Druid Thoughts: The Pagan Sceptic

One of the pieces of advice that came from my family when I was in my teens (specifically my father) is that if you’re going to explore Pagan stuff, you need to be twice as sceptical as the muggles. Obviously he didn’t call them muggles, because that helpful word had yet to be invented, but you get the idea. There is so much out there to believe.

I learned to question everything. I’m even-handed, as sceptical about big pharmaceutical companies who publish results selectively as I am about the idea that aliens built Atlantis and seeded all human civilizations from there. I’m very sceptical about people who make extraordinary claims for themselves in any field, especially when they want money. It’s very hard to prove that anything is reliably true all of the time – go the rational science route, and all you get is balance of probabilities. A balance of probabilities will allow you to steer passably well through most things – except, of course, the things that happen despite being improbable.

Carneades the Skeptic. Image via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Carneades the Skeptic

Science is not something to believe in excessively either. Science is nothing more than the best we have right now, and anyone who gets arrogant over how good that is ought to be required to study the history of this subject. The mistakes of science (obvious in hindsight) are as charmingly batshit crazy as the most cheerful loopy new age stuff you could hope to find. No doubt people of the future will look back at some of the things we were sure we had all reasoned out and weep with laughter at our naivete.

Paganism opens us up to whole new ways of seeing the world. We talk about magic, otherworlds, travelling astral planes, and talking to gods. And yet most of the time we have to slog through the same reality as everyone else, resplendent with tax returns and mostly lacking in faeries. Cheerfully believing in everything can be a fast track to utter dismay and disillusionment as life fails to deliver unicorns, and despite our god-like powers, we’re still paupers. The worst kind of muggles (as JK Rowling pointed out) are the ones who used to believe and have become bitter. Some kind of balance is clearly required.

So while you’re exploring the idea that we all make our own realities and searching out the most colourful and exciting possibilities to believe in, also consider making a reality that works. Have a ponder about all the crazy, irrational things normal people believe in (money, countries, banking systems…). Sometimes ancient wisdom turns out to be a bloody good idea (willow bark, St. John’s wort), and sometimes it turns out to be really destructive (tiger bones). Natural things can be poisonous, and science is just a work in progress. If we can be realistic about the depth of our own ignorance, we can hold all of our beliefs a bit more lightly, and this way lies… if not enlightenment, then at least some possibility of not entirely making fools of ourselves.

Druid Thoughts is published on occasional Wednesdays on Agora. Follow it via RSS or e-mail!

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About Nimue Brown

Druid blogger, author of Druidry and Meditation, Druidry and the Ancestors and Spirituality without structure (Moon Books) Intelligent Designing for Amateurs (Top Hat Books) and Hopeless Maine (Archaia). Book reviewer for the Druid Network and Pagan Dawn. Volunteer for OBOD. Green, folky, Steampunk wench with a coffee habit. www.druidlife.wordpress.com and www.hopelessmaine.com @Nimue_B and can be hunted down on facebook.

  • Alyxander M Folmer

    I really liked the article!
    I was confused about the title until I saw that Sceptic was the accepted British spelling. (VS the American spelling which is Skeptic)

    I’m glad I looked that up before I made a fool of myself for trying to correct the spelling LoL.

    “I’m very sceptical about people who make extraordinary claims for themselves in any field, especially when they want money.”

    -Words to live by!!-

  • Barefoot Pagan

    And there lies the rub. I see Pagans scoff at Creationism theorists, who have visions of man and dinosaurs living together, yet in the next breath will tell you the best things to put in your garden to make the fairies happy. We shrug off the idea of a God who sits in heaven, granting (or not granting) prayers, yet we worry about which color candle, usually dipped in some color in China, will make our magic happen.

    I love this article, but it feeds the doubt I have about any spiritual path on mostly a daily basis. Isn’t our Pagan or magical path just as questionable as any other spiritual path?

    Ugh. One day I’m fully committed and immersed in my Paganism, and the next day I look at it from a skeptic’s point of view. The latter seems to be happening more and more often..

    • http://www.rendingtheveil.com Christopher

      It sounds to me like you’re doing just great. IMO wisdom comes not from being right, but from having had a series of worldviews and self-concptions collapse.

    • Alyxander M Folmer

      I think it’s perfectly possible to be a Pagan Skeptic.
      I can show you some magic. I could also explain the psychology and/or chemistry behind WHY that “magic” works, but then you probably wouldn’t call it magic anymore.
      Theologically speaking, I’m a skeptical polytheist. I can neither prove nor disprove the existence of ANY god, objectively speaking. I choose to honor the Aesir anyway, because I BELIEVE they’re there.
      I think so long as your still questioning yourself (and others) rather than simply taking things at face value, you’ll probably do just fine :)

  • http://b.rox.com/ Editor B

    Hear hear. Skepticism is a core value for spirituality in my opinion. It’s not a contradiction, rather it’s the best possible combination for health and sanity. There is even an emergent community built around this perspective, see for example HumanisticPaganism.com

  • pagansister

    Enjoyed your post very much.
    Nothing wrong with questioning.

  • Phillip Hunt

    To paraphrase Umberto Eco “I subscribe to the Higher Unbelief “