Tag Archives: Mythology

The Land of the Dead: Regarding Your Recent Visit…,

I stopped writing.

There were reasons for the pause.

I needed to get my bearings, figure out where I was, and chart a course forward.

There were other reasons that cropped up along the way.

“Life stuff” – we categorize it, like it were something we could put in a box and slide under the bed, as if we weren’t swimming in it constantly.  Drowning even, when the waves catch us by surprise, and we find ourselves gulping for air.

So I stopped writing.

And I stopped reading.

And then there was a combining of households, and boxes to be filled, and what gets sold and what moves to storage, and…, life stuff.  Like I said.

But space, like time, was suddenly at a premium.

And the altar had to be put away.  All the bits and pieces carefully cleaned and wrapped and boxed.  Temporarily.  Until I can find the space for them.  Make space for them.

I stopped writing, and reading…, and talking.

To the gods.

To the spirits.

To the ancestors.

It’s the easiest thing in the world.

To let it all go, to be what this empty world we’ve created wants us to be.

I used to wonder, from time to time, about the Land of the Dead.

It is a place of dread that figures into so many of our mythologies: a grey void of a place where the dead wander, without purpose or meaning, hungry for the attention of the living.  I was never sure I believed such a place could exist.  It seemed so far removed from my personal experience of the universe we share.

The Otherworld, I had always been taught, always believed, is reflected in our own mortal realm, just as our world is reflected there.  Neither realm is wholly separate from the other, each profoundly present within and throughout the other, and still, for some of their inhabitants, frustratingly out of reach.

But where then, could we see any reflection of those ghostly fields where the dead are said to wander aimlessly?

Where, if not all around us.

Listless – Hungry – Craving.

I have found myself wandering among them in the grey realm from which they’d seek escape, if they only knew that they were trapped.  The Land of the Dead is not a mythological construct,  not even close.

We’ve built it, floor roof and walls, and we’re constantly furnishing it with all the ‘life stuff’ that we collect along the way.

And it’s not a terrible place to visit, from time to time.  We all end up spending time there eventually.  The important thing is not to get trapped there.  Never forget where you are.

Always be “Just Visiting” – because the alternative…,

JustVisiting

So here I am.

Writing again (and it’s harder to get started again, than I would have believed).

And reading.

And talking (to them, and you).

Still not sure of exactly how to get to where I want to be.

But at least I know where I was, and that’s as good a starting point as any.

Any day now I expect to receive my survey in the mail…,

“Regarding your recent visit to the Land of the Dead.”

I should probably give them a nice review.

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Filed under About this Blog, Culture, Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Spiritual Journey, Uncategorized

Homeless

I’d just pulled out of the grocery store parking lot and into some mild traffic, this was early last week, when the passenger side window of the car in front of me opened and ejected what looked like a wadded up fast food bag, which came to rest on the grassy slope beyond the curb.

There was no way I could pull over to pick it up, and no way to properly express my outrage to the uncaring occupants of the vehicle in front of me.

The litter was just there, a little blot of ugliness in my both my rearview mirror and my stomach.

I found myself wondering in what sort of condition those people keep their home.

What, I wondered, was their problem?

Why not just dispose of the thing properly?

I called these folks “uncaring” a moment ago, but I don’t know that I believe that.  There has to have been some thought process, some mental calculation that would compel a person to open her car window and cast her refuse into the street.

I imagined these people as horrible slobs, leaving a trail of filth in their wake wherever they go.

But maybe they just didn’t want that trash in their car, they could, I supposed, be incredibly tidy, within their own four walls.

And there, in the midst of my conjecture, I think I may have hit upon the element that I was missing.

Home, for most people, is what we own, an area bounded by fence or walls that belongs to exclusively to us.  Everything beyond those walls is outside, outside of our control, outside of our responsibility.

I don’t really see things that way.  Walls and fences have their uses, sure, but they are temporary things, in the grand scheme, and land ownership even more so.  The land does not belong to us, we are only its caretakers.

It is, I think, far more realistic to say that we belong to the land.

And so, last Sunday when I saw garbage indiscriminately flung into the street, it felt like a blemish upon my home.

Two days later, nearly half our population flung garbage into the presidency, and for the first time in my life, I felt homeless.

