Why Myth? III…

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…We do not pretend to be expert in Australian Aboriginal myth.
We have probably in our whole life-time to date read only a handful of their stories.
We have though spent some time in Australia crossing the country bottom to top from Melbourne to Cairns in a, by today’s standards, somewhat dilapidated, ‘chippy-van’.
Had we known previously that height was an effective deterrent against mosquitoes we would surely have utilised such knowledge.
We have the utmost respect for anyone who heads out into that landscape alone and on foot and with only a digging stick for company.
I shudder to think what might have been the outcome of our trip had the ‘chippy-van’ broken down in the out-back.
Thankfully it did not although at the time that possibility barely permeated our consciousness.

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Why do such stories resonate so deeply with us?
They are so far removed from the world we have created for ourselves as to be utterly alien.
And yet they are recognisably human in every fundamental aspect.
In the un-adapted version of the story the reason for the young woman’s journey is given as the desire to reach the next linguistic area of the country.
This in itself may have been seen as a ‘no-no’ for the mores of her societal hierarchy.
But it is a journey into the unknown, an adventure, and our heroine doth ‘boldly go…’
Obstacles are encountered and adeptly overcome until the inevitable intrusion of the supernatural.
We say inevitable because myth the world over concerns itself with the other-worldly or supernatural.
One could even go so far as to say, ‘that is its brief…’
It turns out badly in the version of the story we have.
The Dust-Devil ‘wins’.
Beware the Bogey-Man!

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In Ancient Greek Mythology it is the Gorgons, those ferocious female demons of whose number Medusa is probably the most memorable who possess the ability to turn mankind into stone.
Such transformations can be read in a number of ways and one of the most interesting is the psychological which would have the young hero’s heart turned to stone by the encounter with the ‘unfettered’ feminine.
A condition which can last a whole life time through if not recognised and addressed.
But the Ancient Greek Myths for the most part are late and although by turns noble and dazzling and glamorous they also display unmistakeable signs of high artifice.
The rift with the land which is in that corpus of work treated as merely a backdrop for heroic human exploits is already apparent in a way that is not to be seen in the Aboriginal stories.
In those stories the land itself is regarded as a being and is treated as such.
But how, we may wonder, can one imagine a supine young woman to be in a rock or a stone?

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Why Myth? II…

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‘…So, what is the significant act?’
‘All the acts in the story are significant.’
‘What is the story about?’
‘It is about a Dust-Devil.’
‘For the human body there are really only five significant acts: the first is breathing. The second is eating. The third is defecating. The fourth is sleeping and the fifth is… copulating.
At least three of these are represented in the story.
Is there one act more significant than the others for this particular story?’
‘The sex act…’
‘Would it surprise you to know that this was a story told by a father to his pubescent daughter?’
‘It is a cautionary tale?’
‘It is a cautionary tale now but there are signs that this was not always the case.’
‘Those signs are?’
‘The fire-stick at the outset of the tale may not be an original component of the story.’
‘We are not told the nature of the creatures that were eaten at the camp sites.’
‘We are not even told that those creatures were actually eaten.’
‘Only vegetable stuff is eventually traded with the Dust-Devil and there appears to be a lacuna when the young woman looks around the cave house after slashing the neck of the Dust-Devil.’
‘Did she at one time in the telling of this story find the fire-stick there and then?’
‘The nature of the Dust-Devil appears to be equivocal.’
‘Is he killed or not?’

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‘And what is a Dust-Devil anyway?’
‘Ninety-percent of the dust in any house, even a cave house, is comprised of skin shed from the body.’
‘Ashes to Ashes…’
‘Throughout the story there is a lot of emphasis on the correspondences between eating and copulating.’
‘The two concepts seem almost interchangeable.’
‘By cooking one makes unpalatable things palatable.’
‘At one time this may have been an ‘origin of cooking’ myth.’
‘For these people, then, cooking may have been ‘invented’ or ‘discovered’ by a female culture hero, or if you prefer a heroine…’
‘…Along with sleeping platforms and paper-bark canoes?’
‘That is also a distinct possibility.’
‘Presumably she wouldn’t have been turned into a rock in that version…’
‘…Presumably not.’
‘Who were these people? Where is the story set?’
‘The tale is set somewhere with a warm climate because of the mosquitoes.’
‘All that walking about with nothing but a digging stick for survival…’
‘It has probably got to be Aboriginal Australia.’
‘And yet there are elements in the story that are echoed in the mythologies of all people.’
‘The ‘held captive in a rock’ motif for example is familiar from the Arthurian Mythos…’
‘Both via the sword in the stone and in Merlin’s ultimate demise and perhaps even in the cave which traditionally holds the Sleeping King and his Knights.’
‘The Dust-Devil is reminiscent of some of the demons which in the Apocryphal Bible stories Lilith, the first Eve, is said to comport with in the desert.’

