Masters of the Universe

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“Nights through dreams tell the myths forgotten by the day.” 

 C.G. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Olympia

Mythology is a story of the sacred that has come down through the ages of humankind.  The breadth and depth of this discussion is immeasurable for it encompasses all cultures throughout time.  Even definitions and categorizations are complex and the subject of ongoing debate. But there is one certainty:  myths seek to answer those questions that give substance and meaning to our existence.  How did life begin? What happens in death? Why is there good and evil?  Why am I here?  What is my purpose?  We want to be masters of our universe, which can only be realized when we understand our place within that universe.

Joseph Campbell, a mythologist who wrote and lectured on comparative mythology and comparative religion, suggested that “Mythology is composed by poets out of their insights and realizations. Mythologies are not invented; they are found. You can no more tell us what your dream is going to be tonight than we can invent a myth. Myths come from the mystical region of essential experience.”   This is indeed a topic for deep discussion.  Even so, there is a genuine simplicity imbedded in these spell-binding mythological tales, each of which offers a wealth of imagery to amuse and stir our senses.  They reveal the power of love, courage, loyalty; and address the darker emotions of jealousy, cruelty and violence. They help us understand loss and the finality of death in our reality.

Olympia

As a ten-year-old, these thoughts were far from my mind when I searched the library shelves for books that would take me back to ancient Greece and the heroics of Hercules, the beauty of Aphrodite and wisdom of Athena.  I felt a connection with their stories that continue to this very day.  Perhaps being the master of our universe is merely being a voice within a universal conversation.

Civilizations pass; myths endure.

 

We Need Myths

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“Myths have a very long memory.”
Bryan Sykes, Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Olympia, Greece

Mythology! The very word has to power to evoke strong emotional responses because myths speak to the heart of human experience.  We long for certainty in a fragile and finite existence in order to build lives within reasonably secure surroundings. Instead, we are born into a complex world that hurls more questions at us than it does answers. Myths carry tradition within its narratives.  And because we are a curious species, we use them in an attempt to explain natural or social phenomenon.  Perhaps their greatest task is to provide us with the assurance of our beginnings and endings.

When we think of mythology, we think back to earliest times where supernatural beings and events seemed to have a rightful place in ancient civilizations.  Yet, there is clear evidence that mythology is well entrenched within our DNA. Karen Armstrong in A Short History of Myth wrote, “We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world.”  Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptics Society, comes from a different perspective: “Myths, whether in written or visual form, serve a vital role of asking unanswerable questions and providing unquestionable answers. Most of us, most of the time, have a low tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty. We want to reduce the cognitive dissonance of not knowing by filling the gaps with answers. Traditionally, religious myths have served that role, but today — the age of science — science fiction is our mythology.”

We are a global community with the means to communicate and share knowledge.  What better way to celebrate our humanity than by recounting the myths, legends, folklore and tales that have come down through the generations.  Myths do indeed, have a very long memory.

Rio da Dúvida – The River of Doubt

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The River

“The mightiest river in the world is the Amazon.  It runs from west to east, from the sunset to the sunrise, from the Andes to the Atlantic. The main stream flows almost along the equator, while the basin which contains the affluents extends many degrees north and south of the equator.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

The New Year is a beginning.  And when there is a beginning, there seems to be an undercurrent of promised adventures.  Humanity has always been fascinated by the unknown, the thrill of discovery, and the prospect for advancement.  What is less understood is the concept of risk.  Where there is the opportunity for reward, there is always a likelihood of some form of peril.

This River flowed northward toward the equator, but whither it would go, whether it would turn one way or another, the length of its course, where it would come out, the character of the stream itself, and the character of the dwellers along its banks – all these things were yet to be discovered.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Through the Brazilian Wilderness

Theodore “T.R.” Roosevelt, Jr. was a man of action and adventure.  His high-spirited personality and robust appearance belied his sickly childhood clouded by the presence of asthma. Courage and determination pushed him forward, despite losing his first wife and mother on the same day, February 14, 1884.   At 42, he became the youngest President of the United States and the first of three sitting presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize.   His terms in office were eventful:  The acquisition of the Panama Canal Rights (1904); the Russo-Japanese War (1904 – 1905), the San Francisco earthquake (1906) and the Panic of 1907 where the New York Stock Exchange fell almost 50% from its peak the previous year.  Yet Theodore Roosevelt’s most dramatic adventure was 1913 – 1914 when he teamed up with Cândido Rondon, Brazil’s most famous explorer to follow the River of Doubt, an uncharted tributary of the Amazon, one of the most dangerous and treacherous rivers in the world.  Confident at the outset, the hardships, losses and sickness challenged their resolve. Surviving became a daily goal.

The expedition changed the map of the western hemisphere and the name of the river: Roosevelt River.   In his letter of May 1, 1914 to His Excellency the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rio de Janeiro, Theodore Roosevelt wrote “My dear Sir, I thank you from my heart for the chance to take part in this great work of exploration.”

