Posts filed under ‘Mythology’

Fanfiction as Midrash

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

February 27, 2015 at 1:45 am 4 comments

Visions of Vanaheim: Book Review

Visions of Vanaheim by Nornoriel Lokason

Available on: Amazon, Createspace, Etsy

V of V was previously published in 2009 under the name Svartesol, in its new edition it has been greatly expanded with information gained from the author (and others’) personal spiritual experiences astrally travelling to Vanaheim. However it is made pretty clear throughout the book what information is from historical sources and what is spiritual experience.

While the term Asatru, meaning true to the Aesir is sometime used generically to mean a Norse polytheist (esp. reconstructionist) religion, a growing number of people have come to see Heathenry as including three pantheons- the Aesir, the Vanir and the Jotuns. While most Heathens focus on the Aesir (assuming that this includes at least some of the Vanir- Frey, Freya & Njord), others have come to focus on the Vanir, calling themselves Vanatru, and the Jotuns or Rokkur, Rokkatru. Lokason believes that the Jotuns are the oldest pantheon, the Vanir branched off of them and the Aesir came in later on. He goes through a timeline of archaeological evidence in Northern Europe and interprets it through this theory.

There are chapters on both the deities traditionally seen as Vanic- Njord, Nerthus, Frey and Freya, as well as deities named in the lore that the author and other Vanatru believe to be Vanic, such as Idunn and Eir, and beings that Lokason has learned about or encountered through his spiritual journey.

The Eshnahai (which is what the Vanir call themselves) are a race of elves (the distinction between elves and gods being minimal) and Lokason shares with us details of the 24 Eshnahai tribes, named after various animals that they can shape-shift into, aspects of their daily life and spirituality. The holidays of the Neo-Pagan Wheel of the Year have their equivalent in Vanaheim, and descriptions of how they are celebrated there as well as how they might be here in Midgard by a solitary or a group are given.

I will admit that I am a rather unlikely reader for this book- I tend to be skeptical when I hear of information gained from shamanic journeying, channeled from spirits and the like. However, this is how religions are formed- from visions, from extra-ordinary claims of miracles. To truly explore religion means that at some point, you will have to open yourself up to possibilities of the uncanny. So while I’m still not sure if I am necessarily a True Believer in all of Nornoriel’s Lokason’s experiences, I am keeping an open mind and enjoying the ride.

I think this book would be enjoyed by non-Pagans who enjoy mythology and fantasy fiction, by Pagans who otherwise might not be interested in Heathenry, but are open to a more visionary perspective on it. Heathens who want to explore further their relationships with the Vanir, elves, connection with nature and practice of magic and seidhr would also find a lot of value in the book.  I also think Celtic Pagans and Druids would find a lot of that resonates within these pages.

Above all, you can see the love and devotion with which it was written. There are a couple of errors in the text, unsurprising for a self-published work, but not enough to take away from the reading experience.

This is the first book in a planned series of four- the next one entitled Voices of Vanaheim is set for release in November 2014. It will be a collection of stories told from different perspectives about the history of Vanaheim and the Eshnahai.

October 20, 2014 at 11:30 pm 1 comment

Gods of Hollywood vs. Gods of Asgard

I wrote the previous post to survey what all is included in the large umbrella category of “Pop Culture Paganism” and what within it I personally find to be of interest. That does not mean I am giving my stamp of approval on every type of PCP-ism that exists and everything that each PC Pagan says or does. That would silly. Heck, even in more specific traditions/organizations I belong to like ADF, I certainly don’t agree with all of my co-religionists on everything and share all their individual beliefs and practices. 

