Deep Sight with John Colarusso: The Weirdness of Myth – E8

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Deep Sight with John Colarusso: The Weirdness of Myth – E8

I talk for this session is entitled the weirdness of myth nothing is much weirder than myth and no one can read myth without coming away with a kind of tingly feeling that just encountered something very strange the word weird itself I am the linguist I it comes from the old anglo-saxon word for destiny and destiny was seen as being controlled by invisible forces and gods and so forth at the nornes of Norse lore and it was something that seemed strange and was sort of scary and so forth and now it’s condensed in the modern usage to a marvelous word that’s very hard to define well look if you read stories say look at the NART sagas you’ll hear you’ll see a horse that has antlers the anglers reach up into the sky another encounter that villain is depicted as thundering darkness with the glowing eyes that’s it and yet it’s supposed to be a tangible human villain and I have one myth from the Aussie Tian’s that seems to be an alien abduction and we’ll talk about that in more detail so going through the material that I did I was at times completely amazed at what I was reading I thought this is very strange and in some cases I would leave the page and walk around a bit with this feeling almost of ominous something I was evoked I’ve found myself affected by this even though I’d spent decades looking at the material the myth has certain themes for sure heroism villainy of fertility children so forth war birth death and these sorts of things and and it tells people how life is supposed to be what it’s supposed to mean and so forth the machinery from it is a kind of machinery that constructs large scale meanings and by that I mean meanings not of a word say such as a glass of water which I have as a narrator here that’s a small object I give up for that word glass the word water blahblah but for large-scale events and issues in life that are not subject to simple definitions such as an object is you can’t make a meaning just for you can make a meaning just for an object but you can for a process or a stage of life sometimes we give it we say youth coming-of-age and so forth but that’s not going to be useful and what myth is doing is trying to make sense out of these much larger processes much larger perhaps large-scale events and so for example our school might be in a volcanic eruption something like that affects an entire region and typically that will be a topic of a myth it’s almost a matter of scale or it’s a matter of duration through time and we cannot use the machinery somatic machinery of words to do that we have to resort to some other way and one way of doing that is through the archetypes and narratives that emerge from myth similar politics as a similar thing that tries to provide sense for the large-scale activities and developments in a society or country at large now what is peculiar to myth is it does this by evoking images and a myth that doesn’t bring up some kind of vision in the mind however vague that may be is not going to be a particularly effective myth and it’s probably the only one that’s going to be forgotten and lost the ones that survived and have survived for millennia thousands of years tens and tens of generations are ones that have a very strong visual impact that sometimes it’s very complicated it’s not just a single image not just glowing eyes or something like that but an entire kind of scene unfolding a kind of episode in some ways though you’re seeing something on the screen or a play on the stage this sort of thing let me give you some examples from Oedipus from Greek rather Oedipus well the ends up sleeping with his mother for goodness sakes this gracious this of course is an obscenity Enoch Gothic in English it’s something wrong with this this violates of profound taboo that of incest what’s wrong with that well the biologist steps in and say hey you don’t want a society that tolerates it because it’s biologically bad and that society’s going to become physically unhealthy the individual so it’s adaptive to have incest from taboos no no no can’t do it must go outside the tribe must go

outside the family to find a mate so forth sometimes it’s violated we have societies where people married cross cousins are called but enough of their reasons for that it has to do with dowries and trying to not to murder your wife and get them in a more dalories and you want murdered murderer cousins but apart from those sort of exceptional situations things like incest are good strong to invite Oedipus violence that it’s even scary there he violates it without knowing that it’s violated and this kind of failure of cognition is a terror that everyone has i’ve misinterpreted something I’ve screwed up on something oh my goodness I should have seen it coming unknown unknowns if you want to do Rumsfeld’s phrase and Oedipus it deals with unknown unknowns it doesn’t know that this has happened and all of a sudden he’s caught in at all this among those ghastly things he can