Tuesday, December 25, 2007

So-Called Angels

I'm a little busy with Christmas, so here's a video.

A condensed tribute to the best Christmas special ever. The MSCL creators are now doing QUARTERLIFE online (see Links)


Tuesday, December 18, 2007

So This Is Christmas

"A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear" ~ John Lennon

"Will you please stop talking about religion? It's CHRISTMAS!" ~ Danille Chase, MY SO-CALLED LIFE

Christmas is another example of how much all peoples have in common. I'll be celebrating Yule on Friday, and the time time of year is celebrated in surprisingly similar ways in cultures as far apart as China and Iran.

The Norse, the Egyptians, the Celts, Babylon, Rome, Persia/Iran and China all celebrated the longest night of the year, the Winter Solstice.

Pat Guthmann Haresch of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Outer Banks sees a deep connection between ancient winter solstice celebrations and Christmas. "Much of the symbolism used in Christmas has its origin in older religious traditions. The use of greenery, holly berries, candle light, even the symbols of a mother and her child are related to older spiritual practices before the arrival of Christianity," adding "We live in such a divided world and it would be wonderful if people of different faiths could understand the underlying connections of the holiday and that all of these celebrations are based on many of the same things, one of the most important ones being that of hope."

The Christmas tree tradition springs from honoring the evergreen; its survival throughout the year symbolizes the eternal World Tree. And here's a link with more info on the origins of the Yule Elf, now known as Santa Claus, and other Christmas traditions:


It's interesting that all these festivals, steeped in myth, are rooted in the real world. The solstice is an actual event, the night when the Earth is farthest from the sun. Cold and dark are at their peak on the longest night of the year, but it also marks the return of Spring. The days grow shorter from then. It's an example of Yin/Yang, the Asian concept of the balance of opposites.

Hallowe'en and Easter (after a goddess named Eostire or Ostara before Christianity) celebrate the harvest and the bloom of Spring. The celebrations are seasoned with stories of ghosts, gods and goddesses, but they have come to symbolize so much more.

Christmas, whether we realize it or not, has long since transcended its origins as a Christian holy day to become a secular holiday that is more about the spirit of giving and the need for peace. We have our own new myths: Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty and the Grinch to name a few.

Whatever you call it, what myths and rituals and traditions you invoke, doesn't matter. At heart they are all celebrations of life and the renewal of the soul.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

In The City of All Faiths

"Surely the day will come when color means nothing more than skin tone, when religion is seen uniquely as a way to speak one’s soul; when birth places have the weight of a throw of the dice"~ Josephine Baker

"Every day, here and at home, we are warned about the enemy. But who is the enemy? Is it the alien? Well, we are all alien to one another. Is it the one who believes differently than we do? No, not at all, my friends. The enemy is fear. The enemy is ignorance. The enemy is the one who tells you that you must hate that which is different. Because, in the end, that hate will turn on you. And that same hate will destroy you." ~ Reverend Dexter, BABYLON 5

“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.” ~ Kahlil Gibran

I don't like the word "tolerance." Tolerate means to put up with something, to, according to Webster, "allow" it. It implies that whatever you're tolerating is different, inferior or wrong. Selma G Hirsch, in THE FEARS MEN LIVE BY, said "Respect—not tolerance—must be our goal." This gets back to the whole Star Trek IDIC (Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations) thing. Even respect isn't enough - we should delight in our differences. Octavio Paz put it as, "life is plurality, death is uniformity."

And this is where myths and stories come in. A wonderful example of this is a new trend in comics by Arabic and Indian creators. The stories show that people everywhere have the same needs and wants.

AK Comics were published and sold through the Middle East. The company was founded by Ayman Kandeel in Egypt "to fill the cultural gap created over the years by providing essentially Arab role models, in our case, Arab superheroes to become a source of pride to our young generations. Editor Marwan Nashar read Spider-man but "always wondered why there weren't any Arabs leaping off buildings."

But Arabic or Islamic pride is not a main concern of AK's heroes. AK wants to promote peace through understanding - understanding that different cultures are all human at heart. And the similarities stand out in their comics more than the differences. The street scenes and day to day lives could be from any city anywhere.

The cornerstone of the AK universe is the City of All Faiths. The superheroine Jalila is its protector. In her secret identity Jalila is a nuclear scientist. Aya, Princess of Darkness, is a law student in her real life and Zein, the Last Pharoah, is a philosophy professor. "The religious backgrounds of the heroes remain undisclosed so that no religion or faith can be perceived as better than another."

