The Great Myths #58: The Love Story of Freyr & the Giantess Gerd (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here [High said:]“There was someone called Gymir, and his wife Aurboda. She was of the race of mountain-giants. Gerd is their daughter, the most beautiful of all women. It happened one day that Freyr had gone into Hlidskialf and was looking over all worlds, and when he looked to the […]

The Great Myths #46: Sacred Language & Homer’s Poets (Greek)

Here are two passages from Homer’s Odyssey featuring the common household bard of prehistoric Greece. The first poet, the description of which probably lent to the legend that Homer himself was blind, performs stories of the Trojan war before a disguised Odysseus, bringing him to tears. The second is the bard at Odysseus’ own home […]

The Great Myths #44: Sacred Language & Two Hymns to Speech (Hindu)

Rig Veda 10:71: The Origins of Sacred Speech Bṛhaspati! When they set in motion the first beginning of speech, giving names, their most pure and perfectly guarded secret was revealed through love.       When the wise ones fashioned speech with their thought, sifting it as grain is sifted through a sieve, then friends recognized their […]

The Great Myths #43 Sacred Language & the Story of Gwion Bach & Taliesin (Welsh)

One of the longer myths I’ll post here, the following story is well worth it, and is indeed a master-class in mythology and folklore. Containing shape-changes, chase scenes, mysterious births, borrowed identities, and competitions of all kinds, it is in the best sense a holy mess, including its sudden and (to us) perhaps unsatisfying ending. […]

The Great Myths #42: Sacred Language & the Story of Caedmon (Christian)

A brother of the monastery is found to possess God’s gift of poetry [A. D. 680] In this monastery of Streanaeshalch lived a brother singularly gifted by God’s grace. So skilful was he in composing religious and devotional songs that, when any passage of Scripture was explained by interpreters, he could quickly turn it into […]

The Great Myths #33: The Child Cúchulainn Gets His Name (Celtic)

When Culand the smith offered Conchubur his hospitality, he said that a large host should not come, for the feast would be the fruit not of lands and possessions but of his tongs and his two hands. Conchubur went with fifty of his oldest and most illustrious heroes in their chariots. First, however, he visited […]

The Great Myths #31: The Child Krishna & the Universe in His Mouth (Hindu)

One day when Rāma and the other little sons of the cowherds were playing, they reported to his mother, “Kṛṣṇa has eaten dirt.” Yaśodā took Krishna by the hand and scolded him, for his own good, and she said to him, seeing that his eyes were bewildered with fear, “Naughty boy, why have you secretly […]

The Great Myths #30: The Holy Grail Appears (Middle High German)

The story of the Holy Grail’s appearance to a young man named Perceval/Parzival/Parsifal, is told in many places, and goes something like this: he comes by chance upon the Grail Castle, and is introduced to a wounded man, the Fisher King; during a feast that night, the Grail appears, and if only Parzival would ask […]

The Great Myths #29: Learning Poetry in the Giant’s Stomach (Finnish)

The poet/shaman Väinämöinen, in need of new poems and spells in order to build a boat, goes through an ordeal within the belly of a giant, the keeper of those stories. Here, the giant/ogre figure is more primordial and wise and not simply uncivilized and destructive: Steady old Väinämöinen when he got not words from […]

The Great Myths #27: The Monster Bear & the Making of Thunder (Miwok)

From the Miwok tribe of California, who are now “practically extinct”: Bear’s sister-in-law, Deer, had two beautiful fawn daughters. Bear was a horrible, wicked woman, and she wanted the fawns for herself. So this is what she did. One day she invited Deer to accompany her when she went to pick clover. The two fawns […]

The Great Myths #26: Sigurd Kills the Monster Fafnir & Understands the Language of Animals (Norse)

What is the reason for gold being called otter-payment? It is said that when the Aesir went to explore the whole world – Odin and Loki and Haenir – they came to a certain river and went along the river to a certain waterfall, and by the waterfall there was an otter and it had […]

The Great Myths #25: The Monster Kirttimukha & the Face of Glory (Hindu)

