The Majesty of the Stork:
I had occasion recently to
write out a bit of an introduction to the mythical Stork – you know, the one
that bring babies. There is, or at last
was, a stork worked into the terrazzo floor at the front of the Boston Lying In Hospital. I used
to think that Stork had an amusing expression on its face. It looked to be thinking, “What am I, a myth,
doing here in that bastion of hard science that is
The Stork is no minor myth. Before the monotheistic religions arose with their concepts of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence, humans made do with gods that had limits. But within those limits that had unspeakable power. They controlled seasons, sent storms, ruled the sea and shook the earth. They watched over us, not always benignly, during life and after our death. They got us into love and got us into wars. They were nothing to trifle with. The greatest heroes, what we now call superheroes, were usually half god half mortal, demigods, with whom we could relate at some level but could never equal.
The primary function of the gods, be they Greek, Roman or Viking, was to secure the world against chaos. That ceased to be a big issue with the advent of divine omnipotence. God could fix anything. But more recently the bulwark against chaos is often deemed to be Science. We may be expecting more from Science than she can deliver; perhaps I shall deal with that in a year at the time of the next Necronomicon convention. For the ancients it was their gods who represented the forces of order.
But more mighty than the gods were the Fates. In Greek mythology, they were three old women who worked together. One spun out the thread of life, one measured it and one cut it. They had but one tooth and one eye among them. Evidently they had taken a lot of damage over the eons from people who wanted to get them to make an exception. That never worked. Nothing could compel or entreat the Fates to change. They were so scary that people called them “The Sweet Spirited Ones,” nay not just sweet but nice to the very limits of the definition, the “Perfect Minded Ones,” might be more like it.
Even the gods were afraid of them, would not abide their presence and shuddered at that power beyond which there was no recourse, over whom no order stood.
But the fertility goddess, and that is exactly what the Stork is, was thousands of years old when the gods were made. She was ancient before the titans that made the gods were conceived. Fertility was the most important issue in those far off days and remains the most important issue now. That is the shadow cast by the Stork.
I have heard the story until I am nauseas, “They had to have a lot of babies in those days because so many babies died.” I don’t believe that. When people have studied real contemporary hunter gatherers, they don’t find their lives “nasty, brutish and short.” Most survive childhood. The oldest have a life expectance as good as that of modern people with the best medical care. And they all have backaches when they are old, it seems.
People can keep babies alive. We have always been able to. One of the biggest killers of babies in poor societies down to the present is infant diarrhea. When my mother told her doctor that my brother was constipated and asked what she should do he said, “Thank your lucky stars.” It is that close to home. So what’s easier, having more babies or having them not die of diarrhea?” Obviously if sickness were the question, we would have idols to the “Formed Stool God,” but we do not.
Their problem was simply that they didn’t have enough babies. Sometimes I am sure it was because of inbreeding. Sometimes it was because of the opposite. But either way was a catastrophe.
So they devised The Goddess, the One who would assure them of babies. The Stork of those days.
Now compare the Stork with the Fates. The Fates may spin, measure and cut off the thread of life. It is the Stork and the Stork alone who decides and provides if there is going to be a thread at all. And that holds, be you human or animal, god or titan. Without the Stork there is not even chaos.
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