The Great Myths #53: Thor Goes Fishing for the Serpent that Surrounds the World (Norse)

Read the other Great Myths here Long ago the slaughter-gods were eating their hunting-prey in the mood for a drink, before they were full; they shook the sticks and looked at the lots: they learned that at Ægir’s was a fine crop of cauldrons. The cliff-dweller [Ægir] sat there, child-cheerful, much like Miskorblindi’s boy; the son of Dread [Thor], defiant, […]

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Joseph Campbell’s Hero Sets Out

A piece of the beginning and end of The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or […]

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Understanding Religious Fundamentalism

I am always thrilled to reread these two passages by Erik Hornung, and to find in them just about the wisest things I’ve ever read about religion in general, and fundamentalism in particular. Although he hopefully assumes (the book was first published in 1971) that just because fundamentalism will become increasingly “inhuman” it will lose adherents, his words are still […]

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Humanity’s Earliest Rituals

Three passages on prehistoric religion from the book Becoming Human:   One of the pervasive themes of [this book] is that spirituality and materiality cannot be separated. The roots of religion are to be found in ritual practice. And ritual practice, as documented by the material record goes back before the Franco-Cantabrian “explosion”, back indeed before the Blombos engravings [70,000 […]

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The Archaeology & Mythology of Caves

The archaeologist Jean Clottes writes that, besides the more famous paintings in the ice-age caves of France and Spain, it has also been observed that “various objects have been either deposited or stuck into cracks of the walls, or even stuck into the ground. Those apparently non-utilitarian gestures have been noticed from Asturias in Spain to Burgundy in France, from […]

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Understanding Religion

I’d been interested in religion and mythology long before 2004, when I first read this opening page of Mircea Eliade’s History of Religious Ideas. But from that day until now I have still not come across so brief and powerful a statement about why the study of religion is important, whether for scholars or believers, or for those who are […]

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Kafka’s Great Fable: “Before the Law”

From Kafka’s novel The Trial: Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper and requests admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he can’t grant him admittance now. The man thinks it over and then asks if he’ll be allowed to enter later. “It’s possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not now.” […]

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Fire Houses (poem)

If forced to choose a favorite short poem of mine, one that brings together nearly everything I’m interested in, it would have to be this one: Fire Houses All the old stories have their fire houses: hostels, banqueting halls, stopping places, some leading to the Otherworld, some made of iron, and all of them set afire, mansions made into ovens, […]

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Daedalus & Icarus (poem)

Daedalus & Icarus The old craftsman came to Cumae after a long life of art and flight, love and theft, came alone to the Sibyl’s Italian shore wasted with age and reputation to the one who knew every alphabet, the seeress who saw the future in driven leaves: and warped with the same old age as him, she asked that […]

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Odin & Baldr (poem)

Odin & Baldr The High One heard the lowest prophecy: already riddled with the worst of dreams, his boy Baldr would be killed by his brother. And worse: another brother would avenge him, family hacking down family. And worse: these murders would lead to the end, to three winters of war and three more years of only winter, and all […]

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The Great Myths #39: Arrow Boy (Cheyenne)

After the Cheyenne had received their corn, and while they were still in the north, a young man and woman of the tribe were married. The woman became pregnant and carried her child in the womb for four years. The people watched with great interest to see what would happen, and when the woman gave birth to a beautiful boy […]

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Books for Days

With June finally done and the rush of bringing out two books behind me, let me thank everyone who has purchased copies. There are still a few of each book left from my initial batch; if anyone is interested, I’m selling them myself much cheaper than Amazon etc., & they will be signed. If you would like a review copy […]

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The Great Myths: Climbing the World Mountain (To the House of the Sun)

autographed copies of To the House of the Sun are always available directly from the publisher at 40% off (includes shipping), by clicking here   SELRES_1bdcfa3c-300a-48ef-b10e-893100acd61SELRES_1bdcfa3c-300a-48ef-b10e-893100acd& the mountain I ascended came from heaven: & the rock I walked on broke away once long ago from the vault of heaven— & so as I walked, I was walking on heaven: & […]

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The Great Myths #17: A Sacrifice for the Feast (Greek)

The cow came in from the field, and the companions of great-hearted Telemachos came from beside their fast black ship, and the smith came, holding in his hands the tools for forging bronze, his handicraft’s symbols, the anvil and the sledgehammer and the well-wrought pincers with which he used to work the gold, and Athene also came to be at […]

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The Great Myths #15: The Horse Sacrifice (Hindu)

Rig Veda 1:162 – The Sacrifice of the Horse Mitra, Varuṇa, Aryaman the Active, Indra the ruler of the Ṛbhus, and the Maruts – let them not fail to heed us when we proclaim in the assembly the heroic deeds of the racehorse who was born of the gods. When they lead the firmly grasped offering a in front of […]

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The Great Myths #12: The Corn Mother (Penobscot)

When Kloskurbeh, the All-maker, lived on earth, there were no people yet. But one day when the sun was high, a youth appeared and called him “Uncle, brother of my mother.” This young man was born from the foam of the waves, foam quickened by the wind and warmed by the sun. It was the motion of the wind, the […]

