Saturday, December 16, 2017



evergreen & pine
darken the snow
lit with dusk

©2017 In Thy Spirit Keeping Poetry Trilogy: I Evergreen & Pine For The "In Thy Spirit Keeping"  A December 2017 poetry series stephanie pope


evergreen & pine
darkened snow
lit with dusk

an image
stuck underneath my lid right where
evergreen & pine once drew a smile of birds

there I withdrew into night antlers
and slumber and then, the North Wind

and the image
in my keeping
mounted heaven

©2017 In Thy Spirit Keeping Poetry Trilogy: II. The North Wind Blew stephanie pope



Red as a
reindeer oddly named, cold dusk
weaves throughout the ragged smile line

antlered evergreen & pine vine where birds
flew home in trust—reborn at dusk; the sun
reddens under cover of winter already
three times dark and climbs into bed.
Evergreen & pine reign here.  A

deep promise in the smile not a poet—a poem
fleshed not flesh brings another kind of reign near
an ars poetica pulls through inner night antlers
poignant pabulum rooted in old stories & ancient stars
in ghosts & Christmas presence & the soul of worn Carol
seamless seemers clinging to a Yule King’s robe

©2017 In Thy Spirit Keeping Poetry Trilogy: III. A Reindeer Named Evergreen stephanie pope

1. The major mythologem inspiring the poetry trilogy, "In Thy Spirit Keeping is the image of the Spirit of Christmas Present taken from Charles Dickens, "A Christmas Carol" re-imagined in the 1999 version  and portrayed on screen by Patrick Stewart.  Christmas occurs at a time of year when the sun is imagined weakest and life is most vulnerable. Our mythic imagination narrates how the light of the world is about to embark on a solar journey into night and the underworld this twelfth month and the world lay three times darkened.  It is the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter.  It is the end of the day and moving toward night.  It is very near the end of the year.  The spirit of Christmas appears in the form of a Yule King jolly and giant and adorned in a holly wreath and green fur-trimmed robe.  He carries a cornucopia and an empty scabbard, the empty scabbard symbolizing good will and peace on earth.  In the excerpt you are about to revisit, the Yule King's dark hair is graying.  This is how one knows the presence is a reference to how things are in the soul of the man's world now and not some other year, era, or eon.  Also, when Mr Scrooge notices something hanging down by the hem of the Yule King's robe, he thinks it is something not human, as if like an animal's claw, i.e. as if bird-like and he thinks it is not part of the Yule King but that it belongs to him.  The Yule King says no.  The claw exists as a result of man's doing.  He lifts his robe to show two human-like children, ignorance, a boy and want, a girl.  And, I remember my Jung.  Psyche is at bottom nature. Thusly, the nature of my own psyche is reminded of its own return seasonally to nature's psyche for renewal forgetful of the world of men, which is culture and in this way I may tend to what pathos ails me ailing in the world of men.

2. I am reminded of the inner robe and the inner work which can be likened to an ars poetica.  Both images, that of the inwardness of presence addressing my own soul likend to that of Christmas present in the literary imagination of the tale and the treatise or literary essays by Horace on the artistic nature of poetry 18-19 BCE, turned again by Archebald Macleish somehow matter to the way these poems come to be.  I am reminded too of another way to envision "psyche is at bottom nature."  Psyche or "soul" is not in the body.  The body is in it.  So now the Yule King seems to be an embodiment of the suffering soul ailing in the man and this is why Mr Scrooge doesn't recognize his offspring when he sees them. And when he does, it seems a nightmare.

3. Two twitter poetry prompts precede working with this literary mythologem and these occur simultaneously within the days leading up to the Doug Jones/ Roy Moore vote in Alabama.   One prompt appeared as a trending twitter hashtag #OddReindeerNames.  The second prompt was #348 and included the words, before, shadowed, and filament.  One was not allowed to use the words in the actual poetry but use active imagination to see where they took one in the ars poetica.

4.  Another thought that stayed with me while I was letting the poetic experience envelope me was remembering that the Greeks believed a god visits one in dream.  This awareness was at the heart of the healing temples of Asclepius.  Jung has written that when a man's soul first appears to him in dream and active imagiantion it shows up with the divine presence.  Soul is not with man it is with god and god takes its form to speak intially to man Jung thought.  Something like this  psychological imagination is of what the scene Patrick Stewart portrays most reminds me.  Mr. Scrooge cannot run away.  The time has come for him to wrestle his soul from the Yule King so that he may carry its spirit with him throughout all his days. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017




Do you?
Let me introduce you to the new book trailer for
my August, 2017 release of
 Monsters & Bugs.


