Giving Thanks

It is a rare culture or group that doesn’t have some sort of day, festival, or worship service for giving thanks, or showing appreciation for labors and efforts. Harvest festivals are what most of us probably think about, or perhaps offering thanks to the ancestors for deliverance, or thanking a deity for independence, or victory, or the gift of Scripture and teachings, or something. It may be a day set aside on a ritual calendar, or just “when harvest is finished” every year. There’s always been a sense that someone, other than just the people who planted, tended, and harvested, or hunted, or fought, should be given thanks for the good thing that happened.

The US and Canada made that an official day on the calendar. Setting aside a national day of thanks was either the first or second executive order made by President George Washington (historians disagree). The day came and went, and then was made a permanent (this far) holiday, with a set date, in the 1900s. In some places, there are also separate religions days of thanks, like at the church I attended in Not-All-That-Flat state. It was a farming area and a farming town, and every year, when harvest ended, a special service of thanks was held. We also had special harvest and planting devotional guides, and prayer teams for harvest and planting. Yes, it was a very, very important event in the life of the people!

Then we’d have a sort of Harvest Home, minus the alcohol and “corn dollie.” Instead it was hot-dishes, Jellos, ham, and other good things, all cooked by people who did not farm. In part because the farm wives had been doing lots and lots and lots of cooking, and were tired. So the rest of us pitched in instead, and gave them and their families a break. We sang hymns like “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “This is my Father’s World,” and celebrated another year in the bin (as they say in that part of the world.) Harvest was close, it was critical, and we honored it.

Giving thanks means that you acknowledge something outside of yourself. It may be a deity, it may be people who helped you, it may just be gratitude to the world for being so beautiful and good. Looking outside of ourselves is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “us,” centered in ourselves in a bad way, and forgetful of what goes on around us. Saying “thank you,” acknowledging effort or generosity makes the way smoother and moves us out of our own heads, so to speak. Thus the frequent religious commands in most faiths that believers are to give thanks to the deity/deities for good things, and to apologize when that thanks is forgotten. It also binds people together in society.

Today, in the year 2021, it seems as if it is hard to give thanks, at least the usual phrases. Things are still off-kilter, more so than two years ago. For some of us it is better than in 2020, for others not so. But we are all here, and alive, and all of us have someone or something to give thanks for, even if it is colorful leaves and a beautiful sunset, or appliances that work and a car that runs, or a close family member still being with us and healthy.

So we in the US give thanks, eat festival foods, and think about the good things that we have been given. Who gave them? That’s up to you to say. I give thanks for readers and stories, for family and friends, for a non-leaking roof and a truck that runs, for a beautiful world with music and leaves and sunsets and amazing wonders in it.

What Purpose War?

It depends on the conflict, the participants, the causes . . . Glory for the ruler, or for the country (and the ruler), gain territory, redress past losses, revenge, gain territory, loot and run, because of alliances, to end oppression and evil, for the glory of G-d and to win souls (which is not strictly limited to the three monotheisms, as it turns out), to gain territory . . .

I got to musing on this because of teaching 1.5 wars (Austrian Succession, Seven Years’ War, American Revolution), preparing for another one (Napoleonic), listening to Sabaton, and reading about the news from Central Europe. Not so much why do men fight, although that is a lot of what Sabaton’s music explores, but why do nations and countries go to war? And what is the purpose.

Those of you who have read my stuff for any length of time know that I vehemently disagree with the “War is good for nothing” line of thought. There are, indeed, worse things than fighting and death. Look at political prisoners in Lenin and Stalin’s Gulags, the Killing Fields, Timurlane’s little trip through Central and South Asia, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, and a few other incidents documented in oral tradition and archaeology. War to keep would-be-Stalins from taking over? War to end Nazi atrocities? War to stop hostile military-aged invaders from overrunning your country ahead of someone else’s armed forces? War to secure a border when a nut-case with delusions of being the next Alexander tries to take over? In the name of his deity? Oh yes. Just War Theory and the international laws the derive from it always allow self defense. Most government laws in the US allow self defense, and the defense of those who cannot defend themselves.

