Are magical creatures, fairies, mermaids, ghosts, giants and goddesses and gods all gone, with the mythical times? For some this magical creatures are gone, for others they are still real, giving gifts to the kindly, and plaguing the surly.
After the tragic loss of my first milk tooth, it was a joy to see a friendly white mouse leaving a coin and running away from under my pillow with my tooth in it’s mouth.
“Have you ever seen a fairy or such like?”
I asked an old fisherman in Chiloe, Chile. “Claro, son molestos,” (“Oh, I am really annoyed with them,”)
“Do the fishermen along here know anything of monsters in the lakes?”
I asked a modern woman, with a bright violet lipstick, tattoos all over her arms and legs and thick glasses on her long nose in a pub in Scotland. “Indeed, every loch is populated by creatures, no one wants to meet” she answered laughing out lout.
Scenes from the ancient Egyptian books of the dead adorn the walls in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Signs of old age on the walls and on the guides face, grey hair and wrinkled skin; he said:
“I am with the old gods, I was an orthodox before.”
I am not blaming him; it is very much better to believe in a number of gods than in one only, but that he is a little sentimental and impracticable, and not constructed for this century. Is he?
The corpulent, generous Hindu mother with the gentle eyes wears a new sari today, she asks, out of a sandalwood, rose and jasmine cloud, swinging her talisman,
‘’Do you believe in God?”,
“No,” I answer, watching it oscillating back and forth, back and forth
”No problem, you go temple, eat prasad (holy food), it is conspicuous day of Annapurna.” and smears us a red paste on the forehead,”
“That’s mother India.”
”Take care at night”,
the little boy in Bali, said seriously,
“there is ghosts around that steal you, I never go out after dark.”
My spoon nearly fell into my plate of rice as he added, “and tomorrow you stay at home the whole day. It is New year – Nyepi the Day of Silence”. His mum added gravely
“Amati Geni (no fire, light, electricity),
Amati Karya (no working),
Amati Lelunganan (no travelling),
Amati Leanguan (Fasting and no entertainment).”
We didn’t expect that, after the exuberant celebrations we had just witnessed. Large paper-mache giants, the Ogoh-Ogoh, were paraded accompanied by loud gamelan music. These are then torched and, with the conflagration, any evil spirits that have brought disease and misery to Bali during the past year will have also been banished. The next morning, we had food, but were offline, literally not even the WiFi would work.
Clad in a black abaya, head scarf, and face veil, Fatima sprinkles small drops of hujari (frankincense) onto a hot disk of charcoal in a gold-and-green-painted clay incense burner.
“We use it daily to welcome guests, perfume clothing and home spaces, and eliminate unwanted smells. Smoking frankincense protects also from evil jinns”, her kohl-rimmed, smoke-shot eyes indicating the narrow winding alleys of old town and Muttrah Souq in Oman.
People have always been mysteriously connected with magic, with their conspicuous and non conspicuous days, talismans, mantras and rituals as a part of their Identity, these will not change much—indeed, it is doubtful if anybody at all changes at any time. In spite of hosts of deniers, and rationalists, and wise-people, and professors, if you entice them into a cemetery at midnight, most of them will believe in phantoms, for every one is a visionary, if you scratch him deep enough.
Some people is visionary without scratching.
Because the passing on of stories is intrinsically human, and something we can all come together to share.
About five years now we are traveling on motorbikes. Right now we have an iconic Royal Enfield Himalayan under our swollen butts, from countless road and off- road trips. We enjoy the freedom, the independence. Stopping along the way to smell “the roses” and enjoy the view. A story awaits around every bend, friendships made on every tour. Like minded people, a meal and the road stories start to flow.
Some places you just want to visit yourself. Riding through the countryside and experiencing the culture is unbeatable. Standing in front of historical places and knowing the stories and struggles that got us to today, it is these things that make up touring life.