In the days that have passed since that seemingly endless Tuesday night, my emotional state has shifted from anger to despondency and back again more times than I can count.  I’ve listened to the speculation about the why’s and how’s, I’ve looked through the sorry demographics of who did and didn’t, I’ve listened to the explanations from those who voted for him, and I keep coming up with the same calculation that accounts for that wadded up bag on the side of the roadway.

This society is infected with a strange breed of selfishness that prevents us from truly seeing and empathizing with the world beyond that little patch that we imagine we own.

The problems and concerns of others, their very real fears about the future…, well, that’s on them, isn’t it.

And I don’t know what we can do about that attitude.  I don’t know how we can broaden the perceptions of people beyond themselves, except to continue to be who WE are, to continue to live in their world, and to open their hearts, one by one.

I suppose it would be easier, if I could just shut my eyes to it, but I can’t.

I wouldn’t want to.  I remember when I saw the world like they do.  I remember that, although less painful, it was a pretty empty way to live.

The anger is still there, but it’s at low ebb now.

The despondency, I’ve mostly replaced that with determination.

But I worry for my friends, many of whom are likely facing hard times ahead.

I worry for those of us who practice alternative religions, now that the evangelical movement has friends in high places, who have already expressed profound misunderstandings about both the Non-Establishment Clause, and simple human decency.

Mostly though, I worry about the land.

My ancestors believed that we were all a part of the land, and that the land herself was divine.

When they chose a king, he was symbolically married to the goddess of the land.

The success or the failure of that marriage could be seen in both the fruitfulness of the land and the prosperity of the people.  A disrespectful king could bring blight to the land and ruin to the governed.

Although the actual rituals of this marriage have not been practiced in many centuries, and never on this continent (so far as I know), I do believe that some vestige of this relationship, however unknown to our leaders, must still remain.  And the thought of it, of that man in THAT spiritual role…, frankly, it makes me nauseous.

Somehow, I don’t think a man with a reputation for using women and a well documented disdain for environmental protections will be the font of a bountiful union.  And if things go too badly, the goddess of this land may very well blame the society that put him there.  We may find that we are all homeless.

Goddess Statue

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Filed under Culture, Modern Life, Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Traditions

An Audience of None

book of the dead

Who will judge us, and by what measure?

We closed our eyes upon the living world and awoke to find ourselves standing in the presence of a powerful being, being both jackal and man.  We do not fear him, but rather the great set of scales besides which he stands.

In one hand he carries a single feather, plucked from the wings of the goddess of truth.

He places that feather upon the scales, and then reaches out toward us, into us, and though we are not harmed, we see that he carries our heart in his easy grip.

This two he places upon the scales.

A heart weighed down with a lifetime of regrets, and a feather infused with the weight of justice.

The scales tip, one way or the other, and we are judged.

 


 

The taste of the coin lingers as the small boat finally comes to ground.

We step eagerly over the shallow rail and onto solid earth, with only a brief glance backward to see that the cloaked ferrymen is rowing away again, into the gloom from whence we came.

There are three paths before us, and three kings, sons of the sky father, the keeper of oaths.

In life, their judgements were fair and true.

In death they will not fail us.

Our story is all told, we need only an ending befitting our tale.

Was our life one of goodness, or evil, or were our deeds unremarkable, our life wasted?

The story goes on, and we are judged.

 


 

Our ticket to eternal reward has been purchased in blood.

And now, after a long sleep, we shall rise and collect our due.

All around us they gather, the people we knew and loved and feared and hated.

But we have no eyes for them, nor they for us.

Our attention is arrested by the light which drew us from the grave, a light that touches every part of us, that burns away the shadows so that we are revealed completely to him.

Did we store our treasures in the old world, or in the new?

Eternity yawns before us, and we are judged.

 

Always we have been judged.

We crave it and we fear it like no other thing.

For as long as we have walked upon this earth, we have given ourselves to the gods for judgement.  The names change as we move from tribe to tribe, as do the specific details, but in the end we imagine ourselves laid bare in the eyes of those who will rule, finally, upon the content of our lives.

I have wondered, sometimes, if the gods and the ancestors volunteered for this duty, or if we somehow pressed them into service?

Just lately, I have wondered if their long obligation might be coming to an end.

