Bear Dance by Wilna Panagos

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Bear Dance


Wilna Panagos

[found objects from Modern Mythology by Andrew Lang, 1897 & a message from Jesse S. Mitchell, 2013]


sun and moon are spoken of by their unmistakable names

so here is no disease of language
Lettish chants & Mr Max Müller turns to Mordvinian mythology
he is guided by material survivals: ancient arms, implements, and ornaments
he finds his relics of the uncivilised past in agricultural usages, in archaic methods of allotment of land, in odd marriage customs, things rudimentary
one might as well attack the atomic theory where Lucretius left it
both, of course, agree that myths are a product of thought
rivers run, winds blow, fire burns, trees wave as a result of their own will
this mythology is a philosophy of things – early Greek philosophy recognised the stars as living bodies, all things had once seemed living and personal
everything is alive

if the Greek myth arose from a disease of Greek, very little ingenuity is needed to make it indicate one or other aspect of Dawn or Night, of Lightning or Storm, but the myth may be older than the name, say, the story of Zeus, Demeter, and the Ram
but we now study myths in the unrestrained utterances of the people & I did not abstain from the weapons of irony and badinage
regarding bees, for instance, as persons who must be told of a death in the family. Their myths are still not wholly out of concord with their habitual view of a world in which an old woman may become a hare – these men are living in Ovid’s Metamorphoses
even the prevalent anthropological theory of the ghost-origin of religion might, I think, be advanced with caution till we know a little more about ghosts
did a kind of linguistic measles affect all tongues alike?
everybody knows that stories of the growing of plants out of the scattered members of heroes may be found from ancient Egypt to the wigwams of the Algonquins, but these stories seem hardly applicable to Daphne, whose members, as far as I know, were never either severed or scattered.
that was what I had not said. I had observed: As to interchange of shape between men and women and plants, our information is less copious than in the case of stones
in Ovid the river god, Pentheus, changes Daphne into a laurel. In Hyginus she is not changed at all, the earth swallows her, and a laurel fills her place
it leads us to imagine that we have learnt something when we really are as ignorant as before

if then the white kernel had been called Tuna’s brain, we have only to remember that in Mangaia there are two kinds of coconut trees
and we shall then have no difficulty in understanding why these twin coconut trees were said to have sprung from the two halves of Tuna’s brain, one being red in stem, branches, and fruit, whilst the other was of a deep green. In proof of these trees being derived from the head of Tuna, we are told that we have only to break the nut in order to see in the sprouting germ the two eyes and the mouth of Tuna, the great eel, the lover of Ina, and she was the daughter of Kui, the blind
Tuna was an eel, and women may not eat eels and Ina was the moon
on the other hand, the story that marmalade (really marmalet) is so called because Queen Mary found comfort in marmalade when she was sea-sick
Mr. Lang, as usual, has recourse to savages, most useful when they are really wanted. He keeps Tuna in hand but all the authorities are late
in addition, there is this circumstance, which was not mentioned by that gentleman: each of the “passers” carried one or two lemons
real scholars know what Mordvinian divine names mean or that the Dawn is not as great a factor in myth as Mr Max Müller believes himself to have proved it to be

more Mischiefs of Comparison:
My first is a boot, my second is a jack
What is the Rooky One that swallows?

there must be some other explanation

still more Nemesis: Why are the legends about men, beasts, and gods so wildly incredible and revolting?
The Fallacy of Admits:
What is the Dark One That goes over the earth, Swallows water and wood, But is afraid of the wind?
What is the gold spun from one window to another?
Heidrick answers:
what the philological method of mythology needs is to prove that such poetical statements about natural phenomena survived in the popular mouth and were perfectly intelligible except just the one mot d’énigme that says: Dark One
Thy riddle is easy Blind Gest To read!
she says that the conjurer often begins by whirling rapidly before the eyes of the spectators a small polished skull of a monkey, and she is inclined to think that the spectators who look at this are in some way more easily deluded

The Chances of Fancy:
we are then told the old story of Lykâon, the King of Arkadia, who had a beautiful daughter called Kallisto. As Zeus fell in love with her, Hera, from jealousy, changed her into a bear and Artemis killed her with one of her arrows
he next compares the strange Arcadian cannibal rites on Mount Lyceus – a modern student is struck by the cool way in which the ancient poets, geographers, and commentators mention a startling circumstance
they even in archaic ages wore bear-skins
then a great fire was made, which Thangbrandr hallowed, and the Berserkir went into it without fear, and burned his feet
Leaf and Myers, my old friends
‘and’ where I wrote ‘or’
twice only had Europeans been fortunate enough to see the masáwe cooked

Beast Dances:
How odd! The moon, the nocturnal sportswoman, is Artemis, bloodshed, bear and all, nothing could be more natural to a savage, they all do it
men before the moon may be… Bears

