Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Day Heaven Weeps

God laughed, and the light exploded.

Then God called the new‑made Night and Day to stand before Him. “You will serve my many sons and daughters with times for work and times for rest,” said God. “But a day will come when high noon must yield to deep darkness—on The Day Heaven Weeps. Be ready.”

Day and Night looked at each other, not daring to show their puzzlement.

God made the Sea below and the Sky above, and Sea and Sky sang splashing, crashing praise to the Almighty.

God called the new‑made Sea and Sky to stand before Him. “You will serve my many sons and daughters, sending water into the clouds and rain upon the land. But hear this, Sea. There will come a day when you must yield to one who is your master. And Sky, you must reserve a storm for The Day Heaven Weeps. Await my command."

Then God spoke to the land and said, “Bring forth green growing things—towering and tiny, twirling and twining, beautiful and bizarre.” And plants covered the land.

To the plants, God said, “You will serve my many sons and daughters with your fruits and flowers.”

Then He spoke to one tree. “You will bring forth trees in many generations, and your branch will not wither.”

The tree shook its leaves for joy.

“But one of your descendants will be hewn down to become the wood for a great sacrifice—on The Day Heaven Weeps.”

And the tree felt a sudden stinging sadness, but it was an honor to share in the sadness of Creator.

Then God grabbed great gobs of light and rolled them in His hands like clay to form the golden sun, the silver moon, and all the diamond stars. “You will serve my many sons and daughters,” said God, “lighting their paths by day and by night.” 

And He grabbed another handful of the light that shone from His heart and flung it into space.

“Fly, little star—fly through the years and come to rest at the appointed time, on a wretched night, in a nowhere town, over a sorry‑looking cattle shed.”

And the little star flew through the years and tears and fears of mankind.

Then God made the Fishes that swim in the sea and the Birds that fly through the air.

“You will serve my many sons and daughters. They will learn to catch fish, until He comes who will teach them to fish for men. And Birds, you will teach them that they were not destined for the dust but for the skies.”

And God formed all the living creatures that dwell on the earth. “You will serve my many sons and daughters,” said God to the creatures, “by carrying their burdens and by giving them food and coverings. Your sacrifice for my children will be the greatest among created things—until The Day Heaven Weeps.”

These words were strange to the creatures, for why would sons and daughters of God have burdens or be hungry or need coverings?

And last of all, God made man—both male and female. God clothed them with the light that shone from His heart. And they were splendid, but they didn't know it because they were so taken with the beauty of Creator.

“Look upon your many servants,” said God. “And you shall be my dear children, Adam and Eve.” And God saw that all of His making was very, very good.


One day at dusk, a great angel flew into the Presence.

“Holy, holy, holy,” shouted the angel. “You are worthy to receive glory and honor and power.”

And all of the heavenly hosts cried, “Holy!”

“Is all in readiness?” asked God.

“Yes, Lord. Every created thing knows the part it must play.”  

The angel  looked perplexed. “Um. . .except. . .um, that is. . .”  The angel blushed. He was unaccustomed to being tongue‑tied.

“Yes,” said Creator sadly. “And it is time to deal with that now.”

And the Lord God went down in the cool of the day to walk in the Garden.

“Adam. . . ?”

No answer.

“Adam. . .why are you hiding?”

God, of course, sees everything, and He could see Adam hiding behind a thick curtain of sorrow. The light was all gone and he had tried to cover himself with leaves.

“You don't know what I've done,” said Adam, and bitter tears filled his eyes.

“I do know,” said God. 

And God looked into time‑to‑come and saw a dark noon, a fierce storm, a hewn tree—His Son dying.

“God, I can't see you anymore,” said Adam.

“It's all right. I can see you.”

Thunder rumbled on the distant horizon.

“I'm naked,” said Adam. And he shivered with cold and with fear.

The whoosh of wings that always surrounded God was 
suddenly silent. And into this silence, God whispered, “I’m naked too.”

The breath of God within the man came in short gasps. “I think I’m dying,” said Adam.

And God stooped down and gathered Adam and all the sorrow of the world into His arms. “I’m dying too,” said God. “I'm dying so that you can live.”

Adam couldn’t understand these words—for he couldn’t see what God could see. But he understood the tears falling on him from the face of God.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Don't Know Much about Mythology. . . .

