Friday, May 09, 2008

Death and Rebirth In Myths

Many cultures have stories of death and rebirth. In Japan, Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, has to be coaxed from her cave to bring back the light. Meanwhile, the Hittite God, Telepinus, has to be coaxed from his mountains to bring back the rains. Among various Native American nations, Corn Mother has to be sacrificed to be reborn as corn for the people. The Inuit of the Arctic tell stories about Sedna, from whose broken body comes the bounty of their land.

Why do these disparate cultures have myths of death and rebirth? One could argue that they explain the cycles of life on earth. Daily, the sun rises and sets, and then rises again. In Ancient Egypt, Tawerat of Egypt acted as midwife to the daily rebirth of the sun.

However, these myths go beyond simply explaining the daily or seasonal cycles. They make explicit the delicate balance between the needs of people and nature. To keep the balance of life, deep harmony has to exist between the two. Lest they upset it, people need to be reminded of their relationship with nature. In building their city, the Romans were conscious of disturbing sacred groves in building their city.

Where ever humans lived, they faced the vagaries of nature – volcanoes erupt, monsoons flood, droughts linger. The myths reassured people that after everything died, it would come back. Living in an uncertain world, people needed to know that the sun would rise again. The retelling of stories of death and rebirth restored people’s faith in an ordered universe.

Since everywhere, people need to know that the universe is orderly and secure, similar stories are told by different cultures. Myths of death and rebirth tap into the human need for hope and a better future. People could go about their daily lives, reassured that in the future, the warmth, welcoming rains, and fertility of the land would come once again.

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