How Religion Works. [Part 1: The Magic]
Pick A Card. Any Card.
I was speaking with an acquaintance the other day. “I mean,” they stated at the end of a short, lax dialogue about Christianity, “why would anyone pray or devote themselves to some storybook character from a completely different culture that ended thousands of years ago?!” Twenty minutes later that person whipped out a set of tarot cards (a former game from a completely different culture that ended hundreds of years ago) and, with all belief and seriousness, did a reading for me.
In another corner of the world someone is meditating on a dilemma that they wish to solve by clearing their mind and letting the solution come to them. Somewhere else a person holds their hands over a patient in pain and focuses their fourth Chakra in order to heal them. Or the one who keeps a lucky bottlecap in their suit pocket just before they defend their latest client, for good luck. Or the one who throws a handful on bones onto the dusty ground to determine the well-being of their family; their tribe.
All of these examples and/or ones like them happen countless times every day across the globe. And one or more of these examples, to just about anyone reading this, sounds either absolutely plausible or absolutely ridiculous. Yet, they have ALL stood the test of time. But why? I mean, we’re talking the products of completely different belief systems, some in ways in direct opposition to the other. Some claiming to be the only true way while shrugging the others off as misguided jokes. Yet, they ALL persevere. They ALL have a group of people swearing up and down that they have experienced, firsthand, their desires being met through each of these means. How can that be? If there is one way, how can they all offer powerful, potent results as far as their denizens are concerned?
The Easy Answer.
People will believe what they want to believe; hear what they want to hear; see what they want to see. If you were raised on Christianity, you are more inclined to bend your perception of life to fit that. Someone’s wife dies. They might think, “This sucks but it was part of God’s plan. She was needed in heaven.” That’s crazy talk. No one is needed in Christian heaven. There’s not some heavenly crisis that needs solving. It’s perfect by definition. People just die. It’s part of the show. Someone raised on Tarot really wants to move to California and open a New Age bookstore. They pull “The Empress” card, which is all about achieving a great bounty and new ideas. Immediately, the reader reads “new ideas” as the ones she’ll bring forth by introducing a new bookstore and “great bounty” as all the money she’ll make with this awesome idea. No matter what card she pulled the result would have supported her idea. She had made up her mind. (Let’s say she pulled the “Ten of Swords” which is easily one of the scariest cards ever- utter destruction, nowhere to go but up. She’d think “that’s obviously referring to my life here in this town. I really DO need to get out of here!”)
The easy answer: We use our belief systems to justify how we already feel or to blind ourselves to the reality of something we don’t want to think too much about because of how complicated, sad, or scary it is. It’s power is in it’s enabling and deceptiveness and nothing more.
Or is it?
There Can Be Miracles…
Fourteen years ago I dreamed that I was standing at the beach, the ocean stretching out before me. Between myself and the water were two of my cousins, brothers, building a sand castle. The younger of the two of them threw a plastic shovel that was quickly swallowed by the sea. He started after it and the other brother, taking the other’s hand, went with him, disappearing beneath the waves. The next day I woke up, went to school, and then ended up at my grandmother’s where my mom and I found out that my two cousins, the ones from the dream, had drowned in their swimming pool that afternoon. (I wish I had a story that was that powerful but less depressing, but I don’t)
How many times have we heard of people praying to God for their sickness to go away and then -poof- they’re healed and the doctors are baffled? Or those amazing Reiki healing stories. What about when a parent will just “know” that something terrible has happened to their child? In the past year I’ve been read by a Tarot card reader, a psychic, and a past life reader, none of whom knew me prior and all left me with freakishly identical answers to the question of my purpose.
Those who subscribe solely to the easy answer from the previous section are denying the existence of these, the second and more powerful perpetuators of our spiritual or religious belief systems. The easy answer bypasses the fact that, lo and behold, beyond the ease and delusion and fear this stuff can actually work! The metaphysical world is real and, from the looks of things, omni-denominational.
Let’s Get to the Meat of It.
