alanajoli: (Default)
These are a couple of great international academic experiences I wish I could participate in. Since I can't, I'll post my wistful musing about them here:

  • Mark Vecchio, who teaches the myth tours I TA'd for, is leading a Peru trip this May/June. Think about this, if you will: lines drawn on the earth to communicate with the gods; a liminal city where earth and sky are close enough to be almost indistinct; a voyage to the birthplace of the world, where twin islands are the sun and moon in a lake of sky. Does it sound awesome yet? The trip flyer offers even more details. If you are a college student (or know a mythically inclined college student), find out more as soon as you can -- all of the myth tours I've gone on have been amazing experiences, and this one sounds like a brilliant new course!

  • Donna Jo Napoli, who worked with me recently on the autobio project, is teaching a writing for children workshop in Siena, Italy this May. Donna Jo is a linguistics prof at Swarthmore and is an award-winning children's writer. She's teaching the course for free; all the funds she would earn are going to the Siena School for the Liberal Arts, which aids the elderly, disabled, immigrants, and the Deaf. The course information, from Swarthmore, is posted here, and the program is open to writers from novices to professionals.

Both programs have deposits due in the not-too-distant future, so any students and writers interested in applying should do so pretty quickly. If you go, I'll be going vicariously through you!
alanajoli: (Default)
With all the hullabaloo about zodiac signs changing scattered around the internet, I thought it would be fun to break out my copy of Hamlet's Mill (sadly, not the one with my college notes in it) and do an excerpt from the venerable tome by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. The pair of authors relate mythology to astronomy, and discuss mythology as a scientific language that describes events in the heavens. They delve into the concept of world ages, as well as discussing a lot of material that I didn't entirely comprehend in college and have yet to really delve back into. (In fact, in my final paper for Mark Vecchio's Mythic Imagination class, which was required as a script of multiple voices, including the writers and myself, one of the characters comments on my analysis of Hamlet's Mill that I still haven't quite figured out what they're talking about. I knew my own shortcomings.)

So, for your reading pleasure, the Precession of the Equinoxes.


First, what was the "earth"? In the most general sense, the "earth" was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic. The "dry earth," in a more specific sense, was the ideal plane going through the celestial equator. The equator thus divided two halves of the zodiac which ran on the ecliptic, 23 1/2 degrees inclined to the equator, one half being "dry land" (the northern band of the zodiac, reading from the vernal to the autumnal equinox), the other representing the "waters below" the equinoctial plane (the southern arc of the zodiac, reaching from the autumnal equinox, via the winter solstice, to the vernal equinox). The terms "vernal equinox," "winter solstice," etc., are used intentionally because myth deals with time, periods of time which correspond to angular measures, and not with tracts in space.

This could be neglected were it not for the fact that the equinoctial "points"--and therefore, the solstitial ones, too--do not remain forever where they should in order to make celestial goings-on easier to understand, namely, at the same spot with respect to the sphere of fixed stars. Instead, they stubbornly move along the ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course of the sun, that is, against the "right" sequence of the zodiacal signs (Taurus->Aries->Pisces, instead of Pisces->Aries->Taurus).

This phenomenon is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, and it was conceived as causing the rise and the cataclysmic fall of ages of the world. Its cause is a bad habit of the axis of our globe, which turns around in the manner of a spinning top, its tip being in the center of our small earth-ball, whence our earth axis, prolonged to the celestial North Pole, describes a circle around the North Pole of the ecliptic, the true "center" of the planetary system, the radius of this circle being the same magnitude as the obliquity of the ecliptic with respect to the equator: 23 1/2 degrees. The time which this prolonged axis needs to circumscribe the ecliptical North Pole is roughly 26,000 years, during which period it points to one star after another: around 3000 B.C. the Pole star was alpha Draconis; at the time of the Greeks it was beta Ursae Minoris; for the time being it is alpha Ursae Minoris; in A.D. 14,000 it will be Vega. The equinoxes, the points of intersection of ecliptic and equator, swinging from the spinning axis of the earth, move with the same speed of 26,000 years along the ecliptic.

The sun's position among the constellations at the vernal equinox was the pointer that indicated the "hours" of the precessional cycle--very long hours indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodiacal sign for about 2,200 years.
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Did you all like my disappearing act? Next, I'll saw my assistant in half! But really, what have I been up to in the past month?

  • Copyediting. A lot.

  • Watching Leverage. (Thanks to [ profile] lyster and [ profile] publius513 for the recommendation!)

  • Watching Eureka, on which my friend Margaret Dunlap is a writing assistant.

  • Realizing that catching up on back episodes of cool TV shows takes a bite out of my reading time.

  • Spending time with Bug, who is awesome and amazing to watch as she learns all about the world.

  • Going to kempo with Twostripe.

  • Reading books to review. I'm all caught up on my PW reading, but I have a review to write, and a pile of SLJ books, and some Flames Rising books and comics still piled up.