The Indian legend of the “Face of Glory” begins, like that of the Man-Lion, with the case of an infinitely ambitious king who through extraordinary austerities had gained the power to unseat the gods and was now sole sovereign of the universe. His name was Jalandhara, “Water Carrier,” and he conceived the impudent notion of […]

The Great Myths #16: A Siberian Horse Sacrifice, and the Shaman’s Ascent to the Sky (Altaic)

The first evening is devoted to preparation for the rite. The kam (shaman), having chosen a spot in a meadow, erects a new yurt there, setting inside it a young birch stripped of its lower branches and with nine steps (tapty) notched into its trunk. The higher foliage of the birch, with a flag at […]

The Great Myths #1: The Old Woman & the End of the World (White River Sioux)

Somewhere at a place where the prairie and the Maka Sicha, the Badlands, meet, there is a hidden cave. Not for a long, long time has anyone been able to find it. Even now, with so many highways, cars, and tourists, no one has discovered this cave.             In it lives a woman so old […]

Tao Te Ching #81: “True words are not beautiful, beautiful words are not true”

True words are not beautiful, beautiful words are not true. The good are not argumentative, the argumentative are not good. Knowers do not generalize, generalists do not know. Sages do not accumulate anything but give everything to others, having more the more they give. The Way of heaven helps and does not harm. The Way […]

Tao Te Ching #79: “Therefore sages keep their faith and do not pressure others”

When you harmonize bitter enemies, yet resentment is sure to linger, how can this be called good? Therefore sages keep their faith and do not pressure others. So the virtuous see to their promises, while the virtueless look after precedents. The Way of heaven is impersonal it is always with good people. – Thomas Cleary […]

Tao Te Ching #78: “So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful”

Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it. This is why […]

Tao Te Ching #77: “The Way of heaven reduces excess and fills need, but the way of humans is not so”

The Way of heaven is like drawing a bow: the high is lowered, the low is raised; excess is reduced, need is fulfilled. The Way of heaven reduces excess and fills need, but the way of humans is not so: they strip the needy to serve those who have too much. – Thomas Cleary   […]

Tao Te Ching #76: “Let strength and might be put below, and tender, gentle in control”

When people are born they are supple, and when they die they are stiff. When trees are born they are tender, and when they die they are brittle. Stiffness is thus a companion of death, flexibility a companion of life. So when an army is strong, it does not prevail. When a tree is strong, […]

Tao Te Ching #75: “Only those who do not contrive to live are wise in valuing life”

When people are starving, it is because their governments take too much, causing them to starve. When people are hard to control, it is because of the contrivances of their governments, which make them hard to control. When people slight death, it is because of the earnestness with which they seek life; that makes them […]

Tao Te Ching #74: “If people usually don’t fear death, how can death be used to scare them?”

If people usually don’t fear death, how can death be used to scare them? If people are made to fear death, and you can catch and kill them when they act oddly, who would dare? There are always executioners. And to kill in place of an executioner is taking the place of a master carver. […]

Tao Te Ching #73: “But which man knows what heaven condemns, what precedents it’s guided by?”

Boldness in daring means killing; boldness in not daring means life. These two may help and may harm. Who knows the reason for what heaven dislikes? This is why even sages find it hard for them. The Way of heaven win well without contest, responds well without speech, comes of itself uncalled, relaxed yet very […]

Tao Te Ching #71: “To presume to know what you don’t is sick”

To know unconsciously is best. To presume to know what you don’t is sick. Only by recognizing the sickness of sickness is it possible not to be sick. To sages’ freedom from ills was from recognizing the sickness of sickness, so they didn’t suffer from sickness. – Thomas Cleary   To understand yet not understand […]

Tao Te Ching #69: “No fate is worse than to have no enemy”

There are sayings on the use of arms: “Let us not be aggressors, but defend.” “Let us not advance an inch, but retreat a foot.” This is called carrying out no action, shaking no arm, facing no enemy, wielding no weapon. No calamity is greater than underestimating opponents. If you underestimate opponents, you’re close to […]

Tao Te Ching #68 “This is the virtue of nonaggression”

Good warriors do not arm, good fighters don’t get mad, good winners don’t contend, good employers serve their workers. This is called the virtue of noncontention; this is called mating with the supremely natural and pristine. – Thomas Cleary   In ancient times the perfect officer wasn’t armed the perfect warrior wasn’t angry the perfect […]

