(previously published in The Witches' Voice on May 20th, 2001)
This question raises all sorts of lofty, pretentious platitudes about the concept of reality and all its variations. We find ourselves falling into the same, tired old issues: What is reality? Can humans truly understand what is real, what is fantasy? Well, to start on a 'firm' footing, let me just say that I find all that I experience to be real. To Hades with any other opinion, this is my thought and it has no need to be justified. I know what is real and what is not. That's all reality needs, personal substantiation.
Now add to this the question of the existence of the Divine. My Goddess, what a mental circus three little words can be! I guess the best way to begin is to leap with both feet into the pool of ambiguousness.
The Divine represents the human concept of what exists outside our physical/emotional universe. This universe had a beginning and it will have an ending. The specifics of these events are not for us to know with any certainty but to ponder and investigate. What exists outside this universe is the realm of the Creative (Divine) Spirit that, we believe, allowed our universe to begin. The history of humanity plays well with the concept of the Divine. The 'Creator' is a common theme throughout human history, recorded or not. When humans fell from the trees and learned to walk upright, we became better animals. When we began to consider the possibility of a higher power, we became better humans.
Of course, the type of Divine Spirit changes with culture and geography. Since it is only through 'Creation' are we able to envision the 'Creator', then it stands to reason that our personal vision of the Divine is tied to the environment we are exposed to. The culture we are born into, the experiences we have had, and the things we are taught add flesh to the frame of our inner vision of the Divine. All of these factors are combined to 'create' our 'creator'. It is only after we construct this image can we decide the rules that govern it. Each of us determines what standards apply to us, which path to follow. The greatness of the human condition is in its ability of self-determination. It is our individuality that helps us come to terms with how we perceive the Divine Spirit. If allowed to progress unmolested, our perceptions can enable us to achieve great things and envision far-reaching possibilities. However, reality rarely follows this pattern. Human history is flush with examples of one culture or faith imposing their beliefs onto others, many times at the threat of violence. I believe this goes against our natural human traits. We were meant to exercise our individuality, while still enjoying our human community. A great society is not a herd of sheep, but a collection of many creatures. A 'zoo' of humanity, without the bars of course. That is why contemporary efforts to allow the freedom of religious expression throughout the world are so important to our continued existence.
In my little universe, the Divine Spirit is the Earth Mother. I find proof of the Earth Mother's existence in such places as a flower garden in full bloom, a waking puppy's yawn and the sudden shiver caused by a cool, spring breeze. When I walk into the forests of the Cascade Mts., I feel Her presence, Her love, and Her concern. I know that to honor Her and Her children, I must travel carefully and respectfully. I am a guest in Her special places and that my welcome is contingent on my behavior.
There are those of other faiths who would look upon my path and reject it with words of condemnation. I try not to hear them, to not be concerned about their angry voices because I know that I am not just on the right path, but the only path ... for me. I cannot envision myself seeing this world as anything but alive. I see 'proof' of the Earth Goddess' existence all about me, in every nook and corner, every cloud and sea. To ask me if my Goddess is real is like asking if I am real. In fact, my reality is a small ray of light in a shining chorus of sunbeams compared to Her. But even if my life is near invisible next to Her's, I am the most important person to Her on my path.
I think all of us have a similar relationship with the Divine Spirit, that each of us is the most important ones on our paths. I decide which path is more right than another one, yet I can only speak for myself. Each of us has a responsibility to our soul/spirit to decide which path is correct. I consider this one of the most important decisions humans can make. It isn't easy, there are many choices out there and lots of people who are quite content to make this decision for you.
Deciding on which religion to follow is like choosing shoes. We may want what is in style but in the long run, comfort has to win out. It will do you no good if you choose a faith based on popularity or status. The Divine will not connect to you if you can't learn how to hear Its voice.
There are those who require proof before they will believe in the Divine Spirit. They want to see how your version stands up to their already preconceived notion of what the Divine entails. They wage a war of wills, a spiritual cage match pitting your puny deity against their all-powerful, lightening bolt-throwing god. We have all met folks who ask for proof of our deities, only to offer little proof of their own. Proof of existence is one of the most tenuous threads in the business of divinity. One man's truth is another man's myth.
