Sunday, 27 November 2011
I am a wild goose honking. I am an ember burning in the heartland of Egypt. Open my mouth and fill me with the countless lights of heaven. Bind the jaws of doomsayers and let me dance on their rotten teeth. I strain against the lies told about me as I strain against the bondage of earth. Open my mouth. Build a bright fire of rags on the west bank of the Nile. We shall roast the leg of an antelope. Give all the gods mouths to sing.
(translation by Normandi Ellis)
Sacrificial, dying and resurrecting gods are familiar to us from many cultures, the celebrations of their stories most often closely tied to the agricultural cycles of their places of origin. I was feeling a bit wistful earlier, wondering how it felt to be a literal believer in Christ or another deity, to the point of really deeply engaging with the mythos on an emotional, visceral level. I thought at first that such a feeling would be very alien to my nature--until I realized that it was anything but. I engage on that level frequently, just not in a religious context. Let me explain.
I'm one of those annoying vaguely neo-Jungian types--and you can blame that on my educational background if you like, or on some other personality defect--inclined to blithely spout off about archetypes and symbols and other infuriating buzzwords. While I love the concrete in regular life, spiritually I'm all about the abstractions, baby. It does make it hard for me to grok the soul-deep ecstatic experiences that others claim to have, though I'm comfortable enough just marking that down to differences in our wiring. We're not all designed for the same experience of the sacred, and that's less of an issue for me than it is for those who find my skepticism off-putting or dismissive. (For the record, I rarely mean it that way.) Thus, not being a religious literalist, I am rarely deeply emotionally moved by myth, though of course I can find it very inspirational and meaningful. But who says it has to be a religious myth?
This is Agent Scully; you may remember her from The X-Files. To say that I was and am an XF fan is to also note that fire burns and water is wet. Agent Scully, in this photo, is not happy; she has just discovered the corpse of her partner, Agent Mulder, in a field beneath a tree. (A similar thing happened to Isis, when she sought out Osiris' body and found it lodged in a tamarisk tree.) I was deeply engaged with and emotionally invested in the Mulder/Scully mythos, and I suffered along with them through many years and many changes. And when Scully--as channeled by Gillian Anderson there--fell to her knees and screamed "NO! This is not happening!" as if the words were being ripped from her along with her still-beating heart, I too wept, and agonized along with her, and knew vicariously the viciousness of loss. Through Scully, I came to understand the mourning of Isis. Through Scully, I came to understand grief and love just a little bit better, in ways that I had not yet had to face.
(For a more profound examination of the parallels between the Osiris/Isis myth and the Mulder/Scully mytharc, I recommend The X-Files X-egisis from The Secret Sun.)
Those of us who become involved in fandom are engaging with myth on a daily basis. Those myths may be secular in intention, but what they express to us becomes spiritual in scope. Through myth we examine ourselves through others, we rehearse for those pivotal human experiences yet to come in our lives, or try to recapture those that have already passed.
Whether or not the myth that moves you is of ancient source and religious intent, or as new as next week's episode of a powerfully moving series, does not matter. Let me repeat that: it doesn't matter. What matters is you, and how you engage with the material, and what it means to you--how it moves you, what it makes you think, how it makes you feel, what kind of a person you discover yourself to be because of it. Those are the real mysteries. Agent Booth and Dr. Brennan over there aren't looking too happy themselves, though I daresay they're in better shape than poor Scully; I'll participate in their mythos as it unfolds and find lessons for myself therein. You might take something away from tomorrow's Caprica, or from seeing Avatar again, or from a marathon of Deep Space Nine on DVD. Myth is not restricted to specific times or cultures; it's alive and flourishing within us and all around us, in our popular culture just as surely as it is in our ritual circles and our history books and our churches. The real mysteries transcend all of those things, and are found when the divide between the without and the within fades away.