Friday, May 3, 2013

Doing better, now with more GRP content!

I recall with some regret, that my first crack at blogging was a dismal failure, owing to the fact that I never really updated the one I had. Sure, I had some decent enough posts which I transferred over to here when I started up TSOAHT, but I got to the point where my drafts would almost all start with "I really ought to be writing more", and decided that being an absentee blogger was pointless. Blogs, after all, enable us to communicate to people with like minded interests in a more focused/personal capacity than say a given religion/interfaith forum would. It doesn't make a lot of sense to maintain a blog if you don't actually blog on a somewhat regular basis. Certainly, if the issue is that other projects/personal life gets in the way, and keeps you from posting, well that's a reasonable enough excuse. If on the other hand, it is a matter of running out of things to blog about, or a complete loss of interest sharing your ideas/opinions, than it might be time to "hang it up". Of course, the Internet being what it is, inactivity does not necessarily result in erasure or disappearance of material in its archived format, nor of people losing interest entirely. I haven't published a post since January, but I still get a decent enough amount of page hits on a daily basis, considering how insignificant my blog is, so in that respect I'm comfortable with not being as active as I ought to be.

Having said that, I ought to endeavour to be more present with my own blog and post more often. Certainly some of my original ideas/intended schedule did not at all pan out. Really, who the feck cares if some snide polytheist has some commentary on the canonical Christian gospels? I have found that with one or two exceptions, most of the traffic and certainly the vast majority of comments come from posts, articles and opinions relating to, surprise surprise, Gaelic Polytheism. So first and foremost, I should bloody well redouble my efforts to post content pertaining to the original purpose of this blog, to write about my perspective and experiences when it comes to being a GRP.

So, in the first of what I hope is a semi-frequent posting schedule, some observations I have had, gleaned largely from participating on an interfaith forum I joined a little over a month ago, as well as experiences beyond the Internet.

Being really, really enthusiastic about mythology no one knows anything about, is frustrating

While not the most reliable, scientific or quantifiable method of gathering data; several informal surveys posted inquiring people to "name a Celtic mythological figure" returned dismal results. Among numerous people who were quite willing to respond and discuss issues pertaining to deities and mythology, the only response in the positive was a mention of "King Arthur", and in many ways that has a lot more to do with Zimmer Bradley than earlier Welsh material. On the same forum, a fellow polytheist could name Lugh and Cerrunos, but that was about it. A vague notion that some of the Arthurian material was Celtic in origin, and two gods, was the best anyone could do. Comparatively, when asked if they could then name mythic figures from Greek, Roman, Norse or Egyptian lore, the responses were overwhelmingly in the affirmative. So why is this the case?

A definitive answer would be far beyond the ability of myself, or of my simple survey to conclusively arrive at, but I have a few basic explanations:

1. Hellenic and Roman civilizations form the bedrock of much of Western culture, and so their influences are lasting and much more permanent than a relatively peripheral culture that was essentially conquered by the later, and subsumed into the fold of that own cultures inheritors. To put it succinctly, Celtic culture did not have even an iota of the impact upon the "western world" that Greece or Rome did. As such, when it comes to basic historic education, if the Celts are mentioned at all, the Druids are the focus, because everyone loves odd fellows in robes.

2. Iron-age/Early Medieval Scandinavian culture is presently overt in popular media. A lot of this is owed to the efforts of Marvel Studios to push their film franchises, and so Thor (for all of its liberties) pushed into the public consciousness a slew of mythological figures. Sure, being able to name a god from Icelandic mythology hardly constitutes a deep, personal connection with either the material, culture or divine figures; but it does signify a much broader knowledge of those things. It has relevance (as geeky or pop-y as that knowledge may be) to a modern audience and so illustrates cultural significance. In addition, films like "Valhalla Rising", "Pathfinder", "Beowulf" (yes, not technically Scandinavian, but popular attributions/associations count in this context) and television series like the less mainstream "The Almighty Johnsons", and more mainstream fare like "Vikings", Icelandic myth is reaching a far greater audience than at almost any period in the past. With the up coming release of HBO's adaptation of Neil Gaiman's "American Gods", this interest is only going to get larger. Certainly this has, for good or ill, resulted in some people taking an interest in the material behind the modern versions, and perhaps even a questioning as to why not worship Odin?