  • Writing fake romance novel back cover blurbs as a game for a friend. I may post some here at some point, with the names changed to protect the innocent (or not so innocent, as the case may be).

  • Reading books for fun. I just finished Ally Carter's Only the Good Spy Young and am reading Breaking Waves on my nook. (Breaking Waves is an anthology edited by [ profile] tltrent to raise funds for the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund. Great writing and a worthy cause? It's totally worth checking out.)

  • Keeping up on industry news. The NYTimes published an article about color e-ink displays. Remember how I was asking about this earlier this year? Yay news!

  • Sending the Viking Saga team through Europe. This weekend: Italy! Next weekend: Crossover game with the Mythic Greece group! I can hardly wait.

  • Finishing up at the library. I've decided I can spend my time more the way I'd like to spend my time -- on both writing/editing and on being a mom -- without those library hours. As much as I love my coworkers and my library, it's a good move. And we'll still be storytime regulars.

  • Traveling for cool events. Last night I went to see Abundance with [ profile] niliphim. Friends of the blog Mark Vecchio and Richard Vaden are involved in the production (Mark is the director; Rich is performing). If you're in Pioneer Valley over the next two days, go see it! And check out this article about the production, and a sense of the mythic in the Old West.

And finally, I've been writing. Not as much as I'd like, but I am doing it. I'm back to owing [ profile] lyster a chapter of Blood and Tumult, but I'm also working on the sooper sekrit project -- which I can now say is a comic, and as soon as I tell my editor I'm going to start talking about it, I'll start writing about it here! The portion I'm working on is actually due sooner rather than later, so if I want to talk about the process, it'll have to be coming up soon!

In honor of my return, and to help with my going-digital initiative, I'm giving away my mass market copy of Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry. Answer the following question by Friday the 24th, and I'll pick a random winner!

If you were stranded on a deserted island (with comfortable amenities and the knowledge that you'd be rescued within a week), what five books would you want to have in your luggage?
alanajoli: (Default)
Back in 2006 when I made my first voyage to Ireland with Mark Vecchio and students, I had the privilege of getting to know then theater student, Rich Vaden. Since then, I've traveled with Rich to Turkey and Greece on another one of the myth tours (where he performed a Homeric Hymn for our group in the theater at Delphi), have seen him perform in college productions, and have had the opportunity to see the play that he wrote and performed in, Hide and Seek, in two different incarnations: one at the Berkshire Fringe Festival, and one produced by Scheherazade Theatre in Pioneer Valley and performed at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre in Times Square. He's remarkably talented, and a good friend. Right now, he's off in Ireland, chaperoning the same trip where we met, so I asked if he'd be willing to write a guest blog about his trip. He sent me this piece earlier in the week, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.


May 22, 2010 Strandhill, Ireland, Co. Sligo:

"Mythical Meditation"

Since I've arrived in Ireland, its been a developing process of trying to strip away the blocks my own modern mind has placed on the process of delving deeply into the myths and the mythic imagination that Ireland (its culture, landscape and legends) inspire. One of the tools I have been using is meditation. At each sacred location we visit (thus far: Tara, Newgrange, The Lake Isle of Inishfree, Maeve's Cairn/Knocknarea, & Knocknarea Glen) I take, at the very least, ten minutes to meditate using a mixture of Buddhist and Hindu techniques, with my own personal "stank." This is the way that I find most helpful in tuning into the mythic aura/tone/atmosphere/energy of the locations.

When I achieve a meditative state, I listen to the nature around me (the birds, the wind, the sheep, the earth) and try to allow it to inhabit the fiber of my being. I let it guide my consciousness and, hopefully, my subconscious. I try to feel the nature of the mana of the place, its quality and strength, as well as my own response to it (can I focus? can I feel it? can I attune myself to it?) This is all done while simultaneously trying NOT to try to do anything. Sometimes I am successful, sometimes I am not.

Today, in the Glen of Knocknarea, close to Maeve's Cairn, I was able to attune myself to the nature literally surrounding me. I began to feel a pulse, a rhythm, almost a language that was formed between my mind/soul/body and Mother Nature. I believe this was possible because A) I have been practicing this meditation daily (sometimes twice or three times daily) since I arrived, and it takes that many times for me to achieve a meditative state in an environment of "meditation on the go;" and, B) The myth of Meave is one that is filled with elements that are particularly powerful to me: the Moon, the Goddess/Queen, the Power and Divinity of the Feminine, the Bull, and the mixture of earth and water, and thus, fertility. These elements are post powerful to me astrologically (if you know astrology, I am a Pisces, with Cancer Rising, and Taurus Moon, thus the aforementioned elements in combination are particularly regenerative to me).

