“Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have one before us, the labyrinth is fully known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”
These words were on my mind as I felt the plane lift off the runway heading towards Scotland to follow the bagpipes. I am not an easy traveller as some who have no fear of flying, missing train schedules, or unexpected detours. I want a plan with timetables and reservation numbers to confirm that there will be food and shelter at the other end of the journey. In other words, I want security every step of the way. There is safety in believing that somehow I remain fully in control of my circumstances and surroundings.
That is not the hero journey. To travel that road, security and comfort must be set aside for something grander to occur. The important thing, I reminded myself, is that I have taken a first step.
Gilgamesh, where are you hurrying to? You will never find that life for which you are looking. When the gods created man they allotted to him death, but life they retained in their own keeping.”
Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh
Myths are not simple stories. Nor are they easy. Not surprising, for they are the signature of civilization, entrenched in our cultural experience, past and present. Their influence resonates in our languages, religions, and customs to this very day, even within our supposedly sophisticated society. A slender thread of mythology weaves itself into our books, music, videos and movies. Humanity seeks to know, to understand, to believe in something that gives meaning. In that sense, our generation is no different from the ancient Sumerians who lived in the southern part of the alluvial basin formed by the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Gilgamesh holds the honour of being the oldest literature and the first hero narrative. Although said to be an Assyrian tale which is recorded as five independent poems in approximately 2100 BCE, many scholars believe that the account was passed via Sumerian oral traditions.
Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, was wise, and discerned many mysteries and secret things. He was created by the gods, who gave him a perfect body which was two-thirds god and one-third man. Shamash, the splendid sun gave him beauty; Adad the storm god, bestowed courage. Even with these magnificent gifts, Gilgamesh oppressed his people until they cried out to their gods for deliverance. The gods answered their prayers by creating an equal to Gilgamesh. The stage is set for the hero’s quest.
The Gilgamesh myth is remarkable for its intellectual purpose. Gilgamesh must overcome despair and grief in his pursuit of the meaning of life. Only then can he achieve enduring fame.
“As for you, Gilgamesh, fill your belly with good things; day and night, night and day, dance and be merry, feast and rejoice. Let your clothes be fresh, bathe yourself in water, cherish the little child that holds your hand, and make your wife happy in your embrace; for this too is the lot of man.”
Anonymous, The Epic of Gilgamesh
“We have come from God, and inevitably the myths woven by us, though they contain error, will also reflect a splintered fragment of the true light, the eternal truth that is with God. Indeed only by myth-making, only by becoming ‘sub-creator’ and inventing stories, can Man aspire to the state of perfection that he knew before the Fall. Our myths may be misguided, but they steer however shakily towards the true harbour, while materialistic ‘progress’ leads only to a yawning abyss and the Iron Crown of the power of evil.”
Tonight, I joined other J.R.R. Tolkien fans from around the world in raising a glass to toast the birthday of this much loved author at precisely 21:00 (9:00pm) local time. The toast was simply “The Professor.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, and The Silmarillion, created a collection of legends set in a fictional universe. He once said that “War deepened and sobered my imagination and stimulated my love of fantasy.” The months in the trenches of WWI made a lasting impression, which is reflected within his writings. Even so, J.R.R. Tolkien did not yield to despondency. His response was to embrace life as a grand adventure to be experienced abundantly and completely.
Over the past few months, I have considered the role of mythology in our world. We have an insatiable desire to give meaning to our existence and purpose for our involvement within family structures and within the wider community. What better time to start a series of posts on mythology than on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday.
Roads Go Ever On
By J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
The Mbashe flows in a south-eastern direction from its source, Drakensberg, NE of Elliot, Eastern Cape of South Africa through an estuary by the lighthouse at Bashee, to its mouth, the Indian Ocean. With a basin area of 6,030 km², its tributaries are the Xuka, Mgwali, Dutywa and the Mnyolo rivers. On the banks of the Mbashe, the small village of Mvezo recorded the birth of a boy on July 18, 1918. He was named Rolihlahla Mandela. In the Xhosa language, Rolihlahla means “pulling the branch of a tree,” or “troublemaker.” Whether or not this was a foreshadowing of what his destiny would be, Nelson Mandela changed the way the world fought against social injustice. Facing insurmountable odds, he walked the long and difficult road to freedom – not only for his people, but for all who yearn for peaceful and fair-minded solutions.
“There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires”
Today, twenty-two kilometres away from his birthplace, Nelson Mandela came home to Qunu, the place he grew up and remembered as his happiest moments. Nelson Mandela once said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Nelson Mandela has been laid to rest. Even so, his voice, like the River Mbashe, continues to flow and nourish. We will carry on with his work, inspired by his life and vision.
Nelson Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013)
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
This blog has a simple mandate – to share my photos and random thoughts as they come to me during the day. My camera is a Canon SX 240 HS with a zoom lens 20X. I confess that most of the time it is set on automatic so that if I see something, I simply “point and click.” Over the past few years, I have gained a greater appreciation for photography and those professionals who master the techniques and innovative technologies being developed in rapid succession.
These past four weeks have reaffirmed that photos are a record of the lives we live, a cultural reflection of our time in history. They form the collection of memories of our generation – fashion, food, architecture, transportation, work conventions and family structures. We owe a great deal to the photographers of the past. They didn’t have our digital cameras and they worked with harsh chemicals, yet their photos are a testament to their commitment to witness and record history.
In my recent travels, I embraced mobility via the iPhone. Initially, I thought it would be a good back-up, just in case my digital battery expired or I ran out of space on my SDHC Card, both of which happened. My ‘back-up’ launched my “point and click” methodology into a new realm where communication merged with photography. And this is when I had my “ah ha” moment. We intellectually understand that mobile allows multiple stories to be shared, exchanged, amplified and integrated within seconds, across a global world. It is quite another matter to experience it first hand as an active participant.
Robert Frank once said, “Above all, life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.” Our ability to take countless photos does not diminish our responsibility for telling our story, for taking our place as a witness to our history.
“The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”