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Author Topic: Living Mythologies: New Myths for Old Pantheons?  (Read 5451 times)
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« Topic Start: August 18, 2010, 06:12:56 pm »

Something I've sort of thought about here and there is the outgrowth of "new mythologies" about various pantheons. I'm not necessarily talking about stuff like Disney's "Hercules" (although I am a little, I guess), but about new stories where the authors/filmmakers/etc. obviously did a lot of research and tried to keep the Gods' personalities intact and create stories similar to the myths that inspired them.

For example, the Percy Jackson books. While there are some problematic elements (I've seen a few people unhappy with the portrayal of Kronos and some of the Titans, and I can understand that), it seems like Rick Riordan did a lot of research into mythology and even added in some elements of Hellenism into the books (the kids all burn parts of their meals to the Gods, the Underworld is the one from Greek mythology, not the Christianish one that's in a lot of these things, Athena's demi-god children all sprang from the minds of their human parents when they were inspired by Athena, etc.).

Or some of Neil Gaiman's writing, especially "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys." Or Diana Wynne Jones' "Eight Days of Luke."

I recently read ... somewhere nonfiction (I unfortunately didn't write it down, and it might have even been a documentary and not a book I'm thinking of) that the reason that there are so many different versions of some of the more well-documented myths is that the stories were not meant as dogma, but just to portray the Gods and teach some morals or even just be entertaining. So they kept being added to, even after people became more skeptical. (I think this was specifically about Greek myth.) And I got from that a sense that the myths are in a weird state of true and not true at the same time — they're not factual, but there's truth in them, even when they contradict each other, if that makes sense.

Do you think that stories that are rooted in mythology and history but that portray the Gods and create new stories can "merge" with the traditional mythology as part of a religious tradition? In a few hundred years, will "Eight Days of Luke" join the Eddas and "Percy Jackson" join the Iliad?

Will some of the events in new stories about the Gods become "canon" like Dante's circles of Hell sort of did for Christianity (i.e., it's not given as canonical in the Catholic version, at least, but pretty much everyone knows about the circles of Hell and it's accepted on at least a cultural level)?

Do you think ancient mythologies can continue to expand and grow as ancient religions are reconstructed, or should mythology stay in the past?

(My own opinion on the matter is that the answer to the last question is "yes," but I'm undecided on the first two.)
« Last Edit: August 19, 2010, 07:40:25 am by RandallS, Reason: Subject changed » Logged

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« Reply #1: August 18, 2010, 09:04:00 pm »



Funny you should mention that, it's been on my mind a lot lately (comes from listening to too many audiobooks on related topics). Simple answer is yes, I think that there is still a place for myths, that they will continue to be written and that the old ones will continue to evolve. It's happening already; I know people who follow Hellenic deities that really couldn't tell me (without checking primary sources) which truths about the deity come from Homer, Hesiod or Xena Warrior Princess. I think all of the stories that include the members of a pantheon contribute to teh popular understanding of that pantheon. What 'concerns' me is the lack of new myths that interpret contemporary events in mythic terms told by people who 'know what they're talking about' from a theological point of view. I want to see the first and second Iraq wars told as myth; I want the mundane facts attributed to the actions of the deities in whose province they lie, as is the case in Homer.
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« Reply #2: August 19, 2010, 06:47:25 pm »

Do you think ancient mythologies can continue to expand and grow as ancient religions are reconstructed, or should mythology stay in the past?

(My own opinion on the matter is that the answer to the last question is "yes," but I'm undecided on the first two.)

I don't think anyone has the right to alter religions except the people who created it.  The stories in my tradition have sacred symbolism, and aren't made just to entertain (with a few exceptions, of course).  However I think modern retellings that stay true to the source might be helpful for those who wish to learn about the gods without having to read stodgy or fragmented stuff. 

The works done for amusement (a la Darkhawk's retelling of the contenedings of Heru and Sutekh) are great if they entertain, but their point is to entertain.  I think it would be fun to write some deity fanfiction but that doesn't mean just because it's about them that it should become canon.
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« Reply #3: August 20, 2010, 11:40:03 pm »

I want the mundane facts attributed to the actions of the deities in whose province they lie, as is the case in Homer.

