Mythology

What is Pagan Mythology and Why Does it Matter

When I see the full moon and the man in the moon looks straight at me, I always wonder what he’s thinking. Perhaps what he wonders about the most is what we are thinking. The days go by very slowly on the moon. A day on the moon is like a month on earth. It makes me wonder, would I age more slowly if I lived on the month.

Do the stars look the same on the moon. spiritual understanding of the movements of the stars and what they mean is based on what it all looks like from earth. But does it matter that that’s but a single perspective. Their movements would look very different if one were standing on Venus or Mars. In fact, then we’d also have to account for the movements of the earth around the sun.

People get concerned when Mercury goes retrograde. They worry about the impact Mercury going retrograde on their electronic devices, computers, radios, phones, et cetera. But does Mercury really go backwards through the heavens, or does it just look that way to someone watching while standing on the earth. And more importantly, does it really even matter?

These are the kinds of ideas that drive mythological thinking. What’s important in the real, historic eight to five world often times doesn’t even register in the mythological one. So, what is mythology? In the minds of many, mythologies are the stories of the Greek Olympian gods, Zeuss, Hera, Poseidon, Apollo, Aries, Athena and we mustn’t forget Aphrodite. And, of course, thanks to Marvel Comics and Disney Studios, which gave us hit movies like Thor and the Avengers, popular understanding now includes Odin, the Allfather and the whole of the Norse pantheon residing in Asgard.

Of course, all of that suggests that mythology is simply comprised of collection of ancient stories about long dead people long dead “false” gods. And that leads to the misconception that mythological stories are simply entertaining works of fiction.

Modern pagans, on the other hand, have a different idea in mind. Divinity does not exist in some ancient god, fictitious or otherwise. Modern paganism of almost every strip is Earth centered. Not sky gods and not necessarily any gods. Divinity resides in nature itself. But how do you talk about that? Actually the same way as the ancients did. For them, divinity existed in the skies. And they reasonably and naturally personified it. You can talk about the sun and the moon dispassionately, scientifically, but since lunar and solar cycles had an intimate effect on their lives, a dispassionate point of view was not something they even imagined much less seriously considered. Move the clock a little forward and you come to the great military empires. Their gods were war gods that preceded their armies and in fact the battles were really between the gods. Even in the Hebrew stories where under David, god brought about great victories and later under other kings Israel suffered defeats and eventual captivity, it wasn’t the inferiority of their armies nor, the heavens forbid, the inferiority of the Hebrew god against the gods of the invading armies. In the stories that they told, which were ultimately written down in what became canonized scripture, it was because of their unfaithfulness that their god brought in outside armies to punish them.

All that is, of course, the downside to seeing divinity as being in the skies as opposed to on earth. As with the sky gods, the gods and goddesses of modern pagans are likewise mythological in nature. We personify our sense of the divinity that resides in nature as a way of expressing it. People are story tellers. It’s in our nature. But these gods and goddesses are not fictions. They are real because the nature they personify is real. It only becomes idolatry when we forget that connection.

Mythology defines who we are and what we stand for. It is real and it is true because those who tell the stories and act upon them are real. And those stories and the actions that spring from them, by which I mean rituals, have real consequences in our everyday, historic, eight to five world. So, when I wonder about what the man in the moon is thinking, especially what he thinking about us, it’s not a matter of silliness, but rather the beginnings of an understanding of the divine or spiritual forces that enliven and embody the natural and sustain everyday of our lives and the lives of our communities. Paganism is serious business.

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