T is for Telling Stories

In some ways, I feel this is an odd thing to write about, as it isn’t something I do very often. I’m not just talking about mythology, either. I’m talking about new stories, mythological fanfiction, if you will. Because I feel it’s something I should do, in the sense of making new stories and making old stories more approachable. That, and Sobek hasn’t got a lot of mythology about Him, and I’d like to rectify that.

And now I feel really pompous for saying that, but I feel like it’s such a natural thing to do, to tell stories about the Gods to show what They’re like. That’s pretty much what mythology is.

In some ways, I feel like approaching this from a ‘fandom’ angle is kinda wrong, to turn my religion into fandom. But so much of this depends on how you approach it, though. I know I’ve submitted a few Egyptian mythology prompts to lgbtfest/queerfest over the years, as alternative versions of mythology and as ways of queering the stories of my Gods and my relationships with Them. I also want to do this for Wesir’s myth, to rewrite it and queer it. More on that in a few weeks, though.

I’ve been writing stories since I was twelve, but most of my writing isn’t about the Gods. Part of that is probably due to me not knowing It Was A Thing for most of my writing life, but another part is also being respectful to my Gods too. Not in the sense that I feel I can’t write anything about Them at all, but about being conscious about what I’m writing when I’m writing Them into my stories.

There’s always been a part of me that’s felt, IDK, inadequate with regards to devotional creative works. I’ve seen people paint and draw and sculpt amazing things for their Gods, with skills I don’t possess. I mean, I can do some forms of visual art, but I’ve never really considered myself an artist. I’m a writer. And I’m definitely not a poet. Prose is pretty much all I’m good at. And I’ve never particularly felt like there was any space for my kind of devotional work when it came to all the other kinds of devotional creative works within the Pagan community.

I still feel somewhat insecure about that, even though I’d love to write an epic story about Sobek and Heru-sa-Aset and their relationship, and how Heru would deal with choosing the androgynous Sobek as His consort when He was given Wesir’s throne. I want to write about Nit, the Great He-She, bringing up Hir son Sobek. I want to write Wesir as a trans* God, and rewrite His myth. Fuck it, I want to write about Sobek caring for Heru-pa-khered/Harpocrates when He and Aset were keeping Him hidden from Set. I want to write all the things, but there’s always a part of me that shies away from it, because I feel like it’s just me playing with ideas, and it’s not real mythology, and I’m sure someone somewhere would consider it blasphemous, insomuch as that has any kind of meaning in this context.

I think part of it is also because, well, no one does this sort of thing. I mean, I’ve seen a couple of Egyptian-ish fictionalised novels, but they’re more definitely in the fictional camp than quasi-mythological like what I want to do.

That, and I have no idea if anyone would even want to read them anyway, so why bother? I feel like it would just be seen as me slashing my Gods, and turning them into fanfic characters and nothing more. I’m sure someone would consider it disrespectful, even though I’m more interested in exploring relationships with my Gods and writing my own mythology.

I’m aware I’m probably being too precious with all this. I should just write it and be done with it, and then these ideas will stop bugging me. But I still worry about it. I feel like it’s the sort of thing I’d squirrel away on AO3, rather than post here, because I just don’t see this as a Thing within the online Pagan community, Avengers fandom notwithstanding.

There’s also a part of me that thinks that these myths I want to write are probably only relevant to me, and might not even be of interest to anyone else, that it’s just me trying to articulate UPG more than anything else. Then I think, fuck it, the world needs more queer mythology anyway. And then I wonder if I’m even up to the task and go write something that’s not this because I keep worrying I’ll fuck it up.

I mean, in some ways, I don’t see this as something odd. I mean, as far as I understand Kemetic mythology, telling stories about the Gods is how you understand Them and Their natures. It’s a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and sometimes I feel like, if I approach this as if I was a far-flung Sobek cult centre, I’d probably have my own versions of the myths, just like the other cult centres. Perhaps part of this priesting gig Sobek wants me to do is writing these new myths, to establish my own cult centre by having my own set of myths. (Though that sounds horribly pretentious and omg why am I even considering this? I’ll be over here, preparing my apocalyptic dystopian madness for NaNo instead, which is most definitely not mythology.)

I don’t know. I really don’t. It’s possible I’m totally overthinking this, and just worrying for no reason at all. But I am one of those insecure writerly types, particularly when it comes to writing about my Gods. I think I worry too much about getting it right, but this is one of those things I do want to get right when I do eventually give in and write them. If I’m going to write new myths, they’re going to be done properly. I just don’t think I’m up to that task just yet. Because who writes new myths about the Gods? No one, probably.

