Mythology

Midgard ….

Perhaps without ever realising it, I’ve always been long fascinated by religion.

In a world where so much is explainable by science, there is little regard for the wonderful stories that used to be humanity’s science to explaining how the world work.

Lighting … associated with Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. The passage of the sun across the sky explained as Ra’s journey into the underworld. Dreamtime as a creation myth.

When you start studying so many different myths as I have, you start to notice that there are quite a few similarities between them all. Almost all of them mention some type of “Great Flood”, which is a curious coincidence. In addition, the idea of a “giant serpent” whether is Quetzalcoatl, Jormungandr or the Rainbow Serpent, is quite prevalent.

But really it is the story-telling that grips me. These were some of the earliest stories ever told and shared amongst many people. The story-tellers have not survived, but these myths have and continue to grip me with their morals, twists and strange lessons.

In particular, I am partial to Norse, Greek and Egyptian mythology. There is so much to unpack in many others, such as Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Aztec, Mayan or even Russian folklore, but the three most famous ones are my own favourites.

What I’ve always found fascinating was at what point does a religion become a myth and is there really any difference? Is there any more power in praying to God, when he resembles Zeus? Does the sanctity of the Temple Mount hold any more real sway over that of Stonehenge? Is all the bloodshed sacrificed in the name of God, any more real than those of human sacrifices made in honour of Mayan Gods on their step-pyramids?

As a child, I was quite religious. When you have attended Church as much as I have, and read the Bible for fun, it’s difficult not to believe in a higher power. Throw in a father who was on his way to becoming a Jesuit, and a mother who was born in a strictly Catholic family, it was inevitable that I become a religious son.

This actually transitioned all the way into my teenage years, when I bought a much more teen-oriented Bible which had useful annotations that “dumbed” down the story and added amusing and slightly edgy interpretations of famous stories, such as the Prodigal Son or Abraham’s sacrifice.

Perhaps it was a sign of concern though, that I was only fixated on the earlier stories of the Bible, in particular the Torah. The stories of battles, blood, vengeance held a lot of appeal to my imagination and all the stories in the New Testament just never quite held my interest as much.

Ironic really, considering how Christianity was formed around the teachings of the New Testament. Even then though, I was confused by the wildly contrasting tones the two Testaments had to each other. After all, if God is so infallible and perfect, why did he undergo such a huge character transformation between the two time periods?

From a vengeful, spiteful God who loved to destroy other ethnicities than his own chosen people (which begs the question why did he create other ethnicities to begin with …) to a much more loving God who was apparently willing to forgive certain acts, but only in certain circumstances, which if not met, would doom you to Hell anyway.

At the end of the day, religions are created by humans, who are contradictory, complicated and inconsistent. It only makes sense that religions, which originated from stories that have been passed down mouth to mouth, reflect humanity’s nature.

It eventually took a conversation with one of my best friends (more like an argument) for me to really allow the scales of religion to fall from my eyes though. After that fateful argument, I became an atheist.

It’s hard not to be one, when you learn about all the horrifically horrible things that have occurred in the name of a deity that shows little signs of existence. As a keen student of history, it’s hard to fathom just how much blood has been spilled in the name of Gods.

The scale of sacrifices made in the name of Gods and other spirits, only increased the moment religions became a power of their own. Suddenly, a Pope became an Emperor over hundreds of worshipping souls, a Caliph could and would move armies across Europe to gain more territory and an Inquisition willingly suppressed learning and teachings.

In many ways, religions were the original mega-corporations, with a hierarchical structure, a CEO that oversaw the entire company and wielded huge amount of influence and power. They even started marketing as a concept.

If you thought the Inquisition was an old, outdated concept that was most famous in 1478 Spain, then you’ll be surprised to know it exist today as the Diecastery for the Doctrine of the Faith … the first and last line of defence against heresy towards Roman Catholicism.

It’s always fascinated me how blind some people are to their religion though. For so many believers, they only see the local image and refuse to acknowledge the larger picture. The people beside you, the community outreach programs, the youth services. Never the larger corporation that runs them, the shady deals made by bishops or priests with their local population, the grey existence in which laws can and cannot touch religion.

