19 February 2006

Is there a symbol for the map legend?

No way to shorten the long story, so I'll just skim the marrow. Still 12 hour shifts, now 60 hours a week. I miss my three day weekends. What is really crazy is that I have more than ever to blog about now that I have no time to blog. Theres probably a good blues song in that. That will be my contribution so society. The song wont sell a single copy, but will get shared endlessly in the dark corners of the internet.

I am in a hurry to get my musings on King Arthur down in black and white here, but cannot do that without providing backstory first. This time the lengthy banter is not so much that I want to tell the entire story. It is because I want the reader to at least glimpse my fantastic vision when I reveal it. So: on with the book review.

I have just finished Bruce Lincoln's "
Myth, Cosmos, and Society : Indo-European Themes of Creation and Destruction." It will take me some time to fully digest, but I am already gaining new insights from it.

Lincoln presents excerpts from several cultures throughout the spectrum of Indo-European languages that clearly show a similar and all-encompassing mythos. He leads us into that mythos gradually, presenting to us first the "homologic alloforms" - that man is a representation of the cosmos, and the parts of a man have equivalent representation within that cosmos. [Mind that 'cosmos' here refers only to the visible world; earth, sky and stars] We begin by recognising that the multiple cultures have creation myths where the first man was killed and his body was the material used to construct the world. From that it follows that the earth (soil) is flesh, the stones are bones, the trees are the hairs on the head, and so on.

From there we go deeper and deeper, the significance of "homologic alloforms" with respect to food, growth, human sacrifice, magical healing, cures for baldness, and the afterlife (or rebirth, for these cultures).

In the last chapter, he expounds on myths that, when taken together, define the roles of the social classes in these very similar societies. This is the important part. As per usual, the social structure is vertical. Commoners at the bottom (represented by various symbols) supporting the 'nobler' classes; warriors in the middle (symbolized by the sword), and the priest class (symbolized by a cup or goblet) at the top. A recurring and key theme among many examples of folklore is that for a king to successfully rule the society, he must unite all these classes. When he fails to act properly, or dies, or there is no king, there is strife between the classes, or simply strife in general. At least two examples clearly show the rightful king as being the embodiment of all classes, or the only one who can hold the symbols of the three classes.

He concludes by telling us that all of these myths were clearly propogated by the priest class in order to maintain their positions at the top of society. They recieved tributes from every other class and gave counsel to the king. The commoners far outnumbered the priest class, but were treated poorly. The commoners were largely kept placated (in part) by a thorough system of myths and folklore that depicted that it was normal and proper for the warriors and priests to be the nobler classes. Furthermore, if they were not the rightful lords, then all of the other myths were also false, even the promise of a ressurection in the end times. The latter was probably the anchor for the whole mythos: for a downtrodden commoner the only real Nirvana could come with the ressurection.

I had some reservations throughout the book. Were there contrapositive excerpts that he did not present? How thorough was his review of folklore? Overall, I found it a fascinating and enjoyable book, although I had very little time to read it. It is not a long book - a full 1/4 of it is notes on the text - but I only finished it after I renewed it from the library for the last allowable time. My one big complaint is that the last chapter (reflecting on the societies propped up by these myths) ends rather abruptly. I felt it needed more. An example that brings everything together. I was thinking about this last night when I realised what the perfect example was. I shall present that next time.

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