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Many are those that focus on female divinities, leaving male divinities in the shadows if they get mentioned at all. This is a shame. Here I will share my thoughts, stories and prayers on male divinities.

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Sun Myths and Science

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Of all the myths, it is the myths of the sun that give me the most trouble.  The typical sun myth is that the divinity of the sun rides around the earth in some type of conveyance and then takes a different one or a different form to return to the original starting point.  This myth stems from the original belief that the sun travels around the earth.  It is the ancient’s explanation for the days and nights.  Yet we of the modern era know this is incorrect.

 

The romantic part of me prefers the poetic tale that the Greeks tell of Eos flying or riding before the Sun as his herald, while Hemara draws back the curtains of Nyx and Erebos, so that the light of Helios is visible.  Helios is then followed by the Hesperides who again draw the curtains of Erebos so that Nyx can have her sway.  Then Helios rides in a golden ship (presumably with his chariot and winged horses) on Okeanos back to his starting point.  I like the complicated movement of it all.  The visual that it gives me is entrancing and entertaining.  I also like the tale of the seasons caused by Demeter’s mourning over her daughter’s forced annual stay in the underworld.  My logical brain is more forgiving of Demeter and Persephone’s myths. 

The myths of Helios, however, give me fits.  The earth actually pirouettes continually around the sun, sometimes leaning toward and sometimes away.  It is the turning on the axis that sets the days and nights.  We know that when one side is having day the other side of the earth is having night.  We also know that it is the tilt that sets our seasons. 

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Since we know that the sun’s myths are inaccurate for the sciences of here and now, how do you deal with it?   Do you ignore it?  Do you keep logic separate from mythological?  If you are a polytheist, how do you account for the many different sun gods from all the different cultures?  We only have one sun.  I have a hard time picturing a chariot relay so that each god takes a turn.  So how do you work out this modern corundum?  Or is it only me that has trouble reconciling this duality of viewpoints?

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I am a Hellenic Pagan, dedicated to Zeus, living in the Colorado mountains with my husband, our son, two cats and a yellow lab.  In the little bit of free time that I have, I enjoy reading and crafting.

Comments

  • Eli Effinger-Weintraub
    Eli Effinger-Weintraub Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    I've struggled with this a lot, as well, Aj. Once upon a time I tried writing a story that reworked the solar myth based on accurate science, but I could never get it quite right. Your post inspires me to try returning to it.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    Once you get it written, I'd love to read it!

  • Farrell Mc Govern
    Farrell Mc Govern Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    How do you reconcile Myths of the Gods when they have been contradicted by current day science? Easy! Treat those Myths like science treats disproved theories! Science knows that theories are prone to being overturned as new data comes in, and the only stigma attached to obsolete theories is when you continue to believe them after new data shows they were wrong.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    So just ignore them?

  • Farrell Mc Govern
    Farrell Mc Govern Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    It's obsolete...Heliocentric Cosmology has been soundly invalidated! Sure, we should learn about obsolete theories, but we also should know that they have been replaced with more accurate theories. So we move on, and seek myths that agree with our Cosmologies today. Besides, do your really think The Gods have been static? The only thing that doesn't change are dead things, and The Gods are not dead! Life is change!

  • Farrell Mc Govern
    Farrell Mc Govern Monday, 01 July 2013

    The only real value in ancient myths is in their story telling value. And that is not an insignificant thing. The human being is a entity that defines it's reality by the stories it lives. And myths give us the base stories to live by. The best know example of this is Campbell's "Hero's Journey". We see that same story told many many times. It's the story that is important, now who plays the main characters. As time goes on, the same story is recast with new characters that have meaning to the people of that time and space. The myths of thousands of years ago really have little meaning when extracted from their time and space. We may get the basic story and see only the broadest strokes of the brush...but I can guarantee that stories of Zeus and the other Olympians were much richer in colour and texture to those who heard them in the time and place where they were created, ad we can get only the crudest shadow of that in our context today. Which is why we must write our own stories for our own contexts for we will almost always write the same stories, populated by our time and place's meaningful nuances.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    Oh no, I do NOT think the gods are static or dead or archetypes. Life is change. I'd be interested in seeing mythology that agree with what we know today to be the truth yet looses none of the poetry which makes life rich.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    I'd be more interested to hear/see mythology within our own community (however contentious) rather than humanity at large.

    Neil Gaimen I of course know of though have not had the opportunity to read nearly enough of his works. The Johnsons I've not heard of before.

  • Farrell Mc Govern
    Farrell Mc Govern Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    There *IS* lots of Mythology that is current that speaks of the Gods in today's society. Take a look at the stories written by people like Neil Gaiman, or TV series like The Almighty Johnsons for modern day myths. It is the story tellers who create the myths, it is time, our faith and The Gods who will define if these stories become part of our Mythology.

  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    Myths, like all sacred literature (and like all stories generally), must be interpreted. No genuine Myth is ever "disproven by science". All that is disproven are simplistic overly-literal interpretations of a given Myth.

    Any good story (and certainly any story worthy of being designated as a Myth) must have many different layers of interpretation.

    Anyone who doesn't know this already should cease and desist from speaking of Myths and Science in any way shape or form, either by themselves or as they relate to each other.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    I am well aware of the many layers of interpretations that myths have, so do not assume otherwise. I'd be interested in what you see in this myth instead of being told to keep my supposed ignorant mouth shut.

