USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Religious Myth’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Joshua the Apocalyptic Prophet

Context: When I told my roommate about how I was collecting folklore, he offered to talk about some of the stories he’d heard over the course of his life.

Background: This is something my roommate heard in his religious studies class this semester.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

B: …And I think especially the Jesus story is folklore.

C: Based on what your professor told you.

B: Yeah, um… He told me — not me personally but he told my class, uh, because we were studying the origins of Christianity at the time — that there was a man living somewhere in the Fertile Crescent, I think, name Joshua bar Joseph, and he [the professor] was like, “Joshua bar Joseph was an apocalyptic prophet,” meaning, he went around saying that the end was near, and that if people didn’t follow him, that they will die, and they would be s— very sad, and their life would be over. BUT— Wait did I say “if?” Sorry. If they didn’t follow him, they would die die, damnation, whatever. But if they DID follow him, uh, they would go to Paradise when they died, y’know. “The Apocalypse is coming, but, if you follow me, you’re gonna go to heaven.” Um, and then he’s [the professor] like, “Does this sound familiar?” and we’re like, “YEAH IT’S JESUS” and he’s like, “EXACTLY, Jesus was just an apocalyptic cult leader!” Um, and I’m like, “Well THAT makes sense.” So, yeah, that’s what my professor told me. But, I guess that means the Bible’s folklore.

Analysis: This is a really good example at how religion is deeply tied with folklore. From my roommate’s perspective and the perspective of the professor who gave him this narrative, the Bible is considered the alternative way of telling their story, where it would be commonly thought of as the “correct” way of telling the stories contained within. The fact that the story of Jesus allows for such variations—I’ve personally also heard the names “Joshua ben Joseph” and “Jeshua ben Joseph” ascribed to Jesus outside of Biblical context—attests to the fact that the Bible can be seen as merely another, more popular form of  a certain folk belief.

Myths
Narrative

“The Deity Ganesh”

            The informant first heard the myth of the deity Ganesh on an audio cassette tape when he was seven years old. His mother was born in India, and although he acknowledged that she would likely identify as Indian-American, she also maintains strong ties to her Indian roots, which is why he was exposed to Indian legends and myths as a child. He also explained that the stories, due to his age, had in large part a simply entertainment value to him, but he did state, “As I got older I realized that, underneath them, as with many different stories and folktales, there were moral teachings. . .and they showed how people think.”

            The stories appeared to him again in the form of comic books, which he said was a popular adaptation for many Indian tales; any bookstore in India sells a number of these comics. The informant also explained that, with many Indian stories, the class of the Indian child can dictate whether or not he has access to the story. Because of the strict structure of India’s caste system, the informant shared, most lower class children and their family did not have the time or leisure to prioritize and share folktales. Work and survival take precedence in value, and thus myths about deities that live in excess and wealth are not as appealing nor as relevant to those in the working classes.

 

            Like with the Greek gods, the Indians gods have this, like, realm that they live in. In this realm, there’s the most powerful god who is Shiva. Oh! And also kind of similar to the Greek gods, these gods resemble human beings. Shiva has a wife, whose name is Parvati, and in this story Parvati is taking a bath. Whenever she takes a bath she says that no one can enter the house, and she appoints one of her vassals in charge of the house to guard the entrance and make sure no one enter. This vassal is Nandi, who has the head of a cow and the body of a human. In the comic he’s, like, armed with a trident and wearing very traditional clothing.

            As he’s guarding and standing watch, Shiva (who’s the head of the household and in charge of all the guards) walks up and Nandi lets him go by because he’s kind of intimidated, I think, by Shiva’s power and his own role is obviously a lot lesser. Shiva walks in while Parvati is bathing and she’s embarrassed. Shiva, though, has kind of a sense of humor, he pokes fun at her and laughs at the situation. She then becomes angry that she doesn’t have any vassals that are loyal to her above her husband. So what she does is she takes the sandalwood paste that she’s been bathing in off of her and she puts it into this, this golden dish. And using that paste she molds a figure of a very handsome, very beautiful boy that she names her son, and she gives that statue life.

            And so the next time she bathes―and this is unknown to Shiva―she posts her son outside of the door of the house and Shiva tries again. He comes back home and tries to enter, and this time the son doesn’t let him enter. Shiva doesn’t know who this is, he’s, like, “Why are you stopping me from entering the house? You know who I am. . . obviously you need to let me go.” But, the son, who has a staff, hits him and throws him out on his ass, basically. So, Shiva becomes absolutely furious and he summons all of his army and all of his commanders and has them attack this one child. But, all of his armies could not defeat him, he took out general after general and all of the other soldiers until the armies were completely gone. So Shiva decides to fight with them, and he uses―in a lot of Indian comics you can tell who the person with the highest spiritual rank, I guess, is because they use this chakra. It’s like a spinning disc that you spin around your finger and you send it out and it goes to wherever you want it to go. Shiva uses his disc and it chops the head of the kid right off. . . so maybe these weren’t the best comics to read as a child, but, anyway, Parvati is enraged. She decides she is going to destroy the entire universe unless this slight is made right in her eyes.

            Basically one of the other high ranking gods, Brahma―who is in charge of creation―begs Shiva to bring the child to life. And by this time Shiva has calmed down; he’s taken out his anger (by killing someone). He grants Parvati’s two wishes―one, that the god be worshipped above all other gods, so basically to elevate her son, and that he obviously be brought back to life. So Shiva uses his chakra again and sends it down to Earth and chops of the head of an elephant. He takes the head of the elephant and places it on the headless body of the child, and so the child comes back to life. Shiva proclaims him, and that’s why Ganesh has the head of an elephant and the body of a child. Shiva then declares that Ganesh is his son, too, since he gave him life as well, and this elevates his position to the foremost and front of the gods.

 

            Recognizably a form of myth, the story of Ganesh incorporates divine figures in a sacred realm, which the informant helpfully analogized to the gods of Greek mythology. While the myth contains quite a lot of entertainment, including nudity and war-related violence, the teaching that lies “underneath,” as the informant said, seems to be the conflict of the power dynamic between a man and his wife. Much of the myth’s action is propelled by Parvati’s feeling of slight; her vassal serves her husband over her, Shiva mocks her embarrassment, and her rage is worrisome enough to the other gods to make them appeal to Shiva. The lesson taught at the end of the myth, then, is one of compromise and equality. Shiva recognizes the error of his ways and uses his power to make things right and satisfy his wife; the equality of genders plays an unusual role when compared to, say, Greek mythology, where Hera is often duped by Zeus only to exact petty revenge on his (many) lovers.

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