What is mythological thinking, and do pagans think mythologically? Let’s answer the first part of that question and let the second part take care of itself. Mythology is a kind of mysticism, sort of. According to at least one dictionary, mystics focus their attention on the spiritual mysteries. And that means to delve deeply beneath the surface of everyday things and ideas and to explore all their nooks and crannies.
But mythology is not found in the mystics questions, it is found, rather, in the mythologist’s answers. Mythology answers the mystics questions through story narratives. A mystic is not a scientist and so he asks much more fundamental questions about the true nature of the universe. The mythologist, thinking mythologically, tells stories about the divine spirits that inhabit and enliven the universe. A mystic asks about the nature of a particular oak tree and the mythologist answers with stories about the spirit or spirits that enliven the tree.
A scientist may well ask the same questions as the mystics, but scientists are seeking empirical scientific data that can be confirmed by multiple observers. Any coincidence between a mythologist’s tales and a scientist’s conclusion is just that, simple coincidence. Or perhaps, I should boldly suggest that it is one of those times the scientist gets it right.
Mythology, nevertheless, is a product of the imagination. Conceptions and awarenesses that that rise up as impressions from what was ultimately defined by C.G. Jung as the Collective Unconscious, are verbalized and given narrative form by the human spirit and the imagination. And while mythology is most certainly human fabrication, do not equate myth to falsehood. Only part of our reality can can be defined through empirical data and the belief that the only true reality is empirical is a kind of idol worship that should be understood in the most derogatory sense possible. And the irony here is that neither can a scientist empirically prove that empirical reality is the only true reality. That too, you see, is a fabricated product of the imagination.
So, despite what I said above, I think I should tackle the second part of the question that I first asked. Namely, do pagan think mythologically? Let’s start with what is not in the pagan’s bag of tricks. First and foremost, we pagans, thankfully, do not have a body of canonized scripture to fall back upon to tell us what to believe and not believe. There is no bible thumping in the pagan world.
Secondly, the lack of a canonized scripture not withstanding, there is no universally recognized pagan doctrine. Even in the world of modern Wicca, that some consider as founded by Gerald Gardner, there is division. Not all Wiccans are Gardnerian Wiccans and even amongst true Gardnerians, Gardner’s teachings are by no means considered “gospel.”
In the end, we pagans have many sources for our varied and various beliefs (paganism comes in many, many flavors), but no single authoritative source. Thus, I am the authority source for what I believe, and I’m wholly dependent on mythology to define and elaborate on the content. Pagans nevertheless do form into groups of folks that share a common beliefs and those beliefs are generally in the form of narrative, that is, stories. But the authority for those stories resides in each individual member of the group and not the group itself. Unless, of course, you assume that every unique group has its own collective unconscious as distinct from the others. But that idea, too, is a product of the imagination for which there is no empirical foundation.
Thus, do we pagans think mythologically? There really is no other available option. So it’s best that we own it. Pagans think mythologically!