       Monsters & Bugs on Amazon


Cultural mythologer, poet-essayist, stephanie
publishes Mythopoetry Scholar Ezine

and Mythopoetry Blog (Mythopoetics In Culture)


  twitter handle:  @mythopoetry

or visit


Sunday, November 12, 2017

NOVEMBER GUEST BLOG: RETHINKING MYTHIC THINKING by Bradley Olson #depthpsychology #myth #soul #mythopo

"Each mythology has its own grammar." ~ Bradley Olson

I thought for that at least a portion of this blog post, I might respond a bit to Dave Alber’s really fine September posts, which reflect nicely the essence of his recent book, The Heart of Myth:Wisdom Stories From Endangered People. I particularly like his phrase “the grammar of myth,” because it is an unusual and surprising pairing of the words myth and grammar but soon, upon closer examination, one discovers the reasons for why the pairing of myth and grammar is apropos. Grammar is comprised of an internalized set of rules for the use of a given language, and for most native speakers those rules are not learned—internalized—by study and instruction. Grammar is learned by watching and listening to other speakers, and the grammatical nuances of a language learned very early in childhood are intuitively relied upon in writing and conversation, and even in thinking. Grammar may also be a word used to describe an orthodoxy that prescribes and governs punctuation, spelling, and usage. In other words, grammar is the foundation of self-expression. 

You see where I’m going with this; each mythology has its own grammar as well: rules that govern denotation, expression, orthodox understanding, thinking, and form. And these grammatical rules, sometimes called mythemes, tenets, or articles of faith, are also learned in very early childhood and often inexorably remain, over the course of even a very long life, the intuitive framework for understanding oneself and one’s world. Those of us cohabiting with a particular mythology rely on its grammar to communicate comprehensibly with one another, to support, instruct, encourage, and all too familiarly, rebuke. Perhaps even more important is that grammar insists on storytelling and making narrative possible, in fact, grammar may frankly necessitate story. I suppose one cannot truly imagine what trying to communicate with another person might have been like before, shall we call it, the invention or the organization of grammar, but I suspect that a lot of grunting, pointing, the use of contorted, exaggerated facial expressions, stick and dirt drawings, and an exasperated, repetitive emphasis on a few key sounds would have been the norm. An unwieldy enterprise, to say the least, and coupled with its longueur, it would certainly seem to incline one to fewer verbal interactions. Grammar allows one to participate in relationship by virtue of the narrativizing of life, not only one’s own life, but the lives (and deaths) of others, of the community, of animals, of forests, grasslands, deserts, seas, as well as the heavens. Grammar makes myth possible, grammar may even insist upon myth.

Rethinking Myth Through Joseph Campbell’s “Four Functions”

In David’s September 4th guest blog on this site, “What is Myth For You?”, he referenced an essay I had written: “Bradley Olson recently posted an essay on the importance of rethinking myth and personal definitions of myth, and similarly, he referenced it back to the mystical function of myth.” I was surprised to read this, because as I was writing it, I was thinking of it in terms of the psychological function of myth. But Dave was not wrong in associating what I had written with the mystical function of myth, of which is to awaken a sense of “awe” in the encounter with the, as Jung put it, mysterium tremendum. Joseph Campbell’s four functions of mythology, as I think about them now with Dave’s grammaticus influencing me, are also attempts at grammar, and it would be as wrong to relegate them to discrete domains as it would be to insist upon always speaking the King’s English; more elegant and clear, perhaps, but not nearly as interesting, nor as alive.  Each of these four functions—metaphysical, cosmological, sociological, and psychological—are in dynamic relationships with one another, sometimes opposing, sometimes syncretic, and sometimes paradoxical. The student, less innately fluent than, say, the initiate, will struggle with the intellectual imperative of properly consigning this experience or that phenomenon to its proper function. For instance, is this particular narrative supporting a sociological function or is it advancing my own psychological needs? At any given time, the answer may be yes, no, or both. How does one decisively separate cosmology and awe (the metaphysical function) for instance? Here again, these categories function as grammar, and as such, one must first learn how to use and apply them correctly and reliably in order to effectively and creatively transgress the rules at some future point when the goal is to creatively open up and revitalize the mythic narratives. In mythology, as in the lives of cultures, perhaps this task falls to those best suited for the work: the heretics, the visionaries, the poets, the artists, those singular individuals living within a particular narrative who see, perhaps for the first time, something entirely new in the old forms, plasticity in the rigid structures, and beauty in the unavoidable, and often unforgiving, realities of life.

Dave writes that “Myths are transmissions of knowledge from the enlightened state, from cultures that rightly identify spiritual work with the routine moment-to-moment development of their awareness state.” As David soon points out, “[the definition] is imperfect and limited,” and he believes the imperfection is intentional in order to, I presume, give myth the room and imprecision it requires to make it flexibly expansive enough to contain and transmit extraordinary esoteric, metaphysical knowledge. I am aware from our personal conversations and correspondence that Dave values, as I do, the timeless, mercurial, eternal, archetypal qualities of myth, the fleeting “Protean slipperiness” of it (as he once put it to me), and the ability of myth to evoke “profound states of awareness.” Dave’s September essays are deeply thought, innovative, and pleasurable to read, and I have no criticism for him in this regard. But since the point of my essay this month is to contribute something of my own thoughts about myth, my response is, it seems, yes and…. The and… is my problem with the focus on the transcendent and spiritual aspects of myth, a focus I acknowledge as a venerable interpretation and use of myth, but one I am exhausted by and, frankly, one I think the world can ill afford any longer. At its best, it denies the reality of human effort and inter-relatedness and creates comforting illusions; at worst it creates an excess of greed, stupidity, and shallow, trivial gestures performed within an atmosphere of mercilessness.

