With the advent of social media over the past few years it is easy to glimpse into our fellow travellers lives and the thoughts they are willing to share in public. In Briton particularly, I see people swinging between various structures of belief, magic or philosophy often ending up appearing to be deeply unsatisfied with any. After all the searching what seems to happen is a palpable and general disillusion in things magical, followed by the letting go of Gods and any structures associated with ‘religious’ infrastructure.
In the letting go of a magical perspective on things there seems to be a growing amount of rather ‘Dawkinsish/Coxish’ chatter. The form of this is disappointingly aimed at making sure we get our facts ‘correct’ when relating to myths, tales, the gods etc and their origins. Apparently we need to authenticate their historical pedigrees in order to be ‘accurate’ in what we are working with.
I have been thinking about that almost atheistic rising clammer, about striving authenticity in our, for the want of a better word, Pagan paths. The newest voices giving vent are decrying our lack of commitment to authenticity. Apparently we are using stories, myths and legends without giving due care and attention to who wrote them down, when they wrote them down and for what purpose the stories might originally have been used. The fear seems to be that unless we can authenticate everything to the last detail, we are fooling ourselves in our paths and beliefs.
For me this kind of talk serves only to defeat any notion of following a magical path. Surely the tales we base our journeys on, which have survived through the ages, have proved themselves to have dynamic lives of their own, irrespective of how they began, who committed them to parchment first or why they wrote them down from the oral versions.
Wouldn’t it be more likely that, in order for our myths and legends to have survived the ravages of time and a growing knowledge of the world around us, they must still contain something essential, even fundamental to our basic needs as human beings and that is what has kept them alive. The fact is that we have a symbiotic relationship with those ancient threads. When we read or speak their words they feed us with something beyond conventional understanding. Even if there are many version of the same story that seem to contradict each other. What this aught to tell us is they have adapted in accordance with their time and place, not because authenticity has been thrown out, like the proverbial baby with the bath water. More likely it is because humans and the stories that come through us are important to each other in different ways at different times. The needs of the story and the human telling it may change on the surface of things, but each time we explore our legends we find another level of understanding both in the tale and ourselves.
As I have said on other occasions, I have spent the last twenty odd years of my life focused on ritual. I have always wanted to make any ritual I am part of relevant to a modern psychology, deeply transformative, immersive, and an utterly magical experience. My personal passion has been to base these rituals on the huge legacy of Britain and her Sister Isles stories, myths and legends, and how I feel in relation to the world in general, and especially in relation to the Earth as a Mother archetype. As anyone who has read my mind wombles in the past will have seen I do have strong connections to various Gods and explore those connections in a multitude of ways.
But are we becoming afraid of immersive ritual these days, paring things down to nice but formal seasonal celebration, full moon ritual or handfasting, because of these social media voices and their need to judge and ratify everyone else’s experiences? Are we becoming so swamped with apparently rational arguments that anything we do seems childish or irrelevant? Are we asking ourselves whether exploring myth and magic through ritual is even relevant anymore?
If so, I have to wonder why.
For me personally I do go through a process of seeking an amount of authenticity within translations. I do that by reading as many versions as I can find. I also think it is absolutely necessary to know how to pronounce names, places and details of that kind. But to reduce any myth to some idea of an authentic version by focusing on who added what, when and why seems a little pointless. If we are to only intellectualise everything I wonder, how can we engage with the magic inherent in the world? After all isn’t the point of being on our alternative path to find a deeper connection to our ancient understandings and philosophies of the world. Isn’t there magic in exploring all the changes, interpretations and understandings? Shouldn’t we be using what we find in those journeys to fire a new enthusiasm for modern living that has been, for the most part, drained of magic and mystery?
I find the attitudes of people like Prof. Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins that are rippling out into our pagan journey, to be at odds with their own scientific theories much of the time. They bang on about Quantum mechanics, String theory and sneer at what they call WooWoo, ghosts, things unexplained etc, trying to sound like there is a logical explanation for everything. In their world there is nothing that can’t be explained with science and if they can’t explain it is only because they haven’t got the time to waste on such fripperies. Yet they have nothing to say about the universe that has not been described in magical terms since humans could articulate, they simply use a different jargon. This universe is magical to its elusive core and they just can’t accept that a lot of us like it that way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am interested in science too, it has given the world so much, I also think it has caused a lot of problems too but that’s another rant. I have learned a little about String theory trying to get my head around the basic understanding of Quantum and the like, as I say, different jargon for ideas that have existed for hundreds if not thousands of years. Belief structures such as the Norse Web of Wyrd, the notion of other worlds being just a hares breath from our own and the fact that energy never dies it just changes form or vibration. It is all pretty basic magical stuff and nothing a shaman of any era would have trouble understanding.
We can and should attempt to go back to perceive the origins, fathom the source with everything we do but, in my opinion, if we allow that to be the only journey we take with our stories, myths and legends, we reduce them to nothing more than words on a page. They will lose vitality. They become something to argue over and will get lost in the mire of egos and rhetoric; how sad would that be?
Our myths and magics are a fire in the head. They are a light that guides us through the labyrinth of time in order to find the deepest parts of ourselves. They can also be the veil between the worlds, and, when we immerse ourselves in them fully, without all the chatter about authenticity, we can open to worlds long gone and speak to the denizens of antiquity as clearly as if they were stood in front of us.
The myths and legends are a sacred flame in which the mysteries dance.
A sacred flame is continually fed with new fuel and in each moment it is the same sacred flame, yet it is different with every breath we take. No two people will ever see the same fire, but they all know it to be ‘The Flame’ that has burned for a thousand years. The relationship is sacred to each and every person who engages with its light and any authenticity to be had from it will be gained by the honest, open interaction with and acceptance of the immortal nature of that light.
At the end of all things what we are is part of a continuing story, our tiny dancing flames may flicker and die, but in a thousand years there will be a tale of the neo pagans and what they did with the inspirations of their ancient forbears. Will the important thing for these future pagans be how authentically our story has been told or will the important thing be how they engage with the story as they find it?
Surely the important aspect is not who lit the fire in the first place and how they changed the containers or fuel over time, more important it is how we keep the flame vital for the future.