About myth

Dear Poseidon,

Rape of Demeter by Poseidon, oil on canvas by Teresa Hurley.

I was following the dual American traditions of eating meat cooked outside and igniting small explosive devices the other day by visiting dear friends of the family. It was the conversation I had with one of their boys that I wanted to write to you about. While catching up, I told him that I’ve finished the draft of Depth of Praise. That led him to recall a time — probably half his life ago, when he was about eight years old — when he and his older brother were reading the Percy Jackson books at the same time, and had an ongoing debate about who was greater, you or Zeus. My conversation partner had chosen you, while his brother championed Zeus’ cause.

Looking back on it, my young friend then started thinking more deeply on the subject, and asked me, “Is Poseidon the god of storms? It gets tricky.” He wasn’t actually looking for a response yet, and continued to think aloud. “Zeus is the rain, but rain is water, which is Poseidon, and it soaks into and under the ground, which is Hades,” he mused. “How do you know which god to pray to?”

“Maybe that’s why the myths have a lot of references to incest,” I realized in my outside voice. “The lines get blurry, and those are the stories that try to explain it. Like Zeus marrying Hera and Poseidon being with Demeter.” About that time I realized that I was the one this conversation was for.

We say it all the time: the myths are not intended to be interpreted literally. And yet, we interpret the myths literally. People complain about rapist gods and rail against incestuous gods and get ticked off that the ableist gods cast out lame Hephaistos. We might be less likely to assume that all humanity’s woes were kept in a box, or that a titan brought the first fire to mortal hands. The negative stuff, though, is easier to get judgmental about. The truth about myths is that they’re metaphors that are as fleeting as the shadows on the wall of the allegorical cave. We have a sense of you theoi, but you are well beyond our meat-brain comprehension, and what we do understand is through nonverbal parts of that brain. Thus, we take an experience of something unimaginably vast and thoroughly aware, which is occurs entirely on levels of consciousness which language cannot being to touch, and we try to capture those experiences with the first tool we master, that of words. Each of those myths hints at your personalities, your motivations, and your areas of influence, and sometimes the metaphors used include incest, and rape.

Those are strong words, and they are not nice words. I know that your moods include the most terrible, Poseidon, and you certainly have the power to assert your will over another, but I am not sure if that’s actually what’s going on. Is the ocean raping a cliff if its waves wear at its base? Is a tree’s tap root committing an act of incest as it penetrates the earth, mother of all? What do we know of the mating practices of gods, after all? Does “mating” even apply, or is it as useful a word as “saunter” is for describing a biathlon or triathlon? Or both at once?  The stories from before when Homer spun tales suggest that you and Demeter were mates, yet his contemporaries referred to your coupling as rape.  I wonder if we haven’t let our mythic tradition ossify, Poseidon. We seek the most accurate translations of the earliest transcriptions, and from these we learn quite a bit about our ancestors and their relationship with you, but isn’t this a living tradition? We need to be writing and telling new myths, written today, which give new glimpses of understanding who you are. They won’t be any more accurate than the venerated tales from antiquity, but they will likewise be threads added to our tapestry of comprehension. I know that there is a decent amount of fiction written about the theoi and other gods, but I’m not sure if that’s the same thing as writing myth. The latter is more akin to oracular work, in my mind. Some of the fiction out there might rise to that level, but up until I write these words, Poseidon, it hadn’t occurred to me that I ought to read some of it to find out.

Bottom line on myths is that they draw upon the feelings of the writer and the times in which that writer lives. Well do you know, Mousêgetês, that were I to write myths of you, they would not be all soft hugs and sunny days. On the other hand, I doubt they would include rape, either. I just don’t think that’s the language which would fit for my understanding of you. If I were living in the lands of Hellas in antiquity, perhaps I would make a different choice.  Myth is a partnership, the filtering of divine experience through a mortal brain to create art. Change either partner, and the finished work is very different. I’m not surprised at the imagery which spoke to some of my ancestors, but I don’t see the infiltration of the ocean into the shore as an act of violation. If you’d like to explore what we can create together, I would be honored to try.

Your devoted subject,

TPW

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About Greece

Dear Poseidon,

I’ve been thinking about Greece. It’s in the news a lot now, as it goes through the most recent — and apparently most dire — throes of the debt problems that have plagued it since that country joined the Eurozone. I don’t know how many of my ancestors made offerings to you, Poseidon, but I do know that if they did, it was probably in Greece that it happened. Greece, where you were old when Homer was young. Greece, where today your worship is not recognized at all. Surely there is a lesson hidden in this chaos.

To hazard a guess, I’d have to say that debt is the problem. We love to borrow money, but paying it back isn’t as popular. I’m not a big fan of debt, because I am an animist who honors the spirits of money, and I believe that debt is miasma for those spirits. Debt will show up in a ledger as balanced, because the credit (the amount borrowed) is equal to the debit (the amount owed). That’s tidy, but on a spiritual level the transaction isn’t balanced until the debt is paid. The sheer amount of debt in the world’s economy creates a massive amount of money miasma, which can be mitigated, but really just needs to be paid off. Greece’s government wasn’t able to hide large amounts of debt by inflating the currency once the country adopted the Euro, but its problems were not created by the currency switch. Larger nations and combined economies like the Eurozone can absorb more debt for longer periods of time than Greece could, but eventually we will all be too polluted for the money spirits to work with us.

I’ve long felt that you have a powerful role in the economy, as Asphaleios and Agoraios, so I kind of suspect that Greece going through this is either tough love or dire warning. If I’m correct that debt is the problem, it’s going to be quite interesting to try to solve it. If the cause is something else, I hope we can set aside the hubristic attitude that we control money long enough to figure out what you’re really trying to tell us.

