Revising Myths: Beginning Thoughts

Many ancient myths are viewed through the lens of modern sensibilities. Because most people regard myths as a tool of social instruction, they consider the old myths to be outdated. Greek myths are deconstructed to show how Hera was deposed by Zeus or Proserpina by Hades. Then, these myths are rewritten with the female Gods restored to their “rightful places.” (The underlying religious philosophy of an old myth is usually ignored or misinterpreted.)

I put “rightful places” in scare quotes since the people revising the Greek myths believe that the Patriarchy overthrew the Matriarchy. For example, the Jewish myth of Lilith, they say, is really about enforcing the Patriarchy at the expense of women. This myth supposedly shows the stages of the disempowerment of women by men. The Goddess was defeated when Lilith choose to become a demon instead of returning to Adam. The Goddess followers seek to redress those wrongs. In their retelling of this myth, Lilith reclaims her power. Now not only is the former Matriarchy reasserted, but the existing Patriarchy is overthrown.

Because Western culture is monophasic, the concept of a myth creating a new reality is alien to many. Monophasic perception regards reality to be only waking thought. Furthermore, rational thought demands that everything has to make sense. “Trust the science” is the motto of monophasic cultures.

Meanwhile in polyphasic cultures, people access new perceptions through dreams, imagination, meditation, and trance. Because these forms act as portals to other worlds and dimensions, they fill in the gaps of the waking experience. In polyphasic cultures, “Dreamtime” can be world building.

Myths can be considered world building as well, for they connect directly with the sacred. In a myth, the creation between the conscious and the unconscious takes on a new creative energy. This becomes a new cosmos. However, the temporal relationship between the mythic and human worlds is complex. Mythic time runs differently than does human time and can fracture human reality. In fact, a person can move in and out of various realities without knowing it.

Therefore, the modern revisions of myths do create new worlds. By doing so, they have changed the axis mundi of the original myths, and reordered previously held perceptions. The axes are flipped with the vertical now the human world and the horizontal the Goddess (or Gods). This reorientation of sacred space requires further consideration, since it changes the values attached to different spaces. (Such as what are mountains now in the mythic landscape?) Moreover, the relations between the macro and microcosmos has shifted.

All Roads Lead to Multiple Gods

nddead

One of my guilty pleasures is reading Christian historical fiction. In the novels, I often encounter the basic assumptions that the authors make about religion. They assume a world of only One God. The main character grapples with being moral but not believing in God. The author has their Christian characters convince the moral non-religious person to embrace Christianity. Their argument usually involves being forgiven for their sins. Now, the non-religious person feels empty since they are focusing on their bad deeds. Once the main character embrace Christ, they bubble over with joy. Their life is complete with their new belief in God.

For settings in ancient times, the authors portray the main characters as frustrated with their Gods not responding to them. Usually these Gods are presented as “inert,” unless they are dealing with Hebrew-Canaanite period (when those Gods are evil (Note 1)). In dialogues between a monotheist and the polytheist, the focus is on the “deaf” Gods. The monotheist gives reasons why the Gods are either dead, fiction, or false (or all three). Then they proclaim that the Christian God is the only living God. Moreover, He is the only God who cares for people.

What shines through Christian fiction is the desire to be true to the One God. The author tries to try to keep other Gods at bay by bringing up reasons to deny their existence. No matter how many times the characters declaim the Gods, the tension still lies just below the surface. Since the Gods keep bubbling up, they have to be shunted away or declared false.

Meanwhile, the people who believe in the Sacred Feminine (Goddess) are also practicing a form of monotheism. The roots of this tradition derive from rebelling against Christian monotheism and then rewriting it. The result is still one entity but now female instead of male.

Tanishka in “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy,” writes “Just as there are a variety of life forms in nature, the Goddess path seeks to honor the divine in every facet of existence, including us. This is why it’s considered a polytheistic religion (having many deities). It recognizes the many aspects of the God and Goddess that comprise the whole.” (Note 2) From Tanishka’s statement, it seems that monotheism has become ingrained in the mind. However, she does acknowledge the propensity to have more than one God.