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‘… And how many times in the world’s mythologies does a protagonist cross a body of water in order to secure a boon for their people?’
‘In the folk-tales of these isles people are forever being turned to stone.’
‘How else could we explain all those stone circles plonked bang-smack in the middle of… now-here?’
‘They would have had to have walked there as people and started to dance before they were turned to stone right?’
‘Yeah, right…’
‘But stones or rocks with holes in them do make sounds when the wind blows through them and they could well have provided inspiration for the first musical instruments.’
‘I’d like to include walking and dancing as significant acts of the human body…’
‘…Any more?’
‘Making and playing musical instruments.’
‘That makes nine.’
‘You didn’t answer the question.’
‘What question?’
‘Why Myth?’
‘Because Mythology is ‘My Theology’ and the ‘my’ here does not belong to me nor does it belong to the ego either…’
‘It is not really about the body is it?’
‘What is it about?’
‘It is about the body being a vehicle for spirit.’

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Why Myth?…

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‘…history became legend, legend became myth…’

What a pleasant conceit, to suppose that this process produces myth. Whilst undoubtedly true for many legends the process can also work the other way. Many legends for example have produced history. Pre-eminently in this respect, at least for Britain, is ‘King Arthur’ whose story the scholars do indeed now refer to as a mythos.

But what is really going on here?

It is probably more accurate to regard all these forms as stories. We are not supposed to regard History as a story but as ‘recorded fact’ and also ‘true’, but well, really, the clue is in the name. So why do we set such store by stories? The clue is in the question.
The truth of stories lies in a realm other than the literal. And what is ‘the literal’ anyway’?

‘The literal is something that actually happened.’

‘And what do we mean by something?’

‘We mean an ‘act’.’

‘Do we mean an act in a play?’

‘No, we mean a physical act; we mean the physical actions of a person.’

‘What, any act, and any person?’

‘Usually a significant act and a significant person’…

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…A woman set off in the west, coming this way.
She was carrying her baskets for plant foods, her digging stick and a fire-stick.
She was coming, travelling along, camping and then setting off again.
As she went along she was looking about her and where she saw plenty of small creatures and plant food she would stop and eat and then camp.
At sunset she would settle down and sleep and early in the morning she would set off again.
Going on she saw that salt-water tide had come up at a place she hoped to go across.
So she camped there.
She made a sleeping platform in a tree because so many mosquitoes were biting her.
When at last early morning came she made a paper-bark canoe, paddling with her hands to cross to the other side.
Then she started off again and eventually came to a cave house…

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…A Dust-Devil was living in the cave house.
Tall, thin and hairy he was with a crooked body and bat-like wings.
‘My woman has come,’ he said, ‘my body’s no good but today we two will sleep together.’
When they met the woman offered him vegetable food and the Dust-Devil reciprocated with fish.
They slept together but the woman did not like the look of him so she cast about the cave house, found a stone axe and began sharpening it whilst he slept.
The Dust-Devil woke up.
He stretched himself and was preparing to eat the woman. She slashed his neck.
Then she looked around made a fire and cooked his body.
Perhaps he just tossed away the flames that Dust-Devil?
He came out the fire, ‘you woman, why did you kill me? I will cover you with my wings.’
The woman tried to hide but he found her.
He sealed her up in the cave where she was lying.
That cave remained for her then a dark cave.
She kept on talking in there, abusing the Dust-Devil.
At last she became like a rock.
She stands there a rock, forever.

A Young Woman meets a Dust-Devil

(Adapted from ‘Speaking Land’ by R.M. Berndt and C.H. Berndt)

Derbyshire Delights…

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It was over 14 years ago now in March 2004 that I first sampled the delights of Derbyshire at a Mystical Weekend in the Nightingale Centre, Great Hucklow.

In those days I was a relativley new member of a worldwide Mystical Order and the idea of a ‘Weekend Retreat’ amongst strangers was unfamiliar and rather daunting.

I recall a moment of panic on my way to this remote spot as the bus from Sheffield headed deeper and deeper into the Derbyshire wilds… ‘It’s in the middle of nowhere,’ I thought with mounting hysteria, ‘we could all be murdered in our sleep and no one would ever know…’ I can now smile at such momentary fears brought on no doubt by a teenage staple of Dennis Wheatley and H.P. Lovecraft but there is a legitimate question here for those with no experience of such matters.

‘What does one do on a Mystical Retreat?’

Well that depends of course on which particular school is running the retreat and what the particular brief or theme for the weekend is.

My first retreat was a heady mix of group and private meditations, and informative and engaging talks and presentations by members of the Order of which I was then part.

But that is to describe only the formal aspects of such events; there is usually between the scheduled programmes plenty of time to commune with fellow participants or if one prefers time enough, to simply be alone with nature in the peaceful surrounds of the centre.

…But really the best answer to such an enquiry is, ‘one needn’t do anything on a Mystical Retreat, it is far more effective to simply be… and see where it leads.’

The annual trips to Derbyshire became something of a pilgrimage for me and with continued presence my involvement in the formal running of such events grew…

…In 2011 and now under the aegis of a Magical School but again back at the Nightingale for a weekend retreat our lodge staged a four act dramatic ritual which focused on the search for the philosopher’s stone.

Very ‘Harry Potter’ and all rather grand sounding but really it is just a group of life-affirming people with common purpose exploring together the notion of that which is more than the sum of its parts.

And in 2013 and now as the inaugural event of The Silent Eye School of Consciousness, the four act drama had become five acts and a tradition had been put in place which we hope will continue long into the future…

The dramas are script led and no prior experience is assumed.
There is no audience because everybody participates so there is no pressure and no one to mind if a ‘mistake’ is made…

In the words of one recent attendee: ‘It’s beautiful, it’s fun, and it’s profound.’

No one has been murdered, of course, but a goodly number of folk have returned from our events with their sense of life purpose refreshed and renewed and their belief in the spirit released to soar…

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We hope you can join us in 2019 for, Lord of the Deep: The Quest for Immortality

A DRAMATIC RETELLING OF THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH

The Oldest written story known to man…
What spiritual treasures lie hidden in this, five thousand-year old, Epic?
What can this ancient civilisation teach us about the questions of existence?
Join us on this quest of a life-time, next April, to find out…

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‘Gilgamesh is among the greatest things that can ever happen to a person.’
– Rainer Maria Rilke.

We will be delighted to see you.

Fully catered weekend package, including room, meals and workshop: £235 – £260

Click here to download the Booking Form

For further details or to reserve your place: rivingtide@gmail.com

Lord of the Deep: The quest for Immortality

26-28 April, 2019 – Great Hucklow, Derbyshire

…Everlasting to Everlasting…

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Euhemerism: an ideology that humanises the gods…?

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Euhemerus of Messene was a widely travelled man. He wrote a travel book in which he described his visit to an island called Panchaia in the Indian Ocean. In the island’s Temple of Zeus, he said, there was a golden pillar on which Zeus himself had written his autobiography as the king of Panchaia. Zeus had also written the biography of his father, Cronos, on the pillar, and Hermes had then added the biographies of Artemis and Apollo. Unfortunately, Euhemerus’s book does not survive, and no one else has ever found the island Panchaia, so later writers accused Euhemerus of inventing the whole thing.

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The most sympathetic account of Euhemerus’s work is contained in Diodorus Siculus’s, ‘World History’, where Diodorus explains that even supposing one accepts Euhemerus’s story it does not necessarily follow that the gods he described were not genuine! Beings who had been human but who had ‘graduated’ to super-humanity, argues Diodorus, were common in the religious traditions of the eastern mediterranean. Immediately after summarising Euhemerus’s account of Panchaia, Diodorus explores the  origin myths of the ancient greeks.

