Wednesday, November 18, 2015


An Archaeologically Correct Sumerian Origin Myth

Alfred D. Byrd

Once, thousands of years ago, there were two valleys where civilization was about to arise. The first valley, in northern Africa, held a wonderful river that flowed from mountains in the south through a desert in the north. Every year, just before time for planting, the river flooded its banks in the desert with rain that it had carried from the mountains; then, subsiding, the river left on its banks a fresh layer of soil on which the valley's people could raise two or even three crops a year. The valley's inhabitants were so fond of their wonderful river, which gave them life in the desert, that they built the entrances of all of their houses facing the river so that it would be the first thing that they saw when they rose each morning. In fact, it isn't too much to say that the inhabitants thought of their river as their boyfriend or husband, for, at certain times each year, they'd dance beside it and sing songs of love to it. We might think of this river's valley Happy Valley, or we might think of it as Hapi Valley, for Hapi was the people's name for the river, which we call the Nile. The Nile's people, the Egyptians, are fascinating, well worth our study, but we'll leave them now, for they weren't the first to found a civilization.

The first civilization arose in the second valley, to the north and east of the Nile, in a land that we now call Iraq. In contrast to the Egyptians' Happy Valley, we have to call the second valley Sad Valley. Here, two rivers flowed from mountains in the north through a desert in the south. The Ancient Greeks, who made many of the names that we still use, called the valley of these two rivers Mesopotamia, The Land Between the Rivers. This name isn't quite correct, because important events took place on both banks of both rivers, not just between the rivers. The Greeks really should have called the valley Bipotamia, The Land of the Two Rivers, but it's too late to correct their mistake now. The rivers carried rain from the mountains to the desert, but did so too late in the year to help crops planted in the spring and too early to help crops planted in the fall.

The bad timing of the rivers' flooding was not their only shortcoming. The river in the east, the Tigris, flowed straight south from the mountains and at first ran like a well-behaved stream through a rainy country where a people called the Assyrians would someday arise and terrify the world. When the Tigris reached the desert, however, where its water was actually needed, the river spread out over the desert, which was as nearly perfectly flat as land can be, in huge marshes where nothing grew but reeds, and where humans could live only by fishing from tiny reed boats. Despite its marshes, the Tigris was no trouble at all beside the river in the west, the Euphrates. This rose in the northern mountains only a few miles from the Tigris' source, but wandered all over northern Mesopotamia before it finally turned south to run beside the Tigris. The Euphrates picked up massive amounts of soil in the lands through which it ran, and deposited this soil as huge mud flats in the desert, west of the marshes beside the Tigris. Like all other rivers that run over mud flats, the Euphrates built up its banks with mud until it actually flowed above the level of the surrounding plain, and then burst it banks in a flood, covered the plain with muddy water from horizon to horizon, and built up a whole new set of banks, miles from the first, when the flood was over.

In the mud beside the Euphrates, the first civilization arose. This was an unlikely place for civilization's rise, for, besides being in a rainless desert, the mud by the Euphrates held no stone or metal, and grew only a few willows and palms for timber. To make things worse, the desert was hot; in the summer, it's not uncommon for the temperature to reach one hundred and twenty degrees there. If someone suggested to you, "Let's build our house on mud flats where it's unbearably hot, there's no rain, stone, or metal, and a flood is going to destroy everything every few years," you'd likely tell that person, "No, thanks, I can do better." In our way of thinking, no intelligent people would choose to live on the mud flats by the Euphrates. Since the ancestors of the heroes of our story, the Sumerians, were just as intelligent as we are, they probably didn't choose to live where they did. Likely, they lived there simply because all of the other land in Mesopotamia was taken by other peoples. Still, on the mud flats, the ancestors of the Sumerians settled, and, on the mud flats, the Sumerians built the first civilization.