I mean, the way I see it, those old stories we look back to weren’t old stories once upon a time. I feel like we need to write our own stories about how we experience the Gods today, because we live in a different world, and They’re clearly willing to adapt. But I feel like I’m probably fighting a losing battle with that idea. No one writes new myths, because new myths are just UPG, and ~that doesn’t count~ because reasons.

…This might be why I’m not a reconstructionist, tbh.

Perhaps it’s not such a bad idea I had pencilled in UPG as a topic for next week, so I’ll probably ramble on about this topic some more then. I have Thinky Thoughts about Egyptian myths, and Greek versions of Egyptian myths, and how I relate to them as a not-purely-Egyptian syncretic bastard of a modern polytheist. For now, this will do.

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8 comments on “T is for Telling Stories

  1. Cat says:

    I’d totally read these stories, even though I know next to nothing about the existing Egyptian myths so far. But the idea of (sometimes) thinking about deities as if they were fanfiction characters makes a whole lot of sense to me, even though I’m only a reader not a writer of fic.

    It makes sense to me that there’s a need for new stories about old deities because us humans have changed so much that the old stories sometimes don’t make much sense to us anymore and thus need rewriting/translating. Or maybe we just have new words/concepts with which to think about deities and their stories, and it might be helpful to do so.

    It also makes sense to me to write prose instead of fiction as a devotional activity, if that’s how you express what you want to express.

    I mean, there’s probably a line somewhere where things get so out-of-canon (to stick with the fandom speak here) that they stop making sense for a specific deity but I don’t hear you saying that this is the stuff you want to write.

    So, I’d vote for “just” doing it and seeing if this is something that, in practice, works for you and your ethics about your Gods. To make your writing more accessible/understandable, you could add a footnote/link/introduction with enough info on the existing myths that people like me can get a better idea of what you’ve done with your stories. At least I for one would much appreciate it.

    • Sashataakheru says:

      Myth is not fiction is not myth. They are two different ways of telling stories, and serve different purposes. We are a different people than the ancients, and we see things in a very different way, I think. I think we need to be adding to the mythological canon, to share what living people experience with their Gods.

      The importance of this came through quite clearly when I read the Hekate: Her Sacred Fires anthology. Many different faces of Hekate, but all Her. The Hekate that appears in my epic Georgian steampunk novel is not the same as their Hekate. She is a fictional creation, not myth, and She is not the Hekate I experience.

      I hadn’t considered linking in the myths I’m rewriting, but I might do that, if there’s a cause for it. Not everyone knows the myths. That said, I don’t see this task as rewriting old myth necessarily. Sobek and Heru-sa-Aset’s myths are more akin to new stories about old Gods, reflections on how I relate to Them. There is a smidgen of historical precedence for Them being worshipped together, but no myth that I can find, so I feel like there needs to be something there I can call upon. There isn’t enough Sobek myth outside of Creation myths anyway, so I feel a need to rectify that.

  2. Shine says:

    My take is that writing new myths relevant to our lives is a good thing. We don’t want to abandon the old myths, because they have power. But new myths–those myths that have a personal ring of truth to one or more moderns–are great things and we need more of them.

    If the word “myth” doesn’t sit right, then use the word “story”. The gods need more stories about them. As for a story being blasphemous, slashy, or anything like that, the thing to do is turn to your gods. Ask them. If they don’t like it, okay, that’s one thing, but if they don’t care or like the story, why not?

    I write, too. My take is the Netjeru gave me all my creative abilities for a reason. Yes, it’s for my own profit and my own personal enjoyment. It’s also to glorify my gods. In fact, a lot of my creative stuff goes to the Netjeru. For example, for my final project for my computer science degree, I’m making a video game that features Bast. The story I wrote around her is mythic. I could claim it has connections with the myths of the Distant Goddess and the slaying of A-pep. But it’s still a new story, a story that’s just as valid as the old ones.

    Whether you realize it or not, you form myths around you and your gods every day anyway. Some of those myths fit in with the old myths, others are new. All are valid. You probably don’t “mythologize” those stories, though.

    For example, I can say Bast walked into my life and did a lot of good for me. Or, if I want to “mythologize” it, I would say that I was wandering in the darkness, blinded, lost. My heart was empty. Just when it seemed like I was doomed, Bast reached out. She saved me from myself. Hope returned to my life.