There is no subject so simple that it can't be 
made harder with higher learning.
--the Stark Raving Mythopath

There are five main theories about the origins of mythology, and conveniently, they spell H-A-R-P-S. So picture five Greek choristers playing harps, chanting dithyrambs (ancient Greek rap), and wearing letter sweaters that spell harps--or sharp, depending on where the S guy stands.

H - Hyperbole

Euhemerus, a Greek myth maven from the third century BC, said that the myths began with real people and real events. Over time, the stories were exaggerated like fish tales, until the people became gods and the events became cosmic in scope.

"I wanted a harpist, not a Harpie!"
A - Allegory

Some people think the myths are allegories. In this theory, Apollo represents light and Athena, wisdom.  And Oedipus? Honestly, don’t even want to know.

R - Ritual 

Another theory says that men made myths to explain their rituals. They had set up certain religious and political ceremonies, but could no longer remember why they did them. Hey, it happens. Hence they created stories about gods to justify their traditions.

Gimme an H, Gimme an A...
P - Personification

Other scholars think that since ancient people worshipped natural phenomena like fire and water, they gradually personified them and thus created the gods. So Thunder becomes Thor. Angry winds become harpies, sending sailors to their doom. And Oedipus becomes a regular at group therapy. 

S - Scripture

Another theory offered by Bullfinch is that the myths are a remix of Bible stories. Noah becomes Deucalion, Samson becomes Hercules, and so forth.  But Mr. B. is quick to point out that this theory can only be taken so far.

Noah's Ark - Edward Hicks

So what is the Stark Raving Mythopath’s considered literary position on the origin of myths? Are you ready to take notes? [Insert trumpet flourish and fanfare.] Here goes.

Don't know, don't care. And yes, you may quote me.

All of the major theories are interesting, and all sound at least possible. But since we can’t go back in time, we will probably never know. Perhaps they all play a part.

Okay, so maybe I care a little, but I’d rather spend my time just enjoying the stories as stories and seeing what I can get out of them. 

Atlas shrugging
I mean, who hasn’t had a week when you feel like Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders? Or like Sisyphus, pushing that rock up the hill, only to have it roll back down -- push-roll-repeat in an endless loop? 

Or did you ever feel like a bureaucracy was stretching or chopping you to fit their norm, a la Procrustes? 

Political Cartoon using Procrustes' bed as a metaphor.

Who hasn’t had the occasional Sword of Damocles hanging over her head, or who hasn't had to cover his ears to drown out a siren song? And Oedipus? Um, sorry, still don’t wanna know.

All the Olympians agree that mythology is fun.
I like mythology because it's fun.  And come to think of it, maybe that's as good a theory as any. After all, the myth makers didn't have the iPad, Netflix, and American Idol. Maybe they were just having fun making up stories. And maybe it's okay if I just have fun reading them.

Guess I don't know much about mythology, but I do know a good story when I see one. And yes, that includes poor Oedipus.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Little Dread Riding Hood

Listen, my sons, and I will tell you a tale. A tale of cunning and deceit. A tale of treachery and woe. The tale of. . .Little Dread Riding Hood.

These regal woods were once ruled by our kin, the Great Saxon Wolves of the Wild Northwest. Time was when every man and every beast trembled at the mention of our name. They feared the fire of our eyes.They feared our hot breath and our sharp claws.  (Not to mention our long, pointy teeth.) 

To hear our cry in the night was to know that danger lurked in these woods. Ow-owwwwwwww!

And then, she came. The girl child.  The one they call. . .Red.

Little Dread Riding Hood
Ahhh. I see you have heard of her. No child she, but an enchantress—cunningly cloaked in her red cape, carrying her so-called “basket of  goodies.”

Goodies! Was ever a name more cruelly deceitful, more beguiling to the unsuspecting carnivore? I think not.

But I digress. The noble wolf Fenwick met this child—this venomous vixen—on the woodland path one day. Suddenly, there she stood with her basket-of-bewitching-smells.

Fenwick, who happened to be a connoisseur of human cuisine, took quick inventory with his snout: sweet rolls and honey, sausages, dumplings, and red fruit pudding. Who could resist?

“Hello there, young lady,” said Fenwick. (So trusting. So na├»ve. . . .Such a schmuck.)

“Hello,” said the Scarlet Sorceress.

"That cape is divine. Simply divine. You must tell me where you got it."  

"My mommy gave it to me."

“How quaint. And where might you be going today, with that rather fine looking basket of goodies?”

“I’m going to Grandma’s house. She's been sick, and I’m taking these goodies to cheer her up.”