I like this comment. 
I'd suspect that as we all grow less literal-minded, more myth- and metaphor-minded, we will be more able to "tell the story" of the mundane events as myth, as a story saturated with the presence of gods and goddesses, spirits and powers. I don't spend much time however contemplating the particular way that this might occur, as your question delves into, whether as older myths morphing as we add new contributions to them, or simply all new myths, as much as I just look for the unfolding of myth in my own life and other's lives, and collectively.   I attempt to contribute to the collective force for myth-making mostly by being a person for whom symbol and metaphor and myth are vitally important, and key to how I experience things,  believing that this way I can help change the world with my small contribution. 
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« Reply #4: August 21, 2010, 12:37:24 am »

Something I've sort of thought about here and there is the outgrowth of "new mythologies" about various pantheons. I'm not necessarily talking about stuff like Disney's "Hercules" (although I am a little, I guess), but about new stories where the authors/filmmakers/etc. obviously did a lot of research and tried to keep the Gods' personalities intact and create stories similar to the myths that inspired them.

For example, the Percy Jackson books. While there are some problematic elements (I've seen a few people unhappy with the portrayal of Kronos and some of the Titans, and I can understand that), it seems like Rick Riordan did a lot of research into mythology and even added in some elements of Hellenism into the books (the kids all burn parts of their meals to the Gods, the Underworld is the one from Greek mythology, not the Christianish one that's in a lot of these things, Athena's demi-god children all sprang from the minds of their human parents when they were inspired by Athena, etc.).

Or some of Neil Gaiman's writing, especially "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys." Or Diana Wynne Jones' "Eight Days of Luke."

I recently read ... somewhere nonfiction (I unfortunately didn't write it down, and it might have even been a documentary and not a book I'm thinking of) that the reason that there are so many different versions of some of the more well-documented myths is that the stories were not meant as dogma, but just to portray the Gods and teach some morals or even just be entertaining. So they kept being added to, even after people became more skeptical. (I think this was specifically about Greek myth.) And I got from that a sense that the myths are in a weird state of true and not true at the same time — they're not factual, but there's truth in them, even when they contradict each other, if that makes sense.

Do you think that stories that are rooted in mythology and history but that portray the Gods and create new stories can "merge" with the traditional mythology as part of a religious tradition? In a few hundred years, will "Eight Days of Luke" join the Eddas and "Percy Jackson" join the Iliad?

Will some of the events in new stories about the Gods become "canon" like Dante's circles of Hell sort of did for Christianity (i.e., it's not given as canonical in the Catholic version, at least, but pretty much everyone knows about the circles of Hell and it's accepted on at least a cultural level)?

Do you think ancient mythologies can continue to expand and grow as ancient religions are reconstructed, or should mythology stay in the past?

(My own opinion on the matter is that the answer to the last question is "yes," but I'm undecided on the first two.)

I think there is a significant difference between something like the Eddas and Percy Jackson. One is a source of myth, the other is a work of fiction based on myth, if you get the difference. Percy Jackson, while a really good read does not in itself constitute mythology in the sense that people do (and will) use the narrative offered to provide a framework for understanding the world. Compare the belief in Zeus with the belief that all the talented people running around today are all children of the Olympians, or dyslexia is caused to people being born programed to read ancient Greek. While not all myth is allegorical, Percy Jackson is at best with a straight reading, with some provisos; If I recall there is a bit of metahumour when Chiron remarks that perhaps Percy is just a character who will help children deal with the death of a parent.

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« Reply #5: August 21, 2010, 05:45:27 am »

In my eyes myths are stories about gods and humans which don't have to be taken literally, but provide inspiration, moral and cultural context.

On this basis I don't see why an ancient story should be more 'true' than a modern one per se. A modern story might be able to tell about a deity in modern context, which makes sense to me because the gods are present for me today and not just some relic from the past.

