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.]