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Creation Myths of the World

Last week we read a bit about creation myths from around the world.  Although this was more difficult reading, it was my favorite reading from the semester thus far.  I find creation myths intriguing, likely because of my Christian background.  I believe in one God who created the Heavens and the Earth, and even though the different creation myths throughout the world differ, they all have similarities that I believe prove that they all branch from what I believe to be the one true Creation Story as recorded in the Holy Bible.

The reading suggests that there are five overarching categories of creation myths:

  1. Ex Nihilo, or the belief that one God created all.  This is the type of creation that I identify with.  The Hebrew God created the heavens, earth, man, animals, and everything around us in six days and rested on the seventh.  A similar god exists in many other cultures throughout the world, although he appears in different forms.For the Bantu speaking Fan people of Africa, “In the beginning there was only Nzame, made up of three parts:  Nzame, Mebere, and Nkwa.”  This sounds very similar to the Hebrew God who consists of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. The next type of myth is referred to as “creation from chaos.”  This is similar to the Big Bang Theory- ideas that everything came from something in various ways.  Similar to Ex Nihilo creation, there is sometimes a creator but unlike the Hebrew God, he does not create everything from nothing.  The California Cahto Indians, for example, say that Nagaitcho created the world, beginning by “repairing the old sandstone sky” that obviously existed before he did.  The concept of the “cosmic egg” also appears within this category of creation myth.  Sometimes this mythological motif appears in the form of a giant bird, carrying an egg that was dropped and when it cracked, the world was created.  Or in the case of the Indian creator Prajapati who emerged from a cosmic egg in some versions of his story, as did the Self-Existent Brahman, whose semen in the waters became a golden egg, and out of the egg Brahman was born as progenitor of all.
  3. World-Parent creation often tells of two lovers, often depicted as sky and earth, whose relationship created man in some way or another.  The Northern Indian Minyong people have a world parent creation myth in which the love-making of the primal female, Earth, and the primal male, Sky,threatened to crush their offspring. The same fear arose among the children of the Polynesian Rangi and Papa (Heaven
    and Earth) who found themselves in the darkness between the coupling parents.
  4. Emergence Creation is often the belief that man emerged from lower levels within the earth. If one could enter the kivas of present day pueblo tribes along the Rio Grande in New Mexico and in northwestern Arizona, a large hole would be evident. This hole is the sipapu, the symbolic opening from which the people emerged finally from the lower world·from Mother Earth.
  5. Finally, Earth Divers Creation stresses the creation of Earth as opposed to the larger cosmos. Animals often play an important role in the creation, as do the primeval waters and often an evil force that balances the good in a dualistic tension. For the Garo of India it was a beetle who gathered clay from under the waters. Using this clay, the creator made Earth and decorated her with sky, clouds, and plant life. Eventually he made the first Garo as well.

Quilting

This week we learned a bit about the importance of quilting in African American culture.  From the video that we watched in class, it was made clear that community quilting brings communities together and is a spiritual and relaxing experience.  Many of the quilts have different meanings; artists typically have an image as to the response they wish to evoke from the audience.  One such quilt was meant to memorialize military engineers.  The colors in the quilt symbolized the cold weather the men endured and the bands of yellow fabric were not only the seamstress’s signature, but also were meant to symbolize rays of hope.

Quilting also played a big role during the Underground Railroad.  Slaves were not allowed to learn how to read or write, but they were able to communicate through symbols sewn into quilts.  Different symbols and patterns denoted how the slaves were to act and would tell them what to do and acted as a GPS.  One symbol, for example, was the bow tie.  This signified that an escaped slave in rags could come into the town and be safe.  The shoe fly was called the “conductor” such as someone that runs a train, or someone that would lead the slaves to safety.  The block patterns were also significant.  Red meant the house was safe, yellow meant to watch for the lantern as to whether or not it was safe, and black meant is was okay for you to start a new life.  A goose meant it was time to move on and follow the path, the basket signified that provisions were ready inside, and a boat meant water and other provisions were nearby.

