Riddles

What has been around billions of years, yet is less than a month old?

Back when I was doing child psychotherapy, I liked to read a “Mickey Mouse Joke Book” with a child I was getting to know. It contained a lot of riddles and silly puns that the children usually enjoyed. I would pretend not to “get” the joke and let the child explain it to me, and in this way I discovered something about the child’s cognitive development.

Riddles are an effective teaching tool because they thoroughly engage the mind. Most advanced spiritual paths and systems of magic employ riddles as well as puns and metaphors. They aid with memory and concentration and enliven understanding.

Recently I acquired a book on Home Games and Parties, first published in 1891, that has some interesting flower riddles. What flower or plant:

Is a Roman numeral?

Is a very gay and ferocious animal?

Is its own doctor?

Has fragrant letters?

Is a sunny physician?

Flies in the air but is part of a boot?

Another form of the riddle is the story that on the surface makes no sense. When Cormac mac Airt travels to the Land of Promise, he meets a party that is roasting a pig without any visible source of flame. The group tells him that a quarter of the pig will be cooked for every truth that is told. The anecdote naturally sets the mind to ponder on the nature of truth.

Often the riddle is in the form of a poem, such as the famous Song of Amergin, which begins in the Robert Graves translation

I am a stag: of seven tines,
I am a flood: across a plain,
I am a wind: on a deep lake,
I am a tear: the Sun lets fall,
I am a hawk: above the cliff,
I am a thorn: beneath the nail,
I am a wonder: among flowers,
I am a wizard: who but I
Sets the cool head aflame with smoke?


Riddles can also be nonverbal. The most famous visual riddle is the “Three Hares” picture. (Hint: Look at the ears.)

Photo by Zefram.

Photo by Zefram.


Sources

Graves, Robert.The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948.

Matthews, Caitlin and John. Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom.Shaftesbury, UK: Element, 1994.

Mott, Mrs. Hamilton.Home Games and Parties.Cambridge, MA: The Curtis Publishing Company, 1891.

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