Thursday, May 31, 2012

Raven vs. The Big Bang: The Epic Battle of Myth and Logic

by Hobbes, the Pagan Pope

Originally published in WynterGreene and Witchvox

As Neo-Pagans living in a modern world, we can feel like we're being stretched in multiple directions. Finding balance between what we know to be true and what we're supposed to believe can leave us feeling conflicted, confused, and frustrated with the lack of clear answers.

Mark Twain once wrote "Havin' faith is believin' in somethin' you know ain't so." We're all fairly intelligent people, not prone to being dangerously gulible (aside from being guilty of forwarding emails promising doom and gloom or fame and fortune, depending on the hoax of the day). Thanks to science and our many technological wonders, we know that the sun rises and sets at predictable hours, we know the price of tea in China, and have access to an ocean of facts and figures that we are bombarded with every day.

And yet, our Neo-Pagan culture speaks of deities, magic, energy, mythology, and invisible forces that shape our lives in ways that we experience without truly understanding them. Some of us are resigned to believing we will never truly understand, while others continually seek definitive answers, and still others simply fill the gaps with as much faith as they need to move to the next level.

How are we to reconcile these two mindsets? Science and Logic vs Faith and Myth: each discipline demands our attention while trying to refute the existence of the other. How do we balance what we know with what we believe or don't believe?

First, let's examine belief and knowledge. Don't take this the wrong way, but you don't actually know all that much; most of what you profess to know is really just very strong belief. For you to truly know something, it requires experience and understanding. This experience converts what you believe to what you know, and the belief you had before the experience will probably aid in your understanding.

For example, if you've never been to Egypt, then you do not know that there are pyramids in Egypt. You can believe the books, believe the TV, believe your friends, believe your family, but all that is only very strong belief. Until you go to Egypt yourself and experience the wonder of the ancient Egyptian pyramids, all you can do is believe others when they tell you there are tall pointy things in the desert.

Fortunately, there's nothing wrong with believing in concepts until they are converted to knowledge by experience. You must believe someone at some point in your life or you won't be able to move forward. Belief tempered by critical thought and fueled by faith can bridge the gap until a concept becomes true knowledge.

Applying critical thought to your beliefs is crucial to maintain a realistic view on the world, which is why it is perfectly reasonable to believe that there are pyramids in Egypt, but a little out there to really believe that you will die in 5 days if you don't forward a chain email to ALL of your friends in the next 48 hours.

Now imagine how strong your spiritual expression could become if you had the same confidence in your beliefs as in your "knowledge" that there were pointy buildings in Egypt. If the same muscle in your brain is flexing when you think of either concept, realizing that they are both beliefs might help you with some of your self-doubt.

Secondly, there's the struggle with balancing myth vs logic (or science). Early philosophers understood that myth and logic were necessary to paint a complete portait of existence. Myth is NOT primitive science (as many of us were taught as children). While logic examines and measures the surfaces of life and our environment, myth attempts to explore the deeper meaning beyond that surface. Myth allows us to understand concept that cannot be fully grasped by logical definition.

Let's say that you have never heard the word "courage" and are completely in the dark with the concept of it. From a logical standpoint, I could read you the dictionary definition of Courage and you could still not truly understand its meaning.

Instead, I would tell you a story about a boy who sets his fear aside to battle a dragon that is determined to destroy his village. In the moment when the boy lifts his trembling arms to point the sword at the dragon's heart, you would have the opportunity to understand the true meaning of courage without even using the word. This is the heart of mythic knowledge.

However, if you start fearing the existence of dragons 'round every corner, you would be guilty of applying a purely logical interpretation to a mythic story and be missing the point of the story entirely. Logically, we know the story is false. But mythically, the story speaks to a universal theme that people can understand because it allows them to view the boy's courage in the mirror of their own experience. So even if the listeners do not know the word "courage", the myth allows them to experience courage.

This is the beauty and power of storytelling. Even though a story can be entertaining, it can contain levels of deeper meaning that are experienced by the listener in a way that logic cannot; logic is about breaking down and categorizing information while myth invites the listener/reader to search for its deeper meaning. The early philosophers believed that the effort in this mythic exploration was as valuable as arriving at its destination.

Myth and Logic can co-exist comfortably because they both have very different goals to achieve. So while we can logically understand the scientists speak when they tell us that it is the earth's rotation that causes the sun to seemingly rise and set along the horizon, we can still appreciate the mythic telling of how the lovers Sun and Moon chase each other across the sky, pausing ever so briefly for a tender embrace during an eclipse.

As Neo-Pagans, we seek to celebrate the deeper meanings in events and our lives. While we can keep an eye on our logically-organized calendar, choose our sacred times, and celebrate our connection to the Divine through ritual and symbol deeply rooted in myth and personal expression, What we experience during these mythic moments allows us to live our beliefs, expand our knowledge of ourselves, and adds fuel to our faith. There's no need to sacrifice our mythic reasoning for society's logic: balancing mythos and logos enriches our lives more than either discipline can achieve on its own.

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