Not all gods will disappoint you. I hope you know this is true, even if you don’t want to believe it yet. You have been hurt by a god who promised unconditional love and yet cast you out for being true to yourself; that wound runs deep and does not easily heal. Perhaps you don’t believe other gods exist, or if you do you can’t yet let yourself believe that they may love what another rejected. But they do exist, I promise, and they will love you. There are gods who will see in the depths of you great beauty and worth. There are gods who will embrace every aspect of your being, even and especially those parts of you which another god rejected. There are gods who will urge you to talk to that cute girl in the bookstore or weep joyfully with you when your partner proposes. They will dance with you in nightclubs and march with you in Pride parades. To discover them for yourself you must go straight to the source. Put down the poorly translated books, turn away from the preachers and prophets, and reach out directly to the divine. Connect to the source material and let it, not some fallible human, show you the truth of its compassion. You have been burned before by a cruel god but there are others out there waiting to fold you into their truly boundless, truly unconditional love.
A friend was posed the question “Does God exist?” by an ethics professor with a clear far right bent (says you have to believe in God to be moral, purposefully deadnames his trans students, etc). I offered to answer the question for her and pounded out a few paragraphs that I probably wouldn’t have written with quite so much snark if it had been my grade on the line. She has a bunch of other equally biased prompts so maybe I’ll make this a little mini series. Enjoy!
“Does God exist?”
The first question is not whether god exists – it’s what concept you mean when you say “god”. Do you mean an entity that created the entire universe, each animal and plant and miscellaneous whatever, in a particular number of days? Do you mean an entity which in some way initiated the birth of the universe in a big bang type event and then let things continue to evolve on their own without much, or any, interference? Do you mean an entity which, regardless of its own true existence, has so shaped life and culture through the sheer belief of its followers that for all intents and purposes it exists as much as anything else? The debate regarding whether god exists changes greatly depending on which version of god you’re debating. An omnipresent, omniscient god requires a different level of proof than a remote god which only had a hand in the very beginnings of our world. A god which exists through belief requires no proof at all, depending on how loose you’re willing to be with your definitions of concepts like belief, existence, power, etc. But for simplicity’s sake let’s ignore that particular rabbit hole completely and go with a concept of deity which hinges on the actual existence of some all powerful being which still actively takes part in our world and its fate.
The second question is also not whether god exists – it’s what entity you mean when you say god. If we’re discussing whether it’s possible for such an entity to exist in the first place then to be fair we should consider any god, or every god. It’s just as possible for Odin to exist as for Yahweh or Krishna or Ra or Zeus. Any argument which can be made for the existence of God can be made for the existence of The Morrigan and Aphrodite and Inanna. The same could also be said for the existence of all gods simultaneously. Edging even further out on this metaphorical branch, you could then include what gods we might create from our own beliefs – and are they not just as real when they so influence our actions? But I won’t spoil the plot of American Gods by expanding on that topic here. Besides, you capitalized God, so perhaps you mean the Christian god. Do you mean him and only him, though, or do you also include Yahweh and Allah who share so many remarkable similarities? See, the question isn’t so straightforward. Yet, once more for simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you meant the Christian god. Let’s be honest, other possibilities probably didn’t cross your mind – or, having crossed it, were quickly dismissed due to the western-centric view that, well, of course THOSE gods wouldn’t exist. So we’ll agree we’re discussing Christianity’s God who created the world in seven days, did the flood, all of that. Now we can move on.
The third question is, I suppose, whether the extremely specific concept and identity of God we’ve chosen to debate exists. But before that, I think there’s one last question to consider: is it ethical to ask students to answer a question like “does God exist” in such a public forum? Can the debate over such a personal topic, one which may risk alienating or even endangering certain individuals, really be considered ethical when you’re also requiring them to participate for a grade? Sure, a person too uncomfortable to share their personal views could lie, or stick to safe comments and vague arguments, but that’s not the point. The point is that, given the complete impossibility of ever proving with concrete evidence that this particular God exists (and exists in the manner that we have come to expect), choosing this topic for a class discussion feels purposefully antagonistic.
(At this point I lost steam because everything I tried to write after that was probably too combative for my friend to submit for her assignment, but I think you get my drift.)
Sometimes I’m so envious of Christians in America. What does it feel like to be part of the dominant religion, I wonder? To see evidence of your faith everywhere, even in completely secular environments? What is it like to know everyone around you has at least a rudimentary understanding of your beliefs – your gods, your morals, your holy books and the stories therein – or to have your holy days treated as national holidays? I yearn for that total cultural saturation and the confidence, the validation, it must instill. No hiding. No lying. No fear of being ridiculed or attacked or simply dismissed. Do they understand how lucky they are, how unique their experience actually is? If I woke up tomorrow to a world where my gods were not only well known but celebrated and respected, I would never take it for granted. I would feel blessed every day I could express my beliefs without any hesitation, let alone worship in a temple or celebrate holy days with others who believe as I do. It’s hard to even imagine that freedom. What a gift!
