I have been reading over older posts and articles that I have already read, and I came across Carl McColman’s article on his crisis of faith and his return to Catholicism again. And it got me thinking.
He’s right in that Paganism doesn’t have much in the way of crisis counseling and faith crisis help. I think that it’s because Paganism is built on direct experience, not faith. And while he acknowledges that, he still laments that there was no support for him in his doubt.
At that point I opened up my copy of TextPad and started writing.
One thing that I understand is that in a religion built around direct experience, doubt is normal. Heck, I have it all the time, wondering if this profound and life-changing experience is a true one, given to me by the Gods, or if I just had a chemical imbalance in my own brain that sent me off into hallucinations.
Unfortunately, no one can tell me that it is or isn’t “real”. So I doubted for a long time.
I went through Carl’s “Long dark time of the Soul” once myself. In some cases, I still go through it. I was really lost and I questioned every aspect of Paganism, especially in light of the jeopardy that I was put in by members of my own spiritual path, all while they gave me the platitude of “the Goddess will provide” and “Harm none”, all the while harming me and only paying lip service to those principles.
I think this is one of those phases that every person of deep and abiding faith goes through. I don’t know anyone who has a deep faith, one that they live, that hasn’t gone through this kind of tempering. It is not a “test” by the Gods, but more simply a revelation of human nature and a trial of what you yourself are made of and an opportunity to really define what is for you and what is dross.
These crises certainly put into high relief what you are and what is expendable.
I think, honestly, that this is the kind of trial that Carl was put through. He’s not a lesser person for choosing as he did to go back to a religion that has a basis for him. That choice, instead, makes his taste different. I cannot find it in my heart to be upset with him. I am saddened that Paganism failed him so badly. I hope to address those failures in this article.
One of the things that he points out again and again in his article is that once he started doubting, all else was called into question. That in questioning one aspect of his faith, he must necessarily call into question the whole of his belief and determine if it was “true” or not.
My point is that it doesn’t matter if it’s “true” or not, did it affect his psyche and change him on a fundamental level?
I’m trying to think of a good analogy here, and I’m coming up blank. The reason I am, I think, is that this is so subjective a topic that it makes it hard to give an example in an objective world. Basically the point I am trying to get across here is “all things are true if they cause the person experiencing them to have a reaction.”
Knowing the Sun rises in the East is the important part. Who cares if it is carried on the back of a thousand turtles, if it’s the wheel of a chariot, if it’s a gold coin in the sky or a burning ball of gas? The point is that the sun is bright, it gives warmth, and it rises in the East and sets in the West. All else doesn’t matter.
Now, in order to operate in this world, where the accepted “fact” is that the Sun is a burning ball of gas, one has to go along with the general view. But privately held beliefs don’t matter in that you can know that Apollo drives the Sun across the sky. It’s not going to change what others believe and it won’t change what you believe. But the point here is that while it may not be “true” in one sense (physical reality) who is to say that it’s not true on another way of looking at things?
(This is, incidentally, why I have such a problem with the “Intelligent Design” people who are trying to force their belief on others in such a way as they can’t avoid it. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s true for them, it is simply that they are trying to dictate to me and everyone else that their way is the only way, and that any other way is wrong and will get us in “trouble”. I have no problem with them as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and their families. They cross the line when trying to force it upon me and mine. I don’t believe they are wrong in having their belief, or even that their belief is incorrect, it is that they are wrong in trying to make me believe it.)
It is quite possible that in another level of the multiverse there really is a stable of Apollo where his horses can drive the chariot of the Sun across the sky. In fact, I would state that it’s not only possible, but also absolutely necessary since there are those who gave their belief and their faith and their energy and their worship to create that. Anything you believe strong enough and hard enough will come to pass. And now there is a Sun God, driving across the sky, trying to make up for the damage his son caused when the polar ice caps were created.
So to the person of faith who absolutely believes that Apollo exists, one who has no doubt of that, that fact is not in question. He may come up with the explanation that “Apollo’s ways are subtle and He has chosen to let scientists believe that there is no chariot, but I know better,” when he’s questioned about the Sun. And from there all else flows. That is the center and the core of his faith.
