Revisiting – Static or Dynamic Mythology

Back in February of 2016, I wrote a blog post discussing the idea that the Gods are alive and continually growing. Badly titled as “Static or Dynamic Mythology”, its not a common post to show up in yearly blog hits. However, a reader of the blog wrote me privately asking me to do go back and take another look through the post and update my feelings on it. From time to time, I get requests like this – a request to go back and look at what I wrote. So, I title these as “Revisiting” posts. Honestly, I don’t do these that often, but its an interesting point, particularly when considering that my own perspective on things is always growing and changing.

Looking into the way-back machine, I recall that this post was a continuation on a panel at Pantheacon earlier in the year. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” with S.P. Hendrick, Diana Paxson, and an Australian gentleman whose name I never did get. The focus of the panel was on the reintroduction of mythology through the more modern methodologies of books, comics, tv shows, and movies. There was a lot of focus on the reinterpretation of the myths by the writing and production teams that put these reinterpretations together. As is always the case for reinterpretations, there are changes that are made to the entire original story – most done for effect for an audience. Some of the changes include combining characters in the story into a single entity to allow for a more cohesive flow to the story, or the less popular adding a new character out of thin air. If you’re wanting an example of that, remember the addition of Tauriel to “The Hobbit” movies which were based on the novel of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Utilizing this addition to Tolkien’s beloved masterpiece, let’s apply the question at hand. Is this change to the story a good one? Or is it bad? That’s a double-edged sword. Having watched the movies several times, Tauriel is a good addition to the story in my mind. However, her addition does alter aspects of the story in a way that doesn’t stay true to the novel. People who have their first introduction to the Tolkien novels – and in some cases it will be their only brush with Tolkien’s works – will forever have the understanding that Tauriel is a primary character that Tolkien created. After all, while the movie is an adaptation, they will never know the difference until they pick up the book. The addition of Tauriel does alter the story of the original novel in a way that shoves the story in a different direction. In the far-flung future, there will be an understanding and perception that Tauriel and her story-arc, particularly with Legolas and Kili. In this instance, we have a movie bending the story-arc for a novel in a manner that changes the overall story. For better or for worse? Well, that depends on the individual you talk with. Purists will find the change to be abhorrent. Only a story line that remains true to the original novel will do. Others, such as I, will see the change in the storyline as bringing an element to the story’s arc that provides some integral aspects of cohesion to the story to help move aspects of the plot along. An example of this is where Tauriel argues with Legolas over why the Elves should be involved in pursuits outside of the woodland realm – that Elves are part of Middle-Earth and will eventually be drawn into the coming inevitable war. Again, depending on who you talk with, the perspective of its good or bad nature can be seen from either direction.

The same holds true for movies, tv shows, books, and comics featuring the Gods and Goddesses and even the Heroes of Mythology. To be able to capture an audience, the Gods and Heroes depicted are provided with personalities that sometimes feel like these might be antithetical to what can be derived from works of mythology. Personally, I’m not fond of the depiction of Loki in the movies. However, I understood why the director, producer, and screen writers went to the trouble of making this depiction. It helps drive the storyline, which helps drive the ticket sales. Getting people into the theater means creating story lines that resonate with people. Completely understandable. Is this a bad thing or a good thing when it comes to the actual mythology?

Well, I would posit a question in a slight pivot from this. Could the Gods be capable of the depictions that we see and read about? In some cases, the Gods are shown as growing – changing perspective from one point to another over the course of the story. Is this possible? Well, as controversial as what I am about to say may be – I do believe that is true and possible. The Gods can change. I am not saying that Loki will suddenly slip out of the perspective of a Trickster to suddenly take over the mantle of the God of Justice and Law from Tyr. What I am suggesting is that the Gods can change Their perspective on areas of understanding as it relates to human beings and this realm. Instead of seeing humans as mere playthings, a feeling of endearment which sees humans as something to treasure and protect could come about. That’s just an example though. My belief is that the Gods can change Their perspectives over time. In other words, I don’t see the Gods as being static and unchanging. As humans change, the Gods Themselves can change as well – without changing the primary aspects of who They are.

