Modernity and Myths: Introduction

I am planning to write a series of posts over the year on myths and how modern people regard them.

In the 4th Century, Sallustius wrote one of the oldest known treatises on the Gods – called “On the Gods and the World.” According to Sallustius, myths were divine since they represent the Gods (Themselves) and their activities. He wrote “That myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them… But Why the myths are divine is the duty of philosophy to inquire.”

Sallustius asserts that the meaning of myths may not be apparent to everyone. Although the Gods do give commonsense to everyone, not all use it. “To teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish and the lack of zeal in the good.” He explains that hiding the truth compels people to ponder it. Therefore, myths have revealed (clear) and unrevealed (hidden) aspects of the Gods. Sallustius does assure everyone that “the soul may immediately feel that words are veils to the truth which is a mystery.”

In his treatise, Sallustius divided myths into five categories. Theological myths speculate on the essences of the Gods. (These myths interest only philosophers.) Psychic ones discuss the Soul, while physical myths tell of the activities of the Gods in the world. (Both psychic and physical myths are for poets.) Material myths concern the archetypes of the Gods such as Apollo as the Sun (however the Gods are never archetypes). Mixed myths, the most common, aim at unifying the humans with the Cosmos and the Gods.

In contrast, people raised in industrial societies of the modern age have different ideas. They have many problematic assumptions of myths in general. For example, traditional myths today are regarded as stories to entertain. In contrast, history, which supposes what did happen, is the truth. Actually, history is selective in remembering certain events and deliberately forgetting others. In the minds of modern people, myths and histories have become fused to create a particular vision of reality. One example of this is the myth of progress, which is regarded by many people to be fact.

Moreover, time and memory are regarded differently. The Ancient Greeks viewed time as a block – past is future and future is past. Therefore, divination is prescience since it dips into the time stream. Modern people, in contrast, see time as an upward arrow – past is past, and future is future. Oral tradition is faulty, whereas the written word is true. The Greeks believed that the written word was suspect since the writer could change the myth. For them, oral tradition what was faithful to the truth.

Read a version here: https://hermetic.com/texts/on_the_gods-1

14 thoughts on “Modernity and Myths: Introduction

  1. It’s weird because modern myths to me are found in games, movies, tv shows etc. You can also learn from them even if they never happen.

    I feel similarly about folklore, tradition, religion, and mythology. They all have nuggets of truth. You don’t have to agree with it either.

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    • In my reading of whatever book I am currently reading, I find nuggets that I write down. I called it “Gods directed reading.” It is just me – I get lead to certain books or whatever and bam – something comes up.

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    • There’s a quote from Alan Moore that I find it very interesting that a lot of people seem to have skipped over, ” (Conflating superheroes with Gods) is contrived. Superheroes are the copyrighted property of big corporations. They are purely commercial entities; they are purely about making a buck. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some wonderful creations in the course of the history of the superhero comic, but to compare them with gods is fairly pointless. Yes, you can make obvious comparisons by saying the golden-age Flash looks a bit like Hermes, as he’s got wings on his helmet, or the golden-age Hawkman looks a bit like Horus because he’s got a hawk head. But this is just to say that comics creators through the decades have taken their inspiration where they can find it. Before I was interested in magic as a viable way of life, I was certainly aware of the occult, and wouldn’t be above taking names or concepts or ideas from the occult.”

      I’d extend this criticism to all fiction. Fictional characters can only ever be deep because they were placed on the shoulders of giants. Those giants being the Gods and heroes. Why were they placed on those shoulders? Sure, a part of it is because artists want to tell a good story and there’s something to be said about the classics. But anyone who works as an artist will tell you that media is a BUSINESS. The stuff that gets made by the big companies only gets made because they think there’s money to be made. How do you get people to be diehard Batman consumers? You make stories about Batman that hit an emotional center (the same kind that myths hit). It’s taking what used to be occupied by religion and culture and replacing it with brand loyalty. Instead of being connected to the Gods, the land, your family, etc. you’re being connected to a comic company (DC) that kicks up to a media company (Warner Bros.) that kicks up to a cellphone company (AT&T). This is true of all popular fiction. My advice? Go deeper. Choose the Gods. Choose the land. Choose embodied living with actual people. Choose life.

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      • I don’t believe gods literally exist as you do and serve more as metaphors. I also wasn’t speaking of Super heroe stuff more so things such as Persona 3 which directly uses Greek mythology.

        Many tropes come from myths have ended up in fiction. Just because it is made for money doesn’t negate the art quality. I would also say not everything is made for money. Some intend to make decent living and quality work because you know, artists shouldn’t starve to death.