Festivals of the Dead

Along with Rites of Passage, we also talked a bit this week about Halloween traditions.  Many American Halloween traditions are quite renowned- it is a time where spooky things are encouraged and children dress up and go around collecting candy from the neighborhood.  Halloween parties are common and the carving of pumpkins is a fun occurrence.  But my curiosity has been spurred as to how these traditions began and what other cultures partake in something similar.

According to History.com, Halloween originated with the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off roaming ghosts. In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints and martyrs; the holiday, All Saints’ Day, incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows’ Eve and later Halloween. Over time, Halloween evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities such as trick-or-treating. In a number of countries around the world, as the days grow shorter and the nights get colder, people continue to usher in the winter season with gatherings, costumes and sweet treats.

Probably the next most popular death-related holiday is the Hispanic tradition of El Dia de Los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead.  This holiday shares some of its origins with Halloween, and some of the practices today are also similar, from decorating with pictures of skeletons, to ghoulishly shaped sweets. But this holiday is also a blending of the European traditions brought by the invading Spanish conquistadors and the Aztec and Mayan peoples who were the inhabitants of much of Central America before the arrival of the Spanish. This fiesta is marked by the invitation of the living to the dead to return to their family home for a visit. Families place photographs of their loved ones who have passed-on at the grave site or on a family altar. They also place offerings of flowers, drinks and food alongside the photographs. This ritual is particularly important for those who have been lost in the year since the previous festival, and is a way of coming to terms with the death of someone loved and missed.  The face paintings are a unique and well-known symbol of this holiday.

The Festival of the Dead in Japan, which is called Obon, is held every year in the month of August. The festival often goes by a second name: The Festival of Lanterns. As in the traditional festival of Halloween, the souls of the departed return to the world of the living during this time. However, unlike Halloween, in which the souls of the dead are often imagined as malevolent or angry, like the Headless Horseman, Obon is a day when the spirits return to visit their relatives. Many Buddhists in Japan celebrate this holiday by preparing offerings of special food for their ancestors’ spirits, which are placed on altars in temples and in their homes. As the sun goes down families light paper lanterns and hang them in front of their houses to help the spirits find their way home. The celebrations end with families sending colorful paper lanterns lit by candles floating down the rivers and bays of Japan and out to sea. The string of colorful lights bobbing in the water are meant to guide the spirits of their loved ones back to the realm of the dead until next year.

In the tenth month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in September, Cambodian Buddhists celebrate the Pak Ben, 14 days during which they will wake before dawn each morning to prepare offerings of food and other gifts to the monks living in the local pagoda and to their ancestors. On the 15th day villagers visit the pagoda with offerings of sweet sticky rice and bean treats wrapped in banana leaves and other special foods to mark the P’chum Ben, or the Festival of the Dead, which marks the close of the Pak Ben. Each morning during the festival offerings of food, often beautifully prepared and decorated, are brought to the many temples and pagodas that dot the Cambodian countryside and city scapes. These offerings are meant for their relatives who have passed on, and each plate of decorated sweets and fruits are offered with a prayer that they will reach their loved ones. In addition, huge batches of rice mixed with sesame seed are prepared each morning and spread along the ground in front of the pagoda where it is left for the hungry ghosts, as spirits who wander the world without any living ancestors to take care of their memory are known.

http://www.history.com/topics/halloween/history-of-halloween

http://nationalgeographic.org/media/dia-de-los-muertos/

http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2286.html

http://www.tourismcambodia.com/tripplanner/events-in-cambodia/pchum-ben.htm

Rites of Passage

This week we have spoken a bit about Rites of Passage and the importance of these traditions within culture.  These events are typically large life-events that mark a changing in the life of an individual.  For example, the rite of marriage.  This is relatable to me because I am currently planning my own wedding.  In the United States, a typical Christian wedding looks like a white dress and man in tux, taking vows in a chapel accompanied by their closest friends as their family members watch on.  There is usually a bridal processional, most commonly The Bridal March by Wagner or Pachelbel’s Canon, followed by the ceremony, including exchanging of vows and rings and the lighting of a unity candle.  At the end of the ceremony, the officiant names the couple bride and groom, they kiss, and everyone retreats to a recession hall for a time of celebration.  But how might marriage look differently through the eyes of another culture?

In traditional Chinese culture, white is actually the color of death.  The bride dons read and the ceremony typically takes place in the home of the groom’s parents.  The wedding is less about the couple becoming man and wife, but focuses more on the joining of the wife to her groom’s family.  The couple get down on their knees before their parents, followed by a ceremony where the bride presents her mother-in-law with a gift after which time the mother-in-law welcomes her new daughter to the family.  The parents raise up the couple and the ceremony is followed by a feast.  On the wedding night, the groom enters the wedding room with his friends who proceed to poke fun at the groom. Then they leave. It is also worthy to note that in American culture, the wife takes the name of her husband. However, Chinese tradition states that the wife keeps her family name, but her children take the name of their father.  In the most traditional weddings, it can also be noted that the wife and all of her dowry would be paraded through the streets prior to the wedding ceremony.

In India, wedding ceremonies can last for several days and can range from 100 to 10,000 guests.  It is not unusual for many of the attendees to not by known directly by the bride and groom.  Though most Indian marriages are arranged, “love marriages” consist of a wedding where the family does not get involved or assist in any way.  The traditional Indian wedding focuses most on the two families being brought together socially, with as much emphasis placed on the families coming closer as the married couple.  There are also many different kinds of Hindu weddings ranging from the Brahama, in which the father of the bride sends an invitation to a properly qualified man and entrusts the girl to him and the purpose of the marriage is the joint performance of the traditional religious duties, to the Pisacha, in which a girl is seduced into a sexual relationship by flattery, emotional pressure, mental manipulation, intoxication (with wine etc.), or approached while she is sleeping and more vulnerable. The purpose of the Pisacha marriage is mere satisfaction of sensual pleasure but still the women involved and the children conceived in such relationship are considered perfectly respectable by society.

 

Ashta Vivaah: Eight types of marriages in Hinduism

 

 

 

Cinderella

This week, I learned of the Brothers’ Grimm telling of Cinderella.  This version is very different compared to the telling of Disney’s version, and I would like to take a moment to compare the two versions in terms of characters, clothing, and story line.

Cinderella and her mother are the first to appear in the Grimm interpretation of the tale.  The story opens with the mother dying and the father remarrying to a woman with two daughters.  In the Disney tale, this information is not provided; we only know that Cinderella lives with her evil stepmother and stepsisters and we do not know why.  Also, the father appears in the Grimm telling and even though he is not a major character, for some reason he also treats Cinderella poorly.  And then there’s Cinderella herself.  In the Disney version, she is just Cinderella- the poor, dirty, overworked and disliked sister.  But in the Grimm version, we do not know her real name.  We are only told that her family named her “Cinderella” because she was always dirty from sleeping in the cinders.  Other minor characters include the animals from both stories.  In the Disney production, Cinderella is helped by mice and her fairy godmother.  However, in the Grimm story, Cinderella is helped by birds and there is no godmother.

The tale of the clothing is very different between the two stories as well.  In Disney’s version, Cinderella and the mice make a dress so she can go to the ball, but then the step-sisters destroy the dress.  Later, Cinderella’s godmother makes her a beautiful blue gown and glass slippers.  In the Grimm tale, the birds bring Cinderella gold and silver gowns that, over the course of the three nights of the feast, grow more extravagantly beautiful.  And on the third night, the birds bring her golden slippers.

Finally, the story line is very different between the two tellings, especially in the details of the feast.  For Disney, there was one night of partying and when the clock struck midnight, Cinderella would return to her tattered clothing and the coach would turn back into pumpkins.  Then the prince, glass slipper in hand, scoured the kingdom looking for the foot that would fit the shoe.  However, the Grimm feast lasted three days and the first two evenings, Cinderella ran from the Prince so that he wouldn’t find out the truth about her.  On the third night, the Prince covered the steps with pitch and one of Cinderella’s shoes was caught.  He then went to the house and the stepsisters cut off parts of their feet so they could fit into the shoe.  Eventually, the Prince discovered that neither girl was his Cinderella.  The other difference is that in the Grimm version, Cinderella planted a twig at her mother’s grave that brought forth a tree from which a bird would emerge and grant her wishes.

 

King Arthur- Just a Legend?

