The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli

Today I wanted to talk to you all about mythology, and the role it plays in the Hellenic religion. Very often, when one tells people one is a Hellenic polytheist, one gets a reaction like this: “What? you really believe in those things? That’s just mythology!”. Such a reaction obviously stems from a deep-rooted misunderstanding of what the term “mythology” actually means, and how it relates to religion. Even within Hellenic polytheism some people don’t quite seem to understand the difference. Therefore I shall try to adress such issues in this post, hoping to clarify them for all, so that no misunderstandings remain.

Mythology is quite simply the collection of stories about the Gods and their interactions with the mortal world, trying to ascertain the origins of things. From the origin of the Kósmos, to flowers, animals, festivals, foundations of cult sites, cities, etc. They convey certain messages about the nature of the Gods, the Kósmos, relations to mortals, and so on. Oftentimes fantastical elements will be part of it, that don’t seem logical or natural, like Goddesses popping up out of foam, or the from the head of another God. Such instances are often used to say that “mythology isn’t real”, and believing in a religion is believing in silly fairy tales that make no sense. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In the Hellenic religion, myths are not taken to be literal history, or a literal account of how things happened in some undetermined and undeterminable past. Even in antiquity accepting myths as such was considered superstitious and erroneous. This doesn’t mean myths were just seen as fairytales and pretty stories that had absolutely no value beyond entertainment in epic poems or dramatic productions. On the contrary, they were accepted as containing hidden truths about the Gods, the Kósmos, their relationships to eachother and to us mortals. They are considered allegorical.

Allegorical means that they needed interpretation by mortals reading or hearing the mythical tales, reasoning with a firm basis in logic was employed to try and discover these hidden tidbits of knowledge. Such interpretations are oftentimes very personal, and it depends on the individuals to accept or renounce interpretations proposed by others. Debates about myths and their many meanings continued throughout history, and are part of modern Hellenic polytheism as well.

The difference with religion is the following, I shall explain it by the example of Christianity. The Bible is Judaeo-Christian mythology, going to mass is the religion. The Bible/mythology tells how and why things are the way they are, and give reasons for certain ritual practices, and the religion is the actual practice of such ideas. Myths tell us why the Eleusinian mysteries were founded, and the initiates probably knew myths that explained how and why the Mysteries worked in the particular way they did. But myths weren’t all that important to the actual practice of the religion.

For example the God Pán in myths is shown to hunt númphai, seducing them and sometimes raping them. Because of this one might expect that númphai were worshipped separately from Pán, yet the opposite is true, their worship is in fact very closely linked. This shows an instance were the mythical tales in fact do not really have much importance for the practice and worship itself. This again underscores how mythology and religion are two separate concepts.

I hope everyone reading this is now convinced that being a member of a given religion, does not automatically mean that one must unconditionally accept it’s mythology. As far as the Hellenic religion is concerned, to do so would be against the Hellenic spirit, an act of irrationality and superstition. Yet sometimes people still do this, even people who adhere to the Hellenic religion. This is a great error, and I hope if any such person reads this, he/she will see the folly of such beliefs and abandon them.

I hope you enjoyed this blogpost ;-)

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11 comments on “Mythology

  1. tildeb says:

    So you believe in the reality of the allegories?

    • J_Agathokles says:

      If you mean do I believe that myths are allegories, yes I do. If you mean do I believe what information can be found through interpretation of said anomalies, that depends. Sometimes such information can be very personal. It depends on the knowledge and understanding of any given person. I may read some things in a myth now, that I might no longer accept in a few years as I have matured further, have grown, and acquired more knowledge, and increased my understanding. And my interpretations could be unique to me, and if I share my views nobody has to necessarily agree agree with them, not on face value, and not even if they’ve given it due consideration. As I said, it can be very personal.

      • tildeb says:

        Well, what is ‘it’ you’re worshiping?

        You write that Hellenic myths were accepted as containing hidden truths about the Gods, the Kósmos, their relationships to each other and to us mortals.”