Tao Te Ching #67: “What Heaven creates let compassion protect”

Everyone in the world says my Way is great, but it seems incomparable. It is just because it is great that it seems incomparable: when comparisons are long established it becomes trivialized. I have three treasures that I keep and hold: one is mercy, the second is frugality, the third is not presuming to be […]

Tao Te Ching #66: Because they do not contend, no one in the world can contend with them”

The reason why rivers and seas can be lords of the hundred valleys is that they lower themselves to them well; therefore they can be lords of the hundred valleys. So when sages wishes to rise above people, they lower themselves to them in their speech. When they want to precede people, they go after […]

Tao Te Ching #65: “The ancient masters of the Way tried not to enlighten but to keep people in the dark”

In ancient times, good practitioners of the Way did not use it to enlighten the people, but to make them unsophisticated. When people are unruly, it is because of sophistication. So to govern a country by cunning is to rob the country. Not using cunning to govern a country is good fortune for the country. […]

Tao Te Ching #64: “The most massive tree grows from a sprout, the highest building rises from a pile of earth, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a step”

What is at rest is easy to hold. What has not shown up is easy to take into account. What is frail is easy to break. What is vague is easy to dispel. Do it before it exists; govern it before there’s disorder. The most massive tree grows from a sprout; the highest building rises […]

Tao Te Ching #63: “Do nondoing, strive for nonstriving, savor the flavorless, regard the small as important, make much of little, repay enmity with virtue”

Do nondoing, strive for nonstriving, savor the flavorless, regard the small as important, make much of little, repay enmity with virtue; plan for difficulty when it is still easy, do the great while it is still small. The most difficult things in the world must be done while they are easy; the greatest things in […]

Tao Te Ching #61: “A great nation wants no more than to include and nurture people”

A great nation flows downward into intercourse with the world. The female of the world always prevails over the male by stillness. Because stillness is considered lower, by lowering itself to a small nation a great nation takes a small nation; by being lower than a great nation a small nation takes a great nation. […]

Tao Te Ching #60: “Governing a large nation is like cooking little fish”

Governing a large nation is like cooking little fish. When the world is ruled by the Way, the ghosts are powerless. It is not that the ghosts are powerless; their spirits do not harm the people. Not only do the spirits not harm the people; sages do not harm the people either. Because the two […]

Tao Te Ching #59: “The Way of extended life and sustained reflection”

To govern the human and serve the divine, nothing compares to frugality. Only frugality brings early recovery; early recovery means buildup of power. Build up virtue, and you master all. When you master all, no one knows your limit. When no one knows your limit, you can maintain a nation. When you maintain the matrix […]

Tao Te Ching #58: “happiness rests in misery, misery hides in happiness”

When the government is unobtrusive, the people are pure. When the government is invasive, the people are wanting. Calamity is what fortune depends upon; fortune is what calamity subdues. Who knows how it will all end? Is there no right and wrong? The orthodox becomes unorthodox, the good also becomes ill; people’s confusion is indeed […]

Tao Te Ching #57: “the people simplify themselves”

Use straightforwardness for civil government, use surprise for military operations; use noninvolvement to take the world. How do I know this? The more taboos there are in the world, the poorer the populace is; the more crafts the people have, the more exotic things are produced; the more laws are promulgated, the greater the number […]

Tao Te Ching #56: “Those who know do not say, those who say do not know”

Those who know do not say; those who say do not know. Close the senses, shut the doors; blunt the sharpness, resolve the complications; harmonize the light, assimilate to the world. This is called mysterious sameness. It cannot be made familiar, yet cannot be estranged; it cannot be profited, yet cannot be harmed; it cannot […]

Tao Te Ching #55: “Knowing how to be balanced we endure, knowing how to endure we become wise”

The richness of subliminal virtue is comparable to an infant: poisonous creatures do not sting it, wild beasts do not claw it, predatory birds do not grab it. Its tendons are flexible, yet its grip is firm. Even while it knows not the mating of male and female, its genitals get aroused; this is the […]

Tao Te Ching #54: “What you plant well can’t be uprooted, what you hold well can’t be taken away”

