I first read a book on Greek mythology when I was about 8 years old. I can still remember its cobalt blue hard cover and stories accompanied by intricately drawn illustrations of deities like Aphrodite and Apollo, with crisp pages accompanied by the familiar scent of paper. I sat down in the living room of my family’s apartment on the large black faux leather chair in the corner on a summer afternoon, comfortably seated and ready to devour the book’s contents. Immediately, I was drawn in by the vast amount of different gods and goddesses there are in Greek mythology and became more and more eager to learn everything about them — their abilities, their backstories, and so on — as I flipped through the tales within the book’s pages.
The story that first captured my interest was the mythology of Pegasus. Instantly captivated by the white-winged horse illustration in the narrative’s introduction, I dove right in. The tale was so much more than I initially expected. It told that Pegasus was tamed by Bellerophon, son of Poseidon, who rode him into battle against the monster Chimera. It was so much more than an origin story, I felt as if I was there, so deeply immersed in the story that I swore I could feel the wind in my hair as if I was in Bellerophon’s place, upon Pegasus’s back, heading straight for the Chimera. Though I was first intrigued by a simple horse drawing, I soon learned that Greek mythology was a complex web of gods, heroes, and monsters, and each story came with a lesson or an explanation of why things were, or how something came to be.
The remarkable collection of characters and stories within the Greek myth book that was perched on my lap sparked my interest in polytheism and religion as a whole. After I had finished it, I re-read it over and over until I committed every deity’s name and abilities to memory. And looking back, it was the first time I had read a book about religion besides the Bible and was eager to continue to learn about the multitude of different belief systems that I had yet to explore. A captivation with different polytheistic religions is where it all started, and I would ask my parents to take me to the library after school to check out books detailing the ritualistic celebrations surrounding ancient Egyptian gods, the attributes of Wiccan deities, and the doctrines of Hinduism. Reading about seraphs and isms and the seemingly magical aspects of all of these faiths seemed to have given me an intellectual rush — a yearning to learn more. All of the different religious denominations I read about had different perspectives on a higher power, and the tales of divine beings with supernatural authority had so much impact on the day to day lives of those who believed in them. That amazed me. Prayer, devotion, and belief could give people hope, security, and shape their morals.
Though religion continued to be a principal interest for me all throughout middle school, it wasn’t until high school — specifically my junior year — that I was presented with the opportunity to put all of my religious studies to the test. I was prompted to analyze texts with heavy Christian references such as the epic Beowulf and John Milton’s Paradise Lost, and this heightened academic focus on Christianity in Western literature led me to be fascinated by monotheistic religions as well, and I became increasingly curious about how they affected the world around me — especially within works of art and literature. As religion became a commonly discussed topic in the classroom, the significance of its effects on an individual’s worldview and morals became clear, and I comprehended that understanding religion served as not only a way to better understand literature and grow intellectually, but also served as a bridge to appreciate different cultures and communities.
I have read more religious texts than I can count on my fingers, from the Quran to the Book of Mormon, and all have helped me to better understand people within my communities and get a sense of how they view the world in respect to their own religious beliefs. Though my peers found it odd that I cared so much about the New World Scriptures of Jehovah or the teachings of Jainism, I saw the inquiry of different faiths as a looking glass into the mind of a group or an individual. Understanding how religion gave their life purpose and influenced their frame of mind made me excited! Doesn’t it make you excited too? Wouldn’t you like a window into someone’s culture? Into their soul?
Not only did my enthrallment with religion spark my curiosity for studying religious influences on literature, but it also taught me a lot about diverse cultures. Religion doesn’t just serve as a way for me to understand literature but serves as a bridge of understanding with those of different backgrounds and beliefs than me. Belief systems act as agencies of socialization and therefore have connections to nearly all aspects of society today, and my long-held interest in the topic has influenced me to plan to study religion along with English in college to delve deeper into central concepts of varying belief systems and their influences on the humanities, literature, and the world we live in today. Divinity serves as a channel to develop intellectually and provides me with the opportunity to connect cross-culturally, which is a beautiful thing.
I hope that one day I can discover a path to relay my knowledge to others in such a way that inspires people to explore divinity’s impact on them, whether it’s as an outsider looking in, or someone eager to make faith a more prominent aspect of their life, I believe religion has a message for all of us.