Bending the Bow

Bowgirls

The Gastraphetes, or belly bow, was an ancient Greek forerunner of the crossbow.  There is a story that the bow was invented to allow women to participate in the defence of a Greek city.  By placing your belly on the yoke at the base of the bow you could use your body weight to load the weapon.  As a result it requires far less strength and technique to fire the gastraphetes than it would to fire a standard bow.  By inventing an easily cocked bow, the city was able to double its defensive capability.

Greeks have a great tradition of associating the bow with women.  The Goddess Artemis is commonly shown wearing hunting gear and carrying a bow and a quiver full of arrows.  The Goddess of Childbirth, Virginity, protector of young girls and instrumental in female diseases.

The legendary female warrior tribe of the ancient world, the Amazons, are frequently depicted bearing bows and arrows.

During the Persian wars the light bows of the Persian troops were unable to penetrate the heavy bronze shields and armour of the Greeks.  The Phalanx armed with Pylon and Spear became the standard weaponry of Greek Hoplites.  Bows and Arrows were seen as the weapons of cowards and women.

When warned that the arrows of the Persians were so numerous they would darken the sky the Spartan general Dieneces celebrated that his soldiers would get to fight in the shade.

Roll forward a 1500 years or so and we come to the middle ages and courtly romances.  In the cycle of Robin Hood stories we have one of the strongest female heroines, the Maid Marian.  Again, strongly associated with the bow and arrow.

Indeed Archery was seen as one of the “suitable” sports for women in the Olympics, being introduced in 1904.

So we come to the Hobbit 2:  Desolation of Smaug, which introduces Tauriel, the bow wielding captain of the sylvan elf guard.  In the same year we saw the release of Catching Fire, the 2nd instalment of The Hunger Games series, featuring the bow wielding Katniss Everdeen as the heroine.  It seems the association between heroine and the bow remains as strong as ever.

On Children:  by Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

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Anchor Rite

Skellig stair

Celtic Monks in need of contemplation,
cast their lot in chance on fickle water.
They sought a desert in the ocean,
trusting life to wind and wave and Father.

In shallow vessels from the West they left,
to fetch up wherever the current bore.
A rocky pillar served them for their rest,
or death upon a lonely wave washed shore.

Had I the courage of their conviction,
would I be anchored on this ebbing tide?
What great mysteries am I denying,
tied up here, wrapped warm and safe inside?

Not for me, the icy north Atlantic,
not for me is death on lonely shore.
Not mine, the wonder of revelation,
or America vast, adventure, more.

I feel I may have poured my last libation
to Gods of wind and wave and spume
and settled with contented resignation
by family, fire, partner, living, room.

Stage 5: Identity

RoughWeather

 

A ship in the harbour is safe,

but that’s not what ships are for.

I’m bound for walkabout creek,

a place never seen heretofore.

I put on my fathers old coat,

and try out a new walk for style,

I argue for Pepsi, then Coke,

then listen to music a while.

Turn it down! Shut the door!

Did you leave those dishes here?

Clean your room, where are you going?

Where’s my hug my dear?

Kick and pull and loose the traces

cast free from safe and sheltered shore

aloft me lads, man the weather braces,

out there, adventure, and more.

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Springbok Mandela

In 1994 Nelson Mandela led the ANC to victory in the elections that changed South Africa.  He had no reason to love the Whites who locked him away for 27 years.  The title of this post is his prison number.  While in prison Mandela read the poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley.  It gave him the mental courage to continue his struggle.  He read the poem to other inmates to keep them motivated.

My greatest memory of Mandela is how, in 1995, he donned the Springbok shirt.

The Springboks were the bastion of white supremacy, the symbol of Apartheid.  Other, lesser, leaders of the ANC might have refused to attend the rugby world cup.  Mandela embraced it.  He shared his love of Invictus with Francois Pienaar, the Springbok captain.  South Africa won a celebrated victory against a seemingly unbeatable All Black squad featuring Jonah Lomu at the peak of his game.

Mandela presented the cup to Pienaar, wearing the Springbok shirt, symbolising the union of black and white.  “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner“….Nelson Mandela

 

Invictus; by William Ernest Henley

 

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.

 

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

 

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

A candle for hope.

1st Sunday

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of discipline preceding the Celebration of Christmas in the Christian calendar.  Traditionally this is marked by the lighting of the first of the purple candles on the advent wreath.  There are four purple candles and one white.  Four weeks of discipline leading to Christmas celebration.

Advent is a time of reflection, introspection, self examination.  But it should never be a time of misery.  Discipline should never be seen as denial – and all too often it is.  The tradition I was raised with in the Catholic church was to deny yourself something you like for Lent.  Give up chocolate!  And so it was generally seen as a time of misery.  But that is simply weak teaching.

Yoga is a discipline, one which makes us stronger, more supple, healthier.  It is an expansive form of discipline.  Learning is another discipline.  When we learn it requires the discipline of time and mind, but the result is to accumulate knowledge and broaden the mind.  Sporting exercise is a discipline that can make you faster, stronger, better.  Charitable acts are a discipline that improves the lives of others.

Don’t see Advent as a time of less.  See it as a time of more.  More of the right kind of thing.

Purple is the colour of discipline in the Catholic church.  The first purple candle is called Hope.  So today we light a beacon for hope.  First poem that came to mind was “Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson, but I have used that in my blog before.  So here is a poem about another beacon.  It is also a poem of the sea and the mind, so it belongs on Mindship.

Burning Drift-Wood; by John Greenleaf Whittier

Before my drift-wood fire I sit,
And see, with every waif I burn,
Old dreams and fancies coloring it,
And folly’s unlaid ghosts return.

O ships of mine, whose swift keels cleft
The enchanted sea on which they sailed,
Are these poor fragments only left
Of vain desires and hopes that failed?

Did I not watch from them the light
Of sunset on my towers in Spain,
And see, far off, uploom in sight
The Fortunate Isles I might not gain?

Did sudden lift of fog reveal
Arcadia’s vales of song and spring,
And did I pass, with grazing keel,
The rocks whereon the sirens sing?

Have I not drifted hard upon
The unmapped regions lost to man,
The cloud-pitched tents of Prester John,
The palace domes of Kubla Khan?

Did land winds blow from jasmine flowers,
Where Youth the ageless Fountain fills?
Did Love make sign from rose blown bowers,
And gold from Eldorado’s hills?

Alas! the gallant ships, that sailed
On blind Adventure’s errand sent,
Howe’er they laid their courses, failed
To reach the haven of Content.

And of my ventures, those alone
Which Love had freighted, safely sped,
Seeking a good beyond my own,
By clear-eyed Duty piloted.

O mariners, hoping still to meet
The luck Arabian voyagers met,
And find in Bagdad’s moonlit street,
Haroun al Raschid walking yet,

Take with you, on your Sea of Dreams,
The fair, fond fancies dear to youth.
I turn from all that only seems,
And seek the sober grounds of truth.

What matter that it is not May,
That birds have flown, and trees are bare,
That darker grows the shortening day,
And colder blows the wintry air!

The wrecks of passion and desire,
The castles I no more rebuild,
May fitly feed my drift-wood fire,
And warm the hands that age has chilled.

Whatever perished with my ships,
I only know the best remains;
A song of praise is on my lips
For losses which are now my gains.

Heap high my hearth! No worth is lost;
No wisdom with the folly dies.
Burn on, poor shreds, your holocaust
Shall be my evening sacrifice!

Far more than all I dared to dream,
Unsought before my door I see;
On wings of fire and steeds of steam
The world’s great wonders come to me,

And holier signs, unmarked before,
Of Love to seek and Power to save,—
The righting of the wronged and poor,
The man evolving from the slave;

And life, no longer chance or fate,
Safe in the gracious Fatherhood.
I fold o’er-wearied hands and wait,
In full assurance of the good.

And well the waiting time must be,
Though brief or long its granted days,
If Faith and Hope and Charity
Sit by my evening hearth-fire’s blaze.

And with them, friends whom Heaven has spared,
Whose love my heart has comforted,
And, sharing all my joys, has shared
My tender memories of the dead,—

Dear souls who left us lonely here,
Bound on their last, long voyage, to whom
We, day by day, are drawing near,
Where every bark has sailing room.

I know the solemn monotone
Of waters calling unto me;
I know from whence the airs have blown
That whisper of the Eternal Sea.

As low my fires of drift-wood burn,
I hear that sea’s deep sounds increase,
And, fair in sunset light, discern
Its mirage-lifted Isles of Peace.