Sneak Peek: Merlin – “The Crystal Cave”

Hi there…

The beauty of Merlin as a series is that it has an amazing chance to reinvent some of the great stories involving Merlin, Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the rest of the figures of Camelot. One of those plotlines I’ve been waiting to see is about the Crystal Cave.

Merlin as a wizard has always captured my attention – back to the early 1980s when I started playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and really started tearing through piles of fantasy and science fiction novels at the library. While in that particular spell of reading, I came across Mary Stewart‘s The Crystal Cave, which was the first in a series she wrote about Merlin and Camelot. Though I don’t recall much about the series, the concept of Merlin trapped in such a cave stuck with me.

Based on the classical stories of Merlin, as Camelot begins to fall, he becomes enraptured by Nimue, who doesn’t really want the attention. On their way back to Camelot, they stop for the night in a cave where Nimue lays a trap from which he cannot escape. And he eventually dies there.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the Valley of Fallen Kings with Arthur & Merlin… What secrets does the valley hold and what’s in the cave?

In the next all-new episode of Merlin, Arthur leads Merlin through the Valley of the Fallen Kings in order to find a hide-away. Arthur claims they will never be followed in after Merlin prods about whether or not the valley is cursed. Arthur’s response doesn’t sit well with Merlin and they are quickly trying to lead their pursuers off their trail once again. Watch the clip to find out if Arthur and Merlin can dodge a battle and tune in Friday at 10/9c on Syfy.

–Fitz

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DVD Review: Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers

Hi all!

Joseph Campbell somehow over the course of his lifetime managed to gain an amazing amount of knowledge about myths from around the world – everything from the parables of holy books and myths to Star Wars. But even with all of this knowledge, Campbell managed at once to capture the giddy nature of someone who enjoys the stories themselves and the deep intellectual knowledge of the underlying themes, motifs, and ideals repeated throughout these tales.

When Bill Moyers interviewed Campbell for PBS in the mid 1980s, I don’t think anybody knew how the series would resonate with PBS viewers over time. In the 30 years since, it has aired repeatedly by viewer request. I had seen an episode here and there since then, but have never seen the entire series. Thankfully, the entire series is now available on a two-DVD set with many extras as Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers.

According to Campbell, the power of myth is that it provides a structure by which a person can navigate the pitfalls and temptations of our own mortality. And I think that no matter the era of human history, it’s readily apparent that we could (as a species) all use a better roadmap to avoid those pitfalls from time to time.

Hearing Campbell speak so eloquently about the themes of good and evil, conscious and unconscious, secular and mystical, is a bit like listening to the knowing voice of an elder. I couldn’t help but hear the voices of my grandparents in Campbell’s tale and explanations.

All six episodes of the original series are included on the two-DVD set.

The series starts off with “The Hero’s Adventure,” discussing the similarities between the stories of the Buddha and the Bible, and why the hero journey and mythology is still relevant in modern times. It’s fascinating to hear Moyers and Campbell discussing these various myths in the context of the worlds they come from as well as the emerging mythos of the Earth as a whole organism we are a part of – the Gaia principle.

The series concludes with “Masks of Eternity”, the pair covers the broad area of cultural “masks” – both figurative and literal – which serve as symbols of the divine and metaphors for thoughts of transcendence. Each of us has some idea of what “God” is – whether we think of the concept of the deity in a secular or theological sense. There are thousands of gods around the world – is any more true than any other? Some would argue that is the case. But Campbell argues that in all cases we are seeking to transcend the human experience into something greater than ourselves.

Through it all, Moyers manages to not only ask insightful questions, but seems to comprehend the nature of what Campbell relates along the way. The language used by both men goes above and beyond what I hear daily in the national news on radio, television, and in print – a welcome glimpse into a time where the media didn’t try to reduce concepts and words to a 6th grade vocabulary.