During my meditation, I focused on what was around me, the confluence of these elements, the elements themselves, and the myth of Meave. As I ended my meditation, raising the Kundalini through my chakras, I could almost feel the power of Meave flow through me, from my first, all the way to my seventh chakra, and the cares of the modern world melted away. Afterwards, I felt a bit of the Goddess in me, or at least flowing through me ever so slightly. It felt like pure power mixed with compassion, sensitivity, and abstract wisdom (that is, the feeling of having passively learned/absorbed something profound, without knowing what it is). It was an experience for which I am eternally grateful and I look forward to my further exploration of Mythical Meditation.
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Not long ago I got into a discussion on the Mythopoeic Fantasy Awards judges mailing list about what it means to be mythopoeic. One of the judges, Alma Hromic, wrote a very insightful answer back to me about what she felt the difference was between spinning a fairy tale trope and creating something that taps into the spirit of myth. I discovered through that conversation that she writes fantasy novels as Alma Alexander. After visiting her website, I realized that I'd admired the cover of her novel The Secrets of Jin-shei, which had been on my to-be-read list for a long time, but I'd never picked it up! In addition, Alma is the author of the "Worldweavers" series, which draws on Native American mythology tropes. It sounds like a series I would love, as does her fantasy duology Changer of Days and The Hidden Queen. I'm delighted to welcome Alma here to Myth, the Universe, and Everything as a guest blogger.

(For previous discussion on mythology vs. fairytales, visit my entry on the Dewey Decimal system, my post on gods going underground, and this guest blog by Mark Vecchio.)


The Mything Link
Alma Alexander

There is a certain line of descent when it comes to things literary. A regression would take us from a contemporary and modern context, through recent (one's own lifetime) history and then back further into
more distant history - and, from there, into folktale, and then into legend, and then into myth.

Myth is what the magic stardust of time and distance does to someone else's quotidian reality - things turn bigger and brighter and darker and more numinous for being sprinkled with the stardust of magic and
mystery and a pinch of faith.

Myth is just BIGGER than everything else. So much bigger.

The world of the folk tale, or fairy tale (which is a form of folk tale woven with a magic thread), is a world that is only touching on the otherworldly, and it depends on what happens to the humans who
stumble (in passing) into that other world. It is not fundamentally about the creatures that inhabit that other world - and it is certainly not about things that are much vaster than the human characters who carry the story. There are no transcendent gods or angels here.

The folk and fairy tales depend on certain accepted tropes and storylines and types of character - they are stories, if you like, of STEREOTYPE. Instantly recognisable stereotype. Princess in peril. The youngest of three princely siblings. Talking animals. Baba Yaga and her cottage with the chicken legs.

In the hands of a good writer, these stereotypes can definitely be turned on their heads. Take, for example, Jim Hines's ([ profile] jimhines) The Stepsister Scheme. It's a story of self-admitted stereotypes, albeit given a trademark-Hines twist. Here we have a bevy of fairytale princesses who each used to have her own story, thrust together into the same storyline - but even so, they are all still instantly recognisable as
what they used to be. Cinderella is still Cinderella. Snow White, despite using mirrors more like a demented fairytale ninja than the Snow White of our childhoods, is still recognisable as Snow White (she is still USING mirrors. She still HAS dwarves.) Talia, more commonly known as Sleeping Beauty, comes closest to breaking the mould we know her in from long ago and far away - in this incarnation she is rather different from the precious princess who is stupid enough to prick her thumb on a spindle and fall asleep for a thousand years. But nonetheless these are all just tweaked stereotypes, and we know them as such and respond to them as such.

That is the world of the fairy tale.

The myth is inhabited by ARCHETYPES rather than stereotypes.

Archetypes are not named. They are not actual character. They are EveryCharacter, they are over-reaching ideas which cross space and time and personal vision. An angel is an archetype; a fairytale princess is not.

There is a very definite archetype vs stereotype divide.

Using my own work for a moment to illustrate, if I may - I have used a bit of both, in the "Worldweavers" series. My "misfit kids" who turn out to do well for themselves are almost stereotypes - and Thea Winthrop, in particular, my protagonist, is very much one, the plucky heroine who "figures it all out". But in my story the stereotype has acquired added dimensions, and learns and grows through the series in a way that genuine stereotypes never do because they never step out of the mould at all.

On the other hand, the Native American characters from the Worldweavers books (Grandmother Spider, Coyote) are VERY much archetypes, and highly mythopoeic in the sense that their roots lie in deeper and older myths - and they are not confined to any particular story therein, just to a certain kind of ideas and meaning and over-reaching context.

A character like Nikola Tesla can be a little bit of both - he was "real" in the sense that he lived but I have mythologised him in the books to the extent that I have used the nickname that he WAS known by in his own real life, The New Wizard of the West, as a "genuine" title, as it were.

So it's a question of scale, really. Where you peg your character, what context you give that character. A diminished archetype can turn into a stereotype, and a sufficiently exalted stereotype can metamorphose into an archetype - the chasm is not completely impossible to cross - but the transformation, if at all successful,
lies in the lines of space and time... and, last but by far not least, in the competency of the storyteller who is telling any given story.

