When the Gods Become Real
One thing that became apparent from the Pop culture Paganism discussion last year was a lot of assumptions people were making about how historic myths are, and where the distinctions lie. The problem is if these assumptions are false then their whole religion falls apart. Hence part of my reasoning in the Authenticity post.
- Mythological heroes (Heracles, Perseus, Odysseus) were historic and therefore worthy of cultus
- Superheroes were never real people there therefore can’t be “real” gods
- Certain characters in medieval Irish and Welsh literature, written by Christian monks were all historically worshiped as gods.
- A counter-point by others: mythology and folklore was the pop culture of its day
Does this imply that the “high gods” of Olympus and Asgard (etc) were originally human, and that makes them more real? The funny thing is good ol’ Euhumerus made that argument a long time ago, that the gods were all deified humans, but he used that as a rationalist explanation of religion, and his ideas were later used by Christians to discredit polytheism. Which is rather ironic given their spiritual focus on a historic deified human.
While there are some who literally worship Superman, Sunweaver was originally just talking about using characters like him as a metaphor, but even that people freaked out about. Saigh also writes about using a modern warrior woman character as an icon at her shrine, to serve as inspiration but clarifying that she is not worshiping her as a being. Gefnsdottir shares an intriguing anecdote: “A woman who posts on one of the fora where I lurk had been trying to get pregnant for a year without success. At the end of the year, she remembered a particular ritual from the Kushiel’s Legacy series, wherein D’Angeline women (who can’t get pregnant otherwise) light candles and pray to the goddess Eisheth to “open the gates of their womb”. She decided to perform the ritual, and the following cycle, she became pregnant, and has had no problems since.”
The evidence of worship of many supposed Irish divinities is sketchy and even more questioned is the divine status of characters in the Mabinogi tales such as Manawyddan and Arianrhod. Some of their names are cognate with the Irish (Manawyddan=Mannanan, Llew=Lugh) memories of gods that have been “demoted” to powerful humans in the stories. Other characters can be seen as heroes or demi-gods worthy of honor as well. The lines between God, Sidhe, Human Dead and Hero are very blurry in Celtic and Germanic traditions, and they often aren’t as clear in Greek & Roman traditions as people think they are. (Saigh addresses this historical iffy-ness in her above post)
Nowadays, instead of Euhemerus, we have scholars like Ronald Hutton that tell us, sorry to burst your romanticized bubble but that holiday custom was invented by a Scottish nationalist, and that god you’re worshiping was invented by a poet. Nothing against Hutton, he has been a needed correction to Robert Graves and Margaret Murray, but what he says is historical should not determine our religious practices. If you want your practice to be all historically attested, fine but you’ll constantly have to re-invent the wheel whenever the new scholarly journal comes out.
This is why I’m becoming more comfortable with the idea of honoring folkloric and older literary figures as deities. I prefer older characters (19th century or earlier) not due to the “older is more authentic” mentality necessarily but because they have had time to show their cultural staying power and relevance. Also, by then the copyrights have often expired and the commercialism has faded. A lot of characters come and go in waves of popularity, others stick around for decades or centuries. At some point, new gods and spirits appear to us. Maybe they are old gods in new guises, trying to be noticed. Maybe they are totally new. Maybe old gods do disappear and reappear in other forms? But we can’t really tell for sure what’s new and what’s old we just have to follow our instincts. I think it’s the spiritual equivalent of evolution and biodiversity. Spirits and their cults and religions have their own eco-spiritual niches, they evolve with the times- or at times they die and come back in a different form if their “niche” no longer fits them. Some spirits also broaden or narrow their cultural or geographic territory. Gaia, for example from what we know historically wasn’t worshiped very much as a goddess in ancient Greece, she was more of a distant, cosmic principle. But now she is widely worshiped among Neo-Pagans and even Hellenic recons due to modern ecological consciousness.
This is a rather rambling post- I am sorting out a lot of tangled threads, I’m sure I’ll find some of them are strong material, while other strands are thin, weak and don’t lead me anywhere. Eventually I will start some more weaving!
More bloggy links-
Stone of Destiny: No Capes “Because fandom is not worship. Worship involves pouring energy outward to achieve a result.Fandom, on the other hand, is about the self. It’s about satisfying a need that we feel, filling a hole that our modern society has forgotten how to satisfy.”
Entry filed under: Concepts & Definitions, Cosmology, Deities, History, Mythology, Pagan Communities, Theology. Tags: American culture, archetypes, irish history, metaphor, mythology, pagan community, path-forging, popular culture, scholarship, Theology.