This week we have been doing some reading on King Arthur, and this tale is very similar to those I studied in high school.  But I have to wonder, was King Arthur JUST a legend?  How did this tale begin, and is there any historical accuracy to his tale?

I am a big fan of the King Arthur legends simply because I find them interesting, and I’ve always adored Disney’s interpretation “The Sword in the Stone.”  And I think what makes the tales so intriguing is that they sneak in little pieces of historical fact.  For example, the Holy Grail.  Many of King Arthur’s travels were spent searching out this holy chalice that, supposedly, Christ drank from at the Last Supper; the cup capable of granting eternal healing/life to the person who drinks from it.  Christ really lived and he surely sipped from a cup at the last supper.  But what made someone think that it could grant eternal life?  Perhaps it is because some religions believe that Christ is The Eternal Life and have associated the cup to this belief.  Like the Fountain of Life, this is a long sought-after item, and a significant piece of the King Arthur tales. And then there’s King Uther’s Sword. The famous sword that gave King Arthur his abilities which could only be pulled from the stone by the rightful king of Britain. Was this, perhaps, a historically sought-after item?? Like the city of gold sought out by Cortez? Or what about Exacalibur?  The sword granted to King Arthur by The Lady of the Lake, who found Arthur worthy of wielding the magical sword.  Perhaps, and I’m just speculating here, The Lady of the Lake was a witch or very wise woman in a village and stories were created around her, and as time progressed the tales were exaggerated until she became an almost-holy and magical being, capable of granting power.  Interesting.  Without doing more study, I have to wonder the importance of King Arthur to British culture.  How does this tale impact traditional British culture? What’s the purpose?  Again, I speculate that this largely grew out of the history of monarchs in Britain-  perhaps during political unrest when people desired to live in utopia, ruled by the “perfect” king.

Interpretative Storytelling

Today a received a question from a classmate about suggestions I might have for a folklorist project under the heading of “Snow White and other Fairy Tales.”  I thought for a moment and considered all the different interpretations of various fairy tales, all the way from the Velleneuve’s original to the hit TV show “Once Upon a Time.”  For this week’s post, I performed a bit of research on my personal favorite:  Beauty and the Beast.

According to Terri Windling, this tale was originally composed by French novelist Gabriell-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and published in 1740 in La Jeune Américaine et les contes marins (The Young American and Marine Tales). This original, lengthy version, includes a back-story of both Beauty and the Beast.  The Beast was a prince who lost his father at a young age, and whose mother had to wage war to defend his kingdom. The queen left him in care of an evil fairy, who tried to seduce him when he became an adult; when he refused, she transformed him into a beast. Beauty’s story reveals that she is not really a merchant’s daughter but the offspring of a king and a good fairy. The wicked fairy had tried to murder Beauty so she could marry her father the king, and Beauty was put in the place of the merchant’s dead daughter to protect her.  She also gave the castle elaborate magic, which obscured the more vital pieces of it.

Likely the most known interpretation of this tale appears in Disney’s own animated film.  This children’s movie depicts a lovely young girl trapped in a conformist world of which she desires to depart.  In an fit of emotion, she tries to escape only to stumble upon the castle of the Beast.  Long story short, the Beast takes her as prisoner and they fall in love, breaking the curse put upon the young prince by an evil witch as punishment for the prince’s lack of compassion.

***Once Upon a Time SPOILER ALERT!!!***

I final interpretation of which I am particularly fond comes from ABC Family’s “Once Upon a Time.”  In this television series, Belle is a very similar character to the one depicted by Disney.  However, the depiction of the Beast is very different.  Disney’s version depicts a large, furry beast with big teeth and horns.  However, OUAT (Once Upon a Time) takes a very different route, presenting the beast as Rumpelstiltskin:  The Dark One:  a very powerful human given magical powers that has the ability to control anyone.  The Dark One captures Belle, keeping her as prisoner, and like the Disney version, Belle falls in love with the beast.  However, there is no happy ending for the beloved princess and her “prince.”  Belle attempts to change Rumple and turn him into a better man, and no matter how many times he appears to change for the better, he never truly gives up the darkness and continuously sneaks around his wife’s back, destroying lives.

Windling, Terri. “Beauty and the Beast, Old And New”. The Journal of Mythic Arts. The Endicott Studio.