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      • As I said in my reply, what Alan Moore (and myself) said can apply to any franchise. Superheroes, videogame characters, cartoon characters, characters that resemble children and animals that people seem to be on the fence about whether or not people are just trying to jack off to them, etc. Persona is no different. It’s a product meant to be bought and sold and used for its utility. And like with every other franchise, anything deep about it came from other things. It’s not inherently deep. It inherited any depth it has (both for creative expression and for marketing). Are there people that want to tell stories? Sure. That’s why people become writers. But make no mistake. These are products. They are allowed to exist because they are products. Should art be free in every situation? Not necessarily. I myself am an artist and obviously I expect to be paid for my work when I do it in a professional context. But that does not change the fact that an artist for hire is making products and the people at the big companies that hire them to do that want something marketable. There are plenty of scripts for games, movies, shows, etc. that would be absolutely amazing to experience but will never see the light of day because the big wigs don’t think it’ll sell to the demographics they want to sell to. That’s just how it is. Anyone who is involved in these industries or even any consumer who thinks critically and pays attention for just a moment will not tell you any different. So what happens when you put them on a pedestal? You’re putting commercialism on a pedestal. I’m not saying these things don’t have quality but it’s quality that’s been borrowed for the use of advertising the product and keeping the target audience hooked. I myself could pick apart a franchise I personally enjoy and see it for what it is. Lately I’ve been watching Let’s Plays of the remake they did of the first game in the Mafia series. I like some of the writing and acting choices that were made. Especially near the end of the game. How much did Sam know about Don Salieri’s new heroin racket? Was Frank’s death the beginning of the Don’s fall from grace that would lead Tommy and Paulie to rebel and rob the bank? How close were all three of those guys really? These are very interesting questions to think about after watching the story unfold! And you know why they’re there? To make me want to buy the game or watch content related to the game (and thus give it free advertising from the hits on the videos which of course funnels money into a totally different company too and starts a whole other conversation). Tommy Angelo is a product. A product with a neat story that a lot of work was put in to but a product nonetheless.

        Imagine putting Tommy Angelo on the same level as Herakles or Hermes or Ares. Sure. They have some things in common. Tommy’s a tough guy. He’s a soldier and later gets promoted to caporegime. He struggles against daunting forces. He survives through unconventional means outside the laws of the society he lives in. But these are all just masks. What happens when you look beyond these masks? Tommy falls apart. He’s not real. He’s an idea given life by the voice recordings and motion captures of actors Andrew Bongiorno and Michael Sorvino. He fades into illusion. But what about Hermes for instance? The same cannot be said for Him because Hermes (like the rest of the divine choir) has actual substance behind Him. He is the word. He is the transition. He is probability. He is the force of life as it ventures forth to expand and evolve. Same thing with Herakles. Herakles is both a deity and a hero. He is a human who became a God. Whether or not there ever was a singular, historical Herakles, He is a dead person. He is chthonic power. The power of the mighty dead. Of the ancestors not of one line but of whole communities. Of whole peoples even in His case. He will always have that and Tommy never will because he only exists as a dream. Are dreams forces to? Sure. But there again we see him recede. The masks falls off and we see the deeper layer. Gods and fictional characters are not cut from the same cloth. Plain and simple.

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      • This may work for you but no, they are. You cannot scientfically and objectively prove gods exist. Even if you did they would not be called “gods”. They would have a new fancy designation, possibly in Latin/Greek. 😉

        There’s also the fallacy of saying ancient authoritative texts and the ancients were right. They couldn’t even agree on them and conflict with each other. On top of that, we have proven ancients wrong, a lot. Hence modern medicine and other sciences. Just because they believed in gods and wrote it down, doesn’t mean they were right.

        People of the ancient world absolutely sold stories and folklore. Bards particularly.

        Lastly people build on, work on, and distribute their own works for free. You can call it a “product” if you must. What makes them any less authoritative than a 5000 year old text or folklore that has been passed for centuries?

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      • See, that’s the thing. You’re stuck on the mask. You’re not looking deeper. It has nothing to do with whether or not They exist. It has nothing to do with the historicity of the myths. The very concept itself is different from fictional characters when you actually look at how it fits and functions in society. One concept is that there are beings that you engage with to maintain proper relations with that allow for maintaining a proper connection to the cosmos, the land, your community, etc. and one is literally just for fun. Even if not a single deity were to exist this would still be true.

        And did people tell stories for a price? Of course they did. If you’re good at something you shouldn’t do it for free. But you’re forgetting a pretty crucial detail. The bard is a lore-keeper. He tells the stories more often than not in ritual contexts like at festivals and games to remind the people of the stories of the Gods and heroes and why those stories matter. Are those services paid for? Sure. But the base story is not a product. It is a reminder of who we are and our place in the cosmos. People heard the Catalogue of Ships recited during re-tellings of the Iliad and would know that the men said to have hailed from their land and have sailed to Troy were THEIR men. THEIR forefathers. The very ancestors that they prayed and sacrificed to for protection. That’s very different from “I’m going to write a story about magical ponies that talk about how great friends they are”.

