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The Dragon: Making Sense Of A Worldwide Myth
Tuesday, April 16, 2019 - 18:45
Everyone is familiar with the mythical motif of the Dragon. In myths and fairy tales across the world, we find different versions of a snake-like, coiling creature which connects earth and sky, dwells in water, breathes fire and has a particular fondness for young maidens. In this talk, Chris will be proposing a revolutionary new way of decoding dragon myths. The dragon has nothing to do with folk memories of dinosaurs. Instead, it belongs to the sphere of human ritual, particularly initiation ritual. The dragon is a way of representing matrilineal kinship and women's solidarity through menstrual synchrony, a social force often depicted negatively under conditions of patriarchy. Some of the most persuasive evidence for this new interpretation comes from Aboriginal Australia, where stories about a Rainbow Snake are not disembodied myths but are still acted out in ritual performance.
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In the Batek’s forest, laughter and mockery are often subject to taboo, and inappropriate laughter or mockery can cause storms, madness, ill-health, or even death. However, although these taboos are viewed and described with utmost seriousness, people also find great pleasure in laughing together and making jokes. In fact, this pleasure is often intensified when the laughter or joke is forbidden and risks catastrophe. This sets up a dynamic whereby it is largely up to individuals whether they choose to follow the taboos, or to ignore them and succumb to the pleasure of sharing in subversive laughter. Speaking to debates on power and ethics, this paper therefore both outlines the Batek’s laughter taboos, and asks how managing the conflicting demands of laughter shapes people’s ethical values, particularly in relation to power, authority, and egalitarianism.