Mythology has been a cornerstone in my life, and world myths were the basis of my first novel, Honey. Later this week, on 5/24 from 2-5pm, I’m taking over Facebook’s Fantasy and Science Fiction’s Readers Lounge with the theme of Fairy Tales and Mythology, so I figured I’d write an on-topic blog.
My father was an artist who specialized in mythological subjects. The painting above, The Birth of Medusa, was from his series on the life of Medusa. He painted, sculpted, and carved mythological figures from Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American traditions, among others.
I noticed that many of these pantheons had gods with different names, but similar functions and stories. For example, both Zeus and Odin topple giants to earn their status and kings of the gods. I wanted to know how all of these cultures, from different times and places, had the same stories with the same people. So, I read them ALL.
These myths must be true. That was the conclusion I came to after extensively reading world mythology. It’s the only thing that explains the prevalence of mythological people and themes. Do I believe that there is a chariot pulling the sun across the sky? No, I think we are all are Helios, toiling through the day and resting at night. Do I believe that Persephone’s return to Hades brings winter? No, winter is a dark time for all of us. Upstate New York snow absolutely is hell.
The god of communication, Hermes, known as Mercury in the Roman pantheon, can fly very fast because he has wings on his sandals. But, why not wings on his back? Because information travels quickly only sometimes, like when it’s a salacious story or when the messenger is well-paid. Otherwise, the message may not have wings, like when it’s a hard truth or an obscure fact.
Some might say that myths were just ancient people’s way of making sense of the world. Another common idea is that religious tales were used to keep the population cooperative; chill out or Zeus will chain you to an eternally burning wheel. While these ideas are probably partially correct, ancient storytellers still drew on their own, mortal experience to create these myths. Perhaps the perpetually burning wheel was what it felt like to labor in poverty while the rich few luxuriated – punishment, from on high, for merely existing in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A Full Jar
The story of Pandora’s Jar is similar to the African myth of Anansi’s Pot. Both vessels held all of the world’s knowledge, which was released due to the reckless actions of a passerby. But, each of has a world of myths and stories inside of us, bubbling around with all of the knowledge that we’ve accumulated over our lifetimes. Maybe some myth, or story, or passerby will be the catalyst that inspires your ideas to spill out into the world.