What about war for territory? Used to, that was the main goal. It might be territory for a tribe (or super-tribe, a nation), or a monarch, or a deity (the Northern Crusades, jihad, the Inca’s early wars.) Winning made it yours. That was the only justification needed, although reasons and excuses generally followed, after the fighting stopped and the land had been claimed and pacified. Louis XIV was pretty up-front about setting the Rhine as his eastern border, and the lands that bordered the Rhine, and gaining glory for France—which meant glory for Louis. Other rulers were similar, he was just one of the more flamboyant and less successful. I think resource control can come under territory. Old school, very traditional, and frowned upon today. Not that it stops certain groups or individuals from attempting it.

To be honest, I can respect “I’m fighting to conquer land and rule it because I can” honesty. The silken phrases of professional diplomats wear on a person. “We need oil and farm land. You have it. Next question.” I may disagree, but it’s pretty clear what the goals are.

National honor? Well, what exactly does that mean? For China it means conquering Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, probably chunks of Korea and Vietnam, and controlling the territories that border Chinese territory. It means being recognized as the only power in the world, and all the other powers paying homage and kowtowing, possibly even literally (the nine bows and six prostrations). For the US? Um, heck if I know. Helping allies if they are attacked, keeping our word?

What about WWI? I think as much ink has been spilled on the “real purpose of WWI” as on the battles themselves, if not more. To preserve empire? To uphold alliances? To gain territory? To get even with Serbia for assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Because everyone wanted a short, hard war to “clear the air” and sort out who the fittest was for the next stage of evolution? Because Europe was due? Aliens? (OK, I have not found that one yet, but it’s probably out there.)

Like anyone who really studies military history, or who has been in the military, I don’t want war. War is an evil, although a lesser evil compared to some. Just as killing in self-defense is still taking a life, no matter how justified. War is hell, war is terrible, war can bring out amazing and wonderful things. It is something to be avoided if possible, and fought when needed. For there are worse things than fighting a war. No matter the original purpose of the war.

Nationalism, Patriotism, and the Press

“Elements of the Polish far-right . . .”

“The far-right German political party, Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) . . .”

“Concerns about the appearance of far-right protesters led the French government to . . .”

“Right-wing extreamists in the US are known for . . .”

What, exactly, do the reporters and commentators mean by “far right” and “right wing?” It’s hard to know, because you have to know the political leanings of the reporters, of the dominant elements in the government of the country being discussed, and something about the background of the event being decried, encouraged, or whatever. To me, if you are marching with a banner that has the Hakenkreutz under the international “NO” marking, and the Hammer and Sickle under the same NO, with your national crest in the middle, you are not Far Right. You are nationalist, firmly so, but not “Far evil fascistic white-supremacist antiSemitic Right.” Which is what the breathless journalism tried to claim.

Setting aside who inspired whom, and that Fascism died with either Mussolini or Franco (take your pick), the default in the media has lapsed to, “They are not actively Socialist/Progressive/Communist. Must be Eeeeeevil Far Right.” Yawn.

The terms right and left in politics owe their birth, like so many other bad ideas, to the French Revolution, namely the phase generally knows as The Terror. The legislative branch of the revolutionary government was centered on the speaker’s podium, with “the Mountain” the bulk of legislators in the center, the Jacobins and their allies to the left of the speaker (his left hand) and the Girondins and their allies to the right of the speaker. Now, all of these people were radical, but the Jacobins became much more pro-government, pro-total control, pro-erase history than the Girondins had a chance to become.

The Germans, being Teutonic and having the seat of their government in Berlin, seat the Communist/hard Left party members on . . . the left as you face the seats, and the Conservative-by-German-standards party members on the right. So the Communists and AfD or FDP glare across at each other.