Tread carefully on the fragile bridge that is the mything link, metamorphosing a story into either star-blazing mythology or the quiet hearthside folktale. Transcended, the archetype vs. stereotype transformation can be absolutely awe-inspiring. Failure means crashing into that chasm, and it's a long, long way down.
alanajoli: (Default)
A funny thing happened at the beginning of the trip. Mark bought a new course book for all the students (and one for me as well), since he discovered it after the initial course books had already been ordered and figured it would be easier just to procure them instead of having the students do it last minute. At the airport in Boston, he distributed the books to everyone, and I decided to take mine on the plane, so I could get ahead on the reading. The title, Stonehenge, by John North (which is also in my sidebar), is a discussion of astronomy and the alignment of ancient monuments and barrows not only to the sun and moon, but also to particular stars at particular times of year, accounting for the precession of the equinoxes (or the movement of the earth's rotation that accounts for the change in angles at which the stars appear over thousands of years). When I opened my copy to begin reading, however, I discovered not an investigation into alignment and ancient thought, but a novel of the same name by Bernard Cornwell. This, of course, was not entirely helpful (although possibly a more lighthearted read!). Some bookseller stuck a copy of the novel inside the jacket of the nonfiction title and thought all would be well -- but of course, it was not. We spent a good chunk of our first day in London tromping around to every esoteric book store (and several major chain stores here) in our general area trying to track down a copy of the North book to replace my novel. We didn't find one until the second day, when I poked my head into a store called Atlantis expecting the same result of "not in stock, but we can order it for you." Instead, the bookseller showed me to the section where she thought it would be, and lo and behold, there was a copy!

After I purchased it, one of the students asked, "So, did you check to make sure it's the right book inside the jacket?" Doh! I hadn't, but it was, indeed, the right book. I'm still catching up on the reading, having lost the flight and part of my opportunities on the first day to get some reading done, but at least now I have it. The excerpt below is from North's apologetics section -- he speculates quite a lot in his book, but comes to some pretty reasonable conclusions that support his hypothesis of star alignment, which he backs up with some interesting numbers. This has less to do with myth directly than most of my guest blogs do, but it gives you a taste for what we're discussing in the course these three weeks, and also offers a peek into what might have been important to people thinking inside a mythic consciousness.


It should now be clear that there are very many different types of initial assumption. A skeptic might argue thus, taking fairly wide limits for the ranges mentioned: 'I do not believe that long barrows were placed in relation to the stars. If I were to drop a typical long barrow on the landscape at random, the chances are eight in ten that I should be able to find a date within a plausible period of prehistory at which your roughly opposed lines of sight would align accurately on bright stars'. ... Following this line of argument in a very crude way, and multiplying probabilities, the chances of finding solutions for two barrows would be 64%, of finding three 51%, of finding seven 21%, and so on. One might reduce still further the chances that the claims against which the unbeliever is arguing are illusory--for instance, by appealing to multiple solutions for the same epoch (usually in close agreement with radiocarbon dating), especially solutions paired at right angles, and having relations with the surrounding landscape--but all this is unlikely to convince resolute skeptics, who are used to having figures in millions quoted against them.

So much for the 'generic barrow on the landscape'. A more reasonable approach is to take a single known long barrow, say Wayland's Smithy, and to ask about the likelihood of finding a solution by chance. It may be supposed, for example, that the long barrow is placed at random on the landscape, with appropriate closely limited characteristics. ... What then are the chances of finding a precise solution involving bright stars in both directions between 4000 BC and 3000 BC?

To take this specimen case, even after adding five more bright stars ... to the previous list, there are only three distinct solutions, each with two orientations (interchanging rising and setting), making six in all. Without giving the lengthy calculations, one can say that for the opening decades of the period, the barrow could be dropped into one of only six narrow sectors of the compass, each covering about 1.4 degrees and 3 degrees. with time, those sectors drift somewhat ... and one pair eventually ceases to be useful, but another takes its place. The details are not important, but it can be said that at a very generous estimate, the barrow could have been assigned an azimuth falling within sectors totaling 54 degrees of the whole compass. In short, a randomly placed Wayland's Smithy has a three in twenty chance (15%) of accommodating a pairing of bright stars in the way explained in the present chapter. This is generous, and on another count far too generous: the thousand years could have been narrowed down appreciably, greatly increasing the odds against finding a random solution. And even with odds of 15%, to find seven solutions--if they happened to produce the same odds, which of course they would not--would mean odds of less than two in a million of finding the whole set of solutions by chance. ... The odds against consistently hitting a solution by chance are very great indeed, and the conclusion must be that astronomical activity at the long barrows is not an illusion.
alanajoli: (british mythology)
Three years ago, when I was the teaching assistant on the trip to Ireland, I mentioned Firefly, because it was quotable (and because I often reference it). Only one of the people on the trip -- a group of seventeen students and three chaperons -- had seen it. This eliminated a good chunk of my referential humor (since that had been one of my main staples at home) and counfounded me some. How had they missed that show?

This year, in the airport in Boston, a passenger with the first name Kaylee was paged over the loudspeaker. The conversation went something like this:

Mark (the myth prof): Everyone with the name Ceilidh ought to be required to break out into song and dance on request.
Cody Jones (student): I think anyone with the name Kaylee should be required to know how to fix my starship.