Good construction does not fall down, a good embrace does not let go; their heirs honor them unceasingly. Cultivate it in yourself, and that virtue is real; cultivate it in the home, and that virtue is abundant; cultivate it in the locality, and that virtue lasts; cultivate it in the nation, and that virtue is […]

Tao Te Ching #53: “The Great Way is quite even, yet people prefer byways”

Causing one flashes of knowledge to travel the Great Way, only its application demands care. The Great Way is quite even, yet people prefer byways. When courts are extremely fastidious, the fields are seriously neglected, and the granaries are very empty; they wear colorful clothing and carry sharp swords, eat and drink to their fill […]

Tao Te Ching #52: “Once you’ve found the mother, thereby you know the child”

The world has a beginning that is the mother of the world. Once you’ve found the mother, thereby you know the child. Once you know the child, you return to keep the mother, not perishing though the body die. Close your eyes, shut your doors, and you do not toil all your life. Open your […]

Tao Te Ching #49: “Sages have no fixed mind, they make the minds of the people their mind”

Sages have no fixed mind; they make the minds of the people their mind: they improve the good, and also improve those who are not good; that virtue is good. They make sure of the true, and they make sure of the untrue too; that virtue is sure. The relation of sages to the world […]

Tao Te Ching #48: “To pursue learning, learn more day by day, to pursue the Way, unlearn it day by day”

For learning you gain daily; for the Way you lose daily. Losing and losing, thus you reach noncontrivance; be uncontrived, and nothing is not done. Taking the world is always done by not making anything out of it. For when something is made of it, that is not enough to take the world. – Thomas […]

Tao Te Ching #47: “Without going out your door you can know the whole world”

They know the world without even going out the door. They see the sky and its pattern without even looking out the window. The further out it goes, the less knowledge it; therefore sages know without going, name without seeing, complete without striving. – Thomas Cleary   Without going out your door you can know […]

Tao Te Ching #46: “No crime is greater than approving of greed”

When the world has the Way, running horses are retired to till the fields. When the world lacks the Way, war-horses are bred in the countryside. No crime is greater than approving of greed; no calamity is greater than discontent, no fault is greater than possessiveness. So the satisfaction of contentment is always enough. – […]

Tao Te Ching #45: “Clear stillness is right for the world”

Great completeness seems incomplete; its use is never exhausted. Great fullness seems empty; its use is never ended. Great directness seems restrained, great skill seems inept, great eloquence seems inarticulate. Movement overcomes cold, stillness overcomes heat. Clear stillness is right for the world. – Thomas Cleary   Perfectly complete it seems deficient yet it never […]

Tao Te Ching #44: “Extreme fondness means great expense, and abundant possessions mean much loss”

Which is closer, your name or your body? Which is more, your body or your possessions? Which is more destructive, gain or loss? Extreme fondness means great expense, and abundant possessions mean much loss. If you know when you have enough, you will not be disgraced. If you know when to stop, you will not […]

Tao Te Ching #43: “In this world below the sky the gentle will outdo the strong”

What is softest in the world drives what is hardest in the world. Nonbeing enters where there is no room; that is how we know noncontrivance enhances. Unspoken guidance and uncontrived enhancement are reached by few in the world. – Thomas Cleary   The weakest thing in the world overcomes the strongest thing in the […]

Tao Te Ching #42: “Those who take less shall have more, Those given more shall have less”

The Way produces one; one produces two, two produces three, three produces all beings: all beings bear yin and embrace yang, with a mellowing energy for harmony. The things people dislike are only to be alone, lacking, and unworthy; yet these are what monarchs call themselves. Therefore people may gain from loss, and may lose […]

Tao Te Ching #41: “If they didn’t laugh at it, it wouldn’t be the Way”

When superior people hear of the Way, they carry it out with diligence. When middling people hear of the Way, it sometimes seems to be there, sometimes not. When lesser people hear of the Way, they ridicule it greatly. If they didn’t laugh at it, it wouldn’t be the Way. So there are constructive sayings […]

Tao Te Ching #40: “The Tao moves the other way, the Tao works through weakness”

