Modern-Day Storyteller and “New” Myth

Jun 24th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles

Stories are a huge part of our world-wide culture. As Pagans, we tend to utilize this in our rituals, around the evening and night-time fires, and even in the lessons and lectures that the brave souls who attend conferences provide. We have stories all around us. The Fantasy and Science Fiction books on our shelves, not to mention the copies of various mythologies that reside there as well; the DVDs that reside on that shelf over there; and all the movies and television shows we have access to through our wide variety of digital accounts. And those are the easier sides to see because the aspect of story-telling is right up front, right in our collective faces. But there is so much more to story-telling than all of this. In fact, its quietly become a deeper part of our corporate culture, and the savvy among those are heralded as some of the very best within the corporate environment.

Modern-day Storyteller

The modern-day storyteller is so much more than just an individual that combs through our collective imaginations around the fire – stoking the fires of our mythical archetypes within our minds, allowing all of us to create our own vision of the main character. A main character that we all see differently, dress differently, provide a different aspect of genetic code, with differing voice inflections, mannerisms – all painted on to similar scenery with the same archetypal storyline. The modern-day story-teller has many more tricks up their sleeves – thanks to modern-day technology, which removes a lot of the differing perspectives to paint a more cohesive collective picture.

Photo taken by John Beckett at 2018 ADF Imbolc Retreat

Let me provide a singular example. This year at Pantheacon, I attended Jason Mankey’s first presentation. Prior to getting to his primary material, Jason had a ten-minute slideshow for all the “early arrivals” (and the room was packed to the brim at this point). Yes, the slide projector muddied up the photos quite a bit – and provided a semi psychedelic experience for all in the room, but Jason relayed through the pictures a lot of his own personal story. There was no difference in imagination of what Jason was trying to relay to the audience, or the perspective that he wanted people to experience concerning the caves of Lascaux near the French village of Montignac. While the pictures were muddied, the experience that Jason was weaving with his words were tightened with the images – images that allowed for no individual transference of what the experience might have seemed like. The pictures were there to cement that perspective for everyone, Jason merely needed to utilize his masterful skill of evocative language to convey his own experiences.

Today’s modern-day story-teller does much the same thing. The pictures are merely bar charts, exploding pie charts, line graphs, or whatever other form of pictorial example that will hold the point being made in the eyes of those individuals attending that presentation. I work in data in my everyday job. I am constantly asked to provide a pictorial representation of the students that attend my college. Race breakdowns (which I loathe, but that’s a much different perspective), gender breakdowns, age breakdowns, full-time students versus part-time students, students that reside in this county or that county, students that are majoring in this area, or even information on the full-time and part-time faculty members teaching the classes. Each point provides a potential pictorial aspect that can be easily demonstrated in images. But images are not always enough. One should utilize true story-telling techniques to help emphasize points and perspectives. Physical gestures such as pointing directly at data points that require emphasis, inflection of one’s voice, pausing after primary points – anything short of physically, psychically or verbally harming another individual can be useful.

“New” Myth

The charge of the storyteller does not stop with using time-tested techniques in combination with technology to relay the overall story. There is also an emphasis to compact the narrative for time constraints, combine characters to create a new character, or even inject a completely new character to add another “necessary” element to the story. All of that is understandable, especially considering the shorter attention span of newer audiences, as well as the way subtle inflection is completely missed by a generation that does not have the time to understand some of the gentler nuances that storytelling can provide. Here, I am speaking of today’s film industry, and to a lesser degree today’s Fantasy and Science Fiction novelizations of older myth.

I will provide a pair of examples to showcase what I mean. The first, is the Matrix trilogy. The characters are no standard for mythology or even theological and philosophical perspective. The necessary aspects of shoot-them-up violence is there for the audience craving that heart-pounding, thrilling action. Peel back that content, and you find moralistic choices having to be made by the characters, each one presenting resultant issues from each choice. As the trilogies progress, the characters can progress and change their own perspectives through their choices. And in the end, they discover more about themselves and what life means to each of them individually as the end of the human race is played out before them. Characters seen as being insignificant to the final results are placed in a position to choose to do what they have been forbidden to do, and thus winning the day (for the moment). At the end, the characters of The Architect and the Oracle are shown as two forces utilizing the over-arching story-line to prove points about the fragile nature of human beings versus their resilience to survive, thus making a statement about forces beyond our understanding controlling and manipulating the circumstances of our everyday choices. For me, this is a positive example of “new myth”. Here, concepts such as Zen Buddhism are introduced in a way to allow a footprint to follow, so to speak. Individuals idolizing the characters of Morpheus and Neon are provided with clues to follow those footprints to the sources, where it is hoped (and potentially assumed) that they will spend time learning.