We have found a new God of Judgement, it seems, better than those we have previously known, more responsive and immediate in both its praise and especially in its condemnation.  This new god does not wait until we are dead to pronounce judgement upon us.  It watches us with a billion eyes and when we are found wanting, the punishments of this new god are immediate and scathing.  No more waiting around for the privacy of the grave, no more scriptures or doctrines to follow and uphold.

Have you guessed it?

We did this.

We reached out and opened the eyes and ears of the world.  We gathered them all together in one place, where they could speak in one voice.  And before the echoes of our celebration had died away, this shambling titan began to reach out in complete and utter condemnation of everything within reach of its great and dissonant voice.

For once, we’ve given the atheists what they wanted.  We’ve swept aside the old gods and shown that we can do things far more efficiently by ourselves.  And what a job we’ve done!

But I think I was more comfortable when Anubis was weighing our hearts against the Feather of Ma’at, than I was a few weeks ago, watching a young woman torn apart on Twitter because she didn’t put her hand over her heart when the national anthem played.

I don’t care for this new god.  It is hungry and arbitrary in a way that makes the most capricious of the old gods seem tame by comparison.

It is not a god we can fight.  There are no temples to burn or idols to smash.

If we would not give ourselves fully to this new god, we must then seek to starve it, to deny it our attentions and concern.  We must live our lives freely, without casting arbitrary judgement on others and playing our brief parts for an audience of none.

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Filed under Death, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, The Gods

The Final Treasure

This is a time of endings and beginnings, a ‘thin’ moment in the turning of the year when death becomes life, and past becomes future.  It is a time of short campfire stories meant to raise gooseflesh, and for sombre reflection upon the grand themes which shape our existence.

Allow me a moment to set the scene:

In an age long before the first mortal man set foot upon the Emerald Isle, there were four great cities hidden across an impassable sea, far to the north and west of that land.

It was in these cities that an ancient race of gods, the Tuatha Dé Danann honed their great skills before taking to the sea, riding within a great mist, and settling finally upon the shores of Ireland.

And when they came out of that otherworldly realm, they brought with them four great treasures – objects of such power that, in their absence, each of the great cities crumbled into the sea, even as our own mortal world was forever changed with their arrival.

The Sword,

The Spear,

The Cauldron,

The Stone.

When I first began writing here, in April of 2012, I considered the Four Treasures to be of only limited consequence.  That I named this blog after the fourth of those treasures, The Stone of Destiny, had less to do with what the Stone represents, than with my belief that in visiting the Hill of Tara upon which the Stone is said to rest, I had reached a major turning point in my life – the ending of one journey and the beginning of another.

In the intervening years, I have found that the process of writing things down brings with it a clarity that I hadn’t known I was missing.  Years spent studying comparative mythology, symbolism, folk tales and spirituality was meaningless until I began to use what I’ve learned as a lens through which to view my own life, and the world around me.  The process of writing has revealed connections between fable and form that I had not previously recognized.

And as I have wrestled with my understanding of the gods, who are sometimes near enough to touch, and sometimes incredibly distant…,

And as I have cast my nets again and again, seeking that ever elusive Salmon of Knowledge who always seems to be swimming just out of reach…,

I find that my thoughts turn again and again to the four Treasures of the Tuatha Dé Danann, and I begin to see that they are more than just the magical tools of the gods that the stories make them out to be.

In fact, I have begun to believe that their power is in many ways greater than that of the gods, although, unlike either gods or men, the Treasures have no power to act on their own.

It was not until November of last year that I felt confident enough in my thinking to write down my thoughts regarding the Third Treasure – the Undry Cauldron of the Dagda.

As for the Sword and the Spear…, I had hoped to write down my thoughts concerning them both before now, but each time I try they dance just out of reach.  Their purpose seems so obvious, and much has been written already by people with greater scholarship than I on the subject of magical weapons.  But I feel as though there are connections there which run deeper, and which I have not seen clearly enough yet to speak of.

And as for the Final Treasure…,

I have only just realized that I’ve been talking about nothing but else from the very beginning!

The stories that have been passed down to us say that it is simply a stone of coronation.  In these tales, when the rightful king of Ireland comes into contact with its surface, the stone will roar with a sound that echoes across the countryside for all to hear.

