to Orpheus, and the stones came to Amphion for the building of the wall. The most probable of the stories in my opinion makes Taraxippus a surname of Horse Poseidon.

[6.20.19] There is another Taraxippus at the Isthmus, namely Glaucus, the son of Sisyphus. They say that he was killed by his horses, when Acastus held his contests in honor of his father. At Nemea of the Argives there was no hero who harmed the horses, but above the turning-point of the chariots rose a rock, red in color, and the flash from it terrified the horses, just as though it had been fire. But the Taraxippus at Olympia is much worse for terrifying the horses. On one turning-post is a bronze statue of Hippodameia carrying a ribbon, and about to crown Pelops with it for his victory.

Random quote of the day:

“Human beings live in their myths. They only endure their realities.”

—Robert Anton Wilson

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“Myth is more individual and expresses life more precisely than does science. Science works with concepts of averages which are far too general to do justice to the subjective variety of an individual life.”

—Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

Random quote of the day:

“History is a mythical variant which we have chosen to take literally.”

—Patrick Harpur, The Philosophers’ Secret Fire

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Disclaimer:  The views expressed in this random quote of the day do not necessarily reflect the views of the poster, her immediate family, Siegfried and Roy, Leonard Maltin, or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. They do, however, sometimes reflect the views of the Cottingley Fairies.

 

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