    All of a sudden, there’s a constellation of meanings and connections that explode around me. The darkness suddenly flooded with light? Zep-tepi, with all its attendant symbolism. Hope returning? The myth of the Distant Goddess, heralding the Inundation, bringer of good things.

    This is only a small part of the mythologizing I can do around Bast and my service to her. But you get the point. I bet if you think it through, you could find similar stuff in your life.

    Right down to the point, since you mythologize by living, why not make it explicit if that’s what you’d like to do? Why not show the world how you understand your gods? Especially since peope tend to be so hesitant to share that information.

    Whew, epic comment. I’ll shut my fat mouth now.

    • Sashataakheru says:

      In some ways, I kind of wish They’d be a bit more explicit about the stories They want written. It’s more just gentle nudges and suggestions. There is a connection here to the priesting Sobek and Heru-sa-Aset want me to do but I can’t really talk about that. But writing is important. Writing about Sobek has always been a big part of my relationship with Him, to share Him with the world.

      I think there is a difference between writing stories in a fictional sense, and writing mythology. Like, I could write this epic steampunk novel, with Hekate barging in halfway through to fix things up, but it’s not mythology. It’s fiction. Myth… myth is different, and it requires a different way of writing. The old stories are important, but they can only do so much. We need to make the Gods come alive as we experience Them now, not how They were once worshipped two thousand years ago by a completely different group of people at a specific time. Context is everything, and the Gods have many faces. I agree that we don’t see that often enough in modern recon groups, and it should be there.

  3. warboar says:

    When one is augmenting or re-writing myths, one is treading a very fine line. Of course, this was done time and time again in Antiquity — such as when Wesir’s and Heru-sa-Aset’s cults rose to prominence in the Two Lands, and made their competitors (namely, the cults of Set) look . . . well, really, really bad. When political climates changed, when foreigners occupied Egypt, the same occurred, mainly as a means of explaining on theological terms why such-and-such a God was no longer in favor, or to convey in a highly coded manner political diatribes against this or that group, subjugated and conqueror alike.

    Somewhat more familiar to some, Snorri Sturluson (for whom I personally possess no love, and neither do many of my fellow Medievalists and sibling Scandinavianists) essentially did the same thing, though for less respectable and not-at-all-credible reasons — rewriting and reworking the myths to suit a 13th century Christian palate, as well as his own warped ideas about the Norse Gods being mortal “Asians” from Troy whom the backward, backwater Scandinavian Pagans couldn’t bear to part with upon their deaths, and thus erected cults surrounding these dead heroes, among other such nonsense. Unfortunately, many Norse Polytheists take it as canon, not understanding that A.) there were countless regional variations in Early and Central Medieval Scandinavia, and that B.) Snorri was a 13th century Christian lawyer (personally, I don’t trust a 13th century Christian like Snorri to tell me anything worthwhile about 8th – 11th century pre-Christian religion, in terms of historical accuracy and cultural preservation. Though he does say a lot about himself and Scandinavian poetic mechanics, so his Eddas aren’t entirely useless).

    Far more recently, Neil Gaiman rewrote one of the Lays — actually, he smushed a couple of them together and added his own embellishments — entitling it “Odd and the Frost Giants.” (“Odd” pronounced “Ode.”) It’s actually very good, and while it is sold as a children’s or young adults’ book, is entirely worth reading. Especially for those, such as yourself, who are interested in creating and sustaining living narratives of the Gods. “American Gods” I find to be a very poignant assessment of the clash between the “Old Gods” and the Modern world, though that’s certainly not the only way to read it, and is equally important to read for aspiring Mythologians, though that’s *slightly* off-topic.

    At any rate, it’s important for us as here-and-now Polytheists to weave living narratives of the Gods. And not just because we have a lot of formidable gaps in the religio-historical record to bridge.

    Although your stories may not fit my own personal gnosis and worldview, I absolutely support your endeavor and would be glad to read them. Not everyone “gets” the Gods the same way, and as was the case in Antiquity, various Nomes and cult centers had their own unique versions of many popular myths, or completely original ones unknown to every other part of Egypt. So too will Modern practitioners have their own stories and interpretations of myth. It’s important to maintain that diversity and fluidity, and encourage others to take an active part in religion and individual deity relationships thereby.

    There is and will be an incredible amount of resistance to it, however, as many Polytheists like to root themselves stubbornly in the (quite dead) past, giving false credence to the idea that “if it’s older, if it was written in Medieval or Ancient times, it’s more true, and Modern adaptations are fake and bad.” That sort of attitude will ultimately kill what ought to be a living religion. That probably sounds odd, coming from a Medievalist. But, as a Medievalist, I’ve come to understand how important popular piety movements are to the continued life and success of various religions (namely, how various sects of Christianity ended up thriving or dying).

