Revisiting “Morphing the Myth” – Building a Mystery or Personal Self-Examination?

All of what you are about to read started with a question posed to me in Facebook, which I turned into a status post. From there, what I perceived to be a touch of playfulness from Cat Treadwell turned into me turning that same point over and over in my mind. First let me setup what happened to get this entire aspect kicked into gear.

Q; Biggest Pagan confession?

Well…its not much of a confession, as a lot of people do know this about me. I’m not a fan of the Mabinogion. Never really was enthralled with it when I read it (all three times, different translation each time), and its generally not a part of anything that I practice within my Spirituality. I grok that it speaks to others….just not me. Now what’s my penance? ::eye-roll::

This was what started everything. A simple question, followed by my answer. Many of the members of OBOD – and many more Druids – are inspired by the Mabinogion. For me, its an odd series of tales, which provide no area of ready comprehension for me. That prompted the following….

Cat: So what story speaks to you instead?

Me: Mythological?? Theseus and the Minotaur.

Cat: I do wonder who set those Pagan Rules. Tolkien made his own mythology. I’d love to see yours.

Me: Mine would be really messy…I mean REALLY messy….

Cat: Do it!

…and all of that started my brain racing.

A few years back, I attended Pantheacon in San Jose, California. Actually, I attended it three years in a row. In one of those years, there was a panel that I attended called “Morphing the Myth” which I wrote a blog post on. There’s actually about six or seven blog posts that tie to this panel, but you should get the picture with the one. If you want to read further, just do a search on “Morphing the Myth” here at the blog site, and you should pull up the other posts.

Back to Pantheacon’s “Morphing the Myth” panel… Much of the discussion fell towards how Science Fiction and Fantasy open the doorway to Paganism for so many people. Cat’s point on Tolkien really struck home with this thematic for me and realized that I was suddenly thrust back into the panel’s wide-ranging discussion. Tolkien wrote a very impressive universe for his stories to live in. His vivid depictions of places such as Fangorn Forest, the formidable and dangerous land of Mordor, and the dwarven fortress of Erebor, provide the fertile ground upon which the seeds of his stories grow and take deep root. In much the same way, we find similar fertile ground in the myths and legends that we read, study, and explore. For some of us, certain legends resonate deeply with who we are and the manner in which we connect with the world around us. As I noted, the Mabinogian holds no such cherished treasure for me. Furthermore, while I identify greatly with Theseus in the story concerning the Minotaur, is is also not a story that calls deep to my heart either.

Oddly enough, I am drawn to the stories of the old West here in the United States. The stories of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Billy the Kid, and so many others ring deeply in my soul. However, it is not the lawman that resonate with me. I’ll use a very specific example – the movie Hidalgo, which depicts the legend of distance rider Frank Hopkins. The character is one that does things his own way, a trait that plays well in my way of dealing with the world. I am also drawn to the mythologies of the First Nations, some of which do not dove-tail neatly from tale to tale. As I noted my idea of a mythology would be extremely messy, and this rag-tag mythology of tales fits right into that particular point.

Building my own mythology. While it certainly sounds intriguing to my ears, its a direction I cannot tread – other than through a fictional narrative. I have often though about creating my own world for characters that wander through my mind. There is a certain appeal to doing just that, through short stories which I might be able to weave into a longer tale. As I noted, it would be messy. And while I am not completely seeing how I might be able to do this, as I said there is a certain draw to it.

You come out at night
That’s when the energy comes
And the dark side’s light
And the vampires roam
You strut your rasta wear
And your suicide poem
And a cross from a faith that died
Before Jesus came
You’re building a mystery

“Building a Mystery”, sung by Sarah McLachlan

The “Morphing the Myth” panel did have one extra feature to the discussion that I thought was an incredible point – we give life to the Myths and Legends that we hold close and dear. We don’t always get all the points absolutely correct in the retelling, and this literally brings these stories back to having a renewed life. Plus, there is some aspect of retelling these stories with updated parts to the stories – told against the background of a culture so alien to the original story. Take for example, the 102nd episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, titled “Darmok”. Much of the story parallels “The Epic of Gilgamesh” and is a very interesting showcase for how an old myth can be painted against a futuristic backdrop. I have often wondered at the inspiration of so many other films and whether or not that inspiration may have been drawn from a myth or legend that have long been put to the wayside.

