Tomorrow I head to the local prison to celebrate Samhain with the prisoners who established the Wiccan Group. I always look forward to visiting the prison as I encounter men who really are working to walk the talk of their religious ideals. Part of tomorrow’s celebration will be the sharing of pomegranate juice and fruit, and the retelling of the tale of Persephone and her journey into darkness, into the underworld.
Each time I hear an ancient myth, I think about the people who created it. What was it they were trying to express and who were they trying to express it to? What importance did these myths play in the tribe?
I bring this up because I see our modern American society in the midst of a crisis of imagination.
Where are the myths to help people understand the processes of life changes that we experience today? Our myth in America is that of “Going West”. Well that journey is known now. Hop on a plane and go to that mythological West in a few hours. Drive around in your car out West and you can see it in great detail. But seeing isn’t experiencing. Just seeing, allows us to remain distant and not engage.
We also have the “Rugged Individual” or “Pioneer” myth, individually scrapping a living off the land while fighting off the savage Indians. This myth has little place anymore. Land can’t be claimed in places that allow us to live near our tribe. And we all know the “Savage Indians” to be tribes of indigenous human beings who suffered genocide at the hands of our European ancestors. While homesteading may offer a way to walk with this myth, getting the land is nearly impossible without dedicating much of our life to being a cog in the socio-economic system that is Capitalism, American style.
The prominent religious myth in this land is that of Christianity. It is the stories of people in the Middle East who wandered in the desert seeking for the promise land. The teachings of their main prophet instructed people to look past the suffering they experience in daily life and reach for eternity in paradise. That is a difficult myth to bring into modern America where we have little to no sense of a tribe. We move as individuals based on finding a job. We spend so little time in a location, we have no sense of being a steward and the land suffers with our passing. The land is view as a resource and money is the reason we wander, uprooting when a better job opportunity comes along. And finding comfort in life after death is a hard sell to a society whose main mode of being is one of immediate gratification through consumerism.
So our major myths don’t easily fit into the daily experience of people in 21st Century America.
And myth is the way we have been able to act out the rituals that help us find our place within the tribe and to embrace the process of change in life. So today, we as a culture stand without myth and that is a dangerous place to stand.
Pagans today look to ancient myths from all over the globe, ones that still hold the power to help us walk the path of life without getting lost. We recognize these aren’t historical stories, “true” stories, but rather they are stories that contain great truths. So when we as pagans revisit, honor, and act out the myths of Persephone, Taliesin, the Oak King a Holly King, or possibly even Christ fasting in the desert, we consciously engage in a world that allows us to embrace change; find our place within the tribe; find that much needed sense of connection; and to walk in a sacred manner. And where there is no myth to relate to the processes of the world, we create new ones (as has always been the case).
Myths give us a sense of wonder that is sadly lacking in the world. TV is filled with the supernatural. And I always wonder why we need the “supernatural” when the true natural world is so extraordinary. This speaks of disconnection. We can’t find sufficient time and presence to see the ordinary is utterly extraordinary.
Myth offers us a sense of connection. The characters in the myth are part of the story, not just inactive bystanders. The characters play their part and know their place in the world (or discover it along the way). Myth being played out year after year, life after life, offers a sense of continuity that is vital for learning to live well in a place.
Myth reminds us of what it is to walk a sacred path. Today’s journeys are known, limited and lacking any sense of adventure: school, work, marriage, and retirement. While each of these may offer learning and discovery, they don’t look very appetizing when stated as a noun: school, work, marriage, retirement. Compare those to journeying to the underworld to break the chains of death – or in a modern myth, journey over the Misty Mountains with a pack, a sword and a magic ring, seeking to destroy the very embodiment of evil. Now that is a purpose filled life!
Myth offers us a way to ritually acknowledge the transitions we as humans all experience. Myths contain our rites of passage. This is an essential element of myth. Without rites of passage, we can live in perpetual childhood or be surrounded by people who don’t acknowledge our transition (boys that never become men or helicopter parents that can’t let go).
Finally, myth offers us a doorway into the intuitive, reminds us there is a whole other aspect to our being other than the frontal lobe decisions of paying the electric bill and remembering to get the car inspected. Myth nourishes our soul with dreams. And dreams are vital. They give us the ability to process the endless amounts of input our mind receives each day. While the conscious mind can process only a few thousand bits of information each second, we take in millions. And we have to process and integrate that information for our own wellbeing.
So here we are heading to Samhain where the growth cycle of the year has ended and the days still continue to get shorter and colder. A new cycle hasn’t started with the return of the sun at Yule. We drift in a place of chaos. So I encourage you all to dive into Ceridwen’s cauldron and just dream. And don’t dream small. Dream without limitation. Find a new myth or an old myth, but none-the-less find a myth and celebrate your life journey.
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