Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Pagan" Literacy Project

I often make assumptions, though my experience has been that I am usually proven correct, this is not always the case. With that in mind, anecdotally anyway I have begun to find, well not a growing problem, but one which is becoming more evident.

Find the cornerstone and under it the copper box that is marked with his name.
Unlock it. Open the lid. Take out the tablet of lapis lazuli.
 Read how Gilgamesh suffered all and accomplished all.

 "Pagans" as a group are a diverse and disparate lot, and who does and does not fall under what seems to be an ever growing umbrella is often a matter of great contention. One aspect, which I would make the case for, which more often than not is a shared aspect of the "Pagan" identity, is some degree of enmity with  Christianity. To be sure this would be best seen as a gradient of enmity; ranging from outright hate to basic theological differences, and everything in between. As such, there tends to be a reasonable degree of familiarity with the Christian Bible and some other aspects of their theology among "Pagans" in general. I know I'm not the first nor the last to make light of the fact that I know more about the Christian holy book than many of the Christians, whom I know and discuss things religious with, do.

I sing of arms and of the man, fated to be an exile,
who long since left the land of Troy and came to Italy
to the shores of Lavinium...

Each of us, or those of us who find ourselves in "the west" will necessarily have some familiarity with Christianity and its mythology. It is engrained in our societal customs, calendar, holidays, literature and language. It is simply inescapable. This is not, necessarily, bad. For example, while the Authorized King James Bible is one of the poorest translations available, it is none the less one of the single greatest works of literature ever written in the English language. I own a copy (the Oxford edition), have read it, and enjoyed much of it. As someone who enjoys literature, the work has great value, as in individual work as well as its influence on the development of writing in the English language.

'What wonder' Fiacha mac Fir Febe said,
'that the one who did this in his seventh year should triumph
 against odds and beat his match today,
when he is fully seventeen years old!'

So whether you've read it for enjoyment or to pick apart some contradictory theological argument you'll be having with aunt Pauline at Thanksgiving dinner, the fact is you've read some of it, read a book which makes allusions or references to it, seen a film which depicts an episode from it, or have had it quoted at you, you will have some experience of it.

But what do you know about the "Epic of Gilgamesh"? What was the point of the Illiad? Where was Odysseus trying to get back to in the Odyssey? What is the Aeneid all about? Why was a second battle fought at Moytura? What was the Cattle raid of Cooley? How did Thor end up in a wedding dress? Why did Sigurd fight a dragon? Why would Sita sing the Blues? Why did Son-Goku journey to the West? Why should anyone care about the Tale of Genji? The list of questions goes on, but the point is this: How literate are you when it comes to the works of pre-Christian cultures (and in many cases Christianized versions of those cultures tales) and your familiarity with them?

I do not doubt for a second that recons will have a very good grasp on the materials which informs their worldviews, both the primary materials as well as secondary texts and commentaries. How much then, would those same folks be cognizant of when it comes to the tales from other cultures? How would that knowledge then stand up against their familiarity with the Bible? What of "Pagans" who are not as interested in mythology as others?

My point is this; I think there is a need to educate ourselves about a rather large body of myth that ought to have a greater impact than it currently does. Is it not worth considering that many of us are far more familiar with the Christian mythos than that of the Hellenes, Romans, Celts, Germanics, Kemetics, etc? Would it not be worth developing a better working knowledge of the mythology which informs the worldviews of fellow polytheists and "Pagans"? Certainly there is a treasure trove of mythic literature available, and while I know I've already got a lot of reading and study on my plate, it behooves me to make just a little time to broaden my horizons and read some myth which isn't Gaelic in nature.

As such, I'd like to make a modest proposal and I'm calling it the ""Pagan" literacy project". It can be as narrow or as broad as you'd like to make it, but the goal is to read a work of myth or legend which does not have a direct connection to your own cultural tradition, or perhaps for those who are not Reconstructionists or more culturally minded polytheists, a deeper examination of the foundational mythology of the cultures you draw inspiration from. Even just one work will go a long way to broaden your understanding and perhaps appreciation of the mythology of your fellow polytheists.



1 comment:

  1. I think this is an EXCELLENT idea. And an excellent point. I've always tried to read a broad variety of religious material because I find it interesting (and I'm double majoring in Religious Studies), but the point about many Pagans knowing the Bible so well, but not other cultural stories is so on point. As a Gaelic Polytheist, I want to do more reading of the Gaelic lore this summer when I'm not taking classes, but this has inspired me to alternate between Gaelic and non-Gaelic in what I read!