An Introduction for Religious Storytelling

We all tell stories. We have stories about ourselves, our friends, and our lives. We tell stories about our families, and our families tell stories about us. Some of these we share. Some of these we tell only to ourselves. Sometimes our mouth tells one story and our heart another.

Stories are as prevalent in religion as anywhere else in life, if not more so. Beyond obvious mythology and folklore, there are tales of how the religion began. Tales of its founders, who are often mythologized, and tales of hardship and struggle along with triumph.

I fancy myself a specialist in the modern myth.

Truthfully, I have no qualification beyond loving literature and storytelling. I grew up listening to myths at my grandmother’s bedside, hearing tales of gnomes and fairies tricking kings and queens into all manner of trouble. As a child, I preferred books to the company of other humans, a trait which hasn’t quite left me as an adult. I relate to others best through shared love of media like Harry Potter or television or movies.

This love of books is what led me to paganism. Though I was raised in a loosely pagan household, my mother is non-religious more than anything else. It was through books that I learned of Wicca and witchcraft.  By the time I was approaching adulthood I had read a fair amount on the subject and felt confident enough to strike out on my own – meaning making my own ‘tradition’.

That tradition developed into what I now call the ‘Otherfaith’. You can read more about the Otherfaith here, and we will delve into the religion later on.

However, I am not formally trained in literary analysis nor folkloric studies. Because of that, this blog will not focus so much on scholarly aspects of storytelling. Instead, I aim to discuss how new religious stories are crafted and how modern media and fandom can blend with religion.

In creating the Otherfaith I had to learn how to tell religious stories as well as handle the natural blend of fandom that came from being ‘me’. Because of this, I borrow a lot of terms from fan culture: headcanon, fanfic, alternate universe, etc. Throughout this first month I’ll be exploring some of those terms and fleshing out how we can use them to expand on common phrases we find within pagan and polytheist dialog.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as I’ve written stories for my gods and spirits is that something may well be ‘true’ in the sense that the gods experienced it or say it happened, but it may make a lackluster story to share. In that vein, I may have written a wonderful, epic tale of the gods and spirits and realize that I have reduced them to mere set pieces. Balancing good writing with religious truth is an important and complex part of religious ‘worldbuilding’.

There are also fundamental differences when approaching an entirely new canon, such as the Otherfaith, compared with established stories that we find in existing traditions. Each provides its own benefits and challenges. These first months we will be heavily focusing on the story writing aspects and new gods/spirits, though I hope to eventually delve more fully into writing our own ‘myths’ in established traditions.

The Story Itself

The reason I write religious stories is because that is how I communicate best. Anyone, whether they identify as a ‘writer’ or not, can be drawn to the art. Some people may be painters or musicians, for example, and express the god’s stories accordingly. A common feature in many polytheist and pagan practices is an altar or shrine, and in the creation of that space we can display both the aspects of the gods we worship and our own history with them.

While I do believe all the above to be true, we won’t be touching on shrine/altar-keeping as storytelling until later. I want to bring it up so that we begin to think of our own lives as having more mythic or spiritual meaning than we might first guess, deeper layers to everything we do.

There are a number of similarities in our lives, and we often see recurring themes across cultures. We can see repeating tropes in our favorite (or hated) books. Much can be written about the anxieties and hopes of a generation as it is reflected in its media. That said, I will try to avoid universalizing in these discussions.

Part of that is because I resist universalism in my daily and religious life. I think that everyone can establish their own relationship with the gods, and that those relationships will have their own unique challenges. Rather than trying to fit everything into a single framework I find it more worthwhile to grasp those differences head-on.

In this space, there isn’t One Single Story. There are many different stories, many different tellings, many different people telling those stories. Even the same tale becomes different from another person’s lips.

Being able to hold that two conflicting stories may in fact be ‘true’ about a god or spirit is vital as well. Gods and spirits exist in a space outside of our own physical, linear-time reality – whether we believe that space to be an otherworld, afterlife, or unified unconsciousness. So we can have Loki bound and suffering and also interacting with his modern devotees, as a popular example.

The only real universal I find in storytelling is the desire for humans to share them and remake them, endlessly, always turning over something new.

The Otherfaith, Specifically

I founded the Otherfaith around seven years ago, and it has undergone a myriad of changes since its inception. At its core, we worship a group of new gods collectively called the Four+ Gods. (When speaking I drop the ‘+’ and simply refer to them as ‘the Four Gods’, though there are a total of eight.) With these new gods came a host of new spirits.

The mythology of these gods is split, roughly, into two parts which I refer to as two Seasons. The first Season deals with the formation of the first group of gods – the Clarene, Ophelia, Laetha, and Dierne – and the second Season focuses on the formation and ascendance of the latter four – the Laethelia, Ophelene, Darren, and Liathane.

Along with the major ‘plotlines’ of the gods’ creation are smaller lines connecting the spirits to each other, to the gods, and to humanity. Established traditions wouldn’t need to focus as much on why their gods are connected to their devotees.

Inevitably, the Otherfaith and my gods will be brought up in this space. I plan to keep the bulk of my writing on the Otherfaith at the main website, however, and will often link to relevant information there rather than repeat it ad nauseum.

The next posts in this series will deal with encountering new gods and spirits, as well as the reasoning for pursuing ‘new’ entities over those established in history. In May I will begin covering more writing-focused topics. I hope to create a good blend of the subjects so that everyone can find something of interest.

3 Comments

  1. I have been a story teller for more than forty years. Some of the best stories are from Roman and Greek mythology. Norse mythology and India myths are great also. It would be a poorer world without these wonderful tales!

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