Observations of the light and the dark of what is, was, and might be in the Pagan community's expansion and evolution.
One of the things that I value about being a Pagan, is that my religion welcomes knowledge that comes from science. The research of astronomers and of archaeologists figures in my meditations and in my spiritual and magickal practice. I'm also happy that we have been called the people of the library rather than the people of the book. I have access to the myths, the stories, and doctrines of more cultures and ages than my spiritual ancestors could have imagined. I'm extremely grateful for the abundance of teachings that this represents as it gives great depth and breadth to whatever spiritual, magical, or religious work that I undertake. However there is a cost and a challenge that comes with every gift. With greater knowledge comes the possibility of greater doubt. Without a single book or body of teachings identified as the preeminent source of truth, there can be a weakening of the power of belief.
On the longest night of the year, science tells me the Sun will rise again and that the days will grow longer. On the longest night of the year, the myths that I hold true tell me that our actions determine our relationship to the Sun. When I see the glorious Moon shining in its fullness, I see a Divine light and I see a large rock held in the dance of gravity. When I look at the attributes and stories of a Deity across the lines of cultures and time periods, I see the lines of soft and hard polytheism grow blurry in a syncretic mist. I think you can find your own examples for the experience this dynamic in your life. This is not a blog about faith in the normal sense of the word. Nor is it a blog about belief in the normal sense of the word. The concern that I'd like to raise, is that one of the primary fuels of magick is belief. The knowledge that we have in the modern world can interfere with the process by which we create the power of belief. As it is, we live in a culture that discourages a belief in the power of magick so we already have one obstacle to overcome. And though I believe that more knowledge can result in more power and more effective practices, I also know that it can create emotional, cognitive, and spiritual dissonance.
Myth and lore is filled with both truth and absurdity. A part of us from deep within hearkens to the images and the stories, and at the same time there is another part of us calls them make-believe. I suggest that we turn the derisive phrase of make-believe into a spell of power. Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his Biographia literaria (1817) coined the now broadly used phrase: the willing suspension of disbelief. If you have ever fallen completely into the world contained in the pages of a novel you have experienced the willing suspension of disbelief. When I began to explore these ideas, I looked up the first appearance of the phrase: willing suspension of disbelief. In doing so I found a clue to resolving the questions that I have raised here.
“… a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”
The last two words in this brief excerpt from Coleridge are “poetic faith” and I have always experienced a strong linkage between magick and poetry.
What I propose is that we shift from a passive to an active relationship with belief. To be clear, I’m speaking of belief in its context of the state of our psyche. I’m not using the term belief or beliefs in its usage as a container for dogma in this situation. When we suspend disbelief in reading a novel or watching a movie it is for the most part a passive action. What does it look like when it is active? The writer must believe in the world that pours out through their words. The witch must believe in the power of the ritual that they enact. I am suggesting that you consciously incorporate chosen belief into your spiritual, religious, and magical practice. This is what I mean my chosen belief:
The extension of the practice of the willing suspension of disbelief to the willing acceptance and empowerment of beliefs as a set of virtual truths for a given span of experience.
Chosen belief is much more difficult than it sounds. No doubt you've been told of how important it is to train the mind for magick. I have used meditation and visualization as tools for many years and it still requires effort to clear the mind and to focus it laser sharp. I am fairly certain that many of you already practice some form of chosen belief. However by explicitly naming it and bringing it into your awareness, you can deepen and intensify its effectiveness.While chosen belief may be invoked through clarity and focus and symbolism, it lives and breathes by the power of passion and emotion. For that span, for that duration that you are engaged in the making of magick, of devotion, or prayer, every part of you should pulse with that chosen belief that is the truth of the moment.
I mentioned dissonance earlier and it is a term used in many fields including psychology, but it’s origin is in music. It is another way of saying a lack of harmony. The thing is that harmony like truth is driven by the key of its context. Through chosen belief, you can add or subtract the notes that are needed to create harmony. You can also gain the awareness that each song is different and that you must believe in each song in order to sing it well.
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