Myth’s Grammar, Thought, And Imaginal Life

I prefer to consider myth as a mode of thought or a condition of imagining rather than a narrative containing a body of knowledge. Perhaps, referencing my above discussion of Dave’s notion of grammar, I can call myth the grammar of thought, or the grammar of imagination (as I recall, Hegel mentioned something along the lines of grammar being the work of thought). Myth was “taken up” or rediscovered during the Enlightenment because, as a mode of thinking, it was believed to be a key to comprehending history, philosophy, religion, art, linguistics, and creativity itself. Considering myth to be a mode of thinking returns ownership of myth to human beings and, from that point of view, a mythic imagination is an uncritical, non-causal, wholesale search for meaning and significance in a human life lived in a fundamentally mysterious world. Myth is no longer the province of gods or the expression in the world of supernatural intervention but instead, it rightfully reclaims for human beings an apprehension of the sublime nested within human passions, changes of fortune, joys, and depressions, elation and pathos.

A Fifth Function Of  Myth? 

There is at least one other exquisitely human function of myth that I would add to Campbell’s well known four, and that is the function of delight. Delight as a function certainly isn’t my discovery. John Dryden specifically, and all manner of poets, writers, painters, classically educated people in all walks of life, have noted this function at work one way or another in the mythopoetic genre. The mythographer is, as the word poesis suggests, a maker and a creator, she aims at making something beautiful, something that stirs us, not by representing things exactly as they are but by heightening their intensity, deepening their depths, qualities Dryden called “lively” and “just” (Essay of Dramatic Poesy). Poesis, and by extension mythopoesis, is a uniquely human endeavor and delighting in it allows one to, if not exactly remake the world, remake our own reality here and now, for there is no fear in delight, and no pain, delight is play, not pressure. Poesis and drama also instruct, says Dryden, but the function of instruction is secondary in his mind, and what always assumes a place of primacy in his thinking is the function of delight. Delight is created by the contemplation of beauty, and it is the job of the creative person to create or highlight a beauty that contributes to the pleasures of the soul. The condition of delight taken in every aspect of life, even the difficult, allows one to accept one’s human, all too human, existence without the vulgar, slavish, and undignified need for transcendence.

Meditations On Existential Dread,
Salvation, And Transcendence

There is a story I love about D.T. Suzuki, the great popularizer of Zen in the West and who was, as he was dying, visited by a friend and they had a wide-ranging conversation about Zen, poetry, and, of course, the meaning of life. Suzuki excused himself from the room for a bit, and once he was out of earshot his wife leaned over to the visitor and said something like, “You know why he doesn’t believe in Satori, do you not?” The visitor shook his head and said, “No.” Mrs. S. began chuckling and then exclaimed, “He’s never experienced it, himself!” I suppose I like this story because it reflects my own understanding; I’ve never been, in my exposures to Christianity, Zen, Sufism—all of which I took rather seriously at one time or another in my life, able to experience what “they” said I should, namely, some sort of transcendence. Some sacred wisdom, or some spiritual practice, was supposed to enter me, heal me, or expand my consciousness or something, and I would be fundamentally changed as a result. But stories, narratives, even sacred ones, don’t change anyone. Human beings don’t change. We are not transformed. We do not become different, altered (although we may well become altared, tied to doctrine, rituals, and forms) beings.

One might wonder that with an attitude like that, what is the point of being a psychotherapist? Well, there is quite an important point it, and while I don’t believe that people can change, I do believe they can relieve their suffering. Suffering is created by the apparently insurmountable gap between who people believe themselves to be and who they believe they should be. Because they can’t change themselves in any way to which they are not already predisposed, that gap appears to be unspannable and they begin to long for transcendence, a transcendence that in its most frank, naked intention, is to somehow escape their human condition, the condition of limited agency and vision, competency and comprehension, beset by frailty and existential dread. It makes sense, I suppose, to wish that some divine hand of a supernatural agent, some compassionate, just and virtuous suspension of the universal order would simply erase my misery and install me in a life of happiness and ease.It may be that the wish for salvation and transcendence is built into myth as well as human nature. Chekov once remarked that if you see a prominently displayed gun in the first act, you can be sure it will be fired in the third. Likewise, in mythology, the first act emphasis is religious, it is focused on supernatural, divine beings, divine, supernatural realms, and the religious thinking that encapsulates them. So naturally now, in the third act, people often turn to myth the way they used to turn to religion, except that we tell ourselves we’re not being religious, we’re too sophisticated to fall for that. Instead, we think of ourselves as being scholarly, or psychological, or merely “spiritual.”  Practices arise such as personal mythology, culturally esoteric and exotic spiritual practices, and what they have in common, deep down in their religious DNA, is the desire for transcendence and salvation in some fashion. Please, the practitioner begs, let me be something I presently am not, and seem incapable of becoming. And I suppose, to some degree, that’s what those of us who privilege the metaphysical or psychological function of myth may have wrought. We’ve focused on the transformational, cathartic properties that an immersion in mythology is expected to offer. And it is, after all, a reasonable first step in the study of myth to try to understand exactly what is the impact myth is having on my life, on my personal situation.

