Archive for the ‘Myth & Mind’ Category

  • Myth & Mind: A worm by many other names

    Nov 30, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard On the limbs of a shrubby oak tree native to the Mediterranean and Aegean shores, a scale insect called Kermes vermilio nourishes itself with sap. In prehistoric times people discovered that the dried bodies of the female kermes rendered up a red dye so rich, so eye-ravishing, that its saturated intensity was matched only by the famous Tyrian purple. This was the livid wineish dye expressed drop by drop from murex rock snails to color the ceremonial garments of Roman emperors, a dye so costly — it took 12 thousand snails to ennoble the trim of a single garment — and so fabled that in the ancient world it was the emblem of all things exotic and prized. The maritime civilization that traded murex purple, old when Classical Greece was in its infancy, is known to history as Phoenicia from the Ancient Greek φοῖνιξ (phoînix), “murex dye,” from φοινός (phoinós) “purple-red.” Phoînix could refer to any of the dye’s characteristic shades, from grapey crimson through heather to what Homer called “purple blood.” Pliny the Elder reports in his “Natural History” that murex dye was “considered of the best quality when it [had] exactly the colour of clotted blood,” a deeply saturated, “shining” hue attained through a process involving two murex species, one of which yielded an indigo color. Unlike other dyes which fade with wear, Tyrian purple

  • Profane thoughts: Elements of a good @#*!

    Nov 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard [Editor’s note: This is a column about language. Explicit language. And, really, what’s the purpose of language if not to be explicit … or something like that … -ish? This is fair warning for the easily offended: THIS COLUMN CONTAINS FRANK DISCUSSION AND USE OF PROFANITY. … In the interest of full disclosure, there was some debate about the contents of this column. After a profanity-laden debate amongst staff, we’ve decided to run it as written, though we did censor the subtitle as it could be misconstrued as sensationalistic provocation. In any case, if you’re truly upset by the contents of this article, we suggest you invent a time machine, go back to 1971, and make your case at the Supreme Court before the conclusion of the “Cohen vs California” case. Or just, you know, get on with your life.] Every tongue has its forbidden words. Some, like the Tetragrammaton (Yahweh when he’s at home), are sacred. Others are decidedly profane. If you’re reading this, chances are that, like me, you were raised to expect a gasp of horror from moral authorities (parents, teachers, adults at large) if you uttered that most satisfying and utilitarian cussword in English — fuck. Perhaps, like me, your upbringing instilled such an aura of evil around this word and its ilk that even as your cooler peers began peppering them into

  • Myth & Mind: Tale of the cat

    Oct 5, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard Near the temple of the cat goddess Bastet in ancient Egypt, a lioness emerged full of the desert’s fury, with eyes like fevered suns and a snarl for blood rising from her belly. To devour the people within the temple she first had to pass the sacred lake enclosing the buildings. Pausing to drink from the clear waters, she felt her bloody wrath receding in waves. But she was still hungry. In the temple’s inviting shade an acolyte saw her padding up the stone walkway and hastily prepared a basin of buffalo milk. She sniffed it with a growl, darting sparks from her yellow eyes at the temple attendants and worshippers, before lowering her great head to the basin. The growl became a purr. When her belly was full she sauntered over to a comfortable place on the floor, laid down, and fell asleep. Drowsing peacefully on the smooth stone, she shrank; she became small and slim, with a soft dappled coat. She lived in the temple grounds for the rest of her life, where she never wanted for mice and birds to hunt or friendly hands to stroke her. No one who shares their life with cats will be surprised this myth exists. Bastet was a fierce goddess, originally a lion like her counterpart Sekhmet in Upper (southern) Egypt, whose breath was the searing desert wind,

