I am fascinated by the things that we choose to believe in and one of my many hobbies is figuring out where these beliefs come from and how they’ve developed over time.
Since religion is one of the main purveyor and influencer of beliefs, this week, we are going delve into the realm of religious myths.
Now I feel that I must disclose that I am an atheist and therefore I consider all stories out of the religious sector to be mythology. You may feel differently and since the purpose of these writing prompts is to get you thinking and writing about the subject at hand, including your opinion on the subject is A-l cool.
1. In Norse mythology, Odin, the Norse god of many things, sacrificed one of his eyes in exchange for knowledge of the past, present and future. He disguised himself as a vagrant wanderer and made his way to the Well of Wisdom where Mimir, its guardian, demanded his eye in exchange for a drink from the well. As he sipped the water, he saw all the troubles that would come to man and god as well as the reason why these problems would befall them. Would you take a drink from the Well of Wisdom? Why or why not? What would you sacrifice to gain the knowledge of the world?
2. Just about every culture in the world has a myth about creation. It is human nature to wonder how we came to be on this tiny blue planet. Explore some of the myths on the following page and discuss how your belief about creation compares to other cultures. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
3. In Christian mythology, there is the story of an archangel name Lucifer who is said to have attempted to rise up against the Christian god and try to take over heaven. Only he ended up being defeated by Christian god’s army and thrown down into the fiery pit of hell as punishment. However this tale is being disputed as false with some claiming that the story was extrapolated by incorrect translation of the book of Isaiah in the Jewish Tanakh. Discuss whether you think this is true or not and how the popular version of the story has influenced culture and what the “corrected” version may mean for the future of Christianity.
4. The Axis-Mundi is not quite a religious myth. It is actually a symbol found in almost every culture that is often times later incorporated into a religious belief system. The Axis-Mundi represents a point of connection between two worlds in which one could use to travel between two realms. Discuss how the Axis-Mundi is represented in various system. For example in Hinduism, Mount Meru is considered the center of all the spiritual and physical universes. How is the Axis-Mundi represented in the scientific sector?
5. In Greek mythology, there is the story of Icarus who’s father Daedalus made him a pair of wings out of feathers and wax. Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly to close to the sun or water because doing so would destroy the wings. Exhilarated by the feeling of flying, Icarus forgot his father’s advice and flew too close to the sun which indeed melted the wax and sent him plummeting into the sea. What examples in your own life or in the real world could this myth be compared to?
6. In Celtic mythology, Balor was the god of death and the king of Fomorians which is a race of giants. He had only one eye which he kept closed because anything he looked at would die. It was prophesied that he would be killed by his grandson. To prevent this, he locked his daughter in a tower. However, with the help of a druidess, a man named Cian managed to get in the tower and impregnate Ethlinn (Balor’s daughter). When Balor found out, he threw the child into the sea but Cian saved him and gave him to the sea god to raise. In the second battle of Mag Tuireadh, Balor killed King Nuada by looking at him but before he could kill his grandson, the boy killed him by knocking out his eye with a slingshot.
Parts of this tale sound suspiciously like another albeit more well known tale called David and Goliath. Discuss the similarities and the possibility that this story was adapted from one religion to the other.
7. Judaic mythology brings us the story of the Shekhina who, it seems, is the feminine half of the god of Israel. The male half features so prominently in the bible that it is surprising to have found a female presence having been associated with him. Discuss the patriarchal nature of the bible and why such a figure would have been downplayed.
8. Oftentimes in religious myths the imperfections of man are blamed on the failure of the gods. In Zulu mythology, Unwaba was a chameleon like entity that was sent by the gods to inform humanity that they had eternal life. However because Unwaba was so slow and it took so long for him to reach them, mankind had become mortals. As such, the color of the chameleon changes from green to brown to mourn the failure of Unwaba. Discuss our tendency to blame deities for things that go wrong in life and society.
9. In Japanese mythology, there is a deity called Amatsu-Mikaboshi who name means Autumn Star of the Heavens. This god is not an actual being but rather a symbol of a force that existed before the universe. According to legend there was nothing but absolute darkness and control ruled by this dark force. It is not clear exactly what happened but in one instance the control of the dark force was shattered by In and Yo (the female and male element in Japanese creation stories respectively) which brought forth the chaos of creation. What do you suppose happened in that split second?
10. Last but not least, ruminate on how it is religious myths develop and why they persist through the years especially in this time of scientific discovery.