Do We Owe Mythologies Our Reverence?

One of the fundamental questions that is suggested by The Power of Myth series with Joseph Campbell is this: How can we ethically interact with systems of mythology that come from other times and places?

A while ago, this question came up in a conversation I was having with a fellow Unitarian Universalist about a book series with the title Goddess Girls. The series, with titles like Athena the Brain, Persephone the Phony, and Aphrodite the Beauty, introduces the characters of classic Greek divinities, but in the form of adolescent gods who speak in a rather modern, casual way.

In Persephone the Phony, Aphrodite gives the warning, We’re friends, Persephone. Take our advice. Stay away from Hades. He may be cute in a gloomy kind of way, but he’s bad news.”

I got some copies of a couple of the Goddess Girls books because I wanted to provide my daughter with a more female-oriented entry into Greek mythology than is provided in the Percy Jackson series that my older son has enjoyed. I had trouble getting through even one of the Goddess Girls books, though, simply because the quality of writing isn’t that good.

I’m sympathetic to the idea of the Goddess Girls books, however, which is to update the ideas of the classic Greek divinities, and play around with them to make them relevant to the eternal themes of human life as experienced in our culture today.

The Unitarian Universalist I talked to about these books was more concerned about their impact. He was bothered that they took a subject that was sacred to some people, and treated it in a profane manner. He saw the books as disrespectful, reducing great gods and goddesses to little more than cartoons with the personality depth of Disney Channel sitcom characters.

I see his point. But, I also wonder if there isn’t some value in the ability to play with mythological themes from other cultures.

Should we restrain ourselves from reinterpreting mythological characters from other cultures? Is there something wrong with characterizing what’s sacred for some people as something more profane and superficial? What do we lose, if we place mythology in a special category as something that’s untouchable, unmockable, and unchangeable?

Postscript: For a similar modern culture Goddess chic source of material to consider, take a look at Go Goddess, a web site that encourages girls to ask themselves the question, “Which Goddess Are You?”

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