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When called upon to describe my religious beliefs, I consitently call
myself an atheist. I do not beleive in any god, goddess, or
supernatural forces.

At the same time, I have very strong feelings about symbolism. The
tattoos on my arms aren't just decoration, they're symbols. the
represent something very specific and personal. I have been thinking
for some time about what I might loosely define as my "spiritual side".

I have been somewhat reticent about exploring that side of myself,
largely because of my lack of belief. The symbolist side of me can
think of a number of things that I would like to have and do that
might be described as religious beliefs, rituals and practices. But I
simply can not make that leap of faith to actually believe that any of
these things are true. I don't beleive that living beings have souls
or spirits. I don't think that there is an Asgard, or that there is a
one-eyed All-Father influencing events on Earth. i mean, it's be
pretty neat if it were so. But I remain unconvinced - I am a
materialist in a lot of ways.

My current mode of thought is that I am going to try to explore my
"spiritual side" in the context of personal symbolism, rather than
belief; self-exploration rather than ontology or theology.

There will probably be more of these posts, and they'll almost always
be long. I'll lj-cut them so that those uninterested can skip over

I was doing some thinking this morning about Odin, one of my favourite
gods. About why I indentify with that particular symbol the way I
do. What I came up with is that Odin is, in many ways, my archetype
for what it is to be a man.

Odin is a lover or knowledge and wisdom, trying to wrest as many
secrets from the universe as he can.

He paid for the things he has in blood and fire; hanging on a tree for
nine nights, and giving up one of his eyes, both for the sake of
knowledge. Or for power, depending on how you look at it. I firmly
feel that everything worth having is paid for in blood and tears.
This is part of what the symbol I have on my arm means. The
experiences in my life have given me this view point - I know some
people will disagree, but that's what life has taught me. In any
case, it's another of the things I identify with in the figure of

At the same time, however, Odin is the real badass of the Norse
pantheon. Thor is stronger, and kills more giants, sure. But in the
myths I've read, Thor does it becuase it needs to be done, and because
fighting is fun. Odin, on the other hand, cripples, maims and kills
for fun. He's violent, and fierce. Odin, not Thor or Tyr is the
patron of the berserkers. Odin is the one who leads the Norse version
of the Wild Hunt.

He has that primal, rage-filled ferocity to him. He's the one you
have to worry about among the Aesir, not Thor; Thor will just beat you
up or kill you. Odin will torture you until the end of time. That
kind of violence represents, for me, the scary, testosterone fueled
violence that is (whether by biological calling, social conditioning
or a combination of both), a part of the Male identity. That part of
me that howls and rattles at the bars in my head, screaming for blood.

Not a part of me that I indulge, but it's there, and any vision of Man
that ignores it is incomplete. I like my symbols mixed; not all
idealistic sunshine and light, but light smeared with ashes and old blood.

That's what Odin means, for me. There's bits I'm ignoring, of
course. Odin the Trickster, Odin the Father. Both strong parts of
the Odin mythos, but not parts that have particular resonance for me.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 5th, 2004 06:53 pm (UTC)
i don't know if this will help you any, but here are my thoughts
you can believe in the power of symbols without believing in the existance of dieties or anything supernatural
the symbol of odin does have power for you
odin represents your concept of masculinity
that belief shapes your life
you behave to emulate what you see are odin's good qualities, and control the aspects of odin's less flattering qualities that you find within yourself
recognizing that symbol gives you added insight into yourself, and that gives you power to shape who you are
Nov. 5th, 2004 08:12 pm (UTC)
I do not believe you are an atheist. I've dwelt among physicists, the most godless of Scientists; I know atheism.

My own ideas about what gods are is wrapped up in what little gleanings of Jungian psychology I have, together with what I'll loosely call "mystical experiences" -- visions and such that have no explanation beyond the purely psychological.

However, aware of homeopathy and other such "voodoo" science, I know that what the mind believes can be made manifest in the body. Just because an effect is called psychosomatic does not invalidate its healing power.

This aside, my idea of gods is tied up with Jungian archetypes; symbols of a very specific kind. There is a reason the "old" religions have painted their gods in the image of man.

Your idea of Odin touches on this. You know the Darkness Within; therefore you wish to personify this force. You know about the Protector, too: all faces of the gods, of ourselves. Light, Dark, Male, Female. I have many theories about this myself, and I tend to divide things in this way.

Symbols (like the Runes for example) tap into levels of our psyche that are normally subconscious. While the idea that our unconscious mind can shape events externally may be suspicious, the fact that our thoughts are shaped by our unconscious cannot be debated; what a symbol means to you may not be the same to me.
However, the fact is that if you give credence to a set of symbols or beliefs -- for example, that the rune Kano < means fire, or truth -- then you give power to that belief. Regardless of whatever "reality" exists behind that symbol, you give it meaning.

Scientists believe there is no inherent meaning in anything; all phenomena are ultimately explainable according to certain rules.

It is our arrogance that we claim these rules are knowable.

We barely understand the functioning of our own psyches: how many scientists will admit that they have Darkness in the depths of their being? How many will admit that they are born of cosmic fire?

