Do the Gods Exist?
by Michael York
Can they be found sitting somewher on thrones or perhaps in the thrones of physical embrace with one of us mere but lucky mortals? Perhaps sometimes is the answer. But whatever they are, they belong in part if not in essence to the supernatural, the preternatural or the superempirical. In other words, the vector of possibility allows them to manifest to us but not for us to access them in any direct or demonstrable manner. The nonempirical is simply beyond the natural world which we can approach, measure and test through science. This is not to say that it simply does not exist but that it exists differently. If this were not so, it would not be the magical otherworld that it is.
We have of course all sorts of means to encourage the deities to manifest or reveal themselves to us - through ritual, ceremony, trance, meditation and so forth. This is what we might loosely call ‘worship’, and this last is literally (and etymologically) the ‘making of worth’. Through worship, we create the gods, we make them real, we make them valuable. But once created, the gods have their own existence apart from us. Maybe something like the trace resonances of a homeopathic cure or an anciently celebrated shrine. However, we know the deities through myth, metaphor, sacred place and sacred time. By honouring these, by living these, by infusing our lives with them, the gods become part of our lives. They live in, through and to us. Consequently, it only behooves us to select which myths, which religious worldview, which sacred timetable or calendar to follow and set our lives by, and the sacred otherworld of nonempirical reality encoded therein will indeed make itself known to us. In my academic discipline as a sociologist, we are always discussing the import of secularisation, the loss of magical worldview. But as a practitioner of worship for now more decades than I sometimes wish to remember, the world can be as mechanical or as enchanted as any of us wish it to be. If we go for the gods, we will then find them but not in any domain that can be clearly explained or demonstrated to others who have not followed a similar path.
Incidentally, the pagus refers to a city district. The idea that pagan refers to the countryside is an erronious.but commonly mistaken understanding. I can agree that paganism, at least as we understand it, is shaped by the classical traditions of Europe in general, and Greece, Rome and the Nordic and Celtic traditions in particular. Paganism has no beef against science. In fact, in many ways, science is the child of paganism. But unlike some of the competitor religions, paganism works with and explores the dimension of metaphor without being chained or restricted to literalistic interpretation. And this freedom allows us not to be confined to a world which measures itself in terms of good and evil as intrinsic/extrinsic realities. We are therefore free to know the negative as either behavioural (a product of illness and/or ignorance) or simply part of the risk of incarnation itself and its inalienable laws of pain and loss. But that risk is the very one the pagan is willing to take in his/her unquenchable celebration of the living cosmos and its will to consciousness.
Paganism is certainly the most affirmative religion of all those on offer, and our own individual pagan paths are either those of our personal ethnic roots or those which simply resonate and appeal to that most sacred aspect of our being, our imaginations - and sometimes, but not always, they are both.