Sunday, May 13, 2012

Hello, Helios!

           SUMMARY: Every day, we see it. Mans greatest treasurer, a great golden orb flying high above our head, providing us with life, with warmth, with sanctity. Of course, this is our very own star, the Sun.
            There have been countless sun gods throughout history. Some are depicted as traveling across the sky in a vessel of some sort, like a boat, chariot, or cup. The sun god of the Greeks and Romans rode in a 4-horse (Pyrios, Aeos, Aethon, and Phlegon) chariot. The Egyptians differentiated among the aspects of the sun, and had several gods associated with it: Khepri for the rising sun, Atum, the setting, and Ra, at noon. The Egyptians places a lot of emphasis on the sun, as they had Ra their "chief" god, much like Zeus, Jupiter, and Odin for other religions.
            The Greeks and Romans also had more than one sun god. One of their sun gods was Helios. Helios was considered a lesser god. Even so, the other deities held him in great esteem. Helios was a handsome god who was responsible for giving daylight to Earth by driving his chariot of fire, pulled by four flaming steeds, across the sky from east to west. Night would fall as Helios crossed the western horizon, and it lasted as long as it took him to return to the East. Later myths claim that Helios made his way back to the East in a huge golden cup that floated along the river Oceanus, which encircled the world. In later mythologies, Helios became the physical sun, or Sol, and Apollo became the god of the sun, responsible for its journey.
            An interesting thing to notice about the sun in mythology is that it almost always has a male connotation, and the moon normally has a female connotation. This could possibly be attributed to the fact that the moon can be viewed as a much more peaceful object than the harsh, fiery sun.
             Even Christian religions have a sun god, in a way. Jesus was referred to as the chief cornerstone - a reference to an Egyptian pyramid. The chief cornerstone of the pyramid is same symbol for Horus, the Egyptian god and savior. Like the Egyptian pharoah, Jesus was called a shepherd who rules the nations with a staff. Horus was a popular Egyptian god who was the son of Osiris and Isis. Osiris and Horus were both solar deities. Osiris was the setting sun, Horus the rising sun. Jesus is the rising Son and the morning star. A very famous image of Jesus shows him with a glowing disk around his head, much like the glowing disk around Ra's head in his depictions.
                       
            ANALYSIS: Sun gods are a predominant feature in almost every culture. From Greek to Christian, the embodiment of the source of life is always there, in the heavens.

            REFLECTION QUESTION: Using prior knowledge, why might the sun be viewed as masculine, and the moon be viewed as feminine?

            CITATION: Gill, N. S. (n.d.). About.com. Retrieved from http://ancienthistory.about.com/od/sungodsgoddesses/a/070809sungods.htm

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Journey to the Center of the Universe

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMxdayVkRMc&feature=related

SUMMARY: All cultures around the world have had some form of physical representation of the world. For instance, the Norse had the Great Tree, Yggdrasil. Yggdrasil came from before the universe, and connected the 9 realms. It is said that at the end of the world, or Ragnarok, Yggdrasil will fall, and a great dragon will rise from its roots and consume the son. However, when looking into the myths of Yggdrasil, you will find whisperings of 3 hag sisters, capable of altering destiny, called the Norns. sound familiar?
                      The Greek Moirai, better known as the Fates, are the very same omnipotent sisters, capable of warping reality, being the physical representations of the past, the present, and the future. Like the Norns, the Moirai lived in an ancient cave, and the cave for both sets of sisters was created by the waters of fate (whether from Yggdrasil's roots or the river Styx).
                     
ANALYSIS: The Norse people believed in a Great Tree that held the Universe together. With this tree were the 3 Norns, much like the Greek Fates. All of these symbolize the very structure of the universe.

REFLECTION QUESTION: The Great Tree and these sisters share a very common root. They represent the core of the universe, the very basis of destiny and fate. How do you feel that destiny not only affects your life, but how the concept of destiny has made others change their view on life?

CITATION: Elfabros (2010, October 4). Norse Mythology 6 Yggdrasil & Norns. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMxdayVkRMc&feature=related

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Revenge is Sweet


SUMMARY: Many cultures have a creation myth in which a group of younger, more civilized gods conquer and/or struggle against a group of older gods who represent the forces of chaos. In the Greek myth of the Titanomachy, the Olympian gods defeat the Titans, an older and more primitive divine race, and establish cosmic order. The Titanomachy was a war between Zeus and the Titans. This war lasted for 10 years. Zeus had the Cyclopes, Hecatonchires, Themis, Prometheus, and the Olympian pantheon an his side. The Titans were defeated and placed in Tartarus. There to be guarded for eternity by the Hecatonchires, cousins of Cyclopses with one hundred hands. They were said to be always watching...

