Showing posts with label secrets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label secrets. Show all posts

07 July 2016

Two Can Keep A Secret...

by Eve Fisher

"Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead." - proverb
Fireworks by Samericnick on Wikipedia
But don't count on it.  Even if one of them is dead, then the living person is STILL going to have to go blab to somebody.  A rock, if nothing else.  And sometimes a secret is just too darned hard to keep. For example, for the last month, I've been keeping the great deep dark secret of a surprise 70th birthday party for my husband, Allan, which was pulled off by Michael and Reina (bless you, guys!).  During this month, I have almost blown the whole damn secret at least five times, because someone unexpected said yes! or because the whole place is being cleaned up (!) or because Allan was wondering what we ought to do for his birthday.  Or the Fourth.  Which is the same thing.  Given more time, I would have cracked. Someone would have cracked.  Whew.  Thank God we made it...

This is why I don't believe in conspiracy theories that require absolute total silence on the part of everyone involved.  At least not without death threats that will actually be carried out.  (I understand the Mafia has managed to pull this off at times.)  This means that anything involving aliens, fake moon landings, "false flag" shootings/bombings/etc., Batboy, the Illuminati, UN internment camps, Jesus as a psychedelic mushroom, and any end of the world scenarios involving secret knowledge passed down ancient astronauts / gods (especially aquatic aliens who teach humanity how to grow land crops) are all off the table, at least as far as I'm concerned.

And especially in this day and age.  I grew up in a world where we all knew that J. Edgar Hoover KNEW ALL, Nixon had an enemies list (Hunter S. Thompson, upon finding out that he wasn't on it, said, "Next time, I'll BE there."), and the FBI was everywhere.  And that was before the Patriot Act and the NSA.  (BTW, if you're Instagramming your food in between selfie-ing your every breath, and letting everyone know your constant whereabouts on Facebook, don't tell me you're worried about your privacy.)  Privacy?  Secrets? Don't make me laugh.

On the other hand, the ancient world was pretty good at it.

Back in the ancient world, the Eleusinian Mysteries were initiation and religious rites that lasted over two thousand years - from at least 1500 BCE to 396 CE. And no one still knows exactly what happened at them. The initiates were sworn to secrecy, and they apparently kept it.  (For one thing - I told you! - the penalty for revealing the mysteries was death, and people really were executed:  In the 5th century BCE a man named Diagoras "the atheist" had to flee for his life for revealing too much of the mysteries.)  Little hints got out here and there, but not a lot.  Not the big stuff.

Ninnion Tablet, Wikipedia,
copyright by Marsyas
We have no idea how many people were initiates, but everyone who was anyone was, including Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Pisistratus, etc.  We also know that the mysteries centered around the worship of Demeter, the Goddess of Harvest and Agriculture, and Persephone, Demeter's daughter by Zeus, who was stolen by the Hades, the God of Death.  In Greek mythology, that theft/rape brought winter and death to the world as a whole:  but the Eleusinian Mysteries defied death and brought new life to the world.  According to Joshua K. Mark (Eleusinian Mysteries) "The mysteries celebrated the story of Demeter and Persephone but, as the initiated were sworn to secrecy on pain of death as to the details of the ritual, we do not know what form this celebration took. We do know, though, that those who participated in the mysteries were forever changed for the better and that they no longer feared death."

Plato (4th century BCE) wrote, "our mysteries had a very real meaning: he that has been purified and initiated shall dwell with the gods" (69:d, F.J. Church trans).
BTW, Plato was the first who argued that everyone had an immortal soul.  In case no one ever told you, a great deal of Christian theology about the soul and the afterlife is actually based on Plato, especially Phaedo.  In the same way, many of our ideas about true love are based on Plato's Symposium.  If you haven't read either before, check them out sometime.  
Cicero the Roman wrote around the mid-1st century BCE, "Nothing is higher than these mysteries...they have not only shown us how to live joyfully but they have taught us how to die with a better hope."

