Fanfiction as Midrash

February 27, 2015 at 1:45 am 5 comments

The next topic in the Pagan Experience is Wisdom, Knowledge and Gnosis. I’m writing about “the Lore”, Holy Writ or Official Canon.
There’s an old post by Greta Christina, an atheist blogger called “Why Religion is Like Fanfic
I remember agreeing with a lot of what she had to say, but taking away a totally different message than what she intended. She was demonstrating how silly religion is, because religious people keep explaining away gaps and inconsistencies  with theological interpretations and midrashim- in Jewish tradition, a midrash is a story that “fills in the gaps” in stories in the Torah, and Christians do similar things. This looks completely ridiculous to someone outside of the religious tradition, just as a non-fan might look at Star Trek fan fiction writers doing somersaults to explain discrepancies in TV show plotlines. Unlike some religious people might be, I wasn’t insulted by the comparison. (To be fair, my religion wasn’t involved!) Though it might seem petty to others, I know that for myself and many other fans, Star Trek and many other fictional narratives are in fact deeply meaningful, in fact some of us find more relevance in matters of ethics and philosophy in our “silly stories” than in religious texts like the Bible which according to other people are “serious stories”. More about “fandom as surrogate religion- or sometimes actual religion” in another post!

Like many atheists, Greta Christina is going off of the “if this religion isn’t completely literally true, then why bother with religion at all?” mentality. Polytheists and Pagans are people who find value in myth and story, and we don’t typically view our myths literally. What matters isn’t that the story literally happened, but what the story is telling us. The question is not “Is this story true?” but rather “Does this story work?” That is what any good storyteller or writer asks themselves, or their listeners and readers, for that matter. If someone wants to base their worldview completely off what can be scientifically proven, that is fine. I am not interested in trying to win converts here. And I indeed find much value in scientific discovery and am very glad human beings have developed the scientific method.

As I’ve said before, particularly in the Celtic and Norse traditions, we aren’t always sure if some of our Gods are literary creations or actually historically worshipped beings, or even original historical people who were at some point deified. These stories are medieval literature, written down by monks and other Christians rather than as intended religious texts. We should be careful about viewing them as such. Heck even with things that were written down in pre-Christian times like the Iliad and the Odyssey, were they really intended as religious texts that gave people an idea of what the Gods are like and how they interact with mortals, or mostly as entertainment? It’s really hard to separate the two, because most art produced back then had at least some type of spiritual significance- anything from painted pottery to plays.

I am completely fine with admitting that my various components of my religion are human creations from parts created by medieval monks, bards that predated Christianity, the bards of the Celtic Twilight, to theologians and ritualists of the modern revival like Isaac Bonewits, to ideas of my own creation. Yes, that’s right, I just admitted my religion is “made-up”. That isn’t the same as saying that it isn’t real. Most human beings, religious and non-religious alike find value in the arts- music, dance, painting, sculpture, theater. We might even consider sports and games as another type of art. There are various theories about the evolutionary social functions of the arts, but people are not generally thinking about that when they suggest going to a concert. We can all go to the same concert and have different experiences, some may enjoy it, some may not, and we’ll all have different reasons for why that is. But there is no scientific way of measuring what music is good or bad. I see my religion as an art form, and furthermore a sort of language that I share with others. I can’t get everyone to do art the same way, or appreciate the same type of art, and I can’t get everyone in the world to speak the same language. Why would I want to? Diversity is far more interesting. The problem comes when some people *do* want to make rules about what type of music you’re allowed to play or compose- this is no joke, these sorts of laws have been made in various authoritarian regimes. Languages *do* limit what concepts you can express and how you can express them, just as religions can. This is why I enjoy being multilingual.

See also: http://daoineile/2015/02/06/friday-c-is-for-canon


Entry filed under: Atheism, Mythology, The Pagan Experience. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ubenmaat  |  February 27, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Great points, all.

  • 2. [Monday] Updates & Links | of the Other People  |  March 2, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    […] has a posted up about fanfic and religion, a topic I of course unabashedly […]

  • 3. helmsinepuepu  |  March 3, 2015 at 7:14 am

    I think there’s often a disconnect between the mythological narrative and the religion- which makes historically-informed polytheist religions look silly from the outside. “Why in the world would anybody worship Zeus when he’s such a creep?” But there isn’t an equivalent of biblical literalism either.
    So I see the mythology as fanfiction. It can be enjoyable, it might tell you something about the characters, but it’s probably not canon. Even if it’s fanfic that’s a couple thousand years old.
    In pre-Greek Egyptian texts, there are very few story-myths, we mostly have epithets, descriptions of roles and actions. They remind me more of the similes scientists use that aren’t really true but help us understand- like the atom illustrated as a miniature solar system. Maybe that’s the key to all myths?

  • 4. caelesti  |  March 4, 2015 at 2:29 am

    Yes, that’s how I’ve been coming to look it. In fact, specifically with Greek stuff, I found the gap between the myths and the practice of the religion was too big for me to bridge. It’s almost better to read about Greek religion without having read mythology first! The concept of canon really only makes sense in a text-based religion. And “lore” is by definition oral tradition, and possibly oral tradition that was collected and recorded. The Odyssey for example, is literature, even if Homer drew from stories that he heard people tell, he had to pick and choose and smooth them together to form a cohesive narrative.

  • 5. Lore, Lit and Canon | The Lefthander's Path  |  July 9, 2017 at 2:48 am

    […] Literature– many of the texts such as the Book of Invasions, the Book of Leinster and so forth, I think are more accurately described as medieval literature rather than folklore or mythology per se. However some of the texts draw on folklore as well as history and it is often hard to tell what is what. Other literature that we might not see as being religious per se, but has cultural importance and influence such as works by W.B. Yeats  can also be part of this category. Since our mythologies are very fragmented, finding inspiration in modern fantasy novels can serve as a sort of midrash. […]


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