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The Great Myths #7: The Tree of Souls (Jewish)

God has a tree of flowering souls in Paradise. The angel who sits beneath it is the Guardian of Paradise, and the tree is surrounded by the four winds of the world. From this tree blossom forth all souls, as it is said, “I am like a cypress tree in bloom; your fruit issues forth from Me.” (Hos. 14:9). And […]

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The Great Myths #5: A Ghost Story (Icelandic)

After Thorolf died, a good many people found it more and more unpleasant to stay out of doors once the sun had begun to go down. As the summer wore on, it became clear that Thorolf wasn’t quiet, for after sunset no one out of doors was left in peace. There was another thing, too: the oxen which had been […]

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“Cauldron & Drink” – New Poem at Crannóg

Many thanks to the editors of Crannóg, who published my poem “Cauldron & Drink” in their most recent issue. It’s one of my favorites from my upcoming book of poems from old Europe.  For readers outside of Ireland and the UK, I’ve pasted an image from the journal below, although I would encourage everyone to subscribe.  

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Don’t Be Such a Boar

After receiving an email from a reader interested in the mythology surrounding bears, I remembered my own obsession with the boar. This was written some time ago, and one day will hopefully be expanded for a small illustrated book. Forgive the in-line citations, which may be an eyesore, but it would take too long to turn them into footnotes. The […]

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To the House of the Sun: A Poem by Tim Miller

Buy the book here Visit the publisher’s website here Signed copies are now available at a steep discount, directly from the publisher—only $14.95. Order them from Amazon here, and choose S4N Books as the seller. December 16 The poet and historian Jeff Sypeck participated in Via Negativa’s year-end Favorite Poetry Book survey, and kindly wrote this about To the House of the Sun: The best poetry book I read this year was To the House of the Sun (S4N Books, 2015), Tim Miller’s epic poem about the travels of an Irish-born Georgian seeking revenge against his own father during the Civil War. Miller contacted me back in the spring because he found me online and thought I might like his work. He was right: To the House of the Sun is a sprawling, strange, deeply moving poem inspired by the the world’s great religious texts and definitely in conversation with them. It’s a difficult, harrowing, inspiring, incantatory book, and I’ve never read anything like it. September 28 The poet Daniel Paul Marshall had these good words to say about To the House of the Sun: Tim is the author of the American Civil War epic poem To the House of the Sun, which I have been fortunate enough to read. It isn’t just a work of literary pulchritude, but in addition, a work of scholarly dedication to a variety of traditions, myths, histories, traditions, of literature & the humanities generally. […]

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Classic Jam Hits

Going through my computer the other day, I found the .pdfs of these classic book sets, and thought to post them here for whoever wants them: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, The Mythology of All Races, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Whatever their limitations now, they are still great resources. I can’t remember where I found […]

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Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief

Notebook 7: Varieties of Religious Practice & Belief (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) This simple sentence, found in a […]

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Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice

Notebook 6: Suffering & Justice (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the largest obstacles to belief in a […]

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Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way

Notebook 5: All Religions Act This Way (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) For insight into how much suffering is […]

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Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World

Notebook 4: Religion Against the World & for the World (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) The first way for […]

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Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge

Notebook 3: Religion as Mystery, & the Limitations of Knowledge (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) Near the end of […]

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Notebook 2: Religion & Originality

NOTEBOOK 2: RELIGION & ORIGINALITY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) One of the ways in which all religions justify […]

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Notebook 1: God’s Will & Interpreting History

NOTEBOOK 1: GOD’S WILL & INTERPRETING HISTORY (As an appendix to Humility is Endless, the seven-part Notebook is a collection of connected quotations from scripture, interpretation, and history, which further illustrates the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief and religious certainty of any kind. My own commentary is the thread running through them all.) As an addition to this essay, here are more instances from history where, to our peril, various contemporary events were interpreted as obvious manifestations of divine action. While the superficial justification for anti-Semitism has always been a variation on, “[Because] Jews suffered proved that Jews deserved to suffer,”[1] this is also generally true for everyone at some time or another: it is always assumed there is an obvious, divinely sanctioned correspondence between our religious or political or civic affiliations, and the fates of those religions and nations, even though there rarely is. Even worse, throwing such explanations on the sufferings of others allows us to ignore that suffering entirely, or even grin in assuming that it is deserved. The refrain is this: there is simply no reliable or coherent way to ever interpret material or political events of any kind, and of anyone, as the result of divine pleasure or displeasure. And so there is no basis for judging people of other political or religious persuasions when things go good or ill for them, or for us. Each of the following quotations suggests the folly, and attendant […]

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A Visit to the Underworld

Below are excerpts from three of my favorite Underworld journeys from mythology, which also informed my own Underground scene in To the House of the Sun: Book Six of Virgil’s Aeneid, where Aeneas comes upon the shade of his father, who is amazed to see his son, still alive, visiting the land of the dead; Tablet Seven of Gilgamesh, where […]

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