Currently viewing the tag: "Inquiry"
Photo by By Alice Popkorn (CC)

Photo by By Alice Popkorn (CC)

The worship of the gods is not what matters, Brendan Myers says. People and relationships matter.

Even as someone who helps to provide others with the tools to worship their gods, these liturgies of the Fellowship, I find myself reading his words and saying — Yes. This is correct.

This is not the only correct thing, and if someone said with conviction that worshipping the gods matters I might agree with them, too. I might agree if they explain the way in which it matters to them. They would be hard pressed to convince me of why it matters to the gods.

That argument has always fallen flat for me.

To squeeze a deity into a human form, whether that be the literal Galilean (form in his case a body) or the certainty of what a god might want from me (form as projection), seems misguided; perhaps even a misuse of our faculties and energies.

I do not feel threatened by what Brendan says. In fact, I feel empowered by it. He writes:

My path is the path of a philosopher, and it is a spiritual path. It’s about finding answers to the highest and deepest questions that face humankind, and finding those answers by means of my own intelligence. It’s about not waiting for the word to come down from anyone else, not society, not parents, not politicians or governments, not teachers, not religion, not even the gods. In that sense it is a humanist activity, but it is an activity which elevates ones humanity to the highest sphere. That is what matters. This was the path of all the greatest philosophers through history. It was the path of the great pagan predecessors like Hypatia and Diotima and Plato; and also the path of more recent predecessors like James Frazer and Robert Graves. This is the path of knowledge; and knowledge is enlightenment, and knowledge is power.

This integration of philosophy, spirituality and humanism is so inviting to me. His words read rich to my heart, and I’m still piecing together the reason why.

Perhaps in part it is because I am considering pursuing a degree in Philosophy, a new development in the past several weeks. I have been asking myself, Why would one study philosophy? What would be the value for a person such as myself? As I write these questions on this blog, a blog of dialogue and inquiry and uncertainty and personal revelation, I feel like I know exactly why this would be valuable for me.

Yesterday I wrote a short essay for a scholarship application, and doing so brought a great deal of clarity as to why this move would make sense for me.

An excerpt:

I seek a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and a minor in Religious Studies with the intention to one day pursue a Masters of Divinity. I believe that before one can commit one’s self to the service of others one must undergo a process of refinement; a honing of one’s critical thinking skills, something akin to the tuning of a bow. Being human is an art form, but it is also a discipline; one dependent upon the faculties of the mind as well as the expressions of the heart. To study philosophy, accented with the study of religion, would help to place the two in greater context with one another – the mind and the heart.

The gods may indeed be wrapped up in this endeavor. When I light a flame for my goddess, and I invite her to transform me, to refine me, to envelop me and change me into something better, I do it without reservation. My rationality does not dissect this action. This is a relational act. A devotional act. One might say it is an act of faith, and I’m not sure they would be wrong.

But I also see the refinement of myself as something for which I am solely responsible. Should I wish to walk this path and prepare myself for a life committed to service I will need to shore up my strength and charge forward alone. If I make the choice to pursue this line of study, to commit myself for the next four years to being a student of knowledge, it will not be faith that carries me through: it will be conviction, perseverance, and courage. This will be a human endeavor, a human challenge, and ultimately, a human goal.

The gods may be with me, in my heart and in my mind, but it will still be — as always — a solitary journey.

I wonder…

What are you impressions of Brendan’s piece? What does it inspire in you?

What do you think about the study of knowledge? How do you think philosophy plays into an integrated spiritual life?

Sometimes I think there’s a good reason for blind faith, religious ignorance, unwavering piety. Sometimes those seem like a much easier choices than being inquisitive, being contemplative, being patient with your own uncertainty.

The dialogue around the last post extended deep into the theoretical as well as the practical, even spawning an interesting offshoot post on ecological polytheism, and a resurgence of questions about an American goddess named Columbia.

The explosion of ideas did a number on me. I didn’t realize that it had until I tried to approach my shrine this morning and perform my daily ritual. I couldn’t turn my brain off, and I kept wondering — But who am I making these offerings to, exactly? What is the point of this thing that I’m doing?

This quick-shift back to a state of doubt and questioning might come off to some as a sign of an adolescent faith. But if that’s true, what’s the alternative? A religious practice or paradigm that is no longer close-examined? A fixed piety? If that’s the case, then perhaps the people who are unwilling to engage in a discussion about the nature of the gods (or God, if that be their god), the origin of divinity, or any other such complicated subject simply have it easier. Their religious tradition can grow without the tampering of every little question, every “wait but....”

