Tag Archives: caves

“The Power of One” by Bryce Courtenay

PowerOfOne

This is an extremely powerful book. I found it both uplifting and disturbing. The book was written in 1989 and is the story of a boy named Peekay who grows up in South Africa during WWII. He witnesses the seeds of apartheid take root and turn into racial hatred. In spite of this, he manages to develop both intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually by drawing from what he calls the power of one, which is essentially self-reliance and believing in yourself. It’s a fairly long novel, but it never gets dull and it held my interest from cover to cover.

There is a lot that I can say about this book, but for brevity’s sake I’ll just focus on a few key points. I want to start on a personal note—this book hit very close to home for me. As a young boy, Peekay finds himself the target of brutal bullying. He tries various ways to placate his tormenters but at best he gets only a temporary reprieve. He carries these experiences with him and those experiences directly impact the decisions he makes. As someone who was bullied as a child, I am painfully aware of how this feels. For years I carried my pain and resentment, playing out imaginary scenarios where I confronted my tormenters and finally got even. Thankfully, I eventually realized how toxic this attitude is and learned how to let go of my resentment. But reading this certainly brought back the feelings for me. Anyone who has ever suffered the anguish of being bullied knows how this feels and will always remember it.

A significant portion of the story takes place in a prison setting. There is a great passage where Peekay describes his impression upon first seeing a prison. It is almost like the structure itself is an archetype for bondage, suffering, and the loss of freedom.

My eyes followed a long line of purple that led beyond the houses clustered on the edge of the town to a square of dark buildings surrounded by a high wall perhaps a mile into the valley. The walls facing me stood some three stories high and were studded with at least 150 tiny dark windows all of the same size. The buildings too were built in a square around a center quadrangle of hard brown earth. On each corner of the outside wall was a neat little tower capped with a pyramid of corrugated iron that glinted in the early morning sun. I had never seen a prison, nor had I even imagined one, but there is a racial memory in man that instinctively knows these things. The architecture of misery has an unmistakable look and feel about it.

(p134)

This book is rich with mystical metaphors and symbolism. One of these that I found inspiring is the cactus as a symbol for the manifestation of God. It’s a somewhat long passage but worth including in this post.

The Almighty conceived the cactus plant. If God would choose a plant to represent him, I think he would choose of all plants the cactus. The cactus has all the blessings he tried, but mostly failed, to give to man. Let me tell you how. It has humility, but it is not submissive. It grows where no other plant will grow. It does not complain when the sun bakes its back or the wind tears it from the cliff or drowns it in the dry sand of the desert or when it is thirsty. When the rains come it stores water for the hard times to come. In good times and bad it will still flower. It protects itself from danger, but it harms no other plant. It adapts perfectly to almost any environment. It has patience and enjoys solitude. In Mexico there is a cactus that flowers only once every hundred years and at night. This is saintliness of an extraordinary kind, would you not agree? The cactus has properties that heal the wounds of men and from it come potions that can make man touch the face of God or stare into the mouth of hell. It is the plant of patience and solitude, love and madness, ugliness and beauty, toughness and gentleness. Of all plants, surely God made the cactus in his own image?

(pp. 154 – 155)

Probably the single most powerful symbol in this book is the cave, which is called the crystal cave because of the mineral deposits within. It conjures images of the crystal cave from the Merlin mythology. The cave represents the inner self, a sanctuary within, a secret place of hidden beauty. It is also a place of transition, the passage between life and death. There is also an emphasis on the importance of keeping the cave secret, since your inner self and the source of mystical power must be protected. There is a great passage where Peekay uses visualization, in the same way that a shaman would, to enter the crystal cave.

I took a deep breath and launched myself from the rock; the cool air mixed with spray rushed past my face. I hit the pool at the bottom of the first waterfall. The sound of the splash drowned in the roar of the water. I surfaced to be swept over the second of the falls and then again over the third, landing in the deep pool of swirling green water. I fought my way to the surface and struck out toward the first of the black stones. Pulling myself up onto it, I hurriedly jumped from one stone to another, finally leaping for the pebbly beach beyond. I felt my toes and the ball of my foot touch the smooth round river pebbles, and as I landed I found myself inside the crystal cave of Africa.

(p. 471)

As I said, this is an incredible book and one that is worth reading. In addition, while I was in a bookstore recently, I saw that The Power of One was on the “banned books” shelf, and I have always felt that any book that is worth banning is worth reading.

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“The Book of Legendary Lands” by Umberto Eco

LegendaryLands

Let me start out by saying that I loved this book. Then again, I’m kind of an Umberto Eco fanboy. I think he is one of the most brilliant writers and scholars around today, which is why I didn’t think twice about spending the $50 for a hardcover copy of this book, and it was worth every penny. Not only is the writing superb and the quotes inspiring, but it is richly illustrated with stunning artwork. This is a worthy addition to any bookshelf.

