Monday, 29 December 2008

Sacred Texts

To paraphrase some statements I've read recently:

How does anyone know if story cycles and legends - which generally seem to be medieval, no earlier - can tell us anything much about belief systems that existed prior to Christian, medieval Europe? Aren't they refracted and distorted through the Christian lens? Rely on these texts is dangerous, surely?

There is also a problem with people basing their lives/belief systems on anything for which they have to rely on translation.

One reason to be a pagan is to reject living by any book or dogma. Sure, it's a way of life for others who can't break away from the lure of dogma, being told what to think by a written text or a liturgy. But for others, it has no authority.

And, on a more personal note from one:

I love "The Mabinogion" but I could never live by it, quite apart from the fact I can only ever read it in translation so can only pick up a shadow of what it's actually saying.

My thoughts follow.

Linguists are still making inroads into unravelling the texts, allowing us to see the influences, so I don't consider an inability to read texts in their original language a barrier. Besides which, I don't have the ability to read any of the texts in their original language, nor do I have the means to go to university and study linguistics, history and archaeology in order to confirm/deny for myself the validity of the translations. Then again, I suspect I'm not the only pagan in this position. I imagine a lot of heathens, celtic and brythonic pagans find themselves in the same position. I suppose western buddhists and other non-Christian groups would find themselves with similar dilemnas.

I can understand the statements made in the quotes above. However, there is a wealth of texts relating to stories (which can be traced back, linguistically and historically) prior to their being put in written form. I don't see any reason to dismiss any of them, just because I am unable to read, or listen to them in their original language and/or form. I prefer to seek out those who study the texts and then discern, for myself, what is valid and what is not.

And, what about SPG - does one completely ignore these when examining texts?

In my opinion, the texts are still valuable guides when seeking to verify UPG and, certainly, this seems to have been borne out over the years by various groups working towards a common goal.

That said, I have a lot of reading still to do in relation to myths, legends, folklore, history and languages of the British Isles. Just because my reading list is long doesn't mean to say I base the whole of my beliefs on texts alone. Experience, aligned with the stories in the text, is far more meaningful. Well, let's just say, I'm glad I have the written word to check against, rather than a long line of SPG. It makes my chosen spirital path less about faith and more about belief.

I would be interested to hear the opinions of others as to whether they believe the texts are useful or obsolete in relation to their chosen path.


Cygnus MacLlyr said...

You make a good point about experience. Texts are great for their ability to succinctly summarize, and wonderful ways of passing along collective knowledge, but are just written words unless one can relate to their intended message or lessons. I've had many an "oh!THAT's what that meant!!!" moment tying writ with act (or thought, or...).
I value books as teaching tools (and pleasure pastimes), but more so ones that I can relate to via experience.

I must claim i don't know what the anacronyms (SPG & UPG) stand for,though. Contextually, seems maybe oral tradition and written? Help,please! :)

Better to have translated texts than no access to the knowledge at all,n'est-ce pas?

Thanks for 'listening'.


DarklyFey said...

I don`t think texts are obsolete at all. I believe we can rely on both our brains and our guts to provide us with enough information to know if something is of value to us or not. Thankfully, there is no white-bearded guy in the sky hanging about to throw lightening bolts at us if we get it wrong. I think when we get it right, we`ll know because it works for us, and when we get it wrong, we`ll know because it won`t work for us.

Heron said...

This is a subtle issue.

I have read quite a bit of the sort of British/Northern stuff people draw on in the original. I took modules in Old English and Old Norse as an undergraduate so had to read Beowulf, bits of the sagas and Snorri. But my inclination is towards Brythonic stuff so I did not follow up this basic knowledge and taught myself to read Middle Welsh instead so I could read e.g. Y Mabinogi and Culhwch and olwen. Do I know something people people only using a translation don't know? As far as content almost certainly not as the translations now available are accurate and scholarly and usually include notes discussing any difficult issues. But I certainly 'feel' closer to the text by reading the originals and and to the patterns of thought of the author of those writings.

But that doesn't itself get me nearer the gods who may be only palely reflected there. Because i can read of Rhiannon in medieval Welsh, am I any closer to Rigantona? Perhaps I like to think so, but wouldn't feel able to assert it in an argument.

Ancestral Gael said...

UPG - Unsubstantiated personal gnosis;

SPG - Substantiated personal gnosis.

Bo said...

I'm wholly with heron on this - you lose *something* when you read a good translation of the Mabinogion, rather than the original, but you don't lose the *meaning* as such. I think that comes across loud and clear. It's more like the rhythm of the prose, the alliterations, and so on, which get lost. And most pagans aren't terribly interested in that kind of thing anyway.

Unknown said...

great points! i struggle so much to get to grips with celtic mythology, because i think to myself, how can we have any understanding of those beliefs when the celts didn't put anything into writing until after conversion to christianity - therefore tainting the stories with a christian view point? then again i suppose the same is true of the norse gods although the norse managed to avoid coversion for a while longer. i believe its important to both study the texts and get to know the old gods through nature and your own experience.