Life on the mud flats was hard for those who settled there. Making hoes from reeds and baked clay, and sickles from baked clay, the people tried to raise barley and wheat by the Euphrates. Because its mud was fertile, the people of the mud flats could, by working from sunrise to sunset eight months out of the year, raise one good crop in a good year. Every few years, however, the rain in the northern mountains would be especially heavy, and the Euphrates, carrying the rain into the desert, burst its banks in a flood and covered the land with muddy water from horizon to horizon. The flood destroyed in a day all that the people of the mud flats had built for years, but the people had no time to worry about what they'd lost, for they were busy trying to learn to swim or breathe mud. When survivors had a chance to rebuild their homes and farms, they'd find that the river had moved miles away from where it had flowed. Even when no flood came, the peoples of the northern mountains came to the mud flats every few years and stole what little the people who lived there had saved for themselves.

Living in such a terrible land as that of the mud flats tends to warp the minds of those who live there. In Eastern Kentucky, where my people lives, someone who plans to do something may say, "God willing, and the creek don't rise." The people by the Euphrates would have understood this line perfectly. Because of the hardness of their life, they became fatalists: that is, they believed that, no matter how hard one worked, all that he or she did could be destroyed at any moment by events beyond one's control.

Many fatalists give up on life; they put on white robes, go to a mountaintop, and wait for the world to end. To the early Sumerians, however, giving up on life was no option because of another depressing belief that they held. They believed that their gods had created them only to be the gods' slaves. According to the Sumerians, the gods, powerful beings in human form, had come from the sky to the mud flats by the Euphrates. There, the gods molded the mud into figures of humans and shouted at them, "Come to life, figures of mud!" When the figures of mud blinked their eyes and tried to figure out why they were lying on the ground, the gods shouted at them, "Why are you just lying there? Don't you understand that we want houses and clothing and food? Get to work and make us these things!" Recognizing that it's useless to argue with beings who can bring mud to life, the Sumerians got to work. They built large houses of mud for the gods, and small houses of mud for themselves, and large walls of mud around the houses in hope that the walls would keep the next flood's water from sweeping the houses away. The walls also turned out to be useful for keeping the peoples of the northern mountains from stealing what little the Sumerians had saved for themselves. In hope of preventing the next flood altogether, the Sumerians built up the Euphrates' banks; they also dug canals from it to carry its waters to reservoirs so that the waters would be available to the Sumerians year around. With these waters, they could grow crops, not just by the river's banks, but as far out in the mud flats as the canals could carry the waters.

Because the mud was fertile, the Sumerians, by working from sunrise to sunset eight months out of the year, could grow more barley and wheat than even the gods could use. Some of the grain, the Sumerians used to bake bread and brew beer for the gods; some of the grain, they used to bake bread and brew beer for themselves; the rest of the grain, they traded to the peoples of the lands around the mud flats for timber, stone, and metal. When the Sumerians received these, they thought, "Maybe, if we turn these into useful, beautiful objects, the gods will be pleased with us." Some of the useful, beautiful objects, the Sumerians used to make the houses of the gods magnificent; some of the useful, beautiful objects, the Sumerians used to make their own houses comfortable; the rest of the useful, beautiful objects, they traded to peoples of distant lands for spices, silk, ivory, precious stones, and gold.

In time, the peoples of the lands around the mud flats looked at the land of the Sumerians and saw, rising from the mud, shining cities like nothing else in the world. The peoples of other lands were amazed at the Sumerians, who were richer, wiser, more powerful, and more influential than any other people of the earth. The Sumerians raised their eyes to the sky and said, "We owe it all to the gods, whose slaves we are"; then they turned their eyes to the peoples of other lands and said, "But we're better slaves than you are."

Moral: If life casts you onto a mud flat, start digging for gold.

If you liked this story, you might also like some of my short stories, novellas, novels, and historical and religious writngs that are available on Kindle.

Thursday, July 16, 2015



Alfred D. Byrd

Schoolday's beginning
Swiftly reshapes a loner,
Finding a soulmate.

"Newfound companion,
Meeting my parents at home,
You've found a welcome."

Brothers are trouble,
Knowing what secrets we hate,
Yet make us stronger.

Dangers around us
Threaten the peace of our lives,
Which verge on nightmares.

Fantasy's visions
Of Elves and Orcs in conflict
Fascinate dreamers.

Dreaming is useless,
Paying no bills with its signs.
We need employment.

Mystical visions
Order beautiful dreamers,
"Honor Atlantis!"

Sudden misfortune
Changes the path of dreamers,
Mourning a loved one.