We only accept the 'facts' that stand up to our personal set of rules. Proof from sources outside our belief can be easily dismissed, countered by our own faith. But why does anyone need proof to believe? Faith is accepting the notion that there exist things and conditions outside our capacity to understand. Requiring proof in Spirit is like asking a blind man to describe the color blue.
I rather enjoy the notion that all paths are true, particularly to those who follow them. If I follow a certain path, who can say I am wrong. My path may be wrong to others, but they don't have to walk in my shoes. My path is mine, all mine, no one else can walk it for me. There may be companions along the way, folks who share a certain part of my faith. We will walk together until their way branches off from mine. Hopefully, I am able to glean some words of wisdom or warning from these fellow travelers as they walk with me. It is in this manner that we enrich our paths. If we shelter our lives from the ways of others, we cannot expand our faith and we risk walking in circles. We may walk our paths by ourselves, but we never walk it alone.
This Spirit, or Creative Entity, has a unique relationship to each of us. We may see it in different ways, different forms, singular or plural, but it is still the same Entity or Entities that allowed our life to begin. I wrote a fable about this. An abridged version follows:
"Years ago, in the shadow of a great mountain dwelt a small village. The villagers considered the mountain to be the home of the Great Spirit and thus sacred. Because the mountain was so tall, it was always shrouded in mist. The village elders felt that the people needed something to look upon when worshiping the Great Spirit. So they commissioned a group of wise artisans to search out the holy mountain and paint a picture of it for display. This way the villagers would have something to look to when they prayed to the Spirit. Each of the wise men had their own beliefs about the Holy Mountain and, of course, their own way of getting there. With much fanfare, they embarked on the journey. Days past, then weeks, soon the men started arriving from the forest, each carrying a painting. When they gathered together for the unveiling of the paintings, the first artisan looked upon the painting of another and scoffed.
"Sir, I know not where you were, but your painting is nothing like mine. I alone was at the base of the Holy Mountain. So, only my picture is authentic."
"Not so, " said the other wise man. "I was all alone as I prayed beneath the mountain. I did not see you or any other of these pretended prophets. Only my painting is real."
"Ha! You both have painted the wrong mountain. Neither of you were there when I cast stones to the Spirit for inspiration. Only my painting is of the Holy Mountain." Said one other.
As the villagers looked on, each of the wise men began arguing about the legitimacy of their artwork. Villagers began to support or reject paintings, allying themselves with a particular wise man. Arguing beget yelling which in turn beget fighting, soon the entire village was in an uproar.
Out of this melee, walked a little girl. She looked at the paintings that had become strewn about the village square. She picked one up and looked at it intently. Then she looked at another, then another. She placed the paintings on the ground about the square. Other children saw what she was doing and helped her. The some of the villagers noticed her actions too, for they stopped fighting and watched. After all the paintings had been placed, she walked up to the Chief Elder and spoke.
"Good Sir! See here. The paintings are not of many mountains but of only one. The wise men painted the same mountain but from many directions. If you see how we have placed the paintings, you can see that now we are able to see the whole mountain, instead of just one view."
The Elder looked at the paintings. They had been arranged in a circle, each providing the special scene that had inspired the wise man to paint.
The wise men were ashamed that they had become so angry, as were the villagers. For it took the innocence of youth to see beyond the stubbornness of intolerance. The village honored the children and erected a circular shrine in the village square to display all of the paintings, just as the children had placed them."
This fable illustrates that sometimes we become so wrapped up in what we perceive to be real, that we forget that others can have a different, equally valid, perception of reality.
We each have a special and unique connection to the Divine Spirit; we never really need anyone else to interpret what this Spirit wants from us. No one need speak for this Spirit when It can do just fine by Itself. If the Creator needs us to know something, we will be taught. All we have to do is keep our minds open and listen.
That's the reality in my view. Because we are unique and can comprehend that there exists a power greater than us, then yes, our gods are real.
May the Goddess watch over us and keep our path before us.