In the US? No one knows what far-right means, other than “not a member of the Democratic, Green, or Socialist parties.” I think it means evil Alex Jones fans who own black plastic firearms, beat women, burn crosses at night, drive lifted pickups, drink the wrong kind of beer and coffee, and want to take over the world so they can beat up on everyone and restore the world o Birth of the Nation. But I could be wrong.

Short-hand is short, it doesn’t require thought. Alas, it also starts to inspire the targets of the short-hand to think, “Hmmm, why not live down to their expectations?” And responses in kind from the other side of the cultural aisle. Sort of like an acidic comment I heard to the effect that the difference between German skinheads [right, maybe] and German anarchists [hard left, maybe] was the amount of hair on the head.

If someone calls protesters marching with a “No NSDAP” sign “right wing,” well, all that shows is ignorance. And not on the part of the protesters.

“Far-right protestors called for the return of Western Civilization classes in public schools and universities.”


Terms of Confusion

I was reading an older (1980s) summary history of the German-speaking lands in the Early Modern period, and tripped over terms. What did he mean by Hohenstaufen? It took a bit for me to catch on that it mean the Staufer/Staufen dynasty, rather than the secondary branch of the family. You see, terms change, and I’ve been reading this period (so to speak) in German or with the current terminology, which uses the German. So I tripped.

Usually it is a technical term that causes the “confused puppy head tilt.” Stall is one. Not where horses stay, not a market booth, but when something quits. In the case of what I was immersed in this past weekend (17 hours worth, plus), it means “the moment when airflow over the wing detaches, flow ceases to be laminar, and the wing loses lift.” When most people hear “stall,” they think of what happens when a vehicle’s engine quits (drive into hood deep water, for example, or when the fuel lines become filled with air.) In an airplane, the engine can be turning quite loudly, there may be multiple obnoxious horns going off, an equally obnoxious flight instructor [yo!] saying, “Hold it, hold it, more right rudder, more right rudder,” and so on. In other words, not quiet at all! Or it can be quiet indeed, aside from the obnoxious horn going off. Aerodynamic stall vs. engine stall. Something quit, in both cases, but that’s about the only similar thing. They have rather different remedies.

Part of this is that terms do change over time. When I was first reading about paleo-mammals, the large wild bovine of Europe that lived until the 1700 was an auroch, and many of them were aurochs. Now one is an aurochs, and multiple are aurochsen. It’s a German plural, at least to my eyes. Instead of calling a dynasty Hohenstaufen, we use the preferred (and somewhat clearer) German term Staufen or Staufer. The Welfs are still the Welfs. Were the events of 1642-49 in England a revolution or a civil war? Both terms are used, and both could be considered accurate, depending on the political interpretation of the writer. So you can tell how the historian sees the event by which term is in the book’s title.

And then there’s the greatest technical term laden mass of confusion ever filmed, in my opinion:

Gee, any wonder someone pulls it up whenever there’s a continuing ed session about FAA terminology?

Is Your Goose Cooking?

You know, your Martinmas goose. What do you mean, you don’t eat goose on Martinmas? What are you, Protestant? American?

Today is Armistice Day, and Veterans Day, and Remembrance Day. It is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, patron of soldiers, conscientious objectors, wine makers, tailors, and the poor. St. Martin had some . . . difficulties with one goose in particular, and so eating goose on his feast day became a tradition. This also happened to be a good time to start slaughtering livestock in many parts of northern Europe, so that played a role as well.

Image used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original source:

In the US we remember the end of WWI by remembering all veterans, anyone who served honorably in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force. Memorial Day is reserved for the dead of all wars. In Britain and Europe, and the Commonwealth, November 11 is Armistice Day, when the dead of the wars are honored. (Germany sets aside a separate day as well, a Sunday, for commemoration and prayer.) At St. Angus-in-the Grass, we have a special chapel service with veterans speaking. Fr. Pax continued the tradition, and our current headmaster, Fr. Martial, is a former military chaplain. We have a number of alumni and parents and teachers who all served or are serving (Reserves, active-duty, National Guard.)

