Questions and Dissonance

Once again I’ve run into problems with my theological framework. This cycle is always fun.

I’ve been hanging around some very sensible, intelligent people who happen to not believe in any gods. More specifically, I’ve been hanging around one person in particular (remember my conversation partner from How the Hel? Yeah. We’re together now), and my mindset has been turned around again.

The longer I’m a practising Heathen, the more my godview tends toward a hard polytheistic one: gods are real entities existing in this world, with awareness and personalities and desires, who have relationships of all sorts with human beings because, I dunno, because they can.

A few years ago I would have gagged to think I could ever even consider this view.

But there it is. I’ve been edging inexorably in that direction, naturally, unintentionally, for quite some time. And then I meet this person who reminds me of what I used to think, and I feel a little blindsided by my own religion. Bam. Theological minefield.

I’ve never had the theological problems with Heathenry that I’ve always had with Christianity. Mostly because our gods are not purported to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibeneficient. I used to have a problem with the idea that gods could care about humans and have personal relationships with us, because hey, that’s fuckin’ crazy, but now that doesn’t even faze me, and I can’t remember why I thought that was problematic. That fact that this no longer bothers me is what bothers me. Was past me more sensible? Have I lost something? Am I deceiving myself so I can have this nice little fantasy in a box with a bow on top?

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Questioning Divinity

The longer I’m a Heathen, the more I find myself thinking of the gods as independently self-conscious beings who act of their own accord. Basically, the longer I’m at this, the more I become a hard polytheist.

Maybe this is just force of habit. In practice, I tend to pray to the gods and give offerings and sometimes (rarely) ask for their help. Strange behaviour for someone who thinks that the gods don’t really take interest in little old me; that they’re only around because Wyrd stuck me in their paths. But this is how I tend to treat them because in practice the nuances of belief get glossed over. A blót goes like a blót no matter if you’re a hard polytheist or an atheist.

Or maybe my change of godview  is because my experience of the gods has also changed. I observed that when I prayed to Baldr for help, I was helped, I believe by Baldr (I did some checks). This could be because Baldr heard me and kindly dropped by, which is what I tend to believe nowadays. It could also be that I simply was able to contact him then because he happened to be nearby when I needed him. Or it could be that I needed some help and my own mind invented the signs and the feelings. But I don’t like that last possibility so much. Go figure.

The thing is, in this new field of belief, I run into a lot of theological questions and problems. My biggest problem is believing that the gods are personal, that they care about us as individuals. This wasn’t a problem in my previous godview ( :we share this world with the gods and sometimes we run into each other).

But a new thought just occurred to me. Why shouldn’t gods take personal interest in us? Of course they’re big and old and they’ve seen and understood more than we can even dream of, but we do exist in the same world after all. They live here like we do.

My experiences turn over in my mind and I constantly question the nature of the divine.

Musing on Immanence

“Help me, Lord. Who are these Gods who haunt my nights and wreck my peace? Odin, Thor, Freyr. You’ve taught us not to worship false gods, but I have seen them. I’ve seen Thor in the sky, I’ve seen the sparks from his anvil. I’ve felt the sea heave with his anger. Why is this false? Things that I’ve seen with my own eyes.”
Athelstan, Vikings, 2.09

The answer is that they’re not false. They’re real, and true. I’m not going to dispute Christianity here – I want to draw attention to the empirical experience of Gods in our world. Athelstan nails it, he really does – our gods are not figures in the sky, living far away from us; they are the sky, they are the earth, they are the wind and rain and the things in our hearts. In my view, the gods are immanent, not transcendent.

I was so, so pleased to hear those words come from Athelstan’s mouth, not only because it means the History channel is taking the religion of the pre-Christian Scandinavians seriously, but because it’s a more uncommon understanding of how our gods are present in the world. One of the attractions of Heathenry, to me at least, was that it’s so primal and visceral, so very basic that even someone who had no language could understand our gods and spirits. There’s very little theology involved at the base level; it’s just feeling the energy and beat of the earth and knowing that the gods dwell in it alongside us.

However much I change my own views on the nature of the divine, hard vs. soft polytheism, conscious entities vs. archetypes, actors or energies, I always have the very real, visceral experience of the gods existing in this world. I see them. I feel them. They are always real on at least some level.