A Hecatonchires, drawn by Rachael Mayo; http://rachaelm5.deviantart.com/art/Tremorworks-Hecatonchires-bw-15889871
 In Hindu mythology, the devas (gods) battle the asuras (demons). And the Celtic gods of life and light struggle against the Fomorians, ancient gods of death and darkness.

This myth of the gods conquering demons - and order conquering chaos - is especially common in Indo-European mythologies. Some scholars suggest that the myth reflects the ancient Indo-Europeans' conquest of native peoples during their expansion over Europe and India.

However, non-Indo-European cultures also have such myths. For example, many Near Eastern mythologies include a "combat myth" in which a good god battles an evil or chaotic demon. An example of this is the Babylonian Enuma Elish.

ANALYSIS: A prominent feature in many myths is a major battle between the gods and some other, normally equally powerful, dark force. However, the myths differ in the aspect that the gods aren't always defending their position. On occasion, such as the Greek Titanomachy, the gods are actually the ones challenging the opposing forces.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Why might there be a need for war and feuding sactions in mythology?
CITATION: Camfield, C. (2012). about.com. Retrieved from http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/grecoromanmyth1/a/titanomachy_2.htm

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Bleeding Sky

SUMMARY: The aurora borealis, or northern lights, is the most puzzling and myth-inspiring of all celestial phenomena. These majestic lights, often called "nature's most beautiful display," reveal processes in the upper atmosphere that humans have feared and admired for thousands of years. The northern lights present a continuing intellectual challenge, and their scientific study has promoted international cooperation. The story is all the more fascinating because it punctuates historical records. Classical Greek and ancient Chinese literature, and even several passages in the Old World Testament  contain references to what can only be auroral phenomena.
                       In the documents of Viking legend, auroras were Bifrost, the heavenly bridge between earth and Asgard, the seat of the gods. Bifrost, it was believed, would collapse at Ragnarock at the end of the world. The trembling, sparkling colors of auroral arcs were a reminder of this mighty bridge. Today many Norwegians experience the aurora borealis as part of their cultural heritage and as a source of philosophical and artistic inspiration. For myself, it also forms a bridge between science and the humanities.
                       In most folk traditions, the aurora has been regarded with fear. Eskimos took children inside when it appeared, believing it wanted their heads for use as balls. In Finnmarks-Vidda it was believed that the northern lights would oscillate rapidly if a child mocked them and would finally descend and take his life. Children were taught to fear that the lights might sweep and tear their eyes out. People were admonished not to cut their hair beneath the flames of the northern lights. Icelanders believed that if a pregnant woman gazed at the aurora, the child she carried would be cross-eyed.
                       Many Scandinavians felt that the northern lights would crackle and sparkle even more brightly if someone waved a white sheet or piece of clothing. People in the Nordic countries have childhood memories of waving pieces of white cloth at the play of lights. Some remember thinking that the aurora's movements increased vigorously as they waved. Chanting was also believed to induce auroral sound, and many people claimed that whistling could agitate or increase auroral movements. It was said that if one heard a rustling noise--which is sometimes reported--then contact with the auroral deity had been made. The common Lapp name for the northern lights is "guovsahas," which means "audible light," and the aurora was used as a symbol on the Lapps' magic drums.

ANALYSIS: The aurora borealis, or northern lights, is the most puzzling and myth-inspiring of all celestial phenomena. These majestic lights, often called 'nature's most beautiful display,' reveal processes in the upper atmosphere that humans have feared and admired for thousands of years. The northern lights present a continuing intellectual challenge, and their scientific study has promoted international cooperation. The story is all the more fascinating because it punctuates historical records. Classical Greek and ancient Chinese literature, and even several passages in the Old World Testament (e.g., Ezekiel 1, Jeremiah 1:13), contain references to what can only be auroral phenomena. The story of the aurora also illustrates science's evolving role in civilization and daily life....Diverse interpretations of the northern lights have been offered over the centuries. In many respects, such beliefs reflect the culture of the observing group. This article summarizes some cultural responses to the phenomenon."

REFLECTION QUESTION: If you were to see the northern lights and not know what they were, how would you react?

CITATION:
Egeland, Alv. "Northern Dawn: Auroras Inspire Folk Mythology." World & I. Nov. 2000: 167-173. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 15 Apr 2012.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dust to Dust


SUMMARY: The clock is ticking. Slowly calculating a predetermined date that holds the demise of all on Earth. When the universe itself decides to eliminate humankind. All cultures have it. Apocalyptic myths have been around just as long as Creation myths, always a reminder that we are mere pawns. But why the constant despair? Why does every culture need to talk about an “End of Days”? And trust me, they do.

