Shots in the Dark Part One

Electrical Dischare Tubes

Striations in an electrical discharge tube filled with hydrogen. The left portion is 45.7 centimetres long, the right one 44.4 centimetres. The small tube terminates in a point, the large one in a ring. In the image on top, the point is positively charged, producing 62 disc-shaped strata in the small tube and 12 saucer-shaped ones in the large one. Below, the point is negatively charged, producing 54 disc-shaped strata in the small tube and 13 saucer-shaped ones in the large one. The strata in the small tube were blue, but at times, with a large current, carmine. Copied from photographs, obtained in respectively 15 and 10 seconds. © Warren de la Rue and Hugo W. Müller, 1878

 

Sep 15, 2011

The mythical landscape is replete with structures alien to the familiar terrestrial environment today.

The term “anomaly” is hardly appropriate for such forms, as it falsely suggests that they constitute a minority. Instead, it would be more accurate to say that puzzling apparitions dominate the scene conjured up in traditional tales. One example of such a mysterious object is the so-called chain of arrows or spears, a concatenation of arrows, or spearheads, each lodging in the butt of the one preceding it, that is suspended from the sky downwards.

Countless myths tell how one or a group of mythical beings brought this curious formation into being, usually in the bygone days of “creation.” For example, the Kaurna tribe, of the Adelaide Plains of South Australia, told that a certain Monana “was one day throwing large spears in various directions, east, west, north, south; when, having thrown one upwards, it did not return to the earth. He then threw another, and another, and so continued throwing; each spear sticking fast to the former one until they reached the ground …”

The lowest segment, required to link the formation to the surface of the earth, tends to be described as crescentic in form, such as a hook, a bow or the upper half of a bird’s beak. Thus, in traditions from the Kutenai, of Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia, “a chain of arrows” is formed by the primordial animals, “which Raven completes by putting his beak in the nock of the last arrow.”

Some traditions intimate that the arrowheads or their correlates, having lodged together, were securely fastened to each other so as to form a veritable “rope” or “chain.” The transition may be accompanied by a shaking of the string. In an account from the Kwā´g˙uł, of northern Vancouver Island, a chain of arrows was fabricated by a certain L!ē´sElag˙iɛla alias “Born-to-be-the-Sun”:

“… he strung his bow, and Born-to-be-the-Sun shot (his arrow) against the upper world. Then he shot another arrow, and still another one, and yet another. Now he had shot all the four arrows. Born-to-be-the-Sun had not looked up long when the arrows came sticking one into the other and struck the ground. They began to stretch out. Then Born-to-be-the-Sun took them and shook them, and they became a rope.”

In some accounts, the loosely embedded constituents of the column subsequently undergo a physical transformation at the expense of the flexibility that typifies a rope or chain; a solid, collinear structure results when a vertical cross-bar strings the superimposed constituents of the cable together and flattened extensions emerge from both sides. For instance, a Kutenai story-teller spoke of “the arrows, which are transformed into a mountain”, identified as Mount Baker, near Cranbrook, British Columbia.

More frequently, the “freezing” of the arrows is stated to have produced a “ladder” or a “stairway.” The Tlingit, of the extreme northwestern coast of British Columbia, report that the son of a great chief woke up to find the chain of arrows he had produced transformed: “After a while he awoke, found himself sleeping on that hill, remembered the arrows he had shot away, and looked up. Instead of the arrows there was a long ladder reaching right down to him.”

The Menik Kaien and the Kintak Bong are two non-Malay groups of Malaysia, who narrate that a certain Tapern “made a ladder up to heaven by shooting a series of darts from his blow-pipe into the air. The first of these stuck into a black cloud, and the others ranged themselves in order below …”

Countless other illustrations of the genre spell out how one or more mythical entities proceeded to ascend to the sky or descend to the earth along a string of arrows or spears, how war ensued between this party and the creatures of the sky, how the connecting cable was eventually severed and how this precluded any further traffic between the realms above and below it, leading to the current division between the stars and the birds in the sky and the people and other animals on earth.

Variations on this story proliferate in the Americas and also circulate in parts of Oceania. In Africa, heaped-up trees or pillars take the place of the arrows, as do stacked mountains or storeyed mountains in Eurasia. How is this theme to be explained?

(To be continued)

Rens Van Der Sluijs

http://mythopedia.info

Books by Rens Van Der Sluijs:

The Mythology of the World Axis

The World Axis as an Atmospheric Phenomenon


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