Once an adventure starts, there is no telling where it will lead.  As we head into a New Year, may we be open to new ideas and possibilities, to seek the greater good, and to strive with great enthusiasm.

The Garden by the River

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Giverny 2 2009

 

“My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece” 
Claude Monet

The Seine, rising from Source-Seine, 30 kilometres northwest of Dijon in north-eastern France, is one of the most important waterways within the Paris Basin.  It flows 776 kilometres to the English Channel at Le Havre.  The city of Paris boasts 37 bridges that span the Seine, including the celebrated Pont Louis-Philippe and the ancient Pont Neuf. Outside Paris, the Pont de Normandie, one of the longest cable-stayed bridges, links Le Havre to Honfleur, known for a picturesque port beloved by the Impressionist painters: Gustave Courbet, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet and Johan Jongkind.

Claude Monet chose the village of Giverny, which is positioned on the right bank of the River Seine where the river Epte meets the Seine, to create his most beautiful masterpiece. The sighting occurred quite by happenstance when Monet looked out a train window on a trip between Vernon and Gasny. It was April 1883, the time of rebirth and transition.  It had been four years since the passing of his young wife, Camille who has succumbed to tuberculosis, September 1879 at the age of thirty-two.  Grief stricken, Monet turned to his art for consolation.  From the vantage point of a train, he knew, at first glance, where he would live and paint for the rest of his life.  He created his dreams and gave us the vision of beauty that came from a garden by the River Seine.

Today marks Claude Monet’s 153rd birthday.

“People discuss my art and pretend to understand as if it were necessary to understand, when it’s simply necessary to love.”
Claude Monet

Rome & The River Taff

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“And can you, then, who have got such possessions and so many of them, covet our poor tents?

Caratacus, On seeing the City of Rome

River Taff

Rivers have been a witness to human history, long before the events were recorded in written form.    So it was with the River Taff (Afon Taf in Welsh), which rises from two rivers, Taf Fechan (Little Taff) and Taf Fawr (Big Taff), in the Brecon Beacons of Wales.

Archaeological evidence suggests that in the time of Emperor Nero (CE 54-68), a Roman fort was constructed on the River Taff at the point where it comes near the Bristol Channel.  They came as conquerors.  A few years before, in 51 CE, Rome defeated the Silures, a powerful and warlike tribe of ancient Britain and dispatched their courageous leader, Caratacus, to Rome in chains to face Emperor Claudius.

Rome was elated with the capture of Caratacus.  This was no ordinary leader.  Brilliant and tenacious, Caratacus had defied the Roman war machine since CE 43, which marked the launch of the Roman invasion under Claudius.  Following a two-day battle at a river crossing near Rochester on the River Medway, Caratacus escaped capture and fled to the eastern part of Wales where he resisted Rome’s advances for another eight years. Caratacus knew his fate would be death, after a final humiliation in a triumphal parade.  Yet, destiny was to give him another outcome.

Caratacus was permitted a last word before the Roman senate.  He faced his captors with dignity and persuasive eloquence that stunned the audience.  He argued that his stubborn resistance and glorious defeat gave greater honour to Rome.  Moved by Caratacus’ speech, Claudius pardoned him and granted him the right to live in peace within the city Rome.

“If the degree of my nobility and fortune had been matched by moderation in success, I would have come to this City as a friend rather than a captive, nor would you have disdained to receive with a treaty of peace one sprung from brilliant ancestors and commanding a great many nations. But my present lot, disfiguring as it is for me, is magnificent for you. I had horses, men, arms, and wealth: what wonder if I was unwilling to lose them? If you wish to command everyone, does it really follow that everyone should accept your slavery? If I were now being handed over as one who had surrendered immediately, neither my fortune nor your glory would have achieved brilliance. It is also true that in my case any reprisal will be followed by oblivion. On the other hand, if you preserve me safe and sound, I shall be an eternal example of your clemency.”

Tacitus, The Annals, translated by A. J. Woodman, Indianapolis and Cambridge, Hackett, 2004

Tintern Abbey – On the Banks of the River Wye

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Tintern Abbey

It was as I had imagined is would be – a pastoral setting, with a herd of cows in the forefront of the ruins of Tintern Abbey.  Founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow in May 1131, Tintern  (Welsh – Abaty Tyndyrn) is on the Welsh bank of the River Wye.  The Cistercians, known as the White Monks, who lived in the Abbey were adherents to the Rule of St. Benedict, the principles of which were obedience, poverty, chastity, silence, prayer and work.

King Henry VIII’s reign brought about the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  On September 3, 1536, Abbot Wyche surrendered Tintern Abbey and all of its estates to the King.  And so ended a way of life that had lasted for over 400 years. Nevertheless, Tintern remains a gracious testament to survival.  It has outlasted the vagaries of human intervention. Perhaps it is the miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary that stands as a vigilant protector.

Over the centuries, Tintern has become a place of inspiration.    This visit was no different.  For in the center of the chapel was a young woman reciting the words of William Wordsworth to the solid walls and open skies.  I stood there, a silent listener… Continue reading