And on it goes. Several of the students on this trip are familiar with the works of Joss Whedon (I was able to give them the good news about Dollhouse, which I still haven't seen, and they told me the good news about Chuck). We talk a lot about collective representations -- the given understanding of what something is or means that's common in a group of people -- on these myth tours, and I think it's delightful that Joss Whedon has changed a collective representation here and there. It's been fun to see that pop culture understanding evolve with a very similar group of students over the past three years.

The students in this group are, no surprise, brilliant and interesting people who are much quicker to think Big Ideas and have Deep Thoughts than I am, in part because they're in so much better practice. I do think that the big benefit of being in an academic setting the majority of your time, particularly in fields like philosophy and myth, is that you don't have so much practical business getting in the way of thinking on things like Knowledge and Being and the theories of Existence. (All starting with caps, because I think often when thinking big, deep thoughts and conversing on the nature of the universe, capital letters are warranted.) I imagine I'll catch up reasonably well by the end of the trip, but in the mean time, I'm just enjoying basking in the conversation that's flying back and forth and the ideas swimming in the air around me.

We went to the British Museum today, in large part to see the Lindow Man, the body of a corpse, possibly the victim/subject of a ritual murder/sacrifice and discuss the implications/meaning of his death and the way he was killed, not just from a modern perspective, but from the hypothetical perspective of the people involved in the whole affair. Moving around the museum trying to see artifacts from that perspective -- trying to imagine what they might have been -- is both a good thought exercise and a good writing exercise, but is always challenging. The layer of glass between you and the objects can be frustrating -- it reminds you that you're in a museum, and that you're far separated from the people at whose objects you're looking. So much to my delight, the British museum had four stations in the building devoted to letting you touch old objects (and when I say old, I mean a stone hand axe dating back to, well, the stone age). Of the objects I touched, the most impressive were an idol from the UK, a small, copper figure of a god that weighed in the hand like a worry stone might, as though its weight was designed as a comfort; several silver dinari, worth, in their day, about 30 pounds each, from the varied reigns of Claudius, Hadrian, and Antonius Pius, who put his son on the same dinari that his head was on in order to insure proper succession, and who put his wife on a separate coin, opposite a peacock, in his efforts to make her a goddess after her death; a chunk of a vessel from a burial chamber from the Babylonian city of Ur; and a piece of wall brick inscribed with cuneiform that proclaimed it built by Nebuchadnezzar. It is a qualitatively different experience to touch pieces of history than it is to simply see them, and the British Museum has won itself an even bigger fan than it had before. Any time I return, I'll look first for the places where I can touch small pieces of history, and imagine those before me who held these pieces in their hands when they were new.

Tomorrow we're leaving London for Salisbury, where I may or may not have internet access. In the mean time, I'm taking pictures and reading books. No writing progress to report thus far (aside from the class exercises and this blog entry), but I anticipate having more done on my goal list when next I write!
alanajoli: (british mythology)
This may seem a complete tangent from my last post (and it sort of is), but it's come up several times in conversation recently, and I suspect it has to do a bit with training your thinking, so it's vaguely relevant. One of the things I have trouble with as a writer and as a freelancer is self-motivation. People who work for themselves have to be very self-motivated in order to accomplish anything, and figuring out how to find that motivation and drive can be a struggle. I suspect that anyone who works alone has to deal with the same thing, as humans need interaction (we're social creatures) to keep our spirits (and thus our motivation) at high levels. We have to train ourselves to find motivation in unexpected places, since the usual community routes aren't open to us.

One of the ways I'm finding compelling recently is having the benefit of mutual admiration. I've spread out my writing projects among a bunch of different people and groups, so I'm not hitting up the same folks for motivation all the time. In addition, I'm surrounding myself with people who are, in short, brilliant. An old saying (or at least a repeated one here) is that "excellence recognizes brilliance." I've long known that while I'm pretty good at a pretty wide variety of things, I'm rarely the best at any of it. (Some of this comes from being related to extremely talented people and surrounding myself with incredibly smart friends --and vice versa.) I strive for excellence, but really appreciate it when the brilliant folks show up in my life -- and better yet, are interested in the stuff that I'm doing. There are few things so satisfying as having someone who you admire creatively asking for more of what you're up to.

Today was a great day for remembering this. Not only do I have an e-mail from one of the Substraters in my inbox, asking when he'll get to see some more of the new super-secret (super-drafty) new novel that may or may not become anything more than a first chapter, but I was up visiting students at Simon's Rock. The purpose of the trip was to become acquainted with the students who will be going to England in May, but it also served as a brain refresher. The myth students are usually a clever bunch, and this group is no exception. The ideas they were throwing around -- and catching, and tossing back -- were just delightful to witness. (The discussion was of Barfield's Saving the Appearances, and the refresher on those ideas was also a motivator for me to get back to Breakfast with Barfield -- and then move onto the Mabinogion, so I can keep up when we're abroad.) After class, I spent some time with the students I've traveled with before, just chatting and catching up, and then went out to dinner with Mark Vecchio. All in all, it was a wonderful day of feeling appreciated by people who amaze and challenge me, and that's just the sort of day that can fuel my motivation for a long time to come.

