Just recently a new friend brought curious questions about my beliefs. He had seen that I consider myself a polytheist, but… why? How did I come to that? What’s my reasoning behind that faith? As I tried to explain, but found it hard to do so in just a few sentences, he proposed an exchange.
Of course I can’t turn down such a proposition! So, let me try to wrangle words into sentences and explain how I came to end up where I am today.
Sweden is for the most part a very secularized country. Most are Christians, but not actively so; religion here tends to take a back seat and mostly just pop up around certain religious holidays, weddings, funerals and such. As a baby I wasn’t even baptized, even though most are my mother felt it best to wait, and let me make that choice for myself when old enough to understand it. And so I grew up in a home where religion was neither encouraged nor discouraged. Of course my mother had her own opinions and ideas (and still do), but it was never pushed onto me. If I got curious we would discuss, I was welcome to explore whichever spiritual path I wanted.
I remember well the first time I was asked “Do you believe in God?!” It was not a pleasant experience. I was around four I think, and the neighboring kids had just tied me to a lamp post. Yes, you heard that right, a lamp post. Their family were from Livets Ord, or “Word of Life” as it translates to and the young children had gotten into their heads that believing in God was not only essential, it was something that could be forced. I don’t remember how I ended up in that situation, probably I just thought it was a game of sorts to begin with, but things soon took a turn for the worse as they brought on the topic of religion.
“Do you believe in God?” they asked.
“I don’t know!”
“You must believe in God! Say you believe in God!” they ordered, to my great confusion.
“But I don’t know!”
“Say you believe in God! Say it!”
“I don’t know!”
“Say you believe in God!”
“I believe in mom!”
At some point the bullies grew tired of the pointless effort of trying to make a headstrong 4-year old confess to believe in a God she had never even considered, and they left. My memory is blurred there towards the end I don’t recall exactly how I got released from the lamp post, but I suspect some kind person walking by stepped in.
That unpleasant experience must have coloured my initial feelings about this “God”, because while I was generally open towards learning of other religions, the Christian concept of God simply didn’t seem appealing. It seemed to me cold and foreign, despite being the most common religion of my country. Once I reached my teens and I, like all other kids my age, was invited to study for confirmation in the Swedish Church, my first thought was no. I didn’t believe in God, so why would I? Unlike many of my friends, who were merely doing it for the presents, I was vehemently against joining a religion without actually being emotionally and spiritually convinced. So, it made sense to say no thanks, not for me.
Then I realized that turning down the offer without truly knowing what I was turning down… was not good either. How could I know if I was meant to be Christian if I hadn’t really looked into it? So I said, yes I will attend the confirmation classes. I will listen and learn and I will make up my mind at the end, not before.
So, confirmation classes… I’ll be honest, they were mostly terrible. Not the classes themselves, our priest (an elderly woman with sharp, intelligent eyes and a warm smile) was amazing and her helper (a younger man involved in the Church’s youth activities) was wonderfully open minded and clever, what they had to say I gladly listened to. But the group, the set-up… No, terrible. I didn’t get along with a big group of kids who wouldn’t take the questions seriously, who were just there for the presents anyway, or because it was tradition, and I felt terribly alone in actually seeking to understand things!
Up until the last moment, I wasn’t going to go through with it. I didn’t believe in God, I didn’t believe in God, I didn’t— Suddenly, to my own surprised, I realized that was wrong. I did believe. I felt something. It was hard to explain even to myself, but without any reasonable explanation I could just feel Him. There was so, so much I could not agree with in the religion itself, but at the core I felt… faith.
So, I chose to get baptized, and I went through with the confirmation. I even got to carry the big cross in the procession! Yes, I was quite proud of that.
Suddenly I was a Christian. I wore a cross, occasionally I would pray, and I even went to Taizé twice. Don’t know what Taizé is? It’s an absolutely awesome place in France, a monastery that welcomes all branches of Christianity. Thousands and thousands of people visit to spend a week or so together on a warm and dusty hill, sing together, eat food that somehow tastes amazing and drink awfully tasting water from small plastic bowls. Anyone who has been there will remember those bowls, I am sure! Bible studies combined with music, so much music, chants sung by thousands, now that was powerful stuff. So, a Christian I was!
