“If you don’t talk, I’m going to assume you haven’t read the books. So then I’ll have to give you quiz. And if I give you a quiz, it’s vengeance. Let’s not go down that dark path.” ~Professor Berk on the first class in Mythic Literature… after he’s made a Lord of the Rings as well as a Spider-Man reference
So I’ve said both on the Facebook page and on Twitter that tonight’s entry will continue the horror discussion that has carried on since October. While that is true, I’m going to bring in some new elements this time: mythology. Ain’t that great! Ancient Greece has contributed so much to our society, it’s scary.
But it’s not just Greek, is it? Mythology comes from all parts of the world. Back in November I wrote a short story that drew a lot of influence from Norse mythology, talking specifically about Loki and his three children. For the record, this story needs a ton of work and it could probably be expanded to a novella, which I hope to do sometime in the near future. Honestly, it’s a funny story. It has Loki and his awful, awful children after all so why wouldn’t it be? Dark humor, but anyway, I digress. Other than giving artists and writers like me material to work with, mythology is a truly powerful thing. It has that energetic quality to itself, seeping into our lives, sometimes temporarily and sometimes, for good.
God, Monsters and Immortality
This semester I’m taking a class on mythic literature. Officially it’s called “Mythological Background on Western Literature,” but Professor Berk has named it “God, Monsters and Immortality.” In the beginning on our first evening – yes, evening, because it’s a three-hour long night class – on the first evening, he said, “God, monsters and immortality. By the end of the semester you gotta pick one!” (I’ve already picked monsters, but we’ll see if that changes.) One of the things we did was watch this movie called “Whale Rider,” which was amazing, beautifully shot, poetic and it contained so much symbolism, the nerd within me went nuts.
To get back to what I was saying about how mythology seeps into our lives, let me tell you this: There’s a culture group from New Zealand I learned about in class that night. They’re called the Māori, and if I understand this correctly, they base their traditions on a mythology about Paikea, the man who rode across the ocean on a whale. Legend has it that one day a prophet will lead the Maori back to their homeland. It’s a culture that lives and breathes till this day. When I looked up this tribe, I found this on Wikipedia (don’t judge):
The Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages at some time between 1250 and 1300 CE. Over several centuries in isolation, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture that became known as the “Māori”, with their own language, a rich mythology, distinctive crafts and performing arts. Early Māori formed tribal groups, based on eastern Polynesian social customs and organisation. Horticulture flourished using plants they introduced, and later a prominent warrior culture emerged.
That is just fascinating to me, because in the world I live in, mythology only exists in books. It’s something of the past and here are the Maori whose lives revolve around Paikea, who believe in it with all their hearts. Come to think of it, Native Americans aren’t unlike in the sense that they’re also trying to preserve a culture that’s close to extinction. I need to check, but I hope the Maori aren’t facing the exact same troubles that the Native Americans have gone through. And are still going through! There have been multiple times when I’ve been on vacation, like in South Dakota or around the Smoky Mountains, where there have been so many souvenir shops bastardizing the Native American culture with flashy knick knacks and jewelry made out of plastic. I hate seeing that kind of mass production.
“Words are means of re-discovery and rebirth, not repetition.”
That’s what Professor Berk told us on the second evening of class while we were talking about oral storytelling. The curious thing about oral storytelling are the lack of written records, and every time someone re-tells the tale, the story itself “experiences a different incarnation.” Yes, those things might seem obvious now that I phrase them to you, but thing is there’s something sacred about these stories.
First of all, they’re not written down, because groups like the Navajo tribes don’t want to share those stories with outsiders. Often times, even when a member of the Navajo has shared a story with a non-initiate, it’s been the child’s version, so some of their secrets remain hidden. Secondly, they don’t want to translate those stories to English, because then everything about the story will lose its meaning to them. To them, there’s something inherently wrong hearing their stories spoken in a different language.
In some cultures – not just Native American ones – when it comes to telling stories, people have word authority. There’s this rule, for example, that you mustn’t speak the name of certain mythical beings. These beings are so powerful that if you say their name too often, you will end up accidentally calling those spirits and they will come to you. For class that day, one of the readings we had to do was a story about the raven from the Haida and it’s name is mentioned only twice. There is one point where the narrator scarcely avoids saying it for a third time. Instead they say, “Then the one we are speaking of sat up. He had drifted close to a two-headed kelp…” and so forth. That’s a little frightening, isn’t it? Like staring into a mirror and saying Bloody Mary three times will bring you bad luck (most certainly death).
My professor had a funny story relating to that, but I’ll save that for next time. I realize I’ve gone over my limit actually. I hope you found this interesting. Have a good one.