possibly imagine his mother acosta he kills herself he blinds himself all hell breaks loose okay camos this is one you may not have heard Road I heard about catalyst and Europa after which Europe gets his name Europa’s carried away by Zeus on the back of the form of a bull blah blah kammo sees her faithful brother goes looking for her he’s said to follow a cow that and the cow drops down from exhaustion he slaughters it establishes city thebes and then before he can offer it up to the goddess he has to wash it down to get water he goes and sends his men to a spring he’s got soldiers huh there’s a giant surfing the dragon at the spring and devours this man I’m 1 or 2 make it back and said Cadmus catalyst is insidious serpent belongs to the God of War and we’re violating its spring the cabinets in the circuit and this is one of the most nightmarish scenes and all the Greek mythos is giant serpent attacking and killing and devouring them it’s become a topic of art a certain artists in the Renaissance another place involving serpents would be Eve in the Garden of Eden and the serpent that guards the tree of the fruit of knowledge and again the snake a snake is a scary thing it violates human form violates vertebrate form really although there are yields there are solid Enders like conquer yields a salamander a siren that’s a salamander they have almost no legs and no legs so it’s an adaptation that’s occurred several times in the paleontology or the history of mammals still the form violates our basic idea of what an animal should look like it should have lakes we’re gonna say no and it should be able to walk around and what doesn’t do that a crawl like an insect and so on or and so it’s inherently an image that’s somehow within the archetypal repertoire that we have built-in as are part of a history of a species that tells stories it sits in a nightmare category and so when the old testament the evening is persuaded to eat the apple and then you know what happens after that they’re driven out there rather than naked that become cognizant and all this he’s an embodiment of evil the surveying the serpent and Cadmus serpents embodiment of evil this is a an image that is planted in your head you’ve seen snakes it comes up you can imagine a giant one attacking everyone and so forth and it’s part of the horror of these tales now one can do and one has done live east Rose Claude lévi-strauss the great French naturalist who analyzed myth set up a whole system based on structural linguistics where there are binary opposition’s are kind of joined together of opposites to produce a kind of what they call a marked form a marked element and in fact one can analyze some of these myths so that the incest theme or the attack of the serpent or even and the syrup and all these things heat up in a kind of diagram and highly marked in some way there may be some truth to that the kind of algebra or logic of is something some way or something the other way the kind of simple polarizations that typifies so much of the mythology may be a kind of thinking that is built-in it’s not kind of first thinking and in fact we do see evidence for this in the structure of language and if the language went hand-in-hand with the evolution of thought and cognition that’s naturally one would expect this okay so some of these images hey when I say maybe there explicable in some way and that they are in that regards let’s say natural others resists this such an analysis and one of the best one is the Norse god of war Odin who runs around with one eye well there’s an explanation within the narrative and when in mythology white lost the other I gave it to two so he could drink at the spring of knowledge and see the future and all this the spring of minier well okay it’s a nice

mundane explanation doesn’t make any sense why just have to give a bizarre-o the linguist says I have an explanation the indo-european word for I and indo-european word for spring are very close if not exactly the same so it’s a kind of confusion it doesn’t really take away from the weirdness of this old man running around with all and I staring at you all the time and then we have the muggle queal in Italian the evil eye across the Mediterranean you stare at somebody you’re gonna put a hex on them you know what’s happened well if we’re lucky we have two eyes and we go around that way and every one eye is obviously a sign there’s something wrong with that person it’s just something has happened here and we have Google and the great Irish hero has war Frommer’s it goes in these weird distortions when it goes in the kind of battle frenzy and one of these is the bulging out of one eye and the shrinking in and out of another there’s an enemy among the the monster people too familiar with in the Irish mythology the lore of the evil eye is a huge eyeball since our death rays and uses his eyeball on the battlefield and destroys his enemies with these death ray balls it’s our one big eye we find Cyclopes plural of cyclops and greek are depicted with one eye and of course we know this just blinding the Cyclops and escaping from cave and