It is important that those who hold subjective religious beliefs are able to identify the core belief, the one unshakable piece of knowledge of their religion. It can be something as simple as “the Goddess Loves me”. But identifying that core component is critical to have a stable belief since once that core component is identified everything else in the religion can be hung on that stable point.
For example, take this HPS over here who has been in ritual and had the Goddess speak through her to the coven. While it could be that she is acting, the HPS knows that she did not. So that is a “Fact”, a real experience she had. This points to the “fact” that the Goddess exists, for you have to be real in order to speak through someone, right? Then this leads to the God being real, since the Goddess will want a lover just like we do. And from there, things like how the universe was created, why we are here, what is happening in our lives and so on flows from the “fact” of how the Drawing Down of the Moon actually occurred to her.
And that is the point here. If you have one fact that you can absolutely unshakably say happened, even if you can’t prove it to anyone else, and even if it can be seen as a falsehood by hundreds of others, and that one fact changed you in a fundamental way, everything else, ALL your unbelief can be helped by that.
I’m reminded of “Contact” the movie with Jodie Foster. As a scientist, she was unable to prove that the experience with her father and the aliens actually happened to anyone else, but she was unshakable in her knowledge that it DID happen. It changed her. It was a moment of clarity and it allowed her to understand things she didn’t. And even in the face of overwhelming ridicule she clung to that one fact that it DID happen. And from there, she was very different. She knew that her experience was real, therefore the radio signals they had received were real, her life’s work was not spent in vain, and she was able to start talking to the aliens again, despite everyone else’s ridicule and unbelief.
That one fact did it. One thing that she can point to and say “This is true.”
All religions have that. There is one thing that the adherents can point to and say “This is true.” It may be different from person to person, and different from religion to religion, but people of faith can say, “This is true” of one thing in their religion. And from there, everything else is true as well.
There are times when questioning is good. I have had several crises of faith where I doubted what I had learned. But there is always that one thing that I keep coming back to that tells me it was a true experience. It was the night of my Initiation by the Gods. Not my self-dedication (which seemed a bit hollow), but the Initiation when I was sitting under the stars and I felt the rush of the Gods and Goddesses descending upon me, witnessing to me of Their power and Their love and Their active influence. I saw then how I was part of All and how All was part of me, and in that scheme of things how I had the potential for major things, and how in the grand scheme of things I was very small. It was awe-inspiring. I know that to be a true experience, and thus I know the Gods and Goddesses exist, and I know that They love me and are concerned, and that Rhiannon of the Birds saved my wife from a broken skull, and that it was the actions of people, not the Gods that had us on the street. From there I have carefully built my beliefs on these things, and because of that I can answer any question from the dawn of mankind to my personal satisfaction.
This is the strength of Paganism, that the experience is what is paramount. It is also present in other faiths, such as Christian belief. “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” is more than a mantra to inculcate the young, it is a way of understanding that there is Love that Jesus has for everyone. And if some child finds comfort in that simple song and can feel that Love in his heart at some time of crisis, then who am I to say that he didn’t feel it? Or to question his faith that he found comfort with based on that love that Jesus has? If someone finds satisfaction in the chaos that Eris brings to their life, for it allows them to be more creative, what arrogance do I have to say that Eris doesn’t exist?
I am sorry that Carl didn’t find someone who could articulate this to him in a way to help him when he needed it. But he obviously finds comfort in the Christian God and St. Brigid’s prayers for the sinners, and if that’s the case, then if he knows that is true, all else follows from there.
Faith is believing in things that are unprovable. Knowledge is knowing something so deeply that no matter what comes that knowledge is not changed. I say that paganism is a path of knowledge, but it is also a path of faith, just as every other religion out there. As long as the experiences the person has are genuine ones *to them*, and it changes and affects them in a fundamental way, then their experiences are true and I call them knowledge, not faith.
So “I believe, help my unbelief” is a cry to find that one thing which is true to the practitioner and the one thing from which all the rest of their belief can come from, that center point of a faith path. And Paganism has it as well.
And now you know yet another Mystery.