I was recently reunited with a dear friend who, to my dishonor, I have not kept close. This is a man of excellent fiber, gamboling laughter, real loyalty and a deep, pervading wisdom; I have not found him, yet, much changed — only grown.
I, on the other hand, am different in one important way from the boys we were together. Growing up, my friend and I shared a belief system, Christianity. I no longer wear that label or believe much of what those of that label believe.
In a formative event of our teenage years, this friend and I encountered a roving disciple of Thoth in Central Park. This disciple preferred to venerate his god by wearing funny underwear in public while strumming on a strange instrument and croaking gutturally. This, I’ve been given to understand, is how Thoth spreads love. I suppose we can all only do what seems right to us according to our best understanding of how to do that.
When I was a teenager and a Christian, my friend and I had many a rousing laugh at the folly of pagan gods because our god had never specifically asked us to wear funny underwear in public. Today, though I can still laugh hard enough at that disciple of the funny underwear, I must say my journey has sometimes led me to consider myself a disciple of Thoth. When, in correspondence, my friend probed this idea — and since he has been probing my apostasy — I responded with the following which is quoted in its entirety. I hope the seeds of these ideas may serve some as they have I.
“I must apologize in advance for my lack of brevity. I fear that I have been neglecting myself and failed to much write at all in the last week or so. Your email piqued my interest, however, and I found myself unable to cap the wellspring of chaotic creativity, as so often happens to me. I have said before and I shall again, I merely ride and attempt to shape the surge, I cannot control it.
The link [to a video of the underwear disciple], unfortunately, does not work and I’ve been poking around for an hour trying to find the video to no avail. Alas, it should seem that god has declared that Thoth has had his fill of ridicule for the night and can be relegated briefly to his padded cell. More the pity.
I never did see much in Egyptian religion, per se, nor did I mean to imply I identified religiously with Thoth. But spiritually his purview is knowledge and learning, wisdom, magic and those things seen now only through a glass, darkly. In the Greek tradition, he is Hermes — in the Roman, Mercury — the god of wayfarers, of all men who journey through the pit and the fire towards enlightenment. More appropriately, in the Egyptian tradition (and well before that, in ancient Akkad and fallen Babylon) it was he who led the impure souls of humanity through the crucible of the underworld, by which they were refined. This process, in the Egyptian tradition, was taken to literally occur only after a man’s death, but in Babylon it was seen more allegorically, and I believe today we can appreciate the analogy of the sorcerous guide and guardian who both urges us toward and leads us through the dark warrens wherein we shall be tested and refined. He is, to those of us who seek, as Virgil was to Dante during his descent.
In the pagan tradition of the Norsemen — a tradition you know I have a particular affinity for as I am a Lord of the Rings dork — Thoth is most closely identified with the All-Father, Odin the One-Eye who sacrificed his eye to the well of wisdom in order to drink of its waters. Quite some time before Jesus ever did, Odin — you might be interested to learn — was hung on a tree, a sacrifice of himself to himself in order that he might save his people. (To be sure, if you want to get into the very ancient mythological motif of the god who sacrifices himself — originally herself — in order to save his people, neither Jesus nor Odin are first in line.) In any case, the myth of Odin instructs us, among other things, that wisdom is one thing always worth sacrificing for. For this, in chief, I have held Odin the One Eye — or Thoth, if you will — to be my patron.
I say, “the myth of Odin”, because the Norsemen — and many of their pagan brethren, including the Romans, the Goths, the Celts — did not stand on the factual existence of their mythology. Norse mythology especially — also Roman, Goth and Celtic to a lesser extent — was understood by its adherents to not be a factual account of the creation and the doings of the celestial, but rather allegorical. The Norse, I believe and agree, accepted that if god meant for revelation to be universal no power in humanity could prevent it, but that failing such a revelation their mythology was a vehicle for instruction, social communion, and, most importantly, spiritual progression.
If forced beyond the position of an agnostic, I should — warily! — say I am a pagan, because I believe in the spirit and its need to be nurtured but I do not have direct access to divine revelation. As I have not had access to that revelation, though at times I have earnestly sought it, I cannot give more weight to the revelation of the Christian visited by Jesus than I would give to that of the Buddhist visited by the Buddha. Both are reported, documented and shown to cause staggering changes in the lives of many, worldwide, but none are personal to me. I would add that rather than revelation, I have access to the divine presence which is ineffable and defiant of such petty things as names; even names like “Odin” or “Jesus” or “Thoth”.
I came by this access through spiritual growth, and for me that could not happen until I abandoned my attachment to the historicity or exclusivity of any one mythology. Historicity seemed needless to me, petty even; the essential truth of what Jesus was and taught is, was, and shall yet be and if not a word in the Bible about his life is true, that truth of what he was and taught remains. Exclusivity is a more difficult animal. Exclusivity made god seem not merely petty but even tyrannical to me.
It is petty because of the superstition; because of the wyrd mechanics by which a soul is saved, involving absolutions and the invocation of certain names (i.e. asking “Jesus to come into your heart” or “There is only one god, Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet”); petty because of the strange lists of rules, some of which are quite sensible, some of which much less so; petty because so often religion — even as it is written — is nothing more than tribalism.
And it borders on the tyrannical because its wyrd mechanics do not save the just, the righteous or those who sincerely seek; they save instead those willing to abase themselves before the appropriate mechanics and in other cases those lucky enough to be born to a particular people at a particular time. In short, Hitler was closely attended by the Pope and known for his piety, but Ghandi was an apostate who forswore Christianity for Hinduism. If I arrive in heaven and learn that Hitler is present but Gandhi is not, I will prefer to be remanded to the Abyss. I shall tell god that so long as their is an innervating word in my existence I will stand in defiance of tyrants.
This rebelliousness, I have learned, is part of the essential truth of how I, in particular, was made and who but he could have made me such? I find it to be quite beautiful that he should have loved me so to give me the ability to defy — and perhaps even overthrow! — him, if I should deem him a tyrant.
Finally, as regards the spirit, I did not believe in it for a long time and so I did not nurture it. This resulted in a long, sojourning darkness such that I became desperate to see something other than starless skies again. When I reached out, and was afforded the small spiritual growth I treasure, I decided that the spirit must be real not because I could sense it but because I could clearly sense its absence. I saw, then, not the thing itself but the hole it left in truancy. Since, more has been revealed to me and I enjoy now, to a modest extent, also the thing itself. You might be interested to hear that part of my connection to it — to god also — is still through some of the songs we knew growing up.”
In closing I shall suggest to you, oh reader, some further reading. (What kind of a writer would I be if I did not?) My bible was written by one Mr. Joseph Campbell in four volumes and the series entitled The Masks of God. I strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone as it contains almost the entirety of the spiritual history and the spiritual wisdom of our species. To anyone who feels too well rooted in their own religion to venture outwards, I would recommend a history of your beliefs. Go for something scholarly and objective, if for no other reason than to know your enemy.
Heck, if you get lucky, you might read something you’re not ready to learn.