How to Make a Saint or Goddess
The role of connection and meaning in creating mythology.
What makes a Saint or a Goddess?
Part of excavating this story for me is answering that question. It’s the connection we feel to their story or mythology. And we don’t have to understand the mythology or necessarily believe in a religion to have a connection to particular individuals or stories.
Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird, who teaches so brilliantly about ancient Welsh and Celtic mythology today gifted me some words for describing how that exists. He was speaking of the ancient horse Goddesses and the stories of mortal women characters like Rhiannon who people were drawn to as goddesses.
People are continuously drawn to them as goddesses and see their stories as mythologies in the full sense of the word. That's not an accident of culture. People just didn't suddenly decide to think, Oh, these must be goddesses and I'm going to have a devotional relationship to them. There's a reason for why people are attracted to these figures to this day. Their mythology is potent, it's meaningful. It's significant.
[People] didn’t need to understand what a classical goddess was nor what a mythology was in the modern sense, nor did they need to even appreciate that there was an ancient goddess behind a character such as Rhiannon, which is my belief, to have a relationship with her myth.
That relationship was as accessible to them as it is to us. I personally don't think there was that much difference between the way that we treat these stories and how people treat these stories in mediaeval Wales. I would say that there was a variety of responses in the mediaeval audience to the stories, just like today.
Some people would have saw them are they're just interesting stories. Other people would have thought, well, they're very entertaining, and I'm going to tell them to my kids. Other people would have thought oh, there's a very interesting symbolic meaning here. I'm going to try and interpret it. Other people would have taken that a step further and thought, wow, there's clearly a spiritual significance to these stories. There is some potency some power to this story, and I feel drawn to it and these people may actually have had a spiritual connection to the characters. not that dissimilar, or perhaps only one step removed from the full blown devotional relationship that modern pagans have with characters such as Rhiannon.
The rise of a saint or a goddess isn’t an accident of culture. It’s a retelling, over and over, of a story that sparked connection. Sometimes people in power did the retelling purposefully. Sometimes we do it because it entertains us or inspires us. And that makes me excited thinking of all the different practical mythology and devotion I already have in my life that is outside of religion.
You can listen to Dr Gwilym Morus-Baird’s full piece here: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/celtic-source/episodes/53--Celtic-Gods-in-Medieval-Wales-e247p1u/a-a9ro5v6
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