Science is a tool; as is religion. Every single being on this planet perceives the world differently; consequently, there are an infinite number of ways the world *is*. Choose, and you change the way you perceive.

The unconscious mind talks in symbols. It understands blood and fire, sacrifice and power. It understands peace, beauty and tranquility, even if we ourselves never know these things. I'm not sure I buy completely into past lives or racial memory, but I do know that some things have resonance within me.

So what I call gods or goddesses are only things made manifest in myself, or in those around me. These can be called upon, and can change lives.

Psychological state? Maybe. It has power, and as such must be respected.

I find strength and peace in the forest, in the green and growing. I know that all living things are interconnected, and that the oxygen I breathe in is given off by trees which inhale the carbon dioxide I expel. I know that the Sun is the source of all energy on this planet (ultimately, gravity and the atomic properties of hydrogen), and that Earth is delicately placed to allow liquid water and hence all biological processes that make up our world possible. This may not mean I have to sacrifice a goat to ensure the sun will rise tomorrow -- but it does mean that I honour and cherish the life it gives.

God? It's just a word. I choose to label the forces that shape my life as gods -- whether they be heavenly bodies or voices in my head.

Whether you honour or distain such things; they exist.
Nov. 7th, 2004 07:43 pm (UTC)
I do not believe you are an atheist. I've dwelt among physicists, the most godless of Scientists; I know atheism.

The first time I read this, I was actually feeling insulted/offended; it felt as though you were telling me what I believe.

After thinking about it a bit, though, based on the rest of your comment, from the way you view the world, I wouldn't be considered an athiest. In my world view, though, I am. I think that you may, perhaps, be conflating atheism with lack of spirituality; it's not. One can be a spiritual atheist.

One of the reasons I spend as much time as I do playing with my symbols is because I know how much of an effect we can have on ourselves; symbols (gods, etc.) are tools to more easily do that. Both to effect change on ourselves, and to better understand what's going on inside.

Where you and I differ is really a question of scale and scope. I'm considerably more conservative in defining the limits of self; I don't subscribe to the belief of universal oneness/maya-illusion; even if that's true, it's effectively immaterial, and, as I said, I am more or less a materialist.
Nov. 8th, 2004 05:21 am (UTC)
I still don't *believe* that you are an atheist, though you could still convince me. ;)

By my definition (and yes, strictly I suppose it's just anti-theism, so an atheist doesn't believe in such things as gods), I extend this to include disbelief in everything that is not provable, in short, denying a faith or belief in anything beyond the power of man's reason.

Personally, I find man's reason flawed -- I've been known to put more faith into woman's intuition that baldly stated "facts".

Also, the way I describe gods above isn't really how a theist typically would. It certainly goes further than would make an atheist happy.

My problem with straight-out materialism is it ascribes all mental functions as by-products of out meatly functionings; this seems no more valid to me than ascribing them to some unearthly spirit or soul.

As usual, I think there's a truth between the two extremes, but in the interest of pursuing a thought...

Materially, we *are* all one. I challenge you to draw neat lines dividing us one from the other -- biologically, chemically, physically, and even mentally. From earth we are formed, from earth we return. What's more material than that?
Nov. 8th, 2004 06:37 am (UTC)
I take atheism at its literal translation; no gods. I have symbols, but they're not gods in the "worship as divine/creator type things".

I am of the opinion that our behaviours are, in fact, the result of meaty functions. It's one of my personal quirks that I hold a more or less materialist stance (no souls, no gods, thoughts are meat functions, life and sentience were chance developments), while maintaining that this state is every bit as fantastic and awe-inspiring as the other possibilities.

I agree that physical boundries are entirely arbitrary. My ability to effect my surroundings is defined by the interaction of what I percieve to be "my" material, and "not-mine" material. I don't believe that my thought processes are able to effect change on the environment in a meaningful way, except through the physical actions I undertake, and the effects internal to my own mind.

Have you ever read Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land? Besides providing the seed idea for the modern polyamourous movement, one of the stances it takes on religion is "everyone gets a drop in the hat" or something similar; basically, everyone's best guess has an equal chance of being right, given the available lack of useful evidence.

Nov. 8th, 2004 05:29 am (UTC)
I simply can not make that leap of faith to actually believe that any of these things are true.

My mother recently pointed out that there is always a "lie" in be lie f. :)

Belief and truth are not simply connected. We believe Newton's law of gravitation, and for good reason: it works, here anyway. The perihelion of Mercury changes in a way that Newton can't account for, but Einstein can. I assure you that Einstein wasn't quite right, either.

Science and religion make pretense at discovering truth; neither does, not quite. Luckily the human psyche does not require truth to operate.

Many of my beliefs may not be true; this is fine by me. I try and keep my mind open, and engage in philosophical discussions, in the hopes of learning something new, and perhaps sharing something new to you...

Call it an experiment; play and see what happens.

Some days I'm convinced there's a higher ordering to things (the reason I went in to physics in the first place, you see) -- some days I doubt that there is any meaning in the universe beyond what we ascribe to it.

Either way, you can ascribe as much or as little meaning to things as you like; chances are you're right ;)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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