Redux Rant on Belief

Everything I tried to write last week was angry. Everything came out resentful and hateful and irritated, and while I was certainly feeling those things, they were keeping me (along with some other issues) from writing anything useful. When I am being direct and calm people call me angry, so I can’t imagine how people would react at seeing me really, truly angry and going on an unrepentant rant.

Now that I have my irritation a bit under control, and after reading some blog posts and quotes and feeling like I was being whacked over the head, I hope to write about some of the topics that were swirling about my head.

I’m returning to that old topic about belief, and the gods, and the gods’ place in modern polytheism. If you’re not interested, I ain’t gonna make you read my piece. I have an especially low tolerance for trolls concerning this issue, and I don’t care how big your name is – you’re a troll, I’m not publishing your comment. I don’t have time for that.

I read A Forest Door whenever I get the chance, and Dver recently posted a quote from Neolithic Shamanism that caught my attention:

“While I like the tales of the Gods of your religion and your descriptions of the spirits, I’m not sure that I believe in them. Can I still practice this tradition if I believe that they are archetypes or energy forms created by human attention?

No. You cannot. Sorry, we’re going to have to be hard-line on this one. This is an ancient shamanic tradition embedded in a polytheistic religion. That’s fundamental. There’s no way to get around that. Not only do you have to believe fully and thoroughly in these spirits in order to really practice it, but if you come at them with anything less than complete faith in their existence, they may be offended and refuse to deal with you…and for this tradition, it’s all about working with the spirits. No spirits, no luck.”

This hit me. I’ve been writing up usable, functional packets of information about the new religious path I practice – what I call the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist and faery-reverent path – and I’ve been wondering how to handle the ‘issue’ of belief. These gods and spirits are real to me. In the religion, they are treated as real entities deserving of offerings and rituals, rituals that are more focused on the gods and spirits than on our internal mindscapes.

I want the religion I’m helping craft be open to many people. The spirits want it to be open to many people. The Gods I work with are interested in reaching many people, though in a non-proselytizing way.

But that’s exactly it. That’s what the spirits want. What the Gods want. If this were about me, or if this were just about humans, I could go on about archetypes and ideas and mindscapes and never mention religious practices. But it’s a religion. There’s worship. The spirits and Gods are involved and recognized as beings with their own autonomy and goals and purposes. I could shove these spirits through the archetype-translator, but that would do more damage, I think.

And this is a religion. I need to stop forgetting that.

I don’t need to explain my beliefs. I don’t need to deny my experiences.

You see, what I was angry about was this impossible situation that I find myself in. I often, every month at least, see or hear someone – a New Atheist or an atheist-pagan – explaining how they are just so intelligent, and their path is so smart, and science this, and science that, and everyone else is just so primitive. And just as often I hear these same people proclaim that those who do believe in gods and spirits are just so mind-baffling, why, we need to hold people’s hands and explain our rituals and take time out of our religious lives to help these poor folk.

No. I don’t.

I don’t need to explain my religious practices to you when all you want to do is insult me. I don’t need to explain myself to you when you will speak over me. I don’t owe you anything. As uncomfortable as it makes you, I care more about my gods than I do about you.

If you are so uncomfortable with spirits, if you are so uncomfortable with gods, if you are so uncomfortable with ritual and worship, don’t do what I do. Really simple solution, same as I won’t do what you do. But I’m not going to take time out of my day to explain my incredible, fascinating beliefs to you. I’m not a zoo animal, thank you kindly.

Of course, people are going to take this to mean that I think every pagan everywhere all the time needs to 100% believe in the gods with no doubt ever never. No. Let’s get something clear: I don’t care what you believe. Have a great time, don’t steal from people (or cultures), and don’t be cruel. Go live your idea of a great life. But if you want to practice with me, yeah, I’m gonna start caring. Cause this is real to me, and the spirits need to be treated with respect, and I’m not willing to be around if you are going to be disrespectful because the spirits aren’t ‘really real’. If you are not coming into my practice, into my space, into my spirits, we’re great. We can have tons of fun and discussions.

Interrupting me when I’m telling other spirit workers about dream work I’ve been doing or spirit activity around my house to go, “Are you sure?” “Really?” “Well, we don’t know that it wasn’t just in your head…” is bad. (And we haven’t even touched on the ableism in so much of modern Pagandom.) Just as my interrupting you when you talk about your experiences with,“Are you sure it wasn’t a god?” “Oh, I just read about a spirit that acts exactly like that!” “Well, everyone knows the spirits are real, gee…” is bad. It’s obnoxious.

