I was working on COG and I was doing some writing about what I think “mythic” is and I was considering the nature of “gods” (that’s with lower case g and pural). I wrote, “It is not that the gods exist it. It is which gods you worship.” Hmm. That made me pause. It makes sense of course, but where did that thought come from? What was the logic (if any) to get there?
As I see it, the myth creators used the gods to describe the world greater than them. They used them to simplify the cosmic to the trivial, or more importantly man’s relationship with the “bigger picture”. Elements of human existence became personalities i.e. gods. The various gods of war, for example, are cruel and brutal, enjoying bloodshed and laughing in slaughter. This is because ordinary folk saw war as cruel and brutal and that war itself seemed to enjoy the unending slaughter it caused. It was something in their lives that was simply beyond the scope of most peasant folk to really understand.
Descendants then let other elements of life gravitate to existing personifications, extending the mythos of these gods. These formed symbolic links and made sense to the people of the time. Stories built up about these links as way of explaining them and sometimes justifying them because it may not be obvious. The mistake came, and probably quite early on even as the mythos was expanding, that people believed that the gods really did exist. It begs the question then, why bother with gods if not to believe them? Well, because it allows people to understand a world on a subconscious/intuitive level, giving them a place within the cosmos and in a sense, by personifying it, allows control (or the illusion of control) of it.
The greater world is one that causes awe (or horror depending on your perspective). Giving someone the belief they have some control over that, is psychologically powerful. As an example, a warrior that “invokes” the god of war will become cruel and brutal, able to ignore pain for long periods and willing to bring slaughter as required (or feared). This was required for battle and these were the qualities of the war god. It could give them a ferocity that might give them an edge.
I think in part that is why I’m drawn to Chaos Magic because it reflects this attitude. The idea of “paradigm shifting” (I term I’ve only ever seen on Wikipedia), accepting completely a different belief system to achieve a goal, is a powerful psychological tool. Useful in today’s world as it was back then, however it’s not to battle and war but to art, writing, business, relationships and a whole host of trivial and human matters.
It’s not that the gods exist. It is what they represent. The ancients, though trapped by their own dogma, were still wise enough to not forget the other elements of the world. Many temples dedicated to one god, also contained small shrines to the other gods so they wouldn’t be offended. The gods represented a way to approach life and to become part of the cycle of life. Understanding one god is to attempt to understand humans’ relationship to the things that that god represents. It is also stating that this one element is the reason for existence (or at least their existence). But doing that to the exclusion of everything else is a dire mistake, the path to self-destruction.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me to an answer to the question: Does God Exist? It is irrelevant. To understand God is an attempt to understand the whole world and humanity’s place in it. Some see God as being “out there”, separate from reality, a supernatural entity. Maybe, maybe. But I think it’s more practical to see God as being the universe, a cosmic spirit of everything if you will. It doesn’t matter if God really exists, only that we try to understand the world and our relationship to it. If that involves being a philosopher, a scientist, an artist or just living life, so be it.
Anyone who argues dogma or fact should really make sure they don’t offend the other gods.