Sometimes there are stories that have a profound affect on a person. I can actually recall how I felt and what I was thinking when I read a version of the old folk tale The King of the Cats. Initially the story scared me in a keep-the-lights on kind of way.
I was very young when I was first exposed to the tale through the library and I kept with me from the story a real sense of reality, to look at things with new eyes, to question the nature of things. I learned right there and then that it is possible that everything I thought I knew up to then was wrong.
Like the characters in the story I realized I was taking things at their face value and there are depths to most things that are not considered. Pretty unsettling for a young kid to realize and far greater of an epiphany than realizing Santa is not real. Later my parents said I was cynical, I saw it as being skeptical.
I embarked on a journey grounded in reality. I no longer feared the monsters under the bed because I knew they did not exist. I didn't allow people to assign to demons the bad things that people were able to accomplish on their own. That foolishly underestimates what people are capable of. I also applauded the good that people did, aware that it is really done just for the sake of doing it even though it is often contrary to survival.
I didn't lose any of the 'magic of childhood' either. I had fun. I voraciously devoured multiple sources of fantasy, science fiction and horror. I read about UFO's, Bigfoot, Chariots of the Gods and the Loch Ness monster. But I knew none of it was real or at the least was mundane and incredibly misinterpreted.
At a young age I asked why archaeologists always seemed to attribute religious significance to the lone standing block of stone remaining from what was a huge city thousands of years ago? I continued to ask questions. How can anyone justify racism? How could people that lived in the shadow of the pyramids for so long forget what they were really for? How can anyone support a system that stifles personal freedom? Why do people believe in supernatural forces when for all of recorded history there is absolutely no evidence they exist?
In the absence of many answers I had to seek out my own. I came to the conclusion religion is a method of crowd control. Psychics are frauds or delusional. Homoeopathy is unabashed fraud disguised with elements of magic and alchemy (dilutions are equivalent of one molecule of 'cure' in a sphere of water the size of the solar system). People have an amazing capacity for self-deception and memory editing. I found out it is statistically improbable that we are the only life in the universe. It is equally improbable that we have been visisted by these other lifeforms. Carl Sagan once said to the effect that in regards to life in the galaxy, someone has to be the first and someone has to be the last...and that may just be us. Sad, but munchies for consideration. Matter is self-organizing and a deity is not required for a chemical reaction. From a biology viewpoint self-sacrifice is actually a selfish act.
One of the things I learned is that dictionaries or encyclopedias contain misinformation, and for a reason. Collecting and compiling the information within a volume is a great feat. To protect their investment, some facts are deliberately incorrect or fabricated, under the (sometimes justified) assumption that a rival company will be lazy and simply copy another work and present it as their own. How do you take as fact something that might be purposefully inaccurate?
I raised my son that way also, but letting him make up his own mind. I despise brainwashing in any form. At a young age he decided monsters were not real and did not experience night terrors and fear of the dark, saving suspicion for strangers and not wasting energy on bogey men. I let him believe in Santa and the Easter Bunny as long as he wanted. His mother insists he go to church with her, and he complains about it. I told him to come up with a good reason not to go, like I did with my parents, and you can sleep in on Sundays. He's either too lazy give me a good argument or goes to keep his Mom happy because he hasn't bothered with an explanation better than 'it's boring' yet.
Folktales become incredibly diffused over time. The King of Cats story may hardly represent what it was as it was originally told. Nonetheless, it's message in that context may be intact. It also seems to have evolved thematically from older tales. Folktales are often used to explain events or nature and may also be cautionary tales. Popularized in the mid-1800's in England and Scotland, I think the Cats story was more for the adults, prodding them not to accept their situation at face value. Interestingly it also includes the chimney metaphor, which is not really necessary for the tale but important as a symbol. The chimney image has shown up in mythology (Rev 9:1-2) for thousands of years.
I'm not one of those who believe that without all the supernatural and fantastic extras the universe is interesting enough and that the real world should be sufficient. I'd like to see Bigfoot. Ghosts would be uber-neat. It would be great if aliens warped over to our neck of the spiral arm for a visit. Let's face it...a park is fun, but a park with a rollercoaster is way better.
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