Why bother with deity?

I’m a firm believer in reciprocal relationships. As in, any relationship I have, there’s a natural give and take from both sides. There are times when the give can be predominantly in one direction and the take in another, but that then balances out over time.

Take parents for example. For most parents, their kids are mostly on the taking end for the first few decades of their lives. The parents can get joy and love back from the kids of course, but a parental role is, traditionally, a giving one. The returns are far more nebulous and hard to define than the obvious food, clothing, shelter they give out. (Please note, I’m not saying all parents do this – I am very well aware, there are truly awful, negligent and neglectful people out there and there are children who have endured a lot. There are also parents who can’t actually provide all they want for their offspring and regret this as well. Not everyone has equal experiences and I want to note that here)

But for most parents in my experience, there isn’t a checks and balances act going on. There isn’t a grand balance sheet keeping account and ticking off 1 hug = 0.5 breakfast or anything like that. But there is energy flowing both ways.

My experience of deity is something like this. No, I really don’t believe Brigid is up there in the sky, keeping accounts of everything I do or don’t do for her, and doling out rewards or punishments in accordance with that. I believe that Brigid will look out for me and help me, as best she can, for as long as I indicate I want or need that assistance. And I indicate I want or need assistance by my words, my actions, my thoughts, my prayers. And sometimes she goes with what I need rather than what I want, but that’s her prerogative. She doesn’t owe me anything.

Now there are times when we will come to an agreement on specifics. Such as, I will engage with a particular activism activity in exchange for her specific assistance in something in my life. It doesn’t ever guarantee a specific outcome cos other people have free will and need to consent. And, as well, the specific outcome I thought I wanted may not come true, but usually something else will. As far as I’m concerned, her help is real.

As an engineer though, my brain is screaming for proof of this and it’s hard to provide. And here’s where we come to a hard truth. As humans, we like to think there is a Higher Power to appeal to. Whether it’s the Christian God, pagan deities, the Universe, Mother Earth, whatever, when the shit really hits the fan, we like to have someone to appeal to for help. Now there are all sorts of psychological studies and other studies out there looking to back up or disprove Voltaire’s famous quote: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him“, but there’s also some truth there as well.

While it’s nice to imagine all of us depending on ourselves and finding inside of ourselves the necessary energy, determination, fortitude to keep going when things get tough, I think for most of us (yeah, not all, but most) there are times when calling on an outside power is comforting at least. It’s important to note that in the poem Voltaire wrote, he was showing the importance of the afterlife, and punishment therein, for upholding societal order. The thinking was that the idea of eternal damnation is important for assisting in maintaining social order, since the fear of the afterlife might force most people into good and honest living. This works for a Christian view of life, but not so much for those of us who follow a different path (this might lead to some sort of partial explanation as to why non-Christians were less than welcome in Western societies over the year: how could someone be trusted to behave appropriately without fear?)

I don’t subscribe to this view, and I think it’s one that has fallen out of favour in recent years, particularly in view of the failures of Christian churches all over the world. I’ve written before on the failures of the Catholic Church as an organisation. But the view of morals and moral living still permeates a lot of Western society. (The reason I’m saying Western society here is because I have little to no experience of life outside of Europe and North America).

I will say this though -I firmly uphold the belief that there are no atheists in foxholes. (The origins of this saying are murky at best, with several origin stories discussed in the wikipedia page…) In times of extreme stress, terror, pain or loss, most of us will turn to a Divine Being of some description, whether looking for help or screaming in pain or cursing them to the nth degree… The feeling that there is something outside of ourselves to appeal to, to beg, to plead, to curse… it’s weirdly comforting.

And of course, I believe in the existence of this Divine Force. There have been too many times in my life that I’ve been saved from things through no logic or rationale for me not to believe. And I “choose” to work with Brigid as my main representation of the Divine. (“Choose” might not be the right word there, but it’s not like she holds me hostage or anything!) I also work with other Beings, as most of ye know.

In saying all that, for most of us, those “foxhole moments” are not an everyday occurrence though (unfortunately not all of us). So what, on a day to day basis, is the point of a deity? Why bother to work with them? For my own views on this: well, we are more than our physical bodies. We are ensouled, we are spiritual beings, we are forces of nature. We need to nourish and grow that part of us as much as we need to nourish and grow our bodies and our intellect. We are more than the parts that make us up. And that part, the part that is more than the parts that make us up, is the bit that the Divine gets involved in most of all.