The US is a young country and we had a relatively “good” experience in WWI. Europe . . . didn’t. Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Canada, all sacrificed to help Britain, and bear similar scars, even if they didn’t suffer the bombings and severe deprivation that hit Britain. Armistice Day is Remembrance Day and is a grave, solemn event. In the US we honor the living on this day.

Thank you to all who served, and who are currently serving.

Being Brave

Former President Trump, whatever one thinks about him, had a good point last week. Americans (and others) need to regain our courage and be brave. It feels as if the past two years—perhaps longer—have been spent in concern, fear, hiding, worrying about “what’s out there?!?” We’ve been told that “the experts” have everything under control, except they didn’t and don’t. No one can have everything under control, as DadRed and I were reminded the other morning when the coffee maker attacked and caused a different appliance to have a migraine (damp in the circuits caused a precautionary shut-down.) Control and bravery are not the same, not by a long shot, but they can move in tandem.

Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning describes his experiences in the Nazi camps, and how he realized that the only thing he could control was his reaction to events. That’s all we can control, really. Do we lose our cool, do we give up in the face of doubt and constant nagging? Do we power through, bull-headed [no offense, Orvan] even though we might be in error? Do we keep a smile on our lips, a song in our hearts, and make other people wonder what we know (or if we just don’t know enough to be sufficiently panicked yet)? That’s a hard lesson for me, because I tend to worry, and fret, and fight to control everything that I can. I want predictable patterns in my life, a schedule that cooperates, plans that go as planned, and for things to work when I need them to work. When things go “sproing!” it causes great stress. When I try to control too much all at once, well, we get last week. Granted, the virus didn’t help matters, but self-induced stress opened the door for that virus, in all liklihood.

What is bravery? What is courage? We tend to think of people in extraordinary circumstances, people who do amazing things, or superheroes. Courage is Rick Rescorla in World Trade Center 1, or the men fighting fires on the USS Franklin, or Martin Luther facing down the Church and Holy Roman Emperor (what did I say about “stubborn?”) Or lifting a burning car off a wreck victim, or . . . something like that.

I think we as a society need to to keep those people in mind as models and examples. We also need to look smaller, and at quieter moments. George Washington screwing his courage and faith to the sticking post and pushing through when things looked very, very bleak indeed. People who get up in the morning and do their duty to their families and friends despite troubles of their own. People who stand up to temptations, or to bullies, who quietly say “no.” Or who ask “Why?” or “Why not?” The quiet, still, small voices who question, who draw small lines and by their deeds say, “No, this and no farther. I’m not going to be bullied, or forced, or deny my faith/family/freedoms.”

Stories have power. Actions have power. One thing the internet has done over the past decade and a bit is connect those actions and spread the stories. Bakers saying, “Here are other places that will do what you ask, and have good products.” Mothers saying, “I disagree with what you are trying to persuade my children to believe.” Pastors and rabbis saying, “That is not what my faith teaches, and I will not deny my faith.” People who help strangers, quietly, without demanding glory or government recognition. People who clean up a corner of the world and make it better for others, all without yelling or threatening. Those are all brave actions in their own ways.

Take heart. “You cannot choose your battlefield/ the gods do that for you./ But you can plant a banner/ where a banner never flew.”* Your battlefield might be a schoolboard meeting. Or it might be a smiling at people as you work and shop. It might be telling someone, “No, I disagree, and I will not contribute.” It might also be forcing yourself to go to work, to do something you disagree with, in order to feed your family while quietly looking for other options. Doing your duty is often hard, very hard. It can grind down your spirit the way a grindstone wears against other stones. Enduring can be an act of bravery, of resisting chaos and fear.