I don’t keep an altar in the house. This is as close as it gets.

Would I create my own mythology and legends, from which I could use as a backdrop for a series of characters? I do not know about the “would” part, but the “could” reaction is that yes I could. It would be messy. As if the entire aspect of the myths and legends was not completely preserved. This is a thought that I have constantly had concerning the myths and Gods and Goddesses that we all work with. Yes, this God was a god of this or that, and there are references to the God having certain characteristics and personality traits from the myths and legends. However, I have often wondered if we paint too much of a two-dimensional portrait of the Gods in this manner? Maybe the stories, legends and myths that have survived are not a complete understanding of that particular God or Goddess. Maybe Pan was more than just the epitome of a collegiate student headed to the Florida beaches for Spring Break. We just don’t know about an alternate, more serious and studious side of Pan because those stories did not survive being handed down during the ages.

And what if we have an incomplete understanding of the Gods? Does it negate what energy we have put into worshiping and working with Them? For me, that answer is easy: no. Over the years, I have developed my own relationship with both Coyote and Crow. Both are tricksters and enjoy having fun at my expense from time to time; however, both can also be quite serious about things that need to be accomplished too. For me, this is a case where the myths and legends only show you a two-dimensional aspect of who the Gods are. If you believe that the Gods are individual Beings who have Their own lives and make Their own choices…then of course, the myths and legends will only show a singular side of who They are. Do I believe that? Yes, I definitely do. Do I have a complete understanding of who Crow or Coyote are? No, not even close. My relationship shows me a side of each of Them that is chosen to be shown to me. I know enough of Them to do the workings that I need to do for Them.

…and all of this came from a single comment made on a Facebook post. That’s generally considered diving down a rabbit hole. Except that it is not. That one comment opened a doorway I have walked through many, many times. That comment lead me through the doorway to something that I have done my very best to consider, evaluate, understand and believe for a huge portion of my adult life, and will continue to take up my thoughts far into the future. Is my perspective empirical fact? Nope, not even close. It is; however, a part of my own UPG – Unverified Personal Gnosis. And as such, you might even be able to consider it a part of my own personal Mythology. For me, it is just the prelude to some chocolate eclairs for this morning – and a topic that I will continue to obverse, evaluate and explore well into my next lifetime.

…and I certainly have to thank Cat…for knocking the door off the hinges, so I would walk through. 🙂 Conversations can take us all to some supremely strange places.

“‘And what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice, ‘without pictures or conversation?'” Indeed Alice…what are legends, myths and stories without internal observation and personal examination. Indeed.

–T /|\

The Gods Are Alive – You Need Only Reach Out and Open Your Mind

A few nights ago, I was contemplating the legend/myth of Santa Claus. Seemingly, it is interesting that something near to this image of a jolly, older guy passing out presents is so far-reaching and encompassing throughout many cultures around the world. Perhaps, it can be attributed to the wider reach of Christianity throughout the entire world. Maybe. I would prefer to see it a little differently though. I believe that the underlying concept of freely sharing the joy and love of what human beings can be – regardless of nationality or race, is an easier concept to reach for so many.

We live in a world where conflict is common-place. So common-place that many of the conflicts are not readily reported in the news media. But then again, with most of the news media concerned with who hates the Sunkist-Orange President or where a “fascist” can be found that can be punched in the face – news is not as readily available since it does nothing to assuage the feelings of an extremely vocal few. And that is truly a post for another time.

No, the entire concept of Santa and gift giving is a wonderful sentiment to have. I would hope that it spreads to more than just a single day. And more than just six days throughout the entire year. As a myth or legend (whichever you prefer), it does make for an interesting study of just what myth and legend can mean to us as a global society. And not just religiously oriented myths. Myths and legends provide our somewhat monochrome, monotone world with color and expression.