Respect for different faiths and strong women characters? That's not what we'd expect to appeal to the Arabic world! At least not the stereotyped Arabic world we are told about

A new Arabic superhero series appeared in the last few months from Teshkeel Comics: the 99 (pictured above). Dr Naif Al-Mutawa, psychologist and children's book author, created the heroes, each of whom represents one of the 99 attributes of Allah. But again the stories are not about Islam. 99 gems containing ancient wisdom were lost around the world, and the people who find them are gifted with super powers. People of all kinds from all over the planet.

Virgin Comics features writers and artists from India, and works ancient Eastern mythologies into modern superhero myths like THE SADHU, DEVI and SNAKEWOMAN, and comics that tell the Indian myths directly, their India Authenic series. Devi can be read online at http://www.virgincomics.com/devi.html

There are too many misunderstandings between Western and Middle Eastern cultures. Some are born of ignorance, some created deliberately (*cough* weaponsofmassdestruction *cough*). Take the word Jihad. Its primary meaning in the Qur’ān is the inner struggle against a person's own demons; wars to defend the faith are dismissed as the Lesser Jihad.

We fear what we don't understand. A wise little old green man once said that fear leads to hate.

Shared stories that lead to understanding can, literally, save the world. And that's supposed to the job of our superheroes in the first place!

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Summerlands and Beyond

"Behind the walls of the Pélori the Valar estab- lished their domain in that region which is called Valinor; and there were their houses, their gardens, and their towers. In that guarded land the Valar gathered great store of light and all the fairest things that were saved from the ruin; and many others yet fairer they made anew, and Valinor became more beautiful even than Middle-Earth in the Spring of Arda and it was blessed, for the Deathless dwelt there, and there naught faded nor withered, neither was there any stain upon flower or leaf in that land, nor any corruption or sickness in anything that lived; for the very stones and waters were hallowed." ~JRR Tolkien, THE SILMARILLION

"May it be a light for you in dark places, when all other lights go out." ~Galadriel

"I look forward to the day when your people join us beyond the rim. We will wait for you. ” ~ Lorien, BABYLON 5

"There is no conclusive evidence of life after death. But there is no evidence of any sort against it. Soon enough you will know. So why fret about it?" ~ Robert A Heinlein, THE NOTEBOOKS OF LAZARUS LONG

"Since life and death are each other's companions, why worry about them? All beings are one." (Chuang-Tzu)

A friend of mine passed last week. He was a young man, bright and intelligent, working for his Masters in Literature. We called him the God of Computers, because he could tell us how to solve any computer problem. During his recent hospital stay, he fixed the nurses' computers in exchange for Kit Kat bars. We used to gather to watch STARGATE on Friday nights. Since I lost my car, I wasn't able to visit him as much as I'd like to. I will miss him.

The Egyptians were about the first to have a complex afterlife system. Reaching the paradisal Fields of Aaru was quite a task: you had to be mummified, weighed against a feather of the goddess Ma'at, and pass a long journey to gates guarded by demons. The Norse had Valhalla, where warriors fight and hack each other to bits eternally, restored in time for the evening feasts. The Aztec paradise was also for warriors, and people who died of old age or disease went to dark Mictlan or the brighter Tlalocan. To the Greeks the Underworld was a land where souls lived as bodiless shades. The Celts had the Summerlands, a place of eternal peace and beauty where everyone except really bad souls lived and only certain great heroes ever returned to the Earth. Judaism named the underworld Sheol, a part of which was Gehenna, a place of fire that purified souls and destroyed evil.

Jesus talked in parables using the Jewish myth-system as a metaphor for spiritual anguish and cleansing, but he was taken literally, and Hell became an eternal torment - a horrible thing to ascribe to a loving God.

In Eastern religions there are several hells, also seen as places of atonement for bad karma. Karma is also worked off in reincarnations. Eastern beliefs, though, are more concerned with enlightment than places of rest or punishment. Samsara, the cycle of life, called in Vedanta "the state of becoming," is a path of learning that leads to moksha, "freedom from limitations."

Modern pagan systems like Wicca have melded the Celtic afterlife with reincarnation, viewing the Summerlands as a place of rest and reflection between lifetimes.

In THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Valinor is very like the Summerlands. It is reserved for the immortal Elves and can only be reached from the Grey Havens by the Straight Road. Frodo and his fellows are given special dispensation to live there after their adventures.