At the end of the blog post, I approached another point that is just as critical to this line of thought. The debate of written versus oral. As I noted, good storytelling comes in three forms: oral, written, and visual. However, the true nature of storytelling comes from the storyteller themselves. Many people know a particular tale that can be told around the fire, but if you let them all tell the tale individually and independent of one another (in other words, none of them hears any of the other storytellers before they tell their version at the fire), you end up with many versions that are different from one another. Some storytellers will embellish on a perspective with additional information. Some will omit aspects of the tale that they don’t wish to add, for whatever reason. Others will alter pieces in a manner that emphasizes the parts of the tale that they like over others. Yet, its all still the same tale. The tale grows, alters, and morphs with each telling. Such is the nature of storytelling.

Could we not also consider the myths and tales we tell around the fire of the Gods to be the same? Not set in stone – static displays that never change – but tales and retellings that grow and change, just as our culture does? Morphs into new retellings that have new backgrounds, new perspectives that mirror our more modern settings? Our more modern understanding of morals and behaviors? One of my favorite moments from the television show the Highlander has Methos trying to explain to Duncan McLeod why he slaughtered villages of people on the steppes of Russia, which eventually had him portrayed as one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. When trying to justify his killing of the villagers, Methos points out that: “…the times were different. I was different. The whole bloody world was different.” Indeed. We look at our Gods, at Their mythologies, through the lenses of today’s society. Like it or not, we’re all carved through the morals and judgments of today. We look and listen to the stories that were produced in a time far different from our own. Stories that have been altered through the passage of time by the storytellers who kept such things alive – adding, subtracting, altering with the changing societal perspectives of the times. We tend to see the written word as a safe lock against that constant change. If its written, it can’t evolve, it can’t be changed. We have the “truth” as it should be. But are we locking the Gods into one shape, never allowing Them the capacity to change, evolve, and live? Does locking Them down into perspectives only mandated from the written word keep Them in that state – never to change? Never to provide Them with the ability to see the world around us differently? If They can’t change, and we can…who would really be the God? Just a thought… Me? I prefer to see my Gods as living, evolving, changing…for me, that’s what makes Them alive. And I truly believe that They are. That’s how I experience Them. Perhaps that’s how I should have titled this back in 2016 – “How I Experience the Gods”. Here in the dawn of 2022, it certainly makes more sense to me. Thanks to my evolving and growing perception of Them. 😊

–T /|\

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

Rambling on About Stories

From time to time, I look back on older posts to try and draw inspiration for newer posts. Today, four posts caught my eye, all with the thematic “Morphing the Myth”. These were all written back in 2016, shortly after I had returned from my first Pantheacon. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” (hence the thematic of my post), and was led by S.P. Hendrick, Diana Paxson and a gentleman whose name I never found out. The entire panel’s discussion was held on a very academic level, which I appreciated deeply. But within my notes (which I still have) was a perspective that Science Fiction and Fantasy works can become the gateway to Paganism, as well as pulling in a personal perspective of how myth fits into one’s modern-day life. Plus, I added a bit more on how music can play a part in all of this as well, using my love for the Grateful Dead as a backdrop. The four posts I am referencing here are:

Now let’s be clear about something. I am a better writer today than I was back then, so some of these posts meander into left field and the such. Not that I don’t do that these days here. However, try and excuse a lot of the mistakes that I make within these older posts, in much the same way I make mistakes these days.

Perhaps, instead of seeing myth or Science Fiction/Fantasy stories as the gateway to Paganism – we could talk a bit about the way that these stories live within our minds and imaginations, and fed aspects of our own personal Spirituality. And this plays a little deeper into another post that I wrote about this panel – Static or Dynamic Mythology. Yes, it can be said that this particular panel really opened my eyes to a lot of different avenues in relating to myths and story-telling. The panel also led me towards understanding how important story-telling is in our everyday society, as well as how it plays into my own Spirituality.

