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Psyche and Eros, What I’ve learned, so far

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Part 1, the hero loses her innocenceImage

Note: to hear the story of Psyche and Eros, go here. This essay covers Part 1 of the story.

Psyche is a dream that is born on the material plain. She is what we desire, yet fear keeps us from her. Psyche, the Soul, is our most deepest, most beautiful self. It is that part of us that remains guilty of innocence if we don’t test it or allow it to suffer. If Psyche doesn’t fall from her grace, we never experience the fullness of life.

Aphrodite is the goddess of love and procreation, making her a material god. When this goddess is dreamed up in the minds of man way back when, she is a necessary ingredient to keep humanity alive and growing in numbers. She is, I suggest, a part of the nature worship of the time since she is all about sex and procreation.

That’s the important point here. We 21st century moderns think of her as the goddess of love only. She is not. Before the Greeks became civilized, small, crude statues of fertility goddesses graced the hearths of several primitive societies. As humanity developed itself, they improved their gods. Aphrodite morphed, from that chunky hearth goddess into the elegant lady of the Classical world. She becomes the love goddess. This aspect of her is important if civilization is to be refined.

Aphrodite gives birth to a son, Eros, which is a Greek word for sexual or erotic love. Thus sex too evolves; the caveman with his club gives way to the urbane lover seeking passion and pleasure; procreation is hidden away in the heat of a moment of love.

With Eros, human beings now have an excuse for sex divorced from procreation. Civilized human beings fall in love. This adds a dimension to their married life. While children are still the bedrock of marriages, they take a backseat to the pleasure principle. An example of this is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Leah and Rachael. Jacob was tricked into Leah so that he could get Rachael.  It doesn’t matter if Rachael is barren for many years. Her lack of fecundity doesn’t stop Jacob from loving her. When she does give birth, her children are very favored by their father because they are the product of loving sex.

Psyche first appears in a story that  takes place in ancient Sicily. We are introduced to her as a child of extraordinary beauty. She is so gorgeous that she stops people in the streets.  The gossip of just how beautiful the young Psyche is spreads throughout the region until others come to stare at her.  There is an unpleasant side to this and it’s twofold: Psyche is so beautiful no one will marry her, and people begin to worship her as they would a goddess, thus neglecting the real deity.

What does it mean to be so beautiful yet so untouchable? In my telling of the story, I have the Oracle or Sage say that no one will marry Psyche because they think she is perfection. No one wants to disturb perfection. Perfection is downright scary. Who can live up to it? What human being can attain perfection? What human can marry it?

No one. Thus no one will unite with it for it is impossible. Psyche cannot be married to any human being.

While her parents attempt to find Psyche a husband, the people continue their neglect of Aphrodite. When the goddess discovers she is being ignored, she returns to her primitive and natural roots. She withholds procreation on Sicily. All erotica ceases among humans, and all mating ceases among animals, insects and plants. The island begins to die. Humanity may now have beauty, but it is useless without life. The world is out of balance.

Psyche, aware that she, without trying, has unbalanced nature, seeks to remedy the situation. The Sage has already predicted that a husband awaits Psyche on top of Mount Aetna, but the mountain has a reputation for monsters roaming its peak. Nonetheless, Psyche decides to please the goddess who has said she must go meet her fate up on the mountain.

Unlike other heroes of mythology, Psyche has been too protected, too adored without commitment. While it may seem silly to say so, she has been neglected by those who think they are in love with her.  Psyche lived the life of a woman who is forever dated yet never purposed to. Her sisters marry. They will live ordinary lives. Not Psyche. Is it risky to suggest she might be a little hurt or bored with her circumstances? Add into that mix that through no fault of her own, yet because of her, Sicily is dying. For the blameless girl, this could be a crisis worth exploiting. What others see as a condemnation by the goddess she sees as a release. Regular life is not for her. Why not embrace that?

Here is where Psyche’s life becomes the typical mythological hero story. She takes up the challenge, she will go up that mountain. A modern analogy is the young person leaving home to go into the army during a war. She hasn’t been drafted. She volunteers. Her parents are beside themselves with worry and sorrow but they don’t stop her. Her country needs her. So does she. Psyche leaves her life and everyone and everything behind her. It is the first step of fulfillment

In part 1, the process of stripping away Psyche’s innocence begins. The first layer was removed when no one would marry her, thus allowing her to see how little and petty people could be. She lost another layer of innocence when she learned of the vindictiveness of the goddess, who reverted to type when threatened. A third layer came away when no one would take up her cause, no one would lead the people to reestablish the worship of Aphrodite thereby relieving Psyche.