My heart is a piece of lodestone and all my life I have followed its tugging, no matter that it pulled me away from well-tended paths and instead over mountain ranges, across rivers, and to the farthest ends of the earth. Sometimes my road runs beside another’s and we walk together for a while, learning from each other where our journeys have taken us, and other times my road so deviates from the norm that I find myself alone in the wilderness. Yet either way the compass stone beneath my breast guides me so that I need not question my direction or fear losing my way. I walk to the ocean and I swim through it; I walk to the cliff base and I climb up it; I walk to the waterfall and I jump down it. Where my heart leads, I follow. In thirty years it has not yet lead me astray.
There’s a War on Christmas – In My Heart
Oh Christmas, what a strange holiday you have become. Some say you have your source in paganism, others in Christianity, and still others curse you as a capitalist conspiracy. Regardless, you have centered yourself in the American mindset as the most important holiday of the year, so important in fact that you overshadow your competitors – Hanukkah usually gets a polite nod, Kwanzaa the occasional tossed crumbs, and as for the rest, well, they have to be content with “happy holidays”. But I don’t hate you, Christmas. In fact, up until the last few years Christmas was one of my favorite holidays. I love how cheerful everything looks covered in evergreen boughs and twinkle lights; I love holiday foods like stuffing and pumpkin pie; I even love the old Christmas hymns like We Three Kings and O Come Emmanuel. This time of the year hearkens back to all those happy Christmases of my childhood, filled with choir performances, homemade decorations, and the nervous excitement of trying to fall asleep on Christmas eve. And yes, I’ll admit, I am certainly a fan of getting lots of gifts.
That being said, I’m just… not feeling it this year.
Actually, it’s more than not feeling – I’m downright bah humbug. I know my lack of enthusiasm is from a mixture of the usual reasons so many people hate the holidays: family drama; monetary stress; no two weeks of freedom like when you were in school. It can be hard to recapture the magic you felt as a kid when you’re unwrapping a tofu press instead of a new toy, or giving a gift to someone you are obligated to interact with but don’t actually like. It’s even harder when you’re in a committed relationship and either have to slight one family in favor of another or spend the holiday apart. So yeah, partly I’m being a grinch because Christmas as an adult isn’t nearly as easy and fun as when I was a kid. There’s more to it than that, though. I think. My feelings are very tangled right now, but when I try to work out the knots and get to the problem in the center I get the feeling it’s not just about family drama. It’s not just because I miss kid-Christmas. It’s because Christmas… isn’t my holiday.
Uh, DUH, you’re probably thinking if you know me. You’re pagan, of course Christmas isn’t your holiday. And yeah, there’s the rub. Up until 2015, I was a pseudo-agnostic content with celebrating a Christian holiday which has forced itself into the secular world. After all, almost everyone I know celebrates Christmas regardless of their spiritual beliefs, and in America it is very much assumed that you celebrate Christmas too. Sure, some folks go to church on Christmas eve, but many others just stay home and have cocoa. No one questions why you would celebrate this particular Christian holiday if you’re not Christian, and so you grow up not questioning it either. After all, most of us got baskets of candy on Easter, too.
But this year I find myself tripping over that “Christ” in Christmas. Despite how secular Christmas has become in our society, this year its religious connections seem to chafe me. Don’t get me wrong, I think Jesus was a great guy – but he’s not my savior. Why am I celebrating a Christian holy day? I’m proudly Kemetic, so isn’t that a little insulting to both Jesus and Bast? Somehow, celebrating Christmas as a pagan feels less okay than celebrating it as a maybe-agnostic, even though in both situations I’m still celebrating the secular version of the holiday. I feel like the guest no one invited to Baby Jesus’ birthday party, you know? Some friends dragged me along and now I’m standing awkwardly in the corner while Mary’s asking Joseph who the fuck I am.
To clarify, I don’t think I’m getting these vibes from either Jesus or the Netjeru. I don’t think anyone is angry or feels ignored, or is trying to push me into a decision I’m not ready to make. I think this is just the next logical stop on my spiritual journey; where I go from here is up to me. That’s kinda scary, though. What if I decide I don’t want to celebrate Christmas anymore? Does that mean I have to start explaining my religious beliefs to everyone who asks? Does it mean our family traditions have to change, or that I have to forgo seeing them on the holidays? What would my wife tell her staunchly Catholic family? What would I tell my fairly atheist family?
