Polytheism – pure mythology

Polytheism isn’t bad. Joseph Campbell can explain a lot of the benefits of seeing it as a natural part of your inner life. And the nice thing about polytheism is that you can worship your gods without believing in them. You don’t have to deal with them as facts, and disagreement about their details or their logic is no problem. They are fairy tales, but they speak to something real inside us.

ganesha

Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles, Lord of Beginnings, patron of arts and sciences, and god of intellect and wisdom

Take Hinduism’s Ganesha. He was born with a strange head, or he was created directly from Shiva’s laughter, or a mean god burned his head off, or Shiva cut it off…  Anyway, the usual story is that Shiva cut off an elephant’s head as a quick replacement to save the boy’s life.

Then he became the god of new beginnings (which is reasonable), and of wisdom (which works for an elephant). Because he was too large to get about much, his vahana or “vehicle” is Mushika the rat or mouse. A vehicle is an animal companion/aspect of a god, much like the modern dæmons in Philip Pullman’s “Northern Lights” (or “Golden Compass” in the US). Mushika goes everywhere and finds everything out – like Odin’s ravens – and so Ganesh is also the god of paths, roads, gates, barriers, and of overcoming obstacles. And he’s the patron of arts and sciences, which relate to his knowledge and wisdom.

There’s enough in that one god for people to pick and choose which aspects they feel most connected to, and want to worship. The whole story is so preposterous that (at least outside India) it would be hard to believe as physical fact. It lives on only as a personally-resonating spiritual guide to life. Religion becomes active mythology, rather than a claimant to replace science, the way fundamentalist monotheism wants it to be.

So that’s all right then. Religion with all its richness, but without belief in its absurdities.

Oh, you still want to believe in it as a historical reality? Then I have a couple of questions:

Having cut the boy’s head off, why didn’t Shiva just stick it back on? Why did he have to go and cut another head off, and stick that on instead?

And more importantly, if the elephant’s head is on the boy’s body, who is alive? I’d say the elephant. But that’s because I think of the body as being the vehicle of the brain, nothing more.