When They Severed Earth from Sky

Posted by on Sunday, October 16th, 2005

When They Severed Earth from Sky by Elizabeth Wayland Barber and Paul T. Barber.   

Every myth in the world is ultimately  about volcanoes, and all religions developed out of the fear of volcanoes.  Ok, not really, but I’ll be thinking a lot about volcanoes as I finish reading the Kalevala.  Except when I’m thinking about the cultures that believed the Earth was really a giant spindle whorl–I heart that.  I am worried, though, about what the volcanoes on the giant spindle whorl are going to do to the cosmic spinning–it’s really going to mess up the plying if the wool is all singed.

In all seriousness (not always my strong point, as some of you may have noticed), the Barbers have written a fantastic book explaining the factual basis of many myths throughout the world.  Each is a respected academic, though I think I have convinced myself that she is the better writer–all sections of the book I didn’t absolutely love, I blamed on Paul Barber.  Not fair, I know, but I love Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s work so much, and I really think I have developed some familiarity with her writing style.  Not that his is bad, mind you.  She is just a brilliant writer. 

I’m sure there are some fans of comp-myth stars like Joseph Campbell who will be put off by the Barbers’ focus on the factual basis of myths, rather than on the larger psychological or ethical lessons of myth.  Well, you shouldn’t be.  I am downright tickled to see how effective ancient calendars and astronomical calculations are, and I love that people came up with glorious, elaborate stories to explain that lava hurts, dammmmit! 

So read it, ok.  It’s good for you.  And it’s downright petite for a scholarly-ish book that will make you sound witty and bright when you discuss it at parties.  We scare them with our obsessive talk of knitting–let’s start scaring them with our obsessive interest in volcanoes and Loki. 

Filed in Books | 4 responses so far

4 Responses to “When They Severed Earth from Sky”

  1. minnieon 16 Oct 2005 at 9:38 pm 1

    my ex-husband was into asatru for a while (a very short while, he could never stick with anything for more than 6 months or so, now he’s stuck on the superiority of christianity (gag)), so i got to hear quite a bit about norse gods. and of course, there’s the little bits here and there you always read about loki, the trickster. i will definitely check this book out, either through my library, or on paperbackswap.com. thanks!

  2. minnieon 16 Oct 2005 at 9:47 pm 2

    ok, i’m disgusted. i just looked in my public library, and they not only don’t have it, they have NOTHING by elizabeth barber. sigh. ok, off to paperbackswap.com and pray for me

  3. minnieon 16 Oct 2005 at 9:50 pm 3

    sigh, now it looks like i’ll ahve to buy the book to read it. i’m so depressed. i suppose i’ll have to go into the library itself, and actively request it. sigh.

  4. Laneaon 17 Oct 2005 at 8:15 am 4

    Minnie, definitely ask your library to get this book–it’s a great read. Barber’s book Women’s Work is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

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