Take heart. Tell the stories of the great and good, of the small and brave. Read the stories that inspire, that encourage, that provide hope and comfort, that ease and provide refuge and escape, if only for an hour or two. Listen to your fears, but do not take full counsel of them. We cannot control the world, not really. We can control how we respond.

Take heart.

*Nathalia Crane “The Colors”

Five Steps from Aldo Leopold

If you are interested in national parks and wilderness areas in the US, or in land restoration, or in hunting and nature writing, you have probably heard of or read something by Aldo Leopold. If you are involved in wetland or stream restoration or remediation, you know the work of Luna Leopold, Aldo’s son, and Dave Rosgen, who studied under Luna and who devised a way to describe bodies of moving water in ways that are 1) useful and 2) universal.

I was revisiting an older post recently and started counting back. I studied under one of Rosgen’s students. That makes me four academic generations from Aldo Leopold. Closer, perhaps, because my teacher met Luna briefly at a conference when my teacher was younger. My other grad school pedigrees trace back to Francis Parkman and Frederick Jackson Turner. If you are into environmental or western US history, this is sort of cool. If you are outside of academia, you probably consider this information slightly less useful than the TV remote is to a goldfish. 🙂

I happened to be shifting books around two weeks ago, and rediscovered my copy of Luna Leopold’s textbook on hydrology. It is a bit dated in some ways, but still very useful. After all, water still flows uphill toward money, or downhill after a rain, at a rate that varies with the surface under the water and the intensity of the rainfall. Streams still erode their beds (degrading) or build them up by leaving extra sediment behind (aggrading). Hillslopes still slide downhill if conditions are just right, and take houses with them. Unless someone changes gravity’s intensity, or the physics of water flow, certain calculation methods and rules of thumb remain valid.

Luna was the son of Aldo Leopold. Aldo wrote some of the best articles about landscape, wildlife, and how we see them, that I have read. His Sand County Almanac and Other Writings is a classic among hunters, naturalists, and people who like reading about landscapes and critters. If I could write like that, and see like that . . . Sigh. He visited the Colorado River delta while it still had a goodly amount of water in it. He also acted as a predator control officer for the forest service back when all wolves and bears were to be extirpated. Then he saw the results, and became one of the strongest advocates for wilderness preservation and predator conservation. He died of a heart attack while fighting a small wildfire on his neighbor’s property in Wisconsin in 1948. All of his five children became biologists or hydrologists. His ideas about conservation, stewardship, and “land ethic” provide a balance between the “use it all up” side (now long gone in the US) and the “don’t touch, humans are bad” end of the environmental scale.

Aldo died in 1948. Luna died in 2006. Last I heard, my teacher is still around, as is Dave Rosgen. You can buy Aldo Leopold’s books today, and I encourage you to do so. They are great writing, even if you don’t agree with all of his philosophy. He and Loren Eisley are two of my favorites, although they are very, very different. (Eisley gets . . . Odd. And metaphysical, and strange. But his poem ‘The Innocent Assassins” and some of his essays on night and darkness are fascinating.)

No Extra Points for Length, Martin.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 arguments he had concerning teachings and people in the church. He attached the list to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Saxony, because that’s what university faculty did in those days. Sort of like all the different concert, lecture, and debate listings plastered all over campi today.

Except this turned out to be more controversial than usual, and Luther was stubborn as all get out. And so was the Pope, and politics got folded in, and today we have, well, more flavors of Western Christianity than Carter has liver pills. The Eastern Orthodox consider all of us sadly misguided, some more than others. The Jews look at all Christians and shrug.

