If there is one great pagan theme it is that of the universally popular Mother and Child myth. It is often coupled with that of the twin brothers who contend for mastery and rule turn and turn about. These themes are present with others in the great literature of myth, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian, Hindu and other more widespread and primitive sources: even Grimms’ Fairy Tales have this mythic element and reflect the beliefs of earlier North European cultures. The elements of these basic myths, particularly the two mentioned above have been brilliantly set out by Robert Graves in his work, The White Goddess. An even larger canvas is painted by Joseph Campbell in his monumental work, The Masks of God. Both works repay careful study by any inquiring pagan.
Basically then, the whole universe is seen as the domain and being of the Great Goddess, who has brought everything forth and is Herself everything including the Gods. Contemporary cosmology has arrived at a similar situation in its consideration of the singularity that brought forth the universe. The idea is not new and is akin to the Hindu view of its genesis and apparent duration, which they call a ‘kalpa’. The Hindus further suggest that at the end of each kalpa the universe renews itself in another expansion, another contraction follows, and the process repeats itself endlessly.
However that may be, we have to consider Her basic manifestations. She is in turn Maiden, Mother, and lastly Crone. The three phases of the moon are Hers; the new, the full, the old. Indeed all triads and nenneads are Hers. She has also brought forth Her counterpart, the God. He manifests himself in multiple series of twos. Basic are His two aspects: one as the God of the Waxing Year, and the other as God of the Waning year. He can manifest in quadruple or octuple and so on endlessly. The Goddess, as seen, can be considered as multiples of three. Any consideration of these multiples will lead to the rapid realisation that between them they make up all the matter seen and unseen in the entire universe.
In our myth, and I stress it is kept at its simplest, the Goddess gives birth to the Star Child who rapidly grows as God of the Waxing Year. At Midsummer, He, ritually, is removed, and His place is taken by the God of the Waning Year. So the Gods rule turn and turn about, though they are still the one and same God. This idea is expressed in Celtic art where a three headed sculpture stands for the God and His two aspects.
These are our basic opposites. The light and the dark. The light of the intellect contrasting with the darkness of our unconscious. Life and Death. We make most of our unthinking judgements by opposites, accepting the one, rejecting the other; but as we shall see these opposites can be resolved in the mysteries of myth and the enactment of ritual. Later with a small amount of elaboration the themes develop in interest and significance.
We can also look upon our festivals as acts in a play. To come alive they have to be performed. Each of our festivals is a play within a play. Each one has its own dramatic flavour. There is the happy ending; the melodrama; the comedy and the tragedy, and the final play of the Hallows, with its dance of death. As at the production of any drama, each play breeds its own atmosphere and contributes to the ethos of the greater play that contains it. Its life lives in the performance and from that performance conveys the annual drama of which we are actors and audience. The cast list is enormous and capable of endless elaboration, but our first consideration must be to the names we assign to the principals.
© The Estate of Ronald M. White
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