Is That All There Is To Myth?  

But if that’s all it is, if myth is only beneficial to individuals because it makes their personal lives seem easier or better, we might as well give up on the way we (in the manner of Freud, Jung, Campbell, etc.) study myth right now. If myth has become merely another more exotic, and because of its unfamiliarity potentially more likely, shot at salvation, the genre has been exhausted in the way that a lode of gold or silver has been worked out; the mining of myth can no longer yield usable amounts of its natural matter. Secondly, we cannot continue to believe that our human condition is somehow inferior, fallen, or inadequate to the task of living. Life in the contemporary world has given way to other circumstances which must be met with other ways and forms of mythological imagining. And even if my second point isn’t correct, and the circumstances of human life haven’t changed fundamentally in ten thousand years, we either lack the imaginative power to approach the form novelly, or we no longer find the answers that novelty supplies to be of value. Finally, and we see this played out on every world stage multiple times every day, misunderstanding myth (intentionally or not) serves as some advantage to someone, and when mythic narratives are an advantage to someone or some group, one is helpless to be understood or to lay in course corrections.

Freud once remarked of his own theories that they appealed to him because they tended to, like the theories of Copernicus or Darwin, diminish man’s pride. Perhaps it isn’t asking too much to imagine that pride is at work in the sacred fantasies of transcendence, salvation, the project of leaving one’s human condition behind. Pride has at its core a loathing of the human condition and its forms, and pride refuses to see that simple human life and living has a profoundly aesthetic quality. The myths we cling to tend to summarize our cultural life, which may be why we so badly want to impress them into the service of escape. To my way of thinking, myths investigate and celebrate human will and if that avenue of their contemplation is dying, then perhaps it’s because the will of our society is dying, and if it is, it is likely dying of its own excess. But contemporary culture seems intent on transcending human nature, too, and self-interested, selfish excess is the chosen option for the program: multiply, augment, display, annex, coopt, volatize, transmogrify, transmute…and, like the directions on a shampoo bottle, repeat over and over until we are, finally, no longer human. As Oscar Wilde aptly put it, “nothing succeeds like excess.”

An Ethical Ideal

The answers to the problems of living are not found in self-transformation or through “realizing one’s divine nature,” but rather, becoming more and more and more human; more and more and more oneself. This is precisely what Nietzsche (no mean mythographer, himself) would prescribe. A self isn’t, according to Nietzsche, something you just naturally are. A self must be achieved, continually, over and over again. As Duncan Large notes in his forward to Ecce Homo, Nietzsche insisted that “the process of self-becoming [is] an ethical ideal.” In Nietzsche’s own words:

Becoming what you are presupposes that you have not the slightest inkling what you are. From this point of view even life’s mistakes have their own sense and value, the temporary byways and detours, the delays, the ‘modesties,’ the seriousness wasted on tasks which lie beyond the task. […] You need to keep the whole surface of consciousness—consciousness is a surface—untainted by any of the great imperatives. Beware even every great phrase, every great pose! With all of them the instincts risk understanding them too soon. Meanwhile in the depths, the organizing ‘idea’ with a calling to be master grows and grows—it begins to command, it slowly leads you back out of byways and detours, it prepares individual qualities and skills which will one day prove indispensable as means to the whole—it trains one by one all the ancillary capacities before it breathes a word about the dominant task, about goal, purpose, sense (Ecce Homo).

This is exactly, I think, what Campbell means by following your bliss; one realizes that living a human life is often accompanied by inescapable constraints of one kind or another, but there need be no authority but the inner deep, Nietzsche’s “organizing idea,” that continually unfolds proportionally to how intensely we approach our own self-becoming. That was a rather long quote, but one often reads about Nietzsche rather than actually reading Nietzsche, and we should be reading him…deeply. Those we turn to in our study of myth were powerfully influenced by him; Campbell certainly read him, Jung read him and worried that perhaps his philosophy made him mad, Freud almost certainly read him and lied, saying he had not.

