I spend a lot of time contemplating how we got from here to there. It’s kind of a thing. Part of it’s from my youth: my parents consistently telling me to keep an “open mind”. That led me to questioning why things work the way they do now. I kind of think I’ve finally got a handle on the answer to that; the broad strokes of history that shaped society into the global-spanning wreck it currently is. Oh… and before someone point out “all the good stuff ‘we’ currently have”, let me state that none of the good stuff matters if it furthers a global extinction event that annihilates mankind.
As part of this journey, I’ve been trying to tackle it from two ends. First, what my culture tells me is “true” and the ramifications of that. Secondly, what a healthly, sustainable culture looks like. To do that second part in an authentic way, I need to unravel what my ancestors thought. I have to take into account that, in the face of the profound erasure the culture I live in caused, that I’m only going to find traces. And, in no way, can I recreate what my ancestors lived through. Life was and is a dynamic thing; the traces I detect will only reflect a moment in time, a track in passing. That moment in time was a precious one to them, one that they wanted preserved, but it’s also non-contextual without the shared experience of generations behind it.
But I want very hard to remember what was lost.
Footsteps in the Sand
My bones come from a selection of European cultures, the earliest traced one being Erik Thorvaldsson, a notable murderer, slaver and off-hand explorer (while trying to avoid the law) who lived in the far north of Europe. My family’s name (Maxwell) traces back to the Pict lands, at the time the Romans overran it. So that’s where I’ve concentrated my search.
I know I’ve spoken about this elsewhere, but when studying cultures, I take them at their word. Stories from oral history come complete with multiple layers. They work within a cycle of telling that reinforces how society works while also reflecting deeply-held truths about the environment. They’re also often very funny. They also encapsulate language that doesn’t always translate well to current post-industrial revolution sensibilities.
Time, for instance. Modern mythology makes it seem linear and progressive (“we are moving from primitive to advanced”) despite observation and evidence to the contrary.
Going back to older narratives, take the concept of “We have lived in this place since the beginning of time.” Post-Industrial Revolution, civilized people claim that’s ridiculous. In their minds, time is a discrete thing, not a concept, and they point out glitches in the narrative as proof that older cultures were stupid. For a famous example, take the Biblical Cain. Killed his brother, exiled out of Eden… to another city where he had wives and kids and… hmmm…
Sorry to the doubters, but the ancients weren’t stupid.
Take into account that time is a biological glitch in and of itself and things start to change. Many animals don’t experience time as a discrete unit. There is no memory of what has happened before or what might happen after, only now experiences. Even humans are bound by cycles– day/night, seasonal, age–that speak of time not as a linear unit by as functional, relatable set of relationships.
Time, technically, is a function of entropy, a rush from order to disorder. But what happens when the system receives an energy input? Order increases, time extends. While the universe’s relationship with time remains (relatively, assumably) linear, the relationship with the experienced environment alters.
Humans are experts at fitting in with an environment intimately, if they so choose. In that, it can easily be stated that before a culture made that transition and introduced a new order into the system, time had not begun, in any meaningful sense. That culture started the world. The rest, all of the stories about the universe and our part in it, are subject to people being curious and coming up with narratives that reflect their life.
So when I say the world began, the world began. And when I talk about another world beginning, it’s a different world. Our planet contains multitudes and we need to truly, fully, fundamentally embrace the joy of those diversities.
I’m going to a quick dive into my ancestry, rooted in Norse and Scottish/Irish/Welsh mythology.
In what origins are left for the people of my name, the creation of the world came elsewhere, at the hands of the Mór-Ríoghai, who swam through the eternal sea both above and below. Her daughters, the maighdeann-mhara (or sea-maidens), came with her from the south and tried to settle the Gaelic lands. To do so, they invented men so they could have descendants. Only one of the three survived the task, by learning how to shapeshift (a distinctly female trait). It’s reasonable to intuit that the man in question would be called queer today (which comes into play later).
The maighdeann-mhara left to continue their journeys but their descendants came back. Attempt number two was a failure. We only know about it because of Mac Cuill (the shapechanger from Attempt One) tried to help the new colonists but couldn’t. Attempt number three goes better, led by a holy man and his followers. They actually start to make the world, but then the devourers (Mór-Ríoghai’s other kids, who weren’t interesting in world-building and instead embodied more primal forces) came and enslaved them. War resulted in both sides being forced out of the world. A ship full of men (including some like Nemed) fled north. Another set of ships left the world in an unnamed direction.
Interesting choice that, for a colony. A ship of all men. That’s appears to be a coded message that Nemed himself was queer, likely an androphiliac, definitely gender-fluid because that would link back to Mac Cuill and the maighdeann-mhara.
Attempt Four was by descendants of the folks who fled east. They settled in, forming a successful colony until Nemed’s people returned. Divinely powered and kin to the people there, the Tuatha De Danaan (People of the Goddess of the Craft), demand their half of the inheritance of the maighdeann-mhara. When their kin refused, they fought. The losers received Connacht (one of the five kingdoms) so they could prosper. The Tuatha De Danaan were set upon by the devourers (the Fomor) again and tried to negotiate a peace through marriage but failed. The resulting war ended up with the Fomor defeated and the land safe.
The rest of the family, the ones who still existed outside the world, returned to their new home. A terrible miscommunication resulted in a battle between the branches of the family, but this was settled when the maighdeann-mhara returned to declare the conflict over. The Tuatha De Danaan were stripped of their power to rule, in recompense for their mistake, and the People given the right to finally start the world.
THOSE WHO WALKED THE EDGE
In another world, a young man contemplated his grandmother. She had formed existence by opening her legs, fog coming from her erotic exertions. She created a lover to lend a helping hand or two to her, um, activities, then uncovered her penis, which she named “Dad” (Búri) or “producer” but that’s klunkier. And then impregnated her lover and herself. Bor (meaning “son”) found who came from Ymir and her lover, found an interesting prospect on the other side of the family and thus the young man was born. Third generation. Wondering what the hell to do.
The universe as it was at the time was in a horrible shape. Too cold to live on one side and a volcanic inhospitable mess on the other. Something had to be done. So he took a trip to the roots of the world. Down south. And that’s where he met the maighdeann-mhara. They had accompanied their mother up north. In birth order, they would be one generation older than the young man, second insted of third. Experienced, from a different world.
Smart man that he was, he asked for advice and the Three laid out his fate. He reimagined his grandmother into the world, locating safe spaces where he could build enclaves (the gards–Asgard, Midgard, etc.) for his people and the humans he and his family would help shape. He would visit the edge of the world and find another. And yes, the two sides fought but finally decided the conflict was stupid.They bonded together over marriage with one very interesting orgy resulting in the birth of a new god.
Not content with creating the world, the young man took his grandmother’s example to heart and became a woman and mother, temporarily raising two children with an argr outcast. He gave an eye up for wisdom and his life up for writing. He forged alliances, maintained peace, and kept his family strong in a harsh climate.
Then came the people from the south, Nemed’s people, at the guidance of the maighdeann-mhara and their mother. Called termites because they lived in the remnants of the boats, and later because they tunneled in the earth for iron and other precious metals. The femboys and bears and genderfluids of that ship spread out, fey and wonderful, creating artifacts of power. Joining with the devourers– the direct children of the giantess Ymir and herself– and with the Aesir. Nemed’s direct ‘sons’ created the spear of Odin, golden hair for Sif, and Mjolnir. Nemed’s only “daughter”, Idunn, crafted the fruit that promoted immortality. The thuggish Thor’s murder of her brother resulted in her marrying Odin’s almost argr son Bragi.
It was later, when Loki came seeking Odin-mother, that things grew complicated. He could not properly recognize his son/daughter as an heir, despite Loki’s clear affinity with Odin’s grandmother Ymir. And this resulted in a revolt of Loki’s family against the house of Odin. The world broke and the people of Nemed — now the people of the Goddess of the Craft (Idunn) retreated out of Norse history and back into Gaelic / Britthonic history, bringing the story in a fashion that it would ultimately emerge as the story of King Arthur (whose name means Bear, just as one of Odin’s names means Bear).
How It Informs Me
From those stories, my people came originally from the South. They came to deliberately inhospitable places and allowed themselves to work, sometime over generations, to shape those places into homes. Also, they worked with and respected the forces of those places, even forces that acted distinctly hostile (which they needed to occasionally fight). They valued wisdom and they embraced a distinctly queer viewpoint, seeing power in changing what others were certain was fundamental.
They weren’t afraid to fight, but they recognized it could come with dire consequences. My ancestors preferred sex, even valued it, as a way to mediate disputes and keep the peace. Poetry, as divinely inspired as it was, was more valuable than riches of any kind. And family was the most valuable commodity of all — found or by blood. Properly nurtured, it could build worlds. Neglected, it could just as easily tear them down.