A few months ago, I wrote about outgrowing atheism, an admission which frankly made me uneasy. I’ve intentionally avoided the word “belief” in recent years, preferring to center my spiritual identity around practice. After all, as Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh says, “My actions are my only true belongings.” Furthermore I’m a naturalist and an evidentialist to my core. I don’t believe there exist worlds and beings outside of Nature, because I don’t have any reliable evidence for them.
And yet. Spiritual practice has opened me to spiritual experiences that I can’t fully interpret, without reference to stories, values, goals, and yes, even faith, for which there is no scientific evidence. So while what I actually do in this one real, precious world, or “walking the talk,” will always be the heart of my spirituality, allowing some beliefs for which I have no factual basis, for which there can be no factual basis, enriches my life. Moreover, I’m increasingly finding that I can no longer clearly separate my spiritual practices from my beliefs, if ever I was able to do so; they inform and shape each other in an endless loop. In this post I want to record and explore some of my current spiritual beliefs, with the understanding that, when things are going well, beliefs change in response to experience and further reflection.
detail of Vince Hannemann’s Cathedral of Junk, March 2018
First, I believe in mystery. I believe that the world as it is, the universe, is so vast and so complex that it is beyond human physiology to understand it completely. This is not to say that the universe is not understandable, or that any and every idea we have about it is true, only that it is beyond the limited perspective of a human mind to understand. In order to even approach an understanding of the world as it is, we humans need multiple investigative tools, such as art, reason, and science, and the multiple kinds of knowledge that result from their applications: aesthetic, logical, ethical, empirical. In other words, human knowledge, the meaning we construct from our experiences, is inherently contextual and limited. No single person or tradition has an exclusive angle on absolute truth.
Second, because I’m happier and more engaged with the world for believing so, I believe that the World As It Is, the Reality of Which We Are All a Part, the Whole Cosmos, is God Hirself. In Reclaiming Witchcraft we call this being the Star Goddess, or the Starry Mother, “in whom we live, move, and have our being.” In the Modern Minoan pantheon She is currently called Ourania. I tend not to anthropomorphize this Great Cosmic Mother, for she is more of a somewhere/everywhere than a someone, but instead think of Hir as the Web of All Being.
Photo by Bilderwense via CC license
The Star Goddess is neither personal nor transcendent. She is Nature, the World, the Universe, the immanent, underlying unity that pervades and draws together into one big whole all of existence. Since She connects all, whatever love and respect I hold for the Star Goddess must naturally extend to the beings with whom I share Hir. Believing in a divine Web of Being that connects everything “makes the whole world kin,” as Ulysses says to Achilles, in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida.
Theology found on a tea bag
I associate with the Star Goddess webs, spirals, the starry sky, winds, birds, roses, tea, breath work, the Big Bang, music, dancing, singing, and silence. In trance I have encountered Hir as a great starry vulture, and as a tree unfurling star-shaped blossoms.
I actively choose to believe that the Universe is divine, not because I have any concrete, material evidence for believing so, but because believing that the Universe is divine enriches my life with beauty, peace, and a sense of connection to something larger than myself. The evidence for my Star Goddess is personal, aesthetic, and ethical, not empirical or rational. In other words, my faith is a conscious choice, one I make because it improves my psychological well-being and my relationship with the world, not a factual claim that can be evaluated using the scientific method. Scientific experiments result in data, which can then be analyzed in a number of different ways to check a hypothesis. Scientific experiments can’t tell us how to feel or what to value.
Grooving on my own personal mashup of naturalism, pantheism, and feminist theology, and influenced in no small part by John Halstead’s idea of “a devotional practice with the world at its center,” I’ve been working out a set of devotions to express the faith I’ve outlined here and invite the kinds of experiences that flow from it. For example, on waking up each morning I pray:
Today I entrust myself to the World
And the World entrusts Hirself to me.
May I be present, open, and compassionate.
Because pantheism is an ancient idea, reflected in a variety of religious and mystical traditions, sources of inspiration for devotions abound. For example, on leaving my house for work or other daily activities, I pause at the threshold and say this devotion, based on a Robert Lax poem:
My own little home,
The whole great World.
The whole great World,
And of course I have a devotion for sky/stargazing, which feels too private and powerful to post at this time.
The shape of one’s theology is ultimately a personal choice; there is no evidence, scientific or otherwise, that proves or disproves the existence of gods. Each us must ask and answer for ourselves the meaning of myth and ritual, what the world is really like, and what constitutes a life well-lived. As long as our theological choices do no harm to others, they deserve respect. I don’t expect or care whether anyone else chooses to believe in the Star Goddess unless it’s helpful and meaningful to them. Diverse perspectives make the world interesting and beautiful, and we can live in peace and mutual respect, even if our theologies differ.
I choose to believe in the Star Goddess because doing so brings me joy.
What way of doing theology brings you joy?