Thoughts on the Public Face of Storytelling and Ritual

At Pagan conferences and gatherings, I tend to be seen carrying a yellow or white legal pad. That is me and my note-taking. And I have a copious amount of the stuff. Despite that, I suck at detailing where and when I wrote these notes. Some are easy to remember, others – well, not so much. This afternoon, while I was waiting on a particularly rough query to run its course, I flipped through one of those legal pads and came across a question I had written, but with no side context or anything else associated with it. usually, these are the signs of a “thought out of the blue” that happens to me from time to time. Like a stray bit of conversation fires off a neuron in a completely different direction.

Where did storytelling go? Why does storytelling seem to go the way of the Dodo? Are we collectively too meek to be leaders when it comes to the Bardic Art?

Well, its not a totally fair question. Storytelling has not disappeared or gone the way of the Dodo bird. It certainly does exist, just in formats that we do not see immediately as storytelling – movies and songs, for instance. We see storytelling easily in book or written form. Discernment is not that difficult for plays, although seemingly cloaked in plain sight much like the movies. However, the format we seem to crave the most happens around the fire at the campsites or around the firepits of the backyards. And it is here that this art seemingly shrinks into the darkness beyond the fire’s reach.

Much like anyone else out there, I have a running theory as to why this seems to be the case. However, as I dig deeper and deeper – I begin to understand that my theory fits into smaller segments and regions than it does as an expansive concept. See, I notice that there is a lot of fear towards public performance. So many folks are afraid of flubbing their lines, having people laugh at their momentary fsck-up, and/or being the butt of a joke. or maybe some of them are allergic to the spotlight, such as me. Or a combination of things. Or maybe something different, but the point is still there – being adverse to being in the spotlight for whatever reason.

I see this a lot in public ritual as well. Nine Hells, I was definitely there. I remember my first Gulf Coast Gathering. The main ritual has parts divided between the three grades. As a fledging member of the Bardic grade, I was super nervous at having a speaking role during the ritual – even though I had the ritual script in my hand. Everyone wanted the parts that had the fewest lines or one of the directions that spoke best to their personality. Me? I volunteered to take the part with the most spoken lines. Why? Because no one else wanted the role. yeah, that is definitely me – championing the underdog, in this case, the ritual role that no one else wanted. I was seriously working myself into knots getting ready for the role. Here’s a hint – I did just fine. I flubbed a line, and no one got upset. The next year, I participated in more than one ritual, again with the same speaking role as a Bard, and I started to add vocal inflections, vocal volume, and to a smaller degree, gestures. I got compliments on what I did, which was nice, but I had more than one person comment on how what I did in that role (which is the first speaking role in the ritual – another sweat-inducing panic moment) helped set the tone for the ritual.

Moments like this, standing in front of the fire and thanking the Gods for the safe travels of all, used to frighten me. (Picture by John Beckett)

So what in the Nine Hells does any of this have to do with storytelling? Well, the public ritual is as much about storytelling as it is about being a rite of worship. We tell the stories of the Gods and Heroes of our mythologies. We have to step out there and be ready to take our role, be our part, become what we are in the ritual – a part of the story. And stop worrying if we stumble and fall. Just get up and do it. If you trip and fall, brush off your cloak, get up and finish. And remember where that fscking tree root is next time!

Two years ago, again at Gulf Coast Gathering, I did something I had never done before – I got up at the Bardic Fire and told the story of the Screen Door Boar – a Bardic Initiate adventure from the previous year. Getting up to tell the story, very few people knew what I was going to do. I was literally scared to death, again afraid that I was going to flub a part of the story, which I did at least three times. My bigger worry was holding people’s attention and being entertaining for them. Apparently, I was. But I seriously was nearly brought to a stand-still a few times, thinking that I was doing things wrong. Again, the point – try. Even when you don’t succeed, you still learn. And if you want to be a storyteller, try again after polishing up what you are doing. It takes practice. practice leads to confidence. Confidence brings out the best in you and allows your story to shine. But to get there, you have to try.

Back to my theory. When I was in high school back in ::mumble-mumble:: (1980-1984), we had classes in Public Speaking and Drama. Some of us really got into both or one of these classes. Others, not so much. Some who got into Public Speaking also got into the Debate team. All of these put students in front of other people to speak. Their work was criticized, refined, massaged, and improved over time. Repetition and experimentation in technique helped people get better over time. Again, some excelled at this. Others, it was not their area of comfort and ease. Sound familiar? Repetition? Refinement? Improved technique over time, coupled with hard work and patience? That is correct – nearly the same formula for ritual or even magick. I know some schools still teach public speaking, have drama clubs and debate teams, but the emphasis seems to be less and less than it was back when I was in high school.

So are we collectively meek as leaders when it comes to the Bardic Arts? Possibly. Sometimes, I feel like leaders can stifle the creative growth of some of the more timid members by continually casting these folks into the smaller speaking roles. Some folks who lead are worried about the way a public ritual goes because of the way it affects the people who have come to join in the ritual. Flubbed lines, stuttering speech and the such can stifle some of the ecstatic expression of a ritual. That is a proper role for a leader to consider when designing a ritual. But the growth of group members is also a role for a leader to handle as well. That requires patience when helping others realize their untapped potential. It also requires carefully challenging these folks to step up into these difficult moments, encouraging them when they are having trouble feeling their way through the role, and providing constructive critiques of their approaches.

Part of most Pagan practices are rituals and gatherings where individual expression can not only shine, but make the difference for the adherent as well as the participant. Growing that expression in others is not the easiest thing in the world to do, much like growing crops in your backyard or allotment. You have to spend time with what you are growing, nurture it, give it the chance to be something beyond what even you envision, and know when to get out of the way and just let things grow. And that takes time, experience, and learning on your part as a leader.

Thankfully, at Gulf Coast Gathering, I have had fellow OBOD members who have helped me to be more open and outgoing and less of a wallflower. I have helped to make ritual experiences fun, informative, and reactive for many of the new folks that have come to the gatherings. My experience in helping out has allowed me to develop relationships with others that come regularly to Gulf Coast Gathering (and some not so regularly) that I likely would not have if I had not been shown how to come out of my shell. This coming year, I hope to find a wallflower or two to add to the little band of rogues and tricksters that has been slowly developing in size and scope. Why? Because these gatherings are about learning, worship as individuals and community, advancing on one’s Spiritual path – but it is also about being fun. And to be honest, participating is a lot more fun than watching everyone enjoying their time. #TwoQuid

Being Shoved and Dragged to the Spotlight

So, the coming weekend will bring the arrival of more travel for me. This time, I’ll be headed to Many Gods West in Washington state. I’ve never been there before, so I’m sure I will get lost plenty between the airport and the hotel. But that’s ok, I am arriving the day before, so I can try and navigate the best that I can. But I am actually looking forward to this trip. There’s a handful of reasons, but the most important one for me is to provide representation for Crow. I’m not presenting anything…not on a panel…just there as a person coming to the convention. Besides….

Speaking in front of crowds makes me uneasy. Even teaching in the classroom – from which I am now three years removed – made me feel uncomfortable. There’s honestly not a whole lot that I think I could provide to a conference that would be of interest. I’m just a simple, solo, polytheist Pagan Druid making his way through Life with my daily rites and devotions. I’m really just like anyone else. And yet….

I have a trickster God (thanks Crow) that keeps pushing me towards storytelling. And I practice. I record each attempt, and play it back and listen. I learn from what I hear. The inflection in the voice – the points of stumbling on words from languages that I don’t know, such as Irish. To try and resolve that, I decided to try and learn Irish. I’m not bad at it, but its painfully obvious that I am novice. My German is rusty, though there are stories I would like to tell from that. And then there’s the American folklore and the First Nations stories as well. And I keep getting reminded – one story at a time…and when you’re ready, start releasing what you record.

…and I got a Soundcloud account just for that. I stuck up my attempt at the “Screen Door Boar”. And I’ve not gone back to check any stats. So…I guess now is better than anytime.  And its only gotten two plays in the last three months, which is ok with me. Its only a partial recording of the story I told around the fire at Gulf Coast Gathering. I warned zero people that I was going to tell it, so no one seemed really ready on recording it. But everyone who heard it thought it was a lot of fun. For me, it was one of the scariest moments of my life.

And yet here I stand. At the threshold to going the route of the storyteller. Bringing a voice to the mounds of poetry I have written. Learning a language so I can pronounce words better. Learning to play guitar – even just a little bit – so I can add some extra push to what I write. And I have stagefright. Me. The guy who podcasts (sometimes). The guy who was a teacher (and nearly shat his pants every time I stood in front of the class). And I get the shakes every single time I try to stand in front of a group of people.

….then there’s the podcast, which I set off to the side for the moment. I will be bringing my recorder to the convention. And I will be looking for folks that want to talk. I won’t be recording any of the panels – because that would just be rude for me to show up and do so. I’m unsure of what the recording policy might be – and honestly, I’ve not asked. So for me, that places the recording of panels on the “no” list for me. But I will be looking for folks that just want to talk…away from the convention. Quietly.  One-on-one, or with a few folks talking about a particular subject. What that intention will bring? I have no clue whatsoever. However its where I am being led. And honestly, I’ll follow that lead….because I trust where its coming from.

So, somewhere in all of this – I need to conquer the fear of being up front where people can see me and hear. I’ll be at CalderaFest this year as well….and I volunteered to announce some of the folks playing on the stage. If there was ever a moment where I will need to completely conquer that fear…it will be there. And yes, I will have the recorder in hand to talk with folks. Because…well, that’s what the podcast is about. Talking to folks about how they came to the Path they are on…or whatever else they might wish to discuss.

I do understand why I am being pushed to the forefront – with a talon shoving my heel and a beak catching me firmly in the small of the back – stories are important. Stories are the oral history. Stories are the lessons. Stories are the fun. And people laughing and enjoying themselves pushes me forward. Knowing that I can entertain, as well as teach, pushes me to the forefront. And the only way I will get better – is to do it. And then there’s the stories of other people. How they came to be where they are, why they are on this Path – because others need to hear the stories of people to realize that (a) they are not alone, and (b) their own story is not that different from other people.

As for the stagefright…..Crow says that I can clean myself afterwards….


Continued Contemplations on Stories, Myths, and Storytelling

One thing that tends to bind much of the Pagan community together is a love of the myths. There is all sorts of disagreement on what the Gods and Goddesses are and are not, And from my own personal perspective and opinion – none of that matters. What the Gods and Goddesses are and are not is such a personal, intimate thing – I would never want to create a steadfast rule of what that means. Real, archetype, imagination – the Gods and Goddesses are what They are to each individual. I happen to believe that They are real, separate and distinct entities. But that’s for another post.

Attend nearly any Pagan gathering where there is a central fire that is being tended to, and you will find folks gathered, singing and telling stories and tales. From my perspective, it is in our DNA. Not as Pagans, but as people. Growing up, I was a member of the Boy Scouts program. And even with other members who were decidedly not Pagans, there were stories and songs prevalent throughout the night. It is almost as if the act of building a fire where everyone could gather in the night brings a requirement of song and stories.

Stories are a wonderful part of who we are as people. We tell stories every single day. When we sit on the bus or the train, we might strike up a conversation with someone nearby. And the stories do not need to be complex, morality plays like the myths can be. It can be as simple as observations on the weather, or how crowded the bus seems to always be at this time of day or even just asking how someone’s day is going. We set our experiences in the form of stories, because it paints a vivid mental mural for those we are communicating with.

As I have noted before, I work as a Data Analyst. My job requires me to provide a representation of the data that I comb through on a daily basis. I work up a story – or as it is called in this case, an analysis – of the data. Sometimes, I utilize written communication to present the story, and sometimes graphs or pie charts. Sometimes, I even provide a spoken representation of the data as well, or even a combination of any three of these methodologies. Boiled down to its base element, I am a storyteller within my position. In my mind, its only natural for me to gravitate to these Pagan gathering fires, and hear the stories and songs represented by many others in my community.

As I found at the not-so-distant OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering, being at the fire does not mean that I just hear the stories. I also need to tell my own stories. And some of the folks there claimed that I have a natural gift for doing so. I do not see that, but then I am my own worst critic as well. But it certainly takes a little bit of courage to do so. (Another post for another time)

Since I have started to embrace the idea of being a storyteller, I see so many areas where storytelling is an integral part of what is being done. But the one that catches my breath the most, is remembering my three years in the classroom as an adjunct professor. I taught for the college I work for now, but I also taught at other colleges as well. I enjoyed being in the classroom, and relating some of the crazy things that happened to me during thirty-plus years of working in Information Technology. As I have told students before, if there is a way to do something wrong in an Information Technology position – I have likely done it. If there is a law to be broken in getting a task done, I have likely done that too – as my shift did back during my time working in a Command and Control facility in Germany.

To fix a fifteen foot section of telecommunications lines within a sectional wire harness that ran along the ceiling, we utilized a short patch by rerouting over a section of cable utilized by the Bundespost (German telecommunications group run by the government). We cut and spliced the section that we needed and waited for the Bundespost maintenance folks to contact us. We knew we had less than two hours to complete our repair, and remove the patch before the Bundespost folks arrived. Like clockwork, they called fifteen minutes after the patch had been started, and our time clock began. It is against the law to damage Bundespost lines, but we needed that patch to keep our telecommunications going for the Operational groups down the hall in the bunker. There were issues that happened along the way, including a momentary argument over the color of wire that was being spliced in. All of that is part of the story. And while it may not be of ultimate interest to many, I have told that story to a few networking students to showcase the need to repair critical components at any cost.

Stories do not have to have a teaching element to them. Sometimes, they are just for entertainment, such as my story of the Screen-Door Boar, an event that actually happened at the 2016 Gulf Coast Gathering. This was the story I told at this year’s Gulf Coast Gathering, which I mentioned before. Having never stood up at a Pagan gathering fire and intentionally told a story – it was a sweat-inducing moment, and not because the fire was hot. I really applaud people who have the courage to get up and tell stories and tales in front of a crowd.

Take a look around. See where the stories are, and appreciate the beauty of each one. There are TV shows that we watch – such as Game of Thrones – that we hang on every episode so that we can see where and how our favorite, intrepid characters deal with adversity, or even awkward moments. There are baseball games that we watch on TV, where every at-bat can be a story of its own merit. Each pitch becomes a sword-slash, a spear-thrust, or the loosing of an arrow in a battle between pitcher and hitter. There is the daily news. Remove the idiotic “as-it-happens” news cycle, and you have real life tales of how people deal with daily issues. And epic, historical moments that play out moment by moment, thanks to the never-ending aspect of the news cycle. There are facets of story all around us, playing out with each moment – and our vision, our hearing, our experience puts us in the position of recording all of that every day. A solitary walk in the woods provides you with a story that no other person may experience at that moment. The literal moment of “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is there to hear it – does it make a sound?” Except that we can change that slightly to “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody that sees it has an iPhone to record the moment – did it really happen?”



Stories Are the Fabric of Who We Are

Everywhere you look, there’s a story. On TV, its a story of fictional characters, or a story about historical individuals or events. Even on the shows where they fix cars…there’s the story of the car before it made it into the shop, the story of it being rebuilt, and the story of what happens with the car when it leaves the shop. Books are easy, we’ve grown up with stories out of that. People are walking stories as well. What they’ve done since the last time you saw them, what happened in their lives before they met you, and whatever will happen to them after you part at the end of the day. Here at the college, there are plenty of stories as well. How students’ live, what brought them here to the college for these specific studies, and what dreams they have of utilizing those studies to further their careers and (hopefully) better their lives.

I deal in data for a living. I dish out number after number after number. And that data tells a story as well. It can relate how the number of graduates getting degrees is climbing steadily over the past five years. Or how overall enrollment at the college has been dipping over the past few semesters. It can provide a cost-benefit analysis of how money is (or is not) being spent. But the real measure is that each of the data points that show enrollment – the 9,000+ students that are taking classes here at the college – each of those data point represents an individual, unique story on its own. Taken collectively, there is one story to be told. Taken individually, there are 9,000+ individual stories to be told alongside the one collective perspective.

We tell stories to relate experiences, to parse knowledge between one another, to entertain, to inform, and sometimes to justify our actions. A few weeks back, I told the saga of the Screen Door Boar and the Bardic Initiates around the Saturday night campfire. I wanted to entertain everyone at the fire, and I wanted to engage them in the experience of that night. To do that, I utilized descriptive language and even body movements to convey not only my perspective, but also the humor of the moment. Apparently, I did a good enough job that I was complimented several times on the telling of the tale. But that’s just it, the telling of the tale has to happen, so that it may live.

As I noted, I deal in statistics and data. My job is to take a very high-level look at everything and relay to upper management what I can glean from all of that. The individual stories of the students’ is not nearly as important as my ability to explain ups and downs in the pattern of data. Why is enrollment down from a year ago? Because employment is up. Students snap up jobs which take away from their free time to be able to study. To add relevance to that perspective, I would show the employment rate for the county in question over the past few years to demonstrate that a rise in employment would provide a corresponding downward trend in enrollment. For my intended audience of upper management, this would be useful. For an intended audience of prospective students, it could potentially be a faceless way to present data.

Stories also hold meaning that only unlocks for us when we understand the relevance of a moment when held underneath the bright light of a simple turn of a phrase. Take the “Matrix” movies, for example. I have seen these films dozens upon dozens of times. Every single time I watch these movies, I find a new appreciation for a moment in one of the films or a different way of understanding the meaning of a set of dialogue. When we play out aspects of mythological stories against the backdrop of our everyday lives, we can find new meaning and relation to what is being presented. One of my favorite ways of viewing my job is against the backdrop of Theseus winding his way through the maze. When I spend time digging through our cube of data to locate things like student grades in English classes in a particular semester, and correlate that against ACT, SAT, and STAR test scores, I find myself keeping track of how each table in the cube relates to one another. And if I am unlucky, I may find myself arcing a pattern of connectivity between two tables using five tables between those to interlace and correlate the data. Taking the perspective of Theseus winding out the ball of yarn to find his way back out of the maze is my way of strengthening my understanding of why I am writing down the pattern of connected key columns in my query writing.

Not every story we hear, read, and experience has to have a level of hidden meaning behind it. Sometimes, a good story is there to entertain. And sometimes, that story that is just entertaining you at that moment, was providing deep meaning to you previously. Stories can interact and engage you on many different levels. You can find stories in nearly every moment of your life, provided you open your mind to the idea of what makes a story, a story. The real idea is to open yourself up to the idea that every story can not only entertain, but also provide deeper meaning.

So, I continue to step deeper into the embrace of not only hearing and telling the story, but also experiencing it. Maybe, I will see you around a campfire in the future. I sure would enjoy telling a story for you.

Episode 018 – Podcasting is Hard!

Back from a short hiatus, which had me tweaking the podcast format a bit. No interview in this particular episode, but I do a bit of a talk on how my life is being aimed towards the direction of being a storyteller. Plus, I make an attempt to recreate the story of “The Screen Door Boar and the Bardic Initiates” that I told around the fire at this year’s OBOD Gulf Coast Gathering a short while back. Personally, I’m not happy with this version of the re-telling, and will work towards a new recording of the tale, which I will put up at a soon-to-be-created Soundcloud page in the near future. But in the meantime, enjoy this version (I hope!). I also have two songs from Bran Cerddorion‘s upcoming new album “The King of Dreams” for everyone to hear. This stuff is super awesome, and already in my own personal music rotation on my iPhone. I will also be at CalderaFest later this year, where I do believe Bran will be performing…hope to see all of you there as well!!

As always, if you hear music on any of the podcast episodes that you like – please take the time to buy from the artist. Please help support your independent Pagan artist! We want more music from these awesome people….


Twitter: @t_elfster

WordPress:  “Life With Trickster Gods”

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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 /|\

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.