In 2016, I attended a panel on Mythology at Pantheacon, where the discussion turned from the myths as we have told them prior to the addition of modern technology versus the addition of CGI and movie technology providing a new vision. And while I would posit that these modern adaptations of the myths, bear the marks of how the Hollywood producers and executives deem the Gods to be, or even how the Gods seem to be to the graphic novel writers and artists would dream the Gods to be; there is an impetus that these modern adaptations do bring people into Pagan traditions. These people may dabble in various traditions before they cast these off and find their own manner of approaching the world around them. And some of them may stay within a Pagan tradition, finding their own expression of the Gods that drew them in – ditching Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as the embodiment of what the Gods may seem to be to them, and finding their own imaginative interpretations within their own minds and hearts.

Petroglyph Trail - Mesa Verde National Park
A narrow passageway along the Petroglyph trail in Mesa Verde National Park, where I came face-to-face with Crow.

As I noted in my “Static or Dynamic Mythology” post back in 2016, for me the Gods and Goddesses are alive – each their own individual manifestation. But the myths and legends are alive as well. Surely, some of these myths and legends have grown and adapted with the colorful additions of Bards and Storytellers throughout the ages. An embellishment that becomes believable is a true gift of a storyteller weaving his or her spell around a campfire. The same holds true for those same stories translated into a written word or onto the large screen of the movie theater. And given the desire of so many to purchase books, watch movies, and even tv shows geared to the myths and legends of our times – the thirst for the colorful nature of myth and legend is readily evident.

And the thirst is not even true for just movies or even mythology. To present that perspective, look to the X-Files tv shows and movies, which tackle many modern myths and legends. Aliens, shadowy government forces, and deep, hidden conspiracies are all a part of our modern cultural myths. Some are unlikely to be true, but it does provide some color to our black and dark blue suits, with the red ties and white shirts or even the more mysteries camouflage and olive drab uniforms.

Or perhaps, your concept of myths and legends is geared more to the far east with guardian monsters protecting the woods, mountains and streams o the island of Japan from the rampaging force of Godzilla (hat-tip to Mojo)? The idea of a monster created from the frightening and dangerous powers of nuclear energy is a rather modern one. Godzilla has been rampaging throughout Japan since the 1950s. Taking a rampant fear of nuclear technology and applying it to monstrous creations that destroy small-gauge railroad sets made to look like the Japanese cities and countryside, provided both a story that has become beloved and a more hidden warning of the need to respect the Kami that are literally everywhere.

Our myths and legends will continue to grow and deepen as we grapple with the questions of where we fit into the world, and even the universe, around us. And many of these myths, legends, and stories are adaptations of situations within our own lives – projected onto a wider screen than any monitor or television: our own minds. No offense to the amazing CGI and Hollywood writers, set designers, and animators – my own projection of Crow is more amazing than any special effect could make Him. And while I am not reliving any legend or myth (and I really don’t need to) – each day of my life is lived within a landscape of living Gods, Goddesses, Spirits of Place, and my own Ancestors. Every day brings me new experiences that have meaning, complexity, and depth to me. Paganism and Polytheism are not for everyone. And not every person will have similar experiences as I have. However,  without taking the time to explore, the patience to try multiple times, the desire to read and learn about where you are diving deeply into, and having an open mind to what you are experiencing – you may never know. The first step is wanting to.


Morphing the Myth – Riffin’ on a Jam

This series of posts, which I have titled as “Morphing the Myth” after the Pantheacon 2016 panel of the same name, has taken me along some really interesting and odd passageways in how I view myth, legends, stories and folk-tales. The next question I had written down from the panel was concerning the rewrite of mythology, specifically as has been done via movies, novels, and comic books. If these stories take liberties with the myths, changing aspects of the story lines, combining characters into one, or even creating new characters out of whole cloth, are we really honoring the Gods and Goddesses whose tales these are?

I will be completely honest. This is the fifth full rewrite of this particular blog post over the last nine days. And I am not completely sure that even this version will make it into the outside world when I am done. The primary reasoning behind that is in what follows in this paragraph: trying to relay what I mean by “honoring the Gods and Goddesses.” By this, I am not trying to convey something along the lines of pouring some of my water when standing out by my backyard stone circle, honoring the Gods, Goddesses, and Spirits of Place. Nor am I thinking of something along the lines of raising my voice around a public circle, giving thanks to Crow, Coyote and Fliodhas for their continued guidance along my Path. And yet, in a way, I do mean all of that. And some more. So, to try and express what I mean, I am going to switch to something I do understand, in hopes that it helps to explain how I feel about the modern re-tellings of the tales, heroism, and mythic adventures of the Gods and Goddesses.

