Mythology is super fun—though this is easy to forget when most of our access to it comes in textbook form. I’d love to soak up as many legends and stories from around the world as I can, but Wiki-walking can only get you so far, and often you can get lost in those walls of text and the academic language. Plus, how do you know where to start?
These epic tales of heroes, gods, demons and magical shenanigans were often meant to be told out loud, spread by word of mouth for the purpose of entertainment. A podcast, then, is the ideal modern medium to get yourself into these ancient tales. Today’s web crush Spirits is exactly that, and it comes with a bonus dose of friendship, feminism, and alcohol!
Spirits is hosted by childhood friends Julia Schifini and Amanda McLoughlin. Julia has been interested in mythology since she was little and now has History and Religious Studies degrees. Amanda also loves mythology but doesn’t have the same academic backing, so the podcasts consist of Julia telling myths, legends, and lore to Amanda while they share drinks. The listener learns the tales alongside Amanda and gets to enjoy her reactions as she hears them for the first time, asks questions, and ignites discussion.
Each episode comes with a specially selected drink and snack (and if you support them on Patreon, you can get the recipe cards to make them yourselves!) and this combined with the conversational nature of the podcast makes it feel like you’re sitting down at the table to be part of the chat. It’s welcoming, funny, and not at all shrouded in any of the academic stuffiness that can surround history and religious studies.
Julia’s main knowledge base is with Greek mythology, but the hosts make an effort to branch out and away from Western Europe—they’ve covered Chinese demonology, South African rain queens, and Maui as he appears in Hawaiian mythology, among other myths. In their topical episodes, like the one on flood myths, they jump all over the world to cover as many cultures and ideas as possible. They also invite their listeners—especially those that are of other ethnicities, as Julia and Amanda are both white Americans—to send them stories from their own cultures or childhoods so their research can be more informed and they can tell a bigger variety of stories.
Amanda and Julia also dissect a lot of these stories from a modern, and often feminist, point of view. They show great sympathy for Medusa and confront the victim-blaming throughout her legend, talk about the combination of empowerment and sexism in selkie tales, and look for the aspects of girl power in stories like Eros and Psyche’s. And whenever they get the chance, they call out various gods and heroes as the hyped-up dudebros they are, which is both hilarious and refreshing.
Discussing so many tales from around the world also gives them a bigger frame of reference to examine the different portrayals of similar themes across different cultures, be they goddesses or concepts, like time or the underworld. They talk a lot about how fascinating and wonderful humans are—that they can come up with these epic and amazing stories, to explain aspects of the real world or to empower and uplift each other. The raw passion and delight in the storytelling and discussion is always great to listen to, and pretty infectious—listening to the episodes always puts me in a good mood, and I come away learning something I didn’t know.
The podcast is only a year old and the hosts have promised to deliver an even broader and more diverse range of stories in the coming year, which is super exciting. There’s so much knowledge packed into these little tipsy storytelling sessions, and again, the format and nature of the conversation make the stories as accessible and entertaining as they were meant to be back in the day. The episodes aren’t super long either, with most of them clocking in at thirty minutes or so, so it makes them bite-sized and ideal for listening to on bus trips or in short breaks (or with breakfast, which is what I’ve found myself doing the last few weeks—inevitably I end up getting absorbed and cradling my empty cereal bowl listening intently to my phone, which I’m sure looks just as silly as it sounds).
You can follow Spirits on Twitter, Facebook, and support them at their Patreon. They also have a shiny new website, and of course the episodes themselves can also be found on most podcast apps. It’s mythology in your pocket! What more could you ask for?
Read more from Alex at her blog, The Afictionado!