The thing was… While I had faith, actual honest faith in God, there were always parts of the religion that I just could not agree with. Perhaps most importantly, I could never accept that which lay at the foundation of Christianity, the statement that only through Christ can you find salvation. See, I just didn’t buy that. It didn’t make sense to me, no matter how much I twisted and turned the concept. It just wasn’t right. I didn’t even buy the concept of the virgin birth, the idea that Jesus was literally the Son of God… No. I believed in God, because Him I could feel, deep down I knew I had faith in Him, not in the Church.
So already then, when I self identified as a Christian, I was convinced that Christianity wasn’t the only true path. This conviction would surely make many claim that I wasn’t truly a Christian to begin with and if that is so, then that’s ok. It doesn’t matter. What matters was that it was a step on the way to understanding my own thinking.
One day during meditation I came across something that quite honestly left me stunned. Shocked almost. That initial feeling I told you about, that time I suddenly to my own surprised realized that I believed in God? Here, suddenly and without any reason I could fathom, I stumbled on a very similar feeling. Only it wasn’t Him, it was Her. No, we are not talking great visions and revelations, just a calm and very grounded knowing, feeling. Distinctly feminine, beneath within the earth itself, immensely big and as present as he who I had called God. Stunned out of my wits I just stared at the ceiling for a while, but then finally I settled in the thought that… right. As there is a Father, there is a Mother.
Yes yes, to anyone who is not spiritually inclined this sounds as complete hogwash, I know. But it is what it is.
That wasn’t the end of it, or I would probably have ended up as one of those who believe not in one God but two, a male and female deity side by side, complementing each other. That wasn’t it though. Once I realized the one I had called Father wasn’t the only one, I allowed my mind to start exploring. What do I really think? Why do I think it? Is there actually a religion out there that’s the right one?
So like a curious cat I went sniffing both left and right and up and down. Listened to people of various beliefs, read up on a multitude of religions and philosophies, meditated, considered things. Faith is not logical. I know there are those who try by all means possible to turn religion into a sort of science, or rather to let science try to prove or disprove various religious concepts, but that just won’t work, because faith is neither based on logic nor reason. It’s built on emotion, and spiritual experiences. And those are not tangible, they can’t be measured or proven, even when they are there.
Step by step I thus built my own faith. I came to the conclusion that no, I don’t think any one religion has gotten it right. I am not even sure anyone can get it entirely right. But, we may find pieces. Snippets of truth. Most if not all religions probably have one piece of the puzzle, buried within layers and layers of cultural influence and hierarchical structures but still there. Religions are man-made, shaped by the humans who believe, and as we all know humans are terribly susceptible to all sorts of influence. Some ideas will be influenced by greed, others by misconceptions, others simply by the time and place, others by strong personal convictions. But if you accept that a human being can pick up on a grain of truth… then that grain of truth will be passed on into the religion he or she is part of creating.
It also means that any individual might be able to pick up on that grain of truth, even without religion. Perhaps it is even better that way.
I see it as a forest. There won’t be one single path through it, but many. New paths can also be created, and old ones may be forgotten. The forest itself is there regardless of which path you take, and the parts you do not see are no less real than the ones you have right before your feet. If the spiritual reality is a forest, then I am only a lonesome wanderer, trying to find my own way forward. I might leave tracks in the form of written ideas but the point is not to try and teach anyone, my point is simply to make my own way. Figure things out. Sometimes I will be wrong, that much I know. Maybe I am entirely wrong. I simply don’t know yet. But piece by piece, step by step I will at least move forward.
As for the details of what exactly I believe, it is too much and too varied to go into right now. I’ll probably keep posting parts and pieces here, and if anyone asks I will do my best to answer, but it’s not something easily summed down to a single explanation. If you like to label people, you might label me an eclectic polytheist. It basically just means that I believe in a number of deities, gods or whatever you want to call them, and that I draw my inspiration from a number of sources. Scandinavian pre-Christian beliefs is very dear to my heart and constantly developing, but I am neither a reconstructionalist nor part of the Asatru movement. I have old emotional ties to Yoruba and Santería thanks to my years involved in Afro-Cuban dance – though it took years and a particularly emotional experience by a Santería shrine in Oslo for me to realize just how deep and heavy that connection ran. I still have a connection to Christianity, but I am no Christian. I am just me and I am ever evolving.