A recent discussion I had on folktales reminded me of part of what brought me to paganism: the rich inner world of fairy tales that I grew up in. I devoured every volume of Lang’s colored fairy books, dug into folktales of the world, and when I ran out of books there, the ever-resourceful librarians of the children’s department pointed me toward the mythology section. I absorbed these stories like mother’s milk, learning that the world was not only what it appeared to be to the everyday eye. There were rules to learn: always be polite to strangers, kindness to those who are apparently weak can save your life later in the story, wishes are dangerous to the uninitiated, magic always comes with a price, whether it be a lesson in pain or simple hard work.
The myths didn’t disagree with the fairy tales, though their world often seemed less fair and egalitarian – being kind wasn’t enough to avoid disaster, nor was there always a way out of the hopeless situation if one just tried hard enough. Sometimes mistakes couldn’t be remedied. But the basic rules were the same: be polite, recognize that you are not the only one who matters, and that things that are strange to you are not to be ignored or rejected as they are likely to be your salvation, and sometimes wonder comes at the ultimate cost. The vistas were grander, and the heroes were, well, Heroes, instead of cowherds and goose girls, but it was only a short walk through the wildwood to reach one from the other.
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time with myth, and I feel like a person who’s been eating rich foods at the king’s table who is longing for some simple bread and cheese shared with the old man sitting on the stile. It’s time for another walk through that wildwood back to the villages I know so well.
I swing back and forth between the grand vistas of the myths and the homely sense of the folktales, and am often left wandering in the wildwood between them. I think sometimes it’s the recognition that the world isn’t for humans alone that makes folktales powerful. There is a certainty that crows find us just as ridiculous as we find them, and that there are many things older and wiser that never wore a human face. The world is more terrible and more beautiful because of it, and it’s only our desperation for safety that lets us lie to ourselves that it isn’t so.
Even humans aren’t really tame.