        I don’t think so. I think myths contain hidden truths about ourselves expressed in symbolic form. The symbols are easily identifiable because they are equipped to be understood as supernatural. Once this is done, there is nothing there to worship… merely to understand.

      • J_Agathokles says:

        “I think myths contain hidden truths about ourselves expressed in symbolic form.”

        To be absolutely certain, are you speaking of the interpretation of the Gods as psychological archetypes?

      • tildeb says:

        The supernatural characters very often (but not necessarily) are archetypes of some psychological aspect of ourselves. They can also represent aspects of nature.

      • J_Agathokles says:

        The view of the Gods as archetypes isn’t generally accepted by Hellenists, even if some may do so. The Gods are considered real and distinct entities, the immortal forces who keep, sustain, animate, harmonise, transform, etc., the Kosmos. They not usually considered archetypes as that would defeat the whole purpose of offering them worship and sacrifices, if one doesn’t accept that there is anyone there to receive them.

      • tildeb says:

        Sorry for the html fail. The third paragraph should not be italicized. My apologies.

      • J_Agathokles says:

        Don’t worry about that, it confused me for just a second, but I quickly figured out this was you speaking rather then quoting.

  2. Reblogged this on myatheistlife and commented:
    Often we hear Christians and various sorts talking about the good parts of religion. They still want to believe in the Judeo-Christian god but none of the bad parts. I call this picking and choosing – creating your own religion. It’s not Christianity. It’s something else. It’s fine to do that but if you’re going to call it Christianity you’ll have to accept all the baggage that comes with it. Namely accepting the holy text as the revalatory word of that god, all of it. You don’t get to say it’s your god’s word and then tell me what parts are and are not your god’s word. If you want to judge me and condemn me because of what your book says you have to accept all the bad parts. You know the parts, the ones that non-believers seem ever ready to talk about. Same goes for Islam and Judaism. You can be good and moral without the crap in your religion but you have chosen it over everything else – live with the consequences.

    J_AGATHOKLES has chosen a set of beliefs which is comfortable them and helps get through each day. When you choose a set of beliefs that are caustic to society people will criticize and argue with you. When your religion is full of stupid and bad ideas people will react negatively. If you say ‘no, I only believe in the good parts’ you’ll most likely be mocked and called hypocrite.

    Fable and myth have lessons to learn in them. The holy texts of Abrahamic faiths do not. It’s as simple as the 10 commandments. Christians of all stripes seem universally to accept these as the foundation of morality yet from the same author and part of the book there are laws that they think do not apply to them. Their Jesus character never negated Jewish law. What that results in is ridiculousness such as honor your mother and father because they can have you stoned to death. Honor the sabbath and keep it holy or die. If you’re going to believe it as the word of a god you don’t get to pick and choose which words you find acceptable. That puts you in the position of deciding who is sinful and who is not, something you are admonished to not do.
    No matter what theists think, if you want to call yourself Christian or Jew or Muslim you don’t get to pick which parts of the book apply to you – that makes you something else, and typically it makes you a bad adherent. Go on, search around, find something not so caustic to live your life by. There is plenty to choose from. One of my favorites is Aesop’s Fables. The Brother’s Grim, Ghandi, Buddha and many others have stuff you can borrow. Personally, I have no religion but I like stuff that others have said and I incorporate it into my life where it seems appropriate. I don’t have to be Buddhist, Jewish, Christian etc. I am me and I can learn good from many sources. If there was a god that didn’t want me to do this … well, that god can either come explain it to me or that god does not exist. Yes, I am as good as any god ever imagined. Cogito ergo sum. I am, that I am. I do not need a savior or invisible friend to help me deal with life. If your god created everything then why didn’t your god make it so that you could cope with life without them?
    Sigh… I’m just tired of the picking and choosing. physicsandwhiskey, are you listening?

  3. [...] Mythology ( [...]

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