Notice the blatant deception: “She's been sick!” I’ll tell you the tale, my sons, and you may judge for yourselves if Granny was “sick” or not.

Fenwick politely took his leave of the girl. For if Grandma was sick, he thought it only neighborly to pay her a visit. Any Great Saxon Wolf of the Wild Northwest would have done the same.

Noble Fenwick visits the sick.

*   *   *   *   * 

Later that day, Red arrived at Grandma's cottage and knocked on the door.

“Come in,” said “Grandma.”

Red walked right up to Grandma’s bed, all sugary sweet, as if she hadn’t a care in the world.

“Why, Grandma, what big eyes you have!” She was playing with her quarry, of course, luring him into her trap.

“The better to see you with, my dear.”

“Why, Grandma, what big ears you have!” She had doubtless practiced this scam on other victims.

“The better to hear you with, my dear.” Fenwick leaned in closer and licked his lips.

“Why, Grandma, what big teeth you have!”

And here, I’m afraid, I must digress to say that I told him—I must have told him a thousand times—“Don’t wear women’s clothes, Fenwick. It will get you in trouble some day." But would he listen to his sister? No!

Let’s see—where were we? Ah yes. “Why, Grandma, what big teeth you have!”

Fenwick, right on cue, replied, “The better to eat you with, my dear!”

Whereupon he sprang from the bed to pounce upon the girl.  The plan? Child: entree; goodie basket: dessert. At last, he was acting like a wolf. Ow-owwwwwwww!

But alas, Grandma got free from the closet where Fenwick had stashed her, and she and Red chased him out of the cottage with brooms. Brooms! The very weapons banned by the Carnivore Convention of 1843! Yes, my sons, they cheated!

So Fenwick, after two detours and getting stuck in rush-hour traffic on the woodland path, climbed up onto the roof and went down the chimney. But meanwhile, the enchantress and her “sick granny”  put a kettle on the hearth and lit the fire.

Poor Fenwick! He shot back up the chimney like a rocket and went howling into the night. He has never been heard from since.

Later, in the court trial, Grandma convinced the jury that she was just making a pot of herbal tea. Tea! Can you believe it? But we know what she was trying to make, don't we? Wolf-butt flambe!

And so, my sons, I caution you--I implore you! When you must go into the woods, watch out for little children and grandmas. They are much more dangerous than they look.

And for pity’s sake, don’t dress in women’s clothes!

Hapless wolf with vicious predator

If you'd like to read a more traditional version of this story, you can find it in Grimm's Fairy Tales under a slightly different name.

But if you prefer your fairy tales fractured, you might also like to read "Confessions of an Ugly Wicked Step-Sister":  Click here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Month for Mythopaths

The sky is blue; the birds are tweeting. (Disambiguation: the birds are singing, not using a popular social networking service.)

Meanwhile your cat is eyeballing the birdies and licking his lips. So you hop in the Honda and go to Walmart to get cat food. You are, of course, dressed for a blue sky, bird-tweeting  kind of day. But before you get back home with two bags of stuff you didn't intend to buy, you’re wishing you had brought your jacket. Or your umbrella. Or maybe even your snow shoes and an inflatable igloo.

Welcome to the  mad, mercurial, and very mythic month of March. If ever there were a month for mythopaths, March is that month.

In like a lion    March takes its name from Mars, the Roman god of war. And the name suits it well, for in this month, Winter and Spring seem to duke it out for supremacy. Hence the unpredictability of the weather. But whether March comes in like a lion or a lamb—or even if it sneaks in like an illegal alien—spring always wins. 

Mad as a March Hare – In this month, normally shy and demure rabbits exhibit rather eccentric behavior. March hares may have “boxing matches” with other rabbits or suddenly leap up into the air. These bizarre bunnies gave rise to the expression “mad as a march hare.” Um, did I mention that in Europe, where this saying originated, March is the mating season for rabbits? In the words of William Makepeace Thackeray, “Love makes fools of us all.”

The Ides of March – March 15th  [Cue creepy music.] The Romans—those same loveable math whizzes who gave us Roman numerals—had a complicated system for keeping track of dates. (Why are we not surprised?) The Ides of March simply means the middle of the month, the 15th. But the Ides acquired a more sinister connotation when Julius Caesar was assassinated on that date. Apparently, he should have listened to the nagging crooked-toothed oracle who said, “Beware the Ides of March.” 

But in present day America, we're more likely to dread the "Ides of April"--the day taxes are due.

