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Posts Tagged ‘comparative mythology’

This course is a further study of mythical themes and events in several Indo-European cultures. The goal is to deepen a student’s knowledge and understanding of I-E cultures’ mythologies such that s/he can understand elements and themes beyond the basic level, as well as usefully compare and contrast them. Some application of knowledge learned is required in this course.

The primary goal of this course is for students to conduct a detailed exploration of specified Indo-European mythic elements and events and apply this knowledge for the creation of original liturgical elements for ADF ritual.

Course Objectives

  1. Students will increase their knowledge of specified mythological themes and events by researching and analyzing these themes and events within several different Indo-European cultures.
  2. Students will utilize knowledge attained through research to compose an original piece of liturgy for the creation or (re)creation of the cosmos appropriate for use in ADF ritual and a piece describing the “winning of the waters” appropriate for use in ADF ritual.

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A short evaluation of where I am on the Dedicant Path after somewhere around 7 months of work. These are the actual DP requirements, followed by a little bit about where I am towards completing them.

Written discussions of the Dedicant’s understanding of each of the following nine virtues: wisdom, piety, vision, courage, integrity, perseverance, hospitality, moderation and fertility. The Dedicant may also include other virtues, if desired, and compare them to these nine. (125 words min. each)

These are complete, as of yesterday’s posting of the Fertility essay. Some will need some editing, but I think I’d rather run a little long and have good, real life examples than cut out the meat of the essay just to make it fit the word count.

Short essays on each of the eight ADF High Days including a discussion of the meaning of each feast. (125 words min. each)

Completed: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Eostara, Beltane, Midsummer. All I have left are the last two (Lammas/Lughnassadh and Fall Equinox/Mabon). These are fairly standard, since I’ve been pagan for awhile, so they don’t take too long. Making sure I include some hearth-culture information is important, but I’ve changed hearths a few times so they’re a bit eclectic.

Short book reviews on at least: 1 Indo-European studies title, 1 preferred ethnic study title and 1 modern Paganism title. These titles can be selected from the recommended reading list in the Dedicant Program manual or the ADF web site, or chosen by the student, with prior approval of the Preceptor. (325 word min. each)

Complete. Book reviews include Gods and Myths of Northern Europe, Comparative Mythology, and Drawing Down the Moon. I may complete some other book reviews (particularly of Anglo-Saxon specific books) but those will be more for myself and/or for Oak Leaves.

A brief description, with photos if possible, of the Dedicant’s home shrine and plans for future improvements. (150 words min.)

Completed and posted here. Pictures attained of my altar as it was first set up, as it was in progress, and as it exists now (which is likely how it will exist for awhile). I have plans to add some actual God statues or symbols, but that will have to wait on budget and finding ones I like.

An essay focusing on the Dedicants understanding of the meaning of the “Two Powers” meditation or other form of ‘grounding and centering’, as used in meditation and ritual. This account should include impressions and insights that the Dedicant gained from practical experience. (300 word min)

Completed and posted here.

An essay or journal covering the Dedicant’s personal experience of building mental discipline, through the use of meditation, trance, or other systematic techniques on a regular basis. The experiences in the essay or journal should cover at least a five months period. (800 words min.)

Completed and posted here.

An account of the Dedicant’s efforts to work with nature, honor the Earth, and understand the impacts and effects of the Dedicant’s lifestyle choices on the environment and/or the local ecosystem and how she or he could make a difference to the environment on a local level. (500 word min)

Not completed, but I have notes started for this, plus several preparatory posts that I’ve put up here about my landbase and how I interact with it. This will probably be my next “big” essay that I tackle.

A brief account of each High Day ritual attended or performed by the Dedicant in a twelve month period. High Days attended/performed might be celebrated with a local grove, privately, or with another Neopagan group. At least 4 of the rituals attended/performed during the training period must be ADF-style. (100 words min. each)

Completed: Samhain, Yule, Imbolc, Eostara, Beltane/Maitag, Midsummer. Next will be Lammas/Lughnassadh and the Fall Equinox. I don’t expect these will be troublesome, as I write them up immediately following my rituals. I am shooting to have all 8 rituals be ADF COoR style, though they represent a few different hearth cultures.

ONE essay describing the Dedicants understanding of and relationship to EACH of the Three Kindreds: the Spirits of Nature, the Ancestors and the Gods. (300 words min. for each Kindred and 1000 words total)

I’ve posted several preparatory essays for this, but have not yet started on formulating the final essay. I’m a little intimidated by this requirement, since I don’t always feel like my attachments to the kindreds are “deep enough” or “good enough” yet to write this essay, but I know that I’m expected only to be DEVELOPING that relationship, not to have everything worked out. It’s only a year long program after all. I’ll probably attack this one after I do my Nature Awareness essay. I have some notes prepared for this as well.

A brief account of the efforts of the Dedicant to develop and explore a personal (or Grove-centered) spiritual practice, drawn from a specific culture or combination of cultures. (600 words min.)

Another requirement that feels HUGE to get started on. I’m not sure how I want to write about this, but since it’s an experiential essay, I imagine there’s not a lot that I can do wrong. Will need to make sure I document my travels through a few hearth cultures as I figured out where I belong (at least where I think I belong at the moment). Also, I need to talk about my experience as a solitary by choice, since that is figuring large in my practice, and in how I am searching for a long-distance Druid community as well. My notes on what does and doesn’t work for me in ritual will probably come in handy here.

The text of the Dedicant’s Oath Rite and a self-evaluation of the Dedicant’s performance of the rite. (500 word min.)