J. Michael Straczynski’s Bablyon 5 series was the first instance where I found storytelling reaching deeply into what I thought myself to be. The storylines, the characters, the settings all played into my own imagination of what the future could hold – a place where various alien races could gather and work out their differences without resorting to war – though that did happen several times in the show. The characters all had flaws, strengths, and were believable as individuals. Some of them even changed from one type of character towards being a different one – just as people tend to do in real life. From that construct, I started to look at the world of myths and story-telling differently. I started to place the pieces into the stories that helped the characters and their tales come alive in my mind. And from that, my understanding of how to work with the perspective of the Gods being alive started to take a more solid shape in my life.

In my instance, Science Fiction and Fantasy was the gateway towards seeing how the Gods were truly alive. Granted, I was still applying my construct of being alive onto Beings that I could never truly relate completely to, but it still allowed me to understand the Gods from a perspective that felt more alive. It also allowed me to see the Gods as something that could change, ever so slightly because Their reality of time is most assuredly different than my own….that They did not have to be a static, never-changing concept. The Gods are most assuredly alive.

Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

Are the myths alive? Can we re-tell the myths, adding flourishes and embellishments along the way? Well, certainly we can do just that. We’ve done that through re-telling of the legend of the hero Hercules. In some ways, to make the story more palatable for an animated Disney feature. You can be quite certain that the myth was not followed completely. Does this re-telling of the myth change what Hercules is? Only if we let the animated re-telling stand in place of the actual myth. And the concept of just letting it stand really depends on the individual more than it does on society (in my not so humble opinion).

Stories are important, in my opinion. Sit around a campfire at any gathering, and eventually folks will begin to tell the tales that they know. Some may be about the heroic deeds of Hercules, or two hobbits taking on a task that was seemingly impossible for them to do. Perhaps it will be about the time that I got lost in the forest just outside my assigned apartment in base housing when I lived in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Or maybe the times that I would go to the Class VI store on Ramstein Air Base, purchase a bottle of whiskey, and ride the German rail system drinking until I was removed from the train at the German border. Everyone knows a story. And the story does not have to be mythic in nature. Nor does it need to just entertain. Regardless, stories are an important part of our culture.

Currently our stories are told to use in books, spoken word recordings, songs, television shows, and movies. In the past, families would gather around the radio in the living room to listen to the stories that were told over the airwaves. Prior to that, everyone gathered around the campfire and took turns regaling one another with tales. No matter how much we deny it…stories are the fabric of our society. Stories matter.

Slowing the Pace, Reading the Stories, Doing the Rituals – Looking For Quality Over Quantity

One of our problems today is that we are not well acquainted with the literature of the spirit. We’re interested in the news of the day and the problems of the hour. It used to be that the university campus was a kind of hermetically sealed-off area where the news of the day did not impinge upon your attention to the inner life and to the magnificent human heritage we have in our great tradition – Plato, Confucius, the Buddha, Goethe, and others who speak of the eternal values that have to do with the centering of our lives. When you get to be older, and the concerns of the day have all been attended to, and your turn to the inner life – well, if you don’t know where it is or what it is, you’ll be sorry.

Greek and Latin and biblical literature used to be part of everyone’s education. Now, when these were dropped, a whole tradition of Occidental mythological information was lost. It used to be that these stories were in the minds of people. When the story is in your mind, then you see its relevance to something happening in your own life. It gives you perspective on what’s happening to you. With the loss of that, we’ve really lost something because we don’t have a comparable literature to take its place. These bits of information from ancient times, which have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage, and if you don’t know what guide-signs are along the way, you have to work it out for yourself. (The Power of Myth, p1-2)

This lengthy quote from “The Power of Myth” really got my mind to wondering about a variety of things, such as how different our individual approaches to the aspects of Spirituality that appeals to us may have been if today were just ten or twenty years prior. “The Power of Myth” came out in the late 1980s, a time frame where I had just started on my own Pagan Path. Therefore, some of what Campbell references here is very clear in my somewhat fuzzy memory. The news cycle had started to shorten with the arrival of cable news networks. Compared to today’s endless 24x7x365 news blitz, the starting point from much of this was much shorter. Even in this changing moment for news reporting, the traditional news cycle that was handled as a combination of daily newspapers, national news broadcasts at 5pm local time, and local news broadcasts in the morning, noon, evening, and late-night (10pm local) still ruled the roost. Today’s constant, non-stop news cycle is a hallmark of the fast-paced, constantly on-the-go lifestyles we have adapted to. And in some cases, this go-go-go lifestyle is all that one may ever have known throughout their life. And that fast-paced, constantly “on” pace provides little time or need for classic learning behaviors. Through this, certain aspects of our lives are swept aside as “unnecessary”, ‘unneeded”, or “unwanted” because there is not a quick, neat correlation to this new, quicker paced lifestyle.

