Caravanserai Magazine Archive

Published 1988-2000 semi-annually on behalf of the Sufi Movement International by the Sufi Movement in Canada.


1989 Volume 3. ""Earth & Sky”: C"

Names and Forms, known and unknown to the world.

Saint Christopher

It is difficult to know if there ever was a historical Christopher, although the building of a church in his honour at Chalcedon as early as 450 AD suggests that he may have been a martyr in Asia Minor, perhaps in the third century. Nothing else is known, however, and the Roman Catholic church has removed him from the roll of saints for lack of real evidence. The story of Saint Christopher, though, is still filled with meaning, and it is possible that he was only ever meant as an allegorical figure. The legend of Saint Christopher is that he was of massive size, and wished therefore to serve only the mightiest of masters. Both an earthly king and Satan disappointed him, and so at last, in search of a better master, he retired to a well-travelled ford which he helped wayfarers to cross. One night, carrying a child across the river, he found his burden becoming so heavy that he could hardly bear it. "It is no wonder," the child told him, "for you have been bearing the whole world. I am Jesus, the Christ, the king you seek."

Naturally, because of his supposed work at the ford, Christopher has become the patron saint of travellers, and in medieval times, it was believed that those who looked upon his image would come to no harm during that day.


Many cultures have had trickster gods, and Coyote was a North American native version common to a number of tribes. The canine quadruped of the same name is found everywhere on the Great Plains and in the northern forests, and has a distinct combination of qualities: shrewd, curious, elusive, seemingly indestructible and eternally hungry. The trickster-god Coyote is the same: sly, self-serving, appearing when least expected, impossible to catch. Although he is credited with creating the world or some parts of it, he is not a lofty dweller of the skies, but a being who mingles freely in the affairs of humans, a lusty, earth figure who is fooled as often as he fools.

For the Crow Indians, for example, in the beginning there was only water and Old Man Coyote, and he made the world we have today, with the help of some ducks who brought him mud from the bottom of the water. The White Mountain Apaches, though, tell a story of how Coyote tricked Sun out of his tobacco, and then was tricked, in turn, by the Apache people. They did this by offering Coyote a wife. In celebration, Coyote gave away tobacco, but he found out at dawn that the 'wife' was only a boy dressed up as a girl. It was too late, though — the Apache people have sacred tobacco to this day. Throughout the myths of the world, there are intriguing parallels. The Crow story has resonance with both the creation story of Genesis, and the story of Noah and the flood. In the Apache story, Coyote is similar to Prometheus, who stole fire from the Sun and gave it to humanity.


It is difficult to reconcile the chubby, frolicking, infantile figure now associated with this name with it origins. Cupid (cupido, 'desire'), also known as Amor and Eros, was the classical god of love, and specifically sexual love. The Greeks told two stories of his origin. One was that he came from Chaos at the beginning of time, brought about the union of the primal father and mother, Uranus, 'sky,' and Gaia, ‘earth’ and supervised all subsequent unions of gods and humans. The other version was that he was the strong, handsome and athletic son of Aphrodite and Ares. The child-like version of Cupid dates from Hellenic and Roman times, when it was the tradition that the god's influence came as arrows fired into the heart. There were two kinds of arrows, though, some tipped with gold, and some with lead. The gold arrows naturally created passionate desire where they struck, but the ones tipped with lead caused the victim to turn away from those who might desire him or her.

The most well-known legend of Cupid, or Eros, is the deeply symbolic story of Psyche. Briefly, Psyche was a mortal girl of unearthly beauty who provoked the jealousy of Aphrodite. The goddess sent her son to punish her by causing her to fall in love with a monster, the ugliest creature imaginable. Instead, though, Cupid/Eros accidentally pricked himself with one of his own arrows, and fell in love with her himself. Without telling his mother, he had her wafted by the west wind to a palace in a secret valley. They lived there quite happily, Cupid coming to her only at night to disguise his divinity, until Psyche's sisters found her and persuaded her to learn her husbands true identity. Needless to say, this brought their happiness to an end, and Psyche had to endure much suffering and four symbolic tests, even descending into Hades, before Zeus finally re-united the two, granting Psyche immortality with a draft of nectar. Eros and Psyche then had a daughter whom they named Voluptas, 'pleasure.'

If there is a parallel between Coyote and Prometheus, there seems also to a be a parallel between Cupid and the trickster Coyote — as anyone who has felt the illogical, unreasonable dart of passion might agree.


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