Which is no small thing, but easy enough to dismiss in this modern age when monarchs are few and democracies (at least in principal – if not in practice) are the rule of the day.

But I have recently come to believe that there is much more to the Stone than its functioning as some kind of magical ‘king detector’.  Not when the other Treasures are so much more powerful.

Before the Tuatha Dé Danann brought the Stone with them out of the wreckage of fair Failias, its master was a great teacher known as Morfessa, a name which means “grand knowledge”.

When the Dé Danann arrived in Ireland, the Stone was not bequeathed to any single god, as was the case with the Sword, the Spear, and the Cauldron, but was installed at the Hill of Tara, which served for both gods and men as the political and spiritual center of the island until well into the Christian era.

The Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Grand Knowledge.

The Stone is not an object of myth.

The Stone is Mythology.

It is that special realm of understanding that does not make the common mistake of conflating truth and fact.  For most people in this modern age, dominated as we are by the twin monotheisms of Abrahamic Dogma and Rationalist Thought, it is truly a foreign shore.

And yet, the more I watch the people around me, the more I listen to them, I am convinced that there is a great yearning in the human spirit, to find those fields again.

People have been taught, as I was, that mythology is the stuff of lies.

If an idea is not found within the covers of a certain holy book…,

If it is not reproducible within a laboratory setting…,

It must be a deception, to be avoided, or laughed at, or simply ignored.

People have an inborn yearning for mythology and they have been taught to avoid all the roads that would lead them there.  Folks have become so used to the blinders that they wear that they don’t even realize there is an entire perspective that they are not even seeing.  And when they do catch a glimpse, it’s like a whole new world opened up for them – which is exactly what has happened.

I’ve been lucky enough to see that transformation happen within a tiny handful of people, and it is, every time, a joy to behold.  And maybe I’m greedy, but I want to see it again and again.  And I want to see it on a bigger scale.

And I don’t think a handful of blogs is going to do it.  Neither will the occasional Pagan Pride Day in the park, or the yearly spat of “What do the Pagans do on Halloween” stories on the local news channel.

I think the answer is in the mythology itself, it’s in hearing the voices and seeing the faces of regular people who experience the connection between the ancient and the modern within their daily lives, and in hearing the tales told with a passion and belief that most have never experienced outside of a Sunday church service.

That is something that I don’t think I can do alone, with a once-a-week blog post.  And that is why I’ll be suspending my regular writing schedule for the time being.

But I’m still going to be around, and I’ll post here again just as soon as the spirit takes me.

In the meantime, I’m going to be looking for the means and the skills and the voices to make something happen.  I’ll be reaching out to people in the coming months, but if you’ve got any ideas that you’d like to contribute, or if you have questions, please oh please, feel free to contact me in the comments!

Finally, I could not close without a heartfelt Thank You to everyone who has supported me this little endeavor of mine, to those who come back again and again to read these musings, and to those who have, over the last forty-two months, taken the time to leave me comment.  I could not have come this far without you all.

Slán go fóill (bye for now).

Tools of the Trade

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Filed under About this Blog, Celtic Polytheism, Modern Life, Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Spiritual Journey, The Gods

Truth and Clouds

Lunar Eclipse 2015

There’s a red smudge in the sky to the east.

The Earth’s shadow is falling across the surface of the Moon.

Giant bodies are rolling around each other at stunning distances and speeds.

Together, as they dance, they do this occasional trick with the light, where the one becomes lost almost completely in the shadow of the other.

Almost lost, but not quite.

Because the thin sheen of atmosphere which clings to our globe bends the light, curving it around the edges of the globe and refracting it toward our distant dance partner.

We bend the light around us and the red tinge of a million sunsets and a million sunrises paint our normally pale sister with a ruby hue.

It is a beautiful thing to behold.  I’ve seen it before.

But not tonight, not yet.

The clouds have been rolling across the sky all evening, and the rising moon is little more than a red smudge, nearly lost in the haze.  The atmosphere is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

 

I have many friends and acquaintances who are devout followers of this or that monotheist denomination.  When, on occasion, I have wondered aloud about why, in the face of scientific fact, they cling to literalist interpretations of biblical canon, I have been told that their strength lies in their faith.  If any one part of the Bible is found to be false, they explain, then the whole of it is forfeit, and their faith is for nothing.

