Or more accurately, what is my theology…
Turns out I have very little idea. It used to be a lot simpler – for most of my life I classed myself as Christian, and was therefore monotheistic. Huzzah, job done. Except it wasn’t really. Followers of Judaism and Islam have it easier in a way, as they are certainly, definitely, absolutely monotheistic. The vast majority of Christians on the other hand (excluding groups such as the Cathars) have to grapple with the concept of the Trinity, which is at once both incredibly simple, and utterly mind-bogglingly confusing.
Now most of my Bible reading hasn’t been a from a ‘proper’ Bible, but the amazing The Childrens’ Bible in 365 Stories, which I’ve had for as long as I can remember. It’s got all the usual stories you find in kids’ Bibles, but also a load that you don’t, as a result of which I’ve been able to answer questions at church quizzes that none of the adults there have known. But I digress. This version of the Bible is where I got most of my Christian knowledge from, with bits added from Sunday School, and it was only when I hit my teens that I discovered that we were supposed to believe that all three aspects of the Trinity had existed together forever, which made no sense to me. Granted there were mentions of God’s spirit before the Holy Spirit showed up at Jesus’ conception and baptism, or descended at Pentecost, so I could get behind the idea that the Holy Spook had been around for a while, and God the Father had obviously been around since the beginning of the Bible, but I just couldn’t get behind the idea that Jesus as the Son had been around for that long as well. It makes no sense to me, even now. Now if you take the view that God knows everything that’s ever going to happen then ok, yes, He knew there would be a point where He’d turn round and say ‘ok, you’re up’ and Jesus would be born on Earth and do His thing. But then you run into the whole free will issue, so ok, let’s say that God knows everything that could possibly happen, depending on what choices we make. Like the ‘choose your own fantasy/adventure’ novels – turn to this page and such-and-such will happen, turn to this page and you will get so-and-so. You don’t know what will happen, but the book contains all possible outcomes for every choice you could make. But then that would mean that one of the parts of the Trinity was just sitting around from the moment of creation on the off-chance They’d be needed. Nope, still doesn’t make sense. So the way my brain saw it was that you had God, then there was his Spirit that showed up a bit later, and then there was His Son who showed up a while after that. As to how that actually works, the best answer I can come up with is ‘buggered if I know’.
And I’ve just realised that my view of the Trinity is possibly closer to a hard polytheist’s view of the gods than anything else. What is my theology…
Anyway, despite this view of the three Persons of the Trinity I could never really explain how they’re all connected in a coherent way. They’re all part of the same god, but seperate, but not as seperate as say Bast and Thor are, but… Yeah. So I sort of sidestepped the problem of ‘how do I have three parts of God that are seperate but the same?’ The Shield of the Trinity that I posted above sort of helps but not really, and while you also have the image of the shamrock or clover as a depiction of the Trinity, with three leaves being part of one leaf, all I can ever think of is the line from the wonderful film Nuns on the Run where Brian (currently masquerading as a nun to avoid being killed by his boss and/or the Triads) has to give a theology lesson on the Trinity, forgets the ‘three leaves, but one leaf’ explanation and instead comes out with ‘God is like a shamrock… Small, green, and split three ways. Class dismissed’. It’s occasionally bothered me over the years that I’ve been unable to articulate one of the core parts of the Christian faith, or explain it, or even fully understand it, which I feel I should be able to do. But then why should I? I’m no theologian. I don’t claim to be able to know the workings of the mind of God, and while I don’t take the Bible literally there are things in it that I believe in, like the Resurrection, which defy rational explanation. Hell, one of the exercises in one of my RS lessons at school was ‘what are the possible explanations for the feeding of the five thousand, the Resurrection, etc.’, where we had things like ‘everyone else pooled their food as well’, ‘they were all spiritually fed’, ‘it was an actual miracle’, and so on. No definitive answer was expected to be given (posh girls’ school, not a faith school), and the other religions we studied were given the same treatment. It wasn’t done disrespectfully, and I had no objections to doing said exercise, but I was still stuck with the ‘there are certain things I believe as part of my faith, but they make no rational sense. And I don’t disbelieve them just because they make no rational sense. Arrgh’. So I sidestepped the issue. And it’s not like I haven’t had people questioning and challenging my Christian faith either – my best friend at high school was atheist and somewhat confrontational with it, and my second boyfriend was also atheist. I couldn’t always explain why I believed what I did, and I couldn’t explain the theology behind the Trinity. But then in a way I don’t really have to – this exchange between River Tam and Shepherd Book from Firefly pretty much explains why. (For those of you who haven’t seen it, River’s just been caught tearing pages out of Book’s Bible and scribbling notes in it in an attempt to ‘fix’ the problems and contradictions).
Book: River, you don’t fix the Bible.
River: It’s broken. It doesn’t make sense.
Book: It’s not about making sense. It’s about believing in something, and letting that belief be real enough to change your life. It’s about faith. You don’t fix faith, River. It fixes you.
