This month’s post of Mythological Monday! Hurray! Today, I want to talk about why anybody should study mythology/religion, especially writers, and why I enjoy it.
As was commented on in a previous post about religion and the writing craft, some writers treat religion and mythology as a single unit: mythology. I don’t. They are still important to learn for various reasons. Firstly, if you’re not learning something, then you’re stagnating…dying. Also, nothing can give insight into a culture like studying their mainstream religions. Religion and mythology can also help us understand our own pasts, like a theological history. Religion and mythology are great resources, and sometimes great beginnings, for writers. And finally, most real people have a religion that they subscribe to, so a character that you want to feel real, should also have one.
There is a reason why I separate religion and mythology into two groups. Even among religions there are sets of beliefs that are often mythological, and called so in that religion, but are not held as doctrine. A great example would be Judaism. They have doctrine, found in both the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. That is religion. They further have a set of stories, and some beliefs, which can be learned, is usually accepted as true, but “unfounded” so to speak. That is mythology. It is from one of those stories that my novel has blossomed. The Lilith myth. It is a story used to explain why there are two versions of the creation story in the Bible, why a woman is supposed to be subservient, as well as the existence of demons. This is mythology. I treat most ancient religions as religion: Greek mythology, Japanese, Norse, etc. Those I treat as religion. But when it’s clear that the religion has a set of beliefs that itself treats as myth, I almost have to treat it slightly differently.
And now for the ranting. Stagnation is a nice term for death. If a person is not learning something, anything, not stretching their comfort zone, they are dying. It really is that simple. I can say this from experience. I graduated last December. Since then I have not gone to school, but instead focused on trying to find employment. I have been learning nothing. And as the last nine, nearing ten, months have gone by I have felt myself wither away. All the zeal, the beliefs, the joy that I had in life has slowly been sapped away. I’m not learning. I’m not working. I can’t seem to do anything right now. Besides being completely depressing, there is a stagnation that creeps in even on my writing. I’ve noticed that as time has gone by my writing, at least the quality thereof, has suffered more than I would have at first believed. So yes, learning anything is important, but what could be more fascinating than another religion?
Learning the majority religion of any given culture can help a person understand that culture in ways that simply looking at it couldn’t. Why? Because oftentimes the history of a culture is tied to their practiced religions, sometimes to the point of being inseparable. If you’re studying the history, then you’re studying the religion. Japan, for example, if you’re studying their history, you’ll see the kamikaze pilots in WWII. That stems, at least in some part, to the Japanese sense of honor, which is linked to their religion.
These topics can also help us to understand our own history in new ways. It is said that “those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” We have seen this time and again with war…Korean War, Vietnam War, the War on “Terror.” All of them doomed to fail from the first. Of course, if you listen to Sun Tzu it’s because they didn’t understand the Art of War. But I digress, understanding the Christian roots of Western culture, most specifically American culture, can help us to comprehend why there is separation of Church and State, and why it should continue to be so. It can help us understand how things quite often go horribly wrong when religion and politics mesh. In our own history the most immediate situation that comes to mind is the question of “gay” marriage. I don’t have “gay” lunch. I have lunch. Marriage is the blending two souls no more. The Salem witch trials also come to mind. Abortion. The KKK. There really are too many problems to list.
Religion can also be a great resource for writers. It can be used for inspiration, like my own work was. Alternatively, the religions of ancient cultures are often used in present day, such as the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. It should not be necessary to point out that in every case, each writer brings something familiar to the story as well as something special only they could have thought of.
And finally, writers and readers alike prefer round, complex characters. Since most people have some kind belief, religious or otherwise, it only makes sense to let your characters have one. If your character is an ex-Catholic vampire from Jersey, s/he will act completely different from an Islamic werewolf from London. Hmm…an Islamic werewolf in London. That might have potential.
I started studying religion simply because I liked it. I enjoy learning different perspectives. I suppose that’s why some often think I have no perspective. That’s not entirely true. More often than not, when I was in my religion classes, I went against the majority for the fun of it, even if my personal beliefs aligned with theirs. Plus it really is the best way to go about learning history in my opinion.
On a completely different note, since this is my first October post, I thought I’d share my writing goals for this month. My single goal is to write 1,000 words a day, besides my blog. So far, I have only fell short yesterday by 100 words, but I simply had to go to bed.
- What was the significance of greek mythology to the ancient Greeks (wiki.answers.com)
- Religion and Perception (sarahdefined.wordpress.com)
- Why is Ancient Greek religion considered mythology (wiki.answers.com)