While I’m on the subject, I do you hope can smooth things out for the Greeks, Poseidon. They are lying in the bed that their forefathers made without looking at the instructions. Mistakes were made, and we will all pay for them in full, but if you could manage to help them find the new normal without too much misery, that would be nice. I know lots of regular people are pitching in, so maybe you could, too.

Thinking of you,

TPW

PS — thanks for sending me those extra hymns to write for my devotional to you. The last two really surprised me.  I think I will have the last hymn written by the dark of the moon.

About Nepal . . .

Dear Poseidon,

This whole Nepal thing has really been eating at me. I feel like I understand, and yet I don’t. These people, clinging to life on the sides of mountains, surely have enough challenges without the touch of Ennosigaios to wipe nearly everything they know from the face of the earth.

But.

Science makes clear what living on the slopes of the Himalayas brings with it. Nepal’s earthquakes are some of the most regular tectonic disruptions known. So regular, in fact, that I expect the eldest Nepalese remember a time, when they were young children, that the otherwise solid rock beneath their feet shook like curtains and rippled like water. The sharpest among them might even recall that their own grandparents and wizened elders told tale of the time when this happened when they were young children, skipping two and three generations, but never so many that none living could recall that earthquakes are nothing new. This greatest of mountain ranges is built upon plate tectonics, as India dives down beneath Asia, and such majesty does not arise without violence. In a way, the Nepalese are blessed like no other people, because they at least have a sense of when the inevitable shall occur. No one in California can say that.

But.

Widespread disaster never seems to touch our shores. The worst losses of life in my country have always been created by us, not the gods. In the United States, we have the knowledge and resources to prevent so many of the deaths once caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods . . . and yet countless thousands die in Ares’ name, or by human folly. Passion drives us to create more powerful weapons, more effective medicines, more troubling food systems, more potable water, more disconnection from the gods, and simultaneously more skepticism for the science that was supposed to replace them. I live in a great bubble, Basileus my king, that tries to muffle your influence but creates new forms of suffering to balance accounts. My life is nothing like that of a Nepalese family living high in mountain village that can only be reached by a thin ribbon of road, or perhaps a helicopter if one is available. Their struggles are not my struggles. The amount of money I make, the amount that sometimes keeps me awake at night worrying what the future might bring, is still more in most weeks than many Nepali workers earn in a year. Sheltered by industry and empire, even if I am ever in the crosshairs of your rage, Labrandeus, my life will still materially rebound much, much faster than it will over there. Part of me wonders if the people of Nepal haven’t been kicked in the teeth, either for no reason, for because they deserved it for reasons I cannot fathom.

But.

Death by landslide or cholera or malnutrition is not all that face the people of Nepal. As unwelcome as their suffering surely is, this quake is the sort of disaster that can bring humanity together, because its onset was sudden, its victims blameless, and its destruction is being relayed around the world. Whatever money is pooled to aid the Nepalese may or may not be enough to rebuild what was lost, but it’s arriving much faster than did relief for Ebola. Stories of aid supplies backlogged and not arriving in the remote villages where they are desperately needed is still better than stories of people dying because no help has been sent at all. Managing the logistics of compassion is worthy work, and I cannot help but believe that each attempt to work together on missions of aid elevates our entire species. Humanity’s spirit needs opportunities for elevation, but we are probably missing a lot of them. Are we so deep in our ruts that thousands of people need to die in a distant land before we are shaken out of our complacency, Ennosigaios? And why did you choose Nepal to set your clock by?

You are god of sudden change, Poseidon, and it can take a long time to learn the lessons that you unexpectedly bestow. May you grant at least the full eighty years to allow this one to sink in.

Thinking of you always,

TPW

Dear Poseidon

Dear Poseidon,

I got your message today. You obviously asked Hermes to deliver it, because it arrived when I was driving. That he’s all about travel and pranks, as well as communication, makes giving me a message when I can’t so much as write it down make a lot of sense. I’m not so sure about the ones that pop up when I’m in the shower, or otherwise indisposed, but that’s all part of the mystery, isn’t it?

Anyway, the message, “You should compile a book of your letters to me,” presumes that I’ve been writing letters to you in the first place, which I’m sure you know I have not. I have to commend you on your hints, then: I think you’re starting to realize how useless subtle is around me. Lots of people are really good at recognizing signs and interpreting their meanings, but that first step is a pretty big sticking point for me. I can’t interpret what I never notice. I definitely notice that you think I should be writing letters, so here you go. I hope I do better than when I was sending mail home from college, but I’m not swearing any oaths about keeping this up, okay? I don’t make promises I don’t know I will keep.

Writing letters is a pretty good idea, though. I have so many questions for you, and I’m probably not the only one. I know people who get into conversations with their gods — you included — but that’s not how it works between you and I, is it? I hear from you when you deem the time is right, and by way of whatever means you consider appropriate. Your messages come through dreams, divination, and dropped right into my head, and it’s not lost on me that discernment is pretty important for all three. After all, I dream dreams that don’t come from you, most of my divination probably isn’t your doing, and sorting out the thoughts which didn’t start out in my cranium takes practice. No doubt you’re trying to train me to notice you when you’re subtle, too, by mixing it up. If I just write to you, though, I can control my message as much as you do yours. We might have to work on delivery methods, but even writing down words forces my thoughts to clarify. Well played.

This is just a short note, to let you know I got the message, and I’m on it. If I remember, I have a lot of questions about what’s going on in Nepal and the Mediterranean. There’s also a question of possession that I need to broach with you. I have to go now to write for The Man, but I’ll be getting back to you soon.

Take care,
TPW