Thus for my theology until my third year of uni. That was when I started to really look into and research Paganism, the reasons for which I’ll leave for another post, and while I was tempted to convert to Wicca (which made up the vast majority of what I found on the internet at that time) I ultimately didn’t as I was perfectly happy with my Christian theology, inexplicable as it was, and so just incorporated some of the practices of Wicca such as Deity candles and circle-casting. But I found the male/female split of Deity appealing, as while all the language used to describe God the Father was male (aside from in the film Dogma), which reflected the times in which the Bible was written, the times in which the canonical books were chosen, and the vast majority of the time when the Church has existed and taught, God Himself wasn’t a Him or a Her, but more of an It – even the Bible agrees with that: ‘so God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them‘ – Genesis 1:27, NIV. And while I know there are Wiccans who work with Jesus and the Virgin Mary as their God and Goddess I went towards the Gnostic Christian route, which sees the Holy Spirit as female. So since I began to think of myself as Christo-Pagan as opposed to just Christian my theology has had God as the overarching Divine presence in the world – the spark of Divinity in every person, in the animals, the stones, every part of creation, more akin to the traditional Jewish concept of God than anything else, with Jesus as the easier-to-relate-to male aspect of God, and the Holy Spirit as His female counterpart. So for me, She is the Daughter of God in the same way that Jesus is the Son, and I refer to Her as Sophia, the personification of wisdom.
And I was happy with this. It had a balance to it, it felt right, and while I still struggled with the concept of the Trinity as a thing when I thought about it, I just treated the ‘true’ relationships between each of the three parts as something I would never be able to comprehend – a mystery of faith if you will. And everything went swimmingly until I got tapped by Freyja…
While the contents of this post have been bubbling at the back of my brian for a while, my actually sitting down and writing it tonight was sparked by a conversation I had this evening with the lovely Ellie of Open Circle at Treadwell’s. She was asking what I believed (reasons why to be part of another post), so I’d explained my reasons for becoming interested in Paganism, why I considered and then rejected conversion, and why I then ended up with my Gnostic-inspired-but-still-Christian view of Deity. And then I had Freyja hitting me over the head with a baseball bat to get my attention, which meant that I had to try and work out how She fitted in with Christos, Sophia, and God, and as I was saying this I knew that I had no idea. I really don’t. Is She seperate from God and are Christos and Sophia just facets of God in the same way that Freyja is battle-woman, witch, and lover? Are all four of Them seperate entities like hard polytheists would believe? Are they all aspects of one Goddess and one God? I have no idea, and unless I either get told by one of Them or have some kind of revalation I don’t think I’m ever going to know. And it bugs me that I can’t explain how They all fit together, or even if They fit together. But in a way it doesn’t matter. Sometimes with faith and belief you can’t explain or rationalise what you believe, it’s kind of where faith comes in. I have faith that Freyja exists, I have faith that God exists, I have faith that Christ and the Holy Spirit exist, and I have a few experiences that I can use to confirm my faith. Is it simple? Can I explain it? Hell no. Now this isn’t to say that one shouldn’t try to understand these things, and I’m not saying that I’m just going to sit back and go ‘eh, I’ll never understand this so I’m not going to bother trying’, but spirituality is a journey, and we’re always learning along the way. It’s ok to say ‘I don’t have the answers right now’, it’s ok to not immediately run out and do All Of The Research, or All Of The Divination/Prayer/Trancework/Whatever to get the answers. How I describe myself in religious terms has been slowly evolving since around 2005/2006, along with my faith, and my theology has followed suit.
For roughly the first two decades of my life I was technically monotheistic, but considering my best friend throughout primary school was Sikh and I was given a good education which included unbiased and multi-faith Religious Studies I was actually an unknowing henotheist – I knew there were other paths people took to Deity, and that people in the world believed in deities who weren’t the Abrahamic God, and I was happy to ackowledge this but just worship a single (sort of) godform, the Trinity. I don’t think that what Dad calls the mini-United Nations of a primary school I went to ever gave me the chance to even start to think that Christianity was the One And Only True Way. It was the Way that worked for me, so I kept following it. Then I started bringing Gnosticism in, and became a henotheist and sort-of soft polytheist, and then Freyja came along, so I have no idea what I would classify myself as. I’m guessing I actually count as polytheist now, but soft? Hard? Medium-rare? I’m not even sure any more how to define or describe myself. Definitely still Christo-Pagan, but where the Christian side of my faith was more Methodist than anything else, and the Pagan side was more Wiccan than anything else, I’ve now got the question of am I more than that? I don’t really consider myself a Heathen as my honouring of Freyja isn’t reconstructionist or even that similar to the practices of the Heathens I know, but I do consider myself to be Vanatruar due to my devotion to Freyja. I’m very ecumenical in my Christianity – I have been and will quite happily go to Catholic Mass, Quaker Meetings, Anglican services ranging from high- to low-church, and places like Emmaus Rd, the church a friend of mine went to before she moved across the country, which has an honest-to-God rock band providing the music. And Ellie said she got the feeling that I could be described as Pagan with a devotional relationship to Jesus, so… As much as I’m incredibly grateful for the help Freyja has given me since I realised She wanted my attention, and as much as I truly enjoy having Her in my life, there are times when I miss the days when this was an accurate, if basic, description of my beliefs.
I can say what, or Who, I believe in, I can explain some of the relationships I see between Them, I can even tell of my experiences that have convinced me that yes, that was Freyja or God making Their presence known to me, but I don’t feel that I can, in all honesty, state precisely what I believe about the existence of Deity as I percieve it. And I may never be able to. I’m fine with the idea of never knowing how or if my gods all interlink, up until I try to explain how I deal with four differently-named Divine figures. Then I get a feeling akin to… failure maybe? I don’t know the answer, but at least I admit I don’t know the answer, which is better than either lying and saying that I do, or deluding myself into thinking that I do? I guess?
What is my life…