Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reconceptualizing the Power of Myth

When I was first getting started in Paganism in the early 2000s, all the beginner Wiccan books I read made a point of mentioning the "real" origins of Wicca.  There was no early Goddess-worshiping, peace-filled matriarchy, no nine million witches burned, no ancient lineages passed down through the generations; only an old British guy with a liking for Margaret Murray, Aleister Crowley, and nudity.  I read a lot of debunking, but never actually explored what was being debunked.

So when I first read Triumph of the Moon, with its rather dispassionate, scholarly take on the origins of Wicca, I was completely baffled as to why some people in the Pagan community seemed so offended by it.  Facts are facts; and Murray's pseudo-history was most certainly not that.  I wasn't one of those Pagans, the ones who held on to their antiquated and disproven beliefs; because I believed at the time beliefs must be factually accurate to have religious meaning.  I now understand that this was rooted in my fundamentalist Christian background - it can be hard to shed the idea of a literal religious interpretation.

Since my own path long ago veered away from Wicca into paths that are a bit more academically based, I hadn't really gone back and re-examined those basic ideas of who is 'right' and 'wrong' when it comes to religious truth.  In reconstructionist religion, things can be a lot clearer - something either is or is not attested in the lore.  In my efforts to find community and gain a broader understanding and knowledge of the Pagan community, I have recently become a student of a local Wiccan coven.  Reading my study assignments, I am forcibly confronted with this idea and the preconceived notions I carry about it - facts vs. not facts, 'not facts' being the clear loser.

And yet, with these views, I am a complete hypocrite.  I rarely talk about it because I know it's controversial in Pagan circles, and because I don't want to be looked at the same way I originally viewed those Pagans who still find value in the idea of an ancient, Goddess-worshiping matriarchy.  But I do honor some *gasp* fictional deities.  At least, that's how others would describe them - I consider them just as real as the other Gods and Goddesses I honor.  See the double standard?  How I can I mentally reject a person for finding value and worship-deserving entities in the myths of King Arthur, while at the same time finding inspiration and religious truth in a work of fiction?

This is something I'm still grappling with.  On the one hand, I think it's incredibly important to be accurate when talking about facts - especially with the Wicca's history of unclear information.  On the other, I think that some of Wicca's early shared mythos, while historically inaccurate, has been cast aside too easily by some newer to the faith.  There are many lessons to be learned in myths, whether they are ancient or recent.  Just because something is not factually true or historically attested doesn't mean it can't hold value.  As a polytheist, I am already adept at holding multiple truths simultaneously - the values Brigid calls me to are certainly not the same as those Thunor calls me to honor -  is it so absurd to imagine that, while there was no historical Camelot, a valid and fulfilling religious tradition can be built from those myths?

While the evidence tells us there was no peaceful Goddess-loving matriarchy in ancient Europe, that doesn't mean a peaceful Goddess-loving matriarchy can't be created as a valid practice today.  And it doesn't mean the myth isn't very powerful to a large number of traditions doing good work today.  It's still not the path I walk; but I'm starting to understand, at least a little bit, those who do.

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