processing the gods

As I was reading through Dwelling on the Threshold, I stumbled upon this sentence that struck me. It quite accurately explains something I’ve been considering for the past week, though the issue has been on my mind much longer. (You can read the post that this quote is from here.)

…the gods are entirely independent of  our brain chemistry, but our experience of Them is not.

Since beginning walking a religious path, I’ve been dealing with doubt. Doubt is a part of discernment, for me, a necessary part of being a religious person or spirit-worker. I don’t assume every experience, every voice, or every vision is from the gods. I don’t assume every omen I see is actually an omen. I question. I wonder. I ask myself if I am understanding and hearing correctly.

But I don’t doubt that the gods and spirits exist. (I do, I should note, doubt some spirits – one of my closest spirits had to deal with almost a month of me shaking my head and proclaiming he didn’t exist, because his existence challenged some of my ideas about spirits and how the world worked – and I doubt my interactions with some spirits.) The gods are real, out there, outside of me. So are the spirits. That’s just how the world is for me. It’s not something I can deny, and while I may doubt my ability to hear and truly interact with them, I don’t doubt that they are out there.

Part of that is because I have had experiences that confirm, for me, beyond even my discerning mind, that spirits exist. Part of that belief is something as intense, real, and beating as my own heart. The spirits are, and my belief in them is wrapped around my veins and under my skin. It isn’t something I can deny.

I have to keep striving for the gods, whether I feel them or not.

I definitely question my understanding and experience of them.

Am I making up this experience? Did I see or hear what I thought I heard? Is the impression I’m getting mostly myself, or is one of my gods nudging me? Am I interpreting this correctly?

That’s what divination, especially blind divination, is helpful for. It can confirm or deny something or direct me to where the gods really want me to go.

I know some people say that, since we can see how the brain reacts when we pray, when we have religious experiences or touch the gods, that somehow it’s ‘just the brain’. Which makes me laugh, honestly. Why is there only room for one possibility? Of course our brains start churning and whirring. Aren’t our gods immanent? Why wouldn’t they affect our bodies in ways we can (now) see?

I’m neither anti-science nor incredibly eager to incorporate it into my practice. Science is just something that helps us understand our world and how it works, and while I like learning about various subjects because learning is just fun, I don’t think it explains away the gods or spirits. While I’ve always been a more mythic, feeling, woo-woo type, I enjoy science because our world is just so full of amazing things and we can always learn more and isn’t that just kind of incredibly cool?

So science shows our brains do really interesting stuff when we have religious experiences. We can see the effects prayer and meditation and journeying and such have on our mind. And while, for some, that means the gods and spirits and experiences are only in our heads, to me that’s just seeing how I process the gods and spirits. I experience them, so my body responds, and…that’s that.

We’re humans and made of meat stuff, so we process the gods as humans. And sure, that means I’m probably at the periphery of most Pagans and even polytheists, but like I said – I know the spirits are real, and it’s as close to me as my heart is. I can’t tear out one without tearing out the other.

And I think that’s what I’ve been striving for, trying to explain when I explain doubt and what doubt is for me. Doubt for me isn’t doubting the existence of external spirits, gods that don’t rely on me to live and move, but questioning my own experiences. Checking myself, constantly. Never getting complacent or assuming every whim I feel is god-given. Am I hearing the gods? Am I hearing them clearly? And when I’m not, what can I do to keep a connection to them?

I have to open myself to them, for when they come and share themselves with me, when they set my mind on fire, so I can be ready to hear and listen and understand and come out on the other side stronger and better able to serve them (especially during those times when I can’t hear or feel them).

About Aine

Aine Llewellyn is a 20 year old girl creature currently mucking about in southern Arizona. She enjoys the winters and rain but can’t stand the heat. She is a difficult polytheist that natters on and on about her faith.

  • Aubs Tea

    I question myself so much about what I’m seeing and experiencing that I drive myself crazy with my questions. But, as you do, I think these questions are important. How else are we to know that these experiences are real if we don’t doubt them occasionally, if we don’t question? Point of fact, I’m more likely to raise an eyebrow at the people who aren’t questioning their sanity on a regular basis.

  • Urban-Pooka

    Nice! This has been going around and around in our little neck of the woods, and I like your contribution to the conversation not only there but here. It’s good meat to chew on. But a question. What is blind divination?

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I agree…doubt is essential to my own process as well, but it’s ultimately self-doubt more than doubt about the existence of the gods. “Am I really experiencing this?” or “am I understanding this correctly?” are far more pertinent and persistent questions than “is this a god?” or “does this god/gods-in-general exist?”

    Here’s something wacky about the “it’s in your head” explanations of brain activity and such. If someone sees a rabbit on the green grassy lawn, their visual cortex will be lit up by looking at that image. No one then asks, “Is that rabbit on the green grass really there, or is it in that person’s head?” Of course it’s in their head, but it got there because it is actually present and detectable by the senses! If those different parts of the brain are active when we are processing different experiences, why is it that only this particular area of experience is questioned?

  • Eric Jeffords

    Thank you so much for this post. I needed to read this. I’ve had so many doubts in my life, and still continue to have them. But more and more I am realising that what I feel and see are not just figments of my imagination, or even me just making it up in my head like some game (which would be really sad, because I’m usually alone when I feel these things…). Thank you. This has given me the confidence to continue to check myself, but know that what I’m feeling is legitimate at the same time.

  • Pingback: I Is For Interpretation | Dreams Before Flowers()