Myth, Mythographers, and Context

In a recent post about how gods sometimes claim people, the comments section had another involved and sometimes heated discussion of an old question:  “If the gods are virtuous, why do Their stories sometimes involve Them doing unvirtuous things?”  Beckett himself addressed this in the comments, a link back to an earlier post, and in a followup post, and made some excellent points.  But I think I have something to add to this.

To start with, myths are stories about the Gods, but they are stories written down by humans.  Often, the writers and recorders are outsiders, people of different faiths and even of different cultures.  Snorri Sturluson was a Christian; so were the monks and secular writers who wrote down the Irish myths.  For that matter, all the Classical writers who wrote about the contemporary Celtic and Germanic religions were Greek or Roman pagans.  All of them interpreted what they heard through the lenses of their beliefs and cultures.

Even when myths were written down by those of the same faith and culture, the writers were still people, and their thoughts and ideas had an influence on what they wrote.  I’ve touched on this matter before, but it’s worth restating. Myths as written down are lensed not only through the prevailing culture and attitudes of the time, but also by the religious, political, and artistic agendas of those doing the writing.

And cultures and cultural mindsets change over time- Ancient Egypt had something like 3000 years of written history, and it’s a mistake to think that their culture and religion remained static over that time.  The shifting focus of afterlife texts, the rise of local gods to national prominence, the syncretization of gods with similar attributes, the many forms of the myth cycle of Osiris, Isis, Set and Horus… all these were shaped by the beliefs and concerns of the time, and of those who wrote them down in that time.

Myths and stories are still a valid portal to knowledge of the gods.  But we have to exercise discernment.  Much has been written in Pagan and polytheist circles about the “filter”- the set of unspoken and unconscious assumptions and values (monotheist, materialist, dualist, etc.) that have shaped our lives, that shape the culture we live in.  As  polytheists and Pagans, we have to be aware of this filter, and work around or against it as necessary.  But we also have to remember that our ancestors had filters of their own, and take that into account as we practice our discernment.

“Climate Worship”

My first reaction to this article was to laugh hysterically.  The amount of right-wing pearl-clutching in it is almost ludicrous… I had to check to make sure it wasn’t from a parody site.  As someone commented on the site where I found the link, “Did they just call Greta Thunberg a witch?”  Seriously, though the amount of hatred that Ms. Thunberg has been attracting is… well, unsurprising.  Ms. Thunberg may or may not be Pagan (odds are against it)… but she is an exceptionally brave, intelligent, and articulate young woman and I wish her success.

But there is a point buried in the paranoid babblings in that article.  While the movement to challenge and stop climate change itself isn’t Paganism (it’s not a religion at all, although certain approaches toward it are parareligious), it’s often been argued that Paganism is essentially environmentalist. I wouldn’t go that far, but…

Certainly, environmentalism is central to a lot of Pagan belief- Nature is, after all, one of the four pillars holding up the Big Tent of Paganism.  Anyone whose focus is strongly on Nature is going to be interested in the health of the environment.  For that matter, those who are Devoted to nature-focused Powers are almost certainly going to be involved in at least some aspect of environmentalism (sometimes unexpectedly, says someone who recently did some work in that direction at the behest of a certain Irish sea god…).  It’s probably most accurate to say that there is a strong overlap in the Venn diagram between Paganism and environmentalism, and has been for decades.

The article that sparked this post ends with this sentence:  “The pagan barbarians from the north are back circling outside the citadel.”  Yes.  Yes we are.  From the south, the east and the west as well.  And if your so-called civilization means ignoring and even enhancing the ongoing climate crisis in order keep the 1% happy… your walls will not save you.

 

Hierarchy

Soo, apparently there’s this article on Radicals with Gods (John Beckett’s apposite name for Gods and Radicals) about “confronting the New Right”.  In general, there’s a lot to agree with about the dangers of the New Right… but the author goes too far in giving a whole list of Pagan and Polytheist traditions that are “vulnerable” to its cryptofascist insinuations.  It’s a classic piece of trolling, complete with deniability, and is especially insidious when you know that RWG has its own leftist/anarchist touchstones and “if you aren’t with us, you’re against us” stance.  A lot of others have already called them out on this in detail, so I don’t need to here.

However, I want to go into one point they made:  apparently, Devotional Polytheism is vulnerable to the New Right because it “emphasizes hierarchical relationships” (gasp!) “between human and god, priest and devotee”.  Beckett (in his article linked above) ably explains how hierarchy within human relationships is necessary and important in some cases, but I want to go a step further.

The Gods are not human.  The Gods are greater than humans- in power, in knowledge, in vision, in perspective, in so many things.  Of course we’re in a hierarchical relationship with them!  I firmly believe that we retain our agency and sovereignty in dealings with them (and I for one believe that if we didn’t, They wouldn’t want to have relationships with us), but still… They are greater than us.  Does recognition of that make us somehow more vulnerable to hijacking by the New Right?  No.