John Beckett recently did a second installment of his Q&A posts, what I gather to be a monthly installment for his blog. I read the first version with curiosity, and was very intrigued by the questions asked of him, as well as his answers. For his second installment, I decided to play along. I decided to utilize a topic I knew would resonate deeply with John – ritual. I have witnessed a few of the rites that John has had a hand in creating – and these are wonderful moments to catch. The way he layers meaning, symbolism, and intention into rituals is truly a wonderful thing to behold, in my not so humble opinion. So, for his post, I did a rapid fire of quite a few questions, thinking he would pick one or two to answer. I did not expect him to answer ALL of the questions, but he did and with his usual insightful perspective.

[From John’s Post]: I’d like to see more ritual acts of devotion, especially simple things like saluting the sun in the morning and/or evening, and the moon when it’s visible at night – little things that done consistently remind us of our connections to Nature, the Gods, and our ancestors.

[My Response]: Yes, all of that makes for a daily practice that becomes more intense, more personal, more connected. And I cannot state how much of a difference it can make in one’s life. The focus it provides is quite intense and intentional. I have always wondered if a lack of personal rituals around moments in our lives is a catalyst towards the de-emphasis of how connected we are to the world around us. I would tend towards “yes” but I don’t really have any empirical evidence to prove my supposition.

The above is from my comment on the blog. And coupled with Campbell’s previous quote, I can see where aspects of all of this have started changing the perceptions of how people relate to Paganism, Druidry and personal Spirituality in our new, faster-paced, “modern” world. Daily routines and rituals, such as my morning ritual of greeting the Sun at dawn (something I try to do every day), have been pushed aside that there is more time to cram in to the information overload that we gorge on daily. We’ve pushed classical education to the side, so that we can focus on educating students on subjects that “matter” in the workplace…mathematics, writing/grammar, and technical topics – each essential to a student’s education, but a major de-emphasis on history and philosophy, where students are provided the opportunity to stretch their theoretical legs around concepts revolving around ethics, moral principles contained within stories and tales. In essence, we have pushed our mythologies, our rituals, our daily rites off to the side in the name of convenience. We aim for speed, efficiency, maximum profit for minimum effort…rather than finding the quality in what we have. Quantity over quality to utilize a phrase that was dictated as a “standard” in modern business practices in my MBA degree program.

img_9678Recently, I posted about taking a drastic change in my approach to my Ovate studies within OBOD. I termed this as “diving deep” into my studies, moving at a pace that allows me to bring a certain degree of quality to my understanding of the material. The approach will lengthen the time that I work at these studies, but thus far, it has enhanced the depth of what I am learning by allowing me to take some of the side-trails in what I find in my studies. In this manner, I am allowing myself to branch further out in these studies than I had originally planned on doing. Rather than approach the studies on a plan of do(x) then(y), I do(x) until I find a natural end to the studies of (x). Only then do I move to (y). The previous methodology was focused on accomplishing this set of studies on this particular day. Then moving forward into the next set of studies which were to be done on another certain date. Quantity over quality. After just a handful of Gwers, I started to realize that I was not learning anything in this methodology.