But as I have noted, the Gods are bubbling below the surface of people’s consciousness. The natural impulse towards polytheism always asserts itself. This is why people bat away certain entities such as angels or the Devil as false. Fandoms of pop culture engage many people with multiple powerful entities (such as Darth Vader). Meanwhile, Pop culture Paganism has made Gods of superheroes and villains. Medieval scholar Claude Lecouteux says that people’s belief in fairies, sprites and others is the genetic link that modern people have to the Dead and the Spirits of the Land.

G.B. Marian in their blog, “Desert of Set” notes that monotheism strongly enjoined against “spiritual adultery.” They writes that after the Babylonian Captivity, did “Yahwehism” become popular. The priests who wrote the Old Testament were religious exclusivists. These biases became embedded into the religions that later became Christianity and Islam. Furthermore, the priests of Yahweh claimed that the people of Israel suffered because they still followed “false” Gods like Ashtoreth.

Why only have one God? Why live in a monochromatic world of grey? Why live in the poverty of monotheism when the richness of polytheism awaits? Embrace a divine multiplicity (Note 3). Life is better than simply denying Gods or trying to disprove them.

According to Lecouteux, personal names once connected people to the Universe. He writes, “It was believed that it (the person’s name) enabled its owner to play a part in the entire cosmos, and of course it bound the person to the spirits — both of the dead and the land — and to the gods.” (Note 4). We can still be a part of the cosmos, playing our role.

Notes:
Note 1. According to Christian traditions, the Canaanite Gods are child killers and must be destroyed. However, I cannot find traces of the child burning cult that is described in the Old Testament.

Note 2. Tanishka, “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy.” (pg. 56-57). Obviously the author has no idea what Polytheism is.

Note 3. Kyaza coined this term for her community blog – multiple divinities and multiple traditions. This blog is at https://divinemultiplicity.com/
Note 4. Claude Lecouteux, “The Hidden History of Elves & Dwarves.” p. 105.

Works Used.
Lecouteux, Claude, “The Hidden History of Elves & Dwarves.” Trans. Jon E. Graham. Inner Traditions: Rochester (VT). 2018
Tanishka, “Goddess Wisdom Made Easy.” Hay House: Carlsbad (CA). 2017.

The Triple Goddess of Modern Paganism

crescent moon

Photo by Flickr on Pexels.com

The belief that the various Goddesses (such as Venus, Aphrodite, Inanna, Astarte, and Ishtar) are parts of the Great Goddess (a single Goddess) is prevalent in modern Paganism. The Great Goddess is often understood as the Triple Goddess, who is the Maiden, Mother and Crone. Examples of the Triple Goddess for modern Pagans are Diana, Isis and Kali or Kore, Persephone and Hecate. (Note 1)

The Triple Goddess could be regarded as a Trinity of the Divine Feminine. The Maiden, the waxing crescent moon, is the young woman of new beginnings. The Mother, the full moon, is the mature woman of fertility. The Crone, the waning crescent moon, is the elderly woman of wisdom. Modern Goddess religions often add a fourth – the Dark Mother, the new moon, who is the Shadow of the Mother.

The concept of the Triple Goddess was introduced to modern feminists through Robert Graves’ work, “The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth” (1946). Graves, a poet and Greek scholar, theorized that there was an archetypical triad of Goddesses in European polytheism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Starhawk in “The Spiral Dance” and Margot Adler in “Drawing Down the Moon” fleshed out his ideas to be “the Maiden, Mother and Crone.”

The concept of the Triple Goddess did not originate with Graves. It came earlier with Jane Ellen Harrison of the Cambridge Ritualists (Note 2). This classical scholar argued that the Greek religion had triple Goddesses who combined he phases of the moon with the cycles of a woman’s life. Harrison based her ideas on the theories of Sir Arthur Evans, the noted British archaeologist. While excavating Crete, Sir Evans decided that the Minoans (ancient peoples of that island) worshipped a Double Goddess (Virgin and Mother). (This is reminiscent of the Christian Virgin Mary.)

The Triple Goddess is not a part of traditional Polytheistic religions. There are groupings of Goddesses such as the Norse Norns (the Fates). There are Goddesses such as the Morrigan (with Babd and Macha) who are tripartite. However, none of them are tied with all of the cycles of the moon with the cycles of a woman’s life. Many Goddesses do have aspects of the Maiden, the Mother, or the Crone, but not all three.

