Category Archives: religion

The Hero With a Thousand Faces

Angel WingsThis  is one of my first Lensbaby (Xmas present to me) experiments – a pair of wooden angel wings from a Quebec church, and now part of my collection of folk art. They hang on my wall and I suppose one could wear them, literally or figuratively.

I am a huge fan of Joseph Campbell’s writing, and love how he weaves the stories and archetypes of religions and mythologies into a pattern. Campbell explores the theory that important myths from around the world which have survived for thousands of years all share a fundamental structure, which Campbell called the monomyth.

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

His The Hero with a Thousand Faces, first published in 1949, is a non-fiction book, and seminal work of comparative mythology. He discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies.

Since publication, Campbell’s theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists. The best known is perhaps George Lucas, who has acknowledged a debt to Campbell regarding the stories of the Star Wars films.

Joseph Campbell talks to Bill Moyers about the hero within…

Moyers: Does your study of mythology lead you to conclude that a single human quest, a standard pattern of human aspiration and thought, constitutes for all mankind something that we have in common, whether we lived a million years ago or will live a thousand years from now?

Campbell: There’s a certain type of myth which one might call the vision quest, going in quest of a boon, a vision, which has the same form in every mythology. That is the thing that I tried to present in the first book I wrote, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. All these different mythologies give us the same essential quest. You leave the world that you’re in and go into a depth or into a distance or up to a height. There you come to what was missing in your consciousness in the world you formerly inhabited. Then comes the problem either of staying with that, and letting the world drop off, or returning with that boon and trying to hold on to it as you move back into your social world again.

Moyers: How do I slay that dragon in me? What’s the journey each of us has to make, what you call “the soul’s high adventure”?

Campbell: My general formula for my students is “Follow your bliss.” Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it. and Wikipedia


Ancient Land

Throughout this land, for thousands of years, it’s been said that everything has a spirit.

Ancient Land is a celebration of the rugged natural beauty of Newfoundland and Labrador. Shot in Torngat Mountains National Park it showcases one of the world’s last true wilderness areas.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The Wolf of Gubbio

Wolf of GubbioIn the city of Gubbio, where St. Francis lived for some time, was a wolf “terrifying and ferocious, who devoured men as well as animals”. Francis had compassion upon the townsfolk, and went up into the hills to find the wolf. Soon, fear of the animal had caused all his companions to flee, though the saint pressed on. When he found the wolf, he made the sign of the cross and commanded the wolf to come to him and hurt no one. Miraculously the wolf closed his jaws and lay down at the feet of St. Francis.

“Brother Wolf, thou doest much harm in these parts and thou hast done great evil…” said Francis. “All these people accuse you and curse you…But brother wolf, I would make peace between you and the people.”

“As thou art willing to make this peace, I promise thee that thou shalt be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as thou shalt live among them; thou shalt no longer suffer hunger, as it is hunger which has made thee do so much evil; but if I obtain all this for thee, thou must promise, on thy side, never again to attack any animal or any human being; dost thou make this promise?”

In agreement the wolf placed one of its forepaws in Francis’ outstretched hand, and the oath was made. Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio.

Meanwhile the townsfolk, having heard of the miracle, gathered in the city marketplace to await Francis and his companion, and were shocked to see the ferocious wolf behaving as though his pet. When Francis reached the marketplace he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon with the tame wolf at his feet. He is quoted as saying: “How much we ought to dread the jaws of hell, if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make a whole city tremble through fear?”

Gubbio was freed from the menace of the predator. Francis, ever the lover of animals, even made a pact on behalf of the town dogs, that they would not bother the wolf again.

Image: Saint Francis instructs the Wolf, Carl Weidemeyer-Worpswede, 1911

Godspeed, Bandit.

So This Is Christmas

Whether Christmas is a time of religious worship or a festive celebration, it is to be enjoyed in the company of family and friends.

Of course, that is not possible for everyone. Holidays can be particularly difficult times for those who have lost loved ones or are separated from them this holiday season. It is never too late to reach out let them know they are not alone.

Many generous people have already dug deep into their pockets this year to help charities meet the rising demands on them. Others are volunteering their time. May their actions serve as a beacon for the rest of us during this holiday season and into the new year.