Vernal Equinox – on or around the 20th of March  -- If you live in a temperate climate with four distinct seasons, you are blessed. The changing of the seasons tells an epic tale, the annual hero's journey of the earth. But no season change is more epic than the return of spring (life) after the long months of winter (death). Life wins, and that is always something to celebrate.

St. Patrick’s Day -- March 17th   -  St. Patrick, symbol of all things Irish, did not willingly go to the Emerald Isle. At least, not the first time. At age 16, he was kidnapped from his home in Roman Britain and carried off to Ireland as a slave. After six years, he escaped to a port and sailed back to his home.

But that’s when the real story begins. In a vision, Patrick received a call to return to Ireland. He heard the Irish people crying in one voice, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Many mythic tales have sprung up around this saint, but none can rival the simple true story of his return to the land of his captivity, this time as a missionary. He converted and baptized thousands into the Christian faith.

Alice dines with the March Hare

March also has the usual assortment of myth-and-legend miscellany.
  • St. David's Day (the 1st)
  • Dr. Seuss's birthday (the 2nd)
  • Johnny Appleseed Day (the 11th)
  • Pi Day (3.14--get it?)
  • Swallows return to San Juan Capistrano (~ the 19th)
  • Future birthday of Captain James T. Kirk (the 22nd)
  • Kate diCamillo's birthday (the 25th)
  • Tolkien Reading Day (the 25th) 

(Okay, so maybe Pi Day isn't mythic, but it's a hoot.)

Mad March gets my vote for most mythic month of the year, but I’m afraid I can’t stay and argue the point. Wouldn't you know? I have to run to Walmart for cat food. . . .

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hyena at the Crossroads

“Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” – Pablo Picasso

In the wild and wondrous grasslands of Africa, there lived a hyena named Fisi. Thanks to some rather annoying vultures, Fisi hadn’t had a bite to eat in several days, and he was very hungry. 

He wandered the path searching for Nyumbu—wildebeest. For where there are wildebeest, there will be young ones, ready to pick off from the herd. Fisi walked along, searching and sniffing, until he came to a fork in the road.

Fisi - Hyena

Fisi took a few steps in one direction and sniffed. How he prided himself on his fine sense of smell, and he was not disappointed. His nostrils tingled with delight. He could smell one of his favorite foods, Nyumbu—fresh wildebeest on the hoof. His mouth watered.

Nyumbu - Wildebeest

He was about to follow the path when suddenly he remembered that there were, in fact, two paths. It was just possible that something even more delightful awaited him on the other trail. 

Fisi took a few steps down the second path and sniffed. Again, nostrils tingling. Again, a delicious scent—Punda Milia—zebra! Fisi laughed as only a hyena can laugh. He couldn’t believe such good fortune. Both paths led to a delicious dinner!

Punda Milia - Zebra

Fisi started to follow the second path, but he stopped and looked back down the first path. How could he know which way led to the bigger catch, the tastier game?

Back and forth paced Fisi, faster and faster, torn between two tantalizing treats. Unfair that he must choose. Back and forth, back and forth—after all, he was well deserving of both. 

Fisi wailed. . . .

Fisi wailed, and a flock of waxbills took flight.

Back and forth, faster and faster. This way, then that—panting, panting. At last, Fisi tried to go both ways at once and tore himself in two.

* * * * *

When Jack G. Priestley was teaching at the Malcolm Moffat Teacher Training College in Zaire, a student told the story of the hyena who tried to go two ways at once. 

Mr. Priestley had two types of students in his class—those who came from the culture of the bush and those who had been schooled in Western tradition. The students from the bush insisted that the story was true, while the Western-educated students were equally adamant that the story was just a silly tribal tale.

The argument escalated, until at last, one exasperated native student yelled, “It’s true. It’s true. Greed kills.”

This story, told to me years ago by my friend and mentor Olga Williams, serves as an exquisite illustration of how a story can be both fiction and true at the same time. A good story tells the truth, even when the characters and setting and events are all artistic inventions.

Captain Ahab

So call me Ishmael. Maybe there never was a Captain Ahab, or an Ivan Tsarevitch, or a Rikki Tikki Tavi. But that doesn’t keep the stories from being conduits of truth. 

Some people say that stories give us the truth indirectly, but perhaps stories are actually more direct than sermons or dissertations. For through stories, great truths bypass our reasoning and go straight to our hearts.

Stories carry truth. . . .