Perhaps tomorrow, I'll even get back on track with guest blogs and posting here more regularly. But I'm off to ICon on Long Island tomorrow, and up to Boston for Mythic Greece on Sunday, so my best intentions may have to wait 'til next week.
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One of the things I've been doing while I haven't been on livejournal is planning a new mythic home game. Several of the players I was interested in bringing into the game are fans of Norse myth, which is one of my weak spots in my myth studies, so this is a good excuse for me to expand my horizons. As we're doing the set up, a lot of my ideas about myth studies appear in the e-mails or in conversation, and something interesting is happening: I'm remembering that most people, even those well versed in mythology, don't have the same background in mythic analysis that I do, and that some of the concepts that I take for granted these days about sacred time/space (Eliade) and the evolution of consciousness (Barfield), are, in fact, foreign ideas. That people have pretty much always thought the way we think now is a basic assumption that I've had trained out of me. I'd just completely forgotten that it is a basic assumption, probably for most of the academic world.

But just like I've been trained to think of the history of thought in a non-standard way, I suspect there are a lot of ways in which we're trained to think in modern academic systems that aren't necessarily the way we'd think without the training. I was considering the Socratic dialogues I read in college this morning, and I remembered that within them, logic was used to show that knowledge existed outside of man, independently, and could be accessed, with the proper lead in, by even the simplest child. But later use of logic and reason, most specifically in the scientific method, doesn't have the same assumption of form, from what I understand. Applying the scientific method is a comparatively new way of thinking about the world -- the people who first applied it (arguably Muslim scholars in the 11th century, but it didn't get picked up in a broad sense until much later, possibly post Newton in the 1600s) knew it was a new way of thinking at the time. They were changing the way people think.

I recently had a conversation with a prof about how associative thinking is a style of thought that also has to be trained -- not everyone can do it naturally. Being able to look for similarities and group them together -- even if they have absolutely nothing to do with each other (though they might!) -- isn't something that all people do automatically. Robert Graves certainly did it on his own, and The White Goddess is a great example of associative thinking, as well as what happens when a poet eats a lot of mushrooms and thinks about myth on a Mediterranean Island.

This makes me wonder quite a bit about the ways people thought before academic training was as widespread as it is now: the way you'd be trained to think would likely be various rules of how to get on with the spirits around you -- leaving milk out for the brownies, etc., etc. The Puritans were terrified of the woods when they arrived in the Americas, if Hawthorne's writings about the subject have any merit. Why? Because it was unknown? Because it was wild? Because it was the domain of people other than themselves? Did they lack the training to think about it, because it was something they hadn't encountered before? Or had they, in fact, been trained to think about it as something to fear?

It also makes me wish I'd been keeping up with my Breakfast with Barfield project, which has, sadly, fallen by the wayside. I'm reading quite a lot of books for the Mythopoeic Society Awards lists, and much of my reading time has been with those titles rather than my normal TBR pile. (Luckily, the two have intersected quite a bit.) Hopefully, I'll have the chance to discuss more of these concepts with both the folks from different academic backgrounds, as well as the students who will have just covered evolution of consciousness before we go to England in May. I'll actually be visiting Mark Vecchio's Mythic Imagination course next week, so it'll be nice to have the refresher!
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[ profile] sartorias proclaimed it so, and [ profile] tltrent put a snippet up on her lj as well, so I thought, hey, why not join the club?

Quick note about writing in general: after a long conversation with former guest blogger and my college mentor Mark Vecchio, I realized I need to make some changes in how I think about my writing work as opposed to my writing. They keep competing with each other, and the paid assignments win. So, they have to stop competing, and the fiction writing has to be its own priority or it won't get done.

This means I actually started following my own rules about sending first reader Arielle some fiction last Friday, and I've been spending more quality time doing fiction writing. I've actually started the WIP novel, and put a little more work into "Rodeo at Area 51," which is the snippet you're getting today.

Here's to the start of a new (and hopefully continually good) trend!


"If you're offering me work, Mr. Hughes, you sure got a strange way of doing it."

He coughed, just slightly, as the dust from her gloves blew into his face. "Let's just say I've had to learn the hard way about distinguishing fact from fiction," he said. "If you are as good as your reputation suggests, I'm sure this opportunity will intrigue you and benefit us both."

She gestured over her shoulder. "I've still got two days of shooting."

Eddie shook his head dramatically. All right, there was a lot of money in this.

"I'm sure something can be arranged," said Hughes.

And now her manager was practically begging, clasped hands under his chin. If she didn't agree to this, he'd be prostrate soon. "I don't suppose it'd be top secret," she said, trying to keep her voice lazy.