  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    But you do not frame your argument in terms of the "many layers of interpretation that myths have". Rather, you explicitly frame things in terms of whether or not the myths themselves are "true" or not.

    The ancients were well aware of the fact that many myths are not literally true. Are you aware of that?

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    Sir, I begin to think you are a troll. I will feed you this one helping and then no more, no matter how you vex me. I did not put my thoughts in any terms but those that served me and my migraine at the time. I regret nothing that I have written. I asked for viewpoint of others on the topic, no matter where they fall on the spiritual or religious spectrum to use such discussion to hopefully find an answer that will satisfy both the romantic and logical parts of me. Yes I am aware of what the ancients thought, but I'm not asking the ancients for an answer, I'm asking my fellow modern man.

    Good day to you sir.

  • Apuleius Platonicus
    Apuleius Platonicus Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    If you are aware that myths must be understood on many levels, AND that the ancients were wise enough to not interpret myths literally, then what is your problem? It is only because you have imposed your own narrow, literal interpretation on solar myths that, according to you, these myths are somehow incompatible with science.

  • James Scafidi
    James Scafidi Wednesday, 26 June 2013

    For me personally, it doesn't really matter that science disproves the mythology, because I don't regard spiritual stories and myths as fact. I tend to distinguish between "fact" and "truth," because I think stories can still hold a certain amount of truth for us, even if they're not factual.

    That the Sun does not actually orbit the Earth, but vice-versa, doesn't mean the same phenomona of the "Solar Chariot" appearing to move across the sky is no longer visible. The sun still rises in the east, rolls through the sky, and then sets in the west every day. Science has shown us why, but it hasn't stopped day and night from happening. We have a richer understanding now of HOW these things work, but the reality is, they still work.

    I suppose what I'm getting at, in short, is that we don't necessarily need the myths to explain these phenomona today, since we have a solid scientific understanding of them, but it doesn't make the stories obsolete, per se. We just look at them in a new way now, and glean new truths from them that relate more closely to our spiritual nature. In that respect, I think the scientific knowledge of HOW things work removes the literal part of the stories and allows us to connect to them MORE deeply in a spiritual sense, as opposed to less deeply.

  • Melia Brokaw
    Melia Brokaw Thursday, 27 June 2013

    So what truths do you get from these myths?

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 27 June 2013

    “WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN'T SAVED HIM?
    "Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?"
    NO
    "Oh, come on. You can't expect me to believe that. It's an astronomical fact."
    THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
    ...
    "Really? Then what would have happened, pray?"
    A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
    ― Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

  • John Halstead
    John Halstead Thursday, 27 June 2013

    I don't think there is just one sun. There's the flaming ball of gas that science reveals to us. And it fills me with wonder and awe. And then there is the sun that wakes me in the morning and moves across the blue sky. And it fills me with a different kind of wonder and awe.

  • Joseph Bloch
    Joseph Bloch Thursday, 27 June 2013

    Once Heimdall came to me and we walked for many hours in the hills and forests. A rain shower came, and when it was done, He took my shoulder and bade me gaze at the rainbow that now touched the sky.

    "Behold!" He said. "Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge by which men can travel to Asgard and Gods to Midgard." He spoke with the contented smile of one who sees a thing exactly as it should be, exactly where it should be.

    I began to speak. I told him of the refractive properties of water droplets suspended in the atmosphere. I spoke to him of the wavelengths of light and how they produce color, and of rods and cones in the human eye that allows us to see them. I told him about antisolar points and total internal reflection, and all the other things science tells us about what a rainbow actually is, rather than the stories of myth.

    And when I was done, Heimdall, politely silent and with a slight smile on his lips the whole time I spoke, spoke once more.

    "Yes," He said. "That too."

    (--Very freely adapted from "Mummy" by White Wolf Games, sometime back in the 1990's...)

  • Editor B
    Editor B Monday, 01 July 2013

    I shared this with Jon Cleland Host. Here's his reply. What follows are his words not mine but I thought they were very wise.

    For me, the fact that the ancient myths are incorrect in no way dimishes their power. If anything, it amplifies it, by bringing me more into the minds of our Ancestors. It reminds me of what it was like to be one of them - that for them, they looked into the sky and really did see the Sun going around the flat Earth. That the world with that Cosmology was a real to them as we see our world today. Yes, our view is closer to the truth, but that's not the point. The point is that we, like them, are striving to understand the world we live in, working to see the world for what it really is, and all of us still have ample sources of wonder, awe and mystery. The fact that we know more than them doesn't change that.

    Also, because none of us individually figured out heliocentrism, we all have to face the fact that our better knowledge is an unearned gift from previous humans who hadn't yet lived when our ancient Ancestors tried to understand our world. They simply hadn't been given that gift, while we have been given it - so that should hopefull quash any feeling of superiority over them, or any feeling that they are somehow deficient for not knowing that the Earth turned. Instead of any snobbery over the fact that we have an unearned gift that they weren't given, I feel gratitude for those who figured it out, which I benefit from today.

    The ancient myths about the Sun, then, are a rich and powerful way for me to experience the world of our Ancestors, to feel gratitude for their creativity, and to apprecieate that we all are babes before the mysteries of the Universe.

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