Posts Tagged ‘Celtic’

Genetic Mythology

This is probably not really a thing, but have you ever found that you’ve taken to something from your ethnic background like a fish takes to water? For example, in spring of 2010 my husband and I took a lovely trip to Germany, Denmark, and Austria. And I found German, as a language, really easy to pick up, to the point where I could carry on basic conversations on a number of topics despite never having learned or spoken any German before in my life.

(And then we came home and I forgot it all.)

It may be that because English and German are directly related that German is, in general, an easy language for English-speakers to pick up. I am certainly not naturally attuned to pick up other languages–I took six years of Spanish in middle and high school and still failed the AP Spanish test the first time I took it.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to make my head hurt, I sit around and ponder things like nationality and ethnicity. Like, how long do you have to live in a country before you become a whatever-ian? Why do we in America insist on labels like Irish-American or Japanese-American instead of just “American”? How much of ethnic diversity is real as opposed to imagined?

(That last one could probably be answered by someone who understands genetics, but biology has never really been a strong subject for me.)

I, like many of us, I suspect, am a conglomeration of many different ethnicities. Starting from highest percentage, I am Scottish, German, English, Dutch, and Danish. (And possibly a little Irish. That branch of the family were horse thieves and didn’t leave clear genealogical records.) And sometimes I feel like I should be better in touch with my…ethnicity, I guess? Like I should better understand the cultures that I came from.

(This is also where I get bogged down in the above questions. For example, a subset of my Scottish ancestors came across with William the Conqueror from Normandy, which was settled by Vikings at some point before that, so do those ancestors truly count as Scottish if their ancestors came from Scandinavia?)

And we talked about mythology a lot here, Squiders, but I feel bad because I’ve never spent a lot of time delving into Celtic or Anglo-Saxon mythology (aside from, say, Arthurian mythology which probably counts to some degree, though it gets commandeered later by–RIGHT, staying on topic). And shouldn’t I, at some point? Shouldn’t I know what my ancestors believed in, especially since I’ve spent so much time researching other mythologies?

It may be because I’m a fantasy author and I like such things, but it almost seems like those mythologies are my birthright.

Stealing Mythology

Oh, Squiders, I love mythology. You guys know that. My friends know that. My family knows that. My husband definitely knows that because every time we go anywhere I come home with new folklore books.

As a writer, mythologies never fail to twitch my “ooh” button. You know, the one that seeps under your skin and lies in wait, slowly perfecting story ideas for you.  The one that gets into your head and won’t leave you alone until you do something with it. That one.

But, and maybe this is just me, I feel like I can’t appropriate other people’s mythologies. Especially not mythologies that come from Native American, African, or Polynesian people. I love their mythologies. There’s some really cool stuff in there. But, as a white person, I feel like they’ve suffered enough crap over the years without me running off with their gods and manipulating them as I see fit.

Now, Shards, out in December, is a mix of mythologies, but I feel like I can lay claim to the mythologies used through my religious and ethnic backgrounds. (Shards is mostly Biblical mythology with some Norse, Greek and Celtic mixed in for extra snazziness.) I am admittedly not Greek in any way but I don’t really feel bad about running off with it, maybe because it’s a European mythology and, besides, many many other people have stomped all over it before me.

Let’s take Hawaiian mythology, though. I love it to death. I have books and books of the folklore. There’s so much potential there, but I feel like I can’t go anywhere near it, like if I give it a try, the Hawaiian people as a collective are going to be like, “Who’s this white chick from the mainland to be messing with our stuff?”

I mean, I don’t know if people actually get insulted when authors twist mythologies for their stories. It probably depends on the culture. Or the person. But this is something I worry about.

(Oddly enough, Central and South American mythologies don’t seem to have the same mental block for me, despite the fact that the White Men were just as oppressive there as anywhere else. It may be because a lot of–though, admittedly, not the most interesting stuff–the stuff I’ve seen has been beliefs that have become a mixture of the original native culture and the invading culture.)

What do you think, Squiders? Does there come a point in my career where it’s more okay than others to steal other cultures’ mythology? Am I blocking myself out of potentially really awesome stories for nothing?