Clearly, though, I cannot be comfortable with such a religious tradition.

I question. I always have. If there’s anything about me that’s fixed, perhaps it’s that.

Some people suggested that my difficulty in conceiving of how a god might have a human origin is a holdover from some part of my Christianity, and that it may be the lingering perception of God’s infallibility that is making it difficult for me to imagine myself (or anyone I’ve ever known) as being one day thought of as a god. Fallibility or infallibility didn’t even enter into my mind when I wrote that post, though. The question wasn’t whether or not gods are, by nature, infallible, omnipotent, omnipresent, or any of the other descriptives of the Christian god, and the fact that those concepts were thrown into the mix only confused things for me.

If there was any holdover from the Christian tradition of my past, it may have been that they conceived of God as being responsible for, or an undercurrent to all of what exists. Let me repeat that: all of what exists. I’m well aware that this is not how Pagans conceive of gods, but consider for a moment the (perceived) difference in magnitude between a deity which is understood to be the origin of all creation, and a deity that, in the future, will once have been me.

You see what I’m saying? Different scale, right?

On one level this is all theoretical, but on another it is not. This information, these questions, they had an impact on how I approached my shrine today. They affect how I proceed in participating in my religion, and how I prepare myself to be in dialogue with people from other traditions. None of this seems trivial to me.

P. Sufenas Virius Lupus asked in the comments:

“Is it that you worry that you’ll be “mistaken” for a god, with the implication that you’re not and likely never could be; or, that you’ll be recognized as a god, and what that could mean about your own potentials now and the responsibilities you might have in the future that you’re not comfortable with? In other words, not that it’s a mistake to recognize you as a god in the future, but instead that it’s a mistake to not recognize your own divinity?

(emphasis added)

These words are messy. The food won’t stay in its own little compartment, and all of a sudden the divine peas are mixing with the divine meatloaf, and I’m not sure what divinity is even supposed to taste like anymore.

Semantics, people say dismissively when I get worked up in one of these states. But these semantics are rearranging my furniture, and I’m not sure where to sit or stand at the moment.


When you find yourself uncertain about the definitions, the functions, the meanings or the purpose, what do you do? If religious ritual is the thing that centers you, but it is also the thing which is informed by the very stuff you’re questioning, what do you do?

Should I make offerings to the future me-god for some guidance?

In a recent discussion with a group of Pagans about the development of an American pantheon for use in ADF ritual, someone said this:

“When we look at historical evidence to find the ancient deities, we look at what was left behind and what survived for long periods of time, such as the stories that remained popular … These and many other things help us to form a picture of the beliefs of an ancient culture. I’m using the same types of techniques to examine our modern culture … Elvis is a good example.”

I don’t want to be mistaken for a god.

What if in some distant future, one populated by a new batch of revisionist or reconstructionist Pagans, there is an idea that the celebrities we follow in the present day, the politicians we support, the cultural figures we align ourselves with, were deities?

What if between now and a thousand years from now all of the precious archiving we do of our daily lives, through our blogs, through Twitter, or through the old-fashioned paper medium is lost, and as people are looking back to uncover what we were like they make a profound mistake when they stumble across a tiny piece of information about my life (or yours), and misperceive me (or you) to have been, not a person, but a god of some sort?

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind. Perhaps it would not be such a bad thing for some future Pagan (who I’m sure would be called something other than “Pagan”) looked back at the trace evidence of you and decided to make statues of your likeness, chant your name before pouring oil onto a fire, tattoo your mug onto their shoulder to let everyone know just who their god is. Would you be into that? Does that idea sit well with you?

Let me repeat that I do not want to be mistaken for a god.

At the very least, it would seem terribly inaccurate to me, because I know who I am. I am rooted in my humanity. I am also someone who has been in close proximity to a great deal of celebrity in his life, and I can guarantee you that celebrities are also rooted in their humanity. I get wigged out when modern celebrities are elevated to near deific status in the eyes of the public, and I’m even more troubled by the thought that they might one day, in that far off future, be completely mistaken for gods.

None of this seems like a problem if we’re willing to conceive of the gods as archetypes or ideas that affirm something about ourselves. The stories about humans can morph into stories about gods, and those gods can inform future humans about their own humanity. Through learning about our true, albeit fictional selves, the future Pagans learn something valuable about their own identities.