Notes:
Note 1. Diana is Roman, Isis: Egyptian, Kali: Hindi, Kore and Persephone: Greek, and Hecate: Greek and Roman.

Note 2. The Cambridge Ritualists, of the late 19th Century and 20th Century, theorized that myths are echoes of rituals, which are a form of magic to alter nature.

Lilith: The Goddess of Demons

Lady-Lilith

“Lady Lilith” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1867)

Lilith is a difficult Goddess to understand. What is known about Her comes from dubious Jewish lore. She emerged fully formed as the Mother of Demons in Medieval Times, and then She received a makeover in modern times. The Goddess Religions want to see Lilith in a positive light as the first proto-feminist. Now this Goddess has bizarrely contradictory attributes, which confuses me.

“The Alpha-Beta of Ben Sira” (Pseudo-Ben Sira, 9th Century) is the problematic source for Lilith. According to it, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. In the first creation (Note 1), Yahweh created male and female, at the same time, from the earth. As the equal of Adam, Lilith refused to be dominated by him. Fleeing her husband, she “pronounced the Ineffable Name (of Yahweh) and flew away into the air.” Lilith went to the Red Sea, the dwelling place of demons.

Adam complained to Yahweh about Lilith abandoning him. The God sent three angels to convince her to come back. Since Lilith knew the hidden name of Yahweh, He could not compel her to return. When the three angels threatened to kill her demon children, Lilith countered with preying on newborns. After that, Yahweh, the angels and Lilith came to an odd pact. She could continue to kill babies unless they wore an amulet with the names of the three angels. However, Lilith had to endure with death of a hundred of her own children each day. (This was to explain why newborns die unexpectedly.)

“The Zohar,” compiled by Moses de Leon (1250-1305) (Note 2), called Lilith “a temptress of innocent men, breeder of evil spirits and carrier of disease.” As the Queen of the Demons, She was the succubus who attacked men in their sleep. Because Lilith drove men’s lust, the Shekhinah (the Female Part of Yahweh) went into exile.

In “A Treatise on the Left Emanation” by Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Kohen (the 13th century), Lilith is paired with Samael (Satan). Writing about evil, Rabbi Isaac said that Samael and Lilith were twins, created by Yahweh. Samael, regarded as The Angel of Death, became the “Great Demon,” and Lilith his partner in evil.

The Goddess Religions have reclaimed Lilith as the first pro-feminist. The Dark Goddess Lilith is their Patroness of Witches. She teaches women to embrace their sexuality and live according to their own rules. Some see Lilith representing “the power, politics and psychology of sex.” To stand up to the patriarchy, She sacrifices her children daily.

Polytheist theologians discuss whether the Gods can be differentiated or do their aspects refer to one being? For example, Anubis of Egypt, in the early dynasties, can be regarded to be a different God than Anubis of Cleopatra’s time. However, Anubis could also be the same God with more attributes.

According to Raven Kaldera, a shaman of Northern-Tradition Paganism, Gods have “horizontal” and “vertical” aspects. (Note 3) “Vertical” aspects range from a personal experience to a diffuse unknowable presence. “Horizontal” aspects entail the attributes of the Gods such as Jupiter being both the God of Thunder and the God of Government.

I have unanswered questions about Lilith. Are there more than one Goddess? Is Lilith of the Middle Ages the same Goddess of the Goddess Religions? Could She be considered a “pop culture” God because the Goddess Religions rewrote the lore?

From what I can discern, Lilith is the Dark Aspect of the Divine Feminine in Jewish Monotheism. She is a counterpart to the Shekhinah. My theory is that once Monotheism defined that the Divine be only a single male Deity, the feminine aspects went underground. They have come out sideways as Lilith and the Shekhinah. (Note 4). The Goddess Religions which worship only the Divine Feminine has elevated Lilith to be an aspect of the Goddess.

Notes:
1. Genesis details two creations. It is believed that the lore tries to reconcile the two, with Eve being Adam’s second wife. Made from his rib, she is subordinate to him.
2. “The Zohar” is a fundamental work of Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism).
3. Kaldera, Raven, “Dealing with Deities.” Hubbardston (MA): Asphodel Press. 2012.
4. The Dark Aspect of the Divine Masculine came out as Samael (Satan).

