Mythology

I’m a pretty big superhero fan, and it’s rare when I miss a big, new movie that leaps off the comic book pages, but I just about choked on my Cheetos when I heard Man of Steel director Zack Snyder wax poetically about the “Superman mythology,” because there is no such thing.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  The character has been written and drawn by a long, but known, list of writers and artists.  Likewise, the television and film adaptations all have ample lists of credits, so we know who has contributed to the rich, complex story which has evolved around this captivating character.

All this, we know.

Mythology is not a body of tales with known authorship; they have joined human history without credit attached.  They may be true, or partly true, or mistranslations, or intentional allegories, and there’s plenty of debate over that question.  But they don’t have copyright notices, and no one can point to a specific person or persons as their writers.

These are all things we do not know about myths.  If we did, they’d be stories.

You can’t make a myth up.  Neither can I.  I may write a story about Poseidon and Selene, exploring their relationship and how the tides came to be, but that’s not a myth, because you know that I wrote it.  No “mythology” is even slightly mythological if the author is known.  The tales could be compiled as a sacred text, but mythology emerges from mystery, not from identity.

I love Superman.  Maybe in a thousand years, after the comic books of today are forgotten, his stories will be myths.  But right now, they’re stories.  Good stories, but nothing more than stories.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter M.

Mysteries and modern Hellenismos

I’ve been learning more about the enduring mystery religions of ancient Greece, some of which lasted a thousand years or more.  These cults coexisted with the religion of the polis, as well as the household devotions each family practiced.  They were different from either one in that they required initiation; Hellenes didn’t otherwise see religion as a choice, any more than they thought they could choose the color of the sky.

Today, the three types of practice are a bit more blurred.  Initiations are not uncommon, but don’t always involve the sharing of secrets.  (Contrast that with the Eleusinian mysteries, the secrets of which were never written down, and remain unknown.)  The same groups which practice those initiations also tend to perform public rituals; in a society where not every citizen is already part of the religion, this makes sense. Honoring household gods such as Zeus Ktesios and Hestia is likewise taught by these groups to the new initiates, since they did not learn those rituals as children.

What we have in this amalgam is really sort of a modified mystery tradition, in that the querent is initiated to learn “secrets” which would have been common knowledge in days of old.  But the structure of mystery is not complete; more than initiation is needed for that.  Mysteries do involve secrets, and from what we have learned of some of the ancient mystery religions, those secrets sometimes involved significantly different beliefs than those taught publicly.  For example, the Orphics were vegetarians who avoided animal sacrifice and believed man to be descended from Dionysus.

There is room for more mystery religions under the umbrella of Hellenismos.  I believe that they can only strengthen the religious tradition as a whole.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter M.

Loquacious

I joined the Pagan Blog Project late in the year, in the hopes that it would encourage me to interact more with other Pagans online.  One week in, and I’m reminded of how Pagans and blogging don’t really work well together:  Pagans are a wordy bunch.

There are many good reasons to be wordy.

  • Our religious experiences defy written description, so we write more to compensate.
  • Philosophical exploration generally not for the terse at heart.
  • Subtle distinctions of meaning tend to encourage more words, to increase clarity.
Up until now, religious movements have evolved without benefit of the internet.  Long treatises found their way to letter, scrolls, and weighty tomes; they were argued, dissected, and explored.  Words were not cheap to distribute.  But now they are, so those discussions, in which people argue passionately about topics ranging from the nature of the gods to the meaning of gender, happen online, collaboratively, in great depth.
Except . . . 
Except this isn’t what blogging is particularly good for.  Blogs, at their best, are short and focused; a good rule of thumb is that the reader of a post shouldn’t have to page down.  On the fast-paced internet, short and punchy, backed up by links to more info, is the way to go.
Except that Paganism is an experienced religion, not a revealed one, so the amount of time Pagans take to read and write these lengthy posts about being Pagan takes away from their time to simply be Pagan.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter L.

Thumbs up from the Agathos daimon

I’ve been trying to understand, and relate to, the Agathos Daimon, as part of my deepening understanding of Hellenismos.

What daimon wouldn’t want bacon?

