Referring back to an earlier post, some people have suggested that Pagan ‘theology’ was through myths. In a sense this is true, but in a sense that I think is deeper, it is not. Perhaps this is because of how what we mean by ‘theology’ has evolved over the centuries.
When the Odyssey was an oral tradition, the myths were alive and meaningful in people’s experience. It is also significant that the Greek plays were just that, plays, and not treatises. The act of presenting them as plays was an important element in their power. A story teller or play can “cast a spell” on the audience rather differently than when we get drawn into reading even the most fascinating theological treatise. At least that’s true for me. Paganisms roots are oral for more than historical reasons
I think this is at least partly because plays and oral stories are experientially far richer even if not as rationally focused than when we re drawn into the printed text. Many scholars have suggested when the Odyssey was written down, it began to lose its spiritual power because reading is a very distancing activity compared to hearing a recital or seeing a play. (David Abrams’ wonderful Spell of the Sensuous is my favorite book on this issue. )
Distancing puts us ‘into our heads’ and from a Pagan perspective, that is only a small part of what counts. I think it is very significant that Plato, the founder of the Western philosophical tradition if there is one, repeatedly said he did not write down his most important teachings. At the end of the classical tradition the last major figures in Classical Neoplatoism, Plotinus and Iamblichus, were similarly skeptical of the power of the written word. Plotinus taught meditation and Iamblichus practiced theurgy, an important part of which which was essentially what we call “drawing down the moon.”
In Karen Armstrong’s sense of the terms, theology leans strongly towards logos, linear logical reasoning about the sacred. Mythos by contrast is metaphorical, holistic, nonlinear, and intuitive. It drives logocentric minds up the wall. (I think BOTH are important, but for different things. They work best together.)
Pagan emphasis on ritual, participation, and personal encounter with the divine tells us something important: that Pagan spirituality is not able to be put into words the way the Abrahamic traditions can be. As I understand it one major reason that many people have integrated Catholic practice with Pagan practice in places like Mexico and Brazil is precisely Catholicism’s emphasis on ritual at the popular level. African Paganism survived in Catholic cultures with slaves, it did far less well in the Protestant South.
I think there is another dimension at wok here as well. A common distinction between Pagan and Christian outlooks, affirmed by Christian and Pagan alike, is that the Christian outlook is historical, the Pagan cyclical. Jesus was born, taught, suffered, died, was resurrected and at some specific point in the future will return. There is a story here with a beginning and an end. This is particularly the outlook of evangelical and popular Protestant spirituality. Christian theology tries to get at the clear meaning of this story. We have a story, what is its meaning? This leads us to logos.
Pagan spirituality is cyclical rather than historical. We are immersed within a cycle, not moving along a trajectory. The cycle manifests in and around and through us, it does not happen to us. It is experiential viscerally. We have meaning. What story can we tell about it? This leads us to mythos. The myths are our stories about the meaning we discover through ritual and experience. As stories in the Christian sense, they are absurd. The Christian approach seems to me the opposite: theology unpacks the meaning in the stories and the events they describe.
So Christianity is far more dependent on what we now call theology than we are.
Of course we can try and write about our best understanding of what is happening. I am doing this now. But because we are so rooted in experience rather than a linear understanding, in nonlinear meaning rather than in stories with meaning, and because we are individual centers of experience, we will not have all the same experiences, nor interpret them in the same way, nor can we , and that is all right.