I do not pretend to have any answers to how to live life. Not even for myself. I muddle through life like everyone else does. However, I am increasingly left to wonder if we tried approaching life with a bit more intention, we might be able to improve some of the quality that we seem to be missing. If we brought back rites of passage – such as proper celebrations of birthdays (as a singular, very secular instance), we might find more joy in life? Perhaps, we could tone down the pace in which we devour our news cycle, and choose to consume aspects of daily life at a much slower pace – we might find that quality we all seek? I know when I approach my life with a bit more deliberate intention, I slow down quite a bit. And to be really honest, that change of pace has made all the difference to my attitude in life. Truly, I cannot say that any of this will work for everyone else, but bringing back our stories, bringing back some intention in our daily routines, setting time aside to honor our Gods, our Ancestors, the Spirits of Place – surely, if all of that provides a better connection to the world around you, helps you find a small niche in this world where you truly feel you belong…wouldn’t that be worth it? For me, it has been….

Morphing the Myth – Gateway to Paganism

As I related in the previous post, I am embarking on a series of posts that answer some of the questions I posed to myself in notes at Pantheacon 2016. The panel was titled “Morphing the Myth” – and to honor that particular panel, I have chosen to title all of the posts in this series as “Morphing the Myth” with the question following it.

In the panel’s description in the Con’s Information booklet, it was noted that many folks have come to Paganism through various stories. So, the first question I wrote down was

What is your gateway to Paganism?

In a manner of speaking, the question seems somewhat silly at first glance. Essentially, some topical approach is being blamed for one’s deeper involvement in Paganism. Sort of similar to blaming Cocaine usage on one’s earlier usage of marijuana or if one wants to complete the slippery slope of context – one’s usage of cigarettes at an early age. But, we will pick up this football and run with it. At least until the referee blows the whistle.

Mine was fairly simple. I was a curious kid, and loved to spend hours at the base library. Particularly in the section where the encyclopedias were kept. Yeah, I used to read encyclopedias for fun. That was where I came across the Roman Gods and Goddesses. That eventually lead me to the Greeks, the Celts, and the First Nations.

Tommy at the Beach
Yes, I spend a lot of time reading – even when I go to the beach

In essence, my gateway to Pagan belief came from reading the encyclopedia. Granted, it took a while before I realized that I believed in the Gods and Goddesses as the individual entities I see Them as today. I had a lot of Catholic programming to overcame, and a lot of “civilized” societal mindset to shed. I was raised in a household that really wasn’t heavy into belief; even though the children (me and my sister) were sent to Catholic schools. Not for the religious education, but for the so-called “superior” education we would receive in comparison to the public schools. But education with Catholic schools comes with mandatory religious education. So I had plenty of years of being pounded with the idea that a single God with a triune perspective was the “only” way.

When I finally made my initial steps on to the Path of Paganism, the Catholic veneration of Mary made the transition to relating to a God/Goddess paradigm was rather simple. Each of the aspects of the God – Jupiter, Pan, Odin, Thor, Loki, Coyote, Crow, Cernunnos, the God of the Hunt, were just different faces that allowed the follower to relate better. The same held true for that of the Goddess. Not a really far step away from the Christian perspective of a singular all-knowing God. There was no way that anyone was going to blow the mind of this simple, young Wiccan in the United States Air Force.

Over time, my understanding of the Gods and Goddesses began to change. I can’t really pinpoint a time frame or a specific book or movie or talk that set me on a pathway to understanding that each of the Gods and Goddesses were individual, unique beings. if I were pressed a bit for some accuracy, I would put it somewhere between 1997 and 2003. Give or take a few years in either direction. And to be honest, I am not sure it really matters one way or the other. I know what I believe now. And for me, that matters far more than the exact details of how I got here.

I am sure of another thing, though. That not every Pagan out there will believe exactly as I do. Some will see the Gods and Goddesses as aspects of a God and a Goddess. Others will believe as I do, that there are many, individual and unique entities. Others may not believe in any Gods or Goddesses whatsoever. And I am not really all that interested in how close or far away from what I believe that they are. I only care that they believe in what do they do believe in. That they put their heart and soul into who they are. That they live their life as Pagans of whatever stripe – without regret, without apology. And that they respect others’ rights and needs to follow their own hearts and beliefs.

Every single one of us have something that led us to this Path we walk. It was a gateway that brought us to a point where we decided to follow this particular Path we are on. In the next post, I’ll take a look at Myths, Stories, and tales – and the roles that these can (and do) play in my daily life.

–T /|\