A Myth To Live By

In the preface to The Red Book, Carl Jung’s account of his ‘confrontation with the unconscious’, there is a quote about how it originated in his drive to find the myth he was living and get to know it:

‘I was driven to ask myself in all seriousness: “what is the myth you are living?” I found no answer to this question, and that to admit that I was not living with a myth, or even in a myth, but rather in an uncertain cloud of theoretical possibilities which I was beginning to regard with increasing distrust… So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know “my” myth.’

Since I read this book a couple of years ago Jung’s question has stuck with me. I’ve had a fascination with myth since as long as I can remember, the mythic world first being presented to me in the fantasy novels I have loved reading since I was young child and then in increasingly older forms as I read the re-workings of the Graeco-Roman and Christian cosmologies in the poetry of Shelley, Blake, Milton, and followed them back to their sources in ancient Greek myth and the Bible.

It was this longing for the depth of a mythic ground that led me from analytical to Continental philosophy, through phenomenology with its focus on lived experience and aesthetics with its focus on art, to Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy in which the gods Dionysus and Apollo are shown to give birth to myth and its artistic expressions through Dionysian ecstasy and Apollonian vision.

Having discovered ancient Greek polytheism, I posed the questions of whether the gods exist now and whether people worship them. Finding out about modern Paganism I began to seek the gods. The Greek and Roman gods were there, but seemed distant – my connection felt like a broken radio signal.

The gods who found me were the gods of my land, the landscape of Lancashire, of ancient Britain. To my sadness I found that few of them had myths. Bel, Belisama, and Brigantia, were known only by their names on Roman inscriptions, Roman histories, in later place-names. Those who had myths by the names they were known by in medieval Wales: Nodens/Nudd/Lludd and his son, Vindos/Gwyn ap Nudd, Matrona/Modron and her son Maponos/Mabon, were euhemerised. Lludd appears as a ‘human’ king of Britain. Mabon, Gwyn, his rival, Gwythyr, and his beloved, Creiddylad, are incorporated into King Arthur’s court list and Gwyn is demonised as Arthur’s nemesis. And the dragon-goddess I have come to known as Anrhuna isn’t mentioned anywhere at all.

As a devotee of Gwyn ap Nudd, over the past seven years I have been devoted to him, I have been working with his myths, with the myths of his kindred, to pare away the Christian veneer. To get back (or perhaps forward) to an understanding that is animistic and polytheistic. To a myth I can live by.*

In The Broken Cauldron and Gatherer of Souls I gave voice to myths that I felt spoke not only from medieval Wales but a wider Brythonic and pre-Brythonic culture born when people returned to Britain after the Ice Age and began to listen to the gods of this land, who perhaps guided them here.

As a person with a penchant for philosophy, for asking big questions, for desiring a groundwork, coming to Brythonic polytheism I have been frustrated by the absence of a creation myth and by the lack of stories that speak explicitly about how we came to be here and the journey of our souls.

I have found echoes of the Big Bang in the story of how Ceridwen’s cauldron broke with a scream, in the word crochan which means ‘cauldron’ and ‘womb’ of how she gave birth to the universe. I’ve long intuited that ‘The Battle of the Trees’ in Welsh mythology (which shares parallels with ‘The Battle of Moytura’ in Irish mythology) contains the remnants of the ancient clash of the culture gods against the gods and monsters of the Otherworld from which our world and civilisation originated. I’ve felt ‘The Spoils of Annwn’ contains broken fragments of the soul’s return to Annwn, to the cauldron, to be reborn.

But I didn’t have the courage, the foolishness, the presumptuousness required to attempt penning new myths, myths that exposed a personal vision of my gods that others might not agree with, that would be open to criticism, that would expose the teachings of my soul, until the coronavirus arrived.

Until the lockdown struck and my internship with the Lancashire Wildlife Trust was postponed indefinitely and my possibility of finding paid work in conservation began to look increasingly shaky due to the threat of the recession and my discovery that having Asperger’s is the source of my difficulty with social interaction, which was always going to make it tough leading volunteers.

Until I was faced with the possibility that I could lose my elderly parents to the coronavirus and, as I live with them, my home. Without my mum and dad, a home, a job, what would I be left with? The small income from blogging about my vocation as an awenydd from my Patreon supporters. My relationship with my gods and with my soul, my imperative of myth-making, with my soul-work.

Thus my book of new myths, working titled ‘The Gods of Peneverdant’, has been born.

*Here I paraphrase the title of a book by Mary Midgely, The Myths We Live By, in which she presents science as our dominant myth.

19 thoughts on “A Myth To Live By

  1. Tiege McCian says:

    Sounds like it’s been an arduous and courageous journey getting to where you are at. Looking forward to a book on your Brythonic myths. Because you mentioned both the Battle of the Trees and Moytura, are you going to synthesize surviving texts or be freely guided by other powers? Will you be making updates on the blog about the contents your working on?

    Thanks!

    Didn’t Tolkien start this way?

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’m going to be guided by the Brythonic and Irish myths and Norse myths but probably just as much by the Mesopotamian myths and the Bible and later visionary writers like Milton and Blake along with personal vision. I can see a certain amount of both conscious and unconscious synthesis happening but I hope to create something new and exciting that comes from the gods themselves.

      I’ll likely be sharing some info about the deities and the scenes I’m working on and possibly snippets on my blog. I’ll also be talking in more detail about my processes in my patron newsletter and sharing some of the drafts.

  2. juliebond says:

    Joseph Campbell also wrote a book called ‘Myths to Live By’. I remember reading that back in the 1980’s. He has done some great work on myths and mythology, although not on Brythonic mythology that I can remember.

    • lornasmithers says:

      Yes I’ve read and enjoyed Campbell too. I was intrigued by how Sharon Blackie tried to provide a female alternative in her eco-heroine’s journey. Much of it I liked but I didn’t relate to many of her personal experiences.

      • Robin Herne says:

        Hillman’s Soul Code is worth a look, and Erskine’s Life Scripts covers Berne’s arguments and more. Or Steiner’s Scripts People Live By. You might consider Fanita English on episcripts, if you haven’t already done so – though I’m not sure how any of her books have been translated into English. She does have some good podcasts on YouTube though.

  3. Greg Hill says:

    Finding a myth to live by is essential though many people live myths without consciously articulating them and so suffer a disjunction between intentions and actions. But creation myths are tricky, liable as you say, to clash with those proposed by others and, in our day, also having to compete with astrophysics, geology and evolution theory, or having to find a way to harmonise with them.

  4. M.T. says:

    I have had the opposite experience regarding myths and gods. I was initially attracted to the Brythonic and Romano-British gods, but I didn’t experience a strong connection. I offered repeatedly to create/transcribe myths for them, but never got any feedback. With my discovery of Antinous came connection, devotion, and inspiration to write. And Antinous has connections to Kemetic, Hellenic, and Roman polytheism and to a broad spectrum of gods and myths.

    • lornasmithers says:

      It always intrigues me how experience of the gods is so different with everyone. Not only with different pantheons but with individual gods themselves. How they’re often not as culture-tied as suspect. How they so often surprise us.

  5. Rob Marchment says:

    This post is an encouraging and inspiring expression of many things that I was only half-aware that I am seeking. Thank you for the illumination of your spirit and your words…

    Rob

    • lornasmithers says:

      I’d recommend ‘Memories, Dreams, Reflections’ as an account of his inner life and experiences. The Red Book is very interesting too but it wasn’t meant to be published and is less well edited. I enjoyed his books on psychology and religion for their content and depth of research but didn’t agree with his theories so much. It’s been a long time since I’ve read them.

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