Everyone understands the Lord of the Rings movies. The stories enjoy something very close to mythological status. Characters are understood for who they are, the choices they make, and the archetypes that they are – as painted by J.R.R. Tolkien against the backdrop of Middle Earth. When characters such as Thom Bombadil are folded into other characters to save time in the storytelling, or new characters such as Tauriel are created from whole cloth, simply to provide a storyline to keep a certain audience segment interested in the storyline – I have my doubts about this aspect being a good thing. In altering a storyline in such a deep manner, removing characters of significance or adding characters that completely bend a storyline, just to be able to sell a part of the story to an audience segment that likely would never have been interested otherwise, I see nothing but a change of convenience or dollars.

We see a lot of this in the modern-day retelling of some of the myths. Granted Thor, Loki, and all the others presented in the Marvel Universe movies were already bending some of the mythological aspects through the comics, but when we bend myth away from what is known – we can end up with perversions of the original myth that become more accepted than the originals. Where this will wind up taking Paganism and Polytheism, I am not completely sure. As a Polytheist, I like to believe that the Gods and Goddesses can alter and bend to some degree. Can The Morrigan be seen through the guise of being sexy? Possibly; however, I would be cautious about the prime aspects being changed by such a perception. After all, in my opinion, what is “sexy” is in the eyes of the individual. I would certain not ascribe an aspect of a Victoria’s Secret model as a primary visage of The Morrigan. But I also realize that the way I ascribe imagery to The Morrigan comes from within my own imagination. I could see a potential perspective where one of her many guises could use something along those lines to achieve whatever ends She was seeking.


When I think of “New Myth” I think of stories such as The Matrix, where archetypal aspects are ascribed to new characters, who can bend and even break some of the older aspects of the Gods and Goddesses being ascribed to them. And I can see the appeal to these stories being told repeatedly in the playing of DVDs, streaming services, cable TV, movies, and books. In my opinion, one of the more interesting retellings of the Gods comes from the fingers of Neil Gaiman, who writes stories about Gods and Goddesses in modern-day settings – and allows them to change ever so slightly to fit with today’s more conflicted society. But the primary aspect of the Gods and Goddesses are still there in each character he writes. “Anansi Boys” and “American Gods” are, in my opinion, the epitome of what “new myth” is about.

The modern-day storyteller is about so much more than what we had before. The tales and stories we relate in today’s corporate environment provide an archetypal perspective of real people. And while these storytellers are helping to provide more appropriate narratives to groups of people, there is still a lack of emphasis in discussing the fact that these little piles of data on real people still provides a convenient excuse to ignore the outliers in each group. Each individual person has their reasoning for this or that choice. It is not necessarily driven by their skin color, their monetary status, if they are a single parent, married, or divorced. Their choices are as unique as they are as individuals. Somehow, someway, today’s modern-day storyteller needs to include that in their narratives. It is not an easy thing to accomplish. I know, I attempt to do just that in my own narratives.

For those thirsting for new stories about the Gods and Goddesses, I only provide a final word of caution. The Gods are real. They are shaped by Their own choices. Just as we live our lives, They live Theirs. Their understanding and perception of all is different than our own. We can ascribe our own human frailties upon Them, but that is our own attempts to understand who They are. Sometimes, we are right in those attempts, and sometimes we completely misjudge and mis-characterize due to our own individual perceptions. Tom Hiddleston as Loki is a nice perception, but it is only a perception. Loki is far different than what the producers of the movies have made Him out to be. Find a good translation of the Norse Myths…and read it for yourself. Just remember, in reading it – you will color it with your own perceptions.

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