"Digging up our Hunter and Gatherer Mythology." Interview with Gary R. Varner, Author and Mythologist by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Media
Digging up our Hunter and Gatherer Mythology. Interview with Gary R Varner, Author and Mythologist by Willi Paul, Planetshifter.com Media
‘Folklore and mythology are more than children’s tales. My books attempt to show how universal these myths are, how valid folklore is from one country and people to another. They are all based on universal themes that describe how people have lived, thought, worshiped, feared, waged war with both man and demon, viewed the world and the cosmos and gone on to the Underworld. These beliefs and histories must not die but must be kept alive. They are at once common and uncommon, natural and supernatural.
You will also read about giants and fairies, sea monsters and mermaids, demons and the gods of nature. I am continuously fascinated with symbolism as well and have spent considerable time in exploring those ancient symbols that can still be found on contemporary buildings and in our cemeteries.’ – Gary Varner
Willi: I am interested in the pre-history world, including the symbols in the Hunters and Gatherers daily life. Could certain symbols help to propel early human evolution; to raise their awareness or consciousness?
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Interview with Gary by Willi -
What are the pros and cons of injecting a contemporary science like biomimicry into the ecology of the Hunters and Gatherers?
Not sure how one would do this. I don’t think modern man should attempt to add any outside factor to existing ecologies that are already working for a society. The old saying “if it works don’t fix it” comes to mind.
If ReWilding is a return to the primitive, can we argue that the Hunters and Gatherers practiced ReWilding?
I don’t believe so. When modern man “ReWilds” he does so to mimic or recreate that which other earlier or indigenous societies already have. I seriously doubt that “primitive” hunter-gatherers decided to become more “primitive”. ReWilding seems to have been the product of the Victorian age which sought to recreate the “golden age.” Modern man attempts to do this on an ongoing basis with little result to show for it on a mass scale.
What evidence exists relative to whether the Hunters and Gatherers were a matriarchal or a patriarchal society? Does this have implications on their mythology?
There have been many of both societies. Most early societies were a combination of matriarchal and patriarchal systems with multiple gods and deities of both sexes it wasn’t until monotheism reared its head that patriarchal societies really took hold. Native American societies are predominately (but not exclusively) matriarchal with family lineage and organization based on the female aspect.
Both systems most likely based their mythology on their socio-religio viewpoint. Obviously Judeo-Christian-Islamic societies are patriarchal to the extreme, many times viewing women and children as property and passing down family hierarchy along the male line. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic deity is male as are the “heavenly hosts” so Judeo-Christian mythology is based on this social structure.
Campbell champions the ideas in initiation and journey. If the Hunters and Gatherers followed the seeds and prey, with the changing seasons, what were their initiations and journeys?
One would have to look at the individual society. Hunters especially have-had an animal component that is important to their beliefs. Fertility rituals are mostly in tune with animal (cattle) possession which also gave rise to such mythic creatures as Pan. Societies that are mostly gatherers are more in tune with the seasons and will have created means to astronomically observe them and predict the changes to know when certain plants are available. This is true as well for hunters who need to know the seasons when certain important animals migrate etc. Initiation is important to place each member of society within the society and belief system. At times young men will dress in animal hides to mimic becoming one of them. Initiation for young women is mostly tied to marriage, fertility and child birth.
Campbell also championed the individual Hero while I promote Community Heroes. How do you see this in the modern world?
I see little evidence for “community” heroes. Individual heroes yes and our society recognizes those individuals who exhibit courage and selflessness as heroes. This is probably more true today than in the past due to the changing dynamics of the world. Of course these individual heroes may become community heroes if the society remembers them over time. We may be talking about the same thing.
Do you believe that we have both old and new mythology now? Can you give us examples of both?
Yes. I think old mythology changes over time and thus becomes a new mythology. Technology seems to generate its own form of mythology such as UFOs. Old mythology was one way to explain certain phenomenon and most likely was a major factor in the creation of deity. As religion plays a lesser role in today’s society new mythology fills the void.
What do you understand about the archetypes of the Hunters and Gatherers?
Pan, Cernunnos and horned animals are all archetypes of hunters. They watch over and rule the wildwood and are important in the continued fertility of the world. Likewise the Green Man is important for the continuation of vegetable life, trees and the fertility of the earth.
If we can say that the Hunters and Gatherers were in a pre-myth period, what forces sparked myth to arise on Earth?
I believe myth is tied to the wonder of the natural and supernatural world. Humans have always wondered why things are, what is behind the natural forces of the environment such as fire, the winds, birth and death. I don’t think I would agree that Hunters and Gatherers existed in a “pre-myth” period as I believe that myth has always existed.
Please see my proposed Hunters and Gatherers symbols illustration and definitions. What are your reactions?
Symbols of Hunter Gatherers (partial list) -
Feather – Ornamentation; Value Exchange; Story Prop; Signaling
Gary: Medicine, symbol of power, enabled shaman to take flight
Lightning Fire – Evidence or Fear of Higher Power; Fire Source
Gary: Symbolizes both creation and destruction
Mud – Body Painting; Sun Burn Help
Gary: Source of fertility
Sun – Round; Heat; Cycle of Day and Night
Gary: Supreme power/deity, all seeing
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Gary’s Background –
I have been trained as an archaeologist and it was this background with its focus on ethnographies that got me interested in folklore and myth. Over the years both of these subjects appear to have waned in the public's interest. I attempt, through my writing, to keep these topics alive.
Over the years I have explored many areas of the world, including England, Ireland, Wales, the Yucatan, Canada as well as points of interest across the Unites States from California to South Carolina. I have visited amazing sacred locations and I have seen mysterious holy wells, Native American rock art and ceremonial sites, megalithic monuments found in such locations as Avebury, Stonehenge, North Salem, New Hampshire and Chichen Itza, Yucatan. These places of power are stunning but no less stunning are the smaller in scale centers of ritual such as the rock art of the Paiute near Bishop California or the Luiseno in San Diego county, California, the Hopi and Navajo in Arizona or the Southern Paiute and Yuma people in Red Rock Canyon of Nevada.
Over time I have found that indigenous and ancient populations around the world created their own special symbols which could be used to bring fertility and wealth to a people as well as to control and manipulate weather, heal the injured and sick or cause sickness and ruination among rival groups. From Ethiopia to Nova Scotia people have responded to the unknown forces of the universe in similar ways, in some cases in identical ways. Why this is so is one of the many interests I have in the study of folklore and mythology and the many physical manifestations of beliefs.
In the last few weeks I have decided to physically move on in my pursuit of more strange tales and unusual subject matter in the United States. I have relocated from my longtime home of California to a small, culturally rich town in the Blue Grass region of Kentucky. This is a place of the Mound Builders and is dotted with battlefields of the Civil War and Revolution. Tales of serpent people, demon dogs, water monsters, little people and Bigfoot will keep me busy for years to come and hopefully will provide additional books for you to enjoy.
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Gary R. Varner
Folklore, History & the Study of Myth
garyrvarner at gmail.com