There’s an Internet meme going around under the hashtag “#filmstruck4”. The idea, initially posted by the movie streaming service Filmstruck, is for participants to post four films that “define” them.
Movie are an important part of our culture, sure. But let’s try something deeper. What are four myths that define you?
Here are my four.
Buddha Touching The Earth
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know this myth by now — it’s right there in the title of my book, Why Buddha Touched The Earth. When the Buddha-to-be was challenged by the tempter-demon Mara about his right to seek enlightenment, he did not appeal to a sky god. Instead he reached down and touched the Earth, and the voice of the Earth, the voice of the Earth-goddess, boomed forth and said “I will bear you witness.”
Buddhism is an Earth religion!
Prometheus Stealing Fire
Prometheus, thief and teacher, trickster and benefactor of mankind, bringer of one of a Pagan boy’s favorite things: fire.
He’s not the only deity said to have stolen fire and brought it to man; others include the Indian hero Mātariśvan, the Māori hero Māui, and the Native American trickster Rabbit. There is some universality to the idea that fire must be acquired by some means outside the usual bounds, by trickery or theft.
We’ve discussed before how Prometheus is a natural patron for “Makers”. He’s a deity who gets surprisingly little attention today. Let’s give him the love he deserves. Hail Prometheus!
Spock Takes Command
Who says mythology has to be ancient? Not me. I’ll include any story that existed and touched a lot of people in one’s culture before one was born, and helped shape the world in which one grew up. Star Wars, while influential, doesn’t quite make the “myth” cut for me, as it wasn’t around until well after I was born. But I was raised on Star Trek. (As you can see from this school photo of me age seven or so.)
Spock was was a sort of Space Age Merlin to Kirk’s King Arthur. His pointed ears harken back to depicions of satyrs and elves, even as he projected logical detachment. Spock jammed out with space hippies — on a ship full of “Herberts” he was the only one who could “reach” them — and engaged in mystical, hypnotic, telepathic “mind melds” that questioned the nature of the self.
My favorite Spock stories are the ones where he ends up in command. In The Galileo Seven, he leads a science mission in a shuttlecraft which crash-lands after a disaster, he has a memorable exchange with Dr. McCoy about the idea of command:
McCoy: Well, I can’t say much for the circumstances, but at least it’s your big chance.
Spock: My big chance? For what, Doctor?
McCoy: Command. Oh, I know you, Mister Spock. You’ve never voiced it, but you’ve always thought that logic was the best basis on which to build command. Am I right?
Spock: I am a logical man, Doctor.
McCoy: It’ll take more than logic to get us out of this.
Spock: Perhaps, Doctor, but I know of no better way to begin. I realise command does have its fascinations, even under circumstances such as these. But I neither enjoy the idea of command, nor am I frightened of it. It simply exists. And I will do whatever logically needs to be done.
Eris And The Golden Apple
Then the minstrel sang of Peleus, the King of Phthia, and of his marriage to the river nymph, Thetis. All the gods and goddesses came to their wedding feast. Only one of the immortals was not invited–Eris, who is Discord. She came, however. At the games that followed the wedding feast she threw a golden apple amongst the guests, and on the apple was written “For the fairest.”
Each of the three goddesses who was there wished to be known as the fairest and each claimed the golden apple–Aphrodite who inspired love; Athene who gave wisdom; and Hera who was the wife of Zeus, the greatest of the gods. But no one at the wedding would judge between the goddesses and say which was the fairest. And then the shepherd Paris came by, and him the guests asked to give judgment.
Said Hera to Paris, ‘Award the apple to me and I will give you a great kingship.’ Said Athene, ‘Award the golden apple to me and I will make you the wisest of men.’ And Aphrodite came to him and whispered, ‘Paris, dear Paris, let me be called the fairest and I will make you beautiful, and the fairest woman in the world will be your wife.’ Paris looked on Aphrodite and in his eyes she was the fairest. To her he gave the golden apple and ever afterwards she was his friend. But Hera and Athene departed from the company in wrath. — The Illiad, Padraic Colum trans.
That’s the offical version of the story: Eris went out and got a golden apple, and for the lulz wrote on it “Kallisti”, “For the prettiest one”, and tossed it into the crowd. And the other goddesses fell to fighting over it, and bribed the poor mortal sap called on to judge the resultant beauty contest. And Aphrodite had the best bribe, and thus the Trojan War got started, because the fairest woman in the world was Helen of Troy, who already had a husband.
But my friends, don’t believe the official story. A golden apple is not a thing obtained lightly. The penultimate of the Labors of Heracles was to obtain a few golden apples — in the course of which, incidentally, he freed Prometheus from the nasty punishment he drew for his fire-theft.
You don’t go get something that’s been the object of one of the world’s great quests for a practical joke.
And Eris left that golden apple at the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis. Now, whether in ancient Greece or the modern world, there is only one woman who has claim to the title “the fairest” at a wedding — the bride!
That golden apple was a wedding present. Eris wasn’t invited to the festivities; she had probably pissed off Zeus by speaking truth to power. But she held no grudge, and left a present.
But the petty jealousy of the other goddesses could not abide it. It was their bribes that started the war, but Eris got the blame for centuries. Only in the past few decades, since two young men had a mystical experience in a bowling alley (if you believe the official story of the Discordian Society, which you probably shouldn’t), has her reputation started to be restored.
So there you have it, friends: my four defining myths. Let’s make a thing out of it! Post your four myths to the social media of your choice with the hashtag #mythstruck4.