It is well known that I am a Grateful Dead fan. I am also a huge fan of improvisational Jazz. Given my love for the Grateful Dead and their jam-style marathon sessions on stage, that revelation should come as no surprise. But I am also a fan of tribute albums. And all three perspectives have a similar theme – riffin’ on a jam. For those unfamiliar with jam-band terminology, riffin’ is essentially improvisational playing of an instrument. The online Merriam-Webster dictionary describes “riffing” as improvisational talk. Or if you prefer, a far easier concept is driving long distances with me. I tend to jump from topic to topic, looking for something new to bend our brains around. Jam-band riffin’ is the same thing, except it is done with musical instruments, and typically in a stretch of non-lyrical notation in a song.

One of the essential elements to the entire concept of riffin’ on a jam within a song, is that the instrumentalists need to understand their roles in the song. There’s an essential element that needs to stay consistent to what is the “normal” playing of the song, usually done by drums, bass guitar, keyboards and/or rhythm guitar. this is where the listener can relate to the riff’d song as sounding “somewhat” like  the original song that they know so intimately well from the numerous times that they have listened to it in their cars, on their iPods, or on the radio. That allows the listener to connect to the song, and it also provides the bedrock over which the improvisational instrumentalist(s) can work their magic and mood over. In essence, adding their mood, their feelings, their thoughts, their presence through their playing.

I’m not sure that the concept has come completely across with what I am saying, but I am going to suppose that it has. What if the same thing can be done with the telling of myths, legends, tales, and stories? Can it? Of course it can. The storyteller can embellish certain aspects of a story, even change some of the elements so as to fashion the story against his/her audience. Little flourishes can be added through sound effects, emphasized passages from voice or physical gestures. A creative storyteller can even add new characters to a story, particularly if the characters are background or secondary characters – again, fashioning the story to the audience or even to the social setting of the time. This is done all the time in movie re-tellings of myths, stories, legends, tales…and even in television re-tellings of myths. Take for example Hercules – The Legendary Journeys or its companion show Xena – Warrior Princess. The Gods and Goddesses are depicted in the show, and provided with very different personas from what the myths ascribe to them. Which does bring up another thought….

When we change myths in such ways to create palatable television and movie entertainment (or even Fantasy novels for that matter), are we truly honoring the Gods and Goddesses?

I have to admit, this has been the more difficult part of this particular post to write. I am not sure how I actually stand on this. On the one hand, I think that riffin’ on the myths can sometimes help to refocus what the myths are about, as well as highlight some of the lesser observed components of the over-arching story. On the other hand, riffin’ can go way too far, and transform the myth into a completely different story. For instance, gender-flipping Thor (turning him to a her) may be an interesting twist to the myths, but may also change the story so much as to render it unrecognizable in its new format.

In a manner of thinking, I equate riffin’ on the myths to be similar to a tribute album to a specific artist or musical group. For instance, there have been several tribute albums for the metal band Iron Maiden that have been released. The bands that play Iron Maiden “classic” songs on the album stay within the bounds of the song – utilizing the same rhythm, and the same lyrics – but they also stamp their own style of music onto these classics.  Essentially, riffin’ on an Iron Maiden classic as their way of tipping a hat to the influence of one of the best selling metal bands of all-time. Sometimes, the band or artist covering the song totally mangles their version…taking the riffin’ too far. But it is still a tribute to the influence of Iron Maiden.

To twist this in a musical and religious manner, take the Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar” as an example. There are several different versions of this done – particularly in the role of Jesus Christ. Every actor/singer I have seen/heard portray this part, has stamped their own style into the role. Even interpreting some of the gestures that Christ makes in his emphatic and emotional statement in “Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)”. I have even heard some Christian ministers remark on how some of these roles seem to be “inspired by the Christ Himself.” Could we not extrapolate from this as an example of riffin’ on the myth of Jesus Christ? I realize that many Christians view the rock opera as being deceitful and even “satanic” in nature, because it corrupts the image of what the Christ is, even bringing Him into a role that borders on idolatry in some corners. Could we not set those folks into the corner of those who would believe that riffin’ on the myths does not honor the Gods and Goddesses? Or perhaps we could consider the rock opera as going too far on riffin’ the Myth??

