17 November 2012

Creating Stories

Two arguments happened in the Hellenic blogosphere this week: a conversation about demoting gods to characters (a response to Elani’s post here) and a heated conversation about specific pagan bloggers’ worth. Live-wire weeks happen, and it has been interesting to watch and see different sides emerge on both issues.

I think that a lot of Pagan bloggers have crises and talk about negative things. It’s an easy trap, and it’s one of the main reasons why I limit my conversations about Christianity on this blog: negative things are for me to bitch about with close friends, and if my goal with this blog is to advance Hellenism, I need to mute that. Most of my negative moments on this blog deal with frustrations concerning the analog Pagan community, which is all right, but (again) something I need to downplay if I actually want to engage in conversations about real Hellenism.

Gods as Characters, Gods as Beings

The conversation about turning gods into characters instead of real God-beings is an interesting one. It has actually been rather delightful to watch the argument because Elani and Dver are both accomplished bloggers and dedicated polytheists. I agree with Dver that the question of which god oversees which modern widget has been addressed over and over again (my thoughts here), but here is more of what she said:
Aside from the fact that it’s a bit depressing to see the same basic theological concepts spoken of as if they were completely new ideas, when we’ve been discussing them for decades (meaning that all our “community” and online “networking” isn’t actually resulting in any serious development of the religion as a whole), the post also hit on one of my biggest irritations – people who talk about what gods “would” like or do, as if they are nothing more than characters in a story, and as if the answer doesn’t have any practical relevance to one’s own life.
Elani responded (see the comment thread here) with a lot of things about doing hard reconstructionism, which fall into two major areas: (1) It’s potentially hubristic to say something authoritatively about a god that isn’t part of the historical record; and (2) Hard reconstructionism is limited by history, with Unverified Personal Gnosis (UPG) not occupying and perhaps never occupying a place for people who want to fill things in with new stories, rituals, and associations.

On Stories

I have a slightly different approach to this topic. Human beings are storytellers. We have amazingly complex brains that look for patterns in everything, and one of the richest ways to explore this is to look back at how you have made yourself and those around you characters in your own story.

In other words, we make everyone and everything a character. It goes for real people, animals, and even inanimate objects. The Ancients applied this to Gods. But with Gods, making them characters satisfies something very different: It turns the abstract, incomprehensible beings into images that we can see and touch. Stories explain why we worship a god in a specific way. They talk about that god’s relationship with other gods, and our sacred stories do that with incredible effectiveness.

With the advent of writing, we let our organic stories become static. With the advent of one-true-way mentalities, we let ourselves think that what is written simply is, and we stopped questioning it. Stories die if we leave them like this, and I think it’s incredibly important to forge ahead and develop new ways of conceptualizing our mythscape. I think that shows community maturity.

No, Really, Write Your Own Myths

In many different books and on many different blogs, people encourage others to write their own myths about how a god moved into a specific region, a deity’s relationship to a piece of modern technology or reality, and many more. On the one hand, this is a good idea; on the other, we need to look at the essences of old forms and think about how those concepts transition into modern subjects and settings. The best myths draw from the cult, from the philosophies and theologies, and from history at the same time. They provide something compelling and familiar, yet have a certain timeless quality that popular literature might not. They illuminate things that are real.

This kind of storytelling is hard. Ultimately, it doesn’t rely as much on UPG as it does on having mythological fluency. For those of us who colonized other places, we also have to look at local mythologies and cultural artifacts to see what those say about potential dynamics. Nothing ever happens in a vacuum.

The Point

Getting back to the central issue of whether or not people are saying that the Gods are characters instead of people, it really speaks to our position as a religion of converts. We don’t necessarily have the religious fluency to intuitively know which deities have which modern associations. That kind of transition takes a lot of time and effort. Some are farther along in their understanding than others.

Gods have fundamental things they are concerned with, and looking at these things is usually the best way to determine who deserves honors in various situations. If unsure, use divination of some kind to see whether that offering was appropriate or if it should have gone to someone else. 

But if our goal is to create stories and enliven mythology, we do have to think of them as characters. We have to transition our brains into mythological time for brief creative bursts. We still need the fluidity to move between the stylus and the shrine, and I think that is an important nuance people should keep in mind.

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