There I was, working on tomorrow’s blog post, since I’ve been a bit off-schedule and getting quite behind on my (online) box full of drafts (not to mention my offline box full of stuff to make into drafts), when I decided to procrastinate a bit by checking on new blog posts…
And then I happened across this little gem–I had planned just to leave a comment, but the durn comment was so darn long, I figured I’d just turn it into a post on its own!
Someone in my UU discussion group shared this story today about a student who suffered from doubt over whether Kwan-Yin/Kannon/Tara actually exists. In frustration, he asked his teacher for help. The lama closed his eyes for a few moments, then replied:
“She knows she’s not real.”
I wonder how this might apply to Pagan deities.
There are so many layers to a statement like that. I could probably approach this on so many levels it would take me a month to go through them all! But, I think I’ll limit it (today) to the idea of “real” as applied to gods, and whether or not it even matters (admittedly, a subject I’ve broached a time or two or ten).
I’ve noticed that the idea of whether or not something is “real” isn’t even a big deal to a child. My daughter is 6, and the “reality” of the existence (or non-existence) of beings as varied as Tinkerbell, Santa Claus, Mama O’shen (her name for the Ocean-as-Deity), or Persephone is inconsequential and irrelevant in comparison to what we get from their story and what it tells us about our human experience and our interaction with the cosmos at large. My daughter can discuss and interact, for hours, all sorts of things with any of them, and it never even crosses her mind to wonder if they are there or not. And indeed, if you would ask her directly, she would tell you that they are not real, but that real does not matter, because it is their story that is important.
Perhaps we grown-ups spend too much time in our heads justifying our experiences and the time we spend having them, instead of just experiencing. Does it even matter that the gods are real or not? In the past 20 years, I’ve been a polytheist and a pantheist and an ambivalent agnostic…and its been my observation that either the gods don’t care, or I don’t, because my interactions with them haven’t varied based on the changes in those beliefs. They have, at times, changed–deepened, become more (or less) ecstatic, etc, over the years…but (if I am very honest and disgustingly introspective) these changes have been in relation to what I have needed, and what I have gone searching for, rather than as a result of my theological opinion in the existence and nature of deity.
To be honest, while I find such pondering to be intellectually interesting (though somewhat fruitless)…I really find them to be ultimately meaningless to my spiritual and religious beliefs and practices. Quite frankly, I don’t care that the gods exist or not. I have gotten to a point where my beliefs and experiences are not cheapened or enriched by either position. I do what I do, which includes prayer, offerings, reverence in worship, etc, not because I have faith in the literal existence in an eternal being (supernatural or otherwise), but because it works. It centers me, it enriches my experience of the world around me, it connects me to something bigger and greater than myself, and it allows me to bring those things home to my family, my home, and my community.
I don’t need for Sedna to be real to experience her, I don’t need to worship a literal Persephone to feel the relevance of her mythos, and the fact that Neptune might not actually be a eternally powerful divine dude that lives in the ocean doesn’t lessen my thankfulness to him for surviving another hurricane. I don’t engage with the gods because of what they can do for me, or what I can do for them. I engage with the gods because the act of doing so is my sacrifice, my symbol of my humility to those ideas and powers and forces that are greater than my tiny and cosmically insignificant self.
It doesn’t matter if they are “real” or not, it matters that we find meaning in our interactions with them. It matters that those interactions better ourselves and our world.