Pilgrimage to St. Guinefort’s Wood

Earlier, we wrote about Guinefort, the dog saint, the inspiration for the Welsh story of the hound, Gelert. Both dogs, having killed a serpent threatening the infant son of the lord of the castle, had been killed in anger just before said lord discovered his son safe beneath the cradle and the serpent dead.

Some of us make pilgrimages. For me, it is to Beautiful Joe Park, resting place of Marshall Saunders’ canine hero. Beautiful Joe was a real dog and he really lived in Meaford, Ontario. In addition to his cairn, the park boasts shrines to service dogs, including Sirius, the 9-11 rescue dog, and there is an annual garden party.

I’m heartened that author Erika Ritter is another pilgrim. She writes about her visit to the little town of Chatillon-sur-Charonne in France, in search of the woods and burial place of Guinefort, dog saint and children’s protector.

Here is an excerpt from her wonderful new book, The Dog by the Cradle, the Serpent Beneath, about the paradoxes of human-animal relationships.

“Not far to the northwest is … Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne. That’s the same Chalaronne River which, a few kilometres beyond the village, runs alongside the grove of trees where tens of generations of mothers gathered, to immerse their children in the water as part of a superstitious healing ritual.”

“Before coming here, I inured myself to the very real possibility that modern Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne might be a hideous strip of cheesy malls. Or perhaps a zone industrielle paved over the holy greyhound’s one-time burial place. At the very least, I was braced for souvenir shops hawking t-shirts declaring ‘J’ai Survecu le Bois de Guignefort.'”

“But St. Guinefort was nowhere to be seen in Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne, and nobody in town seemed to have any idea he was the heart and soul of the local tourist industry… In an overcrowded pizzeria, a kindly couple offered to share their table, and ultimately their fellowship with us. What were foreign tourists doing here in the off-season?”

“‘Nous cherchons le Bois de Guignefort,'” we answered.”

“‘Le bois de … quoi?'”

“Well, like, duh. C’est evident, n’est-ce pas? The holy greyhound?”

“For by no means the first time in my long, inglorious history of failing to locate dog-related markers, monuments and memorials, I experienced a sinking sensation. I ducked into a nearby stationer, thinking that, at this point, even to blunder upon a small souvenir greyhound would be better than nothing.”

“Inside Le Papier Rouge, a shelf of tourism books caught my eye. I went over to investigate – and came face to face with a glossy brown-and-off-white pamphlet entitled Saint Guignefort Legende, Archaeologie, Histoire.”

Good dog, Guinefort, I thought as I carried the monograph to the cash.”

“A Nancy Drew moment is what I prefer to call my surprising stumble upon a salient clue. The worst kind of Nancy Drew moment. I went into that shop looking for some sort of kitschy little dog figurine.”

From Ritter’s book. Read it.

St. Guinefort, the Dog Saint

From De Supersticione, by inquisitor Stephen de Bourbon:

The sixth thing to say is about insulting superstitions, some of which are insulting to God, others to man. The superstitions which attribute divine honors to demons or any other creature insult God. Idolatry is one example, or when wretched women sorcerers seek salvation through the adoration of saddles (sambuca) to which they make offerings, through the condemnation of churches and relics of the saints, through carrying their children to ant-hills or other places in search of healing.

This is what they did recently in the diocese of Lyons. When preaching there against sorcery and hearing confessions, I heard many women confess that they had carried their children to St. Guinefort. I thought he was some saint. I made inquiries and at last heard that he was a certain greyhound killed in the following way. In the diocese of Lyons, close to the vill of the nuns called Villeneuve, on the land belonging to the lord of Villars-en-Dombe, there was a certain castle whose lord had a baby son from his wife. But when the lord and lady and the nurse too had left the house, leaving the child alone in his cradle, a very large snake entered the house and made for the child’s cradle. The greyhound, who had remained there, saw this, dashed swiftly under the cradle in pursuit, knocking it over, and attacked the snake with its fangs and answering bite with bite. In the end the dog killed it and threw it far away from the child’s cradle which he left all bloodied as was his mouth and head, with the snake’s blood, and stood there by the cradle all beaten about by the snake. When the nurse came back and saw this, she thought the child had been killed and eaten by the dog and so gave out an almighty scream. The child’s mother heard this, rushed in, saw and thought the same and she too screamed. Then the knight similarly once he got there believed the same, and drawing his sword killed the dog. Only then did they approach the child and find him unharmed, sleeping sweetly in fact. On further investigation, they discovered the snake torn up by the dog’s bites and dead. Now that they had learned the truth of the matter, they were embarrassed (dolentes) that they had so unjustly killed a dog so useful to them and threw his body into a well in front of the castle gate, and placing over it a very large heap of stones they planted trees nearby as a memorial of the deed.