Self-becoming, not change, is what happens in psychotherapy, although I suppose from an outside perspective it appears that, through this process, the individual has changed. But that would be wrong; in fact, she has simply become more of whom she has already always been. When a rose seed becomes a beautiful, blooming rose, it might appear to have changed from a seed to a rose, but the mature rose was always there, inside the seed, and she became the fullest expression of herself. The true value of myth is found not in esoteric teachings about transcendence, nor in, as seductive as it may be, an occulted promise to escape one’s human legacy. Rather, the value of myth is found in its way of consoling us, beings who are subject to wild swings of fortune, impossible moral dilemmas, horrifying exposures to the cannibalizing tendency of life itself to devour life, to triumph, love, joy, sorrow, and all the rest of the exquisitely human experience—as Zorba lovingly called it, “…the whole catastrophe.” To be more fully human should be the goal, to enter one’s humanity more and more deeply, to become as fully and completely human as one can possibly be, and those indispensable qualities and skills which benefit, not just oneself, but the entire collective, are found there.  What myths teach is what I have called, in other venues, radical acceptance; Nietzsche called it Amor Fati, Jung called it individuation, and Campbell called it bliss. Keats, in Sleep and Poetry, says it this way:
                        …Though no great minist’ring reason sorts
Out the dark mysteries of human souls 
To clear conceiving: yet there ever rolls 
A vast idea before me, and I glean 
Therefrom my liberty…

Myth has the power of absorbing and disturbing us in secret ways, just as our own self-reflection is likely to absorb and disturb us, in ways remaining frustratingly secret. Myth is one of the few ways complex civilizations keep in mind the uncivilized and untutored selves we desperately want to have outgrown. To keep us in mind, too, the existentially puzzling phenomena we’d rather not give too much thought to, things like death, birth, and the constant struggle between free will and fate, issues that remain stubbornly resistant to the intellect. Myth allows one to see the full force and effect of a complex world on a limited human being, and if one begins to think and imagine mythically, one wakes up and is less constrained by the complexity and limitation of living a human life, and opens the doors of perception to lives of joy and significance. Imagined and thought this way, myth serves the purpose of a closer and truer relationship with life. Myth doesn’t transform or solve the problems of living, but it does illuminate the subject, and that, itself, is something important and worth having.


Bradley Olson, PhD is a psychotherapist in private practice with an office at Mountain Waves Healing Arts.  Dr. Olson has a particular interest in Jungian Analytical Psychology and Mythological Studies, and his work with clients is heavily influenced by these two traditions.  Dr. Olson works mainly with adults on issues of spirituality, identity, and transitions into mid-life. 

For more regarding Dr. Olson's work visit
Mountain Waves Healing Arts

Bradley Olson Blog  

Falstaff Was My Tutor

More About Brad

On CultureSmith

More by Bradley Olson on Myth Blast

MythBlast ( blog)

Monday, October 16, 2017

BE ALWAYS DRUNKEN #blog #MondayMotivation #WorldFoodDay

see @FlynnGrayWriter blog


“It is time to get drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of Time, get drunk; get drunk without stopping! On wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish.”– Charles Baudelaire

I must admit I have been having a bit of trouble pulling a press kit together to launch the marketing campaign for my new poetry book, Monsters & Bugs. My new book published August 27, 2017 just ahead of my 65th birthday on the 31st.

I am not quite three weeks and four pages into shaping the press kit when I have a quite sinister car accident which totals my 2004 Mazada Miata convertible.  The wreck of my world bangs me about a bit.  Some part of me feels like it has become part of the crushing wreckage, now a burden of time. It is not in this moment but in another, the one in the gap between then and now the ghost of Baudelaire finds me.  “Become drunken,” whispers his shade. It is between moments when death flashes underneath the green light at the intersection where the accident occurs, and I now, marveling that the severest of my several injuries is a soft tissue, contusion of the wrist the doctor advises will heal in six weeks, that I think of Baudelaire who suggests how to become drunken in one’s inner nature and why.

All this while ice has been my friend, I have become aware of existence and the burden of time. Rest and compression using a Spica thumb brace, then elevation of the injury are constant companions. Being a mythologist, I examined “Spica” in Greek mythology by pressing the image back into its archetypal, historical pattern.  Spica is the grain of the goddess. In this September-October moment Spica reflects the Ceres sacrifice, the horrible burden crushing one into Earth, dust to dust. And one does not die, one lives.

The doctor assures me I will still be able to type but I find the constant throbbing between thumb and wrist hampers entering into necessary levels of depth that allow one of Baudelaire’s other maxims to operate.  Baudelaire’s second insight suggests when one is writing one continually strive waxing poetic even in one’s prose.  Thusly I recall the miracle in my transitoriness: blood becomes ink and water becomes wine and who is the poet whispers nearby, “be always drunken.”

Over the weekend I’ve begun car hunting for a new Mazda Miata convertible and this morning I have reopened the press kit to revise what I’ve written plus add some poetic touches to those lively monsters of my fancy you will encounter in Monsters & Bugs.


1. Inspiration for this blog as well as finishing my press kit came to me while checking into Baudelaire’s turning of beauty.  One of the inspirations for insects as soul guides was noticing how not often insects are included in images of beauty.  Yet their very strangeness suggests to me they must be included.  I was checking into Baudelaire’s quote on including the strange and bizarre in our Beauty Way when I found @FlynnGrayWriter blog, a very fine, fingertip source for getting at the writings of Baudelaire on line.

2.  Pope, Stephanie. Monsters & Bugs: Selected Poems. ©2017, Mandorla Books.

Monsters & Bugs

Friday, September 29, 2017

DAVE ALBER GUEST POST #blog 6 of 6 The Myths Of The Crow (Apsaalooke) People #NorthAmerica #native #mythology

Heart Of Myth Kindle Edition Amazon


Hello Blogosphere!

