Written by: Carl McColman
Along with the eclectic intermingling of sacred stories from around the world, some Pagans (including many Wiccans) affirm that "all the gods are one God, and all the goddesses one Goddess" - meaning that the many different deities of world mythology can essentially be understood as one archetypal God and one archetypal Goddess. Others, however, reject this idea as a purely modern innovation, and so have a more truly polytheistic approach to mythology: seeing the spirit world as populated by many different gods and goddesses, rather than by a single, universal pair of deities.
Although classical mythology provides many of the gods and sacred beings revered by Nature Religionists, literary sources - from the medieval Arthurian legends to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth - inspire some practitioners as well.Even though these stories are not mythological in a technical sense, their deeply archetypal symbolism and rich narrative enable them to be approach as functional myths for those who are willing to read them in such a way. Likewise, folklore (which, arguably, often represents mythology in a degraded form) can contribute to Pagan sensibilities and values.
All of this is un-systematic and nearly impossible to summarize effectively. Few if any Pagans rely on their sacred stories to determine what to believe; rather, myth is celebrated as an evocative tool for inspiring the religious and spiritual imagination. Even Pagans who speak about praying to a particular god or goddess will sometimes clarify that they understand these deities as symbolic or archetypal. A prayer to Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, may for many Pagans be simply a symbolic ritual means of accessing unconscious (or, perhaps, transpersonal) abilities to give and receive love. Others, however, may be more literal, accepting the gods and goddesses as factually real.
Not all Pagans are devoted to mythological deities or spirits; some limit their religious practice to the veneration of nature. However, mythologies from around the world often emerged in cultures with horticultural or agricultural economies; thus, such myths generally have strong fertility or natural imagery. Various deities are associated with various elements of the natural world: the sky, the sea, the earth, trees, rivers, forests, the hunt, grain, and so forth. Engaging in religious practice informed by such natural imagery can be a direct way of cultivating a rich spirituality of devotion to the earth (i.e., Gaia).
1. What is the Gaia Hypothesis, and why is it attractive to Pagans?
2. How are myths utilized within the Pagan community?
3. What is the relationship between myth and folklore? How is each used?