This, it seems to me, demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the meaning behind the word.  Any faith that cannot survive in the light of truth is a hollow imitation of belief.

 

The clouds have cleared a bit and the Moon is hanging higher in the sky, a dusky red lantern in the darkness.

I’ve brought my telescope out for the occasion, and it’s finally clear enough that I can put it to use.  The blood-moon of the naked eye is, upon closer inspection, a gradient of hues from orange to deepest maroon.

My cat, weaving her way around the legs of the tripod, sees none of these colors.  For her, the bright white ball has become a dim grey ball.

Do my eyes see the truth of it?  Do hers?

Or does the scientific instrument see things more clearly?

And why would we assume that it must be one or the other?

Especially when there are still so many clouds!

 

For most of the people alive on this globe right now, the gods which I believe in are mere fables, or metaphors, or at best they are Jungian Archetypes which exist as manifestations of the human psyche.

When you spend years of your life, as I have, studying the gods and the mythologies that surround them, you quickly come to accept the fact that most of the scholarship on the topic was written with these biases as their foundation.

It is an unavoidable and perfectly reasonable attitude.

It doesn’t bother me.  It inspires me!

And why shouldn’t it?

These, simple metaphors (if you will), have shaped human art and literature and science for the entire known history of our species.  For almost two-thousand years, they have continued to guide and influence our culture, despite militant, often violent, suppression by the various monotheist orthodoxies that have held power.

If the gods are fictional then that’s pretty damned impressive for a bunch of stories!

Now stop and imagine, for just a moment, that you felt the touch of something that huge and powerful, in your life.  If you count yourself as a believer, would you really need to cling to this idea that every scrap of mythology associated with your deity was true, despite all evidence to the contrary?

 

The clouds are gone.  And so is the eclipse.

I just watched through the big lens as the last of the Earths’ hazy shadow slipped off the rim of the lunar sphere.

Earlier tonight I was using the 20mm lens on my scope, which puts the entire globe on display, but for these final moments I switched over to the 10mm which draws the moon down with stunning detail – craters, mountains, valleys, and the shadows they cast.

The red color is all leeched away by now, of course, and dear Luna is clothed once again in her standard pearlescent garb.

Watching through the scope, I see the last sliver of our shadow…,

…going…

…going…

…and gone.

It is a strange thing to sit there and see the final moments of something that huge, watching it not on television or on some live feed from the internet, but through your own eyes aided only by a couple pieces of glass.  The stark truth of the thing does nothing to diminish the feeling of awe which is inspired by the immensity of the event.

 

I have been challenged, on more than one occasion, to produce some proof that my gods exist.

I can’t even prove that there was an eclipse tonight.

I saw bits and pieces of it.

I’ll wager you did too.

But there were an awful lot of clouds rolling through and most of it I couldn’t see that clearly.

The atmosphere, as I may have mentioned earlier, is the thing that makes the miracle, and often enough, obscures it from our vision.

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Filed under Culture, Mythology, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Spiritual Journey

Love Potion #9

I was strolling through the parking lot on my way home from work, when I noticed the business cards tucked into the drivers side windows of the cars I was passing.

This sort of thing happens at least once every few months in this parking lot.

Advertisements of one sort or another appear, wedged under the windshield wipers or stuck in our car doors, usually advertising drink specials at some local bar or redemption specials at some local church.  I snatch them off my car and toss them into the passenger seat, just more fodder for the recycling bin once I make it home.

This particular card was different from others I had seen.  Advertising neither public house nor house of god, it displayed instead the illustrated face of a sultry gypsy woman with the words, “Love Healer Mxxxxx” emblazoned across the top of the card.

No, it wasn’t really ‘Mxxxxx’.

I’m obfuscating a few of the details because I wouldn’t want anyone to mistake this mention as either advertisement or endorsement.  I assure you, it is neither.

Already shaking my head, I scanned the rest of her card and see exactly what services were being offered…,

Reconciles Love

Love and Relationship Specialist

Reveals Secrets

Locates Soulmate

Okay, not too bad so far, I guess.  I have my doubts on the whole ‘soulmate’ front, but it certainly could have been worse.  I took another moment to flip the card and read the back…,

Love Spells

Psychic Love Spells

Wait, what’s the difference between a love spell and a psychic love spell?