I’m Dave Alber, the guest blogger for September on Stephanie Pope’s blog.

In previous blogs… I introduced the core grammar of myth, described the alchemical nature of myth, as well as the ecological vision of polytheistic myth. We took a look at some of the characteristics of the mythology of Native North America.

In The Heart of Myth: Wisdom Stories from Endangered People, we explore the myths of six geographic regions (North America, Arctic, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceana.) Beginning with North America, lets take a look at one specific community of people in North America and their myth of world creation.

[What follows is from The Heart of Myth.] 

Chapter 1—Crow (Apsaalooke): The Earth Diver

The Crow people call themselves the Apsaalooke, meaning “people of the large beaked bird,” after a mythological trickster in their oral tradition.[1] Many modern Apsaalooke tell their history in mythological terms. “We know where we came from, we know where we’ve been, and we know whom we are,” states the Crow Nation website:

We came through three transitions to become who we are. We were (Awaakiiwilaxpaake) People of the Earth, we were all one mankind, we became (Biiluke) on Our Side, we became (Awashe) Earthen Lodges, and we became Apsaalooke some 2000 years ago.[2]

The ancestors of the Crow had varied life ways including hunting, gathering, and farming, stories of which survive today in cultural memory. In the 1400s, under the leadership of the legendary ancestor, No-vitals, the Crow people migrated to the Great Plains culture area.[3] The Native Americans of the Great Plains lived primarily through large game hunting, particularly the buffalo, which people trapped in box canyons or stampeded off cliffs. Small family tribes lived in portable tepees covered with buffalo skins, each tepee being a symbol of the people’s relationship with the land. “The tepee is a spiritual habitat that symbolically embraces her occupants as a mother.”[4] With the decline of the buffalo in the nineteenth century, the Crow people worked with the United States to integrate into the European American culture.[5] Loss of traditional lands has been a major threat to the Crow community. Today most Crow people live on their reservation in south central Montana.[6] Many see their children’s education as key to their cultural survival. For example, the Crow or Apsaalooke language is vigorously maintained and taught in Crow schools. This Siouan language is one of the most widely spoken Native American languages.[7] Another vital concern is the preservation of sacred lands. Oil drilling in Montana’s Valley of the Chiefs, for example, endangers a religious site containing the largest Native American collection of rock art.[8]

Myth: The Earth Diver

In the beginning, there was just That Old Man Who Did Everything wandering around. And it seemed to him that there was only his awareness . . . his attention . . . his presence. He noticed the water below him, stretching out for as far as he could see. But soon there were voices and circular ripples on the surface of the water. He listened.

[1] Grim, John A. and Magdalene Mocassin Top. “The Crow/ Apsaalooke in Montana.” Endangered Peoples of North America. Ed. Tom Greaves. Westport: Greenwood Press, 2002. p. 23.
[2] From the Official Site of the Crow Tribe: Apsaalooke Nation. Retrieved 12-30-08.
[3] Medicine Crow, Joseph. The Crow Indians’ Own Stories. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska P., 2000. p. 23.
[4] Grim, p. 23-4, 29. George Bird Grinnell relates a Blackfoot myth of the buffalo maiden in his Blackfoot Lodge Tales. Joseph Campbell retells the myth in his Historical Atlas of World Mythology, Vol. 1, Part 2, and again in “The Message of the Myth” segment of The Power of Myth series.
[5] Grim. p. 24.
[6] Ibid. p. 23.
[7] 4,280 speakers in 1990 U.S. census. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Retrieved 12-30-08.
[8] Endangered Peoples of the World. Sierra Club: Montana Chapter website. Retrieved 12-30-08.

In the beginning, there was just That Old Man Who Did Everything wandering around. And it seemed to him that there was only his awareness . . . his attention . . . his presence. He noticed the water below him, stretching out for as far as he could see. But soon there were voices and circular ripples on the surface of the water. He listened.

“I suppose it’s just us.”
“Yeah, there is no one else here.”

That Old Man Who Did Everything followed the voices and the ripples in the water to their center, where he saw four ducks. Two were blue-eyed ducks and two were smaller red-eyed ducks. The small red-eyed ducks had just finished talking. On seeing someone other than themselves they appeared shocked and even a bit embarrassed for just having said that there was no one else about.

“Ha,” laughed That Old Man Who Did Everything. “Did you really believe that you were alone? I am here, too.”

The big blue-eyed ducks said, “Our hearts told us that there were others and we believed.”

“Yes,” smiled That Old Man Who Did Everything. “Tell me what your hearts say to you.”

“Our hearts say that there is something below the water.”

“Yes,” said That Old Man Who Did Everything. “You can dive and swim through the water. Why don’t you dive down, down, down and see what is there?”

So, the first blue-eyed duck dove down, down, down into the water. The others waited on the surface. Their friend had been gone a long time. “Maybe he is drowning,” said the second big duck.

“No,” said one of the two smaller ducks. “He’s a good swimmer. He’ll be fine.”

