Monday, 25 February 2008

landscape and mythology

The word 'landscape' is derived from painting, and originally meant a painting of an idyllic scene (with no inharmonious elements, of course). Its meaning has become extended to mean the land itself.

When I think of landscape, I think of rolling hills and woods and rocks and rivers, and all the history and mythology that have shaped the land, making a palimpsest of layers of meaning. In a way, a landscape seems to me a place that has been shaped by human interaction as well as by wind and water and geology; a wilderness is a place that has been mostly shaped by wind and water and geology.

The mythology and folklore of landscape endures when its pagan significance has been almost forgotten. Just off the shore of the Greek island of Kos, there's a rock which is said to look like the face of Zeus in profile. In Scotland, there's a hill by Loch Leven which is said to be a sleeping giant, who will awake when Scotland has need of him. Near Dunster in Somerset, there's a hill associated with a giant. And of course Wales, Cornwall, Brittany, and the ancient Celtic kingdom of Rheged are chock full of sites associated with King Arthur. Tolkien wrote about the mythopoeic significance of the land and trees, and the archetypal truth of the mythopoeic worldview.

Sometimes I like to just look at the land without an intervening layer of mythology; and sometimes the mythology seems so fitted to that particular land that it enhances it. It certainly seems odd to think that some people have no mythic associations to their local landscape, or that they find one place on Earth so sacred that they are prepared to kill for access to it.

Of course, there's always the possibility of attaching new mythology to the land, as you develop your personal relationship with it.

[Part of a Synchroblog on landscape and mythology]

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