The Western Church had gone through periods of reform in the past. Gregory the Great pushed missions and pulled charitable works back into the center of Church business – bishops and others were getting away from the ordinary believer, and it was causing problems. Francis of Assisi likewise – “Folks, the believers are down here, we need to be talking to them, not over or at them.” The early 1300s were not great for the Church as an institution. Individual bishops, priests, nuns did a lot of work for a lot of people, but the organization . . . didn’t handle the Black Death and the social trauma from that very well. (I’m not sure any large institution could have, to be honest.) And then you had a trio of popes who wouldn’t take “we think you need to retire” as a viable suggestion, and a lot of people were thinking about changes. Many of those people stayed inside the Church, now called Roman Catholic Church, and worked for change and improvement. Others broke away, and thus we got the Reformation.

The performance below is the 500th anniversary, in the Trinity Reformed Church in Speyer. And yes, those are Catholic nuns (and a few Lutheran nuns as well. It’s complicated.) A good hymn knows no denomination.

Rules Written in Blood

Aviation, at least in the US, has a surprisingly short list of rules. Part 91 of the federal transportation and other things regulations applies to everyone who flies anything. And as I told students, there is a lot of implied good judgement in the rules. Legal isn’t always smart. Smart comes down to the most important rule in the book: The pilot-in-command has the final authority and responsibility for the flight. The pilot in command can deviate from any of the rules if in his judgement safety demands it. Yes, you will have to explain, especially if something gets bent or broken. But the PIC is the boss, and everything else is based on trying to keep flying things out of undue proximity to the ground and to each other.

If you can’t see the ground, and you don’t have a “fly in clouds” license, don’t fly in the clouds. If you have not recently practiced flying and landing at night, don’t fly at night. If you are going eastbound, more of less, fly at an odd thousand feet plus 500 (if you are visual flight rules). Westbound gets the even thousands, plus 500. Don’t fly so close to the ground that you fly into the ground. Don’t be stupid. Don’t fly a broken airplane unless you label the broken thing so that you don’t get fooled and start to trust it. When around an airport, look out for other planes. The slowest, least-maneuverable thing has the right of way. Emergencies have the right of way (i.e. the guy on fire can land ahead of a blimp.)

If you are an airliner, you can’t go sightseeing off the approved route. Why? Because in 1956 two airliners were doing that, over the Grand Canyon, and one descended onto the other. People died. If your airplane is not certified and equipped for flying in known icing, don’t fly into known icing. Why? Because people did, and crashed, and died. Unless you are cleared for take off, or to cross the runway, and you and the controller agree that there is no one else on the runway, don’t take off, or don’t cross the runway. Why? March 1977, KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on the main runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It also showed that better cockpit communication rules might be needed, because the KLM captain did not listen to his copilot/First Officer when the man asked about the Pan Am being clear of the runway. It wasn’t.

Engineering has its own rules. You can’t build certain things certain ways. You can’t build a 2000 foot-tall radio antenna without guy-wires and other supports. Dams need to be anchored to the bedrock beside them with a watertight seal (see Teton Dam, 1976). You have to allow for resonances in bridges where the wind blows (Tacoma Narrows). There are times where heavy structure trumps airy design.

Lots of areas of endeavor have rules written in blood. I’m not going to go into recent events in New Mexico, other than to say that I feel very, very sorry for the families of the woman who was killed and the man who was injured. Had the Four Rules of firearms handling been applied, it is possible that the accident would not have happened. 1. The firearm is always loaded. 2. Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. 3. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. 4. Remember what is behind your target. Heck, Fr. Martial smiled when he observed that when I stopped cleaning the desks in order to talk to him, I moved my finger off the “trigger” of the spray bottle and pointed the bottle at the outside wall. (Spraying one’s boss with cleaner/disinfectant is generally considered somewhat gauche.)

“Why can’t I skim the bottom of the clouds? It’s fun!” It’s fun until the clouds get lower, or someone else appears on an instrument flight plan and descends on top of you, or you don’t see a mountain in time.

“Why can’t I stay at 6500′ MSL* until it’s time to climb to get through the pass into Albuquerque?” Because there is a 7200′ ridge in the way. It loves to eat airplanes. For a while it was averaging one a year. Beware of clouds with crunchy middles.