Sometimes, to dreamers,
Answers come clear in a flash
From childhood's lessons.

Heartbreak will claim you,
Hearing your lover call out,
"Goodbye. Be happy."

Heartbreak within you,
Somehow, your life keeps going.
College may help you.

Finding another —
Treason to one whom you loved,
Or hope reviving?

Using deception,
Winning a girlfriend your hope —
Tricksters should prosper?

Mourning an exile
Wakens a neighbor to love
For one deserted.

Letters remind you,
Lover deserted, of her
Still loved in secret.

Shaking what's settled,
Heartbreaking pilgrim returns,
Her news a challenge.

Planning is useless?
Others, with minds of their own,
May shape your future.

Changing your household
Moves you to change your lifestyle.
Mirror your setting.

Relatives test us.
Telling our stories of shame,
They keep us humble.

Choosing presumption?
Better get ready to be
Alone or sorry.

Suddenly, trouble —
The road ahead is empty.
"Leaving," she tells you.

Partings of lovers
Often arise from error,
Hearing her wrongly.

Ready for marriage?
Many may say, "It's a snap,"
But find it daunting.

Countless the weddings,
Country churches their venues,
Lasting a lifetime.

Furniture, housewares —
Starting a household requires
Both pluck and humor.

Growing tomatoes?
Newlyweds swiftly find out
The lore of aphids.

Needing assistants?
Relatives sometimes will do,
If you're not picky.

Visitors help us
Treasure the things of the past —
The seeds of futures.

"Honey, I'm pregnant"
Urges a husband to face
The things that matter.

Sometimes, you're busy,
Doing what needs to be done,
But missing meaning.

Brother returning,
Bringing new ways from afar,
Will change your lifestyle.

Everyone changes.
Meeting a friend from the past,
You face your future.

Dying, they leave us.
Relatives bearing our past
May bound our future.

Hateful abusers
Trouble our lives for spite
And make us mirrors.

Mysteries hedge us.
Persons considered our friends
May harbor secrets.

Many certainties,
Seeming forever secure,
Depart in whirlwinds.

Grieving? Not easy.
Weakness, we've learned of weeping.
Funerals help us.

Distant companions,
Living apart from our lives,
May meet disaster.

Future? Uncertain.
Danger just laughs at our plans
Of love or labor.

Mysteries lead us,
Needing a party to blame,
To try the blameless.

Rumors pursue us.
Sometimes, we wonder whose life
We may be living.

Choices define us.
Futures arise from persons
Making decisions.

Parents precede us,
Early, in matters of life —
Later, in passing.

Marriages stun us.
Sometimes, they come from the blue
In lifetime's autumn.

Children are troubled,
Finding a way to channel
Darkness within them.

Nothing is certain.
Accidents shatter our lives
And make us mourners.

Loved ones have left us.
Duties, however, go on,
Mocking what's empty.

Sometimes, revival
Reaches us, carried by friends
Who've shared our journey.

Outsets are fragile.
Renewal depends on hopes
That may elude us.

Nothing is finished.
Our lives go on together
On a quest for hope.

If you found this poem rewarding, you may enjoy Thistledown, the novel on which it's based.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


by Alfred D. Byrd

Peace is too fragile.
Passions constructed on lies
Lure us to combat.

Friendship allows us,
Seeking in others new light,
To learn of ourselves.

To love a songbird—
Often, we lose our desire
When it flies away.

Diplomas matter.
Seeking respect through degrees—
Will you find success?

Another message—
Symbols beyond our knowledge—
Waken a sleeper.

Ignorance kills us.
Drawing on darkness for light,
We breed delusion.

Darkness is speaking,
Telling, whispered in symbols,
Secrets to no one.

Glory is fleeting.
Sometimes, pioneers languish,
Losing to others.

Politics claim us.
Symbols are altered to serve
The needs of the state.

Who's coming to us?
A friend, a rival, a foe?
Can we read the signs?

Conjectures flourish,
Filling the heavens with chaff,
When we're short on facts.

We turn to revels,
Blessings of gods, we may say,
When we're filled with doubts.

At times, we're spinning,
Seeking to find direction.
Often, it flees us.

Deadened emotions
Burgeon, finding a love
When they've lost their hope.

