Top: Jan Van Eyck, The Arnolfini Wedding
Today I found myself listless, without direction. My sails were up, but there was no wind. The albatross was still around my neck. It has begun to stink.
Then someone mentioned starting a religion and I thought, “I’m game for that.”
My goals in life have been achieved, there’s nothing left but starting a riot or starting a religion. Riots are dangerous and very loud. I’m in a different place, so I opted for religion. I have no details about it yet, except I believe we need stone circles. The person who suggested it lives in California, so its likely orchids will be involved too.
Anyway, here’s my sermon. Today’s sermon is on …
Paganism and the naming of gods … “Will the real god please stand up?”
I’ve always thought it dubious that a religion which prides itself on a single god not only feels the need to name it, but holds the name so sacred that they refuse to say it, choosing instead to use the most generic term imaginable … god.
I once got in trouble in Sunday school class as a kid for asking why it’s a sin to say goddamn, because it’s taking god’s name in vain, when god isn’t his name?
I wasn’t long at that church, and from that point on if I was in church it usually had something to do with sex.
The problem I have with nearly all religions – orthodox or heathen, is this incessant need to label. Here’s why …
Labels are a human invention. Ask yourself – what’s your dog’s name for you? If dogs label, one of those sounds he makes is his name for you. If dogs give names, shouldn’t you have figured out what it is by now?
I’ll tell you what else doesn’t use labels. Trees. Grass. It’s just us that does that. And relying so much on labels creates division and false expectations which too often are never met. Because labels are human and humans are fallible.
We label gods, thus rendering them human. This screws up the works, so that eventually you have a god which creates the world for the sole purpose of testing those he was created, his children. To pass this test, you have to worship him, bow down to him and follow all his laws. Even then, there’s no guarantee you and your family won’t get wiped out along with the sinners. That ceiling beam that comes crashing down on your child’s head is part of god’s plan.
No, that’s not divine. That’s trying to make labels and expectations work, when they just don’t. It’s unnatural and it becomes illogical, a farce.
My issue isn’t with the almighty, but instead his scribes. I can’t help but think for all the beauty and poetry of countless religious texts, of all faiths, the minute we start trying to explain things, we go off track.
For instance, I love Pan, and I can see the truth in the stories about him. And I can see gods as metaphors for human behavior.
But the minute you label something, name it, when you define it, you not only say what it is, but also what it isn’t. The reality is we grow, and sometimes what we weren’t, we become. Gods, predefined in the dim and distant past, don’t have that same ability to expand. Because they’re fixed by dogma.
So instead, pagans tend to have a looser definition of their gods. The danger in that is without a definition, words lose meaning. When deities begin to vary to the degree that they do now, simply collecting them all under a single name serves no real purpose, except to make paganism more like the established religions. It makes followers of us, devotees and when that happens I remember … that human need for fawning worship is what led me away from Christianity. A good father doesn’t demand you worship him, he just hopes you love him.
Human fathers who test their children’s love are manipulative bastards. Humans are supposed to be made in the image of god. If God does this, and since god is infallible, it’s not a sin. I can’t buy that. Once again, it’s man’s logic, not divine.
But that’s what happens when you start adding labels and definitions to things that should be held sacred, and should be nameless.
The reason animals don’t need names is they recognize by their senses. They know us by sight, by our scent, our sounds, our touch. Without labels, their senses become heightened. They can see things about us wordlessly, that other humans miss. If we follow their lead, that’s how we find gods.
Labels and names are part of the human system. We need them to communicate on a certain level, so we all agree on what we’re doing. When they’re a part of something holy, they take on special powers, deeper meanings. But they’re only an outline, a way of trying to describe the underlying magic which can’t be put into words.
An example … weddings are a combination of the personal and the sacred. Everyone from congress, parliament, religions and individuals get into the act of defining the human and the social aspects of what constitutes marriage. That’s what people focus on, and when your relationship strays outside of those definitions, the marriage is considered broken.
But for those who go through the ceremony, there’s an underlying, deeper force at play – the wedding, the ritual. You don’t need a wedding, but if you chose to have one, you engaged in a magic ritual, designed to call up the creator of the universe. And in front of that force, you made a vow.
Pretty brave when you think about it, and most people don’t. I’ve done it three times, twice without really considering what I was doing. It didn’t stick. The third time I was aware. When I made my vows, they weren’t just to her, but to a divine consciousness that I was facing directly. The eyes I looked into were filled with the sacred, in that moment she was my goddess, and when I see her eyes now, I still see that.
I don’t need to worship Diana, or Venus or Aphrodite. I don’t need to to worship the woman in whose eyes I saw the divine, though debatably I do. I just have to remember what I saw and felt.
The social part went to shit, and by any definition of marriage, we’re not it. As many people have pointed out, thank god it wasn’t legal.
That doesn’t matter to me. I saw the divine. I made a vow, and though it consisted of words, I couldn’t tell you what they were, just what they meant. It meant I’m bound to keep them.
You don’t take part in a magic ritual simply to take part. There’s a reward for it. In my case, the reward is that I get to love. Not according to man’s laws, society’s norm, or any other human standard. But as long I keep my vows – and I know what that means will evolve over time – then I get to keep that love inside me.
It sounds crazy, most religions do. But I’ve heard people talk about their wives, and I’d rather have the love I have than that.
That tree may not know your name, but it might know your touch. It might recognize your voice. That look of adoration in your dog’s eyes is genuine. It doesn’t need a name to call you by, to describe your relationship. It simply loves. That’s nature’s way.
To me paganism is dispensing of man’s role in the sacred, and looking to nature as a guide. Words are useful, labels are sometimes necessary. But I don’t need to name my gods. I just need to find them and keep them close.
I love all the gods, the myth and wondrous things which have been created in their name. But that’s a testimony to our humanity. And our humanity goes hand in hand with our inhumanity. I seek the divine.
When you look into your lover’s eyes and see the sacred looking back at you, and you accept that, you can expect be bound to it. For me to turn my back on that is to turn my back on who I really am, to turn my back on the sacred. When the human aspect of it falls apart, and you find you’re still bound to the vow to the sacred, it’s a brutal lesson, but that’s nature way. The good news is you get to evolve.
And come up out of the sea.