Friday, December 2, 2011

Artemis and the Amazons

I was looking online today, and one of the search terms I used was "The Goddess Artemis". As you can imagine, that search term resulted in innumerable pagan, neo-pagan, historical, archaeological, and even christian sites. Among these were sites that fit into the magical/neo-pagan vein that bugged me. Not because they were magical or neo-pagan, the ancient Greeks practiced forms of magic and had many superstitious beliefs (not saying all belief in magic is superstitious, by the way) that included the Gods and their many "powers". What bugged me was the way some of these site present misinformation, fantasy, and myth as fact backed by historians and archaeologists.

One such site claimed that the cities of the Eastern part of the ancient Greek world, cities like Ephesus, for example, were founded by Amazons, and that it was the Amazons who founded the cult of the Great Goddess of Ephesus. Claiming that historians agree this is the case.

Let's make this clear, while it is possible that what the Greeks called the Amazons were a real culture that was subjugated by the Greeks at some point, and that it being in the Eastern Aegean makes some sense, there is no historian, other than one wearing a tin foil hat, who would make a claim that with absolute certitude they existed and had founded Ephesus. Claiming this is at best a lie, at worst the sign of a truly stupid historian or archaeologist who is simply seeing what he or she wants to see in the evidence of that area.

I am not a believer in presenting myth as reality. I see it as a separate thing, something that is representative, sometimes of forgotten history, but never to be taken literally. Were there Amazons? I don't know, but the amazon myth is not one to be taken literal. Was there a Thesus? I don't know, he could represent a great king of ancient Athens, but one should not take his existence for granted as anything other than a myth.

So, what do I see as myth, and what value do I place in it?

Myths are stories which, told over centuries, gain and lose much detail. Some myths are about explaining the Gods and how the people of a certain area see them. Some myths are the stories of great actions, heroic deeds, and great sacrifices made by real people which gain in them fictional elements, or elements that explain the way the people see their actions as being in accord with the will of the Gods. Some myths are pure fiction, created to explain the world or even to frighten children into behaving properly. Which ones are which is not something we can know with any certainty, except as our own speculations.

I see in myth a variety of uses, and I hold them to different levels of esteem and sacredness depending on what they seem to accomplish. The myths present in larger stories, such as Iliad, Odyssey, or in philosophical works, present to us myth as fiction, or as education. These, especially, become more "sacred" to me than do simple myths, but they all are important to the way we perceive the Gods and the people of the ancient world.

To me, Myth is useful, and I value it as these:




  • Education about the nature of the divine
  • Education about the nature of a god
  • Education about a set of beliefs or philosophies
  • Explanation of the natural world
  • Detailing great heroic deeds
  • Detailing the origins of a people
  • Detailing the origins of a religious belief or system
  • Detailing ritual
  • Passing on culture and language
  • Entertainment

In so far as myths accomplish any of these, or any combination of these, I find value in myth. Where I find myth sacred, however, is in ritual that illuminates the divine in the context of prayer, ritual, or meditation.

Presenting myth as history, however, is a no no. Myth can lead us to history, by asking the question, were there Amazons, we can be lead to explore the history of the Eastern Aegean, but taking the myth itself as proof only makes me question your credibility, and in some cases, your intelligence.


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