Continuing with the end-of-chapter Activities offered in Seeking the Mystery: An Introduction to Pagan Theologies, it’s time for Chapter Two.
Chapter Two is about mythology and its roles in contemporary pagan faiths. I appreciate that this chapter includes a discussion of ways that we can conflate mythology with history – like The Burning Times as a period when actual practitioners of The Craft were being hunted out and killed, rather than a period when various types of Christians were hunting out and killing each other for being The Wrong Kind of Christian; or the theory of a Pan-European Matriarchal Prehistory that requires a LOT of conjecture and, like most conjecture about prehisotry, says more about the contemporary storytellers than it does about the people the story is ostensibly about (this is why I like Ron Hutton, tbh). I also appreciate how the author talks about cultural appropriation and the need for contemporary pagans, as a predominantly white population, to tread carefully and respectfully when (if) engaging with the living traditions of racialized people, while also avoiding falling into the trap of “someone can ONLY engage with a tradition/pantheon/practice if they have that cultural heritage or ancestry” which can, and does, get used to bolster white n*tion*list narratives. The author also talked about how contemporary pagans are engaging in myth-making that incorporates both contemporary science and UPG, while also engaging with pre-existing texts and interpreting them – sometimes with difficulty – in ways that are relevant to our 21st century lives. It was a good chapter.
The Activities presented at the end of the chapter all revolve around a myth with-which the reader chooses to engage. So. Part 1:
Choose a myth, read it, then analyze it to answer the following:
- What does this myth tell you about the people who wrote it?
- In what ways is this myth relevant to you and your life today?
So. I chose to read the story of “Peredur, the Son of Evrawc” in the Mabinogion as translated by Lady Charlotte Guest and available through Project Gutenberg.
What does this myth tell me about the people who wrote it?
First, I have to recognize that this is a probably Victorian lady, and a Christian, doing the translation of a story that was written down by Christians in the middle ages as a (likewise very Christian) King Arthur legend. I gather it’s probably older, and less Christian, than that. But this is what I have available.
As far as what it says, more broadly, about the Brithonic culture at large, in terms of what the Christians who wrote it down opted to keep, this is what it tells me:
- Peredur, who is known as “the Son of Evrawc” is, none the less, constantly running into, and gaining both honour and hospitality through, the brothers of his MOTHER. All of whom seem to live in big-ass castles within the wild “desert” wood.
- So… I sort of think this implies a Matrilineal society shifting towards Patrilineage at the time of the writing-down? Maybe?
- I also wonder if Peredur’s Mother was one of the Fair Folk, once upon a time, as all of her brothers appear to live in what’s described as the wild “desert” wood.
- I’m wondering, too, if “desert” here is just… look, hypothetically, the Forest of ancient England would have been more like a savanna than like the deep, Beech forests of Germany, as described in The Hidden Life of Trees. None the less, I’m wondering if those deep forests – the Wild Wood of high, thick canopies, wind pollination, and mostly non-existent understory, far from the forest edge of insect-pollinated, annually-fruiting trees (hazel, chestnut, hawthorn, sloe, apple, a zillion bramble berries) and the related abundance of small and mid-sized game, where humans can thrive – were thought of as either “wasteland” – meaning “you are not going to find a lot of food, easily, if you’re stuck here” – or as “wilds” (like, in the biblical sense of various people wandering in the desert for forty days/years to indicate a long period of being removed from civilization and its related ills, dangers, and distractions)
- Hiding out in the Deep Woods was definitely a thing one could do, but you had to pack in a lot of livelystock… so maybe my Deep Woods theory is accurate? (No idea)
- Question: Is “The Lord of the Glade” Gwyn ap Nudd? Or Arywn?
- Kingship (or earlship, etc) was won, and maintained, by Might Of Arms
- This is also how you made a name for yourself
- Women could inherit land and rulership but, given the whole Might Of Arms situation, they weren’t always in a position to defend that which they’d inherited if they didn’t have brothers or foster-brothers or other fighting-fit male relatives around to do the defending.
- If someone was under your parents’ protection – I am not sure if I’m stretching things here or reading them right – and those parents died or were otherwise indisposed, you inherited that duty to protect them.
- Hospitality was a BIG DEAL – like if someone turned up on your doorstep, it wasn’t just “Hey. Welcome. Come in and have some food and rest”. It was “Hey. Welcome. GOOD TO SEE YOU! Come in and have some food and rest” and then introducing yourselves after the meal was done. Feed your guest first, ask questions later.
- Also, apparently, if you had a guest and they were like “Nice jewelry!” you had to give it to them happily?
- Being someone’s guest also came with responsibilities. Like, sure, you could eat people out of house and home and take their stuff just by asking for it. But you also had to return the favour via significant acts of service.
- I’m assuming that Peredur is opting for acts of heroism because he’s a Knight (or wants to be one), but in a less legendary situation, maybe it’s things like doing the washing up, showing up with a hostess gift, and not making a total mess of someone else’s home.
Which, I guess, brings me to question two: How is this myth relevant to me, as a person living today?
- Family ties (for a given definition of family that’s broader than the one implied by the story) being how you keep yourself safe, fed, etc
- How can I strengthen my own family ties?
- Am I looking after the people in my extended family? In what ways?
- How to be a Good Guest when one’s status as “guest” is a polite euphemism for “colonizer” or “invader”.
- What services can I do for the people whose territory I’m in?
- What services can I do for the territory itself?
- What can I do in order to NOT continue eating them out of house and home and taking all their stuff?
- If these are stories about boundaries and boundary-crossings… how do I stay in my own lane, so to speak? How do I behave respectfully and respectably when I’m out and about, interacting with other human and other-than-human people, and so on?
Part Two of Chapter Two’s Activities requires meditating on one’s myth of choice, for ten minutes every day, for a week. So: Having only done one day worth of this so far, I’m going to follow up on this bit a little while.