Personally, I fall in-between the two camps. It all depends on how the Myth is riff’d and just how much of a change is made. If Thor’s hammer is substituted with a Pink Powerpuff Girls’ hammer…we may have gone too far with the riffin’. If we bring Thor to earth in a modern-day America, perhaps we have struck the right chord to add some modern twists to the Myth, provided we don’t draw outside the lines too much with Thor and turn him into something that is not recognizable.

The exact same thing can be said for Grateful Dead concerts. Mainstay riffin’ sessions such as “Dark Star” are wonderful to listen to, but can sometimes go astray and become jumbled noise instead of “different music”…but then, the sound’s authenticity is left up to the listener, with the musician unafraid to take some risks with the song. The same can be said for some storytellers – both by the campfire, and via more modern methods – the embellishments sometimes give the Myth an extra edge…knowing when you’ve walked the riff too far is the key to being good or being too far out of bounds, at least to me.

–Tommy /|\

Morphing the Myth: What Does Myth Mean to You?

This is the second in a series of posts that are inspired from questions I wrote down during the “Morphing the Myth” panel at Pantheacon, earlier this year. In asking myself these questions, and writing about them here in the blog, I wanted to take a deeper look at an area of my own Path in Paganism that I sometimes overlook.

As I noted in the last post, Mythology and story-telling can provide the gateway for folks to look deeper into Paganism – or for some, be the first steps that they may take on their search within Paganism. I am no different in that manner. Digging through Encyclopedias at the base library opened a door of belief and thought for me, particularly where mythology and folk-tales were concerned.

Thanks to the wonderful podcast “The Celtic Myth Podshow” run by Gary and Ruth, I have been introduced to the world of Celtic Mythology in a manner that I have never had before. They produce a podshow that retells the stories of the Celtic Myths in a manner that I can only describe as something akin to the radio programs from a historical time frame called “The Golden Age of Radio”. At times, they have included interviews with various Pagan folk as well. One particular moment that stands out in my mind is when Damh the Bard and Cerri Lee were interviewed in an episode. The recreation of such myths as the First Branch of the Mabinogion, and the Irish Mythological Cycle have introduced me to a world of stories, and tales that I had never known previously. These shows are literally story-telling treasures for me, and occupy a place on my iPhone that I reserve for long trips. If you have never heard of this wonderful podshow or these two fantastic people…you seriously need to.

What does myth mean to you? How do you incorporate it into your life?

Myth can have so many meanings to so many different people. Stories, folk-tales, superstition, lessons from time….the list can literally be endless. For me, myths, and mythology are ways in which I can connect with my ancestors, with my Gods and Goddesses, and with myself. My ancestors, like the ancestors of anyone else, told stories around their campfires, late into the night. These stories held cautionary tales for the listener, explaining where and how things went sideways…and how everything eventually got put back together. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what cultural environment you look to, you will find the Bardic Arts involved in society – telling the tales of the Gods, the Goddesses, the Heroes, the anti-Heroes.

For me, I live in an area of the southern Plains peoples. Here, the peoples of the First Nations lived, hunted, warred with one another, and were part of their cyclical aspects of the environment around them. At their fires, they told the tales of their Gods and Goddesses. How trickster Gods such as Crow and Coyote created mayhem and mischief, and the punishments and repercussions that occurred from those actions. When I finally felt the pull and call of the Gods, I was not overly surprised to find Coyote and Crow over my shoulder. I read up on their respective myths, learned how to handle their aspect of humor, and derived my own lessons of humility from those tales and my own interactions with both of Them. Their tales do not always overlay completely into my own Life. In fact, that rarely happens ever – if at all. But there are parallels between Their tales and some of the lessons I have encountered in my Life.

