Myth

Why myths?

The 4th century CE Roman philosopher wrote that myths are stories of things that never happened, but always are. Like many ancient pagan philosophers, some Humanistic Pagans understand ancient pagan myths as allegories about nature. Humanistic Pagans experience a profound and abiding sense of wonder and reverence at the vision of the evolution of the universe and of biological life presented by contemporary science. This sense of wonder, both at what we know and what we don’t know of the the natural world, deserves to be called “spiritual” or “religious”. Many Humanistic Pagans find that this sense of wonder is best expressed in narrative or story.

The story of the evolution of the universe has been variously called the “Epic of Evolution” (E. O. Wilson), “the Great Story” (Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow), “the Universe Story” (Brian Swimme) and “Big History” (David Christian). The story begins with the Big Bang and proceeds through the formation of galaxies, the seeding of space by supernovas, the formation of our solar system and the earth, the emergence of biological life, the evolution of homo sapiens, right down to the present moment. The story is open ended, as the evolution of the Cosmos is ongoing.

The Epic of Evolution teaches us that the universe is self-organizing, and that complexity is an emergent property of matter. It teaches us that we are an interconnected part of nature and that our individual and collective lives are a small, but integral part of the evolution of the universe. It teaches us that we are related to each other as one large family, not just human beings, but all animals, as well as plants, and even the earth and the sky. It teaches us that, in a very real sense, we are the universe. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson explains:

“Recognize that the very molecules that make up your body, the atoms that construct the molecules, are traceable to the crucibles that were once the centers of high mass stars that exploded their chemically-rich guts into the galaxy, enriching pristine gas clouds with the chemistry of life — so that we are all connected to each other biologically, to the earth chemically, and to the rest of the universe atomically.

“So that when I look up at the night sky, and I know that yes, we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up — many people feel small, ’cause they’re small and the universe is big. But I feel big because my atoms came from those stars” (Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries).

The Epic of Evolution acts as a meta-myth or “narrative core” for Humanistic Pagans. In a ritual context, Humanistic Pagans may draw upon myths from ancient pagan cultures (like the ancient Greeks, Egyptians, or Celts) or from contemporary Neopaganism (like Robert Graves’ myth of the seasonal interaction of the Goddess and her male consorts). But rather than taking these myths as literal fact, Humanistic Pagans understand them within the context of the Epic of Evolution.

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