Relationship Spells

Breakup Spells

Oh, well it’s nice to see she has a little something for every occasion.

Return Lover Spells

Forgive Me Spells

Desperation: you’re soaking in it.

****

Yeah, I’m just not buying it.

And yes, I can already hear my more incredulous readers pointing out that, as someone who has himself studied and has even occasionally practiced a bit of magic, I have no place calling someone else a fraud.

And that, my friends, is a reasonable point.

I have made any number of claims within this blog, regarding the things I have seen or experienced, that I could never prove to you, beyond any kind of doubt.

And while I find it highly suspicious that she is charging $45 just to conduct a reading to see if she should charge you even more money to offer you romantic advice (as described on her website).  Charging fees for services rendered is not, in itself, proof of fraudulent behavior.  For all I know ‘Love Healer Mxxxxx’ really does possess the power to “reveal your lovers’ secrets” and “enhance your sex drive.”

She may be the “Master Psychic Spiritualist” she claims to be.

Or she may have come up with her job-description while playing Occult Mad Libs.

I just don’t know.

What I can say it that I have known many people who I believe are genuinely in touch with something outside that which most others are willing to experience.  And I’ve met a fair number of fakes as well.  Telling the difference between the two is not always an easy matter.

Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it just comes down to a feeling.

But whatever their powers, real or imagined, here’s one bit of advice I offer free of charge.

Love Spells, Relationship Spells, Return Your Lover Spells…, just ever so much NO!

Romantic Love, the ancient Greeks would tell you, is the child of Beauty and War, and is, by its very nature, already volatile enough without adding a chaotic element like magic into the mix.

These things never go well.

And if you don’t believe me, just look into the various mythologies…,

The arrows of love invariably prick the wrong target, leading us to a hoard of unfortunate physical transformations, wars inspired by romantic jealousy, and an entire flock of god-kings stepping out with a handy river-nymph, carpenters wife, or some poor young woman with a secret swan fetish.

If even the gods can’t handle this stuff, what chance do mere mortals have.

It’s a bad BAD scene and we’d all do well to just stay away from it.

Stay safe out there and good hunting!

Leda and the Swan

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Filed under Magic, Modern Life, Mythology

Pluto Rising

PlutoClosestYet

I came to know the gods through science.

Tell me, is that a strange thing to say?

Does it run contrary to your expectations?

Walk back with me a little ways, and I will try to explain…,

When I was a very young boy I was hungry to read and watch and learn anything science related.  I don’t know exactly where it came from, this desire of mine, but it manifested early and it stuck.

Probably, it started with the dinosaurs.  Isn’t every little boy drawn to the image to giant lizards smashing through the jungle?  Certainly, the box-office of a certain series of movies would appear to support that idea.

So, like a lot of kids that age, I absorbed everything I could about them.  I learned their various names and measurements in excruciating detail.  I could tell you the most up to date theories concerning the eras in which they lived, the shape of the land and the environmental changes which directed their movements and shaped their evolution…,

Did I say “evolution”?  Oh yeah, I was not very popular in Sunday School.

Big surprise there!

When I asked too many ‘disruptive’ questions, they started sending me to the church library.

“Look for your own answers,” one of my teachers told me, and that may have been the best advice I ever received in a church.  And so I read their books and compared what they told me to the books I was reading at home.

It was all about the books in those days, it’s easy to forget.  Internet, what’s that?!

So time passed and my interests shifted upward and outward, into the nighttime sky.

My parents had long subscribed to magazines like National Geographic and Popular Science, so I was already a ‘space enthusiast’ by the time Carl Sagan’s Cosmos aired in the last months of 1980.  By the end of the series I was absolutely hooked.  My best friend at school called me ‘space man’ because that’s all I could talk about.  I counted Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo among my heroes.

I was outside nightly, over the course of one summer, using a telescope, paper and pencil to chart the orbital positions of Jupiters moons.  I wondered, at the time, if anyone else was doing that with me.  I wonder if anyone has done it since?

There’s an app for that, I know, but what’s the fun in that?