Its difficult to relay the meaning of Myth to my own Life in a manner that may make sense for you, the reader. Everyone will draw something different from Myths. Everyone’s interaction – or non-interaction – with the Gods and Goddesses will be different. After all, we are all unique individuals, its only logical that our experiences with the Gods and Goddesses will be just as unique. For me, Crow, Coyote, and Fliodhas, are ever-present. Not always over my shoulder, or whispering in my ear – but typically near. The Myths and Tales that I do have, are treasured readings for me. Whenever I feel lost or out of sorts, I pick a Tale and read. Sometimes, I find meaning in a place I had not before, and sometimes reading the Tale provides some insight I had not considered before, even if it were not provided directly within the story itself.

I sometimes wonder what will happen when the Tales, Stories and Myths will no longer be told. I truly believe that which is remembered will never fade. And those moments become reminders that this is part of what brought me to the Path of Druidry – the Bardic Arts. Damh the Bard, Bran Cerddorion, Wendy Rule, Spiral Dance, Paul Newman, Loreena McKennitt, Gary and Ruth, Fionn Tulach, the great Robin Williamson….and many, many others, have brought the Myths to life in their songs and retellings. yes, that which is remembered, never fades….

–T /|\

Morphing the Myth – a Personal Look

One of the nice things about taking time off from everything else in life, is that I get the chance to look backwards a bit. In this case, I was digging through some old notes in my Evernote application. I ran across some things I wrote during the “Morphing the Myth” segment from this year’s Pantheacon – which was an absolute blast. As I read through the notes, I realized that each point could be written in up as a set of posts for the blog, and I have been working on that since that point. Later this coming week, I will start publishing those here on the blog. However, I thought it would be prudent to preface those posts with this one.

One of the first things I should do here is to introduce what the panel was about. According to the Pantheacon booklet I received during my registration:

Morphing the Myth (S.P. Hendrick)

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 interpretation of mythology changed the Pagan community, and is it a change for the good?

When I was putting together my schedule for Pantheacon, this was one of the “must attend” panels I had starred. There were only five of those total. “”Finding Your Personal Magic” (Shauna Knight), “The Dark Side of Druidry” (John Beckett), “The Cauldron of Change” (Kristoffer Hughes), and “Bardic Magic” (John Beckett). The last was held in the ADF Hospitality Suite, and I would hear it again later at the Gulf Coast Gathering (2016) in a slightly revised format. The other panels were all presented by people whom I have met (briefly in some cases), but “Morphing the Myth” was on a topic that has drawn me in quite a lot over the years. Mythology. And it went further down the trail…into the realm of how new stories create new mythologies, and how retelling of the stories can change with the moods and tastes of the popular culture of the time. In other words, morphing the story to fit the understanding of the new cultures that have grown up.

Yes, the panel intrigued me quite a bit. In fact, I might even say that it was the highlight of the entire Pantheacon for me – at least from an intellectual side. And that’s not taking away from the cerebral aspects of any of the other panels I attended. Hardly. Just merely stating that this one panel piqued my curiosity in a manner that I could not explain, heading into Pantheacon.

Once I arrived at the panel, I found quite a few folks had already arrived. I was four deep in what appeared to be a crowd of about thirty-five. For an early morning panel, I assumed that this was a healthy number of attendees. As the panel continued, more folks filtered in. With S.P. Hendrick were two other individuals – an Australian man (judging from the accent) whose name I never caught, and a lady whose face seemed familiar. She turned out to be the author Diana Paxson, whose books I have adored for quite some time. As my notes show, the conversation moved along some very familiar territories, which I will explore through the next series of posts. And the conversations were absolutely fascinating. In one of my writings after Pantheacon, I noted this as well as how the panel has had me looking through various stories that have been favorites in my life.

IMG_0215And while I have alluded to where I am headed with this next series of posts…I am about to dive a little deeper than before. What I am wanting to do, is to dig a little deeper into the ways that mythology, stories, songs, poems and other aspects of the Bardic Arts fuel the fire of who and what I am. Hopefully, some of what I am about to present over the next few posts provides a way for you to look deeper into your own personal Spiritual fires. And perhaps, some of the questions I walked away from this panel with will also help you look a little deeper into how mythology presents itself to your life, your Spirituality, your connection to the Gods and Goddess, and your connection to the world around you. I know its done just that for me.

