Adaptive Mythology

It is pointed out frequently and with a great deal of enthusiasm on social media just how many “Pagan Holidays” have been absorbed and re-purposed by what now passes for mainstream religion.  Christmas, Yule, Easter, Ostara, the list can be populated at least eight times.  What seems rarely pointed out is that even our ancestors never practiced all eight stations on the wheel of the year.  Customs and holidays were different from locality to locality and region to region.  As tribes and clans blended, broke off, re-blended, broke off and re-blended again, different practices were absorbed by different people and only the myths and stories of why those days were important survived to connect one to the other.  In essence, there are no “Pagan Holidays,” there are simply “Holidays that Pagans Celebrate.”  The only things we can truly claim ownership of are our own stories and the myths we connect them to.  In essence, all of our holidays are stolen holidays no matter what our path.  What we have done is recognized something in the mythology and wisdom of such days and adapted them to our own life in a meaningful way.

Myths and people travel together, crossing and recrossing all the time.  When we hear a story that demonstrates wisdom, we adopt it and make it part of our own story.  That is, after all, what myth was always intended to be.  Myth is supposed to remind us of both the glory and the failings of our ancestors that we might learn from their hard won experience.  The myths we connect to in our own lives are those that we aspire to in some way, that speak of something within us we wish to become or describe our experience.  The greatest strength of mythology though, can also be its greatest weakness.  Knowledge and wisdom, when transferred via a colorful story, can often be manipulated into implying that if one part of the story is “true” then the entire story must also be true and that is when myth becomes dogma.

I have heard it said many times that “people are sheep” and there is some logic to that.  Human beings are social primates and as social animals we tend to look for and respond to strong leadership.  It is also why we are so critical of our leaders (and we should be) because we want to know that the people we are following are not leading us off of a cliff (which they are).   How many times in the history of our species has one group of people waged war upon another simply by convincing their own people that “those other people hate our god?”  The “Red Scare” of the 1950’s and the subsequent “Cold War” are examples of where our leadership has created a mythology around the perception of an enemy (in this case Communism, and I have little doubt that the Communists did the same thing in their neck of the woods) that could potentially “destroy our way of life.”  In this case, it was the “religion of progress” that the Communists so badly wanted to destroy and that was our “God-given American right” to pursue.

What such a mythology really does is act as a catalyst for fear.  Stop and think of the hypocrisy inherent in the context that in America we are “free” and yet 60 years ago people were socially crippled if someone so much as thought that they might be a Socialist or a Communist, while others were little more than freed slaves 90 years after the Civil War or were left on poorly funded reservations without even the simplest amenities.  This is often the dogmatic approach that is taken with Paganism by more vocal mainstream spiritual practitioners.  To people who practice their path in that manner, not believing what they believe means that we worship evil.  No amount of  “we don’t believe in your [entity representing evil] so how can we [suffer in a place of punishment] for [length of time not to exceed infinity]?” is going to convince others of the truth that our paths have to us.

Even though many of us are sore from the yoke that such people have placed upon us, it is inherent and important that we focus our efforts away from actively intending to offend others or defend ourselves and more towards building a place where we can be ourselves without fear.  This will take several generations.  Our hopes for simply buying up land and building communes are far fetched at best.  On the other hand, beginning to build networks of people, something that organizations like EarthTides Pagan Network, the Eastern Maine Pagan Pride Association, the Northern Maine Pagan Pride Association and Southern Maine Pagan Pride Association are doing, is an important step in the process of building community.  These organizations hold space so that we can come together as a community, as a tribe and build relationship and connection.  Our next step of course is to begin the process of writing our stories so that generations from now, our descendants may learn the meaning behind them and learn how to avoid some of our mistakes or at least recognize the cost of their own mistakes in our stories.

It is not unreasonable to for us to set aside how “real” or “unreal” our mythologies are, especially with one another.  It seems to me that the better question to ask is “What do our mythologies mean to ourselves?” because that is really where mythology begins.  Some of the finest spiritualists I know are not those that demand the world conform to their deeply-held beliefs, but rather those who quest for the truth of  inspiration, wisdom and knowledge inherent in the stories they see and take part in.  In circles of Druidry we call this “Awen”, the three rays of light that bring with them these three gifts.  It seems to me that this is a good place to start looking at the myths we believe and why we believe them, whether we practice Druidry or not.  What parts of these mythologies can we communicate through story and song to our own descendants and what will that teach them about the world we inhabit now?

There is much about the adaptive nature of myth that is a reflection of our own adaptive nature and our nature is reflective of the greater system of nature we are a part of.  Simply put, when seen in the context of Location, Being and Becoming, we can see mythology as being a bridge between “Becoming” and “Location.”  Myth is based upon location but also the result of observable movement and growth so it transcends location as well.  The land does not stay as it was, it changes, and myth is the human observation of change and how we understand the manner in which that change affects us.  So in essence, the effects of change are inherent to what we are becoming and “being” provides the action that  observes this motion and enters it into the tribal lore.  This is an active seeking and presentation of Awen.  It means being awake, present and mindful of the land where our feet touch the Earth (location), learning those songs and stories (being), and then bringing them to the tribe (becoming).  In this way, time itself more accurately reflects the nature of our existence as a constantly evolving cycle rather than a linear time frame in which events are linked but static conditions.

Myth, much like the successive life cycles that act as the catalyst for evolution itself, are derived organically.  In order for any evolutionary system to be effective, it must be adaptive to changing conditions.  The idea that the holidays of our ancestors have been stolen is, in my opinion, beside the point.  Instead, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that we are rediscovering the cycles of the living Earth and trying to achieve better consistency in our own relationship with Nature.  By observing the cycles of the Earth, we are better able to adapt both our lifestyle and our spirit to seeking equilibrium.  Adaptive mythology and the wisdom that it can pass down to subsequent generations is a place where Nature and its human element reach greater parity.

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