To study your religion beyond what the priest, rabbi, monk or imam tells you, is a dangerous experiment, as the history of the religion proves time and time again, it makes a mockery of what it preaches to you.

But as I stated above, religions are made by humans. If they didn’t contradict themselves, it would actually imply that a religion was made by something not human.

Despite all my research though, I suppose I am still quite spiritual, despite not practicing any one religion. I am scientifically inclined, although I quite like the idea that in studying science, we are studying how God(s) creates and form life.

Which is why I always revert to the stories that I loved as a child. Because these stories helped me understand the world better and its rules. If knowing we are carbon-based life-forms help me understand my own place on Earth, these myths do the same with strange occurrences that have happened to me.

After all, why would I create 4 Goddesses in my mind that I speak to regularly? Eris the Goddess of Discord, Melbourne the Lady of my home-town, Athena who guides my wisdom and Lady Luck who bestows upon me all manner of fortune.

We all secretly believe in some mystical power. Reading your horoscope is a sign of that belief, as is engaging in superstitious practices before Lunar New Year or doing a tarot reading.

But for me, the reason why I collected so many books about folk tales, myths and legends is because they are incredible stories that have survived through the ages. There is a wonderful timelessness to them, regardless of culture, background or era.

The story of Thor disguising himself as Freya to get Mjolnir back is hilarious. The symbology behind the lucky number 7 still makes me believe in it. The epic behind Zeus’ overthrowing his father Cronos is a fable about prophecy and how fate is determined for us.

The destruction of the world through Ragnarok showcases how sometimes the world needs to be destroyed to be made anew. The fable of Momotarou, the Peach Boy who went on an epic journey to defeat a demon and bring riches back to his adopted family is just an incredible adventure story. The story of Osiris and Isis is a touching love story about how a woman fights to get her beloved husband back.

The tale of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves told in the context of One Thousand and One Nights, is the first example of a cliffhangers done right. The strange surrealist nature behind Puss in Boots, speaks to the odd nature between man and domesticated pets. The Monkey King is a fascinating story about redemption.

There are so many folk stories and myths that have continued to fascinate me today. Bluebeard, The Bunyip, Dracula, the Golem, Scrooge, Princess Mononoke, Rowan of Rin …. these names have been burned into my mind, because of their fascinating and dark stories.

In particular, I love the twisted ones, and am all too conscious about them when certain moments in my life made me question what would happen if I didn’t have such a good moral compass?

A great example is the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Despite my serious demeanour, I seem to have a natural affinity that draws children to me. They quiet down in the midst of crying when they see me, they smile broadly when I wave … in short, they just look happy whenever I acknowledge them.

Could I repeat the Pied Piper’s skill and lead children away to disappear entirely?

Of course not. But that is the strange moral lesson that echoes in my mind whenever I notice how easily children are won over by me.

It is that echo of a lesson that speaks to the enduring legacy of these stories.

It also explains why I love Neil Gaiman’s take on so many of these stories and how revisionist folklore has grabbed me just as much as historical fiction books have.

The Shrek franchise, Gaiman’s American Gods, my own current experience with the God of War games … I love how they have twisted and made fresh these stories that I am familiar with. New interpretations, new meaning, new ways of looking at these old tales … that is why these stories have persisted and are common knowledge.

These stories are always in a constant state of flux. Their meaning may be the same, but the way how they are told are always different. We all put our own flavour and meaning into them when we hear them for the first time and the repeat them to others for the last time.

That is the beauty behind myths. At its core, they are the same, but everything else … is subject to change.

Which just makes it all the more disappointing when you meet an overzealous religious believer who insists on an “official” version of a famous tale.

Because the story loses its lustre, it loses the unique flavour that could be imparted on it, and more importantly, the human element, the story-teller themselves is missing from the tale.

You can learn so much about a person from the way how they tell a story. It is the oldest, common and special ability humanity has … to tell a story to another.

Which is why I love myths but even more so, I love how people tell them.

~ Damocles.

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