Divination Review:The Sibyls Oraculum (Oracle of the Black Doves of Africa)

The Sibyls Oraculum (Oracle of the Black Doves of Africa), Author: Tayannah Lee McQuillar, Artist: Katelan V. Foisy, Destiny Books, 2018.

Tayannah Lee McQuillar developed “The Sibyls Oraculum” to present an African point of view in divination. (McQuillar is a cultural anthropologist noted for her writings on African-American culture.) Her aim was to move beyond the Euro-centrism that she found in many divination systems. She writes, “The Sibyls Oraculum was created to pay homage to the oft-forgotten African founding mothers of the sibylline tradition and the amalgamation of spiritual concepts that made the ancient Mediterranean world interesting.”

McQuillar set-up her oracle system for people to receive wisdom at various points in their lives. She divides her system into four main concepts – “Core Issue,” “Projection,” and blue and red “Actions.” For each concept, there are eleven related ideas. The Core Issue cards “reflect the essential spiritual principles that a seeker should deeply reflect upon.” The Projection cards represent the rationalizations that a person makes in their life. The Action cards are blue for developing the proper state of mind and red for the response to the core issue.

McQuillar proves a symbolic picture to meditate on, with an epigram to ponder. She also adds a religio-mythological association to obtain divine wisdom. All the symbols, epigrams, and associations are based on her belief that all Goddesses are a part of the Great Goddess, and that Africa is the ancestral source. Her philosophy is that “the ancients focused more on abstract lessons and the underlying symbolism of personages than on literal facts.”

In “The Sibyls Oraculum,” Core Issues range from “Wisdom,” “Rhythm,” and “Vibration.” “Wisdom” features the Tree of Wisdom with two duplex knots. Its epigram is “true wisdom is effortlessly applied knowledge.” The mythological associations are Anatha (Neith), the Moon Goddess of Libya and Tehuti (Thoth)/Hermes, the God of Wisdom of Egypt and Greece. One question to consider is “Do you expect someone else to ‘wise up’ just because you have gotten the point now.” The Core Issue cards have a series of questions to ponder, while the Projection and Action cards have divinatory explanations.

The rationalizations for the Projection cards range from “Purpose” to “Doubt” to “Contentment.” “Purpose” features the omphalos, which McQuillar claims is a symbol of the Great Goddess. The epigram is “Reason determines the weight of every harvest.” The mythological association is Cybele, the Anatolian Mother Goddess and Melissae, the Great Mother. The divinatory explanation is “This card may also be a warning to be aware of how the attachment of purpose to a belief…will positively or negatively affect your self-esteem legacy.”

The blue Action set includes “Synthesis,” “Desire,” and “Strategy;” the red set – “Purity,” “Disguise,” and “Defense.” “Synthesis” presents the sphinx with the ankh, with “Parts do not make the whole, the whole is made of parts.” Serapis, the Greco-Egyptian Father God is associated with this card.

“Purity,” the red Action card show the room of the initiate for the key symbol. The epigram is “If your conscience doesn’t respect you, eventually no one will.” Tanit, the Goddess of Heaven (Carthage) and Asar (Osiris) God of Death and Resurrection are the mythological associations. The divinatory meaning is “to be mentally clean.”

As a diviner and as a Roman Polytheist, I have problems with this oracle. First, McQuillar views that all Goddesses are manifestations of the Goddess. For me, the Gods are discrete individuals. Since her interpretations are personal, I have problems relating to her meanings in each card. For example, the omphalos is considered the navel stone in Hellenic Polytheism. Meanwhile, Ptolemy I created Serapis to unify his rule over Egypt. A combination of Osiris and the Apis Bull, Serapis did take on some qualities of various Greek Gods, but He wasn’t considered a “Father God.”

I cannot divine with the system that McQuillar has set up. My philosophy to divining is that a divination system is a framework of how to interact with the world. (In my divining practice, I use ten different systems ranging from animal signs to cards.) Each system should facilitate the understanding of our world. Furthermore, the divination provides us with questions to illuminate different aspects of the answer.

McQuillar’s system is peculiar to her in that she assumes that what she knows is easy to grasp. She fails to explain her choices for each of the sections or why this particular symbol should be thought of in this way. I cannot see the matrix that she is using to interpret the world. She does explain her point of view in the beginning, but fails to expand on how that is reflected in her choices. I find her choices to be a hodge-podge of symbols and meanings.