Friday, February 17, 2012

Are they real?

Are they real?

That’s the question I’ve been asked over the years by all sorts of people, for all sorts of reasons. It refers to the deities I revere and love. (I don’t worship anything in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense, but that’s another post.) The question is, are All-Father and Great Mother, Freyr and Freya, Stag Lord and Oak Lady real?

It’s a good question, one I’m not sure I can answer. I believe they’re real the same way a Christian believes God is real, the same way a Hindu believes Ganesh is real, the same way a quantum physicist believes quarks are real. None of us has actual proof of any of these things; they’ve never been directly observed, measured or photographed. Yet we have faith that they exist and that they affect the world in various ways.

Over the years I’ve considered the possibility that some of my deities might be psychological side effects of the abuse I endured as a child. I first became aware of All-Father and Great Mother when I was two or three years old, during one of the many long days in which my mother locked me in a windowless laundry room from the time my father left for work in the morning until minutes before he got home in the evening. And yes, All-Father and Great Mother are the names I knew them by, even then.

Of course I wanted loving parents who didn’t do terrible things to me and then lie to everyone about what they had done. So maybe All-Father and Great Mother are projections of my own subconscious in grand Jungian fashion, a way for me to comfort myself. I have to admit that as a possibility.

As a young adult I encountered Freyr and Freya, first in fiction (Diana Paxson’s Brisingamen is a great read, if somewhat dated now) and then in ritual with pagan friends. Their energy was familiar yet challenging; I fell madly in love with them the first time they were invoked and continued to work with them from that point on. Was I induced to believe in a fantasy thanks to the powerful psychological elements of a well-constructed ritual? It’s possible.

Then, just a couple years ago yet another pair of deities made themselves known in my life. I was hip-deep in genealogy, digging into my family history and being drawn ever more strongly toward northern Britain. During the day I filled in the blanks in my Family Tree Maker software; at night I dreamed of Castlerigg stone circle and the people who lived there five thousand years ago. Especially, I dreamed of a woman whose ashes were buried in the ground in front of one of the stones. And I dreamed of her gods, the gods of the grandmother of all my grandmothers, the gods of my blood, my bone, my DNA. The Stag Lord and the Oak Lady provided the meat and mast on which my ancestors survived. At least, that’s how they thought of it. It has come to be how I think of it, too.

So am I imagining all this? Am I living in a fantasy world in which deities that don’t really exist appear to hang out around me and affect my life? Are they real, by any definition of the word? Does it even matter whether or not they are?

Ultimately, no, it doesn’t matter. And the reason it doesn’t matter has nothing to do with the strength of my faith or any other religious-type blather. It has to do with one simple, powerful truth: They make my life better.

Now, most of us (at least, those who aren’t nutcase fundamentalists) tend to think that it doesn’t matter exactly what a person believes as long as their beliefs make them a better person. I think my deities do that, but I know they have done something even more important: They enabled me to survive.

They saw me through years of abuse from which I emerged relatively functional; that’s a miracle right there. They gave me the strength to endure nearly six years as the mother of a profoundly disabled child, and fight for her needs and rights every moment along the way. They helped me survive the unfathomable grief of her death and put me on track to finding meaning in life again without her.

They’re with me when I wake up in the morning and when I go to bed at night. They soften my dreams, sharpen my ambitions and remind me to pay attention to what’s really important.

Whether they are figments of an overactive imagination, protective archetypal constructs generated by a damaged psyche or truly ancient energies and entities, they get the job done.

Are they real? The ultimate answer is, it doesn't matter.