The Aztecs had an extremely complex calendar system based on the stars. They used this calendar not only to create holy days and times, but also to determine the course of human life on earth. The Aztecs believed in the Legend of the Five Suns, the times of which coincide with periods in their history. Each sun is a period of time wherein there is peace and life. Once a sun dies, however, the world is absorbed in chaos as the gods destroy the world and renew it. There are only five suns, and we are presently on the fifth. The first sun was the Sun of Precious Stones, destroyed by Tezcatlipoca in its entirety with jaguars. The second sun was the Sun of Darkness, where life was destroyed by a large hurricane sent by Quetzalcoatl. The third sun was the Sun of Fire. Life was destroyed by a rain of fire created by Tezcatlipoca. The fourth sun was the Sun of Water, destroyed by a large flood of Tlaloc. The final sun that now exists is the Sun of Movement, Tonatiuh the Rising Eagle. It is said that the destruction of the current age will come through earthquakes, to make room for the sixth sun if mankind proves not to be worthy of this world. And I bet you can guess when THAT’S supposed to happen… through earthquakes,

Indian myths agree that the Universe ends in cycles, cycles that mirror those of birth and death in human life. The world ends through fire and flood, but is reborn, similar to resurrection in other Hindu beliefs.  The story of the avatars in Hindu mythology provides more depth to the resurrection pattern. Vishnu, the second member of the Indian Trimurti, or trinity, is the Preserver of Order. When universal chaos descends upon the world, Vishnu saves mankind by appearing in a certain form, known as an avatar. Out of the ten avatars that Vishnu will fulfill before the Universe ends, he has taken the form of only nine: a fish, a turtle, a boar, a lion-man, a dwarf, a Brahmin, the epic hero Rama, the famed god Krishna, and Buddha. The tenth form is known as Kalki, the man riding upon a horse. Vishnu will come to Earth as this form in order to destroy it and recreate it.

Norse myths state that before the end of the world (called Ragnarok), three winters without summers in between will happen in Midgard, and order will be lost in the human world. Fathers will fight their sons, siblings will commit incest, mothers will seduce their children, and brothers will tear at each other's hearts. Midgard will be consumed with war. The wolves Skoll and Hati will swallow the sun and moon, and the great wolf Fenris, son of Loki the trickster god, will run loose and kill Odin the All-Father, who steps forth to fight him. Odin's son Vidar will avenge Odin by tearing Fenris apart. Thor will battle the Midgard serpent and slay him but be slain himself by the serpent's venomous fumes. Many gods as well as all men and women save two, Lif and Lifthrasir, who seek shelter under the branches of Yggdrasil, will die. The sky will fall into a pit of flames and the earth will sink into the sea. After the end of the world, the earth will rise renewed out of the sea and flourish. Grain will grow where no grain was sown; Lif and Lifthrasir will repeople the new world with their offspring and descendants. Odin's sons as well as his brothers Vili and VĂ© will reconvene with the other surviving gods on the plain of Ida, where Asgard used to be, and hold council. They will reign over the new world as the ruling gods. So the earth was begun, and so it shall end.

ANALYSIS: As you can tell, all Apocalyptic Myths tend to be about regeneration. The reason for this might be because of the way the Earth is TODAY. It is constantly dying and being reborn. Every 365.24 days, to be exact. Those are the SEASONS. When all hope seems lost, when there is death and starvation everywhere, when the very sun refuses to shine, what happens? A single flower bud breaks through the icy crust, and blooms. Spring has begun, and with it, a new planet.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Why are humans fixated on the end of the world? Should they just focus on the present?

CITATION: Min, S. (n.d.). The Dawn and Dusk of Man - End of the World Myths  [Apocalypse Mythology]. Retrieved 

     from http://library.thinkquest.org/03oct/00875/text/Apocalypse.htm

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Care for a drink?

