Posts Tagged ‘Myth & Mind’

  • Myth & Mind: April 2018

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

    By Reva Sherrard X ***** While I aim for themes of general interest, my focus in this article is on the myths of Northwestern Europe because they are what I study. The world is full of other rich, complex, and sometimes contradictory traditions I omit because of my lack of sufficient knowledge, not through a lack of appreciation and respect. Reva Sherrard works at Peregrine Book Company, studies Old Norse religion, and is writing a novel

  • 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

  • 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

Celebrating art and science in Greater Prescott.

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