This is the one I have no idea how to approach. I’m wary of oath-making in general, so it will definitely be the last requirement I complete, because I want to make sure I have everything else feeling solid and finished. I’m going to be very careful about how I approach this, and honestly will be asking for advice on how to write an oath that I can feel comfortable with. If there was anything that would prohibit me from completing the DP, it would be this requirement – not too long ago I was getting prepared to take an oath to a different tradition, and that turned out poorly (before any oaths were made, fortunately). I don’t want the same thing to happen again, so I think I will continue to be hesitant about doing this. Still, the longer I practice this, the more comfortable it is (which is to be expected).

I never did a formal “first oath” when I started the DP – I just promised myself that I would finish it, and I think I can see the end in sight at this point. I’m well over half way done, and well ahead of the Wheel of the Year book in several regards. Now it’s just time to knock out some of the bigger essays that really show progress and how far I’ve come in the months that I’ve been on this journey.

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This book review is part of the requirements for the reading list for the Dedicant Path. It intends to fulfill the requirement for the Indo-European Studies title.

To start with, this is a dense book. It’s not light reading, and though Puhvel clearly has a sense of humor, the tag on the Recommended Reading list as “Post Graduate” reading level is accurate. There were several times through the course of the book where I felt rather like a student who had decided to skip the prerequisites for an upper level class. I’m not put off by academic writing, and I’m glad to have gotten through it, but it was definitely a bit thick in spots.

Puhvel sets out at the beginning to discuss a brief history of what he calls “metamythology” – the study of how we study myths. This foundation of the study of mythology put his book into context, as well as showing how the archaeological and anthropological Indo-European studies have impacted how we look at what are now known as the I-E myths. Instead of simply cataloging myths in their various cultures, the search is for the proto-myths to go with the proto-language. Puhvel argues that “the datum itself is more important than any theory that may be applied to it” (p. 19) and that we should be wary of overemphasizing the generalist, universalist, and overly historical aspects of myths, instead taking them independently for what they are. Myth needs no specific nature, function, or purpose, instead it should be examined as it functions in individual and societal situations, and compared as such.

Taking this as his method, Puhvel then discusses in the various creation myths in the Ancient Near East, introducing the idea of mythic diffusion – the spread, interaction, and conglomeration of myths both vertically in time and laterally across cultures (p. 22). He establishes a three-generational pattern of “overthrow, usurpation, succession, challenge, and consolidation” (p. 24) that are common across many of the ancient Near Eastern myths.

After this, Puhvel concludes the Directions section of his book with an examination of what, exactly, the terms Indo-European and Indo-Iranian actually mean, discussing some of the history and cultural relationships that form the language groups these myths belonged to. Of particular interest was his discussion on how certain cultures ended up being better at preserving myths than others, specifically those who were not exposed to strong outside cultures and who had a strong priestly class – the brahmins in India, high priesthood in Iran, the pontifical and flaminical colleges in Rome, and the druids of ancient Gaul and Britain (p. 38). These cultures in particular come up again and again throughout the book as having major myths that compare to one another.

In the second section of Comparative Mythology, Puhvel sets out to explain, briefly, the myth cycles of Vedic India, Epic India, Ancient Iran, Epic Iran, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Celtic Myth, Germanic Myth, and Baltic and Slavic Myth. In each of these chapters, beginning with the Vedic foundation, he sets up the basic social structure (almost always tripartite – priests, warriors/kings, producers/farmers/craftsmen) and the gods that go along with each of those social strata.

He examines these myths in a mostly chronological fashion, which puts Vedic India at the forefront, as the oldest recorded culture in the Indo-European group. This ended up being more than a little confusing for someone with limited prior experience in Vedic mythology. Though I’ve read the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, and parts of the Mahabarata, it was apparently long enough ago that I really struggled with the comparisons between myths, since the general basis was always assumed to be Vedic, and I had trouble keeping my Verunas and Vrtras straight. However, as I continued reading (with notes), I ended up better understanding those myths as I got to the sections delineating the myth cycles I was more familiar with (Greece, Rome, Celtic, Norse), both due to repetition and to having a framework I could understand references in.

In the final section, Themes, Puhvel takes a more expanded view of five recurring themes across major sections of the Indo-European cultures: God and Warrior, King and Virgin, Horse and Ruler, Fire in Water, and Twin and Brother. Each of these myths ends up being foundational to the cultures involved, specifically how their three-part social setup is reflected in the myths around respective gods. For example, God and Warrior is a theme directly related to the conflict seen in society because “order, security, and peace […] tend to depend for their preservation on the readiness of something that is inherently destructive” (p. 241). This essential cultural conflict is reflected in the great heroes, who end up as “pawns in divine infighting” (p. 247), burdened by their fate to commit crimes against the cultures in which they live. This warrior saga is portrayed in the Scandinavian (Starcatherus), Indic (Sisupala) and Greek (Herakles) myths, with each having traits of the greater proto-myth while still maintaining ties to the unique cultures in which they originated.

Overall, I’m glad to have read Comparative Mythology, though I don’t know that I will pick it up again in a hurry for light reading. It is a very strong reference for the ways these myths tie together, but that is a double edged sword in the search for a hard polytheistic religion. It would be easy, having read this, to assume that Dyaus, Zeus, and Jupiter are the same god, all descended from *Dyews, when a hard polytheist looks to place those different gods within their respective cultures as individuals with specific worship preferences. Also, Puhvel occasionally stretches his connections a bit far, at least to my relatively inexperienced mind, which may simply mean I need to re-read the book to really understand all the references (and read several other books on mythology first).

Still, the book is extremely successful at laying out the ties between these far-flung but related cultural groups, and Puhvel is extensive (occasionally excessive) at showing the linguistic ties that underlie the similarities in the stories. Puhvel sets out to show the connections between these seemingly diverse mythological cycles, and he does so admirably.

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