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The Stories We Tell

b2ap3_thumbnail_14_Religions.jpgI only know one person who is an open atheist and I don’t tend to have any opinion when I hear discussions about the existence of god. I’ll confess that I feel somewhat sorry for atheists. I think its kind of sad that they don’t get enough joy and satisfaction out of a religion to justify a bit of faith when needed. Most humans practice religion of some kind. It has been fashionable in the twentieth century to bash religion and declare it one of the major causes of human suffering. My father-in-law was one such. Culturally Jewish, his father fled the Czar when he was found to be a Communist. Harry believed firmly in an afterlife, but he had bad things to say about religion. All while participating in his Jewish community. This might seem a paradox, but it really isn’t. Judaism does not dictate belief, only behavior, and by all means debate away!

I didn’t agree with Harry, although I did agree that there had been religious wars and persecution. Religions must be part of our biology and thus serve us in a survival capacity, otherwise we wouldn’t make so many of them! It comes down to a few simple ideas. Our brains want to create stories about what happens to us. We have a biological need for meaning. (For more on this I recommend the works of Eugene D’Aquili and Andrew Newberg.) What survival need does this serve? It creates hope. Hope allows one to continue in the face of fear, anguish, and physical or emotional pain. Without hope, we are more likely to give up. For our ancestors, giving up would have, more often than not, meant death.

Ancient religious practice was tribal. The shaman gave voice to stories that explained the tribe’s place in the world. Later the shaman gave way to the priest. I don’t deny that religion was commonly allied with political power (there’s reason why we do our best to keep them separate now.) But I do deny that religion seeks power by its essence. The job of a religion is to seek meaning, to create stories about our place in the web, and if the religion is ethical, applying the same laws of basic behavior to all humans, not just those of the given religion.*

What meanings does Paganism seek? We have many Traditions, and each tells different stories. Sometimes those stories are ancient, and sometimes they are brand new (I give you Greyface). I commend those who can find meaning in the old tales that apply to our prosperous and fast-paced culture. I’m not good at that. No, I’d rather find my own.

Finding, dreaming, building, uncovering, discovering story is what grounds us into our now. We are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. But we can change our story at any time. What story do you relate to? Which characters do you love? Dislike? How do you feel about what these characters do? Is there another story that might serve you better? I’ll be sharing some stories here. I hope they are able to serve you.

*Don’t kill people, don’t hurt people, and don’t mess with their stuff.
‘An ye Harm None, do as thou wilt.
Golden rule.

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Tagged in: myth Story storytelling
Selina Rifkin, L.M.T., M.S. is a graduate of Temple University and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. In 1998 she graduated from the Downeast School of Massage in Maine. She has published articles in Massage Therapy Journal, been a health columnist, and published The Referral Guide for Complementary Care, a book that describes 25 different healing modalities. In 2006 she completed her Masters program in Nutrition with a focus on traditional foods, and the work of Weston A. Price.
Currently she is the Executive Assistant to the Director of Cherry Hill Seminary, the first Pagan seminary to offer Master’s degrees.


  • Linette
    Linette Sunday, 16 November 2014

    I enjoy this article. Lately I've been musing over similar things. I know that two things I especially value and appreciate in my own religious practice is the ritual, which gives me a framework for my year, and the sense of connection I gain from my practice, I sense myself as part of a larger whole spreading back and forward in time and space.

    The sense of connectedness to the human story has grown over the years as I continue to live and practice my faith. And this past week the thought has occured to me that for many of us pagans, recons, etc we don't have an unbroken line back to the people who practiced our faith. Or it might be a newer faith that doesn't have an especially long history, or a syncretic faith etc. But we can still gain that sense of connectedness. And we can pay it forward as well.

    I am making a commitment this year to pass on family history to my kids in a more intentional way, and to gently invite friends etc to do the same. Not to just let things go silently into that dark night, but to share a recipe, story, or pass down an heirloom with a written history attached to it.

    Even though my mother did not cook much food from her ethnic group. I have found that researching old recipes and making the ones that go with particular holidays etc has STILL given me a deep sense of connection.

    While there certainly have been too many examples in modern times and through history where religion and religious beliefs have been used to harm and control, as you say, it seems to be hard wired into us genetically. And we can be intentional in our own practice and not use our faith as an excuse to harm.

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