Of Gods and Stories

I have no idea how the universe works. Not a clue. Ok, some tenuous grasp of some of the physics, but when we get round to issues of deity and eternity, I make no claims to insight whatsoever. The whole thing confuses and unnerves me, and has done since I was about four and started trying to get my head round such things. I’ve made my peace with not knowing, and have settled into a place of maybeism. Maybe there are Gods. Maybe there aren’t. Maybe everything is part of the divine. Maybe there’s a grand plan. Maybe not. It’s a good way of not getting into fights with people over issues of belief, because, for all I know, they could be right.

From that position, the idea of working with Gods is tricky. I assume you need a very confident, hard-polytheist belief in the literal existence of Gods as autonomous and individual personalities in order to work with them. Maybe they are like that. Maybe the archetype people have it right…

The one thing I do believe in, is stories. Not least because so little actual belief is called for. Stories have power, and that is a power I know how to trust and invest in. Religions are, for the greater part, gatherings together of powerful stories that are meant to show us something. The measure of any story, be it religious, historical or fictional, is the effect it has. The greater Truths about living and dying, being human, being good, being effective… these are more important than whether or not a person actually existed, or whether people a few thousand years ago thought they were looking at a God or a fictional character.

We blur the lines between deity and fiction all the time. Ovid’s dream deities, might have existed as Gods, or maybe he made them up for that story. We’ve turned Thor and Loki into modern movie stars, and we aren’t sure what of the Welsh myths is ancient tales of deity, and what is mediaeval fiction. I have come to the conclusion that it really doesn’t matter. If a story moves you, and inspires you, that’s far more relevant than whether some people a few thousand years ago thought it was true. If The Lord Of the Rings is your sacred, inspirational text that has done most to teach you how to live, why should that be less valid than taking up a really old story that might or might not have originally been religious? Why should it matter if the story is about real, historical events? Robin Hood is a powerful icon. So are Lady Macbeth and Captain Kirk, for some people.

Stories change people. They give us shapes in which we can reimagine ourselves. They give us ways of choosing and living we might not otherwise have thought of. They give us ideas, hope and possibility. No, I have no idea if Blodeuwedd was really a Celtic Goddess. What I do know is how that story touched, changed, maddened and inspired me. That’s where the power lies.

The truth is out there (X Files). In all kinds of places. In galaxies far, far away, in girls who are shot by religious extremists, and miraculously do not die, in modern heroes and ancient tales. Whether we believe in deities or not, we can see the very real effects their stories have. There is a lot of reason in honouring the power of stories. It is not where they come from that matters, but where those stories are taking us.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

10 responses to “Of Gods and Stories

  • simonhlilly

    It may be possible to argue that the prevalent Western worldview ( embarrassed post-Christian humanism spliced to rabid scientismic rationalism) is dooming us simply because it has no significant life-affirming stories of powerful spiritual beings. Deities as templates. Not just moral or psychological, but somehow more fundamental and synergistic. We become maddened and unbalanced, lose perspective- exactly in the way that the detractors of religion and spirituality claim are caused by religions…….

  • Argenta

    Nimue, I could hardly believe reading this — exactly the things I’ve been saying and thinking about, only perhaps less elegantly. And, yes, LOTR is my sacred, inspirational text, literally (literary, too 🙂 )

  • Michelle Joelle

    Beautifully written! I think religious texts derive their power from their stories, rather than the other way around!

  • Ziixxxitria

    I was just thinking yesterday as I continued a Star Trek marathon with my partner, that Capt. Picard is much more inspirational and a model for behavior, for me, than the one that my family chooses (Jesus). I would much rather think “What would Picard do?” He’d be loyal, responsible, both compassionate and stern as needed. He respects other people and cultures but holds to universal values of good (thinking of an episode where he (spoilers?) spurns a decision of the Klingon council to have Warf die for a treason he did not commit, so that the council wouldn’t be broken up, so you have justice/truth vs cultural values, if that makes sense to anyone else). He’s also not perfect, but often strives to improve upon himself and learn from mistakes. He’s a good leader and does as much good as he can for others, and accepts people’s respect without demanding glory.

    And even though there are many aspects of Jesus that I find positive, not to get into a religious debate or anything, he’s just not as real to me. There are stories, yes, of the parables and whatnot, but I relate far more to the fictional starship captain.

    This is me rambling while sick, but anyway, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I think we should be able to choose whatever stories work for us and use those, rather than being limited to only a few things because they are more acceptable for being older or whatnot.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing that line of thought! A lot of the trouble with ‘what would Jesus do’ – or many other ancient deity figures for that matter – is that their world was so different to ours. The rules were different, and so were the problems. Having strong, archetypal figures whose experiences seem more relevant to us, is really important. Ancient myths are nice, but modern myths are far more necessary.

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