Most modern popular myths use traditional versions of the afterlife, but there are some new ideas.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, before Tarzan, wrote UNDER THE MOONS OF MARS. His hero John Carter basically dies on Earth and is transported bodily to Mars. Barsoom (the Martian name for their planet) was unlike anything NASA found, with dry sea bottoms under two moons, swordsmen, four-armed green warriors, airships and princesses. ERB meant it as fantasy, and he never said directly that Carter had died, but it did bring up the idea of being reborn on other worlds.

Michael Moorcock took this a quantum leap forward. His Eternal Champion exists in many dimensions of the "Multiverse." Elric of Melniboné, Dorian Hawkmoon, Corum Jhaelin Irsei, Jerry Cornelius, Erekosé and many more are all facets of one being. In such a system the death of one incarnation would not mean the end of the person.

My Christian Science chaplain once described death by saying that, while you seem dead to the rest of the world, to you nothing has changed; you just go on living. That suggests not only the Taoist belief that life and death are merely two aspects of one being, Yin and Yang, but also concepts from quantum physics like Schroedinger's Cat, where the cat is both dead and alive until observed. More on that in later blogs.

All I know is that if there is a Summerlands or a Valhalla, their computers are working now!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diversity and the Outsider

"We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams." ~ Jimmy Carter

"Peace is not unity in similarity but unity in diversity, in the comparison and conciliation of differences." ~Mikhail Gorbachev"

"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC) represents a Vulcan belief that beauty, growth, and progress all result from the union of the unlike. Concord, as much as discord, requires the presence of at least two different notes. The brotherhood of man is an ideal based on learning to delight in our essential differences, as well as learning to recognize our similarities." ~STAR TREK

Myth and folklore are all about interactions between humans and magical and otherworldly creatures. That hasn't changed today, although you are as likely to find aliens and mutants among the gods, faerie folk and elementals. Otherworld includes the entire universe of possibilities.

Except for tales of the gods, classic mythology and fairy tales are usually told from the human point of view. There are exceptions, but in general the stories were meant as cautions to keep people safe; which could also mean keeping them in their place. Thus in the original Little Mermaid tale, the nonhuman heroine loses her prince to a human woman, returns to the sea and dies. There are tales of changeling children swapped for trolls in Swedish and Celtic legend; in both the way to get rid of them was to treat the child cruelly.

It's only recently that stories have shifted to the outsider's point of view. Superman, of course, is from another planet, but Kryptonians are human in most respects; he is more a god than an alien.

The first truly nonhuman character that I recall was Eando Binder's Adam Link. Adam Link was a robot who appeared in a series of stories from 1939 to 1942. The stories were about his attempts to be accepted by human society. There were other robotic heroes but most of these were so humanoid that it didn't matter or human brains in metal bodies.

Since then outsider heroes have become popular. Aliens like STAR TREK's Spock and the comic books' Martian Manhunter, demons from other dimensions like Hellboy (see image), vampires, and like creatures are heroes too.

In faerie lore, changelings were fey beings left behind when human children were stolen. The modern versions are the mutants in stories like X-MEN. The children are "different" from their parents, sometimes just by having super powers, but some have blue fur, tails, claws or scales. They are the ultimate version of the outsider. But in the new stories the changelings are the heroes.

Of course the truth represented by these heroes has nothing to do with the Otherworld. The appearance in popular culture of outsider heroes reflects, I think, a growing acceptance of human diversity in all its forms. And this is something we have to learn. There is too much beauty to be seen in differences and truths to be learned from each other to waste it hating ourselves over small differences.

And that's all there is between us ... small differences. There are no outsiders.

Monday, November 19, 2007


The scene to the left includes a corny line from a 1951 Buck Rogers Sunday comics page, but it's one that has stuck with me all through life. "A guy's never done for till he quits breathing." I like it's simplicity better than "Never give up, never surrender" because it simply states a fact: as long as you're alive there are always choices. It seems to pop into my head and get me through tough times.

Here is another deceptively simple one: the Green Lantern's oath from the original 1940s comic books, "I shall shed my light over dark evil, for the dark things cannot stand the light ... "

Light dispells darkness as knowledge dispells ignorance, Life dispells death.

A Maori proverb says, "Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you."

