Old Gods, New Gods and the Blurry Line Separating Myth and Religion

myth and religion
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Myth and religion; are they different or interchangeable? After all, one man’s religion eventually becomes another man’s myth. And as a myth, some key portions of that religion may live on, and possibly become religion once again. This is the way it has been for generations, and this is the way it will continue. For as the great wheel of time turns, our celestial observers have watched  every civilization, whether great or small, be born, flourish, and eventually die or be destroyed. Every single one, without exception.

Yet even though death is eventual, in those moments in-between, religion happened. Gods and Goddesses were created and followed by the masses. The great questions of humankind were put to the test and answers were provided in return. Great and epic tales of heroism and magic were woven into the very fabric of each civilization. So memorable, some of these tales were, that they remained with us, outliving the worlds they were born in. We call the stories and the deities legends and myths; at least for now.

A Journey Through Time

Walk with me, if you please, as we travel the corridors of ancient history. Together we shall look back to the time when the world was still shiny and new. Ground zero for the moment of creation, when the first Gods and Goddesses were recognized by the human race. Primitive human sun worshippers  banded together for protection and survival, but also to pray together. And as the bands grew into clans, tribes, and eventually to communities, everyone followed in the footsteps of the founders. Then, as social structures developed, a few strong charismatic men held sway over the others.

They became the first lords and kings. They would call upon the wisest of their kind to bring truth to the unexplainable. And in good fashion, these early wise men would tell tales to explain natural events, such as lightning and wind. They developed and named Gods and Goddesses, which held dominion over important parts of human life, such as fertility and protection.

And once those early religious leaders had the attention of the people, they never let go. Some religions merged with government, and everyone was expected to do their part. Other leaders engaged in a constant chess game with the religious leaders. Both factions struggled for power away from the prying eyes of the everyday person, while pretending to be united in public. In some cultures, religion was used to control the population. In others, people were expected to support being ruled, both financially and with offerings and gifts. Religious leaders kept adding features to the religion to keep people interested. Offerings turned into blood sacrifices, rituals became grand in scale and size, and new rites, such as funerary. were developed and performed. Sacred time periods for worship were integrated and people weren’t given the choice of attending church, they lived it. And as overwhelming and confusing as it might seem, up until about 300 BCE, no one complained. In fact, the people loved it. They proudly spoke of the great deeds of their Gods and Goddesses and made any sacrifice necessary to appease them.

The Greatest Human Flaw – Our Lust for Power

But as more time passed and the nations grew from the cities, men lusted for power. Because power was the key to everything. Power provided authority, and authority provided everything else. It was a time when might did indeed make right, a flawed process, but none the same, an effective one. Men slaughtered one another in an endless struggle to reach the top, only to be themselves deposed a short time later. But the prize of leadership, provided them with the ability to do anything, including raise an army and apportion land. Beyond the great fiefdoms, leadership also provided them with every gluttonous and perverse desire they could devise. The religious component was twisted in many civilizations, making the leader divine or somehow anointed by one of their Gods.  In others, all key decision-making meant a consultation with the Gods and Goddesses. With blackness in their hearts, these leaders ruled over the developing nations of the developing world.

As we enter the period where civilization becomes recorded, we see dominance. Those with the power are shown to be competent in their rule. Followers willingly submit and further raise the value of the nation and it’s chosen religion. Yet, as it is with all things, passive men become submissive, and population grow weak over time. When they are in that weakened state, they are infiltrated by those who wish a revolt against authority. Because of this, great leaders of the past have exercised their power on a regular basis. Most often war was the tool of choice. Conquest meant more land, slaves, women, and new followers to their religion.

If it’s a complete victory, then the Gods and Goddesses of the defeated are ignored, made illegal, and eventually fade into the world of myth. For one religion to succeed, the other must fail. As the troops of one powerful nation lay waste to those of another, they also lay waste to their Gods and Goddesses. The victory ‘proves’ which Gods were stronger and which Goddesses were in control. But the victors are merciful. They would ‘allow’ the conquered to integrate into their nation and enjoy the protections of their Gods and Goddesses. Another religion on its way to becoming myth.

