30 days of devotion: a myth of Caffeina

Caffeina is a young goddess, so myths are not plentiful.  I considered writing a tale of my own, but it’s not really a myth unless the name of the first teller is lost to antiquity, so I will instead recount the myth of Kaldi and the dancing goats.

Caffeina, goddess of energy and clear thinking

In the early days of humanity, life followed the sun:  up with its rising to feed the animals and work in the fields, and returning to shelter for the darkness after it set.  The gift of fire brought the first light into that night, extending the time of human awareness.  As torches, oil lamps, and electricity chased darkness from homes and places of work, the traditional cycle of asleep and awake was disrupted, and humanity began to suffer.

Nearly as old as the mastery of light in the night was the solution to the problem of how to be awake in the night, but knowledge of its mysteries were swathed in mystery.  It is told that an Ethiopian goatherd by the name of Kaldi was struggling with the problem, because he spent the long days tending his flock, but with the acquisition of an oil lamp, he was not getting the sleep he needed, and sometimes dozed during the day.  The reason the presence a lamp had disrupted him so was because the simple goatherd had been using the night hours to read and write, skills he had acquired in his youth, but had been unable to master due to his responsibilities.  With a lamp, he dove into the art with a passion which surprised even himself, devouring books of any subject, and writing simple poems contemplating the nature of the gods.

One early afternoon, Kaldi’s dozing was interrupted by the bleating of his goats:  one had gotten itself caught in a thicket, attracting the attention of wolves, whose stealthy approach had been unnoticed by the snoozing goatherd.  He quickly drove the predators away, his heart beating hard as he thought about how close he had come to losing a part of his herd, and perhaps even his own life.  Reading and writing were exacting too high a price, and would have to go.

As the sun set that night, Kaldi knelt in prayer, the oil lamp unlit.  “Noble gods,” he prayed, “I know not to shirk my duty to my flocks, but I yearn for the new things revealed to me through written words.  If you are not cruel and seeking to make jest at my expense, I beg a boon:  send me a sign of how I might live this double life.”  And with that he retired early, so that he would be fresh for his goats in the morning.

The next day, he took his goats farther along one path than he had ever been before, such was the effect of a full night’s sleep.  He sat on an outcropping in the sun, watchfully guarding the flock, but at the same time allowing his mind to wander.  As the sun shone upon him, he felt a satisfaction creep over him, a sense that he was in the right place and time in life.

Kaldi’s eyes caught a strange movement, and his mind resolved the image:  his goats, or some of them, were frolicking and leaping about as if they were all younglings, although most were yearlings or older.  What was possessing them?  He arose to look more closely, and found two of his animals eating berries off a bush he was unfamiliar with, and then  . . . dancing away.  Curious, he tried one of the berries himself.  The meat of the cherry-like fruit was sweet, what there was of it; the pit took up most of the inside.  But shortly, Kaldi felt a wash of joy and vigor overcome him for a moment, a sharpness of sense and strength of limb such that he had not experienced since he was a boy.

The goatherd was not so simple as to overlook the very sign he had asked for, so he knelt down and praised his gods.  He collected many berries from the plant, leaving more than enough for it to propagate, and brought them home at the end of the day for experimentation.  He discovered that the sweet fruit was not the true source of the amazing feelings; it emanated from the seed within, and it took him some weeks to discover that the power was best unlocked by fire, and that he discovered by accident, as he upset a bowl of them into the cooking fire.

It was such that the knowledge of coffee was brought to humanity, but it would be many years before the name of the goddess who sent Kaldi his gift would be discovered, for he himself never knew who had thus blessed him.  That is a tale for another day.

This post is part of a series, 30 days of devotion to Caffeina.

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