Mythology from a Very Rambling Pagan Perspective
So, you want to talk about the nature of mythology. Unfortunately, in my case, that means talking about Paganism, since mythology is the source of my personal belief system. And I apologize for the rambling tone, but its hard to put into a straight up narrative. My personal take is somewhat along the lines of Jung, that mythology is basically the dream of humanity. Much like our dreams serve to work through the complexities and conflicts in our subconscious, myth serves to do the same for the collective unconsciousness. In the Pagan community, there is a lot of debate about the nature of the gods. Beliefs run from almost a secular humanist attitude, to what we refer to as “sock puppeting”, where people believe their personal relationship with a god to be so personal, they almost treat them like they are an imaginary friend. Seriously, I have heard people talk about hanging out and watching tv with Loki. It’s… sad, to say the least. I think this puts me and others like me in an unusual category, since for most people this class would be little more than an academic exercise, and they could freely speculate on the purpose mythology serves on a literary, historical, or psychological level. For those of us who actually believe and celebrate these stories, the question is about the issue my personal faith. Talk about a can of worms! While I am no stranger to the “woo woo” of the universe (show me a Pagan who hasn’t had a mystical experience of some kind and I will show you a Catholic), I can’t say that I (or most Pagans I associate with personally) take these stories as literal events, nor do I think most of us believe there is a group of immortal people living in the sky looking down at humanity with a judgmental eye. However, we still believe these things to be quite real, even though we understand this to be contradictory. The best I can describe it is that is is sort of like when you have a very vivid dream that you can’t get out of your head. It seems real, and even if you know that it isn’t, it haunts your reality, changes the way you look at things. There are levels to reality, mythology serves to wipe some of the dust off the windows between worlds. We tend to think of mythology as being only the stories of ancient religions and tribal beliefs. We forget that Christianity is mythology as well. Mythology does not mean some dusty old story with little relevance to modern life. Mythology is alive and adaptable. Pagans tend to be people who have found solace in a different world view than the Abrahamic religions and Eastern philosophies offered on the census sheet. Mythology provides a mirror to our world and ourselves, a way of looking outward as well as inward. It informs our life decisions, or modes of behavior. We model ourselves after figures in myth. Christians ask themselves “what would Jesus do?”. Likewise, Pagans tend to take the values set forth in their mythology to imitate. In modern Heathenry (you asked if Heathenry was a Pagan movement. It is a blanket term for the followers of the Norse and Germanic Pagan movement, which is actually quite varied and comes in many flavors), you tend to see people who value bravery, adventure, hospitality, kinship, and self-reliance. In followers of the Hellenic traditions, there tends to be an emphasis on intellectualism, mysticism, or artistry. The followers of the Celtic traditions tend to be a little more female-centric and nature oriented, and so on. Mythology is a blueprint to these ways of living. It provides characters who are archetypes for the people we would like to be (or avoid being in some cases). Whether you are the Hero, the Earth Mother, the Trickster, the Sheildmaiden, or the Shaman, mythology has it. Contrary to how many people view Pagans, this isn’t an elaborate game of make-believe or some Ren Faire fantasy. Maybe I feel this way because I tend to see people as their archetypes (of which we each have many), and I tend to see the world in mythic terms. Everything in life has significance, we are all stars of our own epics, we all possess the ability to become something more transcendent than the person who pays the bills, needs to get the car fixed, and gets heartburn every time they eat raw onion. Paganism is about recognizing these qualities within yourself and others and living your life in celebration of that. We are all Odin, Freyja, Medb, Cu Chulainn, and Peredur, and our world is filled with magic. That is the purpose mythology serves for me.