Through a combination of conquest, trade, political contracts, and arranged marriages, the civilized world grew. Many great civilizations shared space and religion spread across the land. No longer would the Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt and Persia remain landlocked by the great deserts. Likewise, the religions of the Mediterranean that included Greek and Roman. The ancient earth religions of The Norsemen still held strong in the north and the mystic practices of the Celtic Druids in the East. Worshippers of Muhammad, Jesus, and Brahma carried the teachings of their religion to lands far and near. So many doctrines from so many people. It was brief, but fascinating, simply because so much was being recorded on parchment or carved into stone. Religions grew in size and sophistication, and as the more dominant ones faded, the newer ones absorbed some of their teachings. Soon the myths of one culture miraculously became the ancient history of a more dominant culture.

myth and religion

Return to the Present

And after more than a thousand winters have passed, we find ourselves back in the present. The world has revealed more of the same as the years passed. Conquest, creation, and continual exploration of this great world has led to borders being destroyed and redrawn. Uncharted lands are now known, and many more questions appear rather than answers. Populations are swelling and it’s a time of great change. Nations cannot support their people on their own lands and crisis fills the air. Ancient enemies, still filled with hatred from events long ago are rattling their sabers, calling for blood. Borders are being challenged and populations threatened. Across the globe, governments and leaders are being tested. For some this uprising seemed inevitable, as it has always been this way. Even those nations where religion and government have ruled hand in hand for more than a thousand years are being challenged.

But, for the first time in history, the religious makeup of the world isn’t being changed by force. It’s being changed because people are walking away. Their Gods and Goddesses weren’t defeated. Worshippers lost interest in them. They lost trust and belief in them. Religious leaders stopped following their own rules. Some became political, reminiscent of ancient English and French Monarchies. Others surrendered to the things they preach against. Promises weren’t kept. Crimes occurred that shook many to their very core; crimes purveyed by their so-called religious leaders. Enough was enough, so they walked away without making a sound. The group commonly called organized religion, which is really all the big worldwide groups, is getting smaller. People are leaving and not coming back

This is where it gets interesting and that blurry line in the title gets even blurrier. You see, those people who are walking away from their church aren’t completely walking away from religion. It’s in their blood. They need to be part of something that gives them an anchor in life. It’s usually not found in the New Age religions, which are really more spiritual than religious. Many are finding a new and wonderful home in one of the pagan and neo-pagan religions which have been reclaimed by their descendants. These groups worship the old Gods and Goddesses, ones much older than all the modern religions.

Druids, Celts, Odinists, Heathens, and Roman Traditionalists are just a few of the notable emerging modern pagan movements. It’s global and it’s growing just as fast as the modern religions are declining. Because paganism is so accepting and has very few rules, it is attractive to everyone, even those who might feel unworthy. People are once again telling the tales of creation in the ways of their ancestors. Holidays are being celebrated on different days and for different reasons. A new generation of people who speak for the earth is waking up to the wonderful possibilities following an earth-based belief system can actually be.

Conclusion

Stepping back, the big picture clearly shows human beings starting to come full circle. Religion that had gone to myth is now emerging once again as religion. Simultaneously, many aspects of modern religion are beginning the long descent into myth. Very soon the stories of one-God-religions will be replaced with the epic tales of the past. Pantheon’s of Gods and Goddesses, both masculine and feminine, will remerge, sharing responsibility for the planet and the skies above. Religious texts filled with rule after rule are being shelved for hands-on ceremonies where everyone is welcome. Churches will be shuttered as celebrations move to great fields with bonfires, revelry, and a real sense of community. Full moons will be recognized as a time for cleansing and meditation. And best of all, there’s no collection plate. Earth’s energy comes free for all who choose to enjoy it.

Now I ask you again, are myth and religion interchangeable or not? This analysis leads to a yes answer. Every day more and more people return to the beliefs of their ancestors. Most of them have no idea who those people were. In many instances they don’t know how ceremonies were performed, as nothing was written down. But it doesn’t matter. They’re going into it nearly blind but filled with faith. They are their own authority. No one has taken their sovereignty and they haven’t surrender it. These brave souls are ushering in a new age, but one anchored in history. Old Gods became their New Gods and the New Gods became the Old Gods. The blurry line gets more blurry.

About the Author

 R.J. Schwartz is an American writer, poet, and self-proclaimed pagan historian. He has published two books of poetry and contributed to a third. He is also the owner and webmaster of two websites. The Gypsy Thread is where R.J. writes informational articles across a wide range of non-traditional topics which include witchcraft, pagan practices, the unexplained, haunted, and plain old strange, plus there’s dozens and dozens of pagan ceremonies available for every occasion. His other site The Creative Exiles is an international poetry/short story site. Selected authors from across the world publish whimsical tales of fantasy and the old west, while poets pour silken verses into willing ears.

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