I’m having a difficult time identifying the right place for belief.
I was brought up a Christian. Episcopalian, to be specific. Belief, for me, was connected to creeds. If you’ve never recited a creed, it goes like this:
I believe X, and X is this. X did this, was this, is going to be this.
I also believe in Y. Y is this relationship to X, and Y is this.
I believe in Z, too…
It’s a little math-like, when you remove all the personal pronouns.
Creeds are useful in the way that they unify a group, but they do little to inform the individual about beliefs. I didn’t really come to the believe in “One God” through any mystical experience. There just always was One. It was the first line of the creed, after all.
This morning I had a somewhat spirited conversation about the commonly held belief in certain Christian sects that the world is somewhere in the vicinity of 6-8000 years old. The notion raises my hackles a bit. An Earth timeline is nowhere to be found in the creeds of my youth, and it wasn’t something that ever came up in a sermon, either. We didn’t use the Bible to determine the age of rocks.
But, my resistance to this Christian belief was called into question. How could I, someone who has encountered a god that I believe to be Arawn, the Welsh god of the Underworld — which is quite specific an assessment for something so illusive as Deity — take issue with anything that someone else believes? Where exactly do I draw the line between empirical thinking and magickal thinking?
Schooled On Belief
I’m taking a class right now through Cherry Hill Seminary, a Pagan Seminary in North Carolina, called, “Why Magickal Thinking Isn’t Crazy.” The class is being taught by a Harvard schooled physicist, who is also a Wiccan. It’s a four week course that’s open to anyone, regardless of your level of education or experience.
We’ve been engaging a lot with the principles of scientific thinking in the first two weeks, looking at how information is gathered, calculated and researched. Magickal thought and practice, as we’re examining is, can be understood to encompass phenomenon that exist inside and outside of Pagan culture, including Meditation, Prayer, Remote Viewing, Psychokinesis, and Channeling.
The purpose of looking at things scientifically is to show that these phenomenon are real. They are measurable — at least, most of them — and they should be given legitimacy.
I’m mostly having an easy time with this class, but I’m running into some issues with reconciling imperial thought with magickal though. It turns out I’m more inclined to be a binary thinker than I would have guessed.
I want to say, without reservation, that the world is older than 8000 years. I also want to accept, whole-heartedly, that people can communicate with gods. I resist thinking that the world is 8000 years old because there is empirical evidence that speaks to the contrary. Yet, there is little to no empirical evidence that speaks to the existence of Deity in any form — singular or plural — and yet I have no problem with accepting my own personal experience.
Belief as a Catylst
Belief informs action. We believe something about the world, and then we relate to the world based on what we believe. If we believe that the world is constantly being held together by super-strong, invisible, winged and sparkly creatures, then we might live our lives giving thanks to those creatures. We might be on the lookout for them. Our actions, in many situations, would be informed by this belief.
I’m ok with that, even though I don’t hold that belief. I don’t see the potential for immediate harm done to me by another person holding that belief either.
But then I start thinking about the belief that some have the Deity bestows power, and that that power is being directed to a certain end. I’ve seen this in Christian circles (as has anyone been paying attention to the media these days), and I’ve seen it in Pagan circles, too. I was at a Full Moon ritual where the group raised energy and directed it to the universe in order to “bring to justice” a person who had inflicted harm on another person who was said to be “one of our own.” The working wasn’t explicitly malicious, but it had some ugly undertones.
People who do magick, who direct energy in a certain way, are operating on a set of beliefs about how that energy works in the world, and how it should work in the world. So, belief and action are connected there, too.
But should they be? What are we to do with belief, especially considering that belief has proven to be much more a divider than a uniter among peoples?
Should we throw belief to the wind, or can we imagine engaging with belief in a way that still allows for us to live in the world with people who believe something completely different than us?
I want to know what you think about belief. Do you see your belief influencing the way you interact with others? Did you come to your belief through a religious upbringing, or did you construct your beliefs outside of religion? Do you experience personal conflict when you encounter someone whose beliefs are radically different than you own?
Leave your thoughts and beliefs in the comment section. And, if you’d like to expand the conversation even further, share this post on Facebook and Twitter!