Category Archives: religion

Raven Steals the Sun

Raven Steals The SunThis is an ancient story told on the Queen Charlotte Islands about how Raven helped to bring the Sun, Moon, Stars, Fresh Water and Fire to the world.

Long ago, near the beginning of the world, Gray Eagle was the
guardian of the Sun, Moon and Stars, of fresh water, and of fire.
Gray Eagle hated people so much that he kept these things hidden.
People lived in darkness, without fire and without fresh water.

Gray Eagle had a beautiful daughter, and Raven fell in love with her.
In the beginning, Raven was a snow-white bird, and as a such, he
pleased Gray Eagle’s daughter. She invited him to her father’s
longhouse.

When Raven saw the Sun, Moon and stars, and fresh water hanging on the sides of Eagle’s lodge, he knew what he should do. He watched for his chance to seize them when no one was looking. He stole all of them, and a brand of fire also, and flew out of the longhouse through the smoke hole. As soon as Raven got outside he hung the Sun up in the sky. It made so much light that he was able to fly far out to an island in the middle of the ocean. When the Sun set, he fastened the Moon up in the sky and hung the stars around in different places. By this new light he kept on flying, carrying with him the fresh water and the brand of fire he had stolen.

He flew back over the land. When he had reached the right place, he
dropped all the water he had stolen. It fell to the ground and there
became the source of all the fresh-water streams and lakes in the
world. Then Raven flew on, holding the brand of fire in his bill. The
smoke from the fire blew back over his white feathers and made them
black. When his bill began to burn, he had to drop the firebrand. It
struck rocks and hid itself within them. That is why, if you strike
two stones together, sparks of fire will drop out.

Raven’s feathers never became white again after they were blackened
by the smoke from the firebrand. That is why Raven is now a black bird.

Ravens symbolize many things in different cultures. Native American tradition honors the raven as a symbol of courage and of magical guidance. The Arab culture calls the raven Abu Zajir which means “Father of Omens.” They are seen as oracular birds, used in divination. They are seen as symbols of death, life, the sun, magic, shapeshifting, and tricksters.

Legend from Ella E. Clark: Indian Legends of the Pacific Northwest, University of California Press, 1953.

Image: Raven Stealing Sun, by Ken Mowatt.

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All Our Wonder Unavenged

All Our Wonder UnavengedDon Domanski was born and raised on Cape Breton Island and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His latest work, All Our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books) recently won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.

He is a poet of the holiness of subtleties, a master of mindfulness and being. His writing is a form of osmosis, spirit seeping through the details of each poem, creating a marvel of metaphysics and language distilled to purest energy. Living in the moment here is synonymous with being the moment, a transformation that is stunning to inhabit.

The nature imagery is interlaced with references to Buddhism, Greek mythology, ancient civilizations and even witches. The poems don’t transcend the material world so much as find the spirit in what we can see, touch, and hear. Domanski asserts that the deity is in all things.

my mother believed God moved the sparrows around day after day
as a teenager I believed the sparrows moved God around
all the inexhaustible crutches He leaned upon
all the underweights of silence to find His way

now the only god I believe in are the sparrows themselves

Don Domanski was recently interviewed by CBC. Here are some excerpts.

CBC: Your work brings the inanimate to life. What draws you to blur the line between the animate and inanimate world?

It probably comes from childhood originally, children blur that line all the time, giving life to inanimate objects, to toys and dolls, because they can’t imagine it otherwise. What I’m doing is making my way to presence, and blurring that line helps to draw out the inherent presence in things. My definition of life is isness, its elementary stance and grace, therefore everything is alive, simply put being equals life. Now I know this isn’t the usual definition, but still it is an ancient one, not just among children, but among people from all cultures.

I’m an animist when it comes to how I interact with the physical world. Animism is the oldest religious/spiritual practice, the base experience out of which all the other ways of the sacred have grown. So I guess you could say I’m a traditionalist of a sort, a basic believer in first experiences, whether it’s cultural or ones from childhood. There’s a very deep truth there that strikes well below the thinking level, a connection richer than language, which can give words a more inclusive depth and reach.

CBC: What draws you to geology and palaeontology as subjects for your writing?

I’ve always been interested in the natural sciences, so it seems almost instinctive that geology and palaeontology should find their way into my work. I collected fossils for fourteen years, to try and get some sense of time, some understanding of the permutations of time on life. Of course in the end it’s time out of mind, it’s impossible to grasp what two hundred million years actually means. But there were moments in this hunt for time that shone forth with a particular light I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. For instance, finding the impressions of raindrops that were three hundred and fifty million years old. The rain falling on a completely different planet then we live on today. That gives a new perspective, a new appreciation of being.

I see no difference between poetry and spiritual practice

CBC Interview with Don Domanski

Brick Books

Prairie Fire Review of Books

The Fioretti of Saint Francis

Saint FrancisFioretti di San Francesco (The Little Flowers of Saint Francis) is a florilegium – a collection of excerpts – divided into 53 short chapters, on the life of the fabled saint, which was composed at the end of the 14th century.

The anonymous Italian text, almost certainly by a Tuscan author, is a version of the Latin Actus beati Francisci et sociorum eius, of which the earliest extant manuscript is one of 1390 A.D. The text has been ascribed to Fra. Ugolino da Santa Maria, whose name occurs three times in the Actus.

The text has been the most popular account of his life and relates many colorful anecdotes, miracles and pious examples from the lives of Francis and his followers.