At last, with a gasp, the big duck broke the surface of the water. The other ducks waited for him to catch his breath.

“Well?” asked That Old Man Who Did Everything. “What did you find?”

“Just water, liquid currents pushing me to and fro, water above, water below.”

“Hmmm,” said That Old Man Who Did Everything. He pondered the duck’s words.

The second big duck flapped his wings on the water’s surface. “I’m sure I can make it. I’m going to find out what’s below all this water.” And so, he dove down, down, down into the deep water and was gone a long, long, long time. That Old Man Who Did Everything waited with the ducks and they waited together for a long, long time.

“I don’t know if he is still alive,” said the first big blue-eyed duck.
“What does your heart tell you?” asked That Old Man Who Did Everything.
“He’s alive,” said the first small duck. “Look!”

He pointed where the surface of the water broke with feathers, a winged body, frantic splashing, and panting. The others waited for their friend to catch his breath.
After a time, he spoke,

“I don’t know what there is down there. It seems to be all water.”
The first of the smaller red-eyed duck said,

“These ducks are too big to reach the bottom. I’ll dive down this time. I know I’ll make it!”
That Old Man Who Did Everything contemplated those words.

“You are small,” he said. “So be careful not to go beyond the capacities of your body. Bring awareness with you as you dive, maintain that awareness in the depths, lest you should black out and drown. Remember to be aware in the depths. I should be very happy to see you safely return to the surface.”
The small red-eyed duck took a deep breath and dove down, down, down into the depths of the water. Down, down, down he dove. On the surface, his friends waited. They looked around at each other and waited, waited, waited.

Finally, the small duck broke the surface of the water. He panted, but was quick to catch his breath.

“Aha,” cried That Old Man Who Did Everything. “Tell me what did you find?”

The small red-eyed duck said, “I swam down, down, down into the depths. Down, down, and down. And then my head struck something. And so, I placed that thing in my bill and carried it up to the surface.

He handed That Old Man Who Did Everything a small plant.

That Old Man Who Did Everything turned the plant over in his hands as he eyed it intently.

“Well, what your heart directly knew you have found through experience to be true,” he said, then turned to the second small red-eyed bird. “Now, you dive down, little brother, your friends are too tired. Beneath the water you will find something hard . . . and maybe beneath that there will be something soft. Take that soft something and place it in your bill. Bring it up to the surface.”

The fourth duck dove down, down, down into the water. He dove deeper, deeper, and deeper. Eventually, he struck something hard. He pressed his feet into it and broke that surface below. Deeper and deeper he went. His feet were now in something sticky and soft. He filled his beak with this soft something. Blowing air out of the nose holes in his beak, he rose to the surface. Up, up, up he rose and splashed on the surface.

“Aha,” That Old Man Who Did Everything said, “Our friend.”

The fourth duck was exhausted. He took the soft earth out of his beak and placed it in That Old Man Who Did Everything’s hands.

That Old Man Who Did Everything felt the earth in his hands. He looked at it, tasted it, and smelled it. 

“This is earth,” he said. “Creation can now begin.”

So, That Old Man Who Did Everything, with the aid of the ducks, divided the earth into four quarters . . . and directed the course of water on the land . . . and placed trees and living plants about . . . and arranged the sky above it all . . . and above the above they placed the sun, moon, and stars. That Old Man Who Did Everything addressed the ducks, “You have wings to fly in the air, feet to walk on land, and sleek bodies capable of swimming in the water. You embody this story of creation and transmit its knowledge in your flying, diving, and even in your most easygoing gestures. In the beginning, I brought my awareness to you. When men bring their awareness to you they will remember your story and progressively (or maybe all at once) attain knowledge of creation.


Dave Alber is the author of To the DawnMyth & Medium, and Alien Sex in Silicon Valley. His book The Heart of Myth is a global anthology of living myth that unpacks the grammar of world mythology. His website is and his English learning products are at


What Is Myth For You?

Blog 2

What Is The Core Grammar of Mythology?

Blog 3

What Is The Alchemy Of Myth?

Blog 4

What Is The Ecological Vision Of Myth

Blog 5
The Myths Of Native North America

Blog 6
The Myths Of The Crow (Apsaalooke) People

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

DAVE ALBER GUEST POST The Myths Of Native North America #mythology #September #blog Heart Of Myth Kindle Edition Amazon

Heart Of Myth Kindle Edition Amazon

The Myths of Native North America
Hello Blogosphere!

I’m Dave Alber, the guest blogger for September on Stephanie Pope’s blog.

In previous blogs… I introduced the core grammar of myth, described the alchemical nature of myth, as well as the ecological vision of polytheistic myth. Now lets take a look at one geographical region and see how these attributes of myth apply.
In The Heart of Myth: Wisdom Stories from Endangered People, we explore the myths of six geographic regions (North America, Arctic, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceana.) Let’s begin with North America.

[The following is from The Heart Of Myth

Section 1: North America

Hear me, four quarters of the world—a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.[1]

We start our journey in the spiritual landscape of North America, where every Native American ceremony gives evidence to the spiritual recognition of balance—for each Native American ceremony begins with a salutation to the four directions. No less than the Ancient Greeks’ centering themselves within cardinal virtues, the Native American salutation is a totalizing invocation of harmony. Hartley Burr Alexander writes of Native American mandalas, artistic representations of visualization practices that express the cosmos invoked in their salutary prayers:

As the colours, so the elements are related to the Quarters: to the North belongs the air, element of wind and breath, from it come the strong winter winds; the West is characterized by water, for in the Pueblo land rains sweep in from the Pacific; fire is of the South; while the earth and the seeds of life which fructify the earth are of the East.[2]

The polytheistic worldview of Native Americans harmoniously integrates the paradoxes of simultaneous material and spiritual realities as well as an Ultimate Reality (referred to as Wakan-Tanka, Awoawilonas, Tirawa, May Wah-Kon-Tah, Tatanga Mani, Usen, a’nehimu, the Great Spirit, Grandfather, or the Creator)[3] that expresses itself through diverse manifestations. Indeed, Native Americans are exemplary as a devotional people who accept life’s universal paradoxes by rising above all apparent conflicts of duality. Sympathetic awareness, the recognition of the heart is, for Native Americans, the guide to this devotional worldview. For example, “Zuni prayers to the directions begin and end with reverence given to the ‘Middle Place’ which is also related to the ‘heart or navel of the world.’”[4] The elaborate mandalas of the Zuni and Hopi that develop their social planning must be understood as projections through this “Middle Place” of the Eternal powers of the mythological dimension.[5] Humanities role, therefore, is seen as that of a mediator of these raw universal energies into the world. Likewise, a sacred circle of the Sioux is divided into the elemental powers of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air, and an Omaha creation story similarly relates, “Suddenly from the midst of the water uprose a great rock. It burst into flames and the waters floated into the air in clouds.”[6] From a materialistic observation, the elemental myth merely describes cosmological phenomena, yet, like any elemental myth in the Native American tradition, it presents a map for alchemical transformations of consciousness.

As a mediator of universal energies, every human being is a transforming agent. The impacts on our environment tell us as much. However, the act of transformation begins with the spiritual practitioner’s own consciousness. Native American spirituality is rich with the alchemical recognition of the mutability of consciousness. As the Zuni myth The Beginning of Newness relates:

Now like all the surpassing beings the Earth-mother and the Sky-father were changeable, even as smoke in the wind; transmutable at thought, manifesting themselves in any form at will, like as dancers may by mask-making.

In the Omaha ceremonial myth of the sacred pole, during a time of community conflict, a glowing tree is discovered in the forest. “The Thunder birds come and go upon this tree, making a trail of fire that leaves four paths on the burnt grass that stretch toward the four Winds.”[7] Furthermore, in the myth, the Omaha called the tree “a human being, and fastened a scalp lock to it for hair.”[8] The alchemical potential of human beings (whether individually or culturally realized and expressed) only makes itself known when the center is recognized—when balance is achieved. In the Native American mythological worldview this is achieved through maintaining awareness of one’s physical, emotional, and mental experiences in relation to the windy drag of the four cardinal powers.

Thus, the spiritual worldview of Native Americans has its feet planted firmly on the ground. And what is the ground of existence but something that is vigorously alive? Many of North America’s indigenous peoples still call the land Turtle Island. The myth The Woman Who Fell From the Sky tells why this is so. The myth also relates the creation of the landscape and its animals from the efforts of two brothers of differing temperament. Mudjikiwis is another story of brothers, one of which encounters four spiritual guides on his journey to the home of his lost wife—a being of transformative power—a Thunder bird.

The diversity of Energy’s manifestation in Native American mythology is consistently recognized as something to be celebrated. And what opens the heart and unites all people in the recognition of our ultimate sameness—our one heart—more so than laughter? Horned Toad Meets the Giants invites us to participate in the mythological world, not from the forced habit of the solemn misperception of separateness, but rather from the joyous commonality of recognition and celebration in life’s hilarious absurdity. 


[1] Neihardt, John G. and Nicolas Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux. Lincoln: U. of Nebraska P., 2000. p. 4.
[2] Alexander, Hartley Burr, Ph.D.. The Mythology of All Races: North America. New York: Cooper Square Pub., 1964. p. 186.
[3] Smith, Huston. A Seat at the Table: Huston Smith In Conversation With Native Americans on Religious Freedom. Ed. Phil Cousineau. Berkeley: U. of California P., 2006. p. xix.
[4] Alexander. p. 187.
[5] Ibid. pp. 185–7.
[6] Ibid. p. 98.
[7] Ibid. p. 100.
[8] Ibid. p. 100.


In the next blog… we examine one group of polytheistic people from the Native American tradition — the Crow (Apsaalooke) people — exploring their culture and living myths.


Dave Alber is the author of To the DawnMyth & Medium, and Alien Sex in Silicon Valley. His book The Heart of Myth is a global anthology of living myth that unpacks the grammar of world mythology. His website is and his English learning products are at