Here’s how my mind leaps around. I was mooning about and trying to figure out what I wanted to write for this blog when I picked up one of the books in the stack at the other end of the couch. I bought The Mythology of Eden by Arthur George and Elena George because I’d read the thoughtful review by Judith Laura, a Goddess scholar I know and respect.
In their introduction, the Georges present a paragraph by biblical scholar Millar Burrows that explains that myth is:
a symbolic, approximate expression of truth which the human mind cannot perceive sharply and completely, but can only glimpse vaguely, and therefore cannot adequately or accurately express. … It implies not falsehood, but truth; not primitive, naïve misunderstanding, but insight more profound than scientific description and logical analysis can ever achieve. The language of myth in this sense is consciously inadequate, being simply the nearest we can come to a formulation of what we can see very darkly. … The procedure is quite legitimate if [we] understand what is being done (p. xii). (Burrows’ book is An Outline of Biblical Theology, published in 1946.)
Mind leap: Wow, I said to myself, does this describe the revisionist fairy tales I write? I try to see through that dark glass more clearly and recast old ideas in new ways. (I hope this doesn’t sound too pretentious. I don’t mean it to.)
Mind leap: And, I further said to myself, we scholars who write for Feminism and Religion often write about myth, though we don’t always acknowledge that our religious stories are indeed myths. It’s like the old joke—“If I believe it, it’s religion. If you (or they) believe it, it’s myth.” Even though we sometimes call our myths the inerrant word of this god or that goddess, the stories in all of our holy books are our instructive myths. Read Burrows’ definition again.
Mind leap: Back around the turn of the century when I was writing Pagan Every Day, a daybook published in 2006 that is not just about Pagans but pretty much inclusive of myths and religions and their holy days around the world, I couldn’t find a ancient Greek, Roman, or Norse festival that fell on December 7. Aha! I finally said to myself—how about scholars of mythology? The authors of books we’ve been reading all our lives. Here’s what I wrote:
The primary sources of the mythologies we know are written in dead languages—Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, Latin, 13th century Icelandic, etc. Linguists can read these languages, but you and I depend on secondary sources, which are the translations, interpretations, and commentaries. The great age of scholarship in mythology lasted from about 1850 until about 1950.
Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867) was an American writer whose Age of Fable, published in 1855, retells the myths, legends, and stories of Charlemagne, King Arthur, and the Greco-Roman gods and heroes. It is the first significant American book of mythology.
Sir James Frazer (1854–1941) was a Scottish social anthropologist who traveled widely in Greece and Rome. His most famous work is The Golden Bough, originally written in 1890. The third edition (completed in 1936) runs to thirteen volumes. Although in many ways outdated, it remains popular.
Edith Hamilton (1867–1963) was a classicist whose most famous books, The Greek Way (1930) and Mythology (1942), are still in print. Hamilton was born in Germany and grew up in Indiana; she and her sister were the first female students accepted at German universities. Her books are based not on archaeology but on a love of the classics and the daily life of olden times.
Robert Graves (1895–1985) was a prolific scholar and novelist. The PBS mini-series, I, Claudius, is based on his work. Graves is best known to pagans as the author of The White Goddess (1948)—neither history nor herstory, neither theology nor thealogy—in which he invents the “capricious and all-powerful Threefold Goddess.” The Greek Myths was published in 1955.
Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) is best known for The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) and his interpretations of mythology as given in the PBS series, The Power of Myth (first broadcast in 1988).
When Bulfinch, et al., were doing their work, myth was considered to be primitive, mere fiction. (See that old joke again.) Nowadays, scholars are seeing basic and perhaps eternal truths in the stories in our holy books. They’re also seeing that the contents of holy books are truly stories.
Mind leap: And we’re still making myths today. I’m a big fan of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy. I looked at my bookshelves again. One Frog Can Make a Difference. Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life. I bet the Muppet universe has a mythology, too. Jim Henson as their creator god. Here’s what I wrote in Pagan Every Day about Miss Piggy. It includes my favorite pun in the whole book. Read it and laugh. Or groan.
The Goddess Of Everything hurled herself into the world in the first episode of The Muppet Show, September 27, 1976. She had a supporting role at first, as an astronaut (porkonaut?) in “Pigs in Space,” but then … well … she and Kermit fell in love. She demanded more lines, bullied the guest stars. Soon we witnessed a satined, sequined theophany. Excuse me. Theaphany. Starring in five seasons of The Muppet Show and five Muppet movies, she ascended in purple-gloved glory to the heavens of the Muppet pantheon. Who can forget the Busby Berkleyesque underwater ballet sequence in The Great Muppet Caper where The Pig rises in perfect balance atop the fountain of life? It’s a porcine apotheosis.
And then she ventured into epigraphy: she wrote a book. We pray to our goddesses to help us live our lives more happily. Like the oracles and sibyls of old, The Pig pronounces words of wisdom. Her Guide to Life tells us everything we will ever need to know about beauty, fashion, finance, manners, romance, success, and other vital topics. Do we think we’re ugly? “Not everyone can be a superstar,” Miss Piggy says, “but anyone can be a semistar, a starette, or a teensyweensystar.”
Our goddesses attend to our emotional needs. Henson knows, life in the 21st century is not easy. “Misery loves timpani,” The Pig writes: “If your depression is particularly acute, you may be able to deglumify things a bit with some upbeat music. But if you like classical music—as moi does—do be careful: even the most sprightly, toe-tapping symphonies have at least one grouchy movement filled with oboes, doldrums, and bassinets.”
There’s no one like The Pig. Aggressive and winsome at the same time, she loves her Kermie. Maybe she’s the reason it’s not easy being green….
Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer. She is an active member of the neopagan community and is well known for the rituals she creates and leads.