Friday, April 27, 2007

** Don't Know Much About Mythology by Kenneth Davis

This a great overview of 5000 years of myths and legends that have helped to shape our current beliefs and culture. You're bound to learn something. One thing that is clear is that each culture had its own gods to essentially describe the same basic questions: Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? What should we do while we're alive? Where did we come from? Where we will end up? You get the idea. Nothing new under the sun - um, sun god that is. The other thing you'll be struck with, is that our current pantheon of gods and beliefs is relatively young and definitely not unique. You may think that people have shared your faith for eons, but alas, that is not true. Also, you may believe that your god is unique and the prophecies and legends are unique to your faithful, but again, you'll find that alot religions recycle beliefs and stories from their predecessors. One day in the future, what you believe will also become a 'dead' religion, and people will think your practices were as bizarre or questionable or inspired as those from the ancients you're reading about in this book. Keep these thoughts in mind as you encounter something that seems strange or silly or revolting when reading about these other religions.

The Egyptian word, Deshret, meaning red lands, for hot sandy wastelands is the source of the word desert. P64

There may have been between 1 to 4 million people living in ancient Egypt at various times. P66 An astonishing number for 4000 to 5000 years ago. Today there are nearly 90M in that region!

Most scholars believe that the Greeks translated the Egyptian word Hewet-ka-Ptah, which literally means ‘Temple of the spirit Ptah’ as Aeguptos. This eventually became the word we use now for – Egypt. P76

The image of Isis suckling the infant Horus, one of the most familiar themes in ancient Egyptian art, was later adopted by the early Christians to represent the Virgin Mary. The traditional blue dress of the Virgin, the reference of Mother of God, and the symbol of the crescent moon associated with Mary were all borrowed from the cult of Isis. P88

Unlike the slaves who quarried the stones for the pyramids, the laborers who built the pyramids were paid, conscripted to work 3 months of the year in service to the state… The period of flooding was the time when most Egyptian farmers were unable to work their land, and provided a large, available work force. P103

Are the Moses stories and legends just that - stories and not fact?
Extensive Egyptian records contain no reference to Moses – an Egyptian name. There is also no reference to ‘the children of Israel’ working as slaves and then escaping en masse. There is only a single reference to a battle with the Hebrews in a victory column… This lack of historical evidence has led many scholars to doubt the existence of Moses… Some think that the miraculous cross of the Red Sea was a mistranslation of the Hebrew words for “Sea of Reeds”. P109

We're all Babylonians after all
The Mesopotamians invented the 7 day week, beer, astrology, 60 minute hour, world’s first writing system, the wheel, 360 degree circle, formulas to predict eclipses, fractions, square roots, the list goes on and on… p122

The idea of sex as immoral was not widely held in ancient civilizations, including Egpytian and Greek worlds. In many cultures sex was viewed as part of the natural order, and was routinely madepart of the fertility rites that were celebrated openly. Many of the restrictive codes about sexual conduct began with the institution of Mosaic Law in Israel, which is one reason Babylon gained such a sinful reputation. P152

Does that make Noah a plagerist by not citing prior references?
The flood story of Utnapishtim from Gilgamesh is not the only deluge account in Mesopotamian myth. There are actually 2 others that predate the biblical Noah. P154

Those crazy Hebrew punners!
The tower of Babel is believed to be Nebuchadrezzar’s ziggurat which was clearly awesome, involving 17M bricks. It was designed to signify Babylon’s victory over its enemies – including the Jews. After defeating the Jews in 586BC, Nebuchadrezzar took Judah’s king and 1000’s of elite as captive to Babylon and destroyed the Jewish temple. During this time many of the books of the old testament were written. The captive Israelites would have heard many languages in Babylon – Sumerian, Akkadian, Egyptian, and Persian just mention a few. Clearly the story of the tower of Babel had great significance to the exiled Israelites. In Babylonian, babel means the gate of the gods, but in Hebrew, the word babel means to confuse. The author of the biblical tower was essentially using a bilingual pun to disparage the people who captured the Israelites. P162

Did you know that Abraham and Moses have much in common. Yes, no factual evidence for either person's existence.
There is no specific proof outside of the Bible and Koran that such Abraham ever existed. His name and exploits appear nowhere in Mesopotamia’s surviving tablets… It is generally believed that he was a legendary figure… Of course to believers the historical accuracy of Abraham doesn’t matter as much as what he represents – the pioneer of faith… That faith is underscored in a crucial biblical event heavy with mythic overtones – the story Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son… The aborted sacrifice and substitution of an animal is in the view of scholars the symbolic moment in which the ancient Jewish people rejected human sacrifice. P164

So what does 'Israel' mean?
The natives of Canaan who were present before the Israelites appeared worshipped El – their chief deity, which simply meant god in ancient semitic… At some point in history the Canaanite El was merged with Yahweh, who then in turn supposedly gave Moses 2 tablets. The significance of El is apparent from the Hebrew words that contain it – Bethel which means house of god, and Israel – which means he strives with god. P166

Did you know that Jesus was not really born on December 25th? And that the first X-mas on that date wasn't observed until 350 years after he may have been born?
Zoroastrianism (derived from Zoraster who lived perhaps as long as 3400 years ago or 1400BC) held a belief in one god – Mazda… Magi were his followers and held a belief that they were to keep watch upon a Mount of the Lord until a great star appeared that would signal the coming of a savior. In other words, centuries before Jesus was on the scene, an earlier faith flourished in the same region with only one god, a battle of good and evil, a judgement day, and resurrection. The connection between ancient Persia and Christmas doesn’t end there. Mithra was an ancient sun god of the Aryan tribes (Zoaster was a Persian Aryan as well by the way). Mithra was an ally of Mazda in early Persian faiths, and fought evil. This faith spread throughout Asia Minor (Turkey today) when the Persian dominated the region prior to Alexander the Great. This faith eventually became popular among Roman soldiers who slayed a bull as a rite that symbolized immortality on worshippers (a handy thing to wish for before battle). During Roman times, Mitraism ranked as a principal religion competing with Christianity well into the 4th century AD. Among the similarities that Christianity shares with this older religion are include resurrection, judgment day, a Satan like figure, guardian spirits like angels, and a holy day celebrated on Dec 25th, which was not officially celebrated as Christmas until 350AD when Pope Julius chose the day. P170

The similarities between Christmas and the Roman holiday of Saturnalia are no accident. Dec 25th was already a very popular pagan holiday. By moving Christ’s birthday to the same date by papal decree in 350AD, he was trying to make it as painless as possible for pagan Romans to convert to Christianity since they could continue to have their feasts and parties. P260

Is Zoraster the origin of bull fighting in Spain?
The spread of Mitraism under Rome extended into Spain and some authorities suggest that the killing of a bull was part of a Mithraist ritual that gradually evolved into the practice of bullfighting. P170

The local farmers, who inhabited Greece before the hostile takeover by the chariot driving, war loving Mycenaens (Aryans) in 1600BC from the Caucus region. The indigenous proto-Greeks worshipped an ancient Earth Mother who eventually became Hera the wife of Zeus – the Mycenaen’s most powerful god. This may actually symbolize the merger of these 2 ancient mythologies. P185

Greek religion was starkly different from the state religions of Egypt, Mesopotamia and Israel. The Greeks had their public and private rituals, but no Greek ruler ever tried to elevate himself to a pharaoh or to introduce a single deity. Nor were the Greek gods believed to be in complete control of the universe or human destiny. “They never pretended that their gods were always benevolent or omnipotent in human affairs, and so bad fortune could be rationalized as a natural element of existence.” This concept of ‘natural element’ would soon be viewed by Greeks as far more important and interesting. Judging from their extraordinary achievements in science, math, philosophy, literature, etc. – they clearly prized a way of life that stressed the individual, encouraged creative thought, and elevated the power of observation. By seeking logic to explain what is happening in the natural world, the gods were not a source of truth, justice and laws. Quite the contrary, the Greeks invented ethics, a way to tell right from wrong without divine authority and secular law, which together make up humanism. P190

The Snake and immortality. Get used to it. It will happen in history all over the world, again and again.
The snake’s ability to shed its skin was seen as a sign of immortality by the ancient Greeks. The staff with the 2 snakes for the American Medical Association is derived from the Greek god Asclepius, the inventor of medicine, who was represented by a snake. P228

The Chinese dragon probably evolved from the serpent, an early royal symbol deemed immortal, since it was able to renew itself when it shed its skin. P377

In many African traditions a mixed up message brings death into the world, usually when an animal courier fails to deliver an important message from the gods to mankind. An example is the story of a bird sent by the creator to tell people that when they get old they should just peel off their skins. On the way to deliver the message, the bird sees a snake eating some meat. The bird tells the snake the secret in exchange for the meat. So the snake gains immortality by shedding its skin, and people remain mortal. As punishment for this failure, birds cry in pain from a disease given to them by the creator. P411

The god Janus stood watch at doors and gates, and as such he looked both ways and controlled beginnings, which is how his name got connected with January – the first month of the year. P253

What's the deal with mistletoe?
Mistletoe was considered so sacred by the Celts that even enemies who happened to meet beneath it in the forest would lay down their arms, exchange a friendly greeting, and keep a truce until the following day. From this old custom grew the practice of suspending mistletoe over a doorway as a token of peace. P279

The celtic god Frigg, had a son who was immortal unless he consumed mistletoe, which of course he promptly does. Frigg’s tears over her son’s death become the berries of mistletoe. When Figg learns that her son can be brought back to life, she hangs mistletoe and promises to kiss all those who walk beneath it, which was a sign of goodwill. Frigg is from the earlier Germanic god known as Frea, and her name is the source of Friday. P302

What do London and Leprechauns have in common?
The aborigines of Ireland from the last ice age were overrun by the invading Celts, and became the legendary ‘little people’ – Lugh (pronounced loo). The word for a particular crafty one was Lugh Chromain – meaning little stooping Lugh. This name was later anglicized in the word ‘leprechaun’… Another vestige of the Lugh is found on the British Isles. Can you guess where? Well the fortress of Lugh was called Lugh Dunum. The Romans Latinized this to Londinium. You know it as London. P 284 But you can now feel free to call it Fort Leprechaun if you wish.

October 31 marked the end of Summer to the Celtic Irish. During this time between Summer and Winter, the worlds of the living and dead commingled. On the night of October 31, the spirits of the dead caused mischief and damaged crops, but they also made predictions for the upcoming year. During this festival, huge fires were lit for feasting and animal sacrifice. Some Celts wore masks and costumes, typically consisting of animal heads and skins, and attempted to tell each other’s fortunes. P290

The King Arthur legend first appears in 1100AD in a Welsh tale called ‘Culwhe and Olwen’. Among the references are those for a sword called Caledvwlch – meaning battle breach, later identified as Excalibur, Arthur’s father Uthyr (anglicized to Arthur) Pendragon, and his wife Gwenhwyfar – anglicized to Guinevere. These references probably emerged from earlier legends and myths. Some believe that the legend stems from withdrawal of the Romans in 410AD. P294

Odin, the chief Norse god, was derived from an earlier German god called Woden. Woden is the source of Wednesday. P305

Kong Fu Zi, born in 551BC, is the man you know as Confucius... There is no evidence that he ever wrote anything himself. One of his disciples (not direct) was Mencius (371 BC-289BC) who believed that people were born good and simply needed to preserve the natural compassion of the heart… Confucianism began as a code of conduct that has no organization or clergy. Nor does it teach belief in a deity or in the existence of life after death. Instead it stresses moral and political ideas, putting an emphasis on respect for ancestors and government authority while insisting that women belong at home… He further argued that tradition and order have to be respected to maintain the equilibrium of the universe. P380

Taoism rejected the social obligations of Confucianism, and urged the individual to lead a simple, spontaneous, and meditative life close to nature, and to see change as the way of the universe. The word tao originally meant ‘path’ or ‘way’. P383

Shinto probably existed before the arrival of Buddhism and Confucian teachings, but it is really an Asian fusion religion. Shinto means the ‘way of the gods’. It seems to have combined the ancient practices of the Ainu, aboriginal Japanese, with those of the prehistoric people who migrated to Japan from other parts of Asia including Mongolian people from Siberia. What resulted is a religion centered on nature – mountains, rivers, rocks, and trees. The force of the gods is known as Kami in such processes as creativity, disease, growth and healing. Emphasizing rituals over philosophy, Shinto pays little mind to life after death. P386

Japan’s rising sun flag – Nipon, which means rising sun - (the one from WWII) is a vestige of the old connection between Japan and the sun goddess. P391

The Native Americans and Africans have many tricksters gods, myths and legends. My theory on this is that these convey mores and taboo behaviors to emphasize that people should control their desire to steal, rape, be selfish, etc. The moral of the trickster is to show that doing these things leads to a karmic punishment. So even if you're not caught by others, because you're so smart, fate will catch you in the end.