And Plutarch, writing around 100 CE, said "because of those sacred and faithful promises given in the mysteries...we hold it firmly for an undoubted truth that our soul is incorruptible and immortal. Let us behave ourselves accordingly... When a man dies he is like those who are initiated into the mysteries. Our whole life is a journey by tortuous ways without outlet. At the moment of qutting it come terrors, shuddering fear, amazement. Then a light that moves to meet you, pure meadows that receive you, songs and dances and holy apparitions" (Hamilton, 179).

Demeter receiving an offering from
Metanira, Queen of Eleusis
So what did they actually do in these mysteries?  Well, we really don't know.  Do not be fooled by websites who claim to have the truth:  THEY DON'T.

What we do know is that there were the Lesser Mysteries and the Greater Mysteries.  The Lesser Mysteries took place around the January or February full moon and involved purification and sacrifice.

After that, the initiate was deemed worthy to attend the Greater Mysteries in September/ October (again, depending on the moon).  The ten days of ritual began publicly:  a procession from the Athenian cemetery (no symbology there...) to Eleusis, complete with branches, chanting, and, at one point, ritual dirty jokes because (according to the original myth) an old woman named Baubo [or Iambe, and don't ask me why] cracked jokes and made Demeter smile even with her daughter in Hades.

Then came an all-night vigil, where everyone drank a certain potion - kykeon - that may or may not have contained psychotropic herbs.  Then into the Great Hall, where the Mysteries were unfolded. After that, we don't know.  There were dromena ("things done"), deiknumena ("things shown"), and legomena ("things said").  But what were those things?  There was a sacred casket.  There was a "triune" wheat sheaf.  There was a presentation.  Everything revolved around the Demeter/ Persephone/ Hades myth, which basically revolved around the changing seasons. But that's really all we know.  The secrets were kept.  Seriously.

Afterwards - one hell of an all-night feast, with dancing, merriment, undoubtedly more alcohol, perhaps more potions, a bull sacrifice, and some time the next day an exhausted, satisfied, perhaps hung-over but happy crew, revitalized and resworn, went home.

For two thousand years, this ritual was reenacted and the secret was kept.  We could probably learn something from that.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, Allan was totally surprised at his birthday party, and a great time was had by all!  Whew.

13 November 2012

The Great and Billowing Sea

by David Dean

I grew up hundreds of miles from the sea, and during my early years the idea of the ocean meant very little to me.  My only trips to the beach when I was a kid consisted of two trips to Jekyll Island, Georgia when I had a cousin that lived there, and a single family vacation to Panama City, Florida.  Oh yes, I almost forgot, we got to tag along with Uncle Jack and family when he won a contest vacation to St. Augustine.  During that trip I don't even remember seeing the sea, as my cousin Nicky and me spent most of our time exploring the great and gracious Ponce de Leon Hotel.  This Spanish style resort was unlike anything we had ever been exposed to; we knew we had entered a more rarefied atmosphere when on our first visit to the dining room we had an array of forks to choose from; their mysterious arrangement appearing as a test to determined who really belonged in such a place.  I remember mom and dad appearing uncomfortable as they studied the baffling silverware.  I have no memory of how we resolved the issue, but I don't recall going away hungry.

The other visits to the sea I mentioned were not without challenge, either.  My very first time in the Atlantic my very life was in peril.  Nicky and I (I always seemed to be with Nicky when things went wrong) had waded out to our waists at low tide and were splashing merrily about, as eight-year-olds are wont to do, when he returned to land to retrieve something.  In the meantime, I lost myself in the warm water and gentle waves, feeling almost sleepy beneath a very hot sun, only remotely aware of a distant shouting.  After a few moments of this dreamy inattention, it suddenly broke through to my consciousness that this shouting was drawing closer and closer.  I also became aware of a lot of splashing.  Turning back to face the beach, I could see that everyone to my right was fleeing toward shore, and even as I stood there, amazed and uncomprehending, the people to my left began to very actively join in this stunning migration.  Then a single word separated itself from the others and floated from shore to me, somehow rising above all the din..."Shark!"

