April 16, 2006

The Kikuyu people of Kenya tell of a time when no rain fell for three years. The crops dried up. Starvation threatened. The people asked their magician for advice; and after performing a divination, he told them to bring together goats enough to buy a maiden named Wanjiru. The next day, with everyone gathered around her, Wanjiru began to sink into the ground, and the first drops of rain in three years touched the soil. As she sank, the rain grew heavier and heavier, until by the time she had disappeared into the ground, the rain was pouring down. Afterwards, a young warrior who loved Wanjiru went to the place where she had disappeared and allowed himself to sink down also, into the underworld: where he found Wanjiru, brought her back to the world under the sun, and married her.

Demeter grieves for her daughterPerhaps every culture which knows a change of seasons has some variant on the theme of (self) sacrifice/rebirth: the world made explicable, the human made mythic. Life is taken from the world. Fertility and life returns to the world, always at a human price. The death of one brings life to others. Even in the most modern hospitals, women in childbirth still walk hand-in-hand with death to bring new life into the world. The moon cannot grow full again without having gone into the dark.

Only through death, comes life.

What almost no other culture has, however, is the idea that more than life itself must be purchased: that life itself is tainted, and must somehow be washed clean -- even of sexuality -- before it is valid. Yet the symbols of raw fertility remain: and the rabbit still delivers the sun-coloured eggs.

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