"It would, in fact," Hughes responded, his voice just as tempered as hers. "You'll certainly be able to list us on your extensive resume, but I'm afraid otherwise, the information you receive will be classified."

"All right," she said with a quick nod, and Eddie flashed her two thumbs up. "Talk over the details with Eddie--I assume you've met him--while I get cleaned up. Shouldn't be more than a tic."

Hughes adjusted his jacket and grinned. "Do you always talk like that, Miss Cloud?"

Jo tried to throw Hughes's earlier smirk back at him, though she suspected he was more practiced. "Only in Hollywood, Mr. Hughes. It's part of my image."
alanajoli: (Taru)
One of the things I've noticed since I got back from Greece and Turkey is that I'm feeling a detachment from my former favorite Greek deity. The first time I went, I fell in love with Ephesus (I still am a bit), and so it was natural to take Artemis at Ephesus as a patron, in some ways. I've adopted variations on her name, and on the name Kybele (the Anatolian goddess with whom Artemis merged in Ephesus), in screen names since 2001, trying to recapture the feeling of being in a city that was, once, clearly hers. Ephesus is also, notably, a city that belongs to St. John the Apostle, and though Paul preached there, it was John who lived in Ephesus, with the exception of the years he was in exile, and was eventually buried there. Many of my warm feelings about John the Apostle began at that time as well, though I had always felt some kinship with the disciple Jesus loved.

But this time, I feel as though something has shifted, and I think this is in part due to Mycenae, and in part due to Naxos. Read more... )


In other news, Flames Rising has been nominated as best fan product for this year's Ennies! Since I write for them, I'm incredibly tickled, and am wishing Matt and the staff the best of luck!
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Finally, the long awaited guest blogs! Given that the subject of the guest blogs is some riff on mythology, I thought it would be appropriate that the first entry come from an academic involved in studying and teaching the subject. Mark J. Vecchio currently teaches courses on mythology and theater (how Dionysian!) at Simon's Rock. He received his D.Univ. at the University of Kent at Canterbury, England, and his M.F.A. at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. An award winning director and published poet, Vecchio has taught courses on Greek mythology in Greece, Celtic mythology in Ireland, and Arthurian legend in England.

(As a note, any errors in presentation are mine; I am still learning html, and this is, thus far, the most complex coding I've attempted!)


Distinguishing Myth, Folk-tale, Legend, & Literature

By Mark J. Vecchio—Copyright 2006

The following is observational, not definitional. I’m less sure about the middle sections (Folk-tale & Legend), and include them mainly for a sense of arc and also to show overlap. Folk-tale & legend are represented as parallel branches, because they differ from each other in character (folk-tale more like fiction, legend more like nonfiction) rather than effectiveness (see below), in terms of which both are in between myth & literature.


  • A traditional tale: no author

  • Relevant on a tribal-cultural level; priestly or bardic transmission

  • Oral, non-literary narrative

  • Meaning is compromised when the tale is written, but once written suffers no loss of meaning in translation

  • Fully participatory† (e.g. through ritual or dramatic performance): must be immediately experienced or full meaning is compromised; a collective, not an individual, experience; participation of myth is effective

  • Occurs in cyclical, not linear, time with no simple (i.e. mappable) location in space—a.k.a. the Dreamtime; law of non-contradiction doesn’t apply (i.e. two things can occupy the same space at the same time); a-historic


  • A traditional tale: no author

  • Relevant on a private or communal (i.e. familial, rural) level; local or private transmission

  • Oral, but loses little meaning when written

  • Pure narrative: suffers no loss of meaning in translation

  • Imaginal participation only; contradicted by causal logic; usually only effective (i.e. experienced as true) in a child’s imagination (thus tales can be instructive); an individual or intimate group experience

  • Occurs in imaginary, a-historical, linear time & mappable space (“Once upon a time . . .”)


  • A traditional tale: no author

  • Variable scope of relevance; bardic or local transmission

  • Oral, but loses little meaning when written

  • Narrative only: has the quality of history; may be reenacted (e.g. in children’s games) but a legend, unlike myth, does not ritually renew (see Eliade, The Myth of the Eternal Return)

  • Participation is nostalgic, sometimes imaginal (as a folk-tale), but not effective; subject to belief

  • Situated in time & place as prehistory that purports to historicity: construed as prior to but on the same timeline as known history


  • Necessarily authored (even if the author is unknown or “Anonymous”)

  • Multi-genre; not necessarily a tale (e.g. lyric poetry); fuzzy distinction between historical & imaginative, but sharp distinction between fiction & nonfiction

  • Relevance not a given, but instead dependent on critical & popular reception

  • Literary, not oral: transmitted in print (i.e. published) through markets to individuals & institutions

  • Meaning is language-bound and compromised in translation; meaning is private, not public; interpretations are shared person-to-person or through secondary literature

  • Varying degrees of imaginal participation only: at most one is “transported” by a book; the least degree would be like reading a recipe (i.e. information); an individual, not a collective, experience

  • Effectiveness is potential only, & entirely indirect: rests with reader reception & interpretation