Bear Dance:
we have a bear Callisto
we have a mass of nature pictures
we have, we have also the authority of Théodore de Banville
holder of the first footstep! Everyone drinks of the water

everyone has heard of Mount Soracte, white with shining snow, the peak whose distant cold gave zest to the blazing logs on the hearth of Horace
we have wolves came and carried off the entrails of the fire
when the grave of Feronia seemed all on fire, it suddenly grew green again
the Brethren of the Green Wolf select a leader called Green Wolf, there is an ecclesiastical procession, curé and all, a souper maigre, the lighting of the usual St. John’s fire, a dance round the fire, the capture of next year’s Green Wolf, a mimicry of throwing him into the fire, a revel, and next day a loaf of pain bénit above a pile of green leaves

How did it come?
by somebody dying first
Yama, the first who died, he was the first instance of death
Mr Max Müller, as we said, takes Yama to be a character suggested by the setting sun
the myth of Yama is perfectly intelligible if we trace its roots back to the sun of evening
but let us first establish the fact that death really is regarded as something non-natural and intrusive:
every man who dies what we call a natural death, is really killed by witches, that is his invariable habit, he is really the slave of countless traditions, which forbid him to eat this object or to touch that, or to speak to such and such a person, or to utter this or that word but there are cases, as we shall see, in which death, as a tolerably general law, follows on a mere accident. Someone is accidentally killed, and this gives Death a lead (as they say in the hunting-field) over the fence which had hitherto severed him from the world of living men. It is to be observed in this connection that the first of men who died is usually regarded as the discoverer of a hitherto unknown country, the land beyond the grave, to which all future men must follow him
Yama [together with Bin dir Woor] became the Columbus of the new world of the dead –
men and women had been practically deathless because they cast their old skins at certain intervals, but a grandmother had a favourite grandchild who failed to recognise her when she appeared as a young woman in her new skin. With fatal good-nature the grandmother put on her old skin again, and instantly men lost the art of skin-shifting, and Death finally seized them
in Greek myth men appear to have been free from death before the quarrel between Zeus and Prometheus. In consequence of this quarrel Hephæstus fashioned a woman out of earth and water, and gave her to Epimetheus, the brother of the Titan. Prometheus had forbidden his brother to accept any gift from the gods, but the bride was welcomed nevertheless. She brought her taboo coffer. This was opened and men who, according to Hesiod, had hitherto lived exempt from maladies that bring down Fate were overwhelmed with the diseases that stalk abroad by night and day. Now, in Hesiod (Works and Days, 70-100) there is nothing said about unholy curiosity. Pandora simply opened her casket and scattered its fatal contents.
But Philodemus assures us that it was Epimetheus who opened the forbidden coffer whence came Death
the Bushman story lacks the beginning. The mother of the little Hare was lying dead, but we do not know how she came to die. The Moon then struck the little Hare on the lip, cutting it open, and saying, ‘Cry loudly, for your mother will not return, as I do, but is quite dead.’ In another version the Moon promises that the old Hare shall return to life, but the little Hare is sceptical, and is hit in the mouth as before
the economical results were just what might have been expected. Qat (the maker of things, who was more or less a spider) sent for Mate, that is, Death. Death came and went through the empty forms of a funeral feast for himself. Tangaro the Fool was sent to watch Mate, and to see by what way he returned to Hades, that men might avoid that path in future. Now when Mate fled to his own place, this great fool Tangaro noticed the path, but forgot which it was, and pointed it out to men under the impression that it was the road to the upper, not to the under, world. Ever since that day men have been constrained to follow Mate’s path to Panoi and the dead
A Chinese shopkeeper told me that the man “told fortunes,” but from the circumstance of a gambling-house being close by, I concluded that his customers were getting tips on a system
Here ends this Gentle and Joyous Passage of Arms
with Juggernauts rolling through some Hindu street on a festival dawn crushing skulls and making faithful martyrs
For adversary we must consider Mr Max Müller

Hoping these notes may be of service to you,
I remain,
Yours truly,


Wilna Panagos’ work has appeared in New Contrast Literary Journal, Gone Lawn, Otoliths, Museum Life , Prick of the Spindle, The Undertow Review, Ditch Poetry, Psychopomp Magazine. She wrote and illustrated a few children’s books and is currently writing something which may or may not turn out to be a short, odd novel. She believes in orange and pigeons, has an imaginary dog and lives in Pretoria, South Africa.
Her Facebook alter ego is here:

Poetic Statement:
I am not trying to explain the world, the world is inexplicable, I simply find fragments of the inexplicable and show it to everybody. The obscure, the insignificant, the unassuming. Unsuspected and incidental, concealed in the profusion, hiding in the dark, these orphans of perception, the small things that whisper with voices you can barely hear: here is beauty. Beauty by accident. Nihilistic oddments, existential morsels without any greater meaning other than its own existence, as Rilke called it: “the little things that hardly anyone sees, inconsiderable things”. Us, if you stand away far enough. And I find solace in these things, our tiny little relatives, and I hope that the reader will find some kind of beauty and consolation in them too, there are so many. I am a hunter-gatherer, a collagist.

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