Anyway, Lovemydane brought up an issue that is a major point of contention among the Asatru/Heathen community- the depiction of Thor, Loki, Odin et al. in Marvel comics.  I haven’t read any of the Thor comics or seen any of the movies so I can’t comment on them too directly. However, I do enjoy watching Oh My Goddess! an anime series (based on manga) that draws inspiration from Norse mythology. The main character, Belldandy (Japanese rendering of Verdandi) works for a “Goddess Help Line” which is accidently dialed by Keiichi Morisato, a shy college student. Belldandy appears in his dorm room and tells him that she will grant him any wish he makes. Befuddled by this gorgeous woman claiming to be a goddess, he thinks it’s a joke and wishes that she will stay be his side forever. She stays on Earth, realizing that she has created a contract with him that she is bound to fulfill. Later her sisters, Urd and Skuld show up.

Those of you who are familiar with Norse mythology know these three sisters as the Norns, the powerful Goddesses who decide the fates and  of humans by measuring and cutting the thread of life- and Wyrd. The cosmology of Oh My Goddess! is very different from Norse cosmology, and bears an obvious influence from Christianity- the universe is divided into Heaven, Earth and Hell, Verdandi, Skuld and Urd and others are under the authority of the Allmighty One (Odin- with some Jehovah influences) whereas in Norse myth, there are 9 worlds, and Odin, while powerful cannot determine Wyrd as the Norns can. Likewise, in Greek mythology Zeus is subject to the power of the Fates/Moirae. Watching this anime is just a form of entertainment, a purely secular activity though I find it interesting and fun to compare with what I know of Norse mythology. 

So, what if someone were to watch Oh My Goddess! and decide that they want to worship Belldandy, the character as a goddess. Would that be a problem? Well that depends. If they decided to completely base a religious practice off of the show and manga, it could be a rather unbalanced and shallow practice, because the media are designed to entertain, not to do all the things religions are intended to do. But that would be a problem for that one individual and would not really be anyone else’s business. Now if this person decided that Belldandy was the same as Norse myth Verdandi, and Oh My Goddess! cosmology/laws of the universe trumped Norse mythology, and was more “real”, “valid” and called themselves a Heathen/Asatruar and came into a Heathen forum, or offline in-person blot with all of these ideas, or tried to explain to the public (or just their friends/family) that what they’re doing is actual Heathenry, then yeah. Those would all be major ethical violations of Heathen community norms of piety and hospitality and we would be right to be offended. 

  On the other hand, there some people who initially come across Norse or Greek mythology references in pop culture and get interested in learning about the originals. It might just remain an intellectual/aesthetic interest for them or it might develop into a religious practice. If they come into a forum and mention that their interest was piqued by Hercules, Xena or Marvel comics, we shouldn’t attack them for it, but we should check to make sure they understand the difference. In works of fiction that draw on history, people will often put in a disclaimer that this is a work of fiction and not historically accurate. However they do not have that responsibility with mythology. (This movie not approved by Homer or Snorri Sturlson!) We can be offended when they get our mythology “wrong” but I think it’s better to just see as a different, alternate mythology. 

So if you want to worship a pop culture version of a deity, do you have ethical responsibilities to a community that worships a more traditional form of the deity? (Which you may or may not see as the same being, but they probably don’t) Yes, you do. You have the responsibility to not misrepresent yourself or your religious practice to the general public, the Pagan public and that specific community. As long as you do that, the more traditionally-minded polytheists ought to leave you alone. 

For more on the Marvel Thor issue:

Worse than Breasts & Melanin by Kvasir amongst the Gods

August 15, 2014 at 9:42 pm 1 comment

Prometheus

Prometheus is a Titan, the son of Iapetos and Klymene.

In the war between the Titans and the Olympians, Prometheus (his name means “foresight”) knew that the Olympians would win, so he convinced his brother Epimetheus to join him in siding with them. Prometheus created humans out of clay. Later he noticed that humans were cold on earth, and feeling compassion for them,  he decided to steal fire from Olympus to share with them. In punishment, he was chained to Mt. Parnassus, and every day an eagle would come and eat his liver. Every night his liver would grow back, in a cycle of endless torture. Finally his agony was ended when he was freed by Herakles, and apparently by that point Zeus had gotten over it- or maybe it was because it was his son that was freeing him?

