29L - Atonement/Apotheosis Redux - Not the Worst Pagan on Earth
I often refer to myself as the “World’s Worst Pagan” mainly because I don’t actually worship the old gods. Sure, I believe they are real, I believe that I can speak with them, and I do make my offerings to them, but if one were to look at it objectively, my “religious practice” is really more of a psychological exercise. Then again, most, if not all, religious practice could be rationally analyzed as such.
Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, director of research at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Marcus Institute of Integrative Health, has spent a significant chunk of his professional career studying the effects of religious faith on the human brain. In an article for Outside magazine, he summarized his work by declaring that prayer allowed his subjects to more quickly and efficiently achieve a flow state, which is usually described as being “in the zone.” During flow, a cascade of neurochemicals flood the brain, including dopamine (which regulates pleasure), serotonin (which reduces stress), and norepinephrine (which activates the fight-or-flight response). The brain also undergoes electrical changes, which are further clarified in the article (link below).
Okay, so maybe I’m not the WORST pagan on earth. In any case, what has the greatest effect on my mind is not what the gods are, or what they do, but what they teach, even by their very existence. Even if one were to think of the gods solely as archetypal characters that humans created as a projection from our collective unconscious, these figures come to us bearing lessons to be absorbed, and I think that, regardless of our faith, it’s worth taking the time to understand those lessons, especially when they apply to whatever we’re facing at a particular moment in our lives. And believe me, there’s a god for every occasion.
Regardless of whether or not I was by myself at that preserve, what I actually confronted that day was my fear of losing control of both my fate, and the fate of my daughter. I was then reminded that I never had any control to begin with, and to realize that even the gods had to come to grips with their own untenable positions when it came to the vicissitudes of existence, as expressed by the surprisingly stoic example of the Allfather.
Knowing what would befall him and the rest of the Aesir, Odin chose to conduct himself with honor and courage as he participated in and perpetuated an endless cycle of universal death and rebirth, a concept that was replete throughout much of the ancient world. He set the standard that allowed me to let go of my own preconceptions about what I as a father must do for the sake of my offspring. This release of expectation, while popularized in Buddhism, was originally passed down to humans in Hindu teachings, which was the first non-Christian faith to make its way into my heart and mind, and would go on to form the structure of my spiritual beliefs for the rest of my life. After the apparition of Odin slayed me and my old mental patterns, I was left with only the Greco-Roman gods of the other side of my family tree to personally guide me – Minerva and Aphrodite. At first I wasn’t sure why the switch happened like it did, but the more I analyzed just who the goddesses were, the more of a profound impact they had on my mind and soul.
Known to the ancient Greeks as Athena, Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom, skilled craft, and war. Her image adorned not only the coins and temples of ancient times, but the artwork of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, inspiring the hearts and minds of many of history’s greatest scientists and explorers in her Anglican personification, Britannia. Many modern pagans, myself included, credit her for the greatest resurgence of Western Civilization since the Italian Renaissance, commonly referred to as the Industrial Revolution.
Aphrodite, of course, is the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty, and is arguably the most powerful deity of the pantheon. Yes, even more powerful than the mighty Zeus who couldn’t manage to keep from *ahem* “inserting” himself where he shouldn’t have. Don’t believe me? The next time you fall in love, don’t. Just cut off the feelings. Try it, I dare you. Perhaps you could behave with more restraint than the King of the Skies, but the feelings will still be there – slowly torturing and murdering you from the inside out, cell by cell. Of course, if you’re a halfway decent parent you know better than to dispute Aphrodite’s power, because you’ve felt it in ways that defy both language and logic, each and every time one of those little hands grabbed your fingers. And if your children have had children, then forget it, she’s already driven you insane and you’ve come to embrace your madness with all of that “World’s Greatest Grandparent” apparel.
Each round through the monomyth has its own theme – a key point, or lesson for the hero to learn and grow from. The hero (you) must interact with the events and characters in the story in such a way that that theme is present, however imperceptibly, from start to end, and it is that point that you (the hero) must prove to have mastered by the end of the installment of whatever format you relate your life to the most (book, movie, video game, etc). Aphrodite has been in my life for a few years now, but it would take the addition of Minerva for me to understand the theme of not only this monomyth cycle, but the one before it.
When I was in my teens and twenties, I was so sure of myself – my intellect, my morality, my spirituality, and my place within society – and I was not afraid to let others know it. The irony of course being that a lot of what I believed in so strongly was actually antithetical to who I really was as a person, but I wouldn’t languish under such delusion forever. By my thirties, everything changed as my life came unraveled, and I was left to question everything about myself, right down to my sanity in the midst of a massive, chaotic upheaval, confronting the worst parts of myself and existence at the same time. Eventually, I learned to shut my mouth, open my ears, and reset my thought patterns in every way imaginable. Once I mastered HUMILITY, that story ended, and I was cleared for the next one to begin.
For the sequel, things would have to be different. I proved that I truly mastered humility (insert ironic chuckle here), and it went from something that I had to consciously think about, to an automatic pattern. For example, my tenure with WFG has given me plenty of opportunities to arrogantly assert my dominance and declare “what I know”, but every time the chance has come up, I passed it up. Furthermore, if I received praise for my progress in the business, I would say a simple thanks, and sit down. If I was asked to speak at a training, I just did my part and let others have the floor. When I hit my slump, I didn’t get bitter that the praise from my team leaders stopped, I just kept my head down and remained focused on what I needed to do to pick things back up again. However, there is a fine line between humility and timidity, and as I’ve already indicated in earlier blogs, I had gone from questioning myself, to outright doubting myself, and that won’t do, not if I expect to master the theme of the current installment in the series, which is quite obviously AUTHENTICITY.
Outside Article: https://www.outsideonline.com/2196101/god-dimension#close