Archive for the ‘Myth & Mind’ Category

  • Myth & Mind: Óðinn’s ecstatic fury

    Jul 25, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard I know that I hung the windswept tree upon, nights full nine, spear-wounded and given to Óðinn, self to myself on that tree that no one knows whence its roots run. With loaf they heartened me not nor with horn, I peered down, I took up the runes, screaming took them, I fell back from there. -Rúnatal On the brink of a terrible battle that would pit him against cherished friends and relatives, the Indian Prince Arjuna quailed in painful moral turmoil and threw down his bow, refusing to fight. His charioteer Krishna — the god Vishnu in flesh — counseled him to embrace his destiny as a warrior and to recognize the path fate had laid before him as something far greater than his own limited understanding. Transfigured by Krishna’s teaching, which comprises the “Bhagavad Gita” segment of the epic poem “Mahabharata,” Arjuna led his army to victory. When Harald Wartooth, a great eighth-century Scandinavian king, felt the shadow of death from old age fall over him he challenged his friend Sigurd Ring to an almighty battle. Harald in his youth had vowed to dedicate all those he slew in war to Óðinn (Odin), and in return the god granted him untold military success and dominion over lands from Northumbria, to western Norway, to Estonia. In the blinding heat of his last battle the king forgot

  • Myth & Mind: In the halls of the mountain kings

    Jun 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard Winter or summer, it’s cold in the mountain. The last time the sun touched this place was in the age when oxygen first accumulated in the atmosphere, hundreds to thousands of millions of years ago. It has been very quiet until now. I am on a bus, one of the modern heated fleet that punctually connects the villages of Western Norway to the towns and rail centers without fail, except in cases of natural disaster. The drivers are curt, competent, and speak no English. I am counting the minutes we have been inside the mountains and watching the kilometers tick by, four at a time, till we are out in the daylight world again. This is the Lærdal-Aurland tunnel in Sogn og Fjordane county, Norway, at 24.51 kilometers (15.23 miles) the world’s longest — but I didn’t know that when after a series of lesser entombments we entered this timeless hole. At three places along its length the tunnel widens and glows with eerily intense blue light, fading pale towards the ground, and you think you have begun to hallucinate. But it’s part of the design, meant to imitate sunrise according to the government. It does not. If anything it says you have left the living world behind and entered a place where flame burns blue yet gives no heat; you have been taken into the mountain

  • Myth & Mind: Bring out your dead

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard They say not to tip the man who tends the pyres on the burning ghats of the Ganges, keeping the oxygen roaring through the wooden towers and prodding the hands and shins back into the flames when they fall: give him whiskey instead. It’s the only thing that keeps the smell at bay. I was brought to Nimtala Burning Ghat as part of a Kolkata-by-motorcycle tour, which involved holding tight to a city native as we chugged through the streets’ sooty pandemonium on a green vintage Royal Enfield. I was almost as anxious over my intrusion as tourist at a funeral as compelled by the pyres and taste of woodsmoke in the oily, Dickensian smog. But the male relatives chatting around their shrouded corpse as they awaited its turn paid me no mind, and as the day’s dead were transmuted to ash I watched and thought of our English word bonfire, which means a blaze hot enough to consume bone. Nimtala is the most famous, and reportedly the most haunted burning ghat on the Hooghly River, a distributary of the sprawling Ganges and the heart of the city of Kolkata (Calcutta). A ghat is one of innumerable crumbling flights of stairs lining the river to make it accessible for the bathing, washing, and prayer that never for a moment cease along its banks from its origins in

  • Myth & Mind: Loki’s tricky tongue saves his neck

    Apr 28, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard There was a time when words had power. Oaths and contracts bound their makers as securely as iron, curses flew truer than arrows, and on the slippery outer edges of words was a subtle magic. In the North, the god Loki wanted gifts for the Æsir, so he sought out the dwarves in their caverns, master smiths who made wondrous things from the Earth’s ores. From the four sons of Ivaldi he commissioned a spear for Odin that would strike whatever the thrower aimed at and always return to his hand; a mighty warship for Freyr that could be folded away so small and light it would fit in your pocket; and living golden hair to replace that which he’d cut from the head of the goddess Sif — another story entirely. When Loki had these treasures he showed them to the dwarf brothers Sindri and Brokkr. They were rivals of Ivaldi’s sons, and their works and hearts were darker. “Toys,” the brothers sneered. “We make things of real power.” “Care for a bet?” asked Loki. “Make your own gifts and let the recipients decide whose work is best. If Ivaldi’s sons win, we keep your gifts for free. If you win, how much gold do you want?” Loki was good at getting gold. “No gold. When we win, we take your head for our price.” It

