Crossing Cultures

Thinking about how information organization is a cultural affair has me thinking about the effect of the cultures I’ve been exposed to on my own life. I was lucky to grow up in an area that was rich with culture and with a family that enjoys celebrating other cultures.

Being exposed to so many different cultures growing up has led to some interesting situations as an adult, though. For example, when I was in college, we had to create a multidisciplinary lesson plan for kinesiology. One of the disciplines had to be P.E. or health, so I elected to weave in social studies and teach an Israeli folk dance I’d learned a few summers before. But the day I went to  present my lesson, I wore my Ancient Egypt vest without thinking. I realized it as I was setting up my lesson and turned the first two minutes of the lesson into a brief lecture on why I was removing my vest for the lesson.

Before that, I grew up with Greek mythology. I liked reading different versions of the same myth and figuring out what was different between them. Roman mythology didn’t interest me nearly so much. Rome seemed like a bunch of warriors, and I wasn’t into war. Anyone who confused the two pantheons was quickly straightened out. In fact, I’m so rabid about keeping the Greek and Roman pantheons straight that it’s a wonder I made it through Fred Saberhagen’s Swords Trilogy. To date, his disregard for the pantheons is the worst I’ve ever seen.

Even better was when I was working on a recent revision for one of my novels and discovered that I had really taken things too far. Before I started the very first revision, I did some research on the groups that have inhabited southern England, where the key points of the novel take place. My research didn’t turn up any sign of Roman occupation…so the key location is a hidden Roman temple. And in the temple are trap chambers reminiscent of the kind you see in treasure hunting movies set in Egyptian or South American pyramids. The trap chambers are slightly more acceptable because the manuscript is supposed to be spoofing treasure hunt media, but it still bothers me.

I’m always grateful for opportunities that allow me to experience different cultures. I’d like to believe I can be respectful of these cultures. I just wish my work would reflect that more often.

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The Greek Pantheon

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Greek mythology. Perhaps overly so.

At one point, I had twelve chairs and pillows arranged in a circle in my playroom. Most of the chairs had some toy on them to symbolize their particular god or goddess. In the center of my circle, I made a paper fire (once I researched what a “hearth” was) for my imaginary Hestia to tend.

I don’t know when exactly it occurred to me that the twelve chairs left no space for either Hestia or Hades, who actually went unrepresented in my display. I just accepted they were parts of the major pantheon, even if there wasn’t space for them either in seat or number.

It boggles my mind to watch how more scholarly types have viewed this, though. Despite being brother to the older four Olympians, Hades is so often left out of the twelve, simply because he doesn’t live on Olympus. He’s become something of an afterthought (which is where I’ve often felt his wife Persephone belonged instead of him). Similarly, Hestia, sister to the older four Olympians, seemed to be nearly forgotten for a while, simply because she kept the hearth going rather than sit on a throne with her siblings, nieces, and nephews.

It’s a weird dichotomy, one that I haven’t figured out how to resolve personally. I imagine it will be debated by classics scholars for centuries to come.

Apples in Symbolism

I have something of a fascination with certain subjects: world mythologies, ritual symbolism, secret societies, anthropology. I come by it honestly, I suppose. When I was a child, I read parts of Ovid’s Metamorphosis and then did a comparative study with my then favorite movie Clash of the Titans. As I was about five or six years old, this was cause for some concern. My love for Greek mythology turned into an lifelong exploration of other world mythologies. I love the commonalities. I love what these stories represent.

As I grew older, I often subconsciously searched for patterns and connections in everything. This ended up becoming a link between my love of mythologies and the patterns of certain symbols’ reoccurences. As I explored these reoccurences, and as I started watching cartoons, television programs, and movies with more of a anthropology/archaeology story base, I ended up following what appears to be a natural path to lerning about various real and imagined secret societies that are just full of these repeating symbols. One of these ubiquitous symbols is the apple.

Now, before I go any further, you need to understand that I was raised in the Episcopal church by my ordained Episcopal father. This is important because I do have something of a grasp on some Christian concepts, however I have also elected to no longer walk that road because I find my worldview doesn’t work with it. I personally claim a eclectic pagan path, but I’m certainly understanding how so many archaeologists and anthropologists end up as atheists.

So, back to this apple. Those with a strong Christian upbringing will remember that it was the apple that led to Adam and Eve being evicted from Paradise. Fans of Greek mythology may remember how Atalanta won a foot race with three golden apples, as well as a how a certain young man started a certain war with some golden apples. Those who have spent much time reading fairy tales will remember Perrault’s telling of Snow White, where a poisoned apple was among the stepmother’s many attempts to eliminate the poor girl. Secret society enthusiasts will regard the apple as an important part of their research, as the apple and its seed configuration is frequently connected to groups such as the Bavarian Illuminated Society.

The interesting thing to note here is the way the above references can be grouped. The Greek myths were passed down through oral tradition until they were finally recorded, quite possibly changed along the way. The other three all have their symbolic roots in Christianity. The Christian symbolism present in the majority of Perrault’s work is well-documented. Similarly, it is amazing how many known secret societies have some sort of basis in a Christian religion, widely a Common Era practice.

The more I thought about this, the more I started thinking about my limited explorations of Chinese, Egyptian, and Celtic mythology. The only one that even addresses apples is an old Celtic article that claims that the druids and chietains wer fond of a snack of dried apples and hazelnuts. It should be remembered at this point that the British Isles were briefly held by Rome, who homogenized much of Eurpe for a while.

This made me start wondering very seriously about Chinese and Egyptian mythologies. Both cultures flourished before 1 CE. A brief hunt on Google turned up this article on garden myths, which address a Chinese garden of peaches, but shows no apples in Chinese lore. (However, the search does show that apples and roses are related, for those of you who have read the latest Dan Brown book.) Attempts to find apples in Egyptian mythology bring you to classroom activities on how to make a mummified apple.

Further research into the symbolism on the apple itself leads to explorations of the Arthurian legend, the ties between the Apple of Discord and the goddess Eris, and other interesting connections. At the very least, it would make for an interesting research subject for a few weeks.