3. Celtic materials already saw their populist heyday. Celtomania is something that can be discussed, analyzed and dissected, because it is something that has already happened. Victorian audiences couldn't get enough, and the raft of English translations of old and middle Irish texts spawned versions of the tales that are still read today.

4. Attempts at more modern popular representation have been non-starters, or small scale. Disney's "Brave", which could have helped, if but a little, was not the film everyone had been hoping for. It did very well at the box office, but the critical and popular consensus was "good, not great". Added to this is that the "Celtic" elements were set pieces more than anything to do with the story, and a mythological component so generic it could have been just about any country that had bears in it certainly didn't have anyone rushing out to read up on mythic figures. I loved "The Secret of Kells", but most of the folks who saw it (and talked about it) were animation fans more than fans of Irish history/folklore. Other than this, a bunch of relatively low budget films focused on single elements of Irish/Scottish folklore round out  content for the last decade. Okay, so "Centurion" ought to be there as well, but it hardly counts, owing to the Roman angle. Face it, when people think of "Celtic" warriors they think of "Braveheart" first and Cuchulain and Fionn second (if at all).

A few reasons to none the less be hopeful that more people will be exposed to Celtic myth

1. Breakthru Films will, eventually, release "Hound", their retelling of the Ulster Cycle, focused of course around Cuchulain. It has been sidelined for a few years now, but hopefully it will not sit on the shelf for too much longer and they'll try to capitalize on the "Viking" stuff, as well as the resurgence in "Fantasy" genre materials.

2. HBO's "American Gods" which is set for a number of seasons, is going to have to develop original material for the later seasons (as they have a single, and not multiple novels to work from regarding source material). Plus, there are two characters who are present enough in the text to merit expanded roles in the show, maybe. Mad Sweeny will likely be as present in the show as he was in the book, but my hopes are pinned on An Morrigan (who does show up in the book towards the later third) getting an expanded role in potential later seasons.

3. Will Sliney's forthcoming "Celtic Warrior: The Legend of Cuchulain", while indie press, will see a North American release. Could wind up being carried by book sellers to reach an audience outside of its likely demographic.

4. There could be a Hollywood adaptation of Cuchulain's exploits in the works, though details about the development is murky at best.

Why ought a devotee of the gods care if some of the material is bastardized, mass marketed and generates an interest in the source material and culture?

I can not answer this one for anyone but myself, but it ties back into what is held to be important and relevant. Whether more people know about Jupiter over An Dagda, has no bearing on my continuing devotion to An Dagda himself. The road of popular representations is one fraught with peril and the likelihood for wholly inaccurate and terrible misrepresentations of the source material is all but certain. "Thor" is not at all a good representation of the Eddas, the film especially (the comics depend on the era/ writer, and only get close to the spirit of the source). None the less, "Thor" instills a sense of significance, permanence and immanence of a character who is, despite the CGI and gaudy costume, the representation of a deity. A deity who seems more realistic because of the surreal fantasy world he inhabits. A deity who is given a degree of empathy and pathos because he is depicted through a popular medium like film.

 Further, popular enjoyment and appeal will often lead to expanded interest in perhaps more specialized ways. I doubt we would be seeing a stellar show like "Vikings", were it not for the interest in material derived from Icelandic myths being popularly represented. Considering all the sex and violence which permeates the mythic texts, all the political intrigue and beautiful set pieces just waiting to be filmed, there is no reason to doubt that a similar period piece could easily be made, focused on the Irish, Scottish or Gaulish cultures.

Again, my expectations are low and I do not expect swarms, drove, or even many people to see a commercialized, sanitized and fictionalized representation of our mythic figures and suddenly want to make daily offerings to the de ochus ande. What it may accomplish, however, is the re-emergence of the idea that these figures are being popularly represented because they are valuable; their stories are ones that can and should be told and remembered. The people who valued them thousands of years ago, and those of us who value them today, had good reason to, and here is a little slice of the "why".

I know how I feel about it, how about you?

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