I Want to Believe: The True Story of a Lonely Skeptic
Article ID: 14698
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 18th. 2011
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Paganism is one of the fastest-growing religions (or religious groups, or what have you) in the modern world. People from dozens of different paths of life have in the last century chosen to leave their given faiths in order to walk the path of the God and Goddess, and to celebrate the earth’s cycle of fertility and giving. Whatever religion they were born into, living under a “pagan” banner allows them to live their spiritual lives to the fullest, following their hearts and minds to inner peace and satisfaction.
I am loathe to make generalizations about the Pagan community – or religious-minded people in general – but several years of lurking on the front page and archives of the Witches’ Voice (and other myriad websites) seems to have shown me one thing held in very common among most Pagans and Wiccans: people raised religiously tend not to be bothered any more by the logical qualms existing in any faith they wish to switch over to than they were by the one they are leaving. For example, a person raised to believe that God created the universe in six days may not have much of a problem switching over to believe that the universe was hatched out of a giant egg instead – no matter what scientific theory says to the contrary.
Pagans, as far as I have seen, do not seem to be terribly perturbed by believing in something that contradicts science; they have gone their entire lives doing the exact same thing, after all, if under the guise of a different religion. This is not a bad thing; I find the ability to think outside the physical box a very admirable quality, so long as it doesn’t result in you saying Jesus put dinosaur bones in the ground to trick us. I just don’t understand it, and I sure as heck can’t do it myself.
Now, magic is potentially a powerful tool for change. You know, theoretically. Belief in gods is potentially a great and fulfilling lifestyle. But belief is a much harder thing to pull out of nowhere than anyone seems to think. Indeed, if you were not raised to believe in miracles, it can be nearly impossible – no matter how badly you wish you could.
Take me, for example. I have nursed a latent fascination for the arcane and occult for a very long time, while simultaneously considering myself an atheist on a basis of there being no real evidence to the contrary. My parents, being terribly practical people, always made it clear to me from a young age that True Love in life does not come as easily as in The Little Mermaid, and that Cinderella’s fairy godmother isn’t real and wishes don’t just come true. I was a bright kid and reading novels independently by the time I was five, but I never developed much of a sense of romance or mystery. Thinking back, I even remember having a short-lived imaginary friend when I was about four or five years old, a winged unicorn named Nadine – a specter I never genuinely believed in, but made up based on the idea that little girls my age were supposed to have imaginary friends.
I was a cynical little fun-sucker from the very beginning, and however much I emotionally might have wished the magical, wondersome things in my books and movies could be real, I intellectually knew they were off the table. Being raised non-religiously can be a boon to one’s logical and practical skills, but in my case it always left me a little joyless – or at least unwilling act as such. I wouldn’t want anyone else to see me behaving anything less other than cool and collected, after all.
But now I am older, and I see how my life without magic and intrigue has left me emotionally devoid, right? Now is the time, I realize, to stumble into faith and come to understand what it is I have been missing all these years! There is only one problem, and it is that all the same difficulties I ever had with trying to believe in the Christian concept of God (Christianity being, at one point, the only religion I had any knowledge of, because it was just the only one around) were still present in trying to believe in Wicca’s God and Goddess, or Cernunnos or Morrigan, or whomever. As I have said: while an ex-Christian may easily be able to substitute Jesus’ resurrection for Osiris’s in their mind, it takes a little more to come suddenly into religious faith from nothing at all – and even harder when your reasons for being “nothing at all” in the first place was because the alternative didn’t make any sense.
Now. I truly no longer remember where I first learned about the Wiccan religion, but I was thirteen at the time and, the more I read, totally hooked. I was savvy enough to catch on to all of the myriad warnings about teenagers only being into Wicca for love spells and a chance to make their parents angry, and I made an internal promise to not fall into that silly hormonal trap – but still I can’t deny the fact that I was in love with the aesthetics of the thing. Black cloaks, gleaming jewelry, and a little leg-up over the little unpleasant things that tend to happen in everyday life – these were the ideas I fell a little in love with, and I figured that if my magic showed enough evidence of having worked, I might even start being able to believe in Wicca’s God and Goddess someday! What a cool idea, finally being able to believe in a god, like everyone else did. If Wicca’s God could actually convince me of his existence, I figured, that was as good a reason to worship him as any.