"As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being." ~Carl Jung

Here's a mix of quotes by people real and fictional about mythology and stories, spirit and the universe:

"Legends are the spice of the universe ... because they have a way of sometimes coming true." ~Captain Jean-Luc Picard, STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." ~Albert Einstein

"'Mythology' is what we call someone else's religion." ~Joseph Campbell

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies." ~Thomas Jefferson

"When I talk about belief, why do you always assume I’m talking about God?" ~ Shepherd Book, SERENITY

"God goes by many names, perhaps some alien sounding, different faces, and history, but all describing the same Creator." ~Brother Theo, BABYLON 5

"Many paths lead from
The foot of the mountain,
But at the peak
We all gaze at the
Single bright moon." ~Ikkyu

"Do you think He's really out there!?" -- Doctor McCoy
"He's not out there Bones, He's in here." -- Captain Kirk ~STAR TREK V

"The molecules of your body are the same molecules that make up this station and the nebula outside, that burn inside the stars themselves. We are starstuff, we are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out." ~Delenn, BABYLON 5

"The whole room, four walls, the floor, and the ceiling, everything, albeit distorted, is compressed into that one small circle.… No matter how you turn or twist yourself, you can’t get out of that central point [between your eyes]. You are immovably the focus of your world." ~MC Escher

"Do you know like we were saying, about the earth revolving? It's like when you're a kid, the first time they tell you that the world's turning, and you just can't quite believe it cuz everything looks like it's standing still. I can feel it. The turn of the earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at a thousand miles an hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67000 miles an hour. And I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... That's who I am. " ~The Doctor, DOCTOR WHO

"What appears to be coming at you may be coming from you." ~Meatball

"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." ~Henry David Thoreau

"If you confront the universe with good intentions in your heart, it will reflect that and reward your intent. Usually. It just doesn't always do it in the way you expect." ~G'Kar, BABYLON 5

I'll be doing occasional quote posts, so if anybody has any good ones to share, please send 'em along!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Tao of Tarzan

"I have to say he is the finest man that I have ever known - trousers or no trousers." - Rawlins (TARZAN ESCAPES)

When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote TARZAN OF THE APES in 1912 he had held a number of jobs. As a night watchman, he read fiction magazines on breaks and decided that he could write better than what he found in those. 25 books later, not to mention movies, radio, comic books and tv, ERB was able to retire to a ranch in Tarzana CA.

Tarzan had many mythic sources. The hero raised by animals is a common theme from Romulus and Remus nursed by a she-wolf, the Greek heroine Atalanta by bears and the Celtic Oisin by a deer. His story reflects the Arthurian legend of the young man who discovers his true noble heritage. Like any good hero he eventually became immortal.

In his adventures Tarzan overthrew a lot of false religions, idols and god-kings, yet his own spirituality was almost never mentioned. I said last week that Tarzan was a Zen hero. Reading through a few of the books I found some amazing parallels.

"To Tarzan ... contentment is the highest ultimate goal of achievement ... He saw the greed, the selfishness, the cowardice, and the cruelty of man; and, in view of man's vaunted mentality, he knew that these characteristics placed man upon a lower spiritual scale than the beasts, while barring him eternally from the goal of contentment." ~TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD (1933).

Buddhism teaches that the only thing that bars us from happiness is attachment to things and feelings.

"Happiness does not come from having much, but from being attached to little." ~Cheng Yen

Samsara is a term for living in the world, attached to habits and materialism. It is the opposite of Nirvana, freedom and happiness.

"The initial stage is to reduce attachment towards life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara. Then in the third stage, self-cherishing is eliminated." ~The 14th Dalai Lama

ERB wrote adventure stories, not philosophy. Tarzan was not a Zen master. Tarzan did kill, but hey, he was raised by apes, not monks! Burroughs said, "Necessity required him to kill for food and in defense of his life, but the example of his savage associates never suggested that pleasure might be found in killing ... His viewpoint toward death was seemingly callous, but it was without cruelty."

Popular culture analyst Doc Hermes wrote, "This dual nature is one of the things I love best about the character. Tarzan is not a mere animal in a human form, he is a unique symbiosis of the human and the animal natures ... the balance between Lord Greystoke strolling through Hyde Park with Jane on a Sunday and Tarzan ripping raw meat from a freshly killed gazelle is an essential part of the appeal. Tarzan is yin and yang in a single body."