        I find it very interesting you bring up medicine as if that somehow disproves the Gods. Are you aware of the fact that we have Gods of Medicine whose temples were hospitals? In fact, Lucian of Samosata (a man very critical of people who believed in the literalism of myths) actually said medicine was proof to him that ths Gods do indeed exist because it showed Their effect on the world. By the way, are you aware of the fact that the sciences you claim disprove the Gods were invented by people who believed in those Gods? In fact, many fields of study even fall under the auspices of the Gods Themselves! Astronomy, that noble field that many would-be philosopher of today loves to coo with joy at over its alleged superiority over religion as a pursuit, is credited by the ancients to Gods for its invention and inspiration in its undertaking! So clearly we see yet another example that religion and science are not opposed to esch other. Especially not in a polytheistic context wherein everything ultimately will contain an numen of some kind.

        Something you clearly aren’t aware of is the fact that myths in polytheistic contexts are not meant to be taken literally. Especially not the literature we have today that conveys those myths as they literally were not meant to be read as scripture. It is of the utmost importance when we read these sources to understand why the author is writing what they are writing. They are based on oral tradition and are being recorded to fit whatever kind of goal the author is trying to achieve. The social masks need to be pulled back and the base content of the story needs to be re-contextualized back into the religious sphere to make actual sense of what is being relayed. These core stories exist in a constellation of practices and symbols to guide us to the actual nature of the Gods. To remove the myths from this constellation muddies the waters and to take at face value the writings of the ancients doubly so. Even wise men like Socrates believed that the oral traditions themselves without the added complications of secular use were not fit to convey the true nature of the Gods (I disagree with him on this but only partly…). Suffice to say, the way you are treating this debate is the way you would debate an American Christian. I am not an American Christian and my Gods are not the Gods of American Christianity. Their religions are of a greater intellectual caliber as historically they did not shy away from acknowledging other truths nor did they shy away from ideas suggesting that while the Gods Themselves may be real the stories surrounding Them are not meant to be taken literally. We’re Polytheists. We have many Gods and those many Gods teach us to acknowledge plurality. There can be truths, not just truth. There can be nuance. The grey areas of life are embraced and not thrown out.

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      • First of all, you don’t know my background at all. I used to be a polytheist, I have worked with what you call “gods” for the passed 20 years and I formed my own opinions.

        1. I never stated science and religion oppose each other.

        2. I am a pagan. A former recon and polytheist. I do not treat you or anyone else’s religion “like Christianity “. This has been extensively covered in my blog on WordPress.

        3. I understand myth can be a mix of metaphor, literal, or both. This is not the issue. There is not a justification for me to believe “gods” exist, especially when how one defines it is fairly religious and culturally specific.

        4. I am not treating you as a American Christian. This may be an interpretation or projection on the addresses part. I’ve been a pagan for the passed 20 years and us atheist pagans have been around for awhile.

        5. I have no incentive to believe you or anyone else’s claims of the supernatural. It’s called “Unverified Personal Gnosis” for a reason. Even with SPG it doesn’t prove anything exists as a fact.

        That being said, I apologize if I wasn’t clearer or that what I was stating was hostile because this is not my intention. I merely disagree with your ideas. 🙂

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      • 1. Then you’d know that “disproving the ancients” doesn’t actually mean anything

        2. Your arguments thus far have sounded more like the things you’d say to a fundamentalist Christian. Especially considering that you’re now trying to make the conversation about the belief in deities as opposed to deities as a concept being different from fictional characters. I haven’t read your blog and wasn’t previously aware you wrote one.

        3. No one asked you to. The conversation is about there being a fundamental difference between deities from real-world religions and fictional characters from pop-culture.

        4. Nice of you to repeat yourself. I still disagree with you on this based on the dialogue thus far. Also, I do not consider atheist pagans to be the same group as I am so if this is an attempt to make some kind of appeal to a shared group then it’s not going to work.

        5. Again, literally no one asked. Even if I were to become an atheist today, the things I am saying now I would say tomorrow.

        I actually wouldn’t care if you were being hostile or not nor did I find anything you said “unclear”.

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  2. I don’t mind debate here. However, I will point out that I do not want a back and forth of “Gods exist, no they don’t.”

    What I have observed is that if the writer goes into deep imagination that they will break through to the other world. Sometimes a God will come out through the story to this side. Godzilla is a case where the Japanese who worked on his first movie created a Kami about nuclear destruction. The Shadow by Walter Gibson is another. Gibson himself would go into trances and write. The Shadow’s characteristics are that of The Morrigan.

    Not all writers or not all superheroes have this happen. The ones that do create egregores which Gods can inhabit.
    Chaos magic has influenced post-modern Pagan thought with Godform creations and the like. Who is What is a subject for further debate.

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  3. I have read and subscribe to both of your blogs. I read all points of view, and ponder them. Thank you both for being civil.

    I am a Gods Believer and act accordingly. However, I came to this from being an Atheist. I was raised by Atheists. So I am tolerant of people’s views since we have struggles along the way to belief or unbelief.

    I do find Atheist Pagan an oxymoron. But then again my very militant Atheist father went to the United Methodist Church. It is a long story…. So in religious discussions, I find all sorts of strangeness peeking through.

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