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Many people have asked me over the course of the last few years just why I spend so much of my time reading up on, researching and writing stories and articles on ancient and modern mythology from around the world. Why spend so much time on stories about obscure and mostly forgotten gods, heroes and beasts? Why maintain a website and Facebook presence that sees new material everyday on anything and everything related to religions and deities that are now something seen as supernatural stories, marvels of a distant past? Why put in the uncountable hours on such an ongoing, almost impossible-to-complete project? WHY MYTHOLOGY, they ask.
If those individuals expected a quick and easy answer to that question, then they’d asked the wrong guy, as my answer to that was both simple and complex all at the same time. In simple terms, I write about it because it’s something I love to do; add to that an almost unlimited subject matter that I find fascinating and wonderful in its wide diversity, ambition and local cultural flavor. Writing has always been something that I have turned to when I need to turn on my brain and get the imagination and creativity churning; I start writing and the Greek Muses show up and whisper weird and wonderful ideas into my head. It’s a great partnership and always has been!
The complex reason has to do with who I am and what I believe. First and foremost, I am a teacher, most specifically of ancient history and culture. I educate to the best of my ability a host of developing adolescent seventh grade minds each year, hoping to plant the spark of why history is such an amazing and bizarre place to examine. In all of that, mythology is part of that quest. Ancient cultures out of a textbook are nothing but facts, dates and bone-dry drivel that not one kid would ever want to remember; it’s the stories of gods, goddesses, heroes, monsters and other assorted folktales that bring a sense of humanity to the cultures I teach. Ancient Greece would not be the same if not for the multitude of insane tales told via the Olympians and the thousands of characters involved. Rome would not quite be complete without Romulus and Remus. Western Africa features and owes its very history to the great Sunjata Keita and his legendary tale. Japan, the kami-nature-spirits and yokai creatures so prevalent in Japanese culture. It goes on and on. One of my favorite quotes to underscore that idea comes from a fantastic fictional series that incorporates all of the best components of mythology, Stephen King’s incomparable Dark Tower series, wherein the hero of the epic, Roland of Gilead, the last of the world-protecting gunslingers, states: “The quickest way to learn about a new place is to know what it dreams of.” And that definitely applies to the content and cultures I teach! You can truly understand that the people we call our ancestors dreamed feverish and colorful dreams, invented by the stories and ideas they invented to explain the natural world around them, via their gods and goddesses! Those stories make those long-dust ancestors of ours vividly real, and add Technicolor brilliance to their achievements, skills, romances, inventions, wit, wisdom, defeats and victories.
Another reason that myths run in my blood is because it all returns back to the idea that our myths tell us where we come from. No matter how far into the future we go and no matter how godlike we ourselves become due to our science and technology, our mythology will always remind us that we are human after all. The stories and lessons learned within those myths and legends are universal; they remind us that we are ALL part of the same huge family, no matter where in the world we call home. The lessons are universal, and that is their huge appeal! A person from the United States can grasp the same ideas from a myth than a person from Zaire, Myanmar or Chile could, no matter what the story is or what language it is translated into! The “Hero’s Journey,” as coined and discussed by Joseph Campbell,” is nothing that requires a specific set of cultural credentials to understand; every culture on earth looks up to heroes and heroines for a source of inspiration and pride, a role model to look at and dream of emulating. Whether it is Prince Rama from the Hindu epic “The Ramayana” all the way on up to the heroes of the Avengers in the Marvel Comic Universe, the ideas behind heroics are something any human being with a soul can get behind. Mythology from around the world is bursting at the seams with such tales!
At the source of it all, mythology helps us get in touch with the most ancient of our ancestors, who told their stories upon the dark walls of caves in vivid mineral-painted color, or in the colorful tiled mosaics and plaster-painted frescoes of the Romans, or in the detailed fine sketches of the Japanese and Chinese, or through the oral accounts of the African griot-master-storytellers. The fur-clad hunter-gatherers of unrecorded pre-history who gathered around large campfires at night to listen to the elders speak of the gods, taking in their tales with astonishment and wonder, would have fit right in at a modern day camping trip, where mysterious and often frightful tales are spun. The ancient and highly civilized Egyptians, who gave us beautiful visual depictions of their faith and history upon the walls of their tombs and temples in the forms of hieroglyphs, as well as the stately Mesopotamian cultures, who wrote down in clay cuneiform writing the adventures of the first hero, the god-king Gilgamesh of Uruk, and his faithful brotherly companion, Enkidu; through the myths we see them and thousands of others as fellow brothers and sisters across time. The stories and the history are in our DNA, spanning back farther than we can possibly fathom, but they show us that all of the modern day ideas about race, geographical location and “us vs. them” is utterly and ridiculously wrong. The human race is far more together than we are apart, and THAT above most everything else is what mythology and legend shows us, time and time again.
All of this is connected together by the fact that I love a good, juicy and detailed-riddled story, a situation that developed as a young child sitting on the knee of my German immigrant grandfather who regaled me with tales of his past in Germany; war stories, childhood stories, made up stories...there was seemingly no end to the yarns he would spin to my ever-eager ears. This was a man who spoiled me with his journeys and his adventures (no doubt some of them embellished, as is the privilege of any fantastic storyteller!), sparked my imagination even more than the overactive scatterbox that it already was, and set me on down the path of seeking out even more stories when he wasn’t there to tell them to me. This was a man who would give me the gift of a new book at any chance he had and who probably didn’t even realize that he was setting the stage for my love affair with words and details. His spirit lives on in the seventh grade world history classes that I teach, where the stories are the basis of every culture and every individual we talk about each year (the textbooks sit collecting dust most of the year; such is my need to actually make history real for my students in ways the tedious, dry and devoid of humanity textbooks or iPads could never do.). His stories live on in the writing I do for my labor-of-love Mythopedia site, knowing full well that few may read them but that some media-surfing soul just might, and that someone will get something special out of it, possibly that same spark that I did so many years ago. The stories are just too damn good NOT to write and share, and I like to think that my grandfather would approve of me carrying on the torch to my own son and to whatever multitudes of folks my happen upon them. The man had a huge influence on me and I am proud to say that he gave me this love to share the stories of the world with like-minded kids, adults and fellow mind-travelers!
So, for all of you doubters, questioners and ne’er-do-wells and other cultural Spanish-Inquisitors who roll your eyes and ask me why I bother to look deeper and deeper into the vast treasure trove of stories, legends and magical myths that connect this world together, or why I would waste my time, there you have it. And to all of you who are also fellow seekers of the bizarre and fascinating, you can now fully understand it too. It’s not just a hobby anymore, as much as it started off as one. It is now a calling, a mission and yes, maybe even a slight obsession for me to get these stories out there, to prove that there is still hope for humanity and to show the masses that we have a hell of a lot more in common than we think. And to remind folks that no matter what technology erupts (or disrupts) on to the scene, the stories of our ancestral pasts will ALWAYS win out in the end. Techno-fads and highfalutin’ “studies” will come and go, but a damn-fine myth will always be entertaining and meaningful if told with passion and a remembrance of who we are and where we came from!
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