March 28, 2008


Mythical critters courtesy of wikipedia.

This is the last day (for now) of a series of posts about the nature of mythology that started last week. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier posts. As always, there are also links and comments about current events.

One of the most interesting theories of myth and religion I've run across is that of the German classicist Walter Burkert (born 1931). He's sometimes considered to be a structuralist or neo-ritualist (see yesterday and last week). He's written several books of which I'd particularly recommend The Creation of the Sacred. If you're a hard core Helenophile like El Cabrero, you might check out Greek Religion as well.

Here's the short version as I understand it. Myths and religion are as universal among humans as language. Like language, some elements that later became myth and religion may have antecedents in the course of early and even pre-human biological evolution.

Animals have their rituals, and early as well as modern humans have always found that repeated or ritualized actions can reduce anxiety in an unpredictable world.

Most traditional stories involve a dangerous quest that involves seeking a prize and evading dangers. If squirrels could talk, their stories might include the same things.

Many religions involve gestures and acts of submission and deference to more powerful beings, which is a basic behavior on the menu of many animals.

Many stories and rituals involve the idea of sacrificing a part for the whole, which is a common natural event, as when a predator picks out the weakest members of a herd or when a lizard's tail snaps off when grabbed by a bird.

In many cultures, people read signs or omens from the flight of birds or other natural events. At Goat Rope Farm, the hyper-alert goats do the same thing all the time.

Burkert doesn't believe that religion as such is genetic. Rather, as humans emerged into self consciousness, maybe certain legacies of evolution were at play when people created symbolic worlds of meaning to help them deal with the world. How could it be otherwise?

As he put it:

The idea of the supernatural emerges within the landscape of nature. If reality appears dangerous or downright hostile to life, religion calls for something beyond experience to restore the balance.

Final observation...El Cabrero is blessed (or cursed) to frequently observe wild and domesticated animals. I'm not saying we're just like them or vice versa. But we do seem to be part of the same continuum.

NEW FOREIGN POLICY DIRECTIONS for the Middle East is the subject here.

IT'S THE ECONOMY. This editorial kind of sums it up.

MORE ON THE NEW DEAL from SEIU's Andy Stern.

THE LAST WORD. From American Book Review, here is their list of the 100 best last lines from novels. Enjoy!


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