Guest Post | The Importance of Mythology by Author Jane Dougherty

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Ali has asked me to write about the importance of mythology in my writing, and what exactly it is doing in the near-future dystopia of The Green Woman series. I have heard it said that every fantasy world, if it is to be taken seriously as a rounded, realistic proposition, has to have references to religion. No real society can exist without religion. That’s as may be. But without wanting to pick a fight over it, I’d say that no society can exist without stories. There has to be a collective imagination to bind people together, a system of common shared beliefs. In older, pre-Christian societies, stories, religion, and history were more or less interchangeable. Some cultures have stories that represent a world-view that I personally find more appealing than others.

When I was a child, my maternal grandmother would go back to Ireland a couple of times a year, usually out west where her own mother came from. She always went alone, to the wildest parts of Sligo, Mayo and Clare, where she took photos of cliffs and pouring rain and landscapes of rolling bog and heath. She used to climb Croagh Patrick for the view, never did the stations. And she always brought us back books. One of my most treasured and most often read possessions was a copy of Irish myths and legends edited by Seán Ó’Faoláin. I loved those stories for their verve and passion: because there were lots of girls and women in them; because they weren’t supine, they were dangerous; and because the love stories were not romances. They ended badly as often as not, without melodrama or high tragedy, but often in a vengeful blood bath. Something you can relate to when you’re an under-ten.

In our house and at school to an extent, legends and stories were Irish. Mythology tended to mean Greeks and Romans. The world-view of those poor benighted people was cruel and misogynistic, with gods and goddesses who behaved like petulant children playing with the antique equivalent of nuclear missiles. I pitied them.

When I was older, I was very much drawn to Robert Graves’ interpretation of the beliefs of ancient societies, and I have tried to adapt some of his ideas into the fundamental ethos of The Green Woman. The very earliest societies, Graves argued, before paternity as a biological fact became established, were matriarchal. Women controlled the birth of children, the growth of the crops, and knew about the properties of plants. Women could make magic, because all of this power was magical. Men were useful members of society for their muscles. He also hints that possibly women were well aware that once men realised the part they played in reproduction, the female mystique would be harder to maintain. Once brawn took over from brain, we would see the development of conflict and aggression. And we do see it today in almost every society in the world.

When I created the utopia of the Garden (which is a nod and a wink to the Garden of Eden as it might have been if God hadn’t interfered) I wanted to go back to a hypothetical age of innocence, where birth, growth, nurturing and protection were more important than beating the brains out of your neighbour—or casting your children into the outer darkness, come to that. Transposed to a modern society it would mean wiping out cultural prejudices and taboos, and treating each individual as a unique member of society, not a reproduction of a type.

It is this kind of world Deborah proposes to the people of Providence. To help convince them, she brings back the memories, essentially the stories, of a time when we were closer to nature and further from the aggression that has come to typify the human species. Given what we know of Providence, its cruelty, police brutality, religious and civil oppression, and its all-pervading ignorance, you’d think they would have jumped at the chance. But human nature hangs onto what it knows, and no group likes relinquishing power. Without giving away too much of what happens at the end of the trilogy, I think I can say that she has an uphill struggle.

Myths, legends, stories, history, language, are what bind a culture together. They give us common points of reference, something to talk about, something to differentiate us from the rest. That is why I believe they are fundamental to any world we care to imagine, the backbone that supports the rest of our culture. If you go back far enough, you will find stories and beliefs that have little in common with the rapists and torturers of Greek myth, but instead see meaning in rocks and mountains, the sun and the moon, rivers and animals. Rather than cruel gods with very human failings, the earliest peoples venerated concepts: purity, the power of the elements, motherhood, wisdom, the cycle of life and death. To me it seems that we, modern, sophisticated people that we are, could do worse than try and recapture a little of the wonder our distant ancestors felt at the sight of waves crashing on a silver strand or a white doe on a hill.



janeJane Dougherty is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire and educated in Manchester and London then moved to France to work in the wine trade. She spent fourteen years in Paris where she married and had four children, sold a lot of wine, studied Irish for a year at Paris’s Irish College, and taught herself Italian. Next move was to Laon in Picardy, a medieval gem of a town set in beautiful countryside, where her fifth child was born. She now lives in Bordeaux with her family, a Spanish greyhound and a posse of cats.


Jane can often be found on her blog, on her FaceBook author page , or tweeting. You can find her books here, and here. You can read an excerpt of The Dark Citadel, first book of The Green Woman Trilogy, and see my review here.

Jane said something here on my blog last time she visited, which I haven’t forgotten. She said “We have similar influences, Ali and I, both steeped in the magic of Irish legend and history. Culture is like a genetic marker; it finds its way into our writing, inviting itself in even when it wasn’t asked.”

I think this is very true. Those Irish heroes of the past and their stories have found their way into our hearts and cannot now be denied. I am proud to be able to bring them to life in my writing. Thank you, Jane, for joining me on my blog today, and sharing what our heritage and mythology means to you, and how it inspired your creation of The Green Woman Trilogy.


