As Pagans, we are all keenly aware of Mythology, and how it ties into our beliefs. To some degree, Christians are aware of the same thing from their spiritual and religious perspective, but they tend to see their mythology as alive and living. Which certainly brings up the question of why Pagans should not see their own Mythologies as also being alive and living? In a manner of speaking, I find it rather hypocritical of Christians to believe that their legends and mythology are alive and living through the continued existence of a part or all of their Triad aspect of Divinity (God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit), and deny the perspective that the aspects of Mythology for Pagans are merely superstition and “explanations” for “naturally occurring phenomenon” for peoples who could not comprehend or understand the divinity of their belief system. In fact, I would place that on a level of arrogance similar to that of another Christian mandate, where the Earth and its natural resources are merely placed here for human beings to use until the rapture. That argument about the dominion of man over the Earth through the mandate of God is an argument for another time and blog post.
The Gods and Goddesses are Alive
My friend, John Beckett, has posted several times on his blog: ‘I am a polytheist’. So am I. Like John, I believe that the Gods and Goddesses are alive, and among us. It only takes an open heart, an open mind, some patience, and hard work (nothing occurs without consequence) to find Them, communicate with Them, and learn from Them. Yes, these are the Gods of the Myths and Legends that we have read about, told Their tales and legends around our camp-fires, and (as some of us have experienced) found Their claim on us. I cannot – and will not – provide you tangible proof of the existence of the Gods and Goddesses. If you are going to believe and experience the Gods and Goddesses, you will need to do the work yourself. That is – from what I am told – part of Unverified Personal Gnosis. I’m not an individual that holds to the terminology of academic religious studies, so terminology such as that – along with the overall definition – are fairly foreign to me. I know what I believe. I know what I experience. And I know what I believe, and what I experience will be far different and very close to that of others – all depending on ourselves as individuals. But I do believe in the Gods and Goddesses. I do have experience in dealing with some of Them. And my experiences are truly my own.
The Myths and Legends are Alive
While at Pantheacon, I had a difficult time trying to choose between some of the panels that were available. There was one panel that immediately reached to the heights of a “must attend” status: “Morphing the Myth” with S.P. Hendrick. There were two other presenters within the panel, a gentleman from Australia whose name I did not get, and author Diana Paxson. The panel was described thusly in the Pantheacon Guide:
Mythology is an integral part of our belief systems. Over the years, however, these ancient tales have been transformed and added to in order to make them more palatable to modern audiences. Many Pagans of today had their first experiences with Paganism in their reading of “The Mists of Avalon” or watching the British “Robin of Sherwood”. How has the modern reinterpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?
The panel was extremely well done, and flourished on an academic level. In fact, one of the audience members had written a dissertation on this very topic. I had the fortune of being able to talk with her for a short bit after the panel.
But the panel certainly drives up some food for thought. The movies, books, and potentially even the songs that we listen to are changing the myths as we have known them to be. Certain characters are combined, some are split into two other characters, and even more are merely omitted for one reason or another. Storylines are combined, twisted, changed, or even created out of whole cloth. Does any of this change the myths and legends into stories that no longer have meaning to us? As younger generations are introduced to these “restructured” myths and legends, which then form a potential gateway into Paganism – do these changes nullify the experiences that they have with the Gods and Goddesses? Or let’s say that the acting job by a certain actor or actress brings a character that has always been viewed as a secondary part of the myth forward to a more prominent role in the minds of the viewing audience. And that changed status of the God or Goddess in that portrayal resonates with the audience members. That particular God or Goddess suddenly is set forward as being more important than the Gods or Goddesses portrayed in the myth or legend. Does that nullify the manner in which the God and/or Goddesses that were previously portrayed as being more prominent in the tellings/re-tellings of the myths?
From my own personal perspective (which is worth far less than a cup of coffee at your local coffee shop), I believe that these re-tellings and changing of the myths and legends lends to the idea that even these stories are alive. As our societal times change, sometimes these myths and legends change as well, so their narratives and lessons can fit into aspects of our communal society as well. But I do know people who would scream “blasphemy” in the face of such things. Just as a singular example, I was a complete naysayer when the character of Tauriel was added into the story of The Hobbit through the recent films. For me, this piece of fictional work is a seminal part of my childhood, and to change it was downright cruel to the mind of my fourteen year old self. To my forty-year-mumble-mumble self, it was taken the story beyond the pale. Until I saw the movies. When I saw the soft touches that the character added to the story, how her vision of the world around her was far different from that of the other Elves, how her understanding of beauty led her to recognize that within one dwarf – my mind changed. The Hobbit as I read it as a fourteen year old remains a revered part of my childhood, and that will never change. The movie adaptation, though it differs from the book, has become something I enjoy, and from every watching, I see aspects of modern society reflected in its scenes. In understanding this in myself, I can also see how myth can live and change over time.
Written Versus Oral Debate
Good storytelling comes in three forms, in my opinion. Orally, Written, and Visually. Visually typically comes in the form of movies, tv series, and plays – though there’s certainly some argument as to how it can also be applied to the Oral aspect. For this particular essay, I will leave the concept of Visual storytelling at this point of the threshold. That provides the perspectives of written and oral. Written storytelling is a true joy to behold. My bookshelves are filled with novel after novel that relays an excellent storyline, character development, and plot twists. Each book holds a dear spot in my heart – from the tales of the Boy Who Lives to the stories behind the characters that fill the Star Wars universe and many, many more. The stories never change, because the written words are there – unchanging from each visit that I make when I take the book off the shelf, and open its pages for a visit. Oral storytelling, on the other hand, can easily change. Each storyteller memorizes parts of the story to tell, sometimes omits parts that don’t rise easily to memory, and places emphasis on certain passages, moments or dialogue to fit the audience that sits within earshot. For me, its here that Myth and Legend can most easily live, breathe, and change with the societal times. Each storyteller may have an affinity for a certain character or a certain scene, and places the embellishment or emphasis to their own preferences. In the written aspect, the words are placed on the page – we read them, and our own understanding of the related imagery is given life within our minds. Within the oral aspect, we are led along the Path of imagery through the manner in which the story is told. Small details are left to our imagination, but we are essentially guided along to the larger details by the storyteller.
Static or Dynamic?
Are the Gods and Goddesses alive and real? Can we alter the Myths and Legends without altering the reasoning behind the tales? Or are we creating new mythologies when we make the changes, and allow the tales to bent to match the changing societies that we live in today? I would posit that They are real, and that They do change over time. We alter the Myths and Legends to meet our own perspectives in a changing society. And sometimes, changing those Myths changes the narrative. But I really do believe that the Gods and Goddesses can change as well. If they are alive, they are growing, learning, changing. But not as radically as some may point out. After all, the Morrigan is not going to be a peace-loving Hippy as time moves along and our modern society changes. The Morrigan may become more impatient as modern society moves away from the values She prizes and champions, and She may become war-like in her dealings with certain humans. I do believe that the Gods and Goddesses change over time, just as Their stories, myths and legends can be altered slightly to better reach the audiences of today. In the end, I am not so sure that we are creating new Mythologies, as much as we are bringing the narrative of the Myths and Legends into a better focus for a far different audience. After all, if Christians can believe that their God is real, changing, and alive – I see no reason at all to believe the exact same thing of the Gods and Goddesses contained within Paganism – or any other belief system for that matter.