I tend to think of Prometheus as a patron of reason, free-thinking and humanism- which may seem contradictory, but as I’ve stated before humanism does not necessarily exclude theism. I also associate the flaming chalice symbol of Unitarian Universalism with him- it represents the torch of civilization being passed on and the light of reason. Prometheus reminds as we revere the gods to not forget about humanity. He inspires us to challenge unjust authority, while his story warns us that rebellion does come at a cost.

Theoi article on Prometheus

Speculation on Reddit: Were the Titans the gods of a pre-Greek society that was supplanted?

Origin of the Flaming Chalice as a symbol of UU-ism

Threads on the Cauldron Forum: Honoring Prometheus, Experiences Honoring Prometheus?

August 1, 2014 at 8:26 pm 5 comments

Fionn’s Family

Question 5 of 30 Days of Deity Devotion

Fionn is the son of the warrior Cumhall, who is said to have died before his birth. His mother is Muirenn Munchaem”of the white neck” the daughter of the druid Tadgh mac Nuadat, who was kidnapped and impregnated by Cumhall. He may have been killed in vengeance by Tadgh.

Tadgh is the son of Nuadu Airgetlamh (of the Silver Arm) a king of the Tuatha De Dannan, or he may himself be a form of Nuadu.

Muirenn could not raise Fionn, so he was nursed by her sister, the ban-draoi Bodhmall. His foster-father was Fiacclach mac Conchinn, his son Moling Luath is his foster brother. Two bio-brothers are named as Fithel and Feinnidh, his aunt or sister is Uirne, wife of Illann and mother of Bran and Sceolang.

While the earlier hero Cuchulainn for the most part sticks to Emer, Fionn has many lovers and wives. The one that stands out the most is Sadb, who is turned into a doe and gives birth to his son, Oisin as a fawn. The other important wife would be Ailbe, daughter of his patron, Cormac mac Airt. Other wives: Berrach (called his third wife) Cruithne, Daolach, Maigneis, Smirgat, Taise and Teite. Aine (seems to be different than the love goddess of Cnoc Aine) would sleep with no other man, and in one version he fathers two sons with her, in another he rejects her.

Sons: In addition to Oisin (who marries Niamh and has Oscar) there is Cairelle (killed by Goll), Daire, Faelan mac Finn, Fergus Finbel,  Fiachra and Fiachna.

Daughters: Ai Arduallach the arrogant, Cainche, mother of Goll’s children, Lugach, foster-daughter: Bebinn.

Reference: Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology by James MacKillop

April 26, 2014 at 11:49 pm Leave a comment

Intro to Fionn Mac Cumhal

Fionn Mac Cumhal (often anglicized as Finn MacCool) is one of the major heroes of Irish myth and legend- a body of tales, collectively known as the Fenian cycle, rose up around his folk memory. This is the latest of the Irish myth cycles- and so its Christian influences are more apparent, and the Tuatha De Danann don’t appear much in it.  It even ends with a story in which Fionn and his friend Cailte (or in another story Fionn’s son Oisin) encounter St. Patrick and much interfaith debate ensues.

I became intrigued by Fionn particularly after reading an article by John Machate years ago that speculated that he may have been Ireland’s long-lost stag or hunting god.  I thought he made a lot of interesting connections and later sought to learn more by reading Wisdom of the Outlaw by John Falach Nagy. (It’s out of print and horribly expensive, but fortunately I took a whole bunch of notes when I read it!)

Fionn is poet-seer, a filidh as well as a fian, an outsider-warrior.
A filidh is parallel in many ways to the role of a shaman- it is believed that he or she gets their poetic abilities from a connection to the Otherworld. A Fian is a person who has been socially displaced or dishonored in some way, or perhaps a young person who has not yet found their social place. Fianna (also called Fenians) is a group of fian- and followers of Fionn in particular, though there are said to be other fianna bands who are more destructive and anti-social.

March 26, 2014 at 1:26 am 1 comment

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.”

January 21, 2014 at 11:43 pm 1 comment

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