–T /|\


Static or Dynamic Mythology

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?

Walking on Wild Horse Island in MontanaAre 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.




Walking Through Mythology…Or Looking Out for the Roots in the Path

In a series of dreams and meditations over the past year-plus, I have been slowly nudged towards Celtic mythology. About four months ago, I finally relented to all the little pushes and shoves, starting my journey by reading the four branches of the Mabinogi.

My initial reading of the four branches left me more confused than before. I was unfamiliar with the names or the information contained within – and I eventually set the book down, and wondered what the Nine Hells I was doing. Perhaps, it’s best to explain why…

When I first started down my Path within Paganism, I leaned towards the Gods that matched my Germanic heritage – and the Nordic pantheon was where I landed. In so many ways, all of this “clicked” in my thinking, and I definitely could relate to the legends and stories within the Edda. The problem wasn’t with the intellectual connection; it came from a Spiritual connection. For a long time, I felt that having a close relationship with any of the Gods was impossibility, and that worship of the Gods was done as a manner of mouthing honor to them. A form of lip service, if you will. It didn’t change my perspective that the Gods existed – for me that was a definite given – it was more a matter that I felt I wasn’t an individual that they may care to commune or interact with. In early 2007, it all changed for me.

View From a Cabin Near Divide, ColoradoI had taken up reading as a manner of education myself. My particular focus at that time, was studying on the local Native American culture of the Texas plains. On a trip to Colorado, I was staying at a cabin in a remote area just south of Divide, and decided to take a walk along the dirt road. Now, walking is a meditation form for me – it’s the way I work things out in my mind, and the way I clear my mind of all the daily clutter that appends itself there. To the side of the road, I saw a large out-cropping of rock, which hung out over the asphalt road below, and decided this would be a nice place to stop for a while. Sitting on that rock, I started thinking about the Sioux legend of how the Crow’s feathers came to be black – a legend that I had just read about the night before. As I let the sun warm my skin, I closed my eyes and relaxed – finding my way to my own Inner Grove…and found a small group of crows, I do recall that it was either six or seven of them. One by one, they all came up to where I was standing and dropped small objects at my feet.  Blue buttons, silver hat-pins, a yellow piece of yarn. And when the last one dropped its item, they all flew into the branches of the three Oak trees there and cawed at me. In a way, I felt it was a moment of greeting, so I raised my hand and waved – and opened my eyes. On that rock out-cropping, just a few feet away, was a single crow. He stared at me with his little dark eyes, cocked his head to one side and cawed twice. I must have moved slightly, because he instantly took flight, cawing at me the entire time.

It took several more times of having crows crossing my path in meditation, in everyday life, and even in material that I would be reading, before I realized there was a message in all of that. This would start me down a Path of exploring Native American perspectives within my own Spirituality, and finding ways to commune with Crow, as well as Coyote over a longer period of time.

So what brought me to starting down my Path of exploring Celtic Mythology and Spirituality? Over the past year, I have continually seen a few figures from Celtic mythology pop up in various readings, and have even found myself wondering what I needed to know about them during some of my meditations. Lugh, Brigid, and Taliesin have been the most notable that have been poking me in the chest – particularly the last few months. I can take a hint, but sometimes that hint has to be accompanied by a two-by-four upside the head. ::grins:: So far, the largest obstacle for me has been unfamiliarity with the subject material. A first reading of the Mabinogion has left me scratching my head, wondering what I was thinking about when I decided to tread along this Path. So it’s apparent that I need to do a lot more research on the who/what/where/when/how/why aspect than I had originally thought. Remembering back to my first steps on the Native American part of my Path…I did the same thing, but it was that research that brought me to that Path. This is ever so slightly different.

As with any personal search, this is all a process for me. And I know somewhere along this, I will trip over a root, or a rock that is in the Path – which I didn’t see because I was looking to the left or the right of the Path to see the trees, bushes, grass, and rock formations there. And when it happens, I will have to pick myself back up, knock the dirt of my clothes, chide myself for not being careful, and start moving forward again. I learned that from spending time with two Trickster Gods…