I need to start this post with this note before getting on with the topic at hand.
When I wrote about realizing that traditional Witchcraft was a Mystery Tradition and not a religion, I received a lot of positive feedback from trad folk. It was an odd thing, because they seemed to not understand I was in a very real way rejecting Wicca and traditional Witchcraft. My Craft experience was positive, and my initiation profoundly meaningful, and I recommend the experience to anyone, but for me it is not right. Maybe their reaction is because in Paganism we tend to view everything as Wiccanate. When someone makes a religious change, we tend to view it as nothing more than a change of window dressing. But the truth of the matter is that my initiation has led me away from the Mystery I was initiated into. The idea that people are celebrating my post as proof that I finally “get” the Craft is disturbing on several levels. I love it and respect it, but let there be no confusion about the fact that I reject it.
And now today’s post:
Over on Google+ Tara Tiger Brown shared this story on HuffPo about analytical thinking decreasing faith. My first reaction to it was an assertion that analytical thinking has increased my faith, but now I am reconsidering. There’s an unspoken rule that says smart Paganism relies on data and dispassionate analysis. There is a horror of seeming silly. A horror of being like the Christians and taking mythos too literally. Straying from the safety of poetic metaphor, archetypes, euhemerism and sacred fiction is frowned upon. At times we seem only to have two options: a ridiculous, ignorant “fluffy bunny” path, or a sort of fanciful, poetic atheism that’s all right as long as it remains in it’s place. My walk down the first path was short-lived, and the years I have spent on the second path leave me feeling as empty as a hipster’s irony. Pagans may be the only religious movement obsessed with de-bunking their own religion.
The HuffPo story coincided with my falling down the “Rabbit hole” of Hellenic polytheism. The depth, diversity and sheer numbers of the Hellenic polytheist movement left me a bit bewildered. I found myself staring at a massive number of ancient texts to read, deep theological arguments between American and Greek Hellenics and a massive pantheon to consider. After years of keeping Hellenism at a distance, the idea of immersing myself in it suddenly seemed overwhelming. It would take years to study, analyze, deconstruct and rationalize Hellenic religion. I found myself despairing at the thought of trying to craft a thoroughly debunked religious framework that doesn’t sound silly.
Then I remembered that wasn’t what this was about. These are the same mistakes I have made before, and led me to a crisis of faith. No, this is about something scarier. This is about surrendering completely. This isn’t about worrying if a question is right or wrong by some external standard. This isn’t about worrying if what I’m writing is Pagan enough. This isn’t about justifying my journey to anyone. This is about letting go and letting my soul guide me. This is about finding answers that I need without worrying about whether they will pass inspection.
The answer I have received in my personal practice is to treat the myths as real. To view them as literal. As historical. As real and factual as the soup I made last night, or as my grandmother’s hands as she lit a cigarette so many years ago. My task is not to analyze or interpret, but to surrender, experience and believe.
So last night I put away Hesiod and picked up Edith Hamilton’s Mythology from my bookshelf. Not because it’s a great book or a piece of scholarly perfection. I picked it up because what I needed was a story to immerse myself in that was written in a style familiar and comfortable to me. There, in a book I had bought on a whim, in language a child could understand, I found much of my personal beliefs regarding theology laid out as sensible matter of fact. And you can laugh, but it was immensely satisfying to my soul, to have such declarative statements as “the universe created the gods” there before me in plain English. To read that and think, not this is what the ancient Greeks believed or this was the metaphor they used to explain their religious superstition, but that this is true.
I am taking small steps. Practicing small pieces of household worship. Taking in one idea at a time. The current belief I am working on is that I am Pandora’s daughter. That Pandora is Mitochondrial Eve. Blessed by the Gods and carrying hope, we are each related to her and the progress and evolution of homo sapiens is due to her. A lot of emphasis is placed upon her releasing bad things into the world, but I tend to focus on the idea that she has the ability to release that which is negative and harmful. Humans have the ability to release the darkness of the past and move forward with hope.
I’m also trying to make a point of reading the Delphic Maxims every day. Christian mythos and wisdom texts are ingrained in me simply because they are ingrained in the culture I grew up in, and repetition has made them stick. For me to experience the all-encompassing worldview I seek, then I need to recognize repetition is not rote. To internalize this way of being will take time and effort, and I intend to study the Maxims as if they are holy scripture, handed down by Apollo himself. They are not, as the Seven Sages of Greece attest, but they are dedicated to his glory and likely have as much divine inspiration as anything attributed to Noah. Perhaps I may do a series exploring them here on this blog.
These are the steps I’m taking towards participating in a full religious ecosystem. Not big altars. Not outward signs. Just inner work mostly. My journey will likely evolve, but I feel as if I’m headed in the right direction.