the albatross and ebola

This is the Light-Mantled Albatross. And proof of the persuasive power of the written word.



The albatross has become a metaphor for psychological burdens carried as penance. This was not always the case. In fact, until 1798, being followed by an albatross was generally considered good luck.

What changed? Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote a poem in which a mariner shoots and kills an albatross bringing bad luck to his ship. The mariner is haunted by his action and by the ship’s crew, who blame him for their suffering. Mary Shelley, in a nod to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, wrote the albatross metaphor into Frankenstein, and Charles Baudeliare, in Les Fleurs du Mal helped to enforce the metaphor by also referring to the albatross as potentially bad luck.

How is it that the albatross became the metaphor for burdensome penance and bad omens, instead of the mariner?

What and how we write can create and enforce our belief systems about who is to blame for what haunts or scares or hurts us.

It might be a stretch, but let’s reflect on how stories have changed homecoming for volunteers who care for Ebola victims. How did people doing good become the focal point of burdensome penance and bad omens?

We have the power to change that story.

Write to change.