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Mythos and Logos, Part I

December 15, 2010

I’ve been writing a lot about the impact of Hutton. Now might be a good time to post this.


Pagans: Witchcraft isn’t the Old Religion. We all know this.

Can we please stop pretending we’re not still deeply disappointed about that?

Aidan Kelly, Ronald Hutton, and others really dropped the bomb. Their books crumbled a lot of our worldviews.

People really need to own up to their frustrations about being wrong.

What’s truly depressing are all of the half-assed rationalizations for continuing to believe/practice the same way we always have. Recently, I’ve talked about the (futile) tendency by non-academic Pagans to lambast credentialed historians. While annoying, this is not how (I believe) most Pagans deal with the basic untruth of our myths.

The most popular way Pagans that I’ve met deal with Hutton et al.  is this: they make what historians of religion call a “mythos/logos” distinction between their religion and “the mundane world.”

For context, I’d like you to listen to episode 63 of the Wigglian Way. It’s a great podcast, and the interview with “Uncle” Fritz Muntean shows that this is one Elder who’s really worthy of respect.

He does this weird “mythos/logos” thing though: he says we should continue to put stock in our (utterly-discredited) myths, rather, our “sacred story cycle,” because…well, it’s our “sacred story cycle.”

Huh? So…it’s…wrong….but we should continue to…what? Find inspiration in it? Laud it as poetry? Continue using elements of it in our rituals? Why? I don’t get it.

It’s a very popular idea though. Karen Armstrong, a leading historian of religion, is a famous…err…proponent? of the distinction between mythical knowledge (mythos) and scientific knowledge (logos). Mircea Eliade was all about it as well (maybe he created it, I’m not sure.)

I’m very skeptical about this idea. I think that most people, when confronted with objectively-true information that conflicts with their previous beliefs…revise their beliefs! I don’t think they, instead, split how they view the world into separate, exclusive components.

I’m not arguing the above never happens. But I have no idea why we should accept, much less advocate, this behavior. Come on, the less charitable way of defining the “mythos/logos” distinction is “cognitive dissonance. “ It’s avoidance, it’s a defense mechanism designed to shield your religious beliefs from uncomfortable truths.

Just change your stupid beliefs already!

Certainly, there’s a lot of pain that goes into throwing out wrong, cherished beliefs. If you want to see this process in action, listen to the above podcast. You can feel Mojo’s disappointment right through your earbuds.

It affects him so much that he starts naming all the books he’s read, hoping that one or two of them will still be “right.” His relief (near the end of episode 64) that Karl Kerenyi’s book on Dionysus is still well-liked, is obvious.

Clearly, Moj is not making the transition from logos to mythos smoothly.  In a recent episode, Moj woefully remarks: “I really wish I could still call Wicca “the Old Religion”….but I just don’t feel right saying it anymore.”

But really, why would anybody? It’s not like we can suddenly turn our backs on academia. They’re the ones who spend their lives finding out the truth about these things! Plus, we used to be able to appeal to them whenever someone criticized our past. We could just point them to Murray or other formerly-influential scholars and say “Look, read these. It’s all right here.”

But we can’t do that anymore.

And yet, it seems like most Pagans I know acknowledge that our myths are bullshit…and don’t change a thing in their practice.

I say: be honest. Are you avoiding the implications of Hutton?

Maybe you should cut that shit out.

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