I know I have a lot of options no matter what decision I finally make, and Christmas 2018 is quite far away. Still, I think these feelings mark a turning point, and I’m both excited and scared to see where they take me. I’m pretty unapologetic about who I am – I’m fiercely queer, fiercely feminist, and fiercely geeky – but pagans don’t get a lot of respect in American society. People who embrace my queerness might mock my belief in Bast behind my back; people who support my rejection of Christian morals might draw the line at worshiping actual pagan deities. You just never know, and that unknown makes me anxious. Right now I fly below most people’s radar, even with my ankh ring and tattoos. Am I ready to be seen as pagan by everyone and to possibly defend my faith to family and strangers alike?
What if the outcast angels didn’t fall at all – what if they were shattered? What if their clever minds and rebellious souls could not be trusted anywhere, even the pits of hell, and so instead God shattered them and scattered the shards of their beings across all of existence, that they might never be made whole again? Hence Lucifer and Satan, Hannibal and Will, Tanim and Daren; hence all the gods, all the characters, all the muses, all the stories so strangely, achingly similar. Hence the echoes through time and space, linking all us sad scribes together in our solitary duty. If so, God made a terrible mistake. Divide an angel and you do not reduce it to disparate, weaker parts of a greater whole. Divide an angel and you only replicate it a thousand thousand times, each new duplicate as complete, as complex, and as unforgiving as the first.
After my Samhain ritual of remembrance for all the cats I’ve known and lost, I conducted an autumn-themed tarot reading (layout found here) with Bast. As you can see, She really does LOVE throwing major arcana cards at me. I usually pull at least one or two each reading, but four?!
Question: Harvest – What is one thing I should take with me into the upcoming season?
Card: The Fool
Interpretation: What a perfect card to pull for this question. The Fool is a card filled with wonder, adventure, and a willingness to learn. The Fool embarks on their journey with open eyes, leaving behind any burdens or preconceptions so that they are open to receiving whatever the world sends to them. Considering I’m just coming out of a long slump and am working to enhance my spiritual and psychic senses, this card tells me that I’m on the right path. I need to move forward with the courage and sincerity of the novice to continue my spiritual journey.
Question: Compost – What is one thing I should leave behind?
Card: The High Priestess (reversed)
Interpretation: The High Priestess is a card of magic, mystery, and intuition; reversed, it can represent being overly analytical, relying too much on external validation, and ignoring your inner voice. The High Priestess urges me to leave behind all of my self-doubt, fear, and need to understand and control everything in my world. Moving forward, I need to open myself to not only the messages being sent from the universe, but from within me as well. I need to trust my own experiences and beliefs, and stop seeking a “proof” that will never be good enough. Perhaps even more importantly, I must give myself what I need, not just what I think is necessary to look or be a certain way.
Question: Light – What is one thing I should take out into the world?
Card: Judgement (reversed)
Interpretation: For some reason, I have a hard time interpreting Judgement when I draw it. Reversed, it can represent upcoming consequences of a bad decision or negative karma. It can also represent an unwanted change, unhappy ending, or the necessity of hard choices. There isn’t anything in my life currently that could play out that way (that I know of) so I was drawing a blank. I thought maybe I would be called upon to help someone else through a rough time or to make a difficult decision. However, my wife pointed out that it could also mean giving others what they deserve, a sort of reversing of the object being judged. Either way, it sounds like I’m being urged to speak my mind truthfully and directly.
Question: Dark – What is one thing I should meditate on?
Card: The Emperor
Interpretation: I pulled this card last time, too. The Emperor represents order, control, responsibility, and rationalization. It can encourage creating order out of chaos by bringing structure and balance to your life. However, it can also represent the duality of logic and intuition; the Emperor is no dictator, but a ruler who understands how all things must balance each other. I think this card plays the same role as it did in my last reading, in that it’s reminding me to be diligent and study-oriented in this next phase of my learning.
Later I pulled one card to determine what kind of home our current foster kitten, Mitch, would go to.
Question: What kind of forever home will Mitch go to?
Card: 5 of Pentacles
Interpretation: The Five of Pentacles is a card about stagnation and sorrow. This card denotes someone who is drowning in spiritual poverty, who is feeling isolated and hopeless. The Shadowscapes version shows a woman loosely bound in thorns, her head bowed by her fears and worries. However, because she is so weighed down with her sorrow, she cannot see the butterfly right before her or the beautiful flowers that grow on the vines. Here, I believe this card represents someone (or perhaps an entire household) who is drowning in negative emotions and in desperate need of a light in the darkness. I think Mitch, with his playful attitude and sweet disposition, will be the companion this person needs to bring them out of their depression. After pulling this card, there was no way I could even consider keeping Mitch (though I wanted to!). He clearly has a very important job ahead of him, and I’m sure he’ll face it with the curiosity and courage he showed while staying with us.