W.B. Yeats: Are fairies real? Myths and The Myth

What are fairies? Are they real?

I’m skimming Yeat’s anthology, “Fairy & Folk Tales of Ireland,” and one for thing, the “wee folk,” “the good people,” or the fairies are actually rather menacing. They are not the beautiful, delicate women with large butterfly wings who sit cross-legged on flower petals. The Irish fairies belong to a different world; Yeats quotes the “peasantry.” They are “fallen angels who were not good enough to be saved, nor bad enough to be lost.”

Fairies leave odd signs like mushroom rings and those careless or luckless enough to wander into their territory are often stolen away for years or sometimes never returned. The fairies must be appeased or they turn children into changelings or drive people mad. But in other stories, they punish wrong-doers and teach lessons to the vain.

What I find particularly interesting is in Yeat’s introduction. Yeats does not directly treat the question of the veracity of these stories.

Instead, he explains that he punts on the question: “The reader will perhaps wonder that in all my notes I have not rationalised a singled hobgoblin. I seek for shelter in the words of Socrates.” [from the Phaedrus, which he quotes at length]

The question is the exact site of an mythical occurrence of Artemis, Socrates:

“The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like them, I also doubted. I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighboring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away from Boreas….And if he is skeptical about them, and would fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up all his time. Now I have certainly not the time for such inquiries. Shall I tell you why? I must first know about myself…to be curious about that which is not my business, while I am still in ignorance about my own self, would be ridiculous….Therefore, I say farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me. For as I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself.”

And Yeats says no more on the matter. Which to me is a version of the perspective that true or not, these are myths or stories meant to tell a lesson, meant to show us part of ourselves, part of truth.

Yeats is so willing to learn, tell and enjoy the tales of Irish countryside without much concern for specific verification–a perspective that I honestly find refreshing. As Socrates points out, that’s not what it’s about.

Myths are cultural stories that give shape to how we understand ourselves and our history; they are the geography of the cultural landscape–imparting values, presenting warnings and outlining a structure of what to expect from life and from other people. As Socrates said, he is interested in discovering the truth about himself and the myths help him do that.

 

Two prominent Christian writers in the twentieth century thought very highly of the importance of myth:  J.R.R. Tolkien said to C.S. Lewis, Christianity is not a myth, but “the” myth. He said the Christian faith is an enunciation of the highest truth from which all stories derive their of insight. I think Lewis and Tolkien would agree that the faith is a way of life with meaning.

While materialists may balk at any/every myth, I find this misguided. There needn’t be a massive conflict between acknowledging the atoms and rocks of the world and the meanings for us infused in them.

Returning to fairies, I agree with Yeats and Socrates that is more helpful to leave the status of the myth’s veracity open, at least for the fairies, because true or untrue, they yield insight into human life and nature. And to understand our own little place in the world and our role within it is both demanding and necessary in order to see how to live our own lives well, how best to direct our choices. To use Aristotle’s terms, myths are necessary for our flourishing, to help direct us towards our end-goal or telos.

What are your favorites myths or stories? Which did you grow up with? What values did they emphasize? Did stories affect your development?

 

3 Principles for Pro-Faith Education (From T&C)

A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.

Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.

To see the elaborations; visit here

“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”

Nature:

“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.

natureLater this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”

Art:

“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”

Love:

“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”

http://www.truthandcharityforum.org/3-principles-for-pro-faith-education-in-the-modern-age/

What did you think of this? What would/did you share with your children? Where did they/do you want them to go to school?

Thought of the Day: Cheating = Narcissism + Self-Hatred

Cheating is when we try to take credit for the achievements of another person whether by looking at his or her answers on a test or by scamming taxes or unethical business practices.

I’d like to focus on academic cheating for this thought even though it applies to other scenarios.

I know the urge; we all do.

Cheating seems like it will help us; it promises to deliver the high letter grade that we feel we deserve but without the ability required to earn it on our own. Maybe we don’t have time to study or master the skill; maybe events beyond our circumstances made it impossible for us to study; maybe despite our best efforts, we don’t have the skill level to pull it off and we think that we really, really need the outcome–such as a high GPA in order to get into college.

Here’s the two-fold problem though: 1) narcissism – inappropriate love of self that puts oneself over and above all others in level of importance. Narcissism is what leads to the thought that we somehow deserve the good outcome even though we did not or cannot earn it on our own.

That is a huge problem because it is an affront to justice and truth. It prevents the people who did earn it from having their rightful place. For instance, if Todd (random example) cheats like mad and earns a place in the top 10% of his class, he probably displaced other students who should have been there because they actually performed better.

And as for truth, to receive credit for something we did not do is like replacing the siding on a house filled with termites. It may look nice for a little while, but the home is not truly whole, and it is unfit to live in. Continue reading

The Frightening Motivations of Mass Murders

When mass shootings happen, as it seems to be happening  more and more frequently, fingers immediately point to guns. And that’s understandable, but the tool is not the cause of the action. The motivations are what we need to look at, and those are far more frightening.

This great article by Peter Turchin explores the motivations and rise of the Indiscriminant Mass Murders. So often, the shooters’ view of themselves as victimized, “moralistic punishers” is overlooked because, I think, it scares us. We have all felt that way at some point: wronged and wanting justice. Now, most of us don’t kill people, and that’s good. And it doesn’t in any way excuse these actions because we can see their motivations.

What it means is that pointing the finger at guns or mental illness won’t get us anywhere but denial. What it will take to stop these is learning to see one another as like us, to lift each other up even (and especially) those who have committed wrongs. But I suppose that response isn’t  not super likely, this side of heaven. But it’s worth a shot.

This article analyzes the motivations of these IMM shooters and looks at some of the factors in society that account for the increased sense of isolation and disenfranchisement that so many people feel (even though most are not violent, of course).

It’s not fun or light reading, but I believe it is pretty insightful and honest.
“The rampage shooters see themselves as moralistic punishers striking against deep injustice. In a perceptive opinion at New York Times, Adam Lankford writes, “we should think of many rampage shooters as non-ideological suicide terrorists” (I would remove ‘non-ideological’ because many such killers in my database were ideologically motivated). He then points out that a common factor in both rampage shooters and suicide terrorists is “a deep sense of victimization and belief that the killer’s life has been ruined by someone else, who has bullied, oppressed or persecuted him.” I would add that this ‘someone else’ does not need to be a person (a point that Lankford acknowledges elsewhere in his opinion). In fact in the case of IMM (with an emphasis on the I), it is usually a group, an organization, an institution, or the whole society that are held responsible by the killer.”

http://evonomics.com/what-changes-in-society-lead-to-mass-killings/