The quest began a few months ago, when I began celebrating the Noumenia, the beginning of the lunar month.  The term refers to the day when the moon is first visible, but it’s also used to mean the three-day period which includes it.

  • Deipnon is the last day of the old month, which is reserved for Hekate and the ancestors.
  • Noumenia, first of the new moon, is when all the gods are celebrated.
  • The second day of the month is reserved for the Agathos daimon.
With serious students of the religion confused as to its nature, I know this being is somewhat mysterious.  Heck, I’m not even sure how to capitalize it, as seen in this very post.
But the first time I made offerings all three days, I happened to be roasting a pork butt for dinner.  I got the clear sense that pork fat was a very acceptable offering; in fact, please do offer pig meat whenever I like.  So I’ve made it my practice to offer a bit of bacon from my breakfast each morning; invariably, one of my female cats accepts it on the Agathos daimon’s behalf.  I have male cats, as well, but it’s definitely the girls who are in line.
So yesterday, the Deipnon, I ate my breakfast of bacon and eggs, and none of my cats were about.  They know my routine, they look forward to a bit of bacon fat and the taste of runny egg from the plate, but they eschewed my meal.  That felt right and good, because the Deipnon is the time of the ancestors.  The decision to turn down a possible offering told me that yes, the offerings I have been making are acceptable.
And of course, there’s this little guy, whom I found sunning himself in my yard next to a cinderblock the day before Deipnon.  Both the Agathos daimon and Zeus can manifest as a snake, so I’m not really sure how to interpret this, but I considered it a very good sign.

Luck

Recognize fortune (Τυχην νομιζε)
Be fond of fortune (Τυχην στεργε)

Luck.  Chance.  Fortune.  Hellenic thought has a lot to say about the concept, such as the two Delphic maxims quoted above.

  • Recognize fortune is not so easy, at least before it’s past.  That moment is governed by the two swiftest beings in the pantheon, Hermes Eriounios (luck-bringer) and Kairos, daimon of opportunity.  The former is prayed to by gamblers and all those who desire good luck, but is also something of a mischief-maker.  Kairos is a lesser-known spirit who, like Hermes, has winged feet; his is the name for the “perfect moment” when all things come together.  Kairos is perhaps more difficult to catch:  the only hair on his naked form is a forelock, by which he must be grabbed as he comes at you, lest it be too late.  Foresight is needed to recognize fortune.
  • Be fond of fortune doesn’t just mean jumping up and down upon winning the lottery.  Fortune may be kind to others, and it may be (seemingly) unkind to us.  Chaos is part of the framework of the universe, and it’s best to accept that truth, rather than spend one’s energy alternately rejoicing and ranting.  Be fond of fortune because it is the touch of the gods, and it’s impossible to see enough of the big picture to understand if its consequences will be for good or ill.  As mortals, it’s not a good idea to blow our stacks because we think we know how things are going to turn out.  Be fond of fortune, and be patient enough to see how it unfolds.
Some Pagans eschew prayer, because it “feels like begging,” Judy Harrow has told me.  Praying for good luck must feel doubly so!  But then there are Pagans like myself, who have been slow to embrace magic, for it feels like hubris to try to take into my own hands the things that the gods oversee.  Working a spell for luck seems like, frankly, a dicey proposition!
But magic often manifests itself as luck; so too does the answer to prayer.  It seems that luck is not so much a force to be manipulated directly as it is an expression of the energy of the universe.  Even Felix Felicis, the luck potion depicted in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, simply pushes its user to be in the right place, at the right time; that’s Kairos all over again.  To me, it seems more a tool of the gods and the unseen world than it is something we can manipulate directly.

Celebrate luck, but do not judge it.  Recognize it when it happens, but don’t be too quick to interpret it.  Do not be so arrogant as to believe that nothing can ever go wrong, because fate is prone to temptation, it seems.  However, living life as if there’s a dark cloud overhead always seems to give that cloud power.

Luck.  It’s going to happen, there’s nothing we can really do about it, and it’s part of what makes living life so terribly interesting.

This post is part of the Pagan Blog Project, a yearlong exploration of spirituality.  This specific post is brought to you by the letter L.