video


SUMMARY: Vampires have permeated our myths for thousands of years. Today, these demons are portrayed as glamorous beings starring in major film, such as the recent cult film Twilight. But vampire legends date back over 4,000 years. The earliest account of these creatures of the night derives from Mesopotamia. Lamatsu was a serpent demon who reportedly stole children from their homes and devoured them. Lamatsu was also responsible for infants who were found dead in their cradles. Lamatsu was one of the variations of Lilith, who you can read more about in my post "In The Beginning, there was Lilith". But Lamatsu was not alone. Vampire-like monsters have existed in almost every culture, from China to Eastern Europe. Even Mexico has the legend of the Chupacabra, a demon who feeds on the blood of goats every night! There are countless vampire stereotypes, most of which have no connection to the true vampire myths. For instance, the notion about sunlight being deadly to vampires is only about 400 years old. And this myth predates the major use of the Crucifix by 2,000 years, so it obviously has no effect on vampires.
     This video addresses the interesting matter of the scientific background of vampires. Scientists believe that vampires do not exist due to the theory of exponential growth (The authors argue that with vampires feeding on people who turn into vampires who are feeding on people who turn into vampires that it will only take 3 years for everyone on Earth to become a vampire). This, however, does not mean that vampires are completely fictional. Porphyria, for example, is a rare disease that has sunlight cause enzymes to be released in your body, enzymes which cause rapid skin cell deterioration. The video also addresses a recent vampire movement, saying that there are thousands of people around the world who believe themselves vampires, feeding on anything from human blood to psychic energies.

ANALYSIS: Vampires are one of the oldest myths around the world. They have roots in cultures on almost every continent, and have scientific explanations. Today, people believe themselves vampires, and vampires have become a mere shadow of their once omnipotent demonic selves.

REFLECTON QUESTION: Do vampires exist, or could they? How is it possible that there were myths of vampires in the Americas, Eurasia, Africa, AND Australia thousands of years before they all had contact?

CITATION: Galaxy Garden (2010, August 18). Real Vampires are All Around You! The Truth about Psychic Energy Suckers. Retrieved March 11, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIgzc_jrzTM&feature=related 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mother Dearest

SUMMARY: "Most of us sense that the Earth is more than a sphere of rock with a thin layer of air, ocean, and life covering the surface. We feel that we belong here, as if this planet were indeed our home. Long ago, the Greeks, thinking this way, gave to the Earth the name of Gaia."--James Lovelock, THE AGES OF GAIA.

     Earth. Many believe it to be the sole location of life in the Universe. It used to be thought of as the center of creation. Ancient civilizations worshipped its very existence, even creating the Earth Goddess, Gaia, to represent all of Earths eternal glory. But Gaia is not the typical portrayal of sweet Mother Nature. She is the omnipotent Mother Goddess, and a real dura mater to boot. According to Greek Mythology, she was responsible for her husband Uranus' demise, and did this by pressuring her son Kronos to destroy him. She was the first Goddess to rise out of Khaos (the time before creation), and sleeps until she can return the world to its void.
     That is not to say, however, that Gaia was viewed as an evil goddess. On the contrary, she was revered and spanned more cultures than almost any other deity.

Stautes of Gaia such as this one were very common around the ancient world. Image from the Elohim Centre
     Followers of the Gaia Hypothesis believe that Earth is indeed a living, breathing organism, as can be seen in this quote:
      " All the entities [of the Earth] interact as a whole,
like organelles in a cell. Only when [the scientist]
separates them or observes them individually for a short
time, do they assume different properties including life and
death. Long term, in congress, the entities appear to sense
and communicate, thereby sustaining the optimum environment
for their cell's life. (Cohen, HOW NATURE WORKS, p. 78.)

Biologist and author Lewis Thomas (THE LIVES OF A CELL) suggests that the atmosphere is the Earth cell's membrane wall as it regulates precise amounts of energy capture, storage, and release.

Life means holding out against equilibrium--banking against entropy by using membranes. The Earth has its own membrane, the atmosphere, to constrain the effects of the sun. In Lovelock's words,

The biota--the sum of all living things, including
plants, animals, and micro-organisms--not only profoundly
affects the Earth's environment, but acts to maintain and
enhance life on the planet. (GAIA: A NEW LOOK AT LIFE) "


ANALYSIS:  We are learning that Gaia may be resilient, but we also see that we are changing nature, permanently. Increasingly, acts of nature are not "acts of God," but of humanity--or, we might say, in-humanity. Nature is no longer an independent and autonomous force, and it's no longer true that "everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." We are, in fact, doing much about it; for instance, recent storms which have ripped into the Caribbean and southeastern U.S. coasts, and across Asian islands and continents, are increasing in intensity as a direct result of the oceans' warming. As the band of warm water in which such storms incubate widens and deepens, the size of the storms increases, and the power of the wind increases geometrically. It is probably not coincidence but rather human intervention which has brought us, in the last 15 years many of the most destructive tropical storms ever recorded.

REFLECTION QUESTION: Do you believe that Earth is a living creature? Do you believe that it deserves to be treated like one, and do you believe we currently are?

CITATION:
Beversluis, Joel. "The Gaia Hypothesis." A SourceBook for Earth's Community of Religion. 1995: 212-214. SIRS Renaissance. Web. 04 Mar 2012.