It’s a common statement that ADF is all about orthopraxy, not orthodoxy:
Druidic ritual doesn’t follow a set of beliefs: we are not an orthodox (right belief) religion, but a religion that values orthopraxy (right practice).
We care less about what you believe than about how you demonstrate it. Do you celebrate the High Days? Do you try to honor the ancient customs? Do you honor the Kindreds in ways appropriate to Them?
The trouble—at least for me—is that the preeminence of orthopraxy over orthodoxy without further explanation or exploration can stray dangerously far into Reconstructionism without any kind of theology to back it up. I am part of a religion because I believe, not because I want to dress up in white robes, dance around a fire, and pretend that I believe.
This is my long-promised essay about Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The book is arguably a sort of pagan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, the journey of Shadow-Baldur as he learns to believe in the gods around him and his own godhead, and eventually becomes worthy of self-sacrifice… and it is, for those who want to see it, an examination of belief and religion.
The following passage really stuck out for me (HERE BE SPOILERS):
“So I’m dead,” said Shadow. He was getting used to the idea. “Or I’m going to be dead.”
“We are on our way to the Hall of the Dead. I requested I be the one to come for you.”
“You were a hard worker. Why not?”
“Because…” Shadow marshaled his thoughts. “Because I never believed in you. Because I don’t know much about Egyptian mythology. Because I didn’t expect this. What happened to Saint Peter and the Pearly Gates?”
The long-beaked white head shook from side to side, gravely. “It doesn’t matter that you didn’t believe in us,” said Mr. Ibis. “We believed in you.”
Shadow says he never believed in the gods… And yet, and yet. He did their bidding. He worked hard for them. He never actively did not believe in them. We’re coming back to that ever-shifting line between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. If we do as if we believe, is that the same as believing? Does it make the gods believe in us until we can have faith in them—and in ourselves?
I’ve always made laughing comments about the fairies, especially to Altus. If he lost his keys, I would tell him the fairies hid them. “But I don’t believe in the fairies,” he would say. I would respond, without really considering what I meant, “Maybe they don’t believe in you, and that’s a far worse thing.” He would argue that if he didn’t believe in them, it didn’t matter if they believed in him, and we’d continue the playful argument until we couldn’t add another layer of disbelief. (“If they don’t believe in you, they don’t believe that you don’t believe that they don’t believe because you don’t believe, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe.” “…what?”)
Gaiman argues that many of the gods exist in America because of our belief. Our ancestors carried the gods with them to American in their belief, and that’s the only reason they exist here. We can also create gods by the act of worship, hence Media and Television, and the fat kid, Internet. Odin needs sacrifice to stay alive. Forgotten gods die.
But is this true? Are we humans so powerful that our belief can create divinity? I’m not sure.
I want to remain in the camp of believers-over-doers, but I honestly don’t know which comes first. I had done little work with Athena, but yesterday, She gave reached out to me. She believed in me, and now I have accepted her gifts, made sacrifice specifically to her, welcomed her into my life, and made her a permanent part of my home. But you could also say that because I already believed in Her, I recognized the gift for what it was, giving Her agency, and I have now made sacrifice to Her, adding to her power. My belief gave Her presence.
The argument could go on and on, round and round. Is there an answer? What do you believe?