Monday, November 12, 2012

Beware of Myth

     Some of you may recall my post on the dangers of taking myth literally. I have also noticed a less subtle, more accidental form of literalism in which the person judges a deity based solely on the myth surrounding them. Let's be honest here, most of us have likely done this to some degree. Whether it is liking the tenacity and dominance of Morrighan's portrayal or hating how promiscuous Zeus is, we've all likely let these character portrayals affect how we view the deities themselves. Case in point is the Medusa myth surrounding Athena. As many of you know, I have a great affection for Athena and on a forum some time ago, we were discussing which Gods and Goddesses we have special affinities for and why. Well, I (of course) mentioned the fact that I have a rather strong liking for Athena, in which I (in quite a short time) had several people go "I hate Athena." I was shocked first, and a bit hurt second (in the same way that when you think a person is very attractive and a friend remarks on their lack of beauty.). I, of course, asked why. All the people in question cited the Medusa myth as their reason.
     Let us look at the Medusa myth for a moment. In the most common(or perhaps popular?) telling of the myth, Medusa is an absolutely beautiful priestess of Athena. While tending the temple of Athena, Poseidon appears and then forces himself upon Medusa, there-by taking her virginity and disrespecting the temple of the "Virgin Goddess" (Athena's status as a virgin Goddess is *highly* debatable, but that is a story for another time). Athena, in retaliation, does not punish Poseidon, but rather punishes Medusa by turning her into a hideous beast which no one could look at, and if they did they would transform into stone.
     The people who took issue with this myth were appalled by the fact that Medusa was raped and was punished and Poseidon got away scott-free. They said for that reason, they hated/disliked/abhorred Athena. This, however, is quite the silly reason. It is like hating George Washington because you read a "Historical Fiction" book in which he was portrayed as a serial rapist. People would tell you, "Well, that was a fictitious story, you shouldn't hate him because of that!" so the same it should be with myth. Myths can tell us perhaps about certain aspects of a deity, such as their domains and rituals, but they cannot tell us exactly how a deity is. The myths were created by story-tellers as a way of explaining certain truths about deity. Athena did not punish a woman for getting raped and Poseidon did not rape anyone, and to abhor either for simply being present in a story created by the culture isn't fair to the deities. Take  myths for what they are, myths. Reflections of the thought and culture of the time, as well as containing certain ritualistic elements and small truths about the Gods.
     The reason why we have this tendency to give myths an abnormally high truth-value is because we like to know and have reasons. Knowing this, how do we therefore get to know deities, how they operate, how they function, and how they feel about us? The answer isn't easy, fast, or quick. We must pray, meditate on, and commune with the Gods in order to get to know them more fully. Pay attention to which Gods and Goddesses call out to you, and (this is oft neglected) pay attention to the ones which your heart calls out to. Other good starting points are to focus on the Gods which rule your work, crafts, hobbies, or passions. Get to know a deity before you pass judgement on them, you wouldn't tell a random stranger on the street that you hate them, why would you do it to the Gods?

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A young man living in North Texas. He is an actor, a Hellenistos, and a proud member of Hellenion.