It is said that one day while Francis was traveling with some companions they happened upon a place in the road where birds filled the trees on either side. Francis told his companions to “wait for me while I go to preach to my sisters the birds”. The birds surrounded him, drawn by the power of his voice, and not one of them flew away. Francis spoke to them:

My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in everyplace give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed you…you neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore… always seek to praise God.

Wolf of GubbioFioretti tells that in the city of Gubbio, where Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

“Brother Wolf, thou doest much harm in these parts and thou hast done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would make peace between you and the people.”

“As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

In agreement the wolf placed one of its forepaws in Francis’ outstretched hand, and the oath was made. Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio.

Meanwhile the townsfolk, having heard of the miracle, gathered in the city marketplace to await Francis and his companion, and were shocked to see the ferocious wolf behaving as though his pet. When Francis reached the marketplace he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon with the tame wolf at his feet. He is quoted as saying: “How much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear?”

Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

These legends exemplify the Franciscan mode of charity and poverty as well as the saint’s love of the natural world. Part of his appreciation of the environment is expressed in his Canticle of the Sun, a poem written by the saint in Umbrian Italian shortly before his death in 1226, which expresses a love and appreciation of Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Mother Earth, Brother Fire, and all of God’s creations personified in their fundamental forms. In Canticle of the Creatures, he wrote: “All praise to you, Oh Lord, for all these brother and sister creatures.” His Canticle is believed to be among the first works of literature, if not the first, written in the Italian language.

It is an affirmation of Francis’ personal theology as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters to Mankind, and rejected material accumulation and sensual comforts in favour of “Lady Poverty”.

Image: Saint Francis instructs the Wolf, Carl Weidemeyer-Worpswede, 1911

Not Wanted on the Voyage

“And Noah went in, and his sons, and his wife, and his sons’ wives with him into the ark, because of the waters of the flood.” (Genesis 7:7)

Not Wanted on the Voyage“Everyone knows it wasn’t like that.”

“To begin with, they make it sound as if there wasn’t any argument; as if there wasn’t any panic — no one being pushed aside — no one being trampled — none of the animals howling — none of the people screaming blue murder. They make it sound as if the only people who wanted to get on board were Doctor Noyes and his family. Presumably, everyone else (the rest of the human race, so to speak) stood off waving gaily, behind a distant barricade: SPECTATORS WILL NOT CROSS THE YELLOW LINE and: THANK YOU FOR YOUR COOPERATION. With all the baggage neatly labelled: WANTED or NOT WANTED ON THE VOYAGE.”

“They also make it sound as if there wasn’t any dread — Noah and his sons relaxed on the poop deck, sipping port and smoking cigars beneath a blue and white striped awning — probably wearing yachting caps, white ducks and blazers. Mrs Noyes and her daughters-in-law fluttering up the gangplank — neat and tidy — dry beneath their umbrellas — turning and calling; “goodbye, everybody!” And all their friends shouting; “bon voyage!” while the daughters-in-law hand over their tickets, smiling and laughing — everyone being piped aboard and a band playing Rule Britannia! and Over the Sea to Skye. Flags and banners and a booming cannon…like an excursion.”

“Put it this way: Noah was pretty bad, but you should have seen the others. It came as little surprise to us that God decided to wipe the slate clean; the only puzzle was that he chose to preserve anything at all of this species whose creation did not reflect particularly well on its creator.”

Timothy Findley, one of Canada’s most compelling and best-loved writers, infuses the Old Testament tale of Noah and his ark with fantasy and an extraordinary cast of characters: the tyrannical Noah and his indomitable wife, Mrs. Noyes; the aging and irritable Yahweh; Mottyl, the perceptive, half-blind cat; a chorus of singing sheep; and a shy unicorn with a terrible destiny.

Noah’s Ark

“We have come upon this voyage together. And before this voyage, I heard another rumour – didn’t you – of another promised land. Well – this is the promised land, right here, my friends. This is all we have and it may well be the only promised land we shall ever know. The Unicorn has already perished here. And look – the lantern flickers. Any moment now, it too may die.”

She paused and then she said: “this is a place without magic. All that was magical and wonderful has been left behind us – drowned – in my world that was before your world – and in your world that was before this.”

Findley’s richly imaginative storytelling addresses such contemporary social issues as gender equality, the environment and the dangers of fundamentalist beliefs.

Published in 1984, Not Wanted on the Voyage won the Canadian Authors Association Award for fiction. It has been dramatized for both stage and radio.

To Findley, the novel told how mankind had taken the notion of divinity and tampered with it as a means of gaining and keeping power—power of humanity over the rest of nature, and power of male authority figures over women and children. It was not meant to be blasphemy, as one group of American religious extremists were said to have interpreted the book, allegedly putting Findley’s name on some kind of hit list. It was a plea for humanity to be more truly humane—and this was recognized by the churches who invited Findley to read passages of the novel from the pulpit.

CBC review on the novel’s inspiration

Noye’s Fludde (Noah’s Flood) is a late 16th century mystery play from the Chester Mystery Cycle. It was set to music by Benjamin Britten in 1957.

Noye’s Fludde opens with the congregation singing “Lord Jesus, think on me” as Noye enters. The spoken Voice of God tells Noye to build “a shippe”. Noye agrees and calls on his family to help. His sons and their wives enter with tools and materials and begin, but Mrs Noye and her Gossips (close friends) mock the project. The cast build the ark on stage.

Noye’s Fludde

Mottyl