Miracles, Myths and Magic | John beckett
I recently received a comment that was more of a question for the next Conversations under the Oaks (and it’s a perfectly acceptable thing to do, in case you’re wondering). But rather wait for the next round of Q&A, I want to get to this one now.
The question is quite long – you might want to read it in its entirety. Here is an extract, with some retouching to make my condensation more readable. Jade Meeker said:
Buddhists tell ancient stories of the miracles that Guan Yin performed for his devotees – if they are pushed off a mountain cliff, they will soar through the air rather than fall. And yet, the majority of devotees never experience a miracle even if they really need it. Even now, the temples of Guan Yin are being destroyed in China and its devotees are in danger because of the anti-religious government. How can we as modern worshipers understand this?
I sincerely think that these stories are not useful. They set expectations that are bound to not be met most of the time.
I understand that the Gods are not geniuses here to grant our wishes. But things don’t seem to be improving at any level. And I don’t know how to make sense of it all anymore.
These are good questions. I guess they’re more common than we think – a lot of people wonder about such things but don’t voice their concerns.
There are no easy answers. Sometimes the best answer to a question is not an answer, but contemplation. So let’s contemplate.
Myths are not meant to be read literally
We live in a society poisoned by fundamentalism and biblical literalism. Sola scriptura elevates the written word above all other forms of knowledge. Enlightenment thought – for all the good it did – divides writing into simplistic categories of “historical facts” and “made-up stories.” It dispels the value of myths – stories meant to convey not facts but meaning.
Stories like these are not reports of historical events in the newspapers. These are myths that tell us something about our gods – in this case, that Guan Yin will help a follower cope with dire circumstances.
Here’s the frustrating part: we pagans know all of this. We know these stories were never meant to be taken at face value. But because we live in a Protestant-dominated culture, we carry an unconscious expectation that these stories are historically true and that if we were strong enough or godly enough or spiritual enough, we could do these things too.
And then we’re disappointed when we can’t – even though we knew we couldn’t in the first place.
Their ways are not our ways
Yet the results are what they are. The worship of the many gods has been replaced by the worship of the Christian God – often violently. In our time, Guan Yin and Buddhism are suppressed to facilitate the worship of the Chinese state.
If the gods are the most powerful of minds and if they have sovereignty and agency – and I believe they have – then why don’t they do something to stop it?
All we know is that they choose not to. Why they make this choice is a mystery.
Their ways are not our ways. Their priorities are not our priorities.
It is a place where deep contemplation and meditation is needed. Given that this situation exists, why could it be so? What does this tell us about the gods and their priorities?
Perhaps more importantly, what does this mean for our expectations of our relationships with them?
Do we worship power or do we worship virtue?
Why do we worship the Gods? “Because they are gods and we are not” sounds too much like Calvinism to me. “Because they are the most powerful of minds” (which they are) sounds too much like the force that makes you good.
Personally, I adore the Gods (or rather, I adore certain Gods) because they have been good to me. Their presence in my life has been a good thing. Even when They didn’t make it easier, They made it more meaningful. I want to thank them for that and do what is necessary to make these human-divine relationships stronger, deeper and more fulfilling.
They brought virtues into my life: strength, courage, honesty, perseverance, and above all the two greatest pagan virtues, reciprocity and hospitality.
These virtues can exist and prosper under all conditions. And while you can’t always control your situation, you can control your responses. This does not excuse the people who create and perpetuate injustices, but it is solid advice for those of us who face difficult situations that are not our fault.
Do you need a show or do you need food?
I sincerely believe that if He wanted, Zeus could appear bodily among us, throwing lightning at will. But what would that bring? There are people who deny the reality of evolution, the moon landing and the election results of last year – do you think a divine apparition would do better?
Those of us who have experienced their presence do not need such a spectacle.
What we need is food that comes from a respectful and reciprocal relationship with divine persons.
Magic tends to be subtle
We often ask ourselves the question “how does magic work?” (I have my own theory). But there is another question we must first ask: “What does magic do?”
In my experience, magic does not accomplish anything directly. On the contrary, magic increases the chances of something happening. On its own, an event can have a 50% chance of going the way you want it to. With good magic, these chances can be improved to 80%. It’s still not 100% – it’s not guaranteed to happen. But dropping the odds from 5 out of 10 to 8 out of 10 is a significant improvement – I’ll take it.
Because magic influences odds, its impact can be difficult to spot. The magic is subtle.
And often the Gods too.
It’s tower time
In their commentary, Jade Meeker said “maybe some of these things are related to Tower Time”. I agree. But Tower Time isn’t just about climate change and the upheaval of empires. It is also the return of the Old Gods, increased interactions with Fair Folk, the intersection of this world and the Otherworld, and perhaps, the turning point of certain natural and spiritual cycles that take millennia. end.
If a hurricane hits your location, you can take two different approaches with your magic. You can use magic to redirect the hurricane and protect your home. Or you can use magic to facilitate a safe and quick escape.
Of course you can do both – I would do both. But if you do the first without the second, you’re taking an incredible – and possibly fatal – risk. Work on your evacuation first, then fear trying to redirect the hurricane. And remember that a hurricane is much more powerful than even the most powerful witch.
Maybe Guan Yin will let you float in the air. But your chances are much better if She keeps you from being pushed off the cliff in the first place.
Focus on what you can do.
Search for a deeper meaning
Jade concluded by saying that they had “had incredible spiritual experiences with the gods in the past.”
It is a very good thing. These experiences let us know that the world is bigger, deeper, and more mysterious than our dominant world recognizes, or would admit if it did. They remind us that as precious and precious as this life is, that is not all.
And we are part of it all.
The stories our ancestors told about the gods are treasures. They tell us how they experienced the gods and what they learned from these experiences. They tell us something about who we are, who we are and perhaps more importantly, who we are.
These are not reports – they were not told to report the facts of historical events. Nor is it “fake news” – it was not announced with the intent to deceive.
These are myths: stories about things that never existed but still are, that make sense and tell us how to live.
If you are in a difficult situation, do what you can to improve it or to get out of it. Real miracles are seldom necessary.
But what if you really need a miracle?
Then pray for a miracle… and be open to it happening in a way you never imagined.