The primary question for me is which story draws an image of the gods that fits to them and isn't totally out of character for entertainment reasons. But as I see (neo-)paganism as a growing living religious 'scene' I don't think modern stories should be discarded on principle. Maybe one day some modern stories will be regarded as canon if they give an accurate portrait of the gods.

On a side note I've also got the impression that some ancient stories are considered more or less accurate than others. For example some Cauldronites here have voiced that they don't put so much stock into Homer. I don't see why this should be different with modern myths.
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« Reply #6: August 26, 2010, 09:26:33 pm »

Something I've sort of thought about here and there is the outgrowth of "new mythologies" about various pantheons. I'm not necessarily talking about stuff like Disney's "Hercules" (although I am a little, I guess), but about new stories where the authors/filmmakers/etc. obviously did a lot of research and tried to keep the Gods' personalities intact and create stories similar to the myths that inspired them.

For example, the Percy Jackson books. While there are some problematic elements (I've seen a few people unhappy with the portrayal of Kronos and some of the Titans, and I can understand that), it seems like Rick Riordan did a lot of research into mythology and even added in some elements of Hellenism into the books (the kids all burn parts of their meals to the Gods, the Underworld is the one from Greek mythology, not the Christianish one that's in a lot of these things, Athena's demi-god children all sprang from the minds of their human parents when they were inspired by Athena, etc.).

Or some of Neil Gaiman's writing, especially "American Gods" and "Anansi Boys." Or Diana Wynne Jones' "Eight Days of Luke."

I've definitely considered this. After all, in the old days, a popular poet could shape a myth if he was thought to be inspired. However, even they did a lot of repeating old stories that had already been told in some way. I don't think the Gods will change with the new myths, but I think it is possible for a modern artist to bring older themes to life. However, I think that's just symbolic or poetic truth, if that makes any sense. It can't go blatantly against the core beliefs that it is drawing upon and still have that truth.
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« Reply #7: August 26, 2010, 09:57:50 pm »

Simple answer is yes, I think that there is still a place for myths, that they will continue to be written and that the old ones will continue to evolve.

No argument from me, as I write myths...though mine don't use existing pantheons. (They do, however, as has come up elsewhere in this thread, attempt to put a modern interpretation on timeless themes, finding truth through metaphor.)

I want to see the first and second Iraq wars told as myth; I want the mundane facts attributed to the actions of the deities in whose province they lie, as is the case in Homer.

I'm working on it. I've been writing a myth that addresses war for a while now, and though the first half is written, and I know the middle arc and the ending, it's the telling of the actual warfare that has me stuck. Mind you, I'm not trying to hang it on a particular war, as you suggest, Marc; in the case of this myth, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm finding tackling war in the abstract exceedingly difficult.
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« Reply #8: August 27, 2010, 10:44:19 am »

Something I've sort of thought about here and there is the outgrowth of "new mythologies" about various pantheons. I'm not necessarily talking about stuff like Disney's "Hercules" (although I am a little, I guess), but about new stories where the authors/filmmakers/etc. obviously did a lot of research and tried to keep the Gods' personalities intact and create stories similar to the myths that inspired them.

Do you think that stories that are rooted in mythology and history but that portray the Gods and create new stories can "merge" with the traditional mythology as part of a religious tradition? In a few hundred years, will "Eight Days of Luke" join the Eddas and "Percy Jackson" join the Iliad?

Will some of the events in new stories about the Gods become "canon" like Dante's circles of Hell sort of did for Christianity (i.e., it's not given as canonical in the Catholic version, at least, but pretty much everyone knows about the circles of Hell and it's accepted on at least a cultural level)?

Do you think ancient mythologies can continue to expand and grow as ancient religions are reconstructed, or should mythology stay in the past?

(My own opinion on the matter is that the answer to the last question is "yes," but I'm undecided on the first two.)

If the myth maker can stay within the lines drawn by the context of storytelling within the characters culture, can use myth the way the myth makers of that culture and remain consistent with the bulk of the previous material regarding the myth material, then I would say go for it.