 

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27 thoughts on “Guest Post | The Importance of Mythology by Author Jane Dougherty

  1. Thanks for this enjoyable post Jane. Certainly I like to believe that there might still remain a little substance in the legends of Old Ireland to this day. I played around the edges in my recent book. Certainly I’m going to check out your works, and Alice’s.

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  2. Interesting!
    Jane, I will have to start your series, read one of them this year, though, I have others before. Maybe, I have more myth in me than I realize, or maybe we feel what’s in our distant past.
    Nonetheless, something must change so we don’t end up in a dystopian world w the life sucked out of it! Women, especially mothers, are so important in this equation. We must feel our power and use it.
    I’m not sure how I met you, and your blog, but I like your words.

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    1. I think we all have a basic story culture. Folk tales are often taken from much earlier beliefs, and often, what Ali and I have discovered with Irish stories, they have been hijacked by the early Christian church. They were so profoundly anchored in the belief system of the people that nothing the monks told them about a milk and water preacher God could replace the good old red-blooded beliefs.

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    1. Hi Peter, its always fascinating to find out something new about your fave authors, isnt it? Before everyone had their own website/ blog, the first part of a book I’d turn to was the author bio, followed by their acknowledgement… but I was a bit of a strange kid! (And I still do that now!)

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  3. I love mythology. I also have Irish roots, as well as Norwegian roots, and although I don’t know much about either mythologies, I’d love to know more. I also learned more about Greek and Roman mythology, as that seemed to be the “important” mythology to learn.

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    1. I started off on Greek mythology as a child, too. I lived in Cyprus, among a fabulous wealth of ancient archaeological sites, so it was hard not to be enthralled by it with all this ‘evidence’ lying around. But eventually, it didnt satisfy me, and I moved on to Arthurian legend, a completely different kettle of fish altogether. That was in my teens, when I wanted it all to be real! I wanted to believe it, but needed proof! When I moved to Ireland and learned about Irish mythology, I couldnt believe I had never heard any of it, or about its ancient sites. I really wanted to ‘get the word out’ so I wrote my books and started my blog. I also learned that belief is a choice you make and has nothing to do with proof/ evidence. Nor does it have to involve religion. Thanks for commenting!

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    2. Just jumping into the discussion 🙂 It’s strange isn’t it that in European schools, and I speak from English, French and Italian experience, mythology means Greeks and Romans. Weird when you consider that all these countries had their own perfectly good mythology and story base. There was life in Italy before the Romans, who pinched the Greek gods for some reason best known to themselves. Greek gods are fine for the Greeks, or rather their problem. We have our own, thank you very much 🙂

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      1. Greek and Roman myth is known as classical, and was ‘adopted’ everywhere in the past. Even our own archaeological museum in Dublin, which is full of our own native discoveries and treasures, was built with scenes of classical mythology woven into its mosaic floors etc, rather than our own Irish ones.

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        1. Well the Brits were romanised in most aslects of society, so probably quite a lot. The Romans were very good at recognising traits in local deities which matched their own, so many cults were assimilated into their belief system.

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  4. Thank you, Ali for inviting me and letting me rabbit on like this. The horror of Wednesday has only reinforced my ideas. It’s just as well I wrote this post before it happened, otherwise it might well have turned into a virulent soap box and got us both targetted as trouble makers 🙂

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    1. Lol! I’m too much of a softie! I dont think anyone can accuse me of being politically active because, although I have my own opinions, I am too prepared to accept other points of view, even if I don’t agree with them. Each to their own, I guess. But extremism can not, and should not, ever be tolerated. Its never an answer to anything, never has been. I cant understand why mankind hasnt learned this. Its not as if there’s a scarcity of proof in our history.

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  5. Mythology is a spark for the imagination. Feed a child stories of King Arthur and they’ll want to become a knight of the Round Table and create their own adventures. The World of the Celt is steeped in these mythological tales and the Celtic child lovingly cloaked in the stories of all the heroes of old. Soon enough they want to become the heroes of now and carry the tradition of storytelling on to their own children.Which they couldn’t do without the great tradition of mythology behind them.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

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    1. I think that’s what we’re doing, David. We are the Celtic children of now, reliving the lives of the heroes of old, keeping them alive in our writing, and hopefully keeping it all going. I recently found out that a local historian for my immediate area died a few years back. Although he was well known for his expertise, all his knowledge died with him, because most young people arent concerned with the past, or the local area which has shaped them, but rather with their immediate present, and their future, as they leave for the cities to persue university or work places. I think thats why its so important that people who love these stories of the past write them somewhere on the web, before they are lost forever, as so much has already been lost.

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    1. Yes, I guess the old saying ‘write what you know’ holds true for most of us,,but veering off the map into uncharted territory can be quite exciting! Btw I’m not sorry for all those cliches, I enjoyed every one of them lol!

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