Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Leech Place

The Leech Place
Murphy NC

Western NC is filled with Cherokee stories with almost every mountain, river, animal, plant and location having a story behind it. James Mooney’s “History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee” is an excellent source of information about the area. I grew up living near the Cherokee Indian Reservation. My mother taught at the elementary school on the Reservation for a couple of decades and loved her job. She has a huge collection of Native American books. My childhood was surrounded by a combination of Cherokee folklore, Sundays with Bible stories and the living room bookshelf full of Norse myths.

I have come to realize that myths and legends make the most sense when one lives in the area they are being told. The environment where the story originated influenced the meaning behind it. We do things all the time that really are not connected to anything other than family tradition. For example, my family stands outside on New Year’s Eve and rings bells. We have cow bells and a huge dinner bell attached to the front porch. We are the only people in the neighborhood who perform this noisy tradition every year. It wasn’t until I spent a New Year’s Eve in Munich, Germany that our actions finally made sense because all of the church bells in the city ring in the New Year. My mother’s family came from Germany around 150 years ago and here we had been ringing bells ever since without the connection to the churches.

Recently I visited Murphy, NC which has its own Cherokee legend of a huge leech that lived in the bottom of a deep pool where the Hiwassee and Valley rivers join. Hiwassee is a Cherokee word for large meadow or savanna and according to Mooney, there is not a special story connected with the name other than it applied to two former settlements on the stream. The photo shows the remnants of a stone footbridge leading across the river and beneath that is where the “Great Leech” is said to live. The leech is described as having red and white stripes along its body and is as big as a house. On the one river bank is a steep rock cliff. The story goes that some men were walking on the trail above the pool and saw the leech roll and unroll on a rock and then crawl back down into the water out of sight, and the water then began to boil and foam until a huge column of water shot straight up in the air. According to the legend, the waterspout could be so strong as to carry a person down into the hole and that more than one person was found lying on the riverbank with their ears and nose eaten off. Another story is told of a man who wanted to hunt the leech and is said to have crossed the river halfway when a great wave overtook him and he was swept under never to be seen again.  

Written on a sign just above the river it mentions that there is a vein of red and white marble at the bottom of the pool which is visible with low amounts of sediment, so the location of the marble may have influenced the myth. We also have to realize that his river has been modified since the folklore behind the story originated. This river has been dammed and altered that I’m sure a few hundred years ago this was an extremely dangerous place to be and people actually drowned here.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Der Schmied von Kochel

Der Schmied von Kochel

Yesterday I wrote about the strong men of myth and these stories exist throughout all cultures. Viking legends are filled with men who single handedly guarded a bridge or something similar and killed dozens of men. This is a statue of “Der Schmied von Kochel” I found him outside of a small church when I lived in Munich many years ago. I can’t remember which church the statue is near, but it is outside of tourist central so if you go to Munich you probably won’t find it. I miss going for long walks through Germany finding history and stories. 

My German is very bad and I can only find the story in German, so I’ll translate the best that I can. Der Schmied von Kochel means the Blacksmith of Kochel. He is a legendary figure for Munich. During the Sendlinger Mordweihnach or the Sendlinger Christmas Slaughter in 1705 he was the last man standing in a battle at the gate of Sendlinger where around 1,100 men died by the Austrian King Joseph I army. The blacksmith is described as a 70-year old and was of great stature and strength. According to Muenchenwiki he was not a real person but a legend. From another site it says his last words were, “lieber bayerisch sterben als kaiserlich verderben“ which means something like “Love for Bayern, death and ruin to the Kaiser.” He is a symbol for the love and honor to his homeland. There are still festivals and plays dedicated to him. If he didn’t exist there was a need to create him. I said in an earlier post all history somehow becomes myth. I hold myths in very high regard it doesn’t matter if they are true or not it only matters that they are told, and an important message is always hidden under the surface. In the German language the word Geschichte is the word for both history and story. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Samson Summary

Many years ago I was a religious nutcase. I read the Bible obsessively and summarized most of it studying  an average of about three hours a day and I did it for a couple of years. During that time in my life I watched hundreds (perhaps thousands) of sermons, interviewed a Wiccan, studied the nearby Cherokee myths, attended humanist meetings and read some of the Quran.  Why I took on such an undertaking seems crazy to me now. I do love finding the commonality between completely different cultures through their myths and legends so that may have been much of my motivation.  

Below are some of my original writings from March 2010.

Samson is depicted as the strongest man in the Bible, and he is described by Wikipedia as having Herculean strength. I think that is a funny phrase that he had “Herculean strength” we all know what it means but it is strange to use Hercules as a comparative of Samson’s strength. Why don’t we say Samsonian strength instead? I’m writing a comparison of Thor, Hercules (Heracles in Greek) and Samson because they are all described as strong men. My favorite story involving Thor is when he wrestles with an old woman called Grandmother and he loses. It is later revealed that he was wrestling with old age and the myth represents growing old is a fight that no mortal can win.
Thomas Bulfinch wrote this in “The Age of Fable” about theories on where various Greek myths came from. “The Scriptural theory; according to which all mythological legends are derived from the narratives of Scriptures, though the real facts have been disguised and altered. Thus Deucalion is only another name for Noah, Hercules for Samson, Arion for Jonah, etc. Sir Walter Raleigh, in his “History of the World” says, “Jubal, Tubal, and Tubal-Cain were Mercury, Vulcan, and Apollo, inventors of Pasturage, Smithing and Music. The Dragon which kept the golden apples was the serpent that beguiled Eve. Nimrod’s tower was the attempt of the Giants against Heaven.” There are doubtless many curious coincidences like these, but the theory cannot without extravagance be pushed so far as to account for any great proportion of these stories.”

