Friday, July 18, 2014

Of myths

Myths were generally used to cover gaps in human knowledge. They would originate from existing prevalent belief systems and then would work towards reinforcing those beliefs.
I like myths because they are imaginative, weird and strange. They don't restrict themselves to the possibilities of physical world we live in and yet end up telling us a lot about our mental, social texture.  
Civilizations over a period of time have really wondered about origin of cosmos and humans and almost all of them have multiple myths around our origin. They range from explosion of dragons to a creature finding life in the bottom of Ocean and bringing it up on the surface to a piece of God falling on earth. 

The most interesting myths even serve as documentation of those times. 

There was one myth where it was believed that father Sky and Mother Earth were very close and had a passionate relationship with their bodies touching each other and they gave birth to humans. However the humans felt suffocated by earth and sky being so close to each other and they pushed the sky away and gradually the world we live in today was formed. However Mother Earth gets angry from time to time and gets hardened so humans have to humour her by plowing her and putting seeds in her so that she remains happy and continues to provide us with food.
(Interestingly - Egyptians called the Sky mother and the Earth father - several theories float as to why but  many point to strong matriarchal society and also the common intercourse position where women in egypt were on top of men).

The other creation myths had to do with separation of people in various classes in society.
One was African myth around a giant seed buried deep inside earth and from which came a tree. And humans were fruits of those trees and people in lower branches constituted lower caste and in higher branches constituted higher castes.

Other was a Chinese myth where a large demon made humans with his hands. When he started doing it he realized that this is not practical and he can't make all the humans so he took a stick and started throwing mud on wall and the mud whenever it hit the wall turned into a human. Here too separation of classes was achieved. Higher humans were made by hand and lower humans by mud thrown on wall. 

Makes me wonder what are the myths of current times that most of us largely believe in. Belief in God is still very much prevalent in our society. In India stories behind festivals talk about triumph of good over evil reinforcing that being good is rewarded.  I remember sitting in a satyanarayan katha where all the stories were around how the katha itself changed the fortune of people who performed it. It was a strangely self referential recursive story but has survived in most of Hindi heartland. 
Most of the myths that are universal and that still exist are around life after death - or the concept of soul. It's tough for people to believe that they are finite and will invariably turn into a vegetative body and they believe in sort of continuum where their consciousness will continue to live on - either in places like heaven/hell or across various rebirths. I largely believe that maybe your consciousness will live on in the ideas you spread, children you nurture, or work you do. 

All this brings me to a question - what are the myths we are creating? What does it tell us about ourselves or our future generations about us ? 

I always wonder what happens to family albums when people die. Or to strange interesting conversations between two people when both of them die. Or those random thoughts that are part of your inner life. How finite is their existence? Where can we put things so that do not go away? 

I keep coming back to stories, the all powerful myths that stay somehow crosscutting generations and societies. Smart myths continue to stay floating in the air (or as programmers would believe - floating in the cloud).

 I sometimes even wonder what will happen to all the digital data we have generated. Can that be used to recreate us in the future (the way cryogenics advocators hope regarding the success of genetic replication). Or there is possibility for each of our life stories (regardless of how drab it is) to become a myth and live on for future generations to discover. But how many of these stories would survive? 

 I keep wondering, what will be our traces.. What will happen to the seaside when we won't be there to see it...

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