On Faith

I hear this one pretty often, among Polytheists and Pagans alike:

“We’re not a religion of faith. We don’t need faith, we have experience!”

I’m pretty sure that faith is still part of most Pagan and Polytheist religion. Faith that the voices we hear sometimes are the spirits, and not our own minds. Faith that the meaningful coincidences are actually divine action, and not ordinary coincidences lent meaning by our self-created internal narratives. Faith, in short, that we’re actually experiencing something other than wish fulfillment and self delusion.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had an experience so solid that I don’t need faith. In fact, it’s usually not fifteen minutes after any spiritual experience I have is over before the doubts set in, armed with reasonable explanations and scientific materialism. Any feeling of concrete reality I have in the moment fades shortly after the moment passes, and I can never quite recall it to mind.

Sometimes, I dream dreams that feel absolutely real, as convincing and solid as any waking experience. A few years back, I had a series of recurring dreams in which I was living my normal life, but secretly owned a pistol I kept hidden from my no-guns-in-my-house partner. It felt so real that, sometimes, I’d catch myself wondering (in waking hours) whether or not I really did have a gun hidden in my bedroom. I don’t, actually. It’s just a dream, and any truth to it can only be allegorical.

But that’s the dilemma. A dream can feel real enough to leave me momentarily confused about my gun ownership, but my spiritual practice doesn’t?

Well, I don’t expect my relationship with Dionysos to confuse me about gun ownership. But you get the idea, I hope.

Which brings us back to faith. I have to have faith that I’m not crazy, or wasting my time. It’s hard to keep.

So, seriously… Anyone reading this: Am I alone in this? Do other Polytheists have the same doubts? Or is the reality of the gods somehow as concrete as it seems, reading your blogs, and I’m somehow missing out?

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About Lon Sarver

Lon Sarver is a polytheist priest of Dionysos, living in the San Francisco Bay Area and contemplating (with a healthy amount of dread) making a second attempt at a career in Marriage and Family Therapy. View all posts by Lon Sarver

4 responses to “On Faith

  • magickfromscratch

    You know, there are a lot of Christians who would assume that if we could all just get into a time machine and see the crucifixion of Jesus, and all be assured that it really happened, we’d all be Christian. Yet, somehow, I don’t think that’s true. I think that some people could see that, and it would completely confirm their faith, and for others, it would be completely meaningless.

    To an extent, it’s not the experience, or lack of experience, of the metaphysical that is important. So, you experience a deity. So what? They exist? So does my cat. What does it mean that they exist? Why is that an important thing?

    For me, questions of faith are not so much things like, “do they exist?” Rather, my questions of faith sounds like, “are they wise?” or “can I trust them?”

    All things that are experienced, by whatever means, have some manner of existence… even the gun in your dream. The question I always ask about deities is about the very real, very perceptible impact they have on the lives of the people that worship them, regardless of whether their existence fits the very narrow and nebulous definition of “real,” that our modern society is concerned with. If working with the deities is helping people to grow spiritually, then they have spiritual impact, and thus, spiritual existence in every relevant sense. I’m not sure what other kind of existence actually matters… except for advertising.

    Advertising is important.

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  • Cara Freyasdaughter

    Faith and trust in the Gods is one of my big areas of interest when it comes to my religion. This should sound kind of obvious, but then as you pointed out, with polytheists–not so much. I go on about it in many of my personal posts as well as my Notes from Freya. My Love Note from Freya today talked a lot about faith and trust and not getting in the way of yourself or the Gods’ work on your behalf. It also talked about hamingjas, which makes very me happy as it’s a specifically Norse concept, and sometimes I’m left wondering if I’m just working with a generic “Love Goddess” archetype rather than Freya. (And boy did I just get smacked for that one. Ow!)

    I think that perhaps if we *didn’t* question our experiences and our sanity, at least sometimes, that would be a bad thing. You know, the whole “truly insane people are convinced that they’re completely sane” thing. And personally, I’m not could belong to a religion or have a spiritual practice in which my Gods didn’t talk back. But also, as MFS says, believing that Something exists is perhaps not was important as what They can do for you and whether They are a good influence in your life. I also wouldn’t want a spiritual practice that involved a God I couldn’t trust and who didn’t give me love. I have both; I can’t complain, though sometimes I do doubt. Or get pissy temporarily.

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  • EmberVoices

    I think it’s also kind of insulting to Non-Pagans to assume that their faith can’t be grounded in experience, as though our movement is somehow uniquely spiritual, and all other religious traditions were somehow uninspired. It makes no sense. There’s mysticism – experience-grounded faith – in every spiritual tradition. It’s great that we’re not an exception, but can we move on to bigger questions, please?

    As the folks above point out, Faith doesn’t just mean you believe something exists in the absence of proof. Faith means *trust*, it means placing confidence in someone. Faith is a relationship, not just a hypothesis.

    –Ember–

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  • EmberVoices

    On the flip side, I think what they’re actually trying to get at much of the time is the difference between Doxa and Praxis. The idea that we aren’t in this for a list of doctrines to agree over, we’re in this for actions. Religion isn’t something we think, it’s something we DO.

    Again, this is actually characteristic of *most* world religions. Abrahamic traditions are unusual in their emphasis on right belief not just right action, but pretty well all traditions have significant emphasis on both, they’re just more likely to handwave “wrong” belief as long as you maintain right action.

    –Ember–

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