For this week’s post, I was quite at a loss of what to write about. With yesterday’s discussions in the PBP Facebook group about the concept of Drawing Down the Moon, I was thinking about writing on discussions and disagreeing, since I’m doing my PhD on impoliteness. But the members of the PBP mainly are very friendly folk, hence as to not rant about some issues any more than I have done in private – and this is where some rants belong, IMHO – today I’ll be talking about doubt.
My trusted Oxford English Dictionary says that doubt is “the (subjective) state of uncertainty with regard to the truth or reality of anything; undecidedness of belief or opinion. With pl.: A feeling of uncertainty as to something. spec. uncertainty as to the truth of Christianity or some other religious belief or doctrine (freq. pl. and occas. personified).” So in essence, every time you’re unsure about the truth of your path and practices, you’re in doubt.
There are many forms of doubt, and I guess most of us have experienced it in one form or the other.
First, there’s doubt carried over from other religions, as some PBP members have expressed in their posts. For me, Christianity was never deeply engrained in me to doubt the validity of my new path, but I assume that for those people growing up or having grown up in a very strict, very Christian environment, it can be a major problem. In cases like these I hope that soul-searching and speaking to other pagans will help lessen the doubt.
Then, there’s doubt that can arise when speaking with other pagans, as their practices are sometimes quite different from one’s own, e.g. some might have a connection to many gods and commune with them on a regular basis, while others who lack this connection might question themselves.*
I sometimes doubt whether I’m right in believing in something at all since quite a lot of my friends are atheists who like to point out that
a) new findings in brain science can explain some features of our practices, like the use of the pendulum (which, I’ve been informed, works by tiny hand movements that we’re not aware of – however, IMO, the pendulum still works as a tool to make us aware of our unconscious wishes/goals, even if it’s us who lead the pendulum into movement);
b) the Bible and other religious texts are not scientifically correct, and hence, the whole system built upon it is faulty (one friend, A., is very vocal about the Bible, but possibly it’s because their knowledge of this text is greater than say, that of the Edda); and
c) with reference to Richard Dawkins (and potentially to 9/11), they stress that religion is dangerous. To which I like to reply that a lot of things and concepts can be used for good and bad ends – e.g. nobody would dream of outlawing football just because some hooligans use it as an excuse to be violent and attack others on the grounds of belonging to the wrong team.
But, the thing is – even if it all is just in my head, where’s the problem? At worse, I’ll be hopping about in a long grey robe lighting candles for imaginary deity, so there’s no real harm done, I guess. And secondly, even if you can explain which neurons are firing when we’re having religious experiences, this doesn’t make these experiences less true and meaningful for us. After all, if you found the “neurons for love,” you wouldn’t say that love didn’t exist and that it was a vain and dangerous effort to be in love with somebody. And isn’t believing sometimes similar to being in love with our gods?
But for me, doubt can at least come in one more form, and that is in the form of fiction. I guess I’ll have to explain this further: During the PBP, I read a lot of great posts on Heathenry (see the source section below for some of them). Remembering my interest in Heathenry when I was about 15, I planned on going back to read Midgard, a fantasy book by the German authors Wolfgang and Heike Hohlbein, since this was the text that sparked my interest in the first place.
You might wonder how a fantasy book can make me doubt religion – especially since it says on the front page that the book is the authors’ “own fantastic interpretation” of the Norse mythology – but it did anyway.
First of all, I had almost no knowledge whatsoever of the Aesir when I encountered Midgard, and it took me the best part of the next 10 years to see where the authors had actually changed the myths; sometimes, IMO, unnecessarily so (let’s just take the fact that in their account, Skidbladnir belongs to the Norn Skuld). This is obviously my bad, but it did make me doubt how much of the myths – if anything at all – I could embrace.
Second, then, the authors make the gods sound quite different than the lore. For example, Thor is presented as a brute who just cares about his hammer and bashing peoples’ brains out with it (especially Loki’s); and Loki’s description just concentrates on his betrayal. And 15-year-old me didn’t want to contact any gods that sounded like mentally challenged, one-dimensional children.
But third – and worse, IMO – the authors decide to have the main character (who is 14, btw, so in no position to make such wide-sweeping claims) realize that the Aesir are gods, but not the gods of mankind. So my interest in the Norse myths imploded, so to speak, because They weren’t my gods anyway.
Fast forward 10 years, and I did realize that we can indeed have fulfilling relationships with Them (however, I still shy away from some, because in my mind Baldur is still a douchebag, and Odin, well, His presence still scares me). Re-reading the book, I actually had some fun in realizing where the myths had been changed. But I also wanted to slam my head against the wall at some points, since what I hate most as a fiction writer is sloppy writing. For example, the main character flees from Surtur’s dungeons, the hot stone in Muspelheim burning his bare feet. A couple days in the flight he reaches Helheim, where bone splinters covering the ground sting painfully through the soles of his shoes – which he wasn’t wearing when he fled Surtur’s dungeons, and as far as I’m aware he didn’t stop at a shoemaker’s between Muspelheim and Helheim...
Hence, I resolved not to let a sloppy fantasy book dictate what I can or should believe in. Instead, I’ve started reading Galina Krasskova’s Exploring the Northern Traditions to foster my relationship to Thor and to reconnect with my 15-year old self interested in the Norse tradition – after all, my hometown does have a Woden’s Oak.
* This week’s post at http://steviree.wordpress.com/2012/02/25/d-is-for-deity/ incidentally talks about Deity and the writer’s lack of close relationships to Them; hers is, I think, a very healthy attitude without letting doubt rule.
some great Norse blogs:
Gangleri’s Grove: http://krasskova.weebly.com/
Wytch of the North: http://wytchofthenorth.wordpress.com/
A Heathen’s Path: http://aheathenspath.wordpress.com
If you also have a Heathen blog or know one that could interest me, please leave a comment!
Hohlbein, Wolfgang & Heike. 1987. Midgard. A fantastic story. Wien: Ueberreuter.
Krasskova. Galina. 2005. Exploring the Northern Traditions. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books.
brain image: http://img.mit.edu/newsoffice/images/article_images/20110126153814-1.jpg