At that, not every myth is going to be one that lasts for posterity.  The writing would have to have some value of its own to have staying power.
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« Reply #9: September 16, 2010, 03:29:12 am »

I think there is a significant difference between something like the Eddas and Percy Jackson. One is a source of myth, the other is a work of fiction based on myth, if you get the difference.

That's what my immediate thought was, too, but then I realised that I didn't really know what I meant by that.
I mean, obviously I'm not going to take a modern work of fiction in quite the same light as a myth, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why.

I think, possibly, that for a myth to be relevant as a myth, it does need to reflect a deep understanding of the culture and the gods portrayed.  After all, the original myths were written from within that culture, and they're heavily influenced by it, while our modern culture can be quite different.  So I think, firstly, for a work of fiction to qualify as a myth, it needs to have quite a deep identification with the underlying culture.

Possibly in the same vein, it also needs to accurately portray the gods - this is why something like Disney's 'Hercules' will never make it to myth status.  It disregards a lot of the interactions between the deities in favour of telling the story it wants to tell.  While it is a very entertaining movie (what can I say, I have a small mind  Cheesy ), it's not myth.

Apart from that, I think I'm willing to accept any source that gives me greater insight into the nature of my deities as a "myth", for a given value of myth.  If something is wrong, or inaccurate in comparison to older myths, I will disregard that source, but that's no different from reading and rejecting or accepting a good or shoddily written textbook on an ancient culture, really.
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« Reply #10: September 17, 2010, 08:32:54 pm »

That's what my immediate thought was, too, but then I realised that I didn't really know what I meant by that.
I mean, obviously I'm not going to take a modern work of fiction in quite the same light as a myth, but I couldn't quite put my finger on why.

The first thing that springs to my mind when I run that through my head is 'intent'. We have a belief that the people who 'wrote' the myths that we read in standardised editions did so with the intention of teaching truths about the nature of spiritual reality (by which I mena the numinous account of the common experiences of people within a given (sub)culture. For the contemporary examples, I suspect that monst people have a pretty firm belief that they were written primarily by a single individual who wanted a new/next car (boat... house... meal Smiley ).

I wonder how accurate such beliefs are on both counts.

Quote
I think, possibly, that for a myth to be relevant as a myth, it does need to reflect a deep understanding of the culture and the gods portrayed.  After all, the original myths were written from within that culture, and they're heavily influenced by it, while our modern culture can be quite different.  So I think, firstly, for a work of fiction to qualify as a myth, it needs to have quite a deep identification with the underlying culture.

Do you think it needs to be an insider's perspective? Do you think it could work as a myth on one culture if it was written by a person within the first culture with a deep understanding of both their own culture and that from which the 'original' material was sourced?

Quote
Possibly in the same vein, it also needs to accurately portray the gods - this is why something like Disney's 'Hercules' will never make it to myth status.  It disregards a lot of the interactions between the deities in favour of telling the story it wants to tell.  While it is a very entertaining movie (what can I say, I have a small mind  Cheesy ), it's not myth.


Will it change the fact that it is not myth if we reach a point where everyone believes that it is?

Quote
Apart from that, I think I'm willing to accept any source that gives me greater insight into the nature of my deities as a "myth", for a given value of myth.  If something is wrong, or inaccurate in comparison to older myths, I will disregard that source, but that's no different from reading and rejecting or accepting a good or shoddily written textbook on an ancient culture, really.

How do you deal with/think people are best served by dealing with 'competing-original' sources?
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« Reply #11: September 18, 2010, 09:37:04 pm »

The first thing that springs to my mind when I run that through my head is 'intent'. We have a belief that the people who 'wrote' the myths that we read in standardised editions did so with the intention of teaching truths about the nature of spiritual reality (by which I mena the numinous account of the common experiences of people within a given (sub)culture. For the contemporary examples, I suspect that monst people have a pretty firm belief that they were written primarily by a single individual who wanted a new/next car (boat... house... meal Smiley ).

I wonder how accurate such beliefs are on both counts.