I have a very close, intelligent, and religious friend who once said to me, “Trystin, I believe that just about all of the religions are true. Because there are so many different types of people, God gave us options so we can choose which one fits us the best.” What. God supplied us with the very source of most of the bloodiest, manipulative, insane events in history so we could experience him in our favorite way? No. That’s crazy-talk. That’s rationalization. That’s justifying opposing ideals while maintaining the perfection of one’s own belief system. Compromise by not compromising. Anyway, we’ll worry about the nitty gritty of all that in Part 2: The Mystery. All we care about is “The Magic” right now.
Now, let’s take a chicken (Haha, “Say whaaat?!” – bear with me here). Chicken is a fairly affordable and very versatile food. You can fry it, bake it, grill it, saute it, toss it in soup, salad, or sandwich, take it barbecued, smoked, breaded, light, dark, by the breast, wing, thigh, leg, foot, gizzard, enjoy it hot or cold, lathered in gravy, cooked with lemon, garnished with all manner of veggies, all of these things greatly altering its taste and physical properties but never changing the fact that it is, indeed, chicken. Regardless of the part in which you choose to engage or how you choose to engage it, the chicken-ness of it all remains.
Christian. Jewish. Muslim. Hindu. Wiccan. Roasted. Poached. Fried. Baked. Sauted. Nutritional values aside in this awkward metaphor, all are definitively different preparations but wholly sustaining. Regardless of one’s chosen system of belief the power, the force, the energy that allows it to answer prayers and fulfill prophesies is identical, simply prepared differently, cooked up with psychology, sociology, morality, and philosophy prevalent in its culture (or sub-culture) of origin.
Meaning: The power’s source is not a particular belief system, but the act of believing itself. These systems merely dictate the ways, strengths, and limitations that we allow ourselves when seeking answers or achievements.
I Am Confident That You Will Read This Section.
Most of us remember The Secret; that book popularized by Oprah that emphasized the power of positive thinking as a means of getting what you want and being who you want to be. It sold millions of copies and helped tons of people by adding a magical quality to the our confidence in ourselves. Confidence. The belief system that involves faith in our own capacity to fulfill our wishes. Some of it’s symptoms include increased health, morale, and a greatly increased chance of an ideal future. It is a human power we all are capable of and it’s no wonder we re-brand it to the more mystical things like “the secret” or “law of attraction”. It’s symptoms are nearly identical to those drives that lead us to seek assistance from a higher power. Coincidence? I think not.
Confidence is a religion in which the one trusted and being called upon to fulfill one’s greatest desire is one’s self. The energy that fuels it is the exact same one that causes prayers to be answered or cards to reveal a truth about the future or a mother to sense her child just suffered from a car accident. Confidence, in comparison to the rest, is stronger in that it focuses more on a person taking action action being taken upon them. Also in that it doesn’t involve a middle-man (such as a deity or magic runes). On the other end, it can be weaker in that, as adults, we have been conditioned to accept our human limits and religions and the rest allow us an excuse to dream greater than we have been raised to believe we are capable of on our own.
Newsflash: We are all of us capable of remarkable things. Bound to physics, we probably won’t be sprouting wings and flying to the moon any time soon, but there is power inside of us to accomplish nothing short of magic and it comes from us. Change your future. See the future. Become your ideal self. Dream your destiny. Achieve ultimate happiness. Discover great truths. Find love. Know love. Get your ideal job, house, car, body. See the true intentions of your peers. Jump higher. Run faster. Live more fully. And, to Hell with what I said earlier…go ahead and fly.
Believe in yourself enough to act on those beliefs and you’ve got yourself the foundation of true greatness. There is no power greater than that. And it is in, and connects, us all.
This has been Part 1 of How Religion Works: The Magic. Stay tuned for Part 2: The Mystery, where I dive more deeply into some of the subjects lightly touched upon such as “How can you differentiate true magic from people just seeing what they want to?” (is there REALLY a difference?) and Part 3: The Morality, where I’ll discuss…well, let’s keep that my little secret for now.