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So Dan came upstairs to wake me this morning (I'd been up way too late playing Scooby Doo Mystery Mayhem on the PS2, knowing as I did that the kids would be taking over the console today! :)) with a copy of Hollander's Poetic Edda. He's reading "Lokasenna" (good thing, since that's what our group is going to be studying next :)). which is actually one of my favorite bits of lore in terms of being really entertaining.

He read Hollander's commentary out loud to me while I was dressing--the heavy-handed assertion that this could not possibly have been written by someone who actually honored the gods in any serious way. ("Lokasenna" is made up primarily of Loki's insults toward all the gods during a feast in Aegir's hall--the gods are accused of various things, the goddesses mainly of sexual indescretions.) Which seems to be a not-uncommon view among heathens as well--either that, or that Loki has got to be lying (despite the fact that some of his accusations are corroborated elsewhere).

My thought here is: why is this so important? Why do folks seem to need to take the mythology so literally? I have what I think is a fairly common view of the myths--that myths tell us something important about the gods, but that they didn't really happen as written (for example, the tale of Pygmalion and Galatea--chances are that no statue was actually brought to life, but that doesn't matter and it's not the point--the point is that the story illustrates something about Aphrodite's essential character). It's what I tell my kids. And I think that most folks do take the myths as symbolic, at least in great part, but sometimes you have to wonder. Like when someone mentions an experience they've had with Loki, and someone else responds that that couldn't possibly have happened because Loki is tied down with a snake over his head and in no position to do so.

Or like when people get all excited about Lokasenna. For example, Njord's line:

Little sin me seemeth, though beside her mate
a wedded wife have a lover


(sorry, all I've got to hand is Hollander at the moment :))

which (to me) seems to illustrate a fundamental difference between the Vanir and Aesir ways of looking at things. But people try hard to discount it, along with the rest, as if the gods should be held to human standards--and not just human standards but a particular set of human standards.

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
dinpik
Nov. 15th, 2004 02:55 am (UTC)
I think it's residual Christianity, myself, presenting itself in two ways. One, that none of the gods can be less than exemplarary. Two, that myths must present a guide on How to Live, even if they're not taken literally. That a myth can illuminate a facet of a god's personality seems to fly right over people's heads.

Out of curiosity... I wonder how many people who get all bent out of shape over Lokasenna see Loki as uber-evil?
hearthstone
Nov. 15th, 2004 05:37 am (UTC)
I think you're probably right. It makes sense, actually--if someone tends to be a literalist when it comes to the lore, they're going to be more likely to be offended by bits of it that don't quite match their own vision.

And even some of those folks who will admit that the gods are not all good will say that it's because of "Odin's grand plan" or some such thing :).
cjmarbutt
Nov. 15th, 2004 03:37 am (UTC)
I think we often have a similar problem in Hellenismos. We hear people who think you can't worship Aphrodite and Artemis together or Athena and Poseidon. Funny thing, Artemis and Aphrodite are side by side on the Acropolis and Pausianas mentions a temple were Athena and Poseidon were jointly worshiped. I even had one person tell me one time that I shouldn't be offering Pan and the Nymphs libations at the same time because he raped them. This person hadn't made past the myths to see that they were worshipped jointly in historical times, ditto with Poseidon and Demeter.
hearthstone
Nov. 15th, 2004 05:41 am (UTC)
Personally I tend to take cult over myth when it comes to things like that (when there's a discrepancy). But yeah, and as a devotee of Aphrodite I do tend to notice all the times when people hold that she is incompatible with Artemis, or Athena.

I'll admit that it would probably be hard to be whole-heartedly Aphrodite's and Artemis's at the same time--and historically they did tend to cater to different folks--but that's a long way from saying that you shouldn't invite them to the same parties!
weofodthignen
Nov. 23rd, 2004 03:18 am (UTC)
Loki is a problem for many of us. Lokasenna is a nasty poem. Loki will fight against the other gods at Ragnarök and cause their deaths.

But your last paragraph is the explanation for a lot. There is no reason the gods should share Eisenhower-era Xian morality. In fact any number of stories about them prove they don't.

I am pretty near literal. I believe the ancient heathens saw things in their own visual terms--a cart, a large hall, a whetstone . . . --but we would be presumptuous indeed, and be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, if we rejected their visions. Fact is, we should be very careful about throwing anything out of the lore. We don't have enough left or enough of a sense of what is not reliable.

I don't like calling the stories of the gods myths. That's a word people use to put down somebody else's religion as obsolete or in other ways not a real religion. The Bible, to me, is a collection of myths. The stories of the gods--I do my damnedest to continue to believe, because who knows what in them I might find incredible and it would turn out to be true after all?

So I don't think lore literalism and petty moralism are the same thing or necessarily connected :-)

M
hearthstone
Nov. 23rd, 2004 06:04 am (UTC)
So I don't think lore literalism and petty moralism are the same thing or necessarily connected :-)

You know, that's a good point, and one I hadn't considered (my observations of fundamentalist and liberal Christianity are probably what led me to make that assumption).

I think I have a different definition of myth than you may--to me, a myth is true, but mythological truth isn't necessarily the same thing as literal truth--no less true, but different. You're right, though, that I should consider the potential connotation of the word.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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