*Mean Sea Level. Then there’s ASL, above sea level. The two are generally, but not always, the same. The most important, however, is AGL. Above ground level, where one should remain between takeoff and landing.

Prometheus or Lucifer?

My mind went roaming.Yes, it came home safely, thank you. {glares at the wallaby on the back row}

What got my mind meandering was the song “Lucifer” from Avantasia’s album Ghostlights. The song was playing as I drove to the gym the other morning. Within the past few weeks, Sarah Hoyt had a post about Prometheus, and how he taught mankind to cheat the gods – or to keep unjust gods from getting what wasn’t theirs to begin with, take your pick – and got chained to a rock and tormented by an eagle every day. In the German Romantic literary canon, Prometheus was a hero, and got all the good lines. Sort of like Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost, except . . . Satan is glorious, amazing, and evil. Prometheus is defiant and a symbol of the independent man standing up to the unjust Powers That Be.

It just so happened that the folks working at the gym had put on a hip-hop station, and the lyrics being chanted were about a guy who thought he was a demi-god come down to earth and becoming a mere man in order to rule the place. That approach to the world explains why so many “aspiring young rappers” (as the Canadian news service seems to always describe them) get done in when their egos make demands that society vehemently disagrees with. “You will be like unto G-d,” promises the serpent in the garden. Except not bulletproof, or knife-proof, or free from the consequences of your actions.

There’s some suggestion that Prometheus was a later addition to the Greek mythological canon than some of the other gods. I have not tried to track that down. But I wonder if he’s the Trickster, and goes back a ways in popular belief before he became official. Lots of polytheistic religions have some sort of ambiguous Trickster, be it Prometheus, or Loki, or Anansi, or Coyote, or Raven, or some of the Australian Aboriginal figures. Except Prometheus doesn’t have an obvious “dark” side, if the surviving mythology tells true, unless it is not warning man about the risks of irking the other gods. He teaches men how to cheat the gods, and steals fire for mankind in order to help people thrive as well as just survive. Or he helps people trick the gods and keep the best of the sacrifice for themselves. Who gets hurt there? Only the Olympian deities. Prometheus had already switched sides in the war of the Titans vs. the Olympian gods, because the Titans wouldn’t take his advice, according to Hesiod. So he had a shady reputation to start with, as far as Zeus and Co. were concerned, and then he helps trick them. Instead of promptly blasting the people for listening to Prometheus, the gods blast Prometheus. Then they unleash Pandora and her box on humanity as revenge for mere mortals daring to think we could “cheat” the gods.

Lucifer/Satan refused to accept the role of servant and disobeyed the Most High. For this he and his followers were cast out of Heaven. He is associated with the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and with tempting Jesus to sin. In Revelation Lucifer/Satan appears as the enemy of G-d, one half of the war in Heaven where St. Michael is mentioned as leading the forces of good. The book of Isiah has a section called the “Five ‘I Will’s’ of Satan,” where a figure proclaims his determination to be like the Most High, to be a deity. The entire section is a promise and a curse, and one of those chapters that generally seem to escape being preached upon, save for verses 13-14.

Goethe, in one of the key poems of the “Sturm und Drang” side of Romantic writing, has Prometheus railing against Zeus. Prometheus, the narrator, proclaims that he greater than the god of storms and sky, because Zeus cannot touch what Prometheus has created. The speaker’s heart is the source of all, and the gods envy that. Envy is what leads to Prometheus’ downfall, not justice, and the titan remains defiant. Prometheus uses the familiar “du” to address the chief of the Olympian gods, familiarity and contempt. Very Romantic, very much “storm and stress,” wild passion and defiance of the conventional order by one who knows that he is in the right, no matter what life brings. Sound familiar?

It’s probably best to avoid both Lucifer and Prometheus, at least as they are preserved in mythology and culture. Tricksters can be very helpful . . . or not.