  • Myth & Mind: The yolk and the sun

    Mar 31, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard In the beginning, before the worlds had form, the sun thrust her right hand over the sky’s edge. She did not know what her place was to be, nor did the moon and stars know where to shine. Now that the stuff of time and place is differentiated and the wheels of the sun’s chariot turn the day and year on a set path, a monstrous wolf pursues her through the sky. All that is begun must also end, and one day this clockwork will run down. When the serpent round the earth’s middle sets the oceans loose and the dead rise to battle, the wolf will devour the sun and stop the turning of time. Or we could say that one day our star’s fiery heart will run out of fuel; one day its expansion and contraction towards death will disrupt the complex balance that keeps its satellite the Earth in a settled orbit, and the cycles of movement that make time will gradually or violently come unpinned. Whether our life can exist independently of our sun is an academic question. What is beyond questioning is that our life — human life, life on Earth — was and is given and ruled by the Sun. So of all her movements, her return from darkness at dawn has the greatest mythic significance as a cornerstone of human

  • Myth & Mind: Thor, Strength & sudden light

    Feb 27, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard Thor had a mind to go fishing. Striking the head off a bull to use as bait, he demanded the giant Hymir take him out in his boat. Far they rowed out to sea. Hymir caught two whales on his line. “We’ll turn back now,” he said. “It’s not good to go into deeper waters than this.” But Thor rowed on, and where there was no bottom to the sea and the sky closed grimly over the tops of black swells rearing higher than mountains, he cast his bait down on a long, long line and waited. Soon a bite nearly wrenched the line from his grasp. The giant’s boat juddered on the dark water, its planks creaking, as Thor braced himself and pulled with all his might. With a roar as if the very ocean rose against him, the terrible head of the Midgard Serpent breached the deep and yawned over the boat, Thor’s iron hook wedged fast in its jaw. They say that none have seen fearful things who did not see this: the massy weed-hung head of the world-encircling snake disorganizing the swells, deadly venom dribbling from its jaws, and Thor staring back in awful fury while thunder growled in the clouds overhead and lightning stabbed red from his eyes. As the thunder god reached for his hammer, Hymir, in terror, cut the fishing-line,

  • Myth & Mind: The drinking horn full of the oceans

    Jan 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard What is myth? Raven stealing the light, Athena bursting fully-armored from Zeus’ forehead, and so on? Where did these stories come from and why? Well — once upon a time — our primate ancestors lived, ate, loved, and died just like other animals and needed nothing more. Like wolves and chimpanzees, we hunted cooperatively and communicated using indicative vocalizations. Then language happened, and from thinking largely in concrete facts we started thinking in symbols. We made the cognitive leaps from grunting when we saw antelope, to having a specific sound that meant “antelope,” to using it when there were none around. Suddenly we had more to think about apart from whether or not we could run the antelope down; now we were concerned with meaning, and lo, through one of evolution’s stranger vicissitudes the human consciousness was born. Language and the super-complex brains it built gave our sorry, furless ancestors the cooperative and imaginative edge they needed to survive. But now, those complex brains found equal complexity in otherwise straightforward struggles to get food, mate, fight, and resolve fights. Life had a new dimension for which meat and copulation alone were not enough (well, for some of us). We needed to find a working truce with the loneliness and fear that go hand-in-hand with speculative thought; we needed not just physical but psychological strength to outwit death

  • The sweet fruit of the dead: A consideration of life after death before birth

    Dec 30, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Myth & MindNo CommentsRead More »

    By Reva Sherrard The girl was called Kore, “maiden,” and Neotera, “younger.” She was full to bursting with youth, life, and beauty, and all adored her. One day the ground yawned under her feet, and Hades, lord of the dead, carried Kore down from the fields of grain and poppies to his realm deep within the earth. Without the maiden, seeds did not sprout, buds withered before they could turn to fruits or flowers, and crops died in the fields. There could be no new life, no food. Only age and wintry barrenness were on the grieving earth. Under the earth, grapes and persimmons, apples and pomegranates throve, perfumed and plump. Kore was hungry but dared not eat, for to eat the fruit of the realm of the dead would bind her to it. A beautiful pomegranate in Hades’ garden caught her eye. Its rind flushed like a dancer’s cheeks, and it swelled as tautly round as a belly about to give birth, so rich with ripe life it seemed to sing to her. Such a fruit could do her no harm. She reached out and plucked it, and hesitated, feeling its weight in her palm. Then with her nails she tore through the thick skin and bit a mouthful of slippery crimson seeds. Nothing in all the world was ever so sweet, so fulfilling, so good. The blood-red juice

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