In Irish paganism, our deities are not necessarily omnipotent, omniscience or omnipresent (all-powerful, all-knowing, all-present). They’re a slight step closer to human than that. But that slight step closer, does not mean they are human. They have powers beyond our ken, so to speak. They are good at getting shit down. They help their people. They care for the land and the people. They are here with us, but also elsewhere. When we’re working in line with them, things get, not necessarily easier, but perhaps slightly smoother. I don’t want to downplay all the efforts that go into the work they support by saying it’s easy or easier, because that’s unfair to the people involved. But when we work in line with our deities priorities and desires, things happen.

I can only assume that if you’re reading this blog, you have a belief in deity. That’s great. But I also believe it’s important to examine why we belief in deity and what we mean when we say we believe in deity. This kind of reflection is not where I’m most comfortable – as an engineer, I much prefer the bashing things with hammers bit – but it’s still hugely important. Knowing what we believe, knowing why we believe it, realising how our beliefs change and grow over time, are all hugely important in our spiritual journeys.

So go on, examine a bit: why do you bother with deity?

Devotional

Lora O’Brien of the Irish Pagan School (www.irishpaganschool.com) discussed the notion of devotionals with me some time ago and I started writing them. The structure is simple – take a piece of scripture (in our case, a piece of our lore), discuss/ meditate on what it means, end with a prayer. It’s a way of dissecting and interrogating our lore and our stories for the meanings within, both from the times they come from and our own modern world. Grief might seem like a strange one at this time of year, but there are a lot of people, myself included, dealing with grief. And Brigid gave us a way to cope with it. I hope you don’t need to read about grief today, but if you do – you’re not along.

Cath Maige Tuired: The Second Battle of Mag Tuired (Author:[unknown])
section 125

But after the spear had been given to him, Rúadán turned and wounded Goibniu. He pulled out the spear and hurled it at Rúadán so that it went through him; and he died in his father’s presence in the Fomorian assembly. Bríg came and keened for her son. At first she shrieked, in the end she wept. Then for the first time weeping and shrieking were heard in Ireland. (Now she is the Bríg who invented a whistle for signalling at night.)

In either battle of Moytura (Caith Maighe Tuired), Brig only appears as someone’s mother – Rúadán’s in this case. She has no role in the fighting, nor is she one of the movers-and-shakers. She does grant us something we may not value enough – she grants us a means to deal with grief. 

We all suffer with grief at some point in our lives and, particularly in modern society, the pressure can be there to bury the grief deeply and above all don’t let society at large see how deeply the grief goes. It doesn’t matter if the loss is of a parent, child, pet, friend… Grief is not something to be measured or allowed. Grief simply is. No matter what our beliefs, the nature of our relationship with the loved one is changed irrevocably. 

Brig offers us a way to externalise these feelings that feel so big and powerful. She literally grants our grief a voice. She understands. There is no magic club, no magic cauldron, no magic herbs to bring her son back – he is gone and in a most violent fashion. 

She knows. 

My husband & I have been trying to have a baby for four years. One year into our journey, we had a miscarriage. I had a week off work to ‘recover’. It wasn’t enough time. It wasn’t nearly enough time. I felt like I was moving in a different world to that around me. Our baby might have been the size of a pea when we lost them, but to us, to me, they were as real as if I had fed them at my breast. The world kept turning, even as I felt frozen, unable to keep up. 

A year later, I went through an initiation. Not a Brig related initiation, but nevertheless a profound and powerful experience. And during that time, the floodgates opened. On my way home from the weekend, I had a night alone in a hotel and a four hour ferry journey. During this time alone, I cried. I wailed. I sobbed. Even in my sleep, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. I keened. I keened hard

It was like releasing pus from a boil. Painful, unpleasant, petrifying with the force of it, but cleansing, clearing and calming in its own way. I released the pent up force of my grief. I unleashed those feelings on the world. I gave voice, oh ye gods, did I give voice. And while my grief, my loss is still there and nothing will ever replace the hopes and dreams we had for that little pea, it’s a clean, healing grief now, not something to hold me back, but something that is just part of me.

In my time of grief, Brig, grant me the strength to use your precious gift and give voice to my pain that I mourn fully and completely those I have lost. May I never forget them, but may I also continue with my life, my grief a part of me, but not controlling me.