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Don’t Make This Mythtake

This post was written by Donald Michael Kraig
on September 9, 2009 | Comments (5)

According to the Religion News Blog, Utah senator Bob Bennet is researching “whether the book Mormons believe was revealed by an angel to their founder Joseph Smith in the 1820s [the Book of Mormon] is authentic.” By “authentic” is meant literally true, both in the information given in the book and in the way the book was given by an angel to the religion’s founder.

Normally I wouldn’t mention this at all, but currently there is another discussion going on in the Mind-N-Magic Pagan Forums. In the “Pagan History” sub-forum there is a thread called “Repudiating Bad Wiccan History.” This is a discussion concerning an article that appeared on The Witches’ Voice (AKA Witchvox) with the same name. The basic concept is that the idea that Wicca is directly derived from ancient Pagan traditions and secretly protected by British royalty is nothing but “Wicca Fantasy-Land,” and untrue. The original Witchvox article concludes by saying, “Regrettably this means we must abandon a lot of what our founding elders declared to us was our past; we must locate ourselves in the genuine records of medieval Europe established by scholars…”

I would say that the researches of Senator Bennet, the article in Witchvox, and the discussion on Mind-N-Magick actually myth miss the point.

We All Need Myths

It is the nature of humans to need myths. Every culture has them. Every religion has them. They are the glue that binds us together. Here, in the U.S., we have myths such as Washington never telling a lie holding us together and giving us our culture. In the 1950s, radio featured mythic heroes like the Lone Ranger for whom everything was right or wrong (there were never grey areas) and you never shot to kill. With religion, Judaism has its mythic Exodus from Egypt, Christianity has its mythic tales of Jesus, Mormonism has its mythic tales of its founding, and Wicca has it’s mythic source as ancient Pagan traditions.

Some people reading this may jump on what I have written above. How dare I imply that the Exodus, Jesus, the founding of Mormonism and the sources of Wicca are fakes and unreal. But please read this again. I didn’t write that they were unreal, I only claimed they were “mythic.” I use the term in its academic sense, a sacred story concerning origins.

We need myths. They identify us as a group and as a source of our beliefs. It’s totally irrelevant as to whether they are objectively true! Mormons—even those who convert to Mormonism—can look back to the story of the founding of their religion and for what it means to their current beliefs. The same is true for Judaism, Christianity, and other religions. The same is true for countries. Are all the stories of Joan of Arc objectively factual? Probably not. But they helped to form the cloth that wraps French people into a whole. The same is true of the myths of the founders of the U.S.

It doesn’t matter whether the myths are true. They are the stories that make us who we are. That means, too, we can acknowledge that objective history may or may not match the mythic history. That’s okay. Objective history can tell us where we came from. Mythic history tells us who we are.

I believe we need our myths. What do you think?

Reader Comments

Written By Calantirniel
on September 9th, 2009 @ 11:47 am

I couldn’t agree more Donald Michael! Although I believe knowing myth from history is a good idea, I like the term “mytho-history” to describe the relationship that we feel to myths, in that it is indeed a part of who we are, and ought not be denied! Thanks for such an awesome post!

Written By Elysia
on September 9th, 2009 @ 3:26 pm

You’re right of course – myths serve to bind people together. But, in the wrong hands, they also serve to shut people out. For example, look at all the myths of the “Christian nation” that our founding fathers supposedly created, which are being propogated by the Christian right wing all over the internet. We have to be very careful in delineating clearly what is a myth and what has a factual basis in reality. Otherwise people can suffer the consequences.

At first glance the Wiccan myth of unbroken descent from Pagan tradition looks harmless, right? Yet it’s portions of this myth that allow some nationalistic and racist groups to appropriate Paganism as their own, and use it to exclude others. Who says a person of Jewish descent can’t practice a Norse reconstructionist religion? Who says that a person of African descent can’t practice Celtic reconstructionism?

As Pagans, we fiercely hold to the truth that everyone has their own path, and it may not be the same path their ancestors traveled. When we come out into the open and say, “well, yes, these are modern religions *based upon* older Pagan traditions,” then we can clearly and confidently state and expect that no one will be excluded, that everyone can pick and choose as they like – not as their ancestry dictates.

Written By Pzeffan
on September 9th, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

I’m not sure about this one. On one hand, I can relate to feeling the “air of intrigue and mystery” when I was young. Religion, the supernatural, the metaphysical, Star Wars, Santa Claus,…from the idea of destiny to “Modern Magick”,(no pun intended), I was alive with wonder and hope. Then something happened. I began to seek the truth.

Without knowing what was true I ended up discounting everything that couldn’t be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt. There were many positive influences that could have been salvaged, but I was more upset about the illusion effect or about feeling lied to. Now I have started to make peace with things as they are, and I find a longing for spirituality once again. Why?

When I was young I used to take things literally and at face value. Now I can think logically. The lesson I learned is that it is impossible to really know anything for sure. I still miss that feeling though. I believe that myths and fables can create a spell of inspiration and hope, but once you’ve tasted the forbidden fruit there’s no going back to the land of innocence. In a way…they give us something to live up to.

Written By Fieryphoenix
on September 12th, 2009 @ 2:22 pm

I don’t agree, if you go so far as to say it is totally irrelevant. One does not have to stick one’s head in the sand in order to hear the truth of a myth. I am all in favor of getting those objective facts straight as well as additionally listening behind the myths for their truth. There is value in both, and value in understanding the different importance. I know full well the Star Wars is a made up story. But that doesn’t stop me from understanding the sacred feeling it nevertheless evokes or from the inspirations that follow from those feelings. Star Wars is real, it exists on many levels of being, but the events depicted in that story are not history. Confusing any myth for history is not necessary in order to hear that myth.

Written By Pitch313
on September 18th, 2009 @ 12:30 pm

Well, there’s myths. Then there’s what folks who started a movement said about their own lives and activities as well as events of the past.

Some–much, in some cases–of what those folks said is incorrect, or maybe just made up to serve their immediate needs. That kind of stuff makes a poor foundation for a movement that’s still growing and taking different forms in a larger society. The overall push, I think, is to bring Paganism’s grasp of history into reasonable accord with the general intellectual grasp of history.

To do that, some of the incorrect and “fringey” stuff needs to get pruned away.

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