It was left to Psyche to become the leader, to become her own hero. Her trek up Mount Aetna, then, is the beginning of her hero’s journey.


Written by lcrockett

July 2, 2013 at 4:52 pm

The Executioner’s Daughter, a book review

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In spite of the wars with Iraq and Afghanistan, in spite of the troubles here and there around the earth, Americans live in relative peace.  Of course the twenty-first century is young. There could be, and probably will be, more violence on a large scale. It would not surprise me to see us, along with the rest of the nations, engage in a repeat of the bloody twentieth century, which saw two world wars, plus wars in Korea and Viet Nam. We also witnessed governments (Soviet Union, China and Cambodia) that slaughtered their own citizens by the millions. I won’t mention all the little civil wars, like Serbia, Croatia or civil unrest, like Rwanda’s. There is also the terror wars, like the taking of the Israeli athletes in Munich, the many hijackings of airplanes and ships, the buildings that were blown up, and so on, so forth, ad nauseam. Indeed, as I write this, Israel and her neighbors, the so-called Palestinians, are at it again.

It’s obvious, isn’t it, we humans are no strangers to blood lust. Murder and mayhem is a way of life for many. The more righteous among us like to say war is inhuman. Nonsense. War is only too human. It’s what we do: organize ourselves into political gangs that love to pick a fight with other political gangs. For whatever reason, from religion to politics, dying large scale is a way of life. I think many of us love it.

I don’t accuse the entire human race of being war mongers, but enough of them are. Enough fathers are proud of their warrior sons, and enough mothers give us their children to make war profitable. Many kids grow up to be warriors because something inside of them draws them to the thin edgy line that separates a mundane one from the extreme, adrenalin pumping existence that is war. You have to admit I’m right.

Besides the actual evidence offered by the twentieth century, and the saber rattling now going on (Iran, anyone?) I find war is deeply settled in our consciousness because the literature that is currently produced is full of metaphors that illustrate our tenuous hold on civilization. Look at The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones. Both novels present a world of mass and personal violence dished up with moral ambiguity.

Now here comes another novel, epic in scale, set in a mythological no place and full of individuals who we love to hate and hate to love.

The action in Miguel Conner’s The Executioner’s Daughter (the first of a series) takes place on the Misty Continent. This pretend place is broken up into a vast Kingdom of Keloveria and a Wastelands. The kingdom is the civilized portion of the continent. The Wastelands is where the nomadic tribes dwell.

Keloveria is divided up into several subkingdoms. The vast kingdom along with its subkingdoms operate in the usual way. There is a King of Keloveria who lords it over several subkings, much like a king  and barons setup. As the story begins, the King of Keloveria, Tendrik Partaghast, has just claimed the throne from his deceased father. To secure his place on it, he makes the usual political marriage arrangement and marries a daughter of one of the subkings. His mistress is dumped, along with the two bastards she produced for Tendrik when he was a prince.

Beside the king, there is an executioner, titled The Deadspeaker, who has a role in the kingdom as a check on the king’s power. The Deadspeaker must also abide by tradition and its rules. He carries a weapon, Afterglow, that seemingly has a life of its own. The king wears a crown, called Forethought, that thinks, or I should say, has a consciousness that influences the king. Keloveria has two conflicting religious bodies: the Vein, which represents the orthodox view, and the Necromancers.

The Wastelands, which may seem a place of anarchy, functions under a loose federation of tribes that chooses its supreme leader every 20 years. He is chosen through physical combat. It’s a last man standing process that gives the tribes a grand leader who is physically fit and shrewd as a fighter. He is given the title of Champion of Mekidow, yet he has no proper name. The Champion must also be fit sexually, able to produce heirs that will not inherit his title, but are meant to foster a unity among the tribes. Therefore this leader must sleep around, mating with women chosen for him by the leaders of the various tribes. Their religion is centered on a druid like priestess establishment that can offer advice and foretell the future.