But the castle was in due course destroyed by divine will, and the land reduced to a desert abandoned by its inhabitants. The local peasants hearing of the dog’s noble deed and innocent death, began to visit the place and honor the dog as a martyr in quest of help for their sicknesses and other needs. They were seduced and often cheated by the Devil so that he might in this way lead men into error. Women especially, with sick or poorly children, carried them to the place, and went off a league to another nearby castle where an old woman could teach them a ritual for making offerings and invocations to the demons and lead them to the right spot. When they got there, they offered salt and certain other things, hung the child’s little clothes (diapers?) on the bramble bushes around, fixing them on the thorns. They then put the naked baby through the opening between the trunks of two trees, the mother standing on one side and throwing her child nine times to the old woman on the other side, while invoking the demons to adjure the fauns in the wood of “Rimite” to take the sick and failing child which they said belonged to them (the fauns) and return to them their own child big, plump, live and healthy. Once this was done, the killer mothers took the baby and placed it naked at the foot of the tree on the straws of a cradle, lit at both ends two candles a thumbsbreadth thick with fire they had brought with them and fastened them on the trunk above. Then, while the candles were consumed, they went far enough away that they could neither hear nor see the child. In this way the burning candles burned up and killed a number of babies, as we have heard from others in the same place.

One woman told me that after she had invoked the fauns and left, she saw a wolf leaving the wood and going to the child and the wolf (or the devil in wolf’s form, so she said) would have devoured it had she not been moved by her maternal feelings and prevented it. On the other hand, if when they returned they found the child alive, they picked it up and carried it to a swiftly flowing river nearby, called the Chalaronne [tributary of the Saône], and immersed it nine times, to the point where if it escaped dying on the spot or soon after, it must have had very tough innards.

We went to the place and assembled the people and preached against the practice. We then had the dead dog dug up and the grove of trees cut down and burned along with the dog’s bones. Then we had an edict enacted by the lords of the land threatening the spoliation and fining of any people who gathered there for such a purpose in future.

Source: Paul Hansall, Internet Medieval Source Book.

More on dog saints at Dissident Editions.

There’s a Dog in my Church

Christ Church Beaurepaire

Montreal is one step closer to being North America’s Paris: it’s gaining on the City of Lights — a famously pooch-friendly place — by offering a monthly communion church service for dogs.

Paws and Pray was recently inaugurated at Christ Church Beaurepaire, an Anglican church in Beaconsfield on Montreal’s west island, to coincide with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. The communion service features bread and wine, as well as doggie treats and bowls of water for the four-legged parishioners.

The church’s minister, Michael Johnson, said he has always enjoyed doing a pet blessing once a year.

Johanne Tassé, president of Companion Animal Adoption Centres of Quebec, who suggested the idea to Johnson, said she believes the idea can have a profound impact.

“Animals deserve our care and respect,” said Tassé. “If we can bring dogs to church, how can we turn around and abuse them?”

She believes that the “deplorable” state of animal welfare in Quebec requires people take a closer look at how animals impact our lives.

“There are search-and-rescue dogs, search-and-recovery dogs, dogs to help the disabled, dogs that go into hospitals,” said Tassé. “Dogs help us so much and we need to recognize them as being part of our lives.”

She believes that by welcoming dogs into a house of worship, people will be less likely to neglect their dogs and the service can help effect a change of attitude.

“We’ve lost a little bit of our humanity,” said Tassé. “The time is right to elevate (animals’) significance in our lives.”

Full story at The Province and The Chronicle Herald.

Le French Connection/Highway of Hope.