  • Myth & Mind: Stop … hammer time

    May 4, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard Thor was wearing a dress, and he didn’t like it. Loki, in female guise and a skirt, looked a hell of a lot more comfortable as he played the role of handmaiden to a bride, pealing with girlish laughter while his eyes flashed wickedly. But Thor hadn’t come to the realm of giants for anyone’s amusement: He was here to get his hammer back. Thor was the child of Odin and the Earth — in other words, of pure spiritual and natural power, and as such immensely strong and as terrible in striking as the lightning. With his weapon, the magic hammer Mjölnir, in his hand he was nearly invincible. No matter how far he flung Mjölnir it always returned, boomerang-style, and its force was capable of crushing mountains. Thor needed only the hammer and two other pieces of magical equipment, a strength-enhancing belt and a pair of iron gloves, to defeat his foes the giants again and again. This time the giants had resorted to a ploy. Their king, named Þrymr, stole mighty Mjölnir and let it be known he wanted the beautiful, fertility-giving goddess Freyja as ransom, to be his wife — a ransom that Freyja declared no one would pay, stamping her foot in rage and making the hall of the gods shake. So it was Thor who had to don a bridal gown

  • Myth & Mind: Blessings under the skirt

    Mar 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard There’s a story about the old wall around Milan, Italy. The Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa and his armies were at the gates, ready to storm the city. A young Milanese woman appeared up at the battlements in full sight of the Emperor and his soldiers. She raised her richly embroidered skirts to her waist and, with regal unconcern, began trimming her pubic hair with a pair of shears. Thunderstruck, Barbarossa froze where he stood. His soldiers gaped and crossed themselves, aghast; some dropped their weapons. Confusion and dread spread among the troops, who until moments ago had been hot with battle-purpose. When at last the Emperor raised his voice it was to order a retreat. He would be back, but for that day the city was safe. To celebrate the taunt that had driven Barbarossa from their walls the merchants and nobles of Milan had a marble bas-relief of the woman — raised skirts and all — installed over the gate where she had stopped the army. For centuries after it was known as Porta Tosa, “Shears Gate.” The tale may be apocryphal, but the carving is real; it dates from the 12th century, when Barbarossa laid siege to and eventually sacked Milan. And it’s not as a far-fetched a notion as it seems that a little flashing may have turned back a medieval army. The

  • Myth & Mind: Chamunda, the skull beneath the skin

    Feb 2, 18 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard A terrible demon ravaged the earth in ancient days. A shapeshifter, he could take the form of a man or a huge water buffalo at will. The gods and goddesses could not kill him: The poison on their spearpoints had no effect, and for every drop of his blood that touched the ground an identical demon sprang up raging. Out of the female godhead emerged a deity born to defeat this monster. Sinking her teeth into his giant throat, she drank his blood so thirstily that not a single drop fell. As the demons wailed and died, all their power went into her. Her skin turned blood-red, her flesh withered and clung to her protruding bones, her eyes blazed, and she became the goddess Chamunda, the demon killer. The glance of her staring eyes sears evil out of existence, and her head is crowned with flames. She wears a snake, a necklace of skulls; a scorpion rests on her shrunken belly. Throughout India, she is revered as mother goddess, in some places as an aspect of Durga, Kali, or Parvati, in others as the ultimate in herself. Like the better-known Kali, whose name means “dark one,” she is black or red and her mouth stretches savagely open, revealing teeth. In carvings she dances atop a corpse or sits enthroned on one; otherwise she rides a tiger or

  • Myth & Mind: When blue is not blue: A glance at color through the eye of linguistics

    Dec 29, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard When Ahmed ibn Fadlan, 10th-century diplomat from Baghdad to a king on the banks of the Volga River, encountered the Scandinavian settlers there, he described them as covered fingers to neck with green tattoos. The account I first read this in was puzzled what to make of the “green” markings, as colored tattoo ink is a relatively recent innovation. If that writer had glanced below the surface of the translation — or had had personal experience with tattooing — they would have seen that the word for “green” in ibn Fadlan’s Arabic also meant “blue.” A further historical glance would have informed them that the medieval Arabs were by no means the only society to assign the two colors, distinct to modern eyes, a single name. I, myself, am significantly tattooed with traditional black ink, and can testify that once healed a black tattoo in fair skin becomes dark blue-green. Likewise the visible veins beneath fair skin can look green or blue, though we call aristocrats “blue-bloods.” The phrase is a direct translation of Castilian Spanish sangre azul, a term of pride and bigotry used in the age of inquisitions by pale families with no skin-darkening tint of Jewish or Moorish genes. It is a delightful historic irony that the very word azul (blue), like countless other common Spanish words, was loaned from the Moors who occupied

