In the eleven or so years since I became openly Neopagan, I have endured a fair number of assaults upon my beliefs--of course, so have most of us who follow the Old Paths. It seems to be part and parcel of the whole experience. But what has always intrigued me is how often such assaults are not so much upon my religious views as upon my belief in a magickal world. In fact, most of the time, my confession to being a Goddess-worshipper elicits little more interest than as if I had professed to being Buddhist.
And yet as soon as I begin any sort of discussion about the Fey folk, the nature of spellcraft, or any of a thousand topics surrounding the so-called "mythological world of the supernatural," I find myself frequently lumped into the same category as the mentally unbalanced, if not completely psychotic. In particular, the scientifically-minded and/or atheistic can be savage in their efforts to convince me I am deluded or irrational for holding such beliefs.
That we live in a cynical society is a fact acknowledged by almost all Neopagans. The fact that our beliefs are considered "crazy" by a substantial chunk of the population is also old news. And yet in spite of the incredible potential for empowerment which modern Paganism offers as a defence against this subtly poisonous atmosphere of assumed rationalism, many practitioners find themselves greatly weakened by these attacks. In many ways, simply living day-to-day in our society is like breathing marsh gas--no immediate effects, but prolonged exposure is hazardous to the health. In my time, I have seen more than one Neopagan succumb to the despair of trying to be a visionary in a world that kills its own dreams. They commit suicide, they snap and descend into utter psychosis, or they turn their back on the Dreaming Mind and join the very ranks they once railed against.
The matter is only made worse by the fact that a small percentage of those professing to be Neopagan are in genuine need of psychiatric help. It is one thing to see ghosts; it is another entirely to listen to those ghosts when they tell you to hurt people. The presence of such individuals in our midst provides strong ammunition to those who worship the god of Rationalism. "After all," they will tell you, "HE was Neopagan and look what such beliefs did to him!"
As a result of all this, modern Pagans find themselves frequently in positions where they doubt their own sanity, especially as their own magickal and psychic development opens up their ability to perceive the Unseen Realms. And since doubt is fatal to power, these individuals end up unconsciously depriving themselves of the richness which the magickal life has to offer. Some of them even go so far as to begin denying the existence of magick altogether, much like children who cover their heads with blankets at night, believing that if they canít see the boogey man, the boogey man canít exist. To me, nothing is more tragic than conversing with people who profess to be Neopagan and yet react as if I am a bug when I tell them I believe in the Fey.
The big problem here is that rationalists like to assume there is one handy version of reality to which all individuals of sound mind subscribe. But the belief itself does not make much sense, especially in light of recent discoveries on the quantitative nature of the human mind (i.e. to a large degree, consciousness creates reality, and its been this way more or less since the beginning of the human race). In addition, the field of anthropology is rife with case studies of "primitive peoples" who perceive their universe in radically different ways than the standard Western mind, and yet are clearly possessed of normal mental faculties. Furthermore, archaeopsychologists--those who study and speculate on the mindset of pre-modern humankind--point to evidence which suggests that there was a time not too long ago when the mythology of a people was in fact its reality, and there is no supporting evidence to suggest such a worldview was indicative of insanity in any way.
Of course, most Neopagans already know this, and have known for years, but itís nice to have some solid backing from the side which is supposedly against us. Rationalists like to believe that somehow the mind of Western civilised man is "more advanced" than that of these primitive peoples, but from a strictly evolutionary standpoint, we have brains identical to the ones these "primitive" people did. The rationalists really donít have a leg to stand on here.
And yet still they press their attacks. Why? Simple--enslaved by their own cynical, mundane reality paradigms, these people have lost the ability to use their minds in a visionary manner. They couldnít see a unicorn even if it was standing horn-to-eye with them. With such a mindest, they have no choice BUT to see us as a group of deluded, silly freaks. I have met devoted realists who have practically begged me to show them a sign that magick really works. They want to believe, but their reality filters will not allow them to. They are prisoners of their own beliefs. They could free themselves of such bondage if they truly desired to, but for most of them, the price is too great. The thought of reversing their long-held beliefs by 180 degrees fills them with fear. And so they stay put, and try to bring down the ones who remind them of what theyíre missing out on.
The key to resisting the subtle, corrosive atmosphere of cynical realism which pervades our country is to remember the fluid nature of reality itself. Just because a whole lot of people believe something is true does not make it so. Look at most cults, for example. But because there is safety in the group mind, there is a tendency to assume that what is best for the group is best for all individuals everywhere. Again, look at most Fundamentalist movements. Claiming the right to view your reality as you choose does not come without a price, but that price is only really valuable if you consider exclusion from a group to be tantamount to failure. Besides, as the overall Neopagan community continues to grow closer together thanks to advances in networking technology, the feeling of ostracism is greatly lessened; all you are really doing is trading one group for another, slightly less cohesive one. But given the amicable nature of the average Neopagan as opposed to the suspicion and mistrust of the average Western citizen, I consider it a fair trade.
The bottom line is, living a magickal life often does skirt the traditional Western definitions of sanity: you often see things which others cannot, hear voices when others cannot, and often experience intensely altered states of consciousness which have interesting effects on the world around you. Your life becomes a magnet for unexplainable phenomena. But as long as youíre not hurting yourself or others around you, so what? Your ancestors probably experienced many of the same phenomena and considered it a perfectly normal part of daily life--and remember, you have the same grey matter they did. No one anywhere has the right to dictate how you choose to perceive reality: itís your head, not theirs. As a Neopagan, you have the responsibility to act and react for the good of All, but if acting for the good of All means dancing down the street to make a donation to the local food shelter, with seven dragons in tow, then I say more power to you.
And in the immortal words of an old friend of mine: "Joke Ďem if they canít take a fuck."
Go with Goddess, my friends.
The opinions expressed herein may not represent the opinions of the website hostesses.