which he and his men are trapped and the Cyclops can be rendered ineffective by the loss of the one eye so here we have one eye but the interesting thing interesting thing is that Cyclops in Greek doesn’t mean one eye it means round eye and of course if you look at the details of Coquelin he still has two eyes they haven’t just pulled in and everyone’s big and round so those are kind of funny sliding about here we can’t quite make up our minds in the tradition of whether we’re really talking about one eye and maybe the evil eye or just a big round eye but if in fact we achieve the one eye by closing one and using the other one’s a death ray kind of embodiment with the evil eye the hex curse put upon somebody well maybe we we have now a natural explanation where someone goes around with one eye he has both or she has both but usually only one and they’re using it to cast evil upon you and the idea there is that it goes back to a primitive idea that you see now by light coming in but by some kind of sight power going out and they’ll children have this idea if you ramp it up a project your evil wishes upon your enemy or someone you dislike by sending out your sight power through the big amplified eyeball this may be the origin of that well I’m being very clever I’ve come up with explanations for some of this stuff right and hmm these may or may not be plausible there may be alternative explanations excuse me can he shut it down from another TV I see my voice is beginning to give up this seems to be gratifying it seems to be scientific or scholarly but let’s go back to some of the weird stuff from the North Star guys let’s go back to the horse with its antlers let’s go back to the thundering darkness of glowing eyes horse with antlers what does this mean can we explain it can we make this weird image that is evoked and given to us can we say tame it in some way kymmie well off the threat or ill-defined message it seems to be conveying by some kind of explanation no but there is a burial there was a burial uncovered at Pacific in Siberia back in the Soviet days and in that was a Hornet it was a horse buried with a chieftain and chief finesse or whatever and in fact the the headdress was a horse head dressed and had antlers now why would they put antlers on a horse well there’s a theory in fact that the earliest domesticated riding animal was not a horse but a reindeer and it took place in Siberia to get around in the deep snow before they came up with snowshoes because the reindeer could do it and you couldn’t and then eventually when people down further south where the horses are running around saw them doing it and maybe did some trading and say you know what they’re doing they’re riding around on the back of this animal I once got horned their lights got antlers both over well we got the horse we’ll do it on our horses you know just try to catch

a few and tame them and then well you know but maybe we gotta put some antlers on the horse because that’s what the original was about that’s prototype thinking the very first thing that is an existing that’s another feature in dynamic and logic of myth that a lot of the objects and people that emerge are the very first of their kind and they define that kind and endorse you see it all the time that they give names to things and so there’s a bucket of water and it’s called surrogate something like that so they give names and that key is still doing that go shop at IKEA there’s a name for everything so it’s become institutionalized but in effect maybe the horse with the antlers is actually a reindeer in disguise because that was the prototype and to change it over to ORS it’s very clever I know I’m pretty good at this but still the power of the image is still there and unless you read or doesn’t the me or recently my writing you’re gonna just stick with that a strange horse that has those as there’s antlers let’s go to the glowing eyes and the dot thundering darkness well the hero fights it or him it’s alternative the hero’s sister Rockwell and art the enemy with the glowing eyes is to tarnish an art I’ve analyzed the name to Thresh to be some kind of indo-iranian like language not quite anyone we know but something similar what it means two stars uh-huh has got two stars okay and we get nowhere that’s the end of it they fight the hero loses the first battle and has to renounce his kinship he slinks off a woman helps him he returns back his mother he tricks the the the alternate storm you know the the evil dark-eyed going I guy to Thresh and kills him eventually if we go to Hittite who were they there is really first oldest indo-europeans up you know about there are tested and we’re looking back now maybe 2200 down to about 1400 BCE so the Bronze Age civilization the linguistic features if hit I suggest that it was a very archaic offshoot of the original language in the European and there’s a tale of the storm god Tahu nage or by his hectic name just Illuminati being the earlier people in the area and he fights a dragon and just likes us real cool fighting total Raj he loses the first round and the dragon says I’m going to take something you you I’ve granted you clemency we’re gonna arrange a second duel but you have to pay me something and I want your eyes it also wants his heart but he wants his eyes ha and it’s from guys now likes his heart and it loves the straw man and then I think had no heart of a no-brainer Wizard of Oz he likes courage I feel like they’re covered Levi I never ever but he had excursion he can’t see [ __ ] his wife helps him and he goes back for a second fight I need defeat this from the dragon he does in a certain way does account there’s another theme going on and this is a source of Romeo and Juliet and that story itself published thousands of years old least idea it’s a tearjerker it’s an archetype the throne God has a son the dragon has a daughter well I guess she’s not snakes she’s beautiful so they fall in love right and he marries the daughter of the dragon now in North America we have what tends to be let’s call the Metro local pattern and when you marry if you’re a man you marry you end up sort of spending more time perhaps with your wife’s family didn’t do with your own anymore and the indo-european pattern was the other way the woman more or less to live with the husband and his people but in hittite it’s like North America it’s what we call math from local so when the son of the storm God who has no name unfortunately marries the daughter of the dragon also has no name he goes and lives with the dragon he has to swear allegiance to the dragon he becomes part of the Dragons family now when the son leaves the household of the tiger Naja prochaska pune and to go join the dragon SAS kupuna or targa nosh is entitled to ask for payment for the loss of his son from the dragon guess what he asked for yes for his eyeballs back and it’s hard I’m happy with that nothing else ticking away now now he’s ready to go back and fight he’s got his courage back and you can see no it turns out the heat too also has a daughter her name is Li Na da or you know something like that probably a Caucasian word meaning the great one and it appears also for the name of the

storm God and the Rigveda Indra was just obviously not indo-european name that you know brings booze she’s friends with the daughter of the dragon she brings booze of the Dragon he trusts her and he gets drunk and can’t fight very well so he’s able as the storm God is able to defeat the dragon in the second round but something tragic happens before the final dinner mom the son of the storm god of tahoe nage is now part of the household of the dragon and when they meet on the battlefield he harnosh his own son confronts him as an ally now of his enemy the dragon Tyron osh says to his son I said you know I don’t want to kill you this is nonsense forsake the dragon and come back home and then you can help me and everything will be fine again and the son says this you say I’ve given my oath to my father-in-law the dragon if I violate the oath I no longer have any honor I cannot do what you ask and the storm God has to kill his own son so the glowing eyes the darkness all this these elements are scattered now we’re talking about a tight myth I was talking about something that’s over 3,000 years old we’re talking about an art saga that was recorded probably sometime in the early 20th century late 19th century but the Caucasus is a deep freeze it keeps things going for long after everyone else has shifted and gone on to other stuff and in fact this is probably a reassignment of these weird elements of preservation these weird elements that were crucial and made sense back 3,500 years ago and are now is still there it’s sort of floating around and and still have this profound evocative power and furthermore the explanation if we want to give one for these goes back to this hittite and we have another entire theme thrown in for freezing to speak and that’s the Romeo and Juliet theme and the tragedy of star-crossed young lovers which goes into the whole idea that when you have to find a mate you have to go outside the familiar comfortable confines of your family to somebody else they’re up strange different new with a family with different interests and different ideas and so forth meeting perpetuating the species involve serious stress upon young people and the myths capture this so we can explain that to now what happened to all the scary stuff have I gotten rid of that no I don’t think so it’s nice to understand where it’s all coming from it gives the kind of intellectual coherence and background to all of this but the fact remains that these images that come up still are enormous ly powerful whether they make a lot of sense or not and if we can’t trace some of them and we can’t trace most of them I’ve done a few a handful that’s about all you very much seen everything I can do the last rabbit out of my hat I’ve yanked it out okay the rest of the stuff remains unknown did it make sense at one time maybe but that’s still beside the point the point is that it’s powerful it’s something you will never forget and you tell to your kids you know what they’re not forget it either they’re gonna tell it to