And so it was that for a couple of years I dabbled, in just about the least devoted way possible. I celebrated exactly one esbat in that time (and in its entirety it involved lighting two candles in my room and smiling at the moon through the window for fifteen minutes) , tried to teach myself how to meditate and got bored, and cast a few spells that, even at the time, I felt I was playacting my way through. And though every one of the problems those spells were focused on actually did end up resolved eventually, sometimes more directly than others, it’s pretty needless to say that I inevitably fell out of magical practice. No matter how badly I wanted to believe in Wicca’s magic, the results were always vague, and I had too many questions of my own to truly believe in what I was doing. Some of them were fairly typical, like “So why do you never see a headline that says ‘Psychic wins lottery’?” but others were on a deeper and rather darker level. My biggest qualm with trying to believe in magic and miracles still exists in the form of what I have called the Holocaust Problem, and it goes like this:
Millions of Jews, living for years in horrible conditions in concentration camps during WWII, prayed desperately for their lives every single night, and still ended up slaughtered by the thousands. So, how is it fair to assume that your average person can sit in a circle with a green candle and a plate of salt and get himself a 3% raise at work if he “really wants it bad enough”?
I suppose you could chock it up to claiming that the Jews were praying to the wrong god, but that just opens up another can of worms. Aren’t gods constructs that humans create by choosing to believe in them? If so, wouldn’t the god of the Jews be much more powerful than Cernunnos or Zeus or whatever deity you might believe in? He’s certainly got a lot more people who genuinely believe in him than Zeus does. If, to the contrary, all gods exist independently of humans and on equal terms, how do you reconcile their usually sharply contradicting mythoses (mythii) ? And on top of that, what about making sense of their surrounding legends in the face of science? Science refutes everything that happened in Genesis as effectively as it does the Poetic and Prose Eddas; how’s it possible to believe in anything cool in the face of cold, hard fact? I know others manage it somehow. I cannot imagine how.
I am older now and considerably less thirteen, but my interest in magic has remained – strengthened, in some ways, by my now-relationship with my boyfriend. He not only is strong and handsome and sweet – he is the first person I’ve ever given real regard to who lets himself be swept away in wonder and romance. He’s had a much bigger and stranger life than my small-town existence could provide, and an uncanny clairvoyance about his person that always gives me the sense he knows a lot more than he let on. Over the years, he’s softened me up, gotten me in touch with my feelings, and has made me believe – maybe a little – in some of the more magical things in life. Still, though, there remain the ever-present questions in my mind which I genuinely feel must be answered before I can truly give myself over to believing in something bigger.
I’m no longer interested in Wicca, though I have great respect for it, and for a while I took some very important pointers from Chaos Magic, which has a lot of potential but for the whole “losing your very self for the sake of your craft” part. I am the sort of person who must fully understand something and have it work for me before I can commit myself to it, and all of these questions about the nature of gods and spirits and magic and the very potential of what we humans can do, is not something I can seem to figure out on my own. Neither is it something that, as far as I’ve been able to tell, another person of magical inclination has had to deal with. None of my years’ worth of Google searches on the subject has given me an answer, or another opinion, to consider. And this is why I put it to you, good people of WitchVox.
How does one reconcile magical beliefs with science? Heck, how does one reconcile magical beliefs with other magical beliefs? What is the nature of gods? Are men born of divinity, or vise-versa? For the first time in my life, I want to reach out to the magical community and ask them how they manage to believe anything in a world full of contradictions, where nothing is black and white and science seems to be able to give all of religion’s answers, but better. Belief is a beautiful thing. Coming into it after one’s formative years are over, on the other hand, is a very difficult one.
I want to believe. I think everyone does. So where’s the proof?
In my case, it can only be of the pudding.
Copyright: This essay is copyright me, CoriOreo, and you can't have it. Unless you ask. Very NICELY.
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