The excerpts from Why the World Doesn't End: Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss by Michael J. Meade highlight the connection between apocalypses and new beginnings. Judeo-Christian, Hindu, and Mesopotamian flood myths are examples of folktales that emphasize this connection.
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1. Why do you think apocalypse stories, and specifically flood myths, are so common across different cultures?
2. What do you think accounts for the similarities and differences between apocalypse stories and flood myths across cultures?
Compare the apocalypse stories in the reading to other apocalypse or post-apocalypse stories you have read/watched/heard. Can you see the theme of renewal present in those other stories?
The jack pine (Pinus banksiana), a tree of the northern Minnesota forests where I grew up, requires the heat of fire to open their resin-dense cones and release their seeds. The end that is a forest fire is a required step along the journey of new life. In “The Story of Apocalypse,” Michael Meade invites us to recognize the seeds of renewal contained in what may look like the end.
Meade turns our attention to mythic origin stories, which themselves emerge out of crisis and rupture. Folk tales, myths, and religious/cultural narratives ascribe meaning to life and the challenges inherent in it. Mead invites us to explore the symbolic meanings and enduring wisdom found in such ancient narratives. Such stories bear “the kind of wisdom offered by the enduring characters found in the timeless territories of folk myths.” Like the cones of the jack pine, what may seem like an apocalyptic end, in both literature and life, may in fact herald something new.
Think of stories of your cultural or religious heritage. Can you identify narratives and symbols that speak to the human journey through this world, especially when faced with what seems apocalyptic? What are the seeds of renewal that might emerge from the heat of fire?
Michael J. Meade is a renowned storyteller, author, and scholar of mythology, anthropology, and psychology. He is the author of Why the World Doesn't End: Tales of Renewal in Times of Loss, Awakening the Soul, The Genius Myth, Fate and Destiny: The Two Agreements of The Soul, and The Water of Life: Initiation and the Tempering of the Soul. He is an editor, with James Hillman and Robert Bly, of Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart, and the creator of the Living Myth podcast.
Check out The End of the World: Stories of the Apocalypse on the Internet Archive. It features texts by Neil Gaiman, George R. R. Martin, and other authors. Users will have to create an account and borrow the book digitally to access it.