Are pictures the roots
From which we grow our writings?
We grope in the dark.

The news of silence,
Telling us, "No one is home,"
May be, "We're over."

Facing disaster—
Lover, now stranger, is lost—
Compels us to wait.

To shout at a crowd
A message of fear and death
Is to speed their birth.

To give up your love
For others who need her help
Is to grow, but die.

To seize a future,
Ponder a path to success
And learn how to walk.

A stranger, a friend—
What traits distinguish the two
When you seek the truth?

Belief may bring us
Deadly rewards for our faith
If it stems from fear.

Do we know our friends?
Within a heart beside us,
Murder may fester.

Seeing a message
Seeming to show you the truth,
Consider the source.

Although no meaning
Shatters the wall of the Dark,
The quest will go on.

You can learn more of the novel on which this haiku sequence is based at Madness of the Glyphs.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shadows of TO THE THRONE OF GOD: The Fifth Thread of the Dhitha Tapestry

Alfred D. Byrd

Is peace no more than muchness of money and goods?
If so, how soon it'll end in sorrow and shame!
You may stand amid the stars, but stumble swiftly.
Riches are never enough to deny defeat
To ones who worship glory when it wanes for them.
The heights can hold no safety for hearts of darkness.

Pride and fear have brought a world to the eve of war, a war that Timothy Johnston is coming to think is unstoppable. Thanks to him, that war will now affect only one world, his adoptive world of Tena. He has saved the earth from invasion by Tena's two Human-derived alien species, the gracious Dhitha and the blood-drinking Vulg, but at what cost to his adoptive world, now the world of his irreversible exile?

Because of the gift of Light that makes him a Dancer, a wielder of telepathic and telekinetic gifts, and because of the wild gift that makes the priesthood of the Sacred Fire regard him either as a potential high prophet or heretic, he has no choice but to get involved in the politics that will almost certainly bring the Dhitha and the Vulg into their most deadly and destructive conflict. He must fight against the prejudices of social standing and of species that divide the world of an orange sun and a purple sky if there is any chance of saving that world from the deadly weapons imported from the earth for an invasion that will now never occur.

Regardless of whether Timothy succeeds or fails, Tena will change. The new high ruler of the Empire of the Dhitha, the beautiful and charismatic, but willful and ambitious Anthemrela, will ensure change. She speaks of peace, but it is she whose policies have ensured war — her policies, or perhaps the human heart from which they arise. A voice of prophecy has said, "War lies in the human heart."

Immemorial custom will die, replaced by — what? Timothy is unsure of whether progress for the sake of progress is better than the stasis that it is meant to overthrow. Many who are high are brought low, and many who are low are brought high, but does the change of position of high and low really make for a better, more stable world than leaving things as they were would have yielded?

Events escape even the control of Timothy and Anthemrela, friends, yet rivals in the world of guiding a world. Both have gifts of Light, and neither has time to question why the Giver of Gifts has seemingly set the recipients of gifts at odds with each other. If only there were a clear vision instead of the riddles that Timothy feels compelled to speak…

Listen to words that you've learned from lips of prophets,
But hated to take to heart for harm to your plans.
The faults of fathers become the failure of sons;
What marked the mothers with shame has marred their daughters.
A truth in which you can trust has tried your patience;
What hides in your heart destroys the health of your world.

The message is unpopular; its means of transmission is questionable; the messenger is filled with self-doubt. Is the speaker of riddles a high prophet or a heretic? The priests reach a decision…

If you wish to learn more of Timothy's quest, please read To the Throne of God. This is available in paperback from Lulu and in Kindle format from Amazon. All five books of The Dhitha Tapestry are now available in Kindle format: Through the Gate of Horn, On the Wings of Dream, In the Fire of Dawn, At the Brink of War, and To the Throne of God.. Walk in the Light!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Shadows of AT THE BRINK OF WAR: The Fourth Thread of The Dhitha Tapestry

Alfred D. Byrd

"If you're about to be named a high prophet, why are you running for your life?" one might ask Timothy Johnston, reluctant protagonist of The Dhitha Tapestry. As At the Brink of War opens, he has fled through a Doorway from Tena to his native world to tell the earth of a coming invasion by religious fanatics in league with cannibal vampires. If only the invaders weren't so likeable that one was tempted to overlook their intended evil! To them, however, it appears as good…

He may not be able to escape his pursuers; still less can he escape a gift that burns within him. With light from his eyes, he inscribes in letters of fire on a wall a poem, the message of the concluding stanza of which fills him with dread:

A work now begun will go to its goal as planned,
But its end is dark to eyes unopened to truth.
The dark delivers the light; the loveless stagger.
Bursting, a bomb will shatter a baby's slumber;
A child will arise and run to reach a palace.
The blind will open their eyes and honor the One.

Does the cryptic stanza promise a final peace after a final war? More than just Timothy want to learn the answer to this question. Besides him, the gracious Dhitha, the blood-drinking Vulg, and Humans who live among the once-Human aliens seek the answer fervently. Ironically for all of them, it may lie in a jingle spoken by a renegade telepath, acting outside the strict bounds of propriety on her world:

Two who are one, clothed in the sun,
Walk through the land. None can withstand
Makers of change. They will derange
Things of the past. Nothing will last
But what is true, ever made new,
Tested by fire. Leave on your pyre
Doubt and despair. Dawn will be fair.

Reluctantly, Timothy comes to accept that the future of two worlds and three peoples lies in the hands of two persons set apart by a force that neither can understand — set apart to determine peace or war. If he, the speaker of prophecy, prevails, so will peace; if Anthemrela, the beautiful and willful newly-made empress, prevails, war may spread beyond anything previously imagined.

Like many another prophet, Timothy asks, "Why me?" It must be he, however, or an instrument of the dark ablaze with light will determine the path of history — a path that may well bring an empire to initial glory, but may bring all lands lasting destruction. What will become, not only of two world, but perhaps of all worlds, teeters on the brink of war.

If you wish to learn more of Timothy's quest, please read At the Brink of War. This is available in paperback from Lulu and in Kindle format from Amazon. All five books of The Dhitha Tapestry are now available in Kindle format: Through the Gate of Horn, On the Wings of Dream, In the Fire of Dawn, At the Brink of War, and To the Throne of God.. Walk in the Light!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shadows of IN THE FIRE OF DAWN: The Third Thread of the Dhitha Tapestry

Alfred D. Byrd

A ruler is dead; his line is gone.
The heavens, mourning, proclaim an age
Of fear ahead. The Doorways will yawn,
Transporting forces of peace or rage
From Tena to seize a land that sleeps,
From the earth to scourge a land that weeps.

Back on this world after having been trained on distant Tena in his gift of Light of the Dance, Timothy Johnston hopes to use his gift in quiet anonymity in his birthplace, the Bluegrass of Kentucky. Events on a distant world deny him a future here. When the last high ruler of the current dynasty of the Empire of the Dhitha dies, Timothy must return to Tena to aid a dynastic succession, for only he can hear the thoughts of the blood-drinking Vulg, the Dhitha's traditional enemy, and learn whether they will attack the empire during its interregnum. Sadly, Timothy learns that a renewed Vulg-Dhitha war is only one of three wars that he must prevent.

My children may sail the seas and seek their glory;
My children may call a king for conquest or peace.
They go wherever they go through gifts of the One
Whose light is the source of life, and Whose law is truth.
Conquer, or keep the peace, you will come at last
To the Veil that guards your view from visions of Fire;
Your thoughts and acts will enter an hour of judgment.

Conscience leads Timothy to oppose a friend and mentor's ambition to obtain the imperial throne. She, he fears, will heed calls of extremists in the empire to make a preemptive invasion of the earth — calls of members of a Human religious community in the empire to free the earth from Babylon. Life grows yet more complicated for Timothy when he gives what many take as a prophecy from the Sacred Fire, Tena's monotheistic god, in front of that god's high priest. Now, Timothy must be tried in the temple as a potential high prophet — or heretic. Will his trial's outcome determine war or peace for three intelligent species on two worlds?

Beautiful maiden, you bear a burden too great
For your strength alone to lift. The Land of Exiles
Will bless you on days of bliss, but blast you with rage
When you go to goals of change that give them concern.

If only he could stop speaking prophecies! During a reenactment of an ancient assault on the empire's holy city, Timothy speaks verses that many take as saying that his friend and mentor is indeed the Sacred Fire's choice as the empire's high ruler. She speaks of peace, but he fears that war is her chosen means of achieving it, for the military that she will command if she takes the throne has stolen the earth's weapons for use against it — including the most fearsome of weapons, to be launched against the earth's centers of power. Timothy, a reluctant prophet, must fight against his own prophecies to save the world of his birth…

If you wish to learn more of Timothy's quest, please read In the Fire of Dawn. This is available in paperback from Lulu and in Kindle format from Amazon. All five books of The Dhitha Tapestry are now available in Kindle format: Through the Gate of Horn, On the Wings of Dream, In the Fire of Dawn, At the Brink of War, and To the Throne of God.. Walk in the Light!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Alfred D. Byrd

As long as I've been reading, I've been reading Gothic horror. Much of it, I read before I learned what the term meant. Would I have enjoyed Frankenstein, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym,, Dracula, Gormenghast, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle had I known beforehand that they were Gothic? Likely. Tales of brooding dread in a realm of darkness have an appeal to more of us than just me — an appeal going back to dreads that had affected humans long before we hired professors of literature to dissect and classify those dreads for us.

Family, if you think of it, is one of our foremost dreads. Just think of what's involved in becoming part of a family! Without our having any say in the matter, we're born amid blood and pain to a couple — perhaps, to only part of a couple — that sets us in the heart of a web of relationships that define us and make instant demands on us. Some of us never learn how to navigate that web without getting tangled in it. Can you really say that a system such as family isn't just a little bit scary?

Beyond family, another dread is finding meaning and purpose in our lives. Meaning and purpose start in what's defined for us and assigned to us by our families. Do we accept what's defined and assigned, or do we react against it and try to define and assign our own meanings and purpose to our lives? Either choice bears hopes and uncertainties. To accept is to find acceptance at the potential cost of individuality; to react is to find freedom at the potential cost of loneliness. In the real world as well as a tale of Gothic horror, life is never simple.

Dread of outsiders — yes, as if family were not enough for us to face, we must deal also with strangers. Like avalanches ever poised to sweep across our peaceful villages, they lurk beyond us; like comets bearing portents of doom from the void, they plunge amid us. Just when we've got family all figured out, strangers intrude with alien lifeways and alien demands on us. If family represents the danger of stasis, strangers represent the danger of change.

The ultimate change is the ultimate dread, death. In at least this world, death cuts through all that is woven by family, meaning, purpose, and strangers. We may claim to be confident in death's face, but how often is our confidence, shall we say, whistling past a graveyard? Did Shakespeare put our attitude towards death best when he wrote in Hamlet, "the dread of something after death,/ The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn/ No Traveller returns, Puzzles the will,/ And makes us rather bear those ills we have,/ Than fly to others that we know not of"? Certainly, he expressed an attitude of Gothic horror.

At the heart of Gothic horror lies mystery; at the foundation of mystery lie secrets. What is cloaked in silence, in misdirection, or in lies? What is really going on behind the eyes of that person — perhaps a loved one, perhaps a figure of authority, or perhaps a stranger bearing a promise of a better life — who is talking to you ? What are you hiding even from yourself? How will your world change — for the better, or for the worse? ‐ when secrets come out?

Horace Walpole crystallized all of humanity's primal dreads in the first novel of Gothic horror, The Castle of Otranto. In a haunted castle, a father's ambitions, founded on lies and murder, slowly destroy a family that, as much as he can love, he does. Although the novel's language is outdated, its theme of a family tormented and ruined by secrets is as fresh today as it was in the Eighteenth Century — as fresh as the evening news. The Castle of Otranto inspired directly and indirectly all of the works that I mentioned above, and is still inspiring captivating works today.

On a minor note, it inspired me to try to crystallize themes of Gothic horror in a tale of less than twenty-five hundred words: "Dinner of the Loving Dead." Did I succeed in conveying to you the horror of a family haunted and tormented by secrets? Why not find out for yourself? At the story's end, you'll have learned those secrets…

"Dinner of the Loving Dead" is available in Kindle format at Amazon.Com.