Eight thousand (ish) years ago, my ancestors sat on the banks of the Black Sea in a region that is now Ukraine and looked out over the waves, probably telling stories. By all accounts they had a language, but what it was is unknown, and they had religion, which we do know a bit about. The stories they told around the fire or in holy places were probably not all that different from the ones we tell now. They’d speak of divine intervention, the power and might of warriors, the calm and love of healers.
Today, we speak of the same things with the same reverence. We build the same mythologies, these stories that might have no importance to someone outside of the tribe, or might be thought of in the opposite like, a tale of woe a tale of glory; a tale of victory a tale of defeat. But the sharing of these stories, the telling of having been there, of having felt the emotion first hand, will only last so long. These beloved memories will slip fully into myth.
But they also slip into myth today, in real-time, whenever they are recounted to someone who had not been there. Or every time we add a little detail, subtract a little detail, or embellish something a wee bit. When we let emotion get the best of us and blind us from an objective retelling, because an honest retelling not need be constrained by reality.
I’ve been thinking about these modern myths recently because a coworker asked about my desktop backgrounds, modern cave paintings depicting warriors in celebration or battle. Warriors wearing rouge and gold and those who see them off to battle sounding horns and manipulating the battlefield with smoke and fire. He asked what they meant and so I told him in a rather round-about way. I didn’t tell him the objective truths behind the images; I told him the myths, as real to me now as they were when I witnessed them with my own eyes, my own ears.
I told him of the great warrior WMB, swift as the wind, as nimble as a bird, who with strength and resolve dashed our foes, the vile Lansing, breaking them forever, never to rise from field again.
I spoke of the Dragon, who with rippling abs too numerous to count, dug in and rescued our forces from defeat in such a glorious way that the songs of our people summoned forces far greater to extinguish our fires.
I regaled him with the story of the beast Louro and his one-man-stand against a great stag, and beating his chest when he left that monster bloodied and dead in its own meadow. And of when he raised that golden belt above his head, surrounded by a grateful tribe who had traveled seeking revenge.
And the mousy knight, with his right foot of destiny, when things looked tight and bleak, and that our wall of brick would be called upon to save the day, did lay low that monster from the suburbs in the ninety-third minute.
But not just warriors, I also told tales of great journeys to far off lands. Of invading Cleveland (a story that I told second-hand), of bus trips to sleepy towns in Wisconsin, or converging on a field of corn in the midst of a thunderstorm.
Of friends from far overseas who came in celebration, of culture shared, history shared, of pride shared.
I told him of foes.
Of dances that could’ve lasted forever.
I spoke of friendships that were forged with one who should’ve been our enemy, but when we saw him on the field, leg shattered, we rallied around him, brought him care and comfort. Sent him home more one of us then one of them.
There were great community gatherings, of celebration, of care, of community coming together to fix a chariot, or to heal one of our cherished sisters.
And too, I told him of that darkest moment, when things looked grim, and the vile enemy did have the advantage three to nil, with one of our warriors out of the fight. And how our songs never ceased. How our voices lifted and united. And slow and steady our warriors fought back, and before the day was over, found ourselves evenly matched. And the great warrior Seb did celebrate as a windmill, standing strong over a field of rouge and gold tulips.
He listened with eyes wide, he understood what it meant, that these were no ordinary tales of gallantry, these were myths, enshrined forever by the tribe. They would only grow brighter with time, a little fuzzier sure, but no less true, no less glorious.
In the nascent days of a kingdom, these myths bind us together, and they tell of who we are, what we stand for.