It is difficult, at times, to be a Pagan in a monotheist society. In some areas of the U.S. (the bible belt, especially), you may feel isolated, like you’re the only Pagan in the world. You may feel a lot of pressure to conform, or even hide your beliefs. These pressures may even shake your faith. You may even begin to think it would be easier to believe in nothing at all. My fellow Pagans, I write this to remind you. May it offer hope and inspiration if ever you feel lost…
“He who wanders in the woods perceives how natural it was to pagan imagination to find gods in every deep grove and by each fountain head. Nature seems to him not to be silent but to be eager and striving to break out into music. Each tree, flower, and stone, he invests with life and character; and it is impossible that the wind which breathes so expressive a sound amid the leaves – should mean nothing.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1822
Not hearing the voices of the gods/spirits? Go into nature. Merely being in the presence of trees (forest bathing) is scientifically proven to be good for you; mentally, physically, and spiritually. So, rest assured, you benefit from just being there, without even trying. Be still and just be. Notice everything around you. The most ordinary things are magical. It’s all a matter of perspective. Mother Nature is truly amazing. The Gaia theory proposes that the earth is self-regulating; that it actively keeps conditions just right for life to persist! What a strange and wonderful thing is this we call existence.
Norse Pagans had a practice called Uti Seta, or out-sitting. They would go out and sit on a grave mound or high place to do divination, trance-work, or magic. If you don’t have the answers you seek after meditating out in nature, consult the runes. Many of us are used to the popular notion of divination being a window to our own subconscious only. Runes are, after all, Odin’s gift to us; our life-line to the gods, lest we forget.
If your modern adult mind can no longer grasp the ancient idea of a world full of gods, then think of them as “powers”; like electricity, rich life-giving ecosystems, natural forces. We know those things exist because we see, feel, experience them. According to the Gaia Theory, natural forces are working together to actively regulate the Earth’s systems to maintain life. So I find it no great leap of faith to believe that these powers, and Earth as a whole, are sentient.
And what of us, and our ancestors? Is there life beyond death? We have only to observe the cycles of nature to know our answer… day follows night, waves ebb and flow, and ebb again, and the seasons roll around in an ongoing circle. So it is with us, for we are a part of nature. Energy animates us, and energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transformed. We are eternal. I can only think that our energies join with the powers I mentioned above, or go out further into this universe or into others. Perhaps quantum parallel universes are what the ancients knew as the Otherworld or Valhalla. Energy returns to the source, like electricity completing a circuit.
Our Pagan ancestors were not superstitious idiots. Norse people had their own devices for navigating the seas that were every bit as accurate as our modern instruments. Neither was their lore merely what it seemed on the surface. Norse myth, like their language,
was is rich in metaphor and meaning. In Maria Kvilhaug’s lectures on youtube, she so eloquently explains some of these deeper meanings, along with the idea that the Norse may have had pantheistic beliefs in addition to being polytheists. In Myth and Reality – Hidden Knowledge in Old Norse Myths pt.6, she describes a near death experience that drastically changed her world view. I find it quite a convincing idea that knowledge of the gods arose from people’s near-death experiences.
Paganism is compatible with science, and science is awesome, my friend. If you understand the metaphors used in the Norse creation story, it reads more like the big bang theory (see Soundwaves and the Big Bang in the Poetic Edda). Pantheism is especially in line with science. The universe was born, not created. All that exists is related. We are all truly “star-stuff”.
“There are as many atoms in each molecule of your DNA as there are stars in the typical galaxy. This is true for dogs, and bears, and every living thing. We are, each of us, a little universe.”
– Niel deGrasse Tyson
“As above, so below. As within, so without.”
– Hermes Trismegistus
All the cells of your body are working together for your continued existence. Your consciousness, sentience, is their god. So too may it be with other powers in the universe. Don’t fall into the mind-set of the monotheist who becomes angry with his god when bad things happen. The fact that bad things happen does not disprove the existence of the gods, it only disproves the existence of omnipotent-omnibenevolent ones. We are co-creators with the gods, and I think a bit of chaos exists in the universe as well. Life is not perfect, but it is magnificent.