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.