  • Myth & Mind: Furies & hunts

    Dec 1, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard King Agamemnon’s ships lay in harbor, manned and ready to sail to war in Troy, awaiting a wind that wouldn’t come. As days crawled past a plague spread in the still air under the drooping sails. With more and more of his army sickening and the outcome of the war in the balance, Agamemnon chose to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, to gain divine favor. When the girl’s throat was cut a wind sprang up, scoured the plague from the army’s lungs and drove the ships to Troy. Queen Clytemnestra grieved wildly for her daughter. While her husband was at war she turned for comfort to his rival Aegisthus. When Agamemnon returned victorious, bringing a captive princess as his prize and concubine, the lovers killed them both. It was now the duty of Orestes, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s son, to avenge his father’s murder. He slew his mother and her lover with his own hand. But the crime of matricide woke the Erinyes, or Furies, goddesses of punishment. Relentlessly they pursued Orestes and drove him mad. ***** What are the Erinyes? Etymologically, erinys (Greek, singular) likely means just what the Romans glossed it as: fury. These female powers are older than the Olympians, representing an equally ancient law. The laws and cultural values — and breaches thereof — embodied by Zeus and company belong to the machinery of civilization,

  • Myth & Mind: Harvests, hops, & human sacrifice

    Nov 3, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard Autumn has arrived. The wind changed almost overnight: one day towing monsoon clouds from the southwest in summer’s established pattern, then suddenly restive, keeping the trees awake after dark and setting a fresher edge on the mornings. The light, compressed a minute at a time by approaching winter, became a little clearer, more insistently golden. The wind’s mood in autumn, a combination of restlessness and certainty, has always made this season my favorite. The year is setting out on a journey whose destination is death. To the ancient Celts, the germinant sleep of death preceded life; nightfall was the day’s beginning, and the beginning of winter was the new year. The festival of Samhain (SOW-inn), falling in early November, marks not merely the first day of winter but a resetting of the cosmic mechanism at a fundamental level. To pastoral-agrarian ancestors, winter’s onset meant it was time to move the herds down from the highlands to more sheltered pastures, time to reap and store the rich life of summer before harshening weather took it away, but furthermore the crux of nature’s cyclical drama of death and rebirth. As such it was a dangerous season: The doors between worlds stood open, and one might easily wander inside the hills where the race of fairy-folk lived — especially considering the marathon drinking bouts the Irish engaged in as a

  • Myth & Mind: Restless riders

    Oct 6, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard In 1127, the chronicler of Peterborough Abbey in central England recorded an alarming event. Both monks and local townsfolk “saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge, and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats, and their hounds were jet black, with eyes like saucers, and horrible. … [In] the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns.” (From the “Peterborough Chronicle,” translator G. N. Garmonsway) Witnesses reported this frightening spectacle for weeks; it began in midwinter and only ended at Easter. This was not a mortal cavalcade. The people of Peterborough had seen the Wild Hunt. These were troubled times for England, and Peterborough Abbey was no exception. Only 10 years previously, some drunken monks had been responsible for a fire that destroyed their library; seven years later a succession crisis would plunge the country into cataclysmic civil war, and fill the chronicle’s pages with accounts of tortures inflicted on the common people. The conquest of England by William of Normandy in 1066 had violently uprooted Saxon society, traumatized the island’s patchwork of Germanic and Celtic cultures, and threatened the language with extinction. Taxes to enforce the new order came directly from those who could spare the least. Starvation was rampant. This was the age that gave rise to the legends of Robin Hood, the

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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