[NB] Mythology 101: There is Never Just One Story

I am pretty sure that I have said this before, but it bears repeating. Anytime you are looking at one account of a myth, you have to assume that there are other accounts that tell the myth in a different fashion, some so different that they would likely offend the sensibilities that made one myth appealing to you. The entanglement of all those accounts defines the myth-mystery, so that a myth is inevitably polymorphous.

I am saying this because, once again (I have lost count of how many ‘agains’ are caught up in this for me now), I am knee-deep in the Sumerian mythology surrounding Ereshkigal and Inanna. Once again, I am reminded of how many ways the story gets told, of how many different ways it intersects with astral (e.g., the circuit of Venus) and terrestrial phenomena (e.g., the harvest), as well as having concrete ties to my spiritual cycles.

There are a few corollaries tangled up in this.

(1) You don’t get to disregard those other myths because they don’t appeal to your sensibilities. There is one I particularly dislike, in which we find the galla-demons rolling up out of the netherworld on their own devices with a mind to molest Inanna. When they come upon Inanna, she is so startled that she just grabs Dumuzi and thrusts him in front of the galla-demons to keep them from her.

The image of helpless Inanna also provides us with an occasion to explore helpless Dumuzi and the relationship he develops with Utu to protect himself from the galla, and the dangers that follow from that, like the way the misfortune spirals outward to effect his sister.

(2) You can’t disregard an interpretation because it doesn’t match your own. Often, the myth serves several conceptual purposes simultaneously, creating and/or identifying a resonance between seemingly disparate elements. Those provide the basis for transmutations of spiritual patterns along those resonances, Disregarding interpretations based on your own narrow understanding cuts you off from potential avenues for transforming spiritual energies.

That image of helpless Inanna provides a vessel through which helpless can be transmitted into willful confrontation, the figure of Inanna serving as a link between the helpless woman who offers up her consort to the powerful woman who proceeds to the underworld willfully.

Similarly, while I don’t make great use of the astral and terrestrial associations, they do allow me to make sense of how the spiritual forces to which these myths speak become more acute over the time between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Those concrete events, in turn, provide vehicles for deepening my relationship with the mysteries of which these myths are a part.

(3) You can’t be afraid of telling new stories, new myths. While care must be taken to weigh the stories that you tell against your experience of the spiritual mysteries to which they relate, without new stories, the mysteries attached to old myths tend to become increasingly detached from the everyday world, they become detached from the people who would seek solace and healing through them.

I find it intriguing that there are some prayers to Inanna that conjoin the genre of praise (balag) with that of lamentation. These occur during a phase of political unrest and the lamentations refer to the temple being sacked along with the rest of the city. That snippet gives us some insight into the ties between myths and a political situation, a situation which by necessity changes.

That interconnection also joins religious and mortuary practices, though, for the sake of recovery, for the sake of healing the wound to the temple and the city caused by invasion. I wonder if the later myth of Inanna as helpless derives partly from the experience of having the temple sacked. That has us confronting the unpleasant reality of the limits of spiritual power in the world, which will become a constitutive element of the so-called axial age religions like Christianity and Buddhism.

One of the challenges for the student of mythology is differentiating the literary (myths without clear ties to ritual experience) and religious (myths meant to inform and guide ritual practice) expressions. While the distinction is important, we need to be careful to note that the two are not entirely separate. What was once religious can become literary as the rituals are lost and what was literary can become religious as the daily realities to which the literary forms were directed enter into closer proximity with religious practice.

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9 thoughts on “[NB] Mythology 101: There is Never Just One Story

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