    When a religion gets to the point of establishing “all interpretations/tellings except these”-type canon, it’s not long for this world. It becomes increasingly unable to effectively deal with and adapt to change. It stops having a living voice for a living people with living needs — living needs that dead words and dead people cannot really account for. And then you end up with a bunch of pseudo-intellectuals playing at “being historian,” when they haven’t had the formal education and know nothing of Theology on top of it all, strangling the life and the joy and the spirituality out of the religion. It becomes a husk, a farce, something not able to genuinely sustain the living soul.

    The Ancient (or in other Polytheist religions’ cases, Medieval) stories are the foundation, and are vital as such — something to refer to and build off of, not simply to sit upon curmudgeonly and do nothing with. Introducing evolving theologies, stories, rituals . . . these are all integral to the health and survival of a religion. I commend you for taking it upon yourself to contribute in this way.

    • Sashataakheru says:

      I have read American Gods, yeah, and loved it very much. I think that was probably the one thing that sparked off this desire to write new myths. It is an excellent book, and I should reread it at some point.

      I can definitely see where you’re coming from. I’ve never particularly understood the idea that Kemetic religion was in any way static and fixed, or could be seen to be that way. That just makes no sense to me.

      Then again, I think I might be approaching this from a completely different angle. It may be the wrong angle. It might be the right angle. I haven’t figured that out yet. I do think I have a much wider worldview than many polytheists who only concern themselves with one pantheon/culture, though. Perhaps that’s part of it. I don’t know.

      I’m going to go muse about this some more, I think. Ponder what to write for next week.

  4. Jericha says:

    Personally I think the idea of writing new myths for a modern people is just awesome. As a bi, maybe gender queer lady person, I would love to see more myths representing something more than a cis, heteronormative reality, and one way to do that would be to write new myths that reflect modern understanding. I could never do recon or anything remotely like it, including ADF druidry, because of the glorification of the dead past and the demonizing of the living present. It makes no sense to me.

    I too am a prose writer and have also had some urges at times to write new myths, but I worry it would be too much like fiction. You’re very right IMO to divide fiction from myth. So big a difference.

    I enjoy your stories and would love to see more people moved to write in this way, as a way to understand how the Gods have adapted to this modern world and the new faces and aspects of Themselves that They reveal to us.

    • Sashataakheru says:

      Ehh, most recons that I know don’t really fall into that mindset of glorifying the past and demonising the present, but I wouldn’t say it’s unheard of in some circles. I don’t think it’s a very useful way to do recon, tbh. Reconstructionism, at its heart, is a methodology, not a religion in its own right. It it useful, for me, in rebuilding Sobek’s cult, because I can draw on how things used to be done, and make them work in their own way today. For me, the balance lies in dialogue between the past and the present, and finding the right way to do things that has that historical basis, but works with the world as it is now. But then recon isn’t for everyone, and neither is ADF. They work for me, but they may not work for you, and that’s perfectly fine. Knowing what works for you and what doesn’t is a valuable skill when it comes to path-building.

      When it comes to new myths, I don’t just see it as addressing diversity, and needing to find less hetero ways to do things. It’s also necessary, for me, because if any of Sobek’s myths survived, they’re fragmentary, or not translated into a language I can read, if they have even been found and translated at all. For me, this is a necessary step in filling the mythic gaps in the historical record, and bring Sobek alive for other people. It gives me a chance to retell the stories in my own way, and to talk about the Sobek I worship.

      But I also think there’s a difference between stories about the gods that we would call myths, and stories we write for the gods, because They have requested it or inspired it, and those may not necessarily be myths in a more traditional sense of the term. They aren’t straight fiction, but neither are they pure myth. I generally refer to these stories as mythfic. I have a lot of fun with mythfic. I find it can be a fun way to play around with stories about the gods outside of the traditional mythic narratives. There’s more scope, I think, to play around with contemporary UPG and let the gods lead where They will.

      I’m currently working on one for Hermes, and it is a) very long, and b) alt history sci-fi with lots of desert. It’s not myth, but it’s not straight fiction, either. Hermes has guided this story from the beginning, and I’m sure it’s partly why He came into my life over a year ago. I guess that’s what you get for being a god’s scribe. You get called on to write all the things for all the gods. But I don’t mind. It’s a good story, and I am enjoying writing it. I’m nearly done with it, then I can edit it, and perhaps post it on here or something idk. We’ll see.

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