(Image: Cave of the Nymphs, Greece)
I think of a woman born in early Christian Ireland, a woman told of the Christian God, of Jesus and of Mary. She would have believed. And why not? She was a believer. She believed in ghosts and fairies, the way you and I believe in germs and viruses. Why not the God of the Hebrews? Why not His Son, crucified on a tree?
This God – and this Jesus and this Mary – fit comfortably into her cosmogony. The new holy days were artfully matched up with the old. Her life didn’t need to change much. She would go to Mass on Sunday, and put porridge out by the front door at night for the fairies.
I wonder about this woman, my ancestor, because her belief is where I feel I’ve landed, or am trying to land.
I believe in the Christian God. I believe in Jesus. I believe in Mary. But it doesn’t end there.
I believe everything has a soul. I believe the Otherworld is vastly more complicated than Heaven-Purgatory-Hell. I believe the spirit world is vastly more complicated than Angels and Demons. I believe in the gods, not in a strictly literal way, but in a way I can’t explain in one paragraph. I believe in the World Tree. I believe the Big Bang means pieces of God are in every atom in the universe. I believe the dead still exist somewhere. I believe some of us can reach them.
It makes sense that the Church forbade necromancy and divination. Crossing the veil is dangerous, and I don’t just mean that the ill-prepared or unlucky person can let evil spirits through the doorway. (Although of course I believe they can.)
What I mean is, these glimpses of the beyond, these peeks at the Otherworld, are the Forbidden Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. To the Church, understanding of the realm beyond ours is too much for human beings to have. It makes them powerful, this wisdom, in a way that humans should not be.
The Church wants our wisdom to come from patience, meekness, humility, and hard work. We are supposed to kneel, obey, and wait for our eternal reward. The Bible tells us, “If you think you stand, take heed lest you fall.”
I am not condemning the idea of humility before the God of All Creation. But I am also no longer frightened by the idea of standing in front of the mystery of the cosmos, of consciousness, of death, of eternity, and reaching out to it. It isn’t enough for me to read and pray and ponder. In the words of Tina Fey, “I want to go to there.”
I want a little taste. I need it, as a matter of fact.
My favorite stories – whether they’re books or films – are essentially fairy tales. They’re stories where the hero – who is rather ordinary, or at least living a rather ordinary life – finds out there is actually another world behind it all, behind the world she knows. Whether it’s Harry Potter getting invited to Hogwarts, Frodo venturing out from the Shire, or even Clarice Starling encountering Hannibal Lecter’s madness, the best stories are those where a protagonist tumbles down the rabbit hole and finds out that this whole time there was an Otherworld.
I don’t have a letter from Hogwarts. I don’t have a farmhouse to ride through a tornado to a world of vivid colors and singing munchkins.
But I do have folk magic. I have ritual. And I have this call I’ve always felt, this pull, like someone is tugging at my gut, someone I know very well but haven’t met. I am supposed to reach out and find the world behind mine. I’m supposed to travel. I’m supposed to go on a journey. I won’t let fear or doubt stop me. This is the most profound question we have as human beings: what else is there?
I’m not getting out of this alive. Eventually I’m gonna know. But maybe if I know something now, soon, before I die at least, I’ll make different decisions. I’ll figure something out. I’ll live a better life.