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Mighty Myth Month: Avatar.


I am fascinated by the concept of an “avatar.” In techno-terms, an avatar is a small image/symbol that stands in place of the person whose face is watching the computer screen, and interacting with light, electrical pulses, and consumed power/energy. Yes, That’s right, I’m talking to you, dear reader. You may think you’re reading a blog post, but you’re really warming your face to the cold light of a computer screen, but there is a ghost in the machine. Me.

I love creating little avatars. They are mini-me’s; however, I can never quite get one that is totally right. It’s always a doppelganger:

A doppelganger, also spelled doppelgaenger, can be the ghost of a living person or any other sort of physical double that look very similar to the ghosts of the deceased. The idea of a doppelganger is sometimes similar to that of an “evil twin.” The word doppelganger comes from the German Doppelgaenger, literally meaning “double-goer.” Doppelgangers are also linked if not similar to crisis apparitions.

There are many different types of doppelganger, as the definition of the term has become somewhat loose, encompassing any sort of double. The doppelganger may be ghostly or appear in the flesh. It may be an “evil twin” unknown to the original person who causes mischief by confusing friends and relatives, or it may be the result of the original person being in two places at once through an act of magic. In some cases a person will come upon his own doppelganger who is typically engaged in some future activity. Scientists at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland discovered that electrical stimulation of the brain, used to treat epilepsy, can produce the sensation of a doppelganger’s presence in the patient.

In folklore, the doppelganger is said to have no shadow or reflection, much like vampires in some traditions. Doppelgangers are often malicious or a bad omen, and they can haunt their earthly counterparts. They may also give bad advice or put thoughts in their victim’s heads. Seeing one’s own doppelganger or the doppelganger of a friend or relative is considered very bad luck, often heralding death or serious illness of the doppelganger’s original.

Well, I can’t say that my avatars are really “evil” twins. In fact, they’re not evil or twins at all. They look nothing like me. But I don’t want them to. But perhaps our comfort or lack of vigilance of protecting our identities, or in thinking we are anonymous on the Internet is why we love our miniature doppelgangers–they give voice to our “bad” side.  I want mine to symbolize or project an image of what I see in my mind’s eye, my very own homunculus. (Use your context clues, kids…I’m talking about a little representation of a human being, so what do you think homunculus means?) I want my avatar to be the nice, cute, friendly side of me.


What does this have to do with mythology, legends, and folklore? Well, maybe I didn’t make it clear. We don’t believe in ghosts, spooks, or spirits anymore, really. We are too savvy for all that nonsense. But don’t fool yourself: we all want to represent ourselves to our friends, families, and acquaintances in a certain light. You make definite choices when you create your avatar, your little homunculus, your mini-me. What did you use to represent yourself in that 90 x 90 pixel icon of who you are? How can you fit yourself, your passions, your dreams, your hopes, your fears, into such a tiny space?

Don’t let technology marginalize, narrow, or choke your dreams. Be larger than life. Be your own spirit, your own creating, thinking being, and not a shadow of some computer company’s vison for who you are supposed to be. Don’t be in anyone’s shadow.

And have you ever noticed that the computer light doesn’t really cast a shadow?

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Mighty Myth Month: Instructions.

 Look for the video on our Moodle Pages.

By Neil Gaiman

Touch the wooden gate in the wall you never saw before.
Say “please” before you open the latch,
go through,
walk down the path.
A red metal imp hangs from the green-painted front door,
as a knocker,
do not touch it; it will bite your fingers.
Walk through the house. Take nothing. Eat nothing.
if any creature tells you that it hungers,
feed it.
If it tells you that it is dirty,
clean it.
If it cries to you that it hurts,
if you can,
ease its pain.

From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads to winter’s realm;
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.

Once through the garden you will be in the wood.
The trees are old. Eyes peer from the undergrowth.
Beneath a twisted oak sits an old woman. She may ask for something;
give it to her. She
will point the way to the castle.
Inside it are three princesses.
Do not trust the youngest. Walk on.
In the clearing beyond the caste the twelve months sit about a fire,
warming their feet, exchanging tales.
They may do favors for you, if you are polite.
You may pick strawberries in December’s frost.
Trust the wolves, but do not tell them where you are going.
The river can be crossed by the ferry. The ferry-man will take you.
(The answer to his question is this:
If he hands the oar to his passenger, he will be free to leave the boat.
Only tell him this from a safe distance.)

If an eagle gives you a feather, keep it safe.
Remember: that giants sleep too soundly; that
witches are often betrayed by their appetites;
dragons have one soft spot, somewhere, always;
hearts can be well-hidden,
and you betray them with your tongue.

Do not be jealous of your sister.
Know that diamonds and roses
are as uncomfortable when they tumble from one’s lips as toads and frogs:
colder, too, and sharper, and they cut.

Remember your name.
Do not lose hope—what you seek will be found.
Trust ghosts. Trust those that you have helped to help you in their turn.
Trust dreams.
Trust your heart, and trust your story.
When you come back, return the way you came.
Favors will be returned, debts be repaid.
Do not forget your manners.
Do not look back.
Ride the wise eagle (you shall not fall)
Ride the silver fish (you will not drown)
Ride the gray wolf (hold tightly to his fur).

There is a worm at the heart of the tower; that is why it will not stand.