I read a little bit about Thomas Bulfinch (1796-1867) tonight, because he is a main source that I use when I read about Greek or Roman mythology. I found that I really like him as a person. He wrote this book in the 1850’s and he wanted to make myths available for everyone to be able to read and understand. Bulfinch was well educated but not rich. He worked as a bank clerk so he didn’t have a high social standing. He was a parishioner of King’s Chapel and a member of the Boston Society of Natural History. Writing and studying ancient literature were his hobbies not his job, and his room was described as having volumes of Latin, Italian, German and English classics piled on chairs. His first literary work was “Hebrew Lyrical History” where he rearranged Psalms so that they would be more of a narrative of Jewish history. In “The Age of Fable” he uses a similar method by connecting the myths in a logical way so they are easier to understand, but he doesn’t make them text-book fashion he keeps their charm and appeal. His goal was to make myths more accessible to the general public so that everyone could understand the symbolism used in British and American poetry.

Summary of Samson from March 2010 found in Judges 11-17.  

The Birth of Samson – Samson was of the tribe of Dan, and his father was named Manoah from Zorah. Samson’s mother is described as barren, but an angel came to her and said she would have a son. The angel told her not to drink wine or strong drinks and not to eat any unclean thing. She is told that no razor should touch his head because her son would be a Nazarite and would deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. Remember the Nazarites? The ascetics mentioned in Numbers that any man or woman who makes the vow of a Nazarite should not drink, or eat kernels or shave his head. Manoah asked God to send the angel again to teach them what they should do when the child would be born. Then angel went to the mother in a field so she went to find her husband. Manoah asked the angel “How shall we order the child, and how shall we do unto him?” The angel told him the same thing that he said to his wife but he told Manoah to sacrifice a kid. During the sacrifice a flame went toward heaven and the angel ascended in the flame of the altar. That was the last time they saw the angel.
The Marriage of Samson – He saw a Philistine woman in Timnath that he wanted as a wife. Samson asked his parents if they would get her for him. His parents asked him if there were no women from his own people that he could marry instead of from the uncircumcised Philistines. Samson and his parents went to Timnath and to the vineyards when a young lion roared at them. Samson killed the lion as easily as he would have killed a baby goat with his bare hands. He then went to talk with the woman he desired to marry. When he returned home he saw the carcass of the lion had a swarm of bees in it. He took the honey and gave some to his mother and father but did not tell them he had gotten it out of a dead lion. Samson’s father went to find the woman and Samson made a feast for 30 of his wife’s people.  Samson gave a riddle to them that they had to figure out during the 7 days of the feast. He would give them a reward of 30 sheets and 30 garments. If they could not solve the riddle then they would have to give him 30 sheets and 30 garments. Here is the riddle, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” When they could not solve it in 3 days they told his wife that they would burn her and her father’s house if she could not entice Samson to tell her the answer. She cried to him but Samson said that he did not even tell his mother and father. He told her on the 7th day and she told her people. Samson was angry that she had told them and seems to refer to her as a heifer. He went down to Ashkelon and killed 30 men and took their garments and gave them to the men who had answered his riddle. Samson’s wife was given away by her father to a companion that he considered a friend.
The Revenge of Samson – Samson visited his wife with a baby goat as a sacrifice. Her father would not let him see her and told him that he had given her to his friend. The father says why don’t you take her younger prettier sister instead. Samson then went and caught 300 foxes and attached a fire to their tails, and he then let the foxes go through the fields of the Philistines. They knew Samson had set the fire because his wife was given to another so they went and burned the woman and her father to death. Samson then killed many Philistines and afterward he went to live on top of rock Etam. The Philistines went to find him and bind him. Three thousand men went to find him and tell him that they are his rulers. When they had carried Samson to Lehi and the spirit of God was in him and the cords were loosened. He found a jawbone of a donkey and killed a thousand men with it. Samson cried to God that he was thirsty and would die from it but God put water in the hollow of the jaw bone.
Samson and Delilah – Samson traveled to Gaza and saw a harlot. The Gazites had heard Samson was in the city so they waited for him at the gate of the city with the intention of killing him. Samson rose at midnight and took the doors of the gate and carried them up the hill near Hebron. He fell in love with a woman named Delilah who lived in the valley of Sorek. The Philistines told her to entice him and find where his strength laid. If she did that they would pay her a large sum of money. Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me, I pray thee, wherein thy great strength lieth, and wherewith thou mightiest be bound to afflict thee?” He told her that if he is bout with 7 green boughs then he would be as weak as other men. Samson had lied to her about this and broke the boughs. She then asks him again how he is weakened and he said with new ropes but he broke those as well. He then tells her that if she weaved 7 locks of his hair with a web but his strength was still with him so he had lied to her again. Finally he told her that if his head is shaved he would be weak. This time she saw that he was not lying. She told the Philistines who gave her money. When Samson was asleep with her holding him on her lap she called men to shave his head. He awoke and had not realized his strength was gone because his head was shaved so he went out to revenge the Philistines but they overpowered him and took his eyes out.
Samson’s Revenge and Death – The Philistines were grateful to their god, Dagon, that Samson was imprisoned. They were happy and wanted to make a sport of him. He was called and placed between pillars. Samson took one of the two middle pillars and broke it so that the roof of the building collapsed killing 3,000 people along with Samson.