In the book, Eco explores legendary lands which he defines as “lands and places that, now or in the past, have created chimeras, utopias, and illusions because a lot of people thought they existed or had existed somewhere.” (p. 7) Examples of legendary lands include biblical lands, places depicted in Homer’s The Odyssey, El Dorado, Atlantis, the interior of the Earth, and so forth. Eco writes about these places and the legends that grew concerning them. He then includes an array of quotes from primary sources that are lengthy enough to give you a good sense of what the writers thought concerning these realms. He also looks at the historical impact of these legends, as well as the historical facts that helped proliferate the legends, since “legends are always born on the basis of a historical truth.” (p. 44)

I found the chapter on The Odyssey to be very interesting. Eco explores theories regarding the locations of the places in the poem, and there are quite a few. There are also some beautiful maps showing the supposed locations. In the end, though, Eco concludes that there is no way to determine whether the information in the poem is accurate or whether the places truly existed or not, but emphasizes the importance that the legend has had on humanity should not be discounted.

This book is not intended to establish Ulysses’ true periplus. The poet (or poets) later made things up on the basis of legendary information. The Odyssey is a beautiful legend, and all attempts to reconstruct it on a modern map have created just as many legends. One of those we have mentioned is perhaps true or plausible, but what fascinates us is the fact that over the centuries we have been entranced by a journey that never happened. Wherever Calypso lived, a great many men have dreamed of spending a few years in her sweetest of captivities.

(p. 75)

Of course, no discussion of legendary lands would be complete without a look at the legend of Atlantis.

Of all legendary lands, Atlantis is the one that, over the centuries, has most exercised the imagination of philosophers, scientists, and seekers of mysteries (cf. Albini 2012). And naturally what has reinforced the legend more and more is the persuasion that a vanished continent really existed and that it is difficult to rediscover traces of it because it sank into the sea. The notion that there were once lands above water that subsequently vanished is by no means a crazy one. In 1915 Alfred Wegener formulated the theory of continental drift, and today it is believed that 225 million years ago, the Earth consisted of a single continent, Pangaea, which then (about 200 million years ago) began to split up slowly, giving rise to the continents we know today. And so in the course of the process, many Atlantises may have arisen and then disappeared.

(p. 182)

One of the things that really fascinated me regarding Atlantis was the effect it had on Nazi occultists who sought to discover evidence that the white Aryans were actually descendants from the Atlantean race.

Atlantis also seduced many occultists who gravitated to the Nazi party. For this, see the chapter on Thule and Hyperborea, but it is worth remembering that Hans Hörbinger’s theory of eternal ice maintained that the submersion of Atlantis and Lemuria was caused when the Earth captured the moon. In Atlantis die Urheimat der Arier (Atlantis, the Original Homeland of the Aryans, 1922), Karl Georg Zchaetzsch had written, followed by one of the maximum theorists of Nazi racism, Alfred Rosenberg, about a dominant “Nordic-Atlantean” or “Aryan-Nordic” race. It is said that in 1938 Heinrich Himmler had organized a search in Tibet with a view to finding the remains of the white Atlanteans.

(p. 199)

As a kid, I remember watching “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and thinking how cool it was, the idea that below the Earth’s surface could exist another world populated with dinosaurs and fantastic creatures. Eco points out that humans have long been fascinated with realms hidden below the ground and that this fascination has led to an abundance of legends.

The idea of penetrating the heart of the planet, beneath the crust, has always appealed to human beings, and some have seen in this passion for caves, recesses and underground passages a reaching out toward a maternal womb into which to return. No doubt we all remember how, when we were young, before falling asleep, we loved to huddle under the blankets and fantasize about some subterranean journey, isolated from the rest of the world; a cave could be a place where lurked monsters of the abyss, but also a refuge against human enemies or other monsters of the surface. With regard to caverns, people have dreamed of hidden treasures and imagined underground creatures such as gnomes; the Jesus of many traditions was not born in a stable but in a cave.

(pp. 348 – 350)

People who know me have probably heard me criticize Dan Brown, stating his books are little more than watered-down versions of Umberto Eco for the masses. For this reason, I found it ever so amusing when Eco himself criticized Brown in this book, focusing on how Brown propagated legends through books like The Da Vinci Code by claiming “Ninety-nine percent of it is true.” Eco is quick to point out that “If this really were a historical reconstruction, then there is no explanation for the umpteen blunders that Brown gaily sprinkles throughout his narrative.” (p. 420) I literally laughed out loud when I read this.

I have only scratched the surface of this book. There is a lot of great information and artwork here, but you should not be intimidated. It is written in a manner that makes these arcane legends accessible and enjoyable. If you have ever read a book and fantasized about a place being real, then this is definitely a book you will enjoy.

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