Those moons, and Saturn’s rings, and the phases of the planet Venus.  Those are things that we can look up there and see for ourselves.  We don’t need computers or smart-phones or glossy illustrations in a book.  It just takes a couple pieces of glass and a clear sky.

So at night I watched, and during the day I read.

Our UniverseAnd one of the many books I devoured in my quest for space knowledge was called the ‘National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe’.  Arranged like others of its kind, the book worked its way outward from the Sun, through the nine planets and into the realm of distant stars and nebulae, providing a basic overview of each body encountered along the way.

One notable difference, however, was that the opening chapter of the book provided an extremely vague overview of some early mythologies relating to the stars and planets.  Then, at the beginning of the chapter devoted to each planet, there was a small illustration of the Roman god for whom that planet was named, and a tiny blurb describing these gods.

I chewed through that book as I had all the others, memorizing all the statistics about the planets, moons, and stars presented there.  But unlike the books I’d read before it, and the many that came after.  I kept going back to it again and again

There was something about those little illustrations that kept pulling me back.  Those stories touched something in me that lie deeper than a simple thirst for knowledge.  There was a familiarity to them, and they seemed important.

Illustrations of three Gods (Jupiter, Venus, and Pluto) from the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe

Illustrations of three Gods (Jupiter, Venus, and Pluto) from the National Geographic Picture Atlas of Our Universe

In school (both Sunday School and the regular kind) I was told again and again that these gods had never existed, and that no one alive worshipped them any more, because the ‘one god’ had replaced them, and wasn’t that so much better.

But we still used the names!  We called out to them in the days of the week and the months of the year.  Seemingly everything spinning above our heads for a billion billion miles was named in their honor, and we told their stories again and again to explain why.

Even those who do not believe in the gods must admit, there’s a kind of immortality there.

And I’ve got to think there’s bad news there for the monotheists in the crowd.  Print all the books you want, folks, the entire sky is named in honor of the gods of old.  Words on a page fade over time, but those names have revolved above us for thousands of years now, and we’re still adding to the list.

Pluto, named after the Roman god of the Underworld, was discovered and named in 1930, and four of its five moons (Nix, Hydra, Kerberos and Styx) were discovered and named in the last 10 years.  Classical mythology does not just live within the antiquities collection of some museum, it lives in the night sky for everyone to see.  It lives in a tiny planet that we’ve sent a multimillion dollar space probe to the outermost edges of our solar system to explore.

The God Pluto abducting his future wife Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

The God Pluto abducting his future wife Persephone, daughter of Demeter.

Brother of Jupiter and Neptune, dark Pluto is the invisible king of a frigid realm where go the dead to sleep.  He is husband to Persephone, who waits out the long winter season with him, clothed in darkness, before he opens his hand, and allows her return to this world through the flowering of spring.

See now a body moving through space, one so small that scientists argue it shouldn’t be called a planet at all.  It orbits at a distance of over 3 billion miles, in a realm of darkness where the the Sun is only slightly brighter than her neighboring stars.  It is invisible to us without the aid of our most powerful telescopes, and in the course of its long orbit, it moves among great tumbling blocks of ice and dust – the long forgotten corpses of worlds that might have been, long ago ejected from the warmer regions of space by the gravitational force of Jupiter, and of Neptune.

Pluto and its moon Charon, seen together in space from the New Horizons spacecraft.

Pluto and its moon Charon, seen together in space from the New Horizons spacecraft.

It is a world insignificant to the lives of men.  And yet, if the theories of many scientists are true, if the building blocks of life were delivered to our world on comets from that distant realm…, like the seeds of Persephone, the very first spring and every one thereafter, may have been born from Pluto’s hand.

This Tuesday, the New Horizons spacecraft will make its closest approach to that far away speck of light.  We will pull the veil back a little further on the mysteries of creation, as we are treated with our closest look yet at Pluto’s strange and ruddy surface.

I’ll be on the edge of my seat, waiting to see all the new images.

There was a child I remember, who wanted nothing more than to be an Astronomer when he grew up.  I often feel as if I have failed that child, in many respects.  But I’ve never forgotten that thirst for knowledge of faraway places.  And I’ve never stopped looking for those amazing places where mythology and science converge.

They are not so rare as you might believe.

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Filed under Mythology, Science, Spiritual Journey, The Gods