The mythical Thule – how strong is your imagination?

There’s a small exhibition at the British Library about Seeking the Northwest Passage – why Europeans have been driven to explore the fabled Northwest Passage.

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An ancient Greek geographer described the regions beyond Britain as the mythical Thule (pronounced Thoolay):

“… those regions in which there was no longer any proper land nor sea nor air, but a sort of mixture of all three of the consistency of a jellyfish in which one can neither walk nor sail, holding everything together, so to speak.”

It was meant to depict the northernmost land of an inhabitable world. Sounds pretty scary and incredible. I bet they imagined that the people who lived in Thule had magical, furry skins to keep them warm or were descendants of seals.

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When you don’t know what’s out there, whether you will be able to survive or not, what drives you to explore? What drives you to go into unchartered territories, to explore what you don’t even know exists?

Of course, there are the usual explanations. Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Russia wanted to expand their territory. Britain and France started sending explorations in the hope obtaining gold and other riches. Political and economic needs drove the explorations but surely on an individual level, there must have been something more. Who are these men who went on these journeys?

A social deviate, whose curiosity overwhelms his / her need for comfort? A loner? Someone who craves adventure? Someone with an innate dissatisfaction wanting to test his / her own boundaries? Someone who just jumps?

Most of us are risk-averse. When I was young, I did exactly what was expected of me with small tweaks and I thought the tweaks were all that I needed to be happy. I wanted to be an actress, a dancer, I wanted to write but I was never going to make any money out of it (or so I thought) so to still be creative, I went into advertising. I thought it was going to be a happy compromise. But as I grew older, I met actresses, writers, dancers and musicians. Those that reached what I had decided was completely unattainable. These people didn’t have horns, they didn’t have magical powers. They were like me and you. I realized what really set them apart (as perfectly observed by Debbie Millman) was:

“the strength of their imagination”

They never let what they thought was going to be possible or not possible to determine their action, they just jumped. And it’s what I want to do more of this year.


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