As much as one may be inclined to slag off on Catholicism (and really, we ALL could do without the negativity of slagging off on any path that works for its followers), Catholic school is where I really learned about myth.
During 7th or 8th grade religion class, a priest (Father Vaughan) took the time to carefully explain the meaning of myth and metaphor in regards to holy texts and doctrines. He explained that the stories in the bible were not meant to be taken as factual, straightly-read accounts. Rather they should be interpreted as steeped in symbolism and layers of meaning beyond the words themselves. He encouraged us to find the message in each story, and consider how it applied to our own lives.
These are wise words we can all benefit from. In more ways than you can imagine. How do your myths work for you? What are the myths present in your life?
We tend to think of myth as something that was forged long ago – and unchanging through time. Myths are fluid, changing with the cultures that tell them, constantly being created and recreated. Our ancestors have edited and altered myths per their experiences. They eliminated or added characters, empowering or minimizing certain aspects, changing, adding, or erasing details to fit their modern-day narrative.
Similarly, some people may equate myths with fiction, but all myths have a root in reality. They explain our relationship with the universe, both the natural and unnatural world around us – from creation and the nuances of life, to the mysteries of death. Mythology imparts upon us history, morals, ethics, protocol, and viewpoints.
Myths are forged in the heart of storytelling, the mind and body of defining and forming culture, and in the spirit of imagination. They are not just stories of the gods – such as Persephone’s Journey to the Underworld or Coyote Brings Fire To The People, but the rise and fall of religions, cultures, governments, and plain old human beings. These are all myths:
– Your great-great grandfather’s trek to the new world and building a new legacy for his descendants in Pittsburgh
– Gerald Gardner’s founding of Wicca
– Sibyl Leek’s occult heritage and orientation into Witchcraft
– Your interaction with that rude person in the grocery store yesterday that got applause from your fellow shoppers
– The surprising and uplifting encounter your friend just had with someone on the subway
They all combine elements of truth and real experiences, rolled up into something that is passed on verbally or in printed form.
We take in details through all of our senses, our minds unconsciously form versions of what we experience. That also means that the person sitting next to us could see the same scene play out, and remember it in a completely different way. Others purposely manipulate myths to recreate experiences in their own and other memories. Sometimes it’s done with the best of intentions, and sometimes it’s forged under a veil of manipulation.
It is VITAL that we are constantly investigating and reconsidering not only the myths of ancient times, but those of the generation ahead of us, and that of those behind us. Persephone’s story can indeed change its meaning and relevance depending on how our own lives go. How you saw the myth when you were 8 should be different than when you were 16, 32, 48,or 70 – because of your own experiences.
Similarly, as history uncovers new facts and other variations of myths, we must allow ourselves to be fluid enough to move with the myth, to see and accept (or reject) new versions. We should question what we think and what we believe – and why we think/believe that way.
For example, so much information has been brought to light about how Wicca as a religion came to be (and continues to come into being via Ronald Hutton, letters from Doreen Valiente, conjecture on Margaret Murray’s work, etc and so forth) or similar P-word paths claiming long lineages and fantastic associations with occult celebrities – yet some folks are latched on to the idea of it being “the ancient ways” despite the proof, or logic. That connection to pre-Christian times, during the last several decades gave a sense of validation and history to a budding movement.
But age doesn’t grant validity to a path – practice does. It doesn’t matter how recently your spiritual path got pinned on the map, or how it compares to someone else’s – what matters is that it works for you. Ask yourself, what does the myth do for you? What do you lose in releasing it?
And what are the myths that society is feeding you right now?
In the spirit of mythmaking, I’m feeling that we definitely need to build a new myth for our times, and lay some others to rest. I’d like to see more of the p-word community release their mental hold on some of the myths of persecution tied to hundreds of years ago. Then trade them in for stories of empowerment and vigilance to get us through the trials of our modern culture.
Considering my own background and various descriptors, I could be fearing for my own neck. Instead I’m thinking about ALL of the others. The others who need a voice – those who may not look, believe, fuck, or think like me – or even accept my ways or beliefs, but are in need of help, support, and protection. In my myth, the Witch is revolutionary, a fighter, protector, guide, and healer in one. And the only thing that’s going to be burning in my myth is the passion of the spirit to prevail. The only things that will be set aflame will be hate, ignorance, greed, and injustice.
What’s your myth?