Though I had never given sharks much thought, and the book and movie version of "Jaws" was yet many years in the future, that single word managed to convey to me a keen sense of terror.  As if dreaming, I turned my head in the direction the exodus had begun, and there, not so terribly far away, a large fin sliced through the calm waters further out, following the coastline at a leisurely pace.  I could even see its tail whipping along behind it.  Then I did what every rational person does in such a situation, I began to wade as quickly as my short, little legs would carry me toward terra firma, splashing and thrashing away; neither in a position to run nor to swim.  It was then that I realized how life hangs on a moment...especially when it involves the great and billowing sea.  I made it to shore unscathed, though rather shook up.  I was told that despite all my agitation in the water, the great shark never wavered in its course, obviously uninterested in bony little boys...at least for that moment.  I used this experience in a story entitled, "Natural Causes", which appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine's November 2003 issue.

On my next visit, I was stung by a very small sting ray.  It hurt, but didn't require medical attention.  The only catastrophe of note that occurred during the Panama City visit was a sunburn that I shall never forget.  Lest you think Cousin Nicky escaped unscathed, during the St. Augustine trip, on our first trek beyond the safety of the walls of the hotel courtyard he was attacked by a dog and bitten several times.  A short time later he would make headlines by becoming stuck between two buildings and having to be removed by the fire department.  My aunt keeps a yellowed copy of the local paper covering this extraordinary event which contains a grainy black and white photo of my favorite cousin wedged into a small gap between two brick office buildings.  I was not with him, so can offer no explanation.

The second half of my life I have spent cheek-by-jowl with the Atlantic.  And though time and experience has improved my overall opinion of the sea, it has certainly not lessened my respect for its power and capriciousness.  Hurricane Sandy demonstrated that just recently.  We were largely spared the worst of it here, but to the north of us there is great devastation.  There could have been no hurricane without the cooperation of the mighty sea.

Sandy is only one of many, many storms I have lived and worked through; not to mention floods.  The sea is always at work trying to reclaim the land.  It also claims people.  Hardly a winter goes by that a clamming or scallop boat is not lost at sea off our coast.  During the balmy summer months swimmers are taken by rip-tides.

Sometimes the sea returns things: A lady once came into my police department to speak with a supervisor.  As I was the sergeant on duty, I met with her and inquired how we might be of service.  Opening her rather large hand-bag, she extracted something yellowish, placed it on the desk between us and asked, "Do I have to turn this in?"  It was the lower jaw bone of a human being and still retained most of its teeth.  Some bore fillings.  My own lower jaw may have hit the desk; I don't remember.  Being a crack investigator however, I cried, "Where the hell did you get that?"  You might guess her answer.  "I found it on the beach after a storm."  The next statement surprised me a little.  "I've been using it as a paperweight on my desk."

With little grace, she reluctantly parted with her prize.  I had obtained enough information to both identify and locate her should I need to.  Perhaps you can also guess what my first line of inquiry was?  Yes, that 's it--I quickly determined whether any significant other in this strange lady's life had gone missing.  She had a divorced husband, but he was still amongst the breathing.  The jaw appeared quite old, though this can be very deceptive after not a very long time in the ocean.  It did strike me that the fillings appeared to be made of steel, not something commonly, or at all, used in the U.S.--many foreign freighters pass our coastline, and men overboard are more common than it is comfortable to think about.  In any event, the jaw was packaged off to the state medical examiners office.  To my knowledge, a match with a missing person has never been made.  It remains a mystery of the deep.  Other things have been brought ashore by the sea, but are too grisly to discuss here.

Even so, most of us are very drawn to that same dangerous sea.  On sunny days there's nothing more pleasant than lying on the warm sands as the sea laps the shore mere yards away, and gulls wheel in a flawless sky.  It is, after all, where life began...even if it is also where it sometimes ends. 

Countless mystery and suspense stories occur on, or next to, the sea.  Most of mine do.  I suspect you could name dozens of stories and novels inspired by the sea if you put your mind to it.  In fact, if the sea were to vanish tomorrow (and we were to somehow survive this catastrophic event) half the stories yet to be written would probably remain so.