You don’t want us doing it to you, stop doing it to us.

I don’t think everyone needs to believe the same thing I do. But I’m putting my foot down (not that it matters terribly, but still), and putting up a boundary. If you want to engage in the same work I do or walk the same path I am walking, if you want to work with the spirits I work with, you’ve got to see them as real. That’s why we do the rituals we do. That’s why we make offerings.

(I know, I know – who cares, Aine, barely anyone even knows about your new gods. Better to have firm boundaries upfront, though, right? But I suppose I just want to stress that this is for the religion I’m crafting, not every single religion out there in the world.)

There’s also this silly idea that gets brought up that somehow if you believe in gods and spirits you must believe in them without any doubt or discernment. Again, no. Belief doesn’t cancel out thought, as much as some people might claim it does. I’m scared of where I would be if I didn’t take a moment to just think and consider and doubt.

So. After this long rant – and yeah, this will always be an issue that raises my ire – what I’m getting at is that I’m sick of people assuming their right. I don’t assume I’m right about the spirits. I know what I’ve experienced and I know how I’m going to interact with them and I know my boundaries mean that I am only okay doing intense spirit work with people who also see the spirits as real. That doesn’t mean other rituals in other religions need to have the same boundaries I have. My having faith and fostering a path that has faith as a core component doesn’t mean people are suddenly unable to have archetypal spiritualities.

What it means is I have a boundary. Just as I would expect others to defend their boundaries, I’m defending mine.

[A note: the ‘issue’ gets complicated when we add in ideas of divinization, not to mention how internal mindscapes can affect the outer worlds we may journey to or our perception of them. I’d love to delve into those issues when I’m not just cooling off. But, as is necessary to note, I don’t think ‘just imagination’ – a phrase which in itself becomes problematic – is bad. As I said in my other post though, I like boundaries and lines. Both in establishing them and crossing them, and being aware when I cross or blur them.]

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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.

  • Urban Pooka

    I like how you flipped it around. “Are you sure it wasn’t a god?” Excellent!

    • Aine

      Glad you liked it~ :3

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Excellent!

    I believe you are spot on here.

    I believe in many, *many* gods and other spiritual entities. I don’t revere all of them (or any of them, if I am completely honest), in fact there are those I actively dislike.

    The confusing bit, for me, is that I believe in both the literal gods and the psychological archetypes, not to mention the tulpa-esque man-made gods.

    As such, I feel it is pretty important, when practising with others, to make sure you are all working with the same god(s) or spirit(s).

    I think more people need to be accepting of disagreement. Sometimes, inclusivity is not the good thing that many bill it to be.

    It’s okay to be different.

    • Aine

      Ahhh, I agree that we need to make sure we’re working with the same gods and spirits, which is where discernment and questioning comes in. That is part of why this idea that belief=100% unquestioning belief baffles me. Of course I question! I believe these entities are real and also believe that sometimes it’s just sock puppets or other spirits masquerading as different spirits. If I don’t question, my path is going to suffer…

      I also don’t think that man-made god or spirits are bad, I should not. After all, my pop culture spirituality has huge influences of that, and even the Otherfaith does since most of those gods and spirits are given strength by their worshipers.

      Still, same as I wouldn’t interrupt an archetypal ritual with constant pesterings of ‘but the gods are REALLY separate’ because that is disrespectful, I expect the same respect – not interrupting my rituals, being respectful to my spirits, etc.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        No such thing as ‘bad’, just opinion.

        I would not interrupt a ritual, if only because I would make sure beforehand that it was the right rite for me. (Certainly, I wouldn’t go to one just because I liked the ambience.)

        It isn’t disrespectful to ask the same of others, is it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

    While I agree with you, my interactions on places like spells of magic have me thinking the skeptics are a balancing act. Hearing someone say, “Are you sure there is a spirit x that does exactly that” I don’t think is rude, but more of a I’m not sure, a fail safe???

    Spirit work is primitive(which isn’t bad to me. Primitive has a richness to it. A realness to it. It’s earthy.) However spirit work can also be subject to delusion. Having skeptics is a reality check at times.

    Meh, just something to think about. Your article is also very thought provoking as well. Making me ponder this morning.

    • Aine

      Hm, I agree and disagree. I’m perfectly capable of questioning and having doubts and fail safes, and I surround myself with people who will also question me. I don’t surround myself with people who are actively embarrassed by what I believe or who make it impossible for me to talk about it without their constant additions of, “Well, we know that’s not ~REAL~”

      Which, unfortunately, has been the majority of my experience with self-identified skeptics and atheistic pagans.

