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Truth vs. Fact (part 2)

Posted by Erik on February 28, 2007

In reading back over part 1 of this post, I see that I left it hanging at an awkward point; I will now try to clear up any resulting confusion! Most of what follows probably belonged in the middle of the second paragraph of part 1.

(NB: as always on this blog, what I post is just my understanding; I can’t speak for other Druids or Hellenists, and certainly will never say “pagans believe/do/don’t do” whatever – there is no such thing as a religion called “paganism”. I participate in two distinct, modern pagan religions – Hellenismos and Neopagan Druidry. I will try to be explicit about this, but in case I forget, it should be assumed that everything I say refers to my experience in these two traditions unless otherwise stated.)

I said, ‘whether these things “actually happened”, the stories themselves have something important to tell us‘. It’s important to be clear here about where I stand vis-a-vis the mythoi, and about what I see as the difference between myth and scripture.

Most Western pagan religions don’t have “scriptures” in the sense that most Abrahamic monotheists (or many Hindus, I believe) would understand the term, as direct or indirect revelations of a deity. My own view of myths in general, and of mine in particular, is that they are the record of the experience of individuals and cultures with the Gods, and how they understood those experiences. Some probably do reflect, if not perfectly record, actual “time machine” style historical events (Schliemann demonstrated that); some almost certainly do not; and many… well, I honestly have no way to know.

Given that the myths are written and in at least some cases surely invented by humans, it follows that there is no imperative to regard them as perfect and unalterable fact. Frankly, given how many different versions there are of many of the stories, it would be a remarkable exercise even to try; but to assume therefore that they should not be taken seriously is just as big a mistake. These stories tell us about someone’s experience of our Gods, and for that reason they deserve to be taken seriously, and read with spiritual as well as historical discernment. To not be “true” is not the same as to be false. I think that on some level, Prometheus was indeed really chained to a rock for opposing the will of Zeus and giving us the gifts of fire (and possibly of life itself) – indeed, that He may be eternally chained there, and also eternally free. I also believe that if I had a time machine, what I would probably see is the discovery and harnessing of fire by our evolutionary ancestors; but because I might not be able to discern the coming of Prometheus does not mean that He was not there, or that He is not eternally coming.

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6 Responses to “Truth vs. Fact (part 2)”

  1. Jeff Lilly said

    Hi Erik, if these first posts are any indication, you’ve got something great brewing here! I’ll be dropping by a lot.

    So let me give another example, and see if I understand where you’re coming from. When we take a myth of creation — like the Norse myth that the Aesir were created when a primordial cow licked the eternal ice — this is not to be understood as literal, physical truth, but as one human’s attempt to put into words a mystical experience, a communication from the gods? And even if the human is reporting accurately, the myth is quite likely to be allegorical in any case… I mean, if a human from 200 CE asked Odin about the origin of the world, Odin couldn’t very well sit him/her down by the fire and explain at length about outer space, spinning clouds of interstellar dust, the strange balance between gravity and angular momentum, and the effects of turbulence in such systems…?

  2. Erik said

    Hey Jeff,
    Thanks for the kind words! *blush*

    Yes, that’s basically the point I was driving at – I’m glad it came out right (I’m still working some of this stuff out in my own head…)

    Not all writings about myth fall into the “mystical experience” category, of course, even ancient ones. I’m sure some are just the creation of their author, but even those still have value for someone working within a once-living religious framework, whether they’re a Reconstructionist or, like me, more of a Revivalist. Any window into the mindset of the culture where the worship of my Gods was the pervading influence is helpful!

  3. Anonymous said

    I hope this doesn’t sound like a ridiculously broad question (which it is), but how would you sketch out what, say, the Creation story of the Greeks is saying? Is it not Eros that creates order out of Kaos by uniting Gaia and Uranus? Do I have that right? Doesn’t this Origin story lead to a complex series of father-son battles finally culminating in Zeus killing his father and seizing control of Mount Olympus? I’m sure there is much more to this complex story than I am receptive to but I can’t help but see it as the basic story of Dualism, the seed for the eventual development of Plato’s theory of matter and form…a profound insight to be sure but also the foundation for what will eventually become the scientific/modernist prejudice that only matter is real.

  4. Erik said

    Anonymous,
    (It would be nice if you would identify yourself, BTW… )

    That’s quite a set of questions! I’m going to go off now and organize my response into something shorter than a chapter… :)

    I’ll have some sort of response for you this weekend, although it may not be as complete initially as I would like – some of what you’re asking ties in to the upcoming “Why Hellenism?” post (which I can see is about to become a series), and I’ll probably need to save some of it for that (there’s only so much one can fit into a combox!).

    Thanks for a great query, and thanks for reading.

  5. Anonymous said

    Sorry about the anonymous. I’m new to this blogging thing and couldn’t figure out how to identify myself with the choices of identity you have to comment since I dont have a google account. I’m Jack,the poster that you mention in your truth vs. fact (part 1). I’m very interested in your insights on Greek myth and look forward to what you have to say.

  6. Erik said

    Jack,
    quick note – life is catching up with me, it may be a few days before I have the time to post again. I *am* thinking about your questions, though.

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