People worldwide tell stories of wonder, about holy teeth, holy people, holy trees and plants, holy places: like mountains, volcanoes, rivers, lakes and waterfalls — holy animals, holy dragons, even holy kites. And places of worship, are intrinsic holy. And the gods and goddesses to many to count and so much mythological stories to discover…
Wherever we travel, we find someone, sometimes even professional storytellers, willing and happy to tell us stories, myths and legends, while having a cup of tea or coffee. Tales about their families, their music, the festivals, their sports, the landscape of their religion, the history of their country, their food and drinks.
“Yet, be it noticed, if you are a stranger, you will not readily get legends, easily. You must go adroitly to work, and make friends with the children, and the old men, with those who have not felt the pressure of mere daylight existence, and those with whom it is growing less, and will have altogether taken itself off one of these days. The old women are most learned, but will not so readily be got to talk, for the fairies are very secretive, and much resent being talked of; and are there not many stories of old women who were nearly pinched into their graves or numbed with fairy blasts?
Legends are around as long as there are inexplicable curiosities in life,”
Jan Harold Brunvand knows. Anything traditional stories can tell us- from big questions about our Universe to the road to humanity and how we got here; from understanding how life evolved to the small and big catastrophes that shaped our planet and our life; from the power of trees in tales and practices found all around the world and wonderful mythical creatures that call earth home.
Traditional beliefs, customs, and stories of a community follow us everywhere. No matter how ultramodern we are, superstitious blood still flows in the veins. We unapologetically cross our fingers (and toes and … well … whatever else we can) when we’re in need of a little extra luck. Even as an atheist and a self-proclaimed skeptic, we still see ourselves falling into the tendency of thinking coincidences are meaningful, or that certain events were meant to happen. Yet we all have our thoughts and ideas about irrationalities but according to the words found in a 13th century German-Jewish treatise entitled “The Book of the Pious”, Sefer Hasidim wrote:
“One should not believe in superstitions, but it is best to be heedful of them”.
To not believe in superstition and taboos– some say brings bad luck. Believe it or not, I still knock on wood for good luck.
What is a legend in one time and place may be a myth in another time and place, a Märchen (or fairytale) in another time and place [and called religion in yet another time and place.] While there might be a lot of legend to this stories, there is also truth, it is up to us to find the nuances of a culture: Memory, Modernity and Identity in them. But whether you consider it truthful or not the world of superstition allows us all to take a fascinating look into the historical archives and see what life was really like once upon a time…
I believe, myth is a positive force that unites communities and cultures — what is truth to one is fancy to another.
In my family there was a mythical smiling mouse taking my milk tooth, in other cultures it is the tooth fairy, in other places the milk tooth is placed in a tree or thrown to the sky. Other rituals involve having an adult swallow the tooth or burn it, some leave it for animals, like mouses, hyenas, birds or dogs.
“Paese che vai, usanze che trovi!”
an italian friend would say – Other countries, other customs.”
This tooth fairy story possibly exists to help distract children from the fact that people can loose parts of their body. So they would ask the resident mouse to take the tooth and magically help them grow a strong new tooth. This was very clearly about magic, and growing up, and mythic animals. No money involved, no capitalism.
A case can be made that all the mythical figures of childhood exist to teach how the world works, in the mid 1900s the tooth fairy starts giving money to the children – that is the modern times. Magic gifts morphed into market transactions. Considering her values the Tooth Fairy just fitted the cultural zeitgeist better than feeding your teeth to a mouse. We can’t fight ultra capitalist overtones with a magic mouse.
“The tooth fairy teaches children that they can sell body parts for money, “
says the computer scientist and researcher, David Richerby.
I lived through the money giving mouse as a child, and I haven’t sold my kidneys.
Not yet I haven’t, not yet.
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Works Cited & Multimedia Sources
Yeats William Butler. Fairy and Folk tales of the Irish peasantry. Originally published 1888; 2015.
Brunvand Jan Harold, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings. 1981.
Tuleja Tad. The Tooth Fairy: Perspectives on Money and Magic. 1989. AFS Conference Papers, in Children’s Folklore Review. 1991.
Underobvious: Tooth fairy what have you been teaching us.