Why Believe?

At my core is this feeling that I need the gods and spirits around me to feel whole. I discovered this when the Lady of the Mountain told me she was going away and I panicked. It was confirmed while traveling and finding a place where no spirits answered my greetings. It made me want to curl up and hide. I could blame it on the chunk of Heru I’ve got inside me, but those memories aren’t mine. I know why he feels that way, but why do I feel that way?

It is my belief that humans need gods and spirits. We’ve been interacting with the unseen from the earliest times. Evidence of spiritual thinking is practically a marker for the development of human consciousness. The scientist in me might suggest that it’s directly tied to our capacity for abstract thought. A lot of modern scientists might argue that we’ve grown past that and have no more need for “imaginary friends,” but I disagree, obviously.

Like most modern Kemetics, I wasn’t born into the religion. I’m a convert. Like many other converts, I still have baggage from my previous belief system to contend with. I don’t believe that I’m going to hell when I die, because I’m not sure that there even is a hell, or a heaven, or a duat. Is it all in my head? Is it just a random firing of nerves and a mixing of chemicals? The comfort is, that if the atheists are right, I won’t have any time to worry over it when I’m gone. So I might as well live the kind of life that feels right to me now.

If the atheists are right, then that means that my worst nightmare is already true. That still doesn’t explain why I see it as my worst nightmare. Ok, second worst nightmare, the first would be the end of the world and everyone in it, but I wouldn’t have much time to mourn that one either. My gut reaction is that the world would be a much emptier place without them.

On a personal level, they sort of fill in the gaps. They’re around when I’m tired or depressed or lonely. They’re like a second family. They’re not just for my comfort, however. They challenge me to see other perspectives. They push me to be a better person. They remind me to care. I tell my skeptical brain that those are all very good effects whether their existence is literally true or not.

Atheists like to harp on the evils of belief, as if that is what has caused all the problems in the world. (Belief is often the excuse, but rarely the cause.) They don’t like to recognize the good that it does. I have this construct in my head that makes me act like a better person. It’s a sounding board for developing ideas and organizing priorities. Sure, I don’t have to call it a god. I could call it a mental exercise, but honestly, it wouldn’t be as effective if I did that. If I didn’t believe in this inner counselor, then why would I bother listening to it? There are plenty of psychological exercises that do something similar, role playing, visualization, dream interpretation. But if your visions have no life breathed into them, they’re not going to be as powerful. I’m more likely to follow through if a living, loving, god tells me to do something than if my own mental construct says to do so. Yes, I do sometimes tell the god to eff off, but I always listen first.

I hear arguments about the virtue of objective truth, but to me, they are self-defeating. If death simply means Game Over, then why should I care about the virtuousness of objectivity? There are no cookies in it for me. If my subjectivity offers me advantages, then there’s no reason not to use it. So, that is basically how I tell the skeptical side of my brain to shut the hell up. This is how a rational, intelligent person can believe in gods. I haven’t even gotten into my arguments about symbolic and metaphorical truths that help explain the human condition. I’ve got a bunch of those too. In short, it works, so I use it. Experience has shown that I am not better off without it. I’ve tried.

It is my belief that belief itself is a basic human need. When people want to control others, they hijack their belief systems and hold them hostage. The wealthy and the powerful demonize those aspects of spirituality that are accessible to all in order to put their priests in charge. Why do people not simply abandon belief itself? I don’t think it is that easy. Every culture that I know of has had some kind of spiritual belief system. (The Soviet Union was an experiment that didn’t actually work so well, and there were plenty of people still practicing their beliefs underground.) That indicates to me that it does fill a need of some kind. It is a thing of value. Why else would the wealthy hijack it? Why else does it actually work when that happens? Not every person believes, but within a population, it persists. It’s built in, much like our capacity for mathematics or language. And it is the hijacking of belief that everyone points to when things go wrong. Belief isn’t the enemy. Taking it away from the people in order to control them is.

And that begs the question. How do we do it right this time? Is it even possible to prevent it from being screwed up? Screwing up also seems to be a built in part of human nature.

Momma Aset

“You are insane, my son. I’ve always known that,” she told me.

It was a relief to hear her say so. I waste so much effort pretending not to be, especially to myself. “It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an I.” I don’t know where that quote originated, but I’ve seen it floating around and it always seems relevant.

My “I” is not very strong. Maybe that’s not completely true. When I complained about being weak, she argued. Afterall, I am still here. I just have other, stronger priorities. When I open my heart to discover what it really wants, I find the Netjer, ALL of Them. It is a love that is too big for my body. It is too big for my “I.” I inhale Ra’s fire and I want to bring that warmth to all of them. Then I ask, “What’s that burning smell? Oh, right, it’s me.” Aset cools me. She cares more about my “I” than I do. I cannot and do not want to live without them. Somewhere in my soul is a memory of that nightmare when they faded from sight.┬áDie for them? Kill for them? Whore myself out? Why not?

But Aset says no. At least, not that first one.

Back in college I had a dream where I was at a party. We were celebrating Gandhi’s enlightenment and ascension. I found him sitting alone on a blanket and he looked sad. I asked him what was wrong. He said, “My mother won’t let me die.” No ascension for you then. I understood how he felt. There was the story of Aset and baby Heru when he was poisoned. She stopped the sun in the sky to make him live. I imagined Horus in those later years watching his family fade away and secretly hating her for the magic that would not allow him to join them. “My mother commanded me to live,” he told me.

But they’re not gone. I can feel them. This new seedling is small, and I don’t know if it will live, but that is how all seedlings begin. It seems healthy and that gives me hope.

Aset loves me in the same way that I love Them. Years ago, I prayed to a winged blue goddess. Part of me knew it looked like her. Part of me wasn’t willing to admit the connection, so I called her by a made up name. I kneeled before her with my fist over my heart. I told her everything. When nothing else in my life made sense, I knew that the blue goddess loved me.

When the sunlight burns too hot, she cools me. Ra is the crown and Aset is the throne. I am not myself without either of them. She asked me to wear her pendant so she could keep me cool. The necklace broke a few weeks ago. I replaced it with another one with a falcon head. Wasn’t it time for my own god to take care of me? Wasn’t it time for me to take care of myself? Meanwhile, my energy started running wild again. Sunrise felt like torture in a way that it hadn’t in a while. I’m wearing Aset’s pendant now. I thought I could handle it on my own. I tried covering my heart, denying it. I wanted to pretend that “I” was strong enough. But, I’m not. I still need her. She lets me follow my heart. She helps me handle Ra’s fire without tearing myself apart.

So Mom, what do you think? Can we do this? Will you show me how to breathe fire without tearing myself apart? Can we keep them warm?