Exploring spirituality somewhere between the Emerald Isle and the Black Land....

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Are the Myths Real?

This is a question that pops up on Pagan forums and FB groups every now and then. I have seen it asked often enough that it inspired me to write this in response. However, before I can go on to answer this question, we first have to ask ourselves a slightly different one, and it is this: "Are the myths literal?"

The answer to which is a resounding "No." I do not believe for one moment that giant, one-eyed fomoire ran around Ireland battling the Tuatha Dé Danann, nor that a goddess in the night sky actually eats the sun every night and gives birth to it every morning. I do not think that treating the myths as literal is a legitimate means of validating them or our beliefs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that doing so can be outright harmful. One glance a creationist fundamentalist ought to be enough to tell you why.

"So if the myths aren't literal, then they're not real, right?"

Again, my answer would have to be "No."

"But Kaif, if they aren't literal, how can they be real?"

To help illustrate my point, I will take an example from one of my favorite new shows, "Vikings."

And before I continue, here is the obligatory

Lagertha the Awesome
In "Vikings" there's this really awesome chick named Lagertha. In the first season, her husband becomes earl and, while out viking, leaves her to take care of their land. It is during this time that a man brings his wife and her baby boy before Lagertha, claiming that she has been unfaithful and that the baby is not his. He says that a young man named Rig had been staying with them at the time she conceived, and since he had so far been unable to impregnate his wife, it must have been the doing of this young stranger. The wife concedes that since the three of them shared a single bed, she couldn't say for certain which man had, in the dark of night, had sex with her.

In answer to this story, Lagertha explains that Rig is a name used by Heimdall in is travels, and that the couple were in fact visited by this god who then saw fit to gift them with a child. It is the myths she cites as the source of this knowledge.

"But those are just stories!" the man protests.

To which Lagertha responds, without missing a beat, "Our lives are just stories!"

Lagertha herself was pregnant at the time, and had much trouble conceiving her own child. Because of this, it could be argued that she didn't really believe what she said about the young man being Heimdall, that she only said it for the benefit of the wife and baby. But whether or not she believed her own words is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that this couple had been trying unsuccessfully for years to have a child, and now they have one. In a sense, all Lagertha was doing was telling this man to shut up and be grateful for the opportunity to finally be a father.

This is why Lagertha's assertion that "our lives are just stories" is so perfect. At that moment, the couple's story is that they have a child. Yet it is the story of the child's divine paternity that, even if not literally true, serves to highlight the reality that this previously childless couple now have a precious baby that needs to be taken care of, regardless of who actually sired him.

Myths are allegories, entertainment, lessons, and hyperbole, just like many of the stories we tell of ourselves, or the stories that will be told of us when we die. The myths themselves may not be literal, yet that doesn't make them untrue. The Cath Maighe Tuireadh illustrates the nature of the Déithe; Nut's birthing and consumption of the sun is a metaphor for day and night; the conflict between Ba'al and Mot are the cycles of rainfall and drought; the list of examples is endless.

So there you have my answer. The myths are just stories. Our lives are just stories. One is every bit as real as the other.