I’m down with that.

But hard polytheism makes it tricky.

If you or I become a god one day, and people worship us at their shrines and make prayers to us in their moments of need, hard polytheism says that you and I will be cognizant of that. We may even respond by granting their request. If the future reconstructionists do their homework, they’ll know that I like tortillas, coffee, hard cider and pineapple cake with cream cheese icing, and they will prepare such offerings when they want me to — what? — help them with a creative project, guide them on their travels, or — me forbid — change the weather. We will fall into their correspondence charts, and people will write songs about how amazing we were. Tuesday might even become Teo’sday…. or they may suggest that it was always Teo’sday.

I joke a little here, but mainly because I feel uncomfortable by the problems this introduces. I don’t know how to reconcile these ideas, and I worry that if they’re allowed to play themselves out all the way they will eventually call into question much of my current conception of deity.

So, I present them to you in the hopes that you might be able to offer up some fresh perspective.

Do you find any of this troubling? Would you mind much if people in the future venerated you as a deity, or does that idea lead you to reexamine the way you conceive of deity?

It was a normal morning at home. I was reading a book about Proto-Indo-Europeans while my dogs slept on the couch next to me, and my husband was off at our local metaphysical store, trading a psychic reading with an astrologer.

Admittedly, our “normal” is not really prime-time normal.

I looked up from what I was doing, and I saw my husband walking toward the house from his car with a horrible expression on his face. Agony, perhaps? Pain? He came in and I asked him what was wrong.

“Migraine. A terrible migraine.”

I ushered him to the bedroom, got him a rag for his head, and helped him lay down to try to sleep off the pain. He was out for almost an hour an a half, which is quite unusual for him, even in a situation like this.

When he rose, he told me that he believed that something was “on him,” but he didn’t really know what that meant. While he slept, he had a rather disturbing dream; one that woke him up with a fright. In meditation early that morning his guide said to be aware of someone or something coming after him. He didn’t know what to make of that message when it was given to him, but he was reminded of it now as we stood in the kitchen, his head still throbbing despite the nap.

“I’m thinking this might be… and I don’t really believe in this… psychic attack.”

My husband is a gifted channel and psychic reader, but he is also a very logical, skeptical thinker. It is common for him to encounter some widely accepted phenomena in the New Age world and have an immediate suspicion that it’s “just made up.” He also understands that psychic work is a balance of intuition and imagination, so one might say that what he does is also “just made up.” Nonetheless, he finds cause to question.

I think this kind of questioning is good among psychic folk and magick workers. We have to be observant of what our experience tells us, and if there is not yet an experience to inform what we know we are well served to be inquisitive. Blind acceptance leads to wishy-washiness, I think, and unreliable results.

But here we were, trying to sort through the cause of this unexpected pain, and psychic attack seemed to make the most sense. Neither of us had dealt with this before, but I, for one, was willing to accept that this was the cause and start searching for a remedy.

(Incidentally, if there is ever desire for proof that I possess a deep, ancient, earthy magic inside of me — something that my grandma has, and my mother as well — all you need to do is mess with someone I love. I guarantee you — you’ll feel it.)

I urged my husband to reach out to a fellow psychic and colleague of his, and while he did I called upon my Patron for Her aid in this matter. As I said, I don’t have experience at dealing with this type of situation, and I’m not completely sure what my beliefs are on the subject, either. So, it seemed best to place the whole thing at the feet of a Goddess.

My husband’s colleague confirmed his suspicion. It was, indeed, psychic attack. We went back to the metaphysical shop and reached out for help from our friend and in-house herb-worker, who made him a scrub and gave him a mantra to chant. We headed home, and by that time he was beginning to feel a little better. I, on the other hand, felt like my belly was on fire.

Something seems to have shifted now. His pain is gone, and there isn’t the sense of something heavy on him like there was before. I was able to work off the rest of my defensive anger at the gym before I did anything rash. It appears that the attack has passed.

Now, I’m left with questions.

What do you think psychic attack is? Do you understand it to be some form of malevolent magick, or do you think the whole idea is hogwash?

Have you ever been in a situation where psychic attack seemed like the obvious cause for a malady? Was your suspicion proven or disproven?

Even having had this experience, I feel the subject is worth some further exploration, and I’d love to know what you think and what similar (or vastly different) experiences you might have had.