In addition to the six complete episodes of the series, there are many extras included – from lists of Campbell’s influences and a biography of Bill Moyers’ work, to photo galleries and an excerpt from Campbell explaining the Sukhavati – stories of the Buddha from Mahayana Buddhism. But two additional interviews really stand out for me…

An interview that originally aired in 1981 on the Bill Moyers’ Journal provides a bit of an early look and overview of the material covered in the later interviews that aired in 1987. At age 77, Campbell dove into what a myth and mythology are in a broader context. Again, Moyers expresses a deeper understanding from his own experiences that makes it easy to relate to the more intellectual explanations of Campbell. Both men are obviously passionate about the subject matter, which comes through despite the somewhat degraded quality of the original recording a transferred to DVD.

And an interview with one of my childhood idols, George Lucas, is the other highlight of the extras on the DVDs. “The Mythology of Star Wars” was filmed at Skywalker Ranch, filmed soon after Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace had been released. Lucas speaks eloquently about how myths could be applied to the modern world and how every day we teach through our own behavior. I thought it was very interesting to hear him speak about his own religious beliefs and how his stories are used in and out of religious context. He seems fascinated by the themes of worldwide religions and mythologies that he’s worked into his own mythology of Star Wars.

If you’re interested in mythology and want to learn more about these stories in a cross-cutting manner, you can’t find better in my opinion than Joseph Campbell. He was a brilliant man who had a gift for explaining the common themes and how to use these tales to “follow your bliss…” Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers is an amazing DVD set that has much to offer as food for thought. I’d encourage you to take a bite.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this DVD set and other great books from Joseph Campbell below!

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Book Review: Jonathan Chamberlain – Chinese Gods: An introduction to Chinese folk religion

Hi there!

As a student of mythology, I have often found myself exploring myths of European or Native American peoples. But rarely have I had opportunity to catch a glimpse into the mindset of the myriad deities of the Chinese people. Like all peoples, the Chinese created myths about real or imagined people and places to provide examples of how customs and beliefs came to be.

Chinese Gods provides amazing insight into some of the history of the China in the distant past, but also provides the reader more understanding of the Chinese people today. As the world gets smaller and smaller through the overwhelming use of technology, it’s good to read about Chinese legends of both historical and mythological people and places.

For example, Chamberlain goes into great detail in the first chapter about the geomantic science of fung-shui, which deals with using the energy of the environment to encourage or discourage various psychological effects. In the modern world, fung-shui has become very chic among the wealthy and famous to arrange their humble abodes to go with the flow instead of against it.

As far back as 3000 years ago, the magic square upon which many of the principles of fung-shui rely was discovered by the Chinese. Other cultures, from India and Egypt to Ireland, have also used the magic square. Generally it is found in ancient (and probably some modern) architecture in the design of temples and palaces. Symbolism is attached to the different cardinal points of the compass: south is summer and life; north, winter and death; east, spring and harmony; and west, autumn and harmony. In fung-shui, the door always points south, regardless of the actual compass direction.

Using this information as a guide, see if your house flows positive energy in the right direction of various rooms. I know mine doesn’t!

Chamberlain goes on to discuss many of the famous people in Chinese literature, such as Lao Tzu and Confucius. And once you have a general idea of some of the symbology underlying everything in China, the core of the book is about the many major gods of the Chinese pantheon. From the God of War to the Queen of Heaven and everything in-between, he tells not only of their roles among the gods and in the homes of those who would appease them but also about their history and origins.

I am personally ready to put up a small shrine to Ts’ai Shen, god of wealth. I would hope that Ts’ai Chen, if I arrange my life according to Chinese principles of ancestor worship and the magic square, might grant me the riches to do what I want to do with my life so I can provide for my family. If not, I might provide offerings to the Monkey, the Great Sage, who might upset the balance of beauracracies everywhere to help a bit more of the fortunes of heaven to trickle down to the masses.

However, I’m a horrible interior decorator (just ask my wife), so I’m guessing that my fung-shui won’t help much!

At any rate, if you’re interested in a bit of Chinese mythology, I’d definitely recommend that you check out Jonathan Chamberlain’s book Chinese Gods: An introduction to Chinese folk religion. It’s a great read and full of historical and philosophical information about a culture many of us in the United States at least know little about.

–Fitz

p.s. Be sure to pick up Chinese Gods: An introduction to Chinese folk religion at Amazon!

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