When you reach the little house, the place your journey started,
you will recognize it, although it will seem much smaller than you remember.
Walk up the path, and through the garden gate you never saw but once.
And then go home. Or make a home.

Or rest.

Oh, I wish I had written that.

Neil Gaiman reading his poem, Instructions
Neil Gaiman reading his poem, Instructions
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Mighty Myth Month: Blub. Blub. Blub.


Oh, to be able to swim underwater without any apparatus or device for breathing, to swim and play in the warm waters, fast as a dolphin, and half as smart. Mermaids live deep in our imaginations, perhaps from our aquatic beginnings. We don’t want to be fish, we just want to live like one.

Have you spotted the trend in myths, legends, and folklore? Something or someone is given an ability to do what a “normal” human cannot. Create fire. Fly. Change. Breathe under water. We don’t like our limitations; but we don’t just sit back and take it. We do something about it! We invent airplanes. We invent SCUBA equipment. And nuclear power plants. And, not only that, but if you just so happen to be a magical creature who can fly, breathe in water, or have other powers, there is always a cost. Usually a really BIG one, such as, um, you don’t have a soul. And that hardly EVER works out!

Mermaids or sirens have beautiful singing voices, but no souls. Their primary function is to lure love-starved sailors to their watery graves. (Maybe they’re working in conjunction with Davey Jones to fill up his locker.) And when they do have heart and soul, it never ends well. Only Disney or Tom Hanks has the power to re-write classic stories so everything ends up rainbows and waterspouts.

But, oh, when I was little, I wanted to be a mermaid. In the summer, at the pool, I would cross my feet together and swim under water for as long as I could, pretending I was a mermaid. I wanted long, beautiful hair, and a heartbreaking singing voice. I wanted a shimmery, iridescent tail and talking dolphins for friends.

Mermaid Barbie

 Well, none of those wishes surfaced, but who wants to be shark bait anyway?MermaidStamp



To read about how mermaids have been used as curious attractions and in stories, go here:


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Mighty Myth Month: Sacred places.

Where do you go when you want sanctuary?


What surrounds you?

What do you see?

How do you block out the world?

What do you smell?

How slowly does your heart beat?

Can you sense that you are better?

All cultures have their sacred meeting places: temples, synagogues, churches, and mosques, of every faith, of every civilization, and lasting over time. But what of our modern sacred places, our places of santuary, where we can go and just be? Or, those places where we routinely gather with like-minded souls with the same singular purpose? C onsider this the next time you go in your room to just listen to music, or go on a hike with friends, or sit under a tree to read a book, or go to a football game. We gather together, and we meditate alone, depending on what we need.

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Mighty Myth Month: Eeek! A spider!

Here's looking at you, Anansi!
Here’s looking at you, Anansi!

Anansi, you old trickster! From the West African area, the Ashanti tribe originated the tales of the most famous spider-god of all, Anansi. Similar to the Coyote in Native American/Central American tales, Anansi is a trickster, a clever fellow who usually gets the best of his foes. (Usually, but not always.)



by Micha F. Lindemans
The Ashanti trickster/culture hero, also called ‘the Spider’. He is the intermediary of the sky god Nyame, his father, on whose command Anansi brings rain to quench the forest fires and determines the borders of oceans and rivers during floods. Later Anansi’s place as representative was usurped by the chameleon. His mother is Asase Ya. Anansi is sometimes regarded as the creator of the sun and the moon and the stars, as well as the one who instituted the succession of day and night. It is also believed that he created the first man, into which Nyame breathed life. A typical trickster, he is crafty, sly, villainous, but he also taught mankind how to sow grain and how to use the shovel on the fields. He set himself up as the first king of the human beings and even managed to marry Nyame’s daughter. He was beaten only in his encounter with the wax girl, to whom he stuck fast, having struck her with his legs when she refused to talk to him. The people then rushed forwards and beat the tricky Anansi.

Anansi is one of the most popular characters in West African mythology.

“Anansi.” Encyclopedia Mythicafrom Encyclopedia Mythica Online.
[Accessed January 23, 2010].

From Anansi’s stories and tales, developed the stories of B’rer Rabbit in the South:

B’rer Rabbit’s tales are an important part of African-American tradition.

These tales are immigrants to the new world, but have taken a character all their own. America has been a land where humor abounds and champions the underdog who often triumphs by his wits and ingenuity.Similar tales of the Trickster Rabbit and Anansi (Spider) are found in African folklore and travelled to the Caribbean and North America along with the slave trade. There have been numerous collection and versions of the B’rer Rabbit tales. They formed the basis of the Gullah – Nancy Tales in the West Indies …(

And I’m guessing Bugs Bunny came from those stories, too. But I’m just guessing.

Bugs Bunny

 I do know that one of my favorite writers, (even though in my opinion spends ways too much time Twittering about his hot,young girlfriend and all the awards he’s given, but hey, he earned them, so tweet on, Mr. Gaiman, tweet on) Neil Gaiman, uses Anansi in both his novels, American Gods and Anansi’s Boys.

 So, everywhere we go, we take our stories with us. It may seem unlikely that a spider-deity can transform into a funny-bunny, but when cultural diffusion, assimilation, and acquisition is at play, anything is possible. Right, Neil? In other words, “What’s up, Doc?”

 Spider Photograph ©2009 Thomas Shahan

For more information about Thomas Shahan’s incredible photography, check this out: