12 May 2016

Closing Down

This is just a quick note informing you that as of September 1st, 2016, this site will no longer be available.  I hope you've enjoyed reading some of the myths and legends posted here!

The good news is that you can still find myths from around the world at my new site

You can always contact me at:
charlesmartinjrauthor@gmail.com

and you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter!

01 January 2015

New Website!

Today is the official launch of the all-new Stranger in This Strange Land!  Come on over and check it out, and be on the lookout for a few contests!

27 June 2014

Are All Myths Created Equal?

I'm a regular visitor to the Debunking Christianity forum, a site devoted to "proving" atheism and . . . well, debunking Christianity.  One of the assertions that I hear stated over and over (and over, and over, and over. . . . ) is that Christianity, like all myths, is nothing but a bunch of hooey made up by superstitious (and possibly stupid) people.  For the purposes of this post, I'm less interested in debating the merits of Christianity as I am the idea that all myths are fairy tales, fabricated by people who don't know any better.

Because that's simply not true.  Some myths may fall into that category, but not all.  Take, for example, the story of Indra and Vrtra.  Now, most literary analysts attribute this story to some sort of primitive terror over a thunderstorm.  They see phrases like, "the desert lands were flooded" and take that to mean that the whole episode refers to rain, and that the people responsible for the story were too primitive to understand a thunderstorm.  And it makes sense, but only if you ignore the rest of the text.

Notice that the dragon "lay on the mountain," "encompass[ing] the mountain" and "holding back the rivers."  This is not rain being withheld, or a drought, but mountain rivers being blocked.  And what happens when Indra breaks the dragon's body into pieces?  The rivers "flow over the mighty Vrtra," carving canyons in the mountain and watering the dry desert lands as they make their way to the ocean.

Nothing about this text indicates terror, or confusion, or superstition.  It is, in fact, telling a story about what sounds like an actual event:  the mountain rivers were blocked by something (maybe a dragon-like creature, maybe an ice dam - who knows?), and someone named Indra (or even a bolt of lightning) unblocked the rivers.  It's fairly straight-forward.

And yet many of the analyses we read tell us that these were primitive people who didn't know where lightning came from, thought thunder was a dragon, and attributed rain to the supernatural.  Nice idea, but there are problems:

1) They were not primitive people, as the cultures who wrote this text built elaborate and remarkably-engineered cities complete with sewage systems.

2) True, they did believe that Indra wielded lightning (similar to Zeus), but notice the contrast:  lightning wasn't viewed as an unexplained, supernatural phenomenon, because lightning was separate from Indra.  It was not a god, but was a separate and distinct tool used by a god.  The fact that they couldn't observe how lightning forms doesn't mean they were stupid, it just means the technology hadn't been invented yet.  We must never be so arrogant as to assume that pushing a button, or plugging in a machine makes us more intelligent.

3)  There is no mention of rain in this text.

Superstition, or narrative?  Hard to say, but my money's on the narrative interpretation, as it is with much (though not all) of mythology.  But there are many groups of people out there who immediately dismiss all ancient texts of any religion - whether it's the Mahabharata, the Bible, the Iliad, or any of the other numerous texts out there.  Thor never existed?  Why?  Because thunder isn't formed by a god.  And while that's true, who's to say a warrior skilled in the art of hammer-throwing didn't live centuries (or several millennia) ago?  Maybe he really was the son of Odin, a king who had lost his eye in battle.

Our approach to ancient literature - indeed, all of life - should be neither blind acceptance, nor blind rejection, but one of discernment.  Dr. Bart Ehrman, in his book, Jesus, Interrupted, makes an argument against the resurrection of Jesus by saying that miracles, by their nature, cannot be historically demonstrated.  This gives him free reign to dismiss most, if not all, of the claims of Christianity (for a rebuttal to his claim, see my related blog here).  On the other hand, people lined up and drank a poisoned drink because they blindly accepted the claims of one man

These are but two examples of living (and dying) without discernment.  Whether we're historians, educators, or study mythology as a hobby, we must never, ever, dismiss any culture or people group as primitive and stupid, but neither should we open our arms and accept anything and everything that comes our way.




23 September 2013

Myth of the Week: The Flood According to the Orinoco


Sigu was the son of Makunaima.  Sigu was in charge of all of the animals and the birds that were on earth after Makunaima created them.  This is true.  Now the Agouti knew of a secret tree that was created by Makunaima, and this tree was the first tree created, and so it grew all of the plants and food that we have today.  The tree was a secret because it was special, and so not even Sigu knew of it.  But the Agouti knew of it, and one day he was followed by Rat.  Once Rat saw the tree, he told everyone, even Sigu.  So Sigu decided to cut the tree down, and then take all of the branches from the tree and plant them in the ground, so that each branch would grow its own food, and there would be food everywhere.

Sigu asked Iwarrika the monkey to help, and sent him to bring water from the stream.  While Iwarriak was gone, Sigu cut down the tree, leaving the stump.  The stump was hollow, you see, and so it was filled with water, and in the water were all kinds of fish.  There were big fish and little fish, and they all swam around and around in the tree stump.  But the water, which was kept inside by the tree, was now overflowing, and the land was going to be flooded.  So Sigu took a basket and covered the stump to keep the water in, and then he left so he could begin to plant the tree branches.  While he was gone, Iwarrika came back, swa the basket, and believed that there was fruit under it.  He lifted the basket, but instead of fruit, there was water!  Let me tell you, there was water!  It flooded everything!  It covered the ground, and the trees, and would have killed all of the animals if Sigu had not acted quickly.

Here is what he did:  he took all of the birds and climbing animals, and put them in the tallest trees.  Then he took the other animals and put them in a cave.  He sealed the cave with wax, and told them that he would come get them when the water was gone.  Meanwhile, he sat in the tree with the birds, and waited for the water to go away.  It was very dark, and the storms were fierce, but eventually the water went away.  Sigu knew this because he dropped a seed, and he heard it hit the ground instead of splashing in the water.

When the sky grew light again, Sigu and the animals climbed down from the tree.  Then Sigu let out the animals that were in the cave.  So this is how it happened that the world was flooded.  This is also how it happened that monkeys are afraid of water.

-From the Orinoco Peoples of Middle America