Return is the movement of the Way; yielding is the function of the Way. All things in the world are born of being; being is born of nonbeing. – Thomas Cleary   The Tao moves the other way, the Tao works through weakness the things of this world come from something something comes from nothing […]

Tao Te Ching #37: “By not wanting, there is calm, and the world will straighten itself”

The Way is always uncontrived, yet there’s nothing it doesn’t do. If lords and monarchs could keep to it, all being would evolve spontaneously. When they have evolved and want to act, I would stabilize them with nameless simplicity. Even nameless simplicity would not be wanted. By not wanting, there is calm, and the world […]

Tao Te Ching #36: “Flexibility and yielding overcome adamant coerciveness”

Should you want to contain something, you must deliberately let it expand. Should you want to weaken something, you must deliberately let it grow strong. Should you want to eliminate something, you must deliberately allow it to flourish. Should you want to take something away, you must deliberately grant it. This is called subtle illumination. […]

Tao Te Ching #35: “the Tao speaks plain words that make no sense … yet we use it without end”

When holding the Great Image, the world goes on and on without harm, peaceful, even tranquil. Where there is music and dining, passing travelers stop; but the issue of the Way is so plain as to be flavorless. When you look at it, it is invisible; when you listen to it, it is inaudible; when […]

Tao Te Ching #34: “Therefore sages never contrive greatness; that is why they can become so great.”

The Great Way is universal; it can apply to the left or the right. All beings depend on it for life, and it does not refuse. Its accomplishments fulfilled, it does not dwell on them. It lovingly nurtures all beings, but does not act as their ruler. As it has no desire, it can be […]

Tao Te Ching #33: “Those who know others are wise; those who know themselves are enlightened.”

Those who know others are wise; those who know themselves are enlightened. Those who overcome others are powerful; those who overcome themselves are strong. Those who are contented are rich; those who act strongly have will. Those who do not lose their place endure; those who die without perishing live long. – Thomas Cleary   […]

Tao Te Ching #31: “Weapons are the tools of violence; all decent men detest them”

Fine weapons are implements of ill omen: people may despise them, so those with the Way do not dwell with them. Therefore the place of honor for the cultured is on the left, while the honored place for the martialist is on the right. Weapons, being instruments of ill omen, are not the tools of […]

Tao Te Ching #26: “Gravity is the root of lightness”

Gravity is the root of lightness; calm is the master of excitement. Thereby do exemplary people travel all day without leaving their equipment. Though they have a look of prosperity, their resting place is transcendent. What can be done about heads of state who take the world lightly in their own self-interest? Lack of gravity […]

Tao Te Ching #25: “Something undifferentiated was born before heaven and earth”

Something undifferentiated was born before heaven and earth; still and silent, standing alone and unchanging, going through cycles unending, able to be mother to the world. I do not know its name; I label it the Way. Imposing on it a great name, I call it Great. Greatness means it goes; going means reaching afar; […]

Tao Te Ching #24: “Those on tiptoe don’t stand up”

Those on tiptoe don’t stand up, those who take long strides don’t walk; those who see themselves are not perceptive, those who assert themselves are not illustrious; those who glorify themselves have no merit, those who are proud of themselves do not last. On the Way, these are called overconsumption and excess activity. Some people […]

Tao Te Ching #22: “Be tactful and you remain whole”

Be tactful and you remain whole; bend and you remain straight. The hollow is filled, the old is renewed. Economy is gain, excess is confusion. Therefore sages embrace unity as a model for the world. Not seeing themselves, they are therefore clear. Not asserting themselves, they are therefore meritorious. Not taking pride in themselves, they […]

Tao Te Ching #20: “Detach from learning and you have no worries”

Detach from learning and you have no worries. How far apart are yes and yeah? How far apart are good and bad? The things people fear cannot but be feared. Wild indeed the uncentered! Most people celebrate as if they were barbequing a slaughtered cow, or taking in the springtime vistas; I alone am aloof, […]

Tao Te Ching #16: “Attain the climax of emptiness”

Attain the climax of emptiness, preserve the utmost quiet: as myriad things act in concert, I thereby observe the return. Things flourish, then each returns to its root. Returning to the root is called stillness: stillness is called return to Life, return to Life is called the constant; knowing the constant is called enlightenment. Acts […]