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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Call Me Myth-ter

Well, the number comments on Stanley Fish's most recent blog post is up to 268, which is not only a mighty number of comments, but also an address my wife and I used to live at. Only one of the 268 comments is mine, a comment I adapted from my post here yesterday. I have another one pending now, one in which I speculate that Professor Fish is preparing to drop the hammer in his next post.

At any rate, since I believe that he's getting ready to give a literary/mythological approach to this argument, it gives me the opportunity to wax self-indulgent about my understanding of myth in my own drab little life.

Today, I'm going to mention another Indian mound here in Georgia, but not the Etowah mounds. Instead, I'm going to talk about the Ocmulgee Indian mounds in Macon. Now there is also a pyramidal mound there, but the most interesting structure is a smaller mound that had a room built inside it.

The posted signs tried to interpret the room as having been made for political use, however, anyone with any sort of grounding in mythology would see it for what it really was: This was the place where boys were taken to be initiated. This was the place where boys were turned into men.

The building is a low one, and one enters via a long, low, narrow tube. This opens into a round room with a round ceiling. Places for people to sit have been dug out of the ground, with one set around the perimeter on one side and a smaller number of seats by the entrance. The symbolism is obvious: This is an outsized womb, and boys would be taken here so that they could be "born again" as men.

The entrance is the birth canal, and boys would be kidnapped, probably in the dead of night, from their mothers (who would be in on the whole deal) and dragged kicking and screaming down this passageway and into the main chamber. Once there, a number of ritual would have been enacted which may have been physical (in some cultures, the boys are scarred or circumscized or knocked about). After enduring some hours of ordeals (all of which would have been easily survivable), they would have reemerged down the birth canal, stepping out into the sun as men.

It's a ritual we no longer have, and we pay for that lack. This is why boys band themselves into gangs, gangs that invariably have rituals of initiation. they are trying to become men in a society that has no prescribed way of helping them do that. And that is a far harder trip than one down a mock birth canal, both for the boy and the society he inhabits.