From Ghana: When a drought dries up the earth, all of the animals assemble in a council and all agree to cut off a piece of their ears and extract the fat, which they will sell to buy a hoe to dig a well. All do as they promise except for Hare, the trickster who reneges. The other animals are surprised, but still manage to buy the hoe and dig the well. Hare jumps into the well and enjoys a bath, and muddies the water in the well. When the other animals realize that Hare has ruined their water, they hatch a plan that involves covering a small statue with bird lime (something very sticky). Hare comes along and speaks to this dummy, which of course doesn’t answer. Angrily, Hare hits the statue and gets one paw stuck to it, then the other. Next, he kicks at the sticky statue, but only succeeds in getting both feet stuck as well. The other animals finally come out, and give Hare a beating before letting him go. From that day on, Hare never leaves the safety of the grass. This story is told in many other versions. It is also familiar as the origin of the figure of the ‘Tar Baby’ in the Uncle Remus stories… The Hare stories made the transatlantic crossing with the many Africans taken as slaves to the Americas. Mingling with many similar Native American tales of trickster rabbits, the Hare stories became best known as the Br’er (short for brother) Rabbit stories. Many of these stories were collected in a book called Uncle Remus in 1881. The character of Remus is a former slave who tells his southern plantation family tales about clever animals. More than just a trickster, Br’er Rabbit represents the clever slave who could outwit his master. P414, 426

Some of the ancient Indian tricksters were inspiration for 2 modern American cartoon icons – Wile E Coyote and Bugs Bunny, whose animated antics are far less malicious and X-rated than those of their ancient ancestors… Summarizing Native American tricksters, ‘They’re always hungry for another meal swiped from someone else’s kitchen, always ready to lure someone else’s wife into bed, always trying to get something for nothing, ever scheming and never remorseful. They’re clever and foolish at the same time, smartasses who outsmart themselves.’ P451

Voodoo traces its roots to the West African tradition of Vodun, meaning spirit. Vodun has many traditions based on Yoruban religion including a shared pantheon of gods… Santeria originated in Cuba as a combination of West African Yoruban religion and Catholicism. Slaves were forced to practice Catholic practices, which contradicted their native beliefs. But finding parallels between their own religion and Catholicism, and to please their masters while disguising their worship of their old gods, they created a secret religion. Santeria uses Saints as fronts for the traditional African gods... Santeria by the way has 11 commandments, roughly equivalent to the 10 you know, plus an additional prohibition on cannibalism. P429

Did your totem win last night's game?
What’s a totem? A totem guards the tribe and is usually an animal species. Totemism binds a human tribe to an animal in a common life. The totem animal guards the tribe, which in return respects it and refuses to injure it, for they are of one flesh, this may include laws against killing or eating the totem animal. Sounds hokey you say? Well do you have a Jesus fish on car? Do you have Tiger, or Lion, or Cardinal on your cap? Do you pledge allegiance to flag with an Eagle on top of the flag pole. Totem, totem, totem. So there. P453

The low man on the totem pole is actually upside down. Turns out the most skilled craftsman was given the honor of the lowest carving on the pole to show off his artistic since that position was obviously the most visible. P453

The Mayan Popol Vuh is a book of creation, a list of divinely ordered rules and rituals which gives the Mayan kings a heavenly mandate. The Popol Vuh was believed to be the word of god. The Bible is a book creation, contains list of divinely ordered rules and rituals and includes a list of ancient Israel’s many legendary and real kings. The bible is believed to be the word of God. Most people have never heard of the Popol Vuh. The book is a well kept secret. For that we have the Spanish to thank for their 16th century ‘culturecide’ campaign. P455

The Mayan god Huracan who causes floods and storms was appropriated by the Spanish and transformed over the centuries into hurricane. P456

Most histories of the conquest of Aztecs state that the Aztecs believed that Cortes represented the returning god Quetzalcoatl. There are some issues with that belief. First, Cortes himself never mentioned this story in his own writings. Historians today believe that such stories sprang up later – perhaps 20 years after the Spanish arrived. Whether or not they believed Cortes to be a god or not, 4 months after the Spaniards arrival an epidemic of small pox broke out, decimating the Aztecs while sparing all of the Spanish. Such partiality could only be explained supernaturally, and there could be no doubt which side of the struggle enjoyed divine favor. P469

American Indians and their horses are indelible icons. But as late as the 1700s many tribes had no horses. The horse didn’t arrive until the Spanish, who jealously guarded them carefully, not wanting to surrender the great military advantage the possessed. It would only be in the middle of the 18th century that horses would almost totally transform the cultures of the Plains and Southwest tribes, producing some of the finest light calvary history has ever known. P483


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Unknown said...

I enjoyed the article. It is in the same wavelength of The Oldest Europeans. Who are we? Where do we come from? What made European women different?

By the way, that feeling of eternity... connected to serpents...
Hippies had the same feelings. People in the past used snake bites to get trips.

Keep writing

JF del Giorgio