their kids and you know what you guessed it those prints holder then I’m not gonna forget it either they stick with you down there generations is built in and in fact 3,000 years lots of children lots of generations down the line you’re gone and dusk of evening forgotten and still those images are traveling down through the corridors of Ages this is one reason why I sometimes call a mythology deep sight because if you go down to now and you look back you gain a kind of time machine insight you’re looking deep you’re seeing deep back into the past using these persistent and powerful images that echo down through the ages literally you can be used in different ways and perhaps mean different things at different generations but the images are still there and their power and their weirdness is still there and by the weirdness I mean that tingle and that puzzle and you feel compelled I have to figure out what in the world this is about people come to me very frequently my students and they say what do you think this myth is saying I don’t know I mean clearly the kid hero kills the dragon and and so forth and that’s what happens but I don’t really know the the deep meaning and it’s something really I’m not so equipped to do but maybe a psychologist would find rich fertile ground here and here we have machinery elements we can manipulate look at and find a tested and we can examine them and these are building blocks of the human mind these are sort of basic atoms elements of meaning and sense that have significance for our

lives they come out and totally unexpected ways the Minotaur I haven’t mentioned that one before the dark eyes floating about the beautiful rainbow that connects the home of the Gods to humans and whatnot these sorts of things and they have their own say integrity and autonomy and power it’s almost beyond us in a way because they’re part of the heritage of the entire species and they will be part of the mythology forever and this is what makes mythology this is why mythology lasts as it does and for millennia passing through generation after generation transformation after transformation and realization for four concepts ideas and worries that no one could have anticipated say 3000 years ago so let me make some final points here there are some very interesting things that have happened saying the last 500 years and it’s generally linked to the Renaissance and European development so there were similar things I’ve seen similar things in history of Japan in the last three or 400 years certainly things were going on in China – maybe some other places in the world and some things have emerged that are novel that we haven’t seen before one of the more bizarre perhaps if you’re not into it is modern mathematics and the use of notation which he opened a math book like algebra book of calculus because all these weird symbols and whatnot there was only about 300 years old before that math problems with diagrams and it’s some kind of what we think of as a square root equation was actually a square or cubic equation you know x2 the cube is it it was actually a cube and they were worried about the cube and they built all the cubes and things and try to figure out what’s going on and it was an accountant using a shorthand that came up with the idea of notation very very clever something new and it blossomed this whole thing exploded now some of the stuff going on in math is beyond comprehension except for a handful of people and then no one person get mastered more than a tiny area or two in this field and so is there anything in myth about math no not that I know of okay what else is going on well very very modern medicine say or say science and black holes and quarks and all this sort of stuff is there anything a myth about some of this well maybe something about the origin of the universe and this sort of thing maybe there’s some but a great deal no so myth is persistent myth is ole Miss’s foundational but it doesn’t preclude things that are new and I think it’s important to keep that in mind because in the world you live in and the one I have spent my life in its characterized by change and by new things and whether or not we can make sense out of them will depend upon our utilization of our machinery for doing that and that lies in myth and if we can bring myth over the politics and may lie on politics as well but if in effect the challenge of making sense out of our world is a genuine challenge it’s a real challenge it’s not a feeling it’s not that you don’t know what to do you’ve got to figure it out because this is new stuff and the old heritage of trying to explain it is not enough anymore we have to face up to the fact that we’re going somewhere where humans have never gone before it sounds like Star Trek well I am if they’re right but we’re really confronted with this problem as a tangible effect in our lives and I think that this is kind of important to understand because as much as I love myth and talk about myth and spend my time on myth I had to recognize – there’s a lot that myth will not do and we have to face up to that and do it briefly