Mythos and Cosmos by John Knight Lundwall
This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and the best on its subject for a long time. I bought it after searching for something on oral, prehistoric cultures, hoping that it would be insightful. Well, it’s more than just insightful, it’s fascinating and very thought provoking.
The author is an intriguing person, a man of the stars in his native country (where he does star tours and photographs the heavens), as well as an expert on comparative myth. This is his only book, and it reads like a distillation of decades of observation and wisdom.
The book covers several main areas: how we in the literate world greatly misinterpret oral myth-making because of our structural biasses, most of which are due to our use of the written word; how we can reconstruct comparatively little of those oral myths; how life in an oral culture profoundly effects our use of memory; how nature and above all the starry skies act as metaphors, memory aids, calendars and much more; and how specific myths can be shown to cover the same basic themes over and over again as the millennia pass.
The author uses both his knowledge and insight in his endeavour, but is not afraid to speculate where appropriate. There is not much speculation however as the rest of the material is so well sourced and presented, but what is there is pretty convincing, with the author never straying into the horrors of Graham Hancock territory. I especially liked his thoughts on the music of the spheres and the number 50, i.e. 49+1, which crops up everywhere in the ancient world.
The book concludes by offering three examples to bolster the author’s case, namely Gilgamesh, the Labours of Herakles, and parts of the bible’s old testament. Compelling stuff!
For those fascinated by how the natural world affects our collective story telling, especially the star-filled heavens which we see so little of these days, this is an essential read. I recommend it highly.