Writing about the traits that separated his hero from the apes ERB said "not the least of these were in a measure spiritual, and one that had doubtless been as strong as another in influencing Tarzan`s love of the jungle had been his appreciaton of the beauties of nature." ~ TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, 1921) Tarzan lives, not in a treehouse with an elephant elevator, but on a sprawling ranch in Africa with his wife Jane. But he "loves to roam remote fastnesses still unspoiled by the devasting hand of civilization." He has a "spiritual enjoyment of beauty that only the man-mind may attain."

Zen sayings and poems like Han shan's "A thousand clouds among a myriad streams And in their midst a person at his ease. By day he wanders through the dark green hills, At night goes home to sleep beneath the cliffs" might be talking about Tarzan.

In "The God of Tarzan" (JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN, 1917), Tarzan reads about God and sets out to find this being who is supposedly more powerful than himself. Investigating what he hears from jungle people, he eliminates false gods like the Moon, idols and tribal shamans. Finally he understands that the still, small voice in his conscience that stops him from killing a helpless enemy is God, and God is stronger than Tarzan. You can read the story here:


That story was probably one of the earliest influences on my own spiritual thought.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Nature of Freedom

"There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. ~G'Kar, BABYLON 5

"Once your awareness becomes a flame, it burns up the whole slavery that the mind has created. There is no blissfulness more precious than freedom, than being a master of your own destiny. ” ~Osho

Myth reassures us that we are all heroes, we have a purpose and a connection to the All. Relatively recently, the stories also tell us that we are free.

In earlier cultures stories reinforced the idea that a good person obeys the local gods, preisthoods and kings. There were exceptions like Robin Hood, but most heroes like Beowulf, Hercules and Lancelot stayed in line.

It wasn't until the 1800s that the idea of personal freedom emerged. Its roots are in heroes such as Hawkeye in LAST OF THE MOHICANS and romanticized stories about pirates and Western outlaws, but the first great romantic rogue hero in fiction was The Scarlet Pimpernel, beginning as a play in 1903 and a series of books by Baroness Emma Orczy. The Scarlet Pimpernel was a British nobleman who was an outlaw in France for rescuing people from the guillotine. With his colorful name, secret identity and symbolic calling cards he was forerunner to generations of masked heroes from Zorro to V For Vendetta.

The Victorian era produced Sherlock Holmes, the consulting detective who worked independently of the law and Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, using his submarine the Nautilus to try to end war.

The 20th century brought pulp magazines and comic books and with them hordes of masked, cloaked "mystery men"(1). The 1920s -30s were a time when gangsters seemed to run roughshod over the law. The Phantom, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Batman, and The Spirit took matters into their own hands, supplanting such authority figures as Dick Tracy in the popular imagination. It was like telling us that if society couldn't save us, the Universe and the human spirit working together would.

The ultimate expressions of freedom came in Tarzan, The Saint, Superman and Doctor Who.
Tarzan was free of civilization and all its expectations and limitations. For those familiar only with movies, Edgar Rice Burrough's Tarzan was not that ignorant character but an educated English nobleman who when he learned his hertiage chose to return to the jungle.
The Saint literally laughed at the law; his books had titles like THE HAPPY HIGHWAYMAN and THE BRIGHTER BUCANEER. He helped people (and himself) with an utter disregard of the criminal nature of his methods, and had fun doing it.
Superman was not only free of society but of all mortal limitations. He was a logical extension of folklore heroes. Individuals who were more powerful than their environments, from the purely physical in Hercules to advancing technology in John Henry and Paul Bunyan. Superman himself has changed with the times: in his early stories he could be harmed by exploding shells, but now he could survive a nuclear war.
Doctor Who is free of time and space. In his TARDIS he travels anywhere and anywhen, the embodiment of Hung-Chih's saying "A person of the Way fundamentally does not dwell anywhere." The Doctor is not bound by the laws of any one period or society, not even his own (he stole the TARDIS).
Of the above, Tarzan, I think, is the most free. He can't fly or deflect bullets or travel in time but his mind is free. He goes where he wants and accepts whatever he meets. Tarzan is probably the most Zen-like of all the heroes.

In TV and movies, private eyes and loner cowboys were more prevalent than police heroes. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer broke with the Council of Watchers who supposedly controlled her destiny. The science fiction heroes have gone from the Space Rangers and Space Patrol of early tv and STAR TREK's upholders of the United Federation of Planets to the rebels of STAR WARS, the fugitives of FARSCAPE and finally the "Let's Go Be Bad Guys" crew of FIREFLY.

Stories like these don't just express the need and yearning for freedom. Myth tells us that we are good and deserving, and eternal, and it tells us that we are free. We just have to decide to accept it.
Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull told a gull with a broken wing,
"You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way."
"Are you saying I can fly?"
"I say you are free."

(1) before the term "superhero"

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Tree of Life and Death

I once said to an Air Force Christian Scientist chaplain that at that moment I felt so at peace that I didn't care if there was such a thing as eternal life or not. She replied, "There, you have found eternal life!"

“... one of what we all are: Less than a drop in the great blue motion of sunlit sea. But it seems that some of the drops sparkle. ... They do sparkle!” ~ King Arthur, Camelot by Lerner and Lowe

Two of the most potent icons that appear in different myths are intertwined. The image of the World Tree exists in most cultures --including pop culture-- and the story of the hero who dies and returns is always linked to it. Perhaps a tree's roots deep in the ground with branches reaching to the sky symbolizes our connection to the All. Its cycle of decay in Fall and Winter and rebirth in Spring and Summer represents the cycle death and resurrection. Religions tend to celebrate their heroes' or dieties' rebirth around the coming of Spring, when the world itself seems to be coming back to life.

Death and resurrection are a key theme in mythology. We want to know that we are eternal, or, at least, a part ofsomething that is. Most heroes of most myth-cycles are tasked to reaffirm this by dying and coming back. At the least, they experience a life change so profound that it is like being reborn. The Norse god Odin was nailed to the Tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge, including the ability to enter the Land of the Dead and return. A gigantic tamarisk tree grew from the spot where the Egyptian god Osiris died; he was later resurrected by Isis after five days in the Underworld. Buddha found enlightenment sittiing under the bodhi tree. Christ died on a symbolic tree, the wooden cross, and was resurrected three days later. Arthur's mentor Merlin was associated symbolically with an oak tree. In modern myths Luke Skywalker faced his fears in the tree on Dagobah to become a Jedi Knight. It might even be said that Buffy's wooden stakes and Harry Potter's wands are shards of the great Tree. In fact, it is significant that Harry met his own death and returned amid the trees in the Forbidden Forest, and Buffy's death came on a tower that reached up like a tree.

Even without the symbol of the tree, most major popular culture heroes have an element of death and rebirth in their stories, keeping them firmly in the classic mythic tradition. Superman was sent out like a seed pod from a dying planet. The Lone Ranger was the last survivor of a band of Texas Rangers left for dead by the Cavendish gang; he even left a grave marker. Buck Rogers was overcome by an underground gas that left him in a deathlike state until he awoke in the 25th century. Denny Colt was doused with a chemical that left him in suspended animation; he was buried in a vault in Wildwood Cemetary that later became his hideout and base when he awoke and named himself The Spirit(1). Most of today's super heroes survive origins that would normally be lethal: struck by lightning, hit by a meteor, exposed to radioactive or toxic waste. It seems a hero just isn't a hero until he has met Death and lived to tell the tale.

Speaking of cycles, The Celtic celebration of the end of the harvest season and the coming of the season of death is tomorrow night. It was known in Gaelic as Oidhche Shamhna, or in modern terms Samhain, All Hallows Eve or Hallowe'en. It was the end of the year. Some traditions hold that on this night the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead is thinnest. The ancients celebrated the aspect of Death because they knew that it is only part of an never-ending cycle, that while the old world died the darkness was germinating the seeds of the new. When you can see that, you've found eternal life.

(1) If you don't know the classic comic book hero, don't worry: the movie is out next year!)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Truer Than Truth

"Is there anything truer than truth? Yes, Legend." - Kazantzakis

"These things never happened, but are always" - Sallust

"We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth." - Picasso

As I promised last time, my personal thoughts on religion. Posting these to help explain why I'm comparing certain religious teachings to myth.

There is only One True Religion. It goes under different names depending on whom you're talking to. Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Tao, Wicca, atheism and a million more. Why people can't recognize this I don't know. Sometimes it seems they just don't want to. All the faiths have one core truth:

"There is vast Mystery in the universe and we are all part of it, so we should be kind to each other."

That's it. Everything else, everything else, is details.

Religion and myth not only tell us the same truth, they are identical. Their stories tell us that, despite our "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations" (1) we all dream in common. That we are worthy, that dragons can be slain, evil powers humbled, death outlived.

We can use the power in myth as long as we remember to name it myth. It's when myth gets confused with literal truth that we get in trouble. People can start believing that only their myth is true, that they are special or Chosen, and they can feel free to put down other people. But worst of all, literalness brings in dogma and ceremony and robs them of the true meaning of the stories. Christianity is just a new myth that perpetuates elements of older stories. There were virgin births, crucificions and resurrections for thousands of years before Christ. Nearly every religion teaches the same Golden Rule. The new religion incorporated those old, powerful images the same way it took over the ancient pagan holidays.

Personally, I prefer Zen with its lack of gods, or Wicca, whose followers admit that the gods and powers they invoke may be just tools to focus thought.

I'm not saying all this to antagonize anybody. Just to set down my take on religion and to explain why it's necessary to consider religious myths along with pagan and Eastern and even pop culture myths. Religion is not "just another myth." No matter what you call them, myths hold powerful truths. Just look for the truth beyond the dogma. As Bruce Lee said in ENTER THE DRAGON, "It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all that heavenly glory."

I'll discuss two of the most profound myths next week, in the Tree of Life, and Death.

(1) IDIC: The Vulcan philosophy of STAR TREK by Gene Roddenberry

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

"Stories are signposts to help the world choose between the darkness and the light." ~Arago

Angel, from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer spinoff series, said it this way:

"Nothing in the world is the way it ought to be. It's harsh, and cruel, but that's why there's us. Champions. It doesn't matter where we come from, or what we've done, or suffered, or even if we make a difference. We live as though the world were as it should be. To show it what it can be."

I talked last post about how the heroes and archetypes of myth recur wearing (as Joseph Campbell says) new masks in all times and cultures. They live the same stories over and over again because the stories hold truths we need to hear.

Here's one about (Campbell again) The Hero With a Thousand Faces:

Once there was a young person named Arthur/Moses/Frodo/Clark Kent/Luke Skywalker/Buffy Somers/Harry Potter who was raised as a commoner, not suspecting his noble heritage. She met a wise old man named Merlin/Gandalf/Obi-Wan Kenobi/Giles/Dumbledore who revealed her true destiny. Granted a weapon of great power called Excalibur/the Staff of God/the One Ring/super powers/a lightsaber/a wooden stake/a phoenix-and-holly wand, he went forth to fight the forces of evil.

The clearest truth in the story is that no matter what our situation we are all greater and nobler than we think. We're worthy, we have a purpose, as the Desiderata says we "have a right to be here."

Young heroes, wise wizards, objects of power, monsters and villains are archetypes that surface in most stories (or is there only one story?) The hero doesn't have to be fantastic. He can be a private detective, his magic kingdom the mean streets of Los Angeles and the dragon may be a corrupt corporation. The swords, rings and wands are icons, symbols of power.

There are more vital truths hidden in myths and fairy tales and popular culture, and many more examples of their recurring patterns. But in order to fully appreciate them we have to include some myths that a lot of people take seriously. Before I get there I'm going to have to digress next post and talk about myth and religion.

Monday, October 8, 2007


"Stories are signposts to help the world choose between the darkness and the light." ~Arago

This blog is about spirituality, alternative religions and quantum physics, heroism, but mostly about mythology and folklore and (geeky) pop culture and how they relate.

Arago was a character on a short lived TV series called The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_Adventures_of_Jules_Verne . He may have been based on Francois Arago http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Arago . Arago popularized astronomy, physics and technology in many of his treatises, and championed humanitarian causes such as abolishing flogging in the Navy and slavery in the French colonies. His role in the series was to tell the young Jules Verne that his science fictional writings were important in mankind's dealings with the new technologies that were developing in the late 19th Century ... steam power, airships, world travel. Verne in real life popularized technology by giving it the aura of adventure and wonder and more importantly by giving it a human face. His books were fanciful but wildly popular and, as Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Joseph Campbell http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Campbell said that stories, in the form of myths, are powerful, even vital means of connecting us to the "Unknowable," the mystery that is as much in ourselves as in the Universe.

Today we don't have myths that we recognize as such. The main source of myth, religion, takes itself seriously, mistaking stories for literal fact. The myths we all share are found elsewhere, in popular culture whose icons and archetypes come from our own subconscious. They are updates of the old symbols ... Merlin is Dr Zarkov and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Giles and Dumbledore ... They are our minds' and the Universe's way of telling us eternal truths.

I'll be talking about the connections between myth and mind and mystery here, as well as just rambling or ranting. If any of this interests you, you're welcome to come along and join in.