  • Occurs in linear time & mappable space; law of non-contradiction in full force; actually or construed as historical (even fiction implies fictional history)

†“Participation” in all its forms is used here in the sense in which Aquinas used it regularly, and as discussed at length by Owen Barfield in Saving the Appearances. It can be thought of as sympathetic condition or activity, but not as copying. Purposely returning someone’s smile is akin to copying; being infected with someone’s smile is participatory. A parallax illustration is that the earth’s atmosphere participates the light of the sun.
‡ “Effective” in this context means capable of creating reality; e.g. participating the myth of Demeter & Kore at Eleusis was a matter of initiation, which changed the initiate both personally & socially—but because the myth-ritual was participated, the change was effected internally (the social change being a response to the essential change in the person). By contrast, in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Lathe of Heaven, “effective dreaming” changes the external structures of reality: the solution to racism was not to alter attitudes but to uniformalize everyone’s skin color.
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My deadlines have reared their ugly heads. They pace back and forth, watching as I scramble, my fingers raging against the keyboard, brow dampened with sweat, stomach twisted with anxiety. Also, we had two super cloudy days, which sapped all my motivation--this only adds to the anxiety when I manage to come back to myself out of the gloom. Add to this that before I got the contract from MWP I'd planned my social life for the month (yes, lots of D&D, as that's pretty dominantly how I socialize), and you can imagine that I'm going a little nuts trying to fit it all in. So, my poor journal has gotten left behind!

To give you the quick update (if you're not already listening to Secret Identity Podcast, where I guest host the gaming segment Action Point Counter Point with evil mastermind Max Saltonstall of Anonycon and Secret Identity super star Brian LeTendre, and which just had its 100th episode--congrats, guys!), I have one week to get a draft done of my Serenity adventure. The working community over at MWP is just awesome: they have community boards that aren't quite the same as forums, where you can upload all of your progress and edit joint documents. Thus far, I've suggested art-work to be featured in the adventure and have posted my original pitch. Tomorrow I'll start inputting my actual work into the template and hope that my progress goes quickly!

The reason I haven't gotten further on that is that I've also got three assignments for reference projects due this month. One is technically due in March, but since I'll be at DDXP over the deadline, it needs to be finished before I go. Which means you're probably not going to hear much from me the rest of the month, except in short spurts.

Since I do have guest blogs ready to go, however, you may start seeing those this month as planned. Writers in the line-up include Melanie Nilles ([ profile] amsaph), the founder of [ profile] fantastic_realm; Mark Vecchio, faculty at Simon's Rock College and mythology expert; Lora Innes of The Dreamer, who is one of my comic buddies from over at; and Carrie Vaughn, author of the "Kitty the Werewolf" series. So stay tuned! Good things are happening, even though I'm vaguely in absentia.

And don't forget to keep up with Cowboys and Aliens II, as exciting things are happening over there, as well. I can promise you some real action coming up--hand to hand, even! We also appreciate all the folks who vote for us on Buzz Comix and Top Web Comics, as the more attention we get, the happier we (and our publisher) are. :)
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Thanks to [ profile] slwhitman, I'm now aware of the reading list that Joseph Campbell used for his mythology classes at Sarah Lawrence. (He taught at Sarah Lawrence? Who knew?)

What's incredibly interesting to me is that fairy tales by the Grimm brothers are on this list. That's right: fairy tales in a mythology course. I have an ongoing dialogue with Mark Vecchio, my mythology prof from college (who is a great friend and mentor as well), about fairy tales vs. mythology, so it will be lovely to pull this information out in our next conversation. It's nifty to see the Levy-Bruhl on there, which Mark's current students referred to in Greece and Turkey, but I haven't read.

It's an extremely diverse list--though it neglects to include the Graves Greek Mythology, which I've been informed is the best collection of Greek myths out there, in favor of the Golden Bough, which is assorted myths, and was probably used to cover Greek, Norse, and possibly Celtic. I'll have to look at it on the shelf today at the library.

Things I'd add to this list based on my recent mythology classes (that may or may not have been available to Campbell):

The White Goddess by Robert Graves
Hamlet's Mill by Giorgio De Santillana and Hertha Von Dechend
The Sacred and the Profane by Mircea Eliade
Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield
"On Fairy Tales" by J. R. R. Tolkien
Do Kamo: Person and Myth in the Melanesian World by Maurice Leenhardt
Mythology of the British Isles by Geoffrey Ashe
Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious by C. G. Jung

Hrm. I feel like I may be missing a few. There's one on sacred landscapes that I'm not finding on my bookshelves at the moment.

Thanks to [ profile] slwhitman for today's prompt. The distinction between mythology and fairy tales is something I was planning to investigate at the library today (as time allows), as they're separated in the Dewey Decimal System. I'd like to know how the distinction is made.

Edit: Is "dialogue" archaic? I've always spelled it that way, but the lj spell checker doesn't like it. Must turn to my new-book-smell Webster's and look it up.


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Alana Joli Abbott

March 2019

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