Naturally, the two political entities, Keloveria and the Wastelands, are at odds with one another. The civilized world thinks its better than the uncivilized one, no surprise there, so it guards against it. Yet in this story, the Wastelands thinks it’s better than Keloveria. That’s juicy, and portends to interesting plot twists in the stories to come. Connor certainly hints at it, but, let’s focus on this first tale of Keloveria’s people.

We begin our descent into the Misty Continent with a mystery, a dialogue that takes place between a Fool and a Thief, in a setting that is a gory mess. Something very violent has taken place.How this massacre of an entire community by persons or person came about Connor only hints.  As we listen in on this dialogue between the Fool and the Thief, we learn, through the Fool’s storytelling, that a Deadspeaker defied the laws. This executioner’s name is Mateoz. His defiance was two fold: executioners are not supposed to have females as a first born, and any child that causes the death of their mother is to be killed. Mateoz’ daughter, who is named Tempest, is allowed to live. Therefore this Deadspeaker has sinned greatly. Big sins set off big stories.

As the Fool speaks, the story is pieced together through the flashback method, each section beginning with a dialogue between this Fool and Thief that moves forward by moving the past forward. Conner paces the two time frames well as he leads us from the present predicament to the past. We are enticed further into the story because we have to know what happened in that past that gives us the gory mess.

What is most engaging about The Executioner’s Daughter is the fine line that Conner has drawn between protagonists and antagonists. The “good guys” kill as well as the “bad guys.” Everyone has his reasons for doing so! The “nobility” behaves like, well, the nobility: No one minds his or her manners. They don’t have to. They are above such behavior. Like any aristocrat, they are armed to the teeth, and what constrains them is that war is only an insult away. Even the sympathetic Prince Aron of West Atlans, spouts off at the mouth so much that I found I was willing to punch his lights out. That he makes enemies comes as no surprise. His gorgeous sister, Allana, also has trouble keeping her own counsel. She has been married off to a thug, Lothar of Thoz, the crown prince of the East Atlans, who loves beating his princess bride for every derogatory word she utters.

The Executioner’s Daughter, like the genre of literature it lives in, gives us a mythology ever as rich as any Greek or German could dream up. The metaphors are all over the landscape, shining a light on the bits and pieces of earthly life that we don’t want to look at. Like the proclivity to break our own traditions. The results are always unforeseen. Conner’s story uses women as the catalysts.  Not only does Mateoz keep his daughter alive, the Necromancers bring a young female into their group, which is so unacceptable in Keloverai that the leader of the religious sect, Zeratol, passes the young Andora off as a boy. The other female that portends to changes on the Misty Continent is the head strong Princess Allana.

I see The Executioner’s Daughter as a morality tale. The parallel with our own world is twofold; first, we too, in our present day, are excessively male centered. We are dizzy with maleness even as we think we promote femaleness. However we may dress up the female in men’s clothing or behavior, at some point the female must be dealt with. Boiling “women’s rights” down to her productive apparatus, that thinking abortions and contraceptives will set her free truly misses the point.

The second parallel is our own precarious position. We may have the most fabulous technology in the world, nonetheless we are only a generation away from a New Dark Age. Our irony is this: as we attempt to bring our own version of Wastelands into modernity, we may destroy ourselves doing it. Like so many characters in Daughter, we fail to see that the rules apply to us as much as they applied to all the large civilizations that came before us. We are not too big to fail.

In this first book, Conner does not take us to where the breakdown of the traditional roles of the two women, Tempest and Andora, will lead their culture. It’s suggested, and with those suggestions I am eager to continue reading the story in the subsequent volumes.

My one criticism of this book is that Conner tends to tell us when he needs to show us. A first book in a series does have much information to impart. We would, however, enjoy it even more if we could “see” the Misty Continent and its people instead of reading long passages of description.

The characters are engaging and they will lead you along into this pretend place, the Misty Continent. They will make you think about life in our own century. It won’t be easy to draw some conclusions, because it can make you uncomfortable to do so. For this mythology doesn’t have a cranky systems of gods and goddesses who are all too human to blame. It’s the humans who are the problem as well as the solution.

The book will be available on Amazon. The Kindle version is now ready to download.

Written by lcrockett

November 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm