After reviewing responses to Developing Polytheist Myths I felt a whole new post digging into the ideas I fleshed out there would be of use.
The focus of that post was to say that we need to be open to the Holy Powers revealing myths to us in a variety of ways, including as part of the natural landscape, or in experiences persuant to natural features like rivers, waterfalls, etc. I was trying to get that across in the Shining Lake Grove example and in the exploration of the idea of their being a potential Odin-of Michigan. What I am not saying is that we should make new myths for our Gods, Ancestors, or vaettir. Rather, we should be open to Their stories unfolding to or within us, whether through direct revelation, and/or in experience in relationship with Them.
Personal devotion, as well as going through the work of developing discernment for both laypeople and spiritual specialist alike is part and parcel of this work. Good devotion is rooted in orthopraxy and orthodoxy, both of which inform and work with each other in lived relationships with the Holy Powers. If, as I have put forward again and again that lore is the map and not the territory, it makes sense that for our own experiences of the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir bring more details to that map.
PSVL made a good number of points that I want to expand on:
Edward Butler and I have spoken a few times about another nature of myth and mythic narrative: it can in itself be theophanic, which is to say it can reveal the nature and/or character of a Deity rather than having simply explanatory power. In other words, a given myth doesn’t just say why (e.g.) Zeus is associated with this particular mountain, or how a particular cult practice emerged, or why some aspects of the natural world reflect the Deity, but instead the story itself is a revelation (I know many people in our religious communities are allergic to that term in a spiritual context, but here we are!) of the Deity.
I agree. The stories of encountering our Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in a place are revelations. Each time we tell the Creation Story, or one of the stories, the myths, of our Holy Powers, it is enlivened in that the story is lived through the experience of storyteller telling the story, the listener in hearing the story, and in the reaffirmation of cosmogeny/cosmology between the storyteller, listener, and the Holy Powers from Whom the story was received. New myths that result from the revelation of our Holy Powers to us also affirm cosmology, and in these revelations our relationships with Them as part of that cosmology. New myths reaffirm how the Holy Powers may relate to individuals and to our communities as wholes. There is not an ‘overriding’ in my understanding of this, but a deepening of relationships with the Holy Powers. It takes what mythology was left to us and brings it into lived myths that inform our religions, our lives, our worldview.
PSVL went on:
It’s a subtle difference, and one that gets very tricky to discuss, because for some people that can then easily lead to an even more ossified sense of myth, and–perhaps even worse–scripture and even potential literalism and bibliolatry in the way that such has occurred in certain other religions (sometimes in a more benign form…I’d say evangelical fundamentalist biblical literalism is far more pernicious and horrific in its implications than the Sikhs regarding the Shri Guru Adi Granth Sahib as a living entity and continuous guru, or Jewish people burying old Torah scrolls and dancing with them on Simchat Torah, etc.); however, that need not be the case. If we understand that there is a separation between any given myth, or even mytheme, and a text as an instantiation of such, then there’d be less problem…
Whether generally pernicious or generally beneficent, it is important that polytheism not engage in ossifying its myths and mythologies so that experience is only ever allowed in reification of what has come before. Polytheist religions need have a firm foundation while being open to a variety of experiences and understandings, including potential divergence. There is a need to be open to new expriences, including revelations while retaining the grounds of the myths the polytheist religions are built on. This ground of myths includes how the myths unfold, and includes where they unfolded before coming into our hands. It is a call to be firmly grounded in what has come before and is part of our current relationships with the Holy Powers while also being open to these relationships taking on differing forms given where we live and the desires of our Holy Powers possibly having changed since our religious Ancestors worshiped and lived in relationship with Them.
Ossification of myth is dangerous as it limits contact and interaction with the Holy Powers to the past. Note that this is not an attack on traditions. Rather, in order for a tradition to flourish it needs to be lived. In polytheism divination and revelation are two ways in which the Holy Powers engage in active dialogue and relationship with us. To cut out revelation and/or divination and thus, the new myths that can result, denies the Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir active hands in our relationship. It relegates our relationship to historicity, history being the sole arbiter of a lived relationship with the Holy Powers rather than being part of the 3-legged stool mentioned in the last post.
This goes along with PSVL’s point in regards to the difference between myth and mythology:
Something else that I’ve never heard discussed in a practical religious context, but which a limited number of academics do acknowledge, is the difference between myth and mythology–the latter is not simply the formalized study or collection of myths, but instead reflects a stage of a culture which indicates that the myth is no longer a living part of the culture which informs everyday understanding. For how many modern polytheists is the reality that we have mythology (as reflected in sources like Snorri, e.g.) rather than living myth? It’s an interesting question, and also an uncomfortable one…
In my experience many polytheists are reflecting on mythology and not engaging with myth. That is, for some polytheists what we have is not part of a lived cosmology but rather something abstract or “out there” being reflected on. If the myths are not informing lived relationships then the myths have already ossified or are ossifying into mythologies. When myths are not lived they become things to be studied and looked at, but no longer informing living, vibrant cosmologies. It leaves the realm of our lived polytheist religions and enters religious studies, history, anthropology, and so on.
Melas the Hellene had this to say:
I think it would first and foremost be necessary to distinguish decisively between divine myths and human/heroic myths. Myths that recount a Deity’s new actions, functions, etc. or directly relate to the nature of a Deity should (in my opinion) be best avoided.
The modern world as it stands is full of troublesome shifts and turns (some are not mistaken to call it also polluted to degree) that myth making about the Gods would only weaken the core and the original myths.
The modern world is full of troublesome shifts, but to see that all the modern world is polluted and somehow the past was not is engaging in some pretty fiercely rose-tinted glasses. Yes, there is much in the way to restoring and revitalizing our religious communities. However, what I think is a solid stumbling block to this is that personal devotion, experiences, and unfolding of relationships are often sidelined either for some nebulous idea of what is approved in the lore that remains to us, or that we lack capacity in some degree so we cannot or should not enter into new territory with our Holy Powers.
Seeing as how myths involve Gods, and sometimes Ancestors and spirits, i.e. The Volsunga Saga and Odin, and Athena with Heracles in His Twelve Labors, I would say that unless we are intentionally editing our myths rather than receiving them, we ought not aim for any kind of thing with our myths. Rather, we should receive our experiences that bring us to potentially new myths, and bring them fully and faithfully to our communities. From there we can work with discernment to determine if these are myths that are now part of our understanding of the Holy Powers. We live in the modern world. We ought to be able to find resonance with at least some of our Holy Powers within it.
Melas goes on:
One exception to this is mythical reconstruction, as for example with the Celtic tradition, where many myths are lacking; this task would be best left to a council of well-informed and well represented preisthood who can serve the Gods in question properly. In general, preserving and worshipping the Gods is what we need, and if there’s a desire to engage further, new hymns and festivals are safer and better than myths. Now, this precaution would not be needed with human/heroic myths, where the brave and renowned deeds of great ancestors among men and women would be remembered. Two important points in my opinion should be mentioned here: 1) these myths should not be the work of a particular individual (otherwise it becomes history) but rather the collective product of a community 2) the myth should be at first oral and unwritten for an extended period of time (perhaps at least a few generations, otherwise it becomes history again) in which case it would organically develop and then, if worthy, both Gods and men will allow it to survive and pass into myth. These two points are meant to protect the elevated status that a myth ought to have, rather than expose them to human ambition. Thus much I have to say for the time being.
While a council of spiritual specialists may be ideal, for a lot of communities that is where that notion will start and end. We have few spiritual specialists, let alone enough in community with one another that would be able to effectively make a council. There’s also questions of certain spiritual specialists having the ability or skillset to effectively serve on such a council. The encouragement of dialogue and discernment is the encouragement to working on these things within our community, as these issues are already being made manifest within our communities whether or not they are ready for them.
Melas’ point in the creation of festivals does not make sense to me. If a God reveals a new myth to me, I would dishonor Him to merely make a new festival or hymn rather than teach the new myth. Making a new festival in reaction to a revelation strikes me more as intentionally modifying myths to suit our needs than it does to communicate what the God has given to me to communicate faithfully. This holds the same to his views on how myths should be incorporated. If my God gives me a myth to share, whatever the medium that God gives me to give to others is the one I use. My desires, views, etc are secondary to faithfully carrying out the Work of sharing the myth.
Many polytheist communities need to incorporate new myths not only because there is a lack of primary/secondary sources, as Melas notes, but also because this is something already in progress in a variety of polytheist communities. We’re not getting out in front of anything. Rather, wrote the previous post and this one because these experiences are already happening to folks and to whole communities. Far better for us to develop discernment and means of incorprating these new myths than to dismiss them out of hand or relegate them to less than the experiences our forebears had.
He goes on later in the comments to say:
a) If there’s “a need to experience the Gods here and now” wouldn’t hymns and festivals (and I’ll music) best fulfil such a desire? The divine myths that I objected to forming recount a God’s actions. Who are we to say what the Gods do in particular communities? That’s a rather human centered approach than a divine centered one.
Ultimately it is a given Holy Power that tells us how to celebrate and understand Them. Otherwise we are doing things for our benefit and our comfort. It is not ours to say what the Gods do in particular communities. Rather, for those of us who are given experiences, it is on us to faithfully communicate them. When those experiences involve the communication of new myths, it is on us to share them as the God(s) would have us do so. To do otherwise is human-centric and not Gods-centric.
I am going to split up b) into sections to better tackle it.
b) To continue the point above, you give an interesting example about Odin in Michigan. I’m sorry to say that Michigan’s local/regional cultus as well as its natural landscape have nothing to do with Odin, but everything to do with the indigenous Gods that were once there, until they were supplanted by colonialism.
Michigan’s local/regional cultus as well as its natural landscape have everything to do with Odin. How we understand Him through our locally-based experiences colors our understanding and the unfolding of His relationships with us in our lives and in our community. If we understand that the Icelandic myths were influenced by the local environment, i.e. the Creation Story with Fire and Ice reflecting the landscapse of Iceland as much as the experience and understanding of the Creation Story itself, then it makes sense that our experiences of the Holy Powers and our relationships with Them are influenced by our environment as well.
There is nothing to back up the assertion Melas makes here that regional cultus has nothing to do with Odin. I am a Heathen and therefore worship Heathen Gods. When I interact with my Ancestors, I do so as a Heathen. When I worship the landvaettir I do as a Heathen. Heathenry is my primary locus. I am a polytheist worshiping many Gods from many places, and while I worship Greek Gods in Their way and Egyptian in Theirs, the way live my life is primarily carried out through being Heathen and through that Heathen worldview.
I am not a Native American of Michigan. I can firmly believe that the Manidou are as real and powerful and so on as my own Gods but I cannot approach any of these Holy Powers through, for instance, an Ojibwe or Potowatami lens. To do otherwise is colonialism. In this case, colonizing the Native peoples’ traditions and ways of relationships with their own Holy Powers. Now if, as I have been shown with some Holy Powers there are good ways of interacting, i.e. offerings, prayers, etc. by those who are Native that is one thing. However, not being Native, not raised in the Native cultures, I cannot approach things as a Native. I must approach them as a Heathen or be lying to myself and all the Holy Powers, including the Manidou and local spirits. Even in approaching the Native spirits, big or small, I come to these as a Heathen. I have to -I cannot come to these vaettir as Native. If I am taught how to interact with Them in a manner best suited to them, again, this is one thing, and where I can it is just good reciprocity to learn. That said, there’s a lot of forgotten Gods, Ancestors, and spirits for whom my approach works and works well.
I wouldn’t implicate Zeus into where I live in America in order to feel better about myself while knowing that doing so is in effect replacing and not acknowledging a God that was native here. Again, we should have a divine centered approach. Where the Gods were born and where they have always lived, that is there divine home and mythical landscape. Bringing my Zeus and your Odin arbitrarily into the local cultus of America literally makes them patrons of colonialism. The same coule be said of all intrusions on indigenous land (tribal or modern) but we all know the case is especially severe with the native Americans.
For Heathens here in Michigan understanding and relating to our Holy Powers, developing myth and understanding of Them must be done through the Heathen worldview in the environment here in Michigan. To do so is not to implicate Odin over a Manidou or spirit, but to understand that Odin is Odin and that Manidou is a Manidou, and that being distinct from one another and being a Heathen first and foremost my cultus goes to Him. If I am lucky enough to be introduced to Manidou and other Native spirits and introduced in how to respectfully engage in relationship with Them then approaching Them in the manner prescribed is important, as it is both respectful and the right thing to do.
Having a divine-centered approach means that understanding some things are not for me as much as it means respecting where I am. Some relationships with some spirits are closed to me, whether due to the Gods I worship, my Ancestors, or the vaettir with whom Iam aligned. It would be colonialist of me to assume I can or should engage with the local land spirits or the Manidou in the same was a Native. To assume that I have a right to that kind of relationship, to the sacred ways of the Native peoples, or that the Native spirits even want that kind of relationship with me is a colonialist attitude.
What kind of myth making will be used to justify Zeus or Odin intervening in non-indigenous land? The forgotten native Gods who have been torn away long for justice and for a return, and they don’t need foreign companionship or replacements to achieve that.
There’s no need to ‘justify’ our Gods being here. They are here. Perhaps we will find They have worked out agreements with the Gods and spirits here. Perhaps we will find out that we’re all together in this land with one another in these places and we need to figure out between ourselves how best to live with one another. Rather than speaking on behalf of Native Gods, forgotten or well remembered, I think it best to remember my place as a human being and not speak on Their behalf or that of my own Gods, but to do my bet to live in good relationship with my Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, and those of this land.
I do not see my Gods as ‘replacements’. Rather, my Gods are just that: my Gods. I am not Native, was not raised in Native ways, and rather than appropriate Native practices and religions I am doing what I am called to do: to worship my Gods, Ancestors, and vaettir in my community’s ways. I do not know what Native Gods need or desire until They make this known to me. I would not presume to tell Them or Their Peoples what They need, desire, or call us to do.
c) Concerning the authority of communities to make myths, I’m not very sure if we should use that term where lore is much more applicable. From what is known about ancient Greeks and their myths, myths are very old (150+ years) and the only way for communities to develop them (however the means) is after such a long period.
Whereas I think if authority is not based in the community and that authority of the community is not based in lived relationships with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits, sooner or later these cease to be lived relatioships and ossify from myth into mythology. That’s not to say the old myths should be dismissed, ignored, or not part of the ongoing relationship of people and their relationship with myth (read: living theology) and the relationship that flows from this with the Gods, Ancestors, and spirits. If theology becomes merely academic it becomes part of the realm of religious studies. If myth becomes merely academic it becomes part of the realm of mythology, and all the academic fields connected to this.
I think there may be a point missing in this conversation in regards to the establishment of myths. Namely, in that someone had to have an experience that informed how the myth came to be. Perhaps a poet had an ecstatic experience and was given a new myth to tell from a God or family of Gods. Perhaps an ordeal was undertaken by a village of people and a unique experience of salvation or pain was inflicted on the village by a Holy Power. There is some kind of foundational story in which the Holy Powers impact a person and/or a community, and from there comes the myth.
Melas is talking specifically from his viewpoint of a Greek polytheist, as he has mentioned, what he considers a traditionalist perspective. It could be this is a key point he and I are talking past each other. Compare, for instance, the sources of Heathen lore; we don’t have the volume or the depth of primary sources or secondary ones. Consider also the archaeological finds that have been powerful in filling in a number of areas for Greek polytheists of many stripes that Heathenry yet lacks.
d) I never said that oral mythology is totally resistant to human ambition (your word “intervention” I wouldn’t use). My point was oral mythology was far more resistant because it necessitates collective participation and transmission, unlike writing.
Here Melas is correct and I agree that oral histories tend to be incredibly accurate both to the content of the story and in the integrity of the story/stories due to the various factors in communicating them, not the least including amazing feats of memorization, taboos, and respect for the sacred nature of storytelling.
e) For the reasons in (d), I would repeat the same point about individuals making myths. Orpheus is a mysterious character, but it’s possible we think of him as an individual only because he came as a stranger to a new part of Greece (he was Thracian) leaving behind his native tradition. Nevertheless, it was his followers who wrote about him, and I blame them (if he were indeed the historical character he seems to be) for elevating him to myth so suddenly. But regardless of my traditional opinion, the point remains that he didn’t make myths about himself but they collectively did of him.
I don’t understand why the need to use the word ‘blame’. If His works are correct, in keeping with good relationships with the Holy Powers, and oracles and various omens were in keeping with that (see the earlier points I have made on discernment) what would it matter if they waited five minutes after receiving his teachings or 150 years? To me this an arbitrary number that seems to pride time as an arbiter of relationships with the Holy Powers and the passing on of Their myths, teachings, stories, etc., rather than good relationships with the Holy Powers.
f) The few extant sources on the Germanic myths do not suggest that those ancient myths originally developed also out of a few individual sources. They were rather a collective tradition that had the misfortune (and good fortune) to be transmitted by a few surviving works.
My point in hammering on individuals so much is not that the collective does not matter, but that individuals at some point had to have had experiences of the Holy Powers, and had the wisdom and ability to communicate this to future generations. An entire village could have had experiences with a Holy Power and yet, the way that the story is passed on, that it becomes a living myth, is through the storyteller or storytellers. Moreover, each telling of a myth is in some way, shape, or form, reengaging that myth.
In this understanding each time I tell the Creation Story I am, with the help of the Holy Powers and my own abilities as a storyteller, bringing to life each moment of that myth. Storytelling, aka mythtelling, and relating myth to others is a powerful and sacred act. It is dangerous because, in the case of Creation Stories, you are at once telling the living myth of how the Universe and all things came to be and still operate. It is orienting the understanding of those humans listening and living in the telling our place with the Holy Powers, how we are to act rightly, what our place is in the cosmos.
These myths, these powerful and holy stories are how we come to understand and know our Gods, our Ancestors, and our spirits. To tell a myth poorly, whether to misspeak or to get something totally wrong can throw the people out of good relationship with the Holy Powers. To tell a myth well is to lay a good foundation for generations to come. If we receive myths, then we need to relate them and teach them well, that we lay a good foundation for those generations coming after us.
15 thoughts on “Revelation and Experience in Building Polytheist Myth”
I think people are uncomfortable with ecstatic inspiration because of past incidents where inspiration was passed off as “ancient lore”. But people seem to be more accepting of UPG now – there isn’t that need to pretend that innovation is revealed tradition. And really, without new insights and inspiration, how can paganism move forward?
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It was an interesting conversation, and I’m glad a few matters I mentioned were of further utility for you.
I won’t speak against (or for!) anything in particular Melas said here; I will only relate some matters from my own experience that seem to have some similarity to a few things you excerpted above. When we had a CR group in Seattle, one of the things I mentioned doing (and which I’ve written about in WtW several times) was the idea of a “local dindshenchas” project, since that very idea and “genre” of lore in Irish was the way in which people not only established their relationships with the local landscape, but also recounted the “genealogy of landscape” (as A. Joseph McMullen’s memorable phrase stated it) for them. Given we were people of a Celtic (or, often more specifically, Irish or Scottish or Welsh or Gaulish, etc.) spiritual culture, this seemed like it would be a useful thing to do; as we were not living in Ireland, or on the Isle of Man, constantly referring things back to there was not going to do as much for us as trying to understand how the Deities and Hero/ines would manifest, and did manifest/were manifesting, in the local landscape. (One of the most important stories from medieval Ireland is the arrival of the Milesians, the “human” population that was ancestral to the Gaelic Irish, and how they won rightful title to the land by invoking it and properly honoring its primary Land Goddesses and making covenants with Them; surely something as equally respectful could take place with us, with that as precedent?) Unfortunately, some present said that we shouldn’t do this at all, and instead should find out what the indigenous people did and thought, and how they understood the local placenames of rivers, mountains, etc. When it was then raised that since we are not indigenous people ourselves, and thus it would not be appropriate for us to do as they do (especially without permission or training), then the only option seemed to be to “do nothing” and to not attempt to establish any sort of local relationships or customs with our Deities and Hero/ines. Of course, for me, that was not an option…so I went on to do what I did. (And, interestingly enough, when I spoke with a tribal elder of one of the local groups a few months ago, I asked him about a particular place that I’ve always found sacred, and he said “It is a sacred place; but what is there is not from us,” which I found to be a very interesting statement…!?!). There are larger questions at stake of what is “respectful engagement,” of cultural appropriation–both inadvertent and deliberate–and so forth, and while I think those are valuable debates to have, what I am not remotely content with is raising all of these potentially valid issues and then using them as excuses, or even justifications, for “doing nothing” and not engaging with the Deities and finding out what They want, if it matches what we might want, and then seeing what is possible, rather than either just deciding things arbitrarily ourselves (which I know some other groups have done in creating “new myths,” which I find problematic!) or only waiting for something to be “revealed” by the Deities. All too often, a balance is struck between the two: we can ask for a story and They can give it, or we can present a story as an offering and They can accept it, and I think starting with either movement is perfectly good, though other options are available as well.
Anyway, there’s a lot in the above…sorry for the density of it! 😉
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Thank you for the opportunity to continue a discussion on a topic of great importance. I have read your thoughts carefully and reflected on them. The following are distinct points in response, for the facility of future discussion, if it arises:
a) First and foremost: I should have noticed this before, but I find myself quite unable to understand your definition of “myth”, which seems to be fluid and innovative. From close reading, I have noted that you associate it closely with “revelation and divination”, but more importantly you apply the adjective of “lived myth” and equate that innovative term with “lived cosmology”, “living theology”, and even “storytelling”, which causes too much confusion. I must say these definitions are unheard of, whether in scholarship or tradition (past or present). A “lived myth” is particularly oxymoronic and contradictory, because myths are fundamentally set in the past, or if they are being set now, it only becomes myth to future generations. Perhaps I have misunderstood you, in which case I request the help of several examples as to what you mean. To my knowledge, this is the chronological order in which oral tradition unfolds, from the most ancient and venerable to the newest and least revered: Myth (hundreds of years) – Lore (more than one generation) – Story (from days to years). Now what may reasonably be called “lived tradition” is the sum of these oral traditions, with also the addition of practical ones like ritual, customs, festivals, etc. and indeed literary ones (if applicable) like hymns, epic poems, etc. As for divination and revelation, those two are holy activities that are regulated by experienced persons, and because they have to do with the present, do not really apply to myths. For example, if old blind Tiresias were here divining about a future storm, or revealing the reasons of a recent disease, etc., he would be explaining events, causes, consequences, and how they relate to man and God. In divining and revealing, he would not be mythmaking, but only divining and revealing. Let’s suppose the people who heard Tiresias migrate elsewhere as if to avoid a curse; they would then be carrying lore to their new location and leaving lore behind. The myth develops much later when future generations (for example) sing of Zeus and Apollo smiting the land for such and such a reason. Whereas if Tiresias had said so at the time, it would not have been a myth, but an explanation to facilitate the transmission of revelation and divination. I have given an example here and would be glad to have another in return.
b) Since you speak of mythmaking as part of a living tradition, why don’t we have precedents of such a thing from the Hindus who have the longest history of a continuous written and oral tradition? The only “myths” I hear of are those which are ancient or the oldest on record. So far, their application concurs with my definition. What I know of the Hellenic myths also agrees with what I say: Did you ever hear of lived myths being made during Late Antiquity or even the Roman Period? Theology and lore, yes, but myth, absolutely no. The only exception I can think of is that of Alexander of Macedon, and only because he himself thought he was like a living mythical Herakles (and abused the Oracle of Delphi accordingly), but his hubris brought him down and the history written about him gives him at best the status of a famous legend.
c) These two previous points bring me to the third one: You don’t need myth in order to LIVE a tradition, but only to ESTABLISH it. We do live daily in the presence of the Gods, and we express our connection in various ways through living according to the tradition of our ancestors. In the sense of verbal rather than practical tradition, the myths provide a point of beginning (which nevertheless can often be remembered), but lore and stories (distinct from myth) carry on the tradition. Perhaps I misunderstand you again, in which case I ask for further explanation. Your theory of the Gods and people interacting daily sounds like the conception of divinity in animism rather than that of the Gods and myth in polytheism.
On your point B: Yes, Hinduism does have continuously-evolving and continuously-created myth. The most recent Hindu sacred text was written in 1994, concerning the Goddess Arundhati, now associated with the stars, Who was originally a wife of one of the great sages in more ancient tradition. The film Santoshi-Ma is another example of this, with the film itself being regarded as a sacred text, and the actress who portrayed the Goddess in it (Who had not been heard of before the film, other than in some pamphlets!) being regarded by devotees as an incarnation of the Goddess. Even Hanuman, one of the most important Hindu Deities today, was only a minor character when the Ramayana was first promulgated in the late centuries BCE; it wasn’t until the Sri Ramcharitramanasa in the last 500 years or so, written by Tulsi Das who was seen as a latter-day avatar of Valmiki who wrote the original (and was even said to have been present when the original events took place in later tradition!) has had a gradually evolving and expanding cultus.
In later Graeco-Roman tradition, there is Antinous, and Glykon–both controversial figures, to be certain, but cultus and myth to and for both came about in the mid-2nd century CE, after the beginning of Christianity. If polytheism had continued uninterrupted, or if Christianity simply hadn’t been as major a disrupting force as it had become, there is no reason not to think that it wouldn’t have had newer Deities emerging at various points as it developed. Not all of the cults of ancient Deities sprung up in the mists of antiquity, some of them developed later.
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Again, there’s a misunderstanding about the definition of “myth” and so you may also address point (a). A Roman emperor deifying his lover in occupied Egypt doesn’t make Antinous a real god worthy of “myth”, and so the term “legend” is better. Glykon I know very little of, and therefore I won’t comment.
What I would concentrate on is your seeming attribution of the term “myth” to the recent epic poem Arundhati. Once again, this is not the right term to be using. The epic poem is about a sacred subject, to be sure, but is not a “myth” like other ancient mahakavyas such as the Ramayana. Look up “Hindu myth “or “Hindu mythology” anywhere and all what you see are very old texts. That’s because durability and ancient status is a prerequisite for the term “myth”. If you look into http://www.jagadgururambhadracharya.org/ which seems to be the official website of the author, it is explained that the epic poem is “drawn from scripture” which clearly distinguishes the author’s new interpretation from ancient text/myth, i.e. scripture. He would have been condemned horribly if he called his work an “evolving myth” and deservedly so, not that he would, because he is too pious, humble and learned even to come near that. So, in conclusion, diluting and conflating the term could have serious and adverse consequences, and does no credit to either the Gods of the communities that ought to serve them.
Hadrian only spread the cult of Antinous further afield; native Egyptian tradition that was established thousands of years before is what deified Antinous–had He been anyone else (including a Greek or a Roman with no ties to the Emperor), He still would have been deified because of His drowning in the Nile. We have several examples of other not-well-connected Greeks and Romans, as well as everyday Egyptians, receiving deification in that way, and local cultic traditions attaching to them, including proto-aretalogies in the cases of Petesi and Pihor (Whose temple is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC) and Isidora, amongst others. (And we also have much evidence from late antiquity that Deities often demanded aretalogies and details of Their interactions with humans to be written and preserved for posterity as a condition of Their revelations to humans!) There were already myths about Antinous and Hadrian’s lion hunt in the immediate aftermath of Antinous’ death which survive in sufficient fragments to show there were variations in different times and places about it, and yet the basic outlines of it persisted more than 150 years after the initial event in texts from Egypt.
While I take your point that “myth” should be better defined if we are going to use it as a critical term in discussion (here and elsewhere), your particular definition is arbitrary and depends on time as the essential factor, and this isn’t something that I’ve ever heard deployed in academic contexts (and I am a professional academic, published researcher, and someone who is known for my contributions to mythological scholarship in Celtic Studies). Vergil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses, by your definition, would not have been “myths” when they were written, containing as they did further elaborations and innovations that departed from established traditions even as much as they were extensions of them; and yet, both are entirely in that realm for us now, and very likely for those within a generation after these texts were written. As much as the term may be ill-defined in the present context, the definitions you’ve given are not by any means unproblematic nor closed to question and critique, and are in no way binding upon any further conversation of the matter.
So here’s my question for you: what is at stake for you in making your objections in the fashion you have? Have the Gods commissioned you to speak out against these interloping innovators messing up the neat and clear canon of myth that has already been established? If so, I’d be interested in hearing about that! If not, then from whence does this desire on your part originate? I am genuinely curious, and I feel that if I understood that better, I’d be able to appreciate your rhetorical strategies more effectively than I have before now.
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Separately, I do wish to address your point about colonialism in Turtle Island (commonly called America) and introducing non-indigenous Gods to indigenous land here. I must inquire: If all Gods were once indigenous, would any of them take it well to colonize or to be colonized? I think the feeling of people and Gods go hand in hand—if the indigenous peoples of America are still fallen and abandoned, aren’t their Gods displeased? So, wouldn’t their Gods be displeased if new Gods came in to appropriate the local landscape? Forget about the Earth and all land belonging to “humanity” and all peoples of the world being of the same family because it is a monotheistic concept and frankly, an old trick… I conclude with a very pertinent excerpt from Chief Seattle of the Suquamish’s speech to “white” settlers in 1854: “Your god is not our God! Your god loves your people and hates mine! He folds his strong protecting arms lovingly about the paleface [white man] and leads him by the hand as a father leads an infant son. But, he has forsaken his Red children, if they really are his [Chief Seattle seems to have been baptized, like too many natives today, and he wrongly thought it would help his people survive]. Our God, the Great Spirit, seems also to have forsaken us. Your god makes your people wax stronger every day. Soon they will fill all the land. Our people are ebbing away like a rapidly receding tide that will never return. The white man’s god cannot love our people or he would protect them.” I hope that Chief Seattle’s quote will apply only to the god of the monotheists and not to other native Gods, because the latter would be a great misfortune.
Chief Seattle–who was also of the Duamish people, not just the Suquamish–wasn’t in contact with polytheists, and if polytheists had been the ones to arrive on the shores and over the passes of this state (I am a native of Western Washington), things would have been much different. He was speaking an oratory on that occasion as the Point Elliot Treaty was being signed, and we don’t even know if the above are his “real” words–he was speaking Lushootseed, which someone translated into Chinook Jargon, and from the latter into English, and the 1854 speech was not given written English form until the 1880s in a newspaper…so, as much as we’d like to think he said those things, it’s far from certain he did.
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I won’t comment on how that unnecessary skepticism misses the larger point. It suffices to say that polytheists also engaged and could still again engage in colonialism. The Romans conquered and colonized Gaul. So, colonialism is not excluded to monotheism. And since we were discussing “revelation and divination” just now, can we doubt what the Gaulish Druids were telling their people on behalf of the Gods against the Roman invader? And is there no connection between the colonization of Gaul and the loss of Gaulish mythology, except what little survives diluted through colonial syncretism?
Direct historical context seems to be pretty relevant to your evaluation of any examples others bring up as potential counter-points to your various points; why is it that in the present case, it isn’t? This isn’t “unnecessary skepticism,” it’s the reality of that particular bit of text that you quoted, just as much as the reality of Christians quoting the KJV uncritically and without any sense of its historical and linguistic context would likewise be at least questionable in many cases where a literal interpretation of the passages concerned was being advanced.
No one said that polytheists can’t colonize or oppress; in the case of Chief Seattle, though, it wasn’t the case, and we can only speculate what might have happened if things were different. We can do more than speculate, however, when it comes to the interaction of one potential polytheist from Europe in the Americas: it’s called the Merry-Mount colony, which was in the eventual territory of Massachusetts, and was founded by an English folk religionist/Hermeticist/classical polytheist (who also followed some folk elements of Christianity) named Thomas Morton. He tried to attract indigenous people to his colony so that they could intermarry with the colonists and create a syncretic society with “hybrid vigor” that would be able to best survive in the new (for the Europeans) land. The Pilgrims of Plymouth, however, shut that down as fast as they could…
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I realize I’m coming in to this discussion late, but the topic of adapting Heathenry to my local landscape is of great interest to me.
I have serious doubts about Melas’s notion that the Native American gods are “forgotten” or “displaced” or “abandoned.” There’s a big pow-wow at a sacred spring just a few miles from my house every October that I’ve attended twice, and from what I could observe, the native gods were still being well remembered and worshiped there by their people. That is not to diminish the terrible suffering that Native Americans have endured, or continue to endure. It’s just that some white people act like they’re gone, and therefore their gods are also gone, while they most certainly aren’t.
I doubt that people of European descent creating local cults of European gods here somehow does harm to Native American gods. That seems to imply that my gods are somehow stronger than their gods and have the ability to drive them out. That seems disrespectful to the power of their gods. It seems to me like their gods are still here and still powerful, and there’s nothing I could do to change that. After all, they manged to survive an active effort to eradicate them (through Christian missionaries), and they were still able to survive.
(And I also feel tempted to point out that Native Americans are human beings too, which means that they are not a monolith and probably disagree among themselves about these issues just as much as we do.)
I’m also a pragmatist who knows that white Americans all moving back to Europe is never going to happen. I’ve even looked into what it would take for me to emigrate to Europe, and found that it’s pretty much impossible, and probably impossible for the vast majority of white Americans. If you don’t already have a job lined up there or close family living there, you have to be pretty extraordinary (or at least extraordinarily rich) to move there. And of course the governments of Europe would never accept their countries being swamped with millions of immigrants from the United States.
So since most of us are stuck here, it seems to me to be a choice between being disconnected from the land we’ve lived on our whole lives (and probably for several generations of ancestors), or engaging with it but trying to do so in a way that is respectful to the messy history of what happened on this land before, and the messy politics of what is happening on this land now. That’s a difficult thing to do, and I’m sure a lot of us are not doing a very good job of it, but I don’t really see any other alternative.
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“I doubt that people of European descent creating local cults of European gods here somehow does harm to Native American gods. That seems to imply that my gods are somehow stronger than their gods and have the ability to drive them out.” Well, I must beg to differ. The quote by Chief Seattle I shared above with aediculaantinoi backs my point. When one people overcome and drive away and genocide another people, you cannot separate it from the fact that the former’s god is stronger than the latter, just as Seattle explains. But this does not mean that we blame the Gods in whose name colonialism was done, but only those people who acted badly on their behalf. I blame the Romans (and more particularly Caesar, Pompey and the Senate) for ruining and colonizing Gaul, but not the Roman Gods. However, if it’s insisted afterwards that the Roman Gods become entrenched in the local landscape of Gaul, that is continuing colonization. Worshipping Roman Gods in Gaul is not colonial behavior per se (it depends on the context and method) but setting up a local cultus is colonialism, unless we believe the monotheistic/imperialistic story that all peoples are alike, the land all belongs to god. I know that I will be leaving America (and all its confusions & misfortunes behind) but meantime while I am here, I’ll be advocating for the natives only. And by the way, in case you think it, I’m not one of those white people who thinks the natives are gone, because I’m proud not to be white and I reject that term. But those who are actually white and don’t look at the map to see the few, dotted and pitiful reservations that are left for the native peoples (and which are full of problems and governmental encroachment still) need to wake up. I could have said more but respect won’t permit me.
I like your concept of the ‘unfolding’ of myth through revelation, which differs to simply attempting to create a myth because one feels like writing it or feels it is needed, because it involves responding to revelations from the gods. It is this revelatory quality that differentiates myth from fiction – something I learnt during my initiation to my god during which he banned me from writing fantasy and asked me instead to write his stories and those of the other Brythonic deities as well as the ancestors of my land. Similarly I believe Gwyn is a native deity of my home town of Penwortham in North West England because he revealed his presence here to me. There is no direct evidence of this, but there is a local fairy funeral legend and he is a Fairy King. I’ve never been to America (or abroad much at all) but am aware from the experiences of others that gods do travel and reveal themselves through different landscapes so I don’t find your revelation of an Odin-of-Michigan problematic.
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On the one hand I love that Thor and his family appear in the Marvel Comic Universe movies and comic books. It shows that our myths are a living tradition.
On the other hand it makes clear that if we who follow them don’t move the myths forward, it gets done by those who don’t follow them.