This week the Patheos Conversations on Religious Trends moves to the Spirituality Channel. Their question asks “Is the Veil Thinning?” Here’s an excerpt from the full question.
Many of those deeply interested in the spiritual life apart from particular religious traditions believe that the evolution of religion itself has been leading to a new age of god-awareness, an age of cosmic harmonizing between human consciousness and divine reality … many believe that the time is now; the veil is thinning and human consciousness is now ready to receive the divine in new ways.
As a Pagan, when someone mentions the thinning of the veil my mind goes in a rather different direction. I think of the veil between the world of the living and the world of the Gods and ancestors, the veil that grows thin each Samhain (and according to many, at Beltane too) allowing us to commune more easily with our beloved dead. This veil thins and thickens, but it is always there.
For an excellent Pagan view of the veil and how to work with it, read The Veil’s Edge by Willow Polson. Denton CUUPS did a short term book study on it several years ago and it was very helpful.
When the Spirituality folks ask “is the veil thinning?” they’re anticipating an unveiling or an uncovering, a time when wisdom will be revealed. There’s a word for that kind of revealing: apocalypse.
An apocalypse is not a disaster, though apocalyptic prophecies frequently include predictions of great destruction. What makes an apocalypse is the revealing of Truth that comes after the destruction: Jesus returns with a new heaven and a new earth or Ahura Mazda returns and drops evildoers in a river of molten metal. Truth is revealed, the faithful are rewarded, the infidels are punished, and all is made right.
We went through this in 2012 when many anticipated that the turning of the Mayan calendar would bring the end of the world or the end of an age or the end of something, after which things would be radically different. December 22, 2012 was far from the first time those anticipating an apocalypse were disappointed.
This is not to say rapid change never happens – the speed of change in our society is faster than ever. This is not to say drastic change never happens. 65 million years ago an asteroid made some pretty drastic changes – bad changes for dinosaurs, good changes for mammals. But there has been no great revealing of Truth. Good things happen, bad things happen, Life goes on, and those who are left pick up and carry on.
The problem with anticipating an apocalypse – whether you expect the unveiling to come after a disaster or not – is that it sends a subtle message that we can just wait till the time is right and everything will be OK.
In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” Martin Luther King Jr. wrote: “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation … We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
As a deity-centered Pagan I have no quarrel with my spiritual friends who are seeking god-awareness and no disagreement with those who believe they’ve found it, or who feel it drawing nearer. But history says unveilings are always presented to individuals and small groups of mystics, never to humanity as a whole.
People will only see what they’re prepared to see. People will only see what their worldview – their mental model of the way things are – tells them is possible. If they aren’t ready to see, Athena Herself could appear bodily before them and they’ll find some way to rationalize it away. If they have a spiritual experience and it’s positive, they may try to repeat it. If the experience is challenging, the vast majority will explain it away and go back to watching Dancing With the Stars.
How do we make people ready to see the Gods, or ready to receive god-awareness? I don’t suggest knocking on doors with a book in one hand and a stack of tracts in the other!
But I have a lot of friends and relatives who had never heard of Paganism who now know something about it because I started sharing these blog posts on my Facebook feed. They may not understand what Neopagans and polytheists are arguing about (lucky them!), but they now understand that Paganism isn’t devil worship and it isn’t fantasy role playing. They know there really are people who find the Divine in Nature instead of in a church, and there really are people who worship Zeus, Isis, Lugh, Cerridwen, and countless other Goddesses and Gods of our ancestors.
And if one or two or a few of these folks feel the call of the Gods, or of magic, or of Nature, they now have a frame of reference for that call.
How do we make people ready to see the Gods, or ready to receive god-awareness? We can’t, at least not directly. But we can show them what’s possible. We can embody the values and virtues our spiritual experiences have taught us. We can turn our experiences into actions to make the world a better place here and now. We can’t change the world, but we can change a little piece of it.
That’s all we can do. That’s all we have to do.
Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts of women and men willing to be co-workers with the Gods.