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‘…The majority of the gods, the Cretans say, had their beginnings in Crete and set out from there to visit many regions of the inhabited world. The Idaean Dactyli, of Crete, discovered both the use of fire and what the metals copper and iron ore are, as well as the means of working them. Since they were looked upon as the originators of great blessings for the race of men they were accorded immortal honours. After the Idaean Dactyli, there were nine Curetes who excelled in wisdom and discovered many things of use to men generally. They were the first to gather sheep into flocks, to domesticate several other animals which men fatten and to discover the production of honey… The Cretans also say that Poseidon was the first man to concern himself with sea-faring and to fit out fleets and this is why the tradition has been passed along to succeeding generations that he controls whatever is done on the sea and why mariners honour him by means of sacrifices… As regards the gods then, men of ancient times have handed down to later generations two different conceptions: certain of the gods, they say, are eternal and imperishable, such as the sun and moon and other stars in the heavens, for each of these their generation and duration is from everlasting to everlasting, but the other gods, we are told, were terrestial beings who attained immortal honour and fame because they were benefactors of mankind…’

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Brigit, a woman poet, daughter of the Dagda. She is Brigit, the lady of wisdom, that is, the goddess whom the poets adored. For great and brilliant was her tender loving care. Therefore they call her the goddess of the poets. Her sisters were Brigit, the lady of healing, and Brigit, the lady of metal work, the Dagda’s daughters, from whose names Brigit was called goddess among the Hibernians.

Cormac, Silence

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Spindle-Stone Heugh…

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“And so to Bamburgh castle, the king a new wife did bring.

But his queen took an instant dislike to her husband’s daughter, Margaret,

And transformed her into a Laidly Wyrm which coiled itself about a Great Stone,

And laid waste the land for seven miles around.

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Daily, the milk of seven cows was brought the Wyrm but all to no avail,

For the enchantment could only be lifted by Childy Wynd,

Margaret’s brother, but he lived far away over the sea.

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‘The Pilgrims’ sally forth…

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Word of the dark doings in his homeland eventually reached Childy,

Who built a ship with a rowan-tree mast and silken sails,

And set out to rid Bamburgh of its blight.

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The queen, she spied the ship and sent out ‘witch-wives’ to sink it,

But they were powerless ‘gainst the magical mast.

As the ship came into land, the Wyrm leapt up,

The Wyrm leapt down, and plaiting ’round the stane,

Banged it out to sea again.

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Dunstanburgh: ‘A ruinous ego’?…

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Undaunted, Childy put in on Budle Sand and waded ashore.

Finally encountering the Wyrm, Childy laid his sword upon its head,

Yet gave it kisses three,

And though it crept back into its hole a Wyrm,

It stepped out, a Lady.

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Together, brother and sister returned to Bamburgh,

To be greeted by their joyful father, the king.

The queen was transformed, by Childy, into a toad,

Which to this day spits venom on girls out walking.”

Duncan Frasier  AD 1270

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In the Similitude of a Dream III…

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… At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed

that what he said to them was true, but because they thought that

some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing

towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains,

with all haste they got him to bed.

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But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore,

instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears.

So, when the morning was come, they would know

how he did. He told them, Worse and worse:

he also set to talking to them again; but they began to be hardened.

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They also thought to drive away his distemper

by harsh and surly carriages to him; sometimes they would

deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes

they would quite neglect him.

Wherefore he began to retire himself to his chamber…

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… to pray for and pity them,

and also to console his own misery;

he would also walk solitarily in the fields,

sometimes reading, and sometimes praying:

and thus for some days he spent his time.

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Now, I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields,

that he was, as he was wont, reading in his book,

and greatly distressed in his mind;

and as he read, he burst out, as he had done once before, crying,

What shall I do to be saved?

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The Pilgrim’s Progress

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Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

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In the Similitude of a Dream II…

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…In this plight, therefore, he went home and refrained himself as long as he could,

that his wife and children should not perceive his distress;

but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased.

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Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them:

O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I, your dear friend,

am in myself undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me

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… moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven;

in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably

come to ruin, except some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered.

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A Pilgrim’s Progress

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Reflections from the, ‘Castles of the Mind’, weekend,

organised by Steve Tanham and Barbara Walsh.

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