This is a the first in a five-part miniseries about the intersection of Paganism and science by Trellia. This article first appeared at Trellia’s Mirror Book.
In today’s world, we tend to think in terms of “science verses religion,” as if they are antagonistic and opposite from each other. But back in the day, this wasn’t really the case; there are plenty of historical examples where science and religion met eye-to-eye, from Christian monks who made and recorded important scientific discoveries, to scientific principles described in the Quran, to the numerous scientists and mathematicians who were also members of the Freemasons, a society in which belief in a Supreme Being is more or less mandatory. Whereas nowadays, many people seem to think that one cannot hold religion to be true if one also holds science to be true. How can one know that the Moon is a vast, lifeless lump of rock orbiting the Earth, and also believe it is the embodiment of a goddess?
So how can we resolve this problem in a rational and scientific world?
Myself, I LOVE science. I love learning how the universe works and how it came to be. If I had been better at maths, I probably would have done a science at university (I also think maths is beautiful and wonderful, but I just can’t do it!). For me, science does not de-mystify nature; on the contrary, science reminds us over and over again that the truth is usually far more interesting and stranger than anything human beings can imagine.
But despite my respect for science, I also leave offerings to nature spirits and bow down to fox statues.
I no longer feel conflicted in doing this. I used to, definitely, which is one of the reasons I didn’t practice Paganism for years despite having a keen interest, but now I feel quite resolved in my feelings towards science and Paganism. And this is why:
- Science is the way in which we get to know our gods. As a Pagan, I worship things quite literally — the trees, the earth and the animals themselves are sacred and part of the spirit world. One of the best definitions I’ve found of Paganism was a random comment on the internet, which is, “Pagans worship what they can actually see.” By learning about how the natural world works, we deepen our knowledge, and therefore our connection, with the spirits of Earth, the ocean, the air and the stars.
- I enjoy being a Pagan, which is the number one reason why I am a Pagan. And if I feel content and fulfilled by doing something that has no particular drawbacks, there’s no reason not to do it. Which seems pretty rational.
- I place a huge amount on emphasis on the act of ritual itself, moreso than its potential outcomes or the beliefs behind it. Ritual affects how we feel about things — for me, it inspires a profound awe for nature and reminds me to treat our earth with respect and dignity. Because I place less emphasis on faith than I do on ritual, I don’t feel I need to worry about how compatible my religion is with my knowledge of science.
- There’s a little bit of doublethink involved in this one, but I believe that as far as an individual is concerned, there are two realities. There is the shared reality, a.k.a the real reality, as in the world that exists around us and upon which all science is based. Then there is the reality that we actually perceive ourselves, a reality that is private to us in our minds, coloured with emotion, memory, dreams and imagination. To us humans, limited by how we interpret our senses, both realities are just as real (in fact, the “inner” reality is somehow more real to us). So inner world of the psyche, in which reality can be anything we want, can be considered just as valid. In which case, it is quite easy to both see existence as a product of scientific reason, and as a realm in which gods, goddesses, spirits and faeries all exist. It’s all a matter of which “reality” we choose to see.
The Author: Trellia
Although I’ve been interested in Paganism for many, many years, I have only recently started practising Paganism on a regular basis. As suggested in Scott Cunningham’s Wicca: A Guide for the Solitary Practitioner, I’ve decided to start a “Mirror Book;” a journal of my progress and thoughts in discovering my own spiritual path. You can read this progress online at The Mirror Book.
I would definitely describe myself as an Eclectic Pagan, borrowing from many different traditions, but I have a particular fascination with Shinto, the “indigenous” Japanese religion. This is partly because of my own background – I studied Japanese at university, lived in Japan for several years and currently work for a Japanese non-profit. It’s also partly because, as there is a thriving family of foxes living very near my house, I venerate Inari, a Japanese deity closely associated with foxes, as a patron deity; I have a shrine to Inari in my courtyard.
I’m also more than a little interested in the Gothic subculture; you can view my “Gothic Stereotypes” art here.