Spark Arts 2019 Week 2 – Myth and symbolism
This week, we explored myth and symbolism and discussed how traditions across the world have used myths to help explain natural events, beliefs and behaviors. We found that many myths use symbols to express meaningful concepts. As a group we analyzed the symbol of Zeus’ thunderbolt, which the kids decided could be interpreted as a symbol of strength, power, the skies, and light. We interpreted Athena’s owl as a symbol of wisdom- of seeing in the darkness where others can’t. As we continued exploring symbols and their meanings, we started to notice them all around us.
In creation myths from China, India, Greece, Finland and Egypt (among many others), the universe is often told to have hatched from a cosmic egg or world egg, usually emerging from dark waters or chaos. The egg, we decided, is a symbol that represents new life, creation, beginnings, springtime, or perfection. We listened to some creation myths from various traditions and looked at images that depict this birthing of first life, often along with the first deity such as Prajapati in India, Pan Gu in China, and Phanes in Greece.
We each then set about creating our own cosmic eggs by covering a balloon with a layer of cement. When the cement hardened, we deflated our balloons and painted our eggs with luminous golden paint. One of our students described the interior of her balloon as “the creation of the sun and planets going around it”.
Storytelling with Angus
We learned about oral storytelling traditions from Angus, who greatly enjoys telling apocryphal tales at lunch time or any other opportunity. Each day at lunch, Angus would tell a story of fantastical dimensions using ideas generated by the group. Among the many characters we met in these stories, a few favorites were an old witch who lived in a forest and mixed potions with a long fingernail; a family of hippogriffs who saved the Oracle of Mount Parnassus; an old sorcerer who created the seven continents from a great and sacred pizza; a fireworks artisan named Gybalt who was called to build a firework show for the King of Dreams on the occasion of his birthday; and the beloved Littlest Pepper, whose heroism saved an entire commune of peppers from being mixed into a sorcerer’s pepper stew.
We learned myths that use storytelling and personification to explain natural phenomena, like the Greek story of the hunter Orion, which ascribes meaning to the constellation. We also talked about the idea that many myths contain a hero whose primary motivation is their quest. Stories and myths explore the obstacles that heroes encounter on their quests.
We practiced generating a hero, brainstormed her quest for a gem, and then thought of some mythical creatures who could serve as obstacles. Some of us knew about mythical creatures like hippogriffs, basilisks, and centaurs, and we also practiced making many of our own, like the frangaroo (a creature part-frog and part-kangaroo), the snabbit (half-snake and half-rabbit), and the ko-cat-o dragon (half-komodo dragon, half-cat).
Celestial bodies such as the stars, moon and sun have mesmerized cultures since the beginning of time, often being connected to deities or heroes. We discovered that star myths exist in many cultures, and we read Greek myths of the Orion and Cassiopeia constellations. We found that Egyptians too had many star myths, and worshipped the brightest star in our night sky, Sirius, which was seen as the goddess Isis- the wife of Osiris.
We zoomed in on our own star, the sun, and practiced thinking of the sun symbolically, as many cultures worldwide have done- seeing it as a representation of life, conquest of light over darkness, goodness, generosity, truth, and protection. We noted that the sun has played a large role in many traditions and was associated with main deities that emanated these benevolent qualities. Such gods included Greek Apollo, the Sumerian god Shamash, the Hindu god Surya, the Egyptian sun god Re, and Japanese goddess Amaterasu- all seen as protector deities.
We looked at gold Aztec jewelry, inspired by the sun and picked symbols from Egyptian and Aztec culture, which we then embossed onto gold colored foil.
We learned about the Oracle of Delphi, the learned prophet who was consulted in both myth and history, and the arduous journeys that Greeks would undertake to visit the prestigious priestess in order to query her for spiritual council. We learned about different systems of divination to understand how people found meaning. From clay, we created a small golden hand on a stick that we called the Hand of the Oracle– on our way to the park, we would gather around the Oracle’s Hand and formulate a question in our mind, wondering, for instance, ‘Which part of the park should we visit today?’ Then, we’d all raise our fingers to the sky and let the Oracle’s Hand fall to the ground. “The Oracle has spoken!” we would cheer triumphantly, before heading off to our destination!
We carried the Oracle’s Hand with us with an equal and mutually inclusive mix of playful humor and reverence, consulting it for all sorts of questions and even re-affixing the Oracle’s pointer finger when it broke! We were able to learn something about the ways people have appealed to something greater than themselves in order to make decisions.
We learned that many Norse runes represented not only phonetic sounds, but also depicted physical objects in Norse life that themselves represented deeper meaning. Friends found many poetic connections between symbolic and literal meanings – for instance, the symbol ‘dagaz’ literally means ‘dawn’, and can be taken to mean ‘things becoming clearer.’ After teasing out connections between literal and symbolic meanings in Nordic runes, each one of us chose a Nordic rune at random. Then, we found objects in our own lives that could symbolize the same meanings, and painted them onto rune stones. Here are some that we chose:
|Our Symbols||Nordic inspiration|
|“?”||Challenge & Frustration|
|Bicycle||Change for the Better|