      Because, to me, there is a big difference between exploring and learning and questioning together vs. assuming I am too stupid to come to my own conclusions about what I’m experiencing. I agree we need our critical thinking skills as spirit workers. I don’t agree that skeptics provide that, from what I’ve experienced.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=514264967 Bianca Bradley

        People are people, some are decent and some are asses with the ability to be decent.

        On a personal level, no skeptics to help us check reality, no, but friends who don’t agree with everything yes. On a more widespread religious level, yes we do need the questioners, to keep us from spells of magic delusions. (sorry that website just irks me, so it pops up in my mind as a good counter argument).

        Though as an fyi, I really like Socrates and his method, add to it that I’m a Sagitarrius and questions are part of me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/ John Beckett

    YES! This is the kind of narrowly-focused commitment that is required to develop spiritual depth. Not every variation of Paganism – much less every single group – needs to be theologically inclusive.

    I don’t care if the person next to me in the Beltane circle sees the gods as individual beings or aspects of one God or archetypes or metaphors. But if I’m doing a deep communion with a god or spirit, you better believe I want everyone participating in the ritual on the same page.

    • Aine

      Exactly! I don’t need to always do ritual or discussions with people who agree with me, but I do want certain situations and environments to be people who are on the same page as I am. Which, really, isn’t so different from what everyone else wants, but somehow putting your foot down about belief makes you ~le evil fundamentalist~.

      When really, all I’m saying I want is a space to discuss and work with others that is healthy for my practice and my spirits. Same as others would want a space to focus on archetypes or to not think about the gods at all, and those groups and spaces are good. Exclusivity is not the worst thing, and it’s actually something modern Paganism could use a bit more understanding of.

  • Cynthia

    I hear you. While reading this post I had one question that nagged at me and continued to bug me through reading the comments. I would like to know if your boundaries would accept allowing a person to observe one of your rituals. Observe outside your space without a sound. Merely for the sake of learning about the interactions between you and your spirits. Or to watch and learn to see if this is the right road for them. I am asking this because, as I have seen before, a narrow road meets more obstacles than a wide path that has the benefit of others walking along with you. Even if they are not exactly on the same page as you. Most people i have had the privilege to walk and grow with have given helping hands on my way down my path even though they have different beliefs then me. I currently practice with a large (upwards of 150 people) group. As is expected not all of us have the same deities, spirits, guides, or other. In fact most of us are different. however being in this community gives me great joy and much help down my particular path. It seems I strayed a bit from my original point so I am sorry for that. :) Blessed be and smooth roads be under your feet.

    • Aine

      I would welcome observers who were respectful, yes. Whether they wanted to just know more or were interested in observing to see if they would be a good fit for the religion. And, of course, people are welcome to talk to me if they want to know more or learn more at present. I’m not opposed to talking to other people, but actually engaging in the religion as a participant…there needs to be an acknowledgement as the spirits as autonomous and separate from ourselves.

  • indorri

    I apologise for mucking about in an older post, but this post has got me thinking and I wanted to ask you something.

    I am an atheist. My current beliefs also entail methodological naturalism, so I by default tend to be sceptical of religions. I’m not going to ask you to justify your religion nor try to convince you that my way of thinking is more adequate. The reason I mention this is that I am curious, and I don’t think, for example, gods cannot exist in principle. So the question is whether one can approach your tradition suspending judgement (i.e. neither assuming archetypal theology nor polytheism, etc.), or whether you have to be completely earnest in this type of belief before approaching it.

    • Aine

      Hi! I’m a little unsure of what you’re asking in your question, so I want to clarify before answering – are you asking if someone can approach the religion from a sort of questioning standpoint (f’ex, “I don’t know how the gods work or if they exist”) or if they need total belief (“The gods ARE real”)?

      Honestly, I don’t feel atheists would really have a place in the Otherfaith. We’re incredibly focused on the deities and devotion, and all of our prayers and rituals are built around the gods, so I don’t see that being a good blend.

      • indorri

        That is exactly what I’m asking, yes.

        • Aine

          No, you don’t need total belief. One doesn’t need to be totally sure of the existence of the gods. But one has to be willing to behave as if the gods were real and to remain very open to that possibility. The gods have to be given respect, even if we’re unsure of their realness, at least in my faith.

          • indorri

            Ah, I see. Thanks for the explanation; I appreciate it.