I remember reading somewhere recently that it is probable that many of the Irish myths were made primarily to entertain.  On the other hand, they also give people nowadays valuable information about what they thought about their gods back then.  So just because something wasn't originally written to be a 'spiritual truth' doesn't really mean that it isn't useful to our understanding.
As for the belief that contemporary examples are by people who wanted a paycheck, I think that may be unfair, depending on the author.  Some things, 'Clash of the Titans' f'ex, are probably not made while paying a lot of attention to the original myths, because people don't really need to know the actual stories to enjoy a movie about someone in well-defined armour stabbing evil mythical creatures.  But someone who wrote a story (Cecilia Dart-Thornton springs to mind - as bad as her books were, they did have some well-researched folktales, AFAIK) using good research and staying fairly true to the original opinions, then yeah, maybe they did it for a paycheck, but they may have also done it out of love for the culture, and we can use that interpretation to feed our own knowledge and ideas, and, well, it doesn't really matter why the author did it.

Do you think it needs to be an insider's perspective? Do you think it could work as a myth on one culture if it was written by a person within the first culture with a deep understanding of both their own culture and that from which the 'original' material was sourced?

No, I definitely don't think it needs an insider.  An insider would have a huge advantage in understanding the culture, but OTOH, someone who had worked for an understanding with the old culture from within their own would have a perspective that is valuable to other people looking in on the old culture, as it were, trying to make sense of things for themselves.  As long as they respected that culture and represented them fairly faithfully, a perspective change doesn't really alter things much, except perhaps to make it easier for others in the same position to understand.

Will it change the fact that it is not myth if we reach a point where everyone believes that it is?

This is a bit grey, IMO.  After all, after movies like Disney's Hercules and similar, a lot of people believe things about the gods that are not historically accurate.  Hades = Satan is one that (correct me if I'm wrong) I believe is widespread, but known from historical evidence to be untrue.  But will it change the nature of Hades if, say 90% of the population believes that he is an 'evil' god?  Does that depend on individual beliefs of the people looking at Him?
I don't know the answer to this question, myself.  Personally, I think that misrepresentation does not change the nature of the God, and that the original sources are 'correct' in these instances.
I think it comes back to the fact that myths only help our understanding of the deity.  If it doesn't work with your understanding and doesn't help you understand, then it's probably not useful, and you move on and find something that does.

How do you deal with/think people are best served by dealing with 'competing-original' sources?

By this, you mean the contemporary sources?  Well, I personally look at it, then look at what I know from the original myths.  If it's really out of whack with them, I tend to distrust it.  I also look at how it's been presented - sometimes, you can tell that a source hasn't been written with accuracy in mind, and then I tend to disregard it.  If I look at a source, and it's very similar to the original sources, and it's obviously been researched, then I usually take it into account, and use it with, but not instead of, the original myths, simply as another interpretation of that deity.  It's mainly about personal judgement for me.
I suppose if something was researched, but not similar to the myths, I'd look at it again and try and figure out why it's been portrayed like that, and that might help as well.  But that's speculation, not personal experience.
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« Reply #12: September 18, 2010, 10:52:45 pm »

By this, you mean the contemporary sources?

Great response btw, still very much digesting it. In the immediate term  though, to respond to this question - no Smiley I actually meant situations where you have two sources that are both from the original culture and period, but that present different views/versions that are not necessarily compatible (at least not on the surface).
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« Reply #13: September 20, 2010, 07:36:30 am »

Great response btw, still very much digesting it. In the immediate term  though, to respond to this question - no Smiley I actually meant situations where you have two sources that are both from the original culture and period, but that present different views/versions that are not necessarily compatible (at least not on the surface).

This assumes that having compatible myths is the goal.
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« Reply #14: September 20, 2010, 08:23:40 am »

This assumes that having compatible myths is the goal.

That was not my intention Sad

I wasn't trying to make a value judgement in favour of mythic homogeneity. I actually think that they teach me more in their diversity. I was asking in the context of granting varying degrees of trust to accounts of the gods on the basis of conformity with original sources. I realise now that I was assuming the concept was being used to represent a pastiche of many ancient sources. Perhaps I was wrong and we were talking of conformity to at least one of a potentially conflicting set, then the problem of conflicting, contemporaneous primary sources doesn't come up.
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