Lammas 2003, Vol 2-4
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
The Thealogy of Belief:
My Brick House Myth-making, Truth, History, and Belief
How many times have I heard that nobody believes Jesus was born the son of a virgin? What in Inanna's name has this to do with Goddess thealogy? I beg your indulgence. I intend to attempt to sort out this tangled web of confusion and, in the process, illuminate some critical elements of Goddess Thealogy.
the story of the virgin birth? Is it truth, history, mythology, or some
combination of these? Most Christian believers would probably say it is
truth and history. Some non-Christians would say it is, at best, mythology.
The fact of the matter is that we may never know the historical facts
that underlie this or any other religious story. And because we cannot
know the historical facts, we are left with the question of whether we
ought to believe or not. Belief requires an element of faith that creates
a missing link in the chain of knowledge. All those who subscribe to a
certain religious system must believe and have faith that their stories
and their myths are truths or at least that they hold some kernel of truth
which illuminates their existence. But when we try to pass off our beliefs
as immutable truth, and our stories as factual history, we begin to tread
in deep water.
Zealots might argue that Jesus was the son of God and that a virgin birth is an historical fact. I believe that Jesus was born the son of a virgin but I can never claim to know it as a fact and neither can anyone else. You see where the issue becomes sticky. Fanatics tend to claim knowledge as the basis of their beliefs and any challenge to this kind of knowledge is seen as a threat to the integrity of the entire system. Hence there can be no questioning, and any new discovery that contradicts or challenges their religious "truths" will be painful and possibly dangerous.
As Goddess women, we hope to try to understand the differences between knowledge and belief, and to cultivate greater precision in our thinking and our speech about what it is that we know and what it is that we believe. Let us go back to the virgin birth for a second. Millions of people believe in the virgin birth and there is nothing wrong with that. Why? Because belief is not about knowledge, it's about faith. To believe in the virgin birth is as reasonable to Christians as is our belief, to us, that the Goddess orders our life and universe. Neither can be scientifically, factually, historically proven. To understand this difference, I offer the standard response I give folks when they ask me if I believe in Goddess or a Creator. "I believe in Goddess as I believe I live in a brick house." (I do live in a brick house).
Turning to the Goddess community, I note with regret that we also have our own issues with history vs myth, and knowledge vs belief. Many publications reproduce some of our community's favorite "historical facts," which in reality are myths; for instance, the myth that Witchcraft is an ancient pre-Christian form of worship. (Yes, I realize that I'm going to stir things up here, but give me a chance and just think about it for a second, before you write me the thesis proving me wrong). We have no evidence that what is practiced as Witchcraft today has any resemblance to the practices of our pagan ancestors 2000 years ago. Likewise, we claim to have been persecuted during the "Burning Times." Certainly there were persecutions, but who was persecuted, and why? Is there any evidence to suggest that those persecuted were "witches" or would have seen that moniker as a good thing, even if some of them were healers or cunning people? In my opinion, our myths are a fabrication of our own desires to have a religious tradition that predates the 20th Century.
The bottom line is that as a community we can believe these things, but we should know that when we hold them up to the scrutiny of historical fact, they may not hold water. They may be fine for our mythology, but they may be too recent and too widely researched to stand for fact. There are court records of the trials of witches. There is evidence showing that Gerald Gardner invented much of what we call Wicca. Neither Christian nor Pagan should attempt to rewrite history simply to suit their own political or religious ends.
is what it is, or what it was. What we call history is a collection of
writings about the past, based on many things, some of them more reliably
"objective" than others. We can interpret history, we can challenge
others interpretations of it, and we can discover new things about it
when artifacts of the past are unearthed and history revised by the work
of scientists like Marija Gimbutas. When people try to claim things as
fact or history, however, when there's available proof to contradict them
(like the holocaust never happened, like Jesus never lived, like Elvis
is still alive), then a line has been crossed between clear thinking and
fanatic belief. When we Pagans continue to indulge in rewriting history
when there is proof that contradicts our "facts," don't we substantiate
the claims of the mainstream that we are, indeed, the lunatic fringe
Beyond my desire for more clear thinking among us about the differences between our knowledge about the past, and our beliefs about it, I leave you with a few thoughts and a plea.
Neopaganism has by and large been very much focused on legitimizing itself through the re-creation of past practices. Most factions try hard to find a historical link, to create fictitious family traditions, to revive old myths and stories, that there is really not all that much "neo" about it.
for the most part, been looking back. Imagine for a moment that you are
in a place where you are making history. Would you want to recycle old
stuff or would you like to add something new and fresh, original and bold?
Imagine that you are Sappho reborn, would you rewrite your old poems?
stop trying to conjure a false pedigree. Let us rather be proud that we
are NEOpagans, that we are new and fresh, without the fetters of tradition.
Let us create what we need instead of retrofitting it, Jerry-rigging old
stuff to work in modern times. I'm not saying that we should stop reading
about Aphrodite and Demeter, Kali and Inanna, but what I am saying is
that let's not stop there in 5 BCE. Let's bring out what we've got in
2003 CE. Let's acknowledge that we're creating new traditions, let's write
new myths, let's tell stories, in mythological language, about where we
came from 30 years ago and where we're going. Let us write our own Exodus
to the promised land.