08 January 2014

A Few of My Favorite Things: L is for Legends

Some of my favorite literature is myth, folklore, and legend.  I thought I’d spend a few minutes exploring a few of my favorites.

When I was a kid and didn’t have much money (as opposed to now being an adult that doesn’t have much money), my favorite store was the used bookstore where I could buy and swap cheap paperbacks.  And one of the earliest books I remember reading (along with Alan Dean Foster’s series based on the characters from “Star Trek”) was “Limbo of the Lost” by John Wallace Spencer.  Spencer’s ground-breaking book did much to popularize the notion of the “Bermuda Triangle,” but the myths and legends of the sea go back almost as far as recorded sea voyages.  One of the greatest stories is the  “Mary Celeste,” a brigantine found abandoned (outside the “Triangle,” however) but otherwise under sail and in sound, if unkempt, condition in the Atlantic Ocean in December 1872.  Although one lifeboat was missing, there was no sign of the crew of seven, she had ample supplies of food and water, and the crew’s belongings were left untouched, as though the crew had simply vanished.  No trace of the crew or explanation for their disappearance or inexplicable voluntary departure was ever found.  (Interestingly, the “Mary Celeste” was originally built as the “Amazon” in… Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia.  Lots of Spencers in this blog, eh?)

Although it might be the most mysterious, the Mary Celeste is certainly not the only “ghost ship” in seagoing lore:

“The Caleuche" is said to roam the coastline of Chile.

 "The Flying Dutchman” is said to be a portent of doom to any sailor who spots her ghostly passage.

Flaming ships are popular, too, as the Young Teazer and the Eliza Battle are said to reappear in flames near the site of their fiery demises.

Another of my favorite subjects growing up was the land-based legend of Bigfoot.  My early reading days (the early-mid 1970s) would have been shortly after Roger Patterson’s famous “Bigfoot” film; a shaky, grainy bit of celluloid that depicts… well, let’s just say opinions differ as the what exactly it depicts, but the legend is firmly entrenched in myth and folklore.  “Sasquatch,” “Bigfoot” “Skunk Ape,” “Yeti,” “Abominable Snowman,” “Yowie” or whatever you want to call it, people have been reporting sightings of a tall, hairy bi-ped, usually omnivorous and nocturnal, sometimes violent, always reclusive.  Thousands of people in remote areas of the United States, mainly the Pacific Northwest, but also such places as Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, and Florida, report encounters with the creatures, or more commonly, inexplicably large footprints.  While many of the sightings are made by seemingly credible people, I consider a lack of remains a formidable deficit in the evidence department.

One of the most enduring Christian legends is the Holy Grail, supposedly the cup used by Christ at the Last Supper, and later used by Joseph of Arimathea to catch and preserve the blood of Christ as he helped inter His body following the Crucifixion.  Joseph is said to have sent the cup with his followers to ancient Britain, where it became central to Arthurian folklore.  The tale was probably corrupted by the Celtic mythology of a cauldron endowed with magical abilities.  While space does not permit an exhaustive interpretation of the unlikelihood of the existence of the Grail, let alone any sort of mystical powers thereunto, I offer a few common sense reasons to entertain doubts:

1. It was a borrowed cup.  The “Last Supper” was held at the eating table of one of Jesus’ followers, since He Himself owned no property (no cups, either).  The cup He used was, in all likelihood, gathered up with the other dishes when the disciples left, probably by a servant or female household member, washed, and put away like all the other dishes.

2. Blood coagulates quickly after death.  Since Joseph presumably didn’t undertake (no pun intended) to bury Jesus until after He was dead, draining the blood would have been difficult for a layman, and rendered him ceremonially unclean.  Further, nothing in Jewish tradition would have offered any advantage or logic to collecting the blood of any deceased person.  Remember that this was prior to the Resurrection, and most of Jesus’ followers still didn’t understand His promise to return from the grave.

3. One of my favorite movies is “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”  The chemistry between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is outstanding, and the script is excellent.  Two of the best lines in the franchise occur within the Grail Room.   One is when the Nazi officer chooses a very elaborate, ornate cup, and pays a dear price.  In a great understatement, the elderly knight states:

“He chose poorly.”

Making his own choice, Jones chooses a simple bit of pottery, likely still too fancy, but it’s Hollywood, not seminary, so, meh.  He wisely remarks:

“That’s the cup of a carpenter.”

4. There is within the heart of man a need for something bigger than himself.  Rejecting the idea of the true Creator, he will deify his world in a pantheistic attempt to fill this void, and he longs for something tangible to express the intangible.  God knows this, and it’s one of the reasons why second of the Ten Commandments forbids relics/idols, which inevitably become the focus of our worship.  Thus, while I find grail literature and other relic fictions like Stephen Lawhead’s “Iron Lance” and “Black Rood” entertaining, they are certainly not desirable, and I’m sure were not intended to be used, for biblical instruction.

What’s your favorite legend/myth?

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