A Theory of Riddles

At the College, we consider Dreams, Riddles, Poems, Memory, and Story the same beast. To study any of these, you must study all of them.

I want to know God’s thoughts, the rest are details. -Einstein

If a divinity had thoughts, would they not most closely resemble dreams?

Myths are public dreams…Dreams are private myths. – Joseph Campbell

Listen to a world of riddles that comes to us through folktales, myths, and dreams. A riddle, spoken by a character in a myth, represents a double riddle: the riddle itself, and the riddle as a single line in the great riddle of the story itself.

Riddles ask us to associate, to think in metaphor, to see things as layered and poetic. Could we describe a riddle as “a poem with an (as yet) unknown subject”?

In panoply of painted feathers
I shrug off a cape of small sooted wings
Rising resplendent from the pavement
Born of outcast crumbs and forgotten foods
I’ve died crushed underfoot
I’ll die again torn by talon
After I scatter my spirit to the sky.

So to write a riddle, study your dreams. Learn the dream language of poetry. And write a poem with an unstated subject.

Sweat on the table
Yet chilled to the bone
At first, kissed and cradled
Once drained, left alone

But why stop there? Why not use riddles as a vehicle to a sense of place.

Big hands catch the glint of coin
though it may remain forever out of reach
I’ve learned to stand tall and spread my arms wide
Lest golden fortune slip between my fingers
And when those around me perservere
begging for handouts though the coins
have begun to fade
I withdraw my begging bowls
I retreat deep within
Nourished on the syrup of my soul
And wait for better days
to spring forth.*

We propose that riddles originally served that exact purpose. To awaken our minds, and to connect us to the knowledge of our place.

*Acer macrophyllum, Bigleaf Maple tree

Written by Willem