Much has been written about the power and influence of mythology. Myth is a profoundly magickal experience. I state ‘experience’ because myths exist in every essence of our existence. Myths provide the framework, the basis of how we perceive the world, of how we interact with each other. Mythology teaches us our concepts of morality, of right and wrong.
The myths provide us with our sense of individual identity as well as our communal sense of cultural identity. Mythology also provides the base framework of our language, of the images words bring, of the meanings. In doing so, myths shape the way we think. The manner in which we order the world around us. Mythology defines a society; culturally, spiritually, socially, even politically.
Mythology is enduring.
Consider Carl Jung, his idea of the universal unconscious, and the shared symbolic meaning of a culture, a society, a people – symbols, ideas, archetypes that are repeated, shared, passed on as part of the culture. An individual learns these organically, just as an individual learns to walk, to speak, and to live in a society. An individual is immersed in the symbolic manifestations of that society’s mythology.
The enduring nature of myth, of the archetypes found in the myth, can be exemplified in two distinctive modern American myths, John Wayne the cowboy archetype, and Star Wars. It could even be argued that the old pagan myths have more unconscious influence than Christianity has had.
We view the idea of God as the old man on a throne, long haired, bearded, surrounded by winged angels. Yet, our vision of an angel looks more like the winged Valkyrie of Norse mythology, while the Biblical description is radically different (4 faced, 8 winged cherubim etc.) Culturally, we envision God on his throne and the trappings from an entirely pagan description. The favored symbol of Christianity, of Christ on the cross, was not the sign the nascent Christian sect favored. The Gaulic/Celtic deity Esus (note, Esus, Jesus, while the biblical name was Yoshua) was the Hanged One, a deity sacrificed for the welfare of the people. The pagan mythic archetype took the place of the written word. Christianity, ostensibly a religion based upon Judaism, transformed and adopted the symbolism as well as the mythic archetypes of the pagan culture of Europe, adopting the holy days and celebrations of the old religions and abandoning the holy days and celebrations of the Bible. This is another case of myth, word of mouth oral traditions, and symbolism overtaking the written word. Myth, the old archetypes, symbols, and meanings, have essentially preserved themselves in spite of attempts to replace them. The old Gods have, in fact, prevailed.
In Modern times, the myth of the cowboy has come down to us from the Celtic traditions and myths of the cattle raid (the Tain Bo Cuailgne). The lone hero today is best exemplified by John Wayne. 2,500 odd years ago, it was Cuchulain, the brave, lone warrior standing against overwhelming odds. (Interestingly Cuchulain was guarding against cattle rustlers).
Another example of the unconscious preservation of mythic archetypes is Star Wars. I am not suggesting that George Lucas intentionally took mythic elements from ancient Celtic myths. If you were to ask him, I am fairly sure he would say, “Lugh Who?”
In the Story of Lugh Lamfhada, we have a child born with a prophetic destiny, a child born of light and darkness, good and evil. Lugh, his father Cian of the Tuatha De Danann, is part of an oppressed people enslaved by the evil misshapen Fomororians. The mother is Ethniu, Daughter of Balor of the evil eye, king of the Fomor. When Lugh grew into adulthood, he mastered all the arts and magick, and he acquired the magic sword, Fragarach (the Answerer, retaliator) from Manannan (Sea God of the Tuatha de Danu), along with his lightning spear that roared and never failed to kill when thrown. At the battle of Moytura on May 1 (Beltane), Lugh faced his grandfather Balor, who is described as having only one eye that servants used an apparatus to open. Whatever that red eye gazed upon was destroyed. In many descriptions of Balor, he is described as living in a glass tower on the isle of Tory. Now consider Star Wars. Luke Skywalker and his light saber (Lugh and Fragarach), Jedi knights with magic powers, i.e. the Force, Darth Vader (Balor) slain by Luke, his son. The struggle of an oppressed people, in rebellion against the evil empire, just as the Tuatha De Danann rebelled against the Fomor.
Other elements also are found in the myths of the Tuatha De Danu. There is Nuada (some connect Nuada with Nodens and Lugh in Gaulic possibly linking Nuada, Nodens, Lugh, Lugos to Woden, Odin). Nuada of the silver hand. He lost his hand in battle against the Fomor. Dianchet created a new hand made of silver for him. In Star Wars Luke Skywalker lost his hand, which was replaced by a mechanical hand. Did George Lucas take these elements deliberately? I doubt it, for there has been no reference I have found which indicate that.
It is interesting that these same archetypal elements, even to the similarity of Luke and Lugh, have manifest, I would suggest, as just another case of the Old Gods manifesting themselves. (Lugh, Loki, Luke, have the same Proto IndoEuropean root, meaning ‘bright’). The power of myth, the power of culture and language, is the power to shape thoughts, beliefs, and actions. That is the power of the Gods. The Gods continue to influence us, to shape our world, and to shape ourselves through myths.
The Old Gods have actually been busily guiding us all along, transforming even the foreign religion of Christianity. Modern pagans lament the destruction of our past, the loss of our identity, by the attempt of Christianity to erase the past. Yet the Old Gods have prevailed. The old myths have remained. The true power that has shaped western civilization has in fact been the Old Ways.
Look at the modern myths, Marvel superheroes, or Superman, cowboys, Rambo, and then consider the source, the wellspring of myth. Christianity did not replace the Gods. The Gods have been busily transforming Christianity and continue to do so. The power of myth is the power of the Gods.
Donn Harper Jr. Appalachian American TransLeprechaun. Height is no barrier, gimme my pot o gold!