Pagans, Quantum Physics and Rationality

In my experience, Pagans are amazing at skepticism, logic and rational argument – when it comes to other people’s religious or spiritual beliefs. Most Pagans that I know could tell you a lot about how Jesus is not the only dying-and-rising god that ancient societies ever thought of, or how Christmas was influenced by pre-Christian pagan traditions.

But many of these Pagans are not so good at deconstructing their own beliefs on certain things. People with fantastic minds, who I love talking to, and who I’ve heard demolish other people’s ideas, somehow often fall short of that intelligence and philosophical sharpness when it comes to common Pagan beliefs. Their own beliefs.

And one of the worst ways this happens is when the topic of quantum physics comes up.

Quantum Physics: Proof of Magic?

This week, Fire Lyte linked to this post on his Facebook wall.  The response was… interesting. Lots of people trying to prove that the writer of the article didn’t know anything about quantum physics. Not looking at their own beliefs.

There are repeating comments that I hear on this subject a lot. Comments that are loaded with logical fallacies. I’ve heard statements from Pagans on quantum physics that demonstrate the following fallacies:

- Argument from complexity (similar to an argument from ignorance): “Science is proving so many weird and complex things! So quantum physics could prove that my candle magic caused my pay rise!” Yes, it could, though the probability isn’t high, given what we know about quantum physics so far. Now come back to me when it does prove that and when we have evidence of this. Yes, science is proving some complex and weird things these days. We cannot use that to assume that it will prove what we want it to prove.

- Argument from silence: the idea that, since something cannot (yet) be disproved, it is proven. “The universe is a weird place. There are things in the universe that we will never be able to explain. We just can’t know everything!” We cannot argue that, because science shows that there is much about the universe we don’t understand, it proves that anything is possible. It specifically doesn’t do that.

- Ad hominem attack: an attack on the person who is writing/arguing, rather than on their arguments. “That person doesn’t know anything about quantum physics!” Doesn’t prove that you do. This argument should at least be followed up with “And here’s a link to some evidence that I’m going to use to argue my point. It is reliable because it is published in a respectable peer-reviewed scientific journal. It is backed up by these six other articles from six different reliable journals, and this conference paper, and this statement from the scientific community.” If not, you haven’t proven anything by attacking one individual, rather than focusing on their argument.

- Shifting the burden of proof: “Can you prove to me that quantum physics doesn’t cause magic to work?” No, I can’t. But the burden of proof is on you, not me. As Carl Sagan said, “Extrodinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

Correlation proves causation: thinking that, because two things coincide, then one must be caused by the other. “Every time I get acupuncture I feel better. This must prove that quantum mechanics causes it to work.” That’s great. There may be all manner of reasons why that treatment is helping you. I have enormous faith in the badly-named ‘placebo effect’, which would be better called ‘the human body’s self-healing effect’. When I go for reflexology and acupuncture, I’m working on my body’s self-healing mechanisms. Also, quantum physics exists. There’s absolutely no reason why one should have anything to do with the other.

(Note: This is stretching the bounds of the correlation fallacy, a bit. I think it’s relevant. Tell me if you disagree!)

- Mind projection fallacy: i.e. because this belief matters to me, it’s relevant to everyone – and my opinion is worth more than your facts. “I believe quantum theory proves magic, and my opinion is just as valid as any scientist’s”. No, no, it’s not. Come back when you’ve studied quantum theory to doctorate level. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to the experts.

- False equivalence: “Homeopathy causes a quantum leap in a person’s physiology” (a direct quote from someone I know) – using the term in a way that scientists don’t use it, and confusing two different meanings of the word in the process. Here, the informal term ‘quantum leap’ has nothing to do with the physics term ‘quantum’. The statement is basically nonsense. (Sorry.)

I suspect there are many more logical fallicies in these arguments that I haven’t spotted yet. Have you seen any others? Let me know!

Your Mind Turned To Mush

You have an amazing mind. We all do. We’ve all won the lottery when it comes to consciousness, to quote Simon Clare. Evolution, one of the most exciting processes on the planet, has gifted us with thinking minds. Unfortunately, human beings get very attached to our irrational beliefs, again for reasons of evolution and our past survival. In the distant past, being able to see the pattern of a tiger moving between the trees was probably vital for our survival. Now, though, we hang on to that pattern-finding faculty even when it’s not necessary. We see patterns and call them magic. And we have all the right in the world to believe in magic. (I do!) What we can’t do, because we’ll never succeed, is argue that there is objective proof of that magic in science.

Why does it matter? Because we look like total idiots when we do it. Ultimately, if you want to make logical fallacies all over the place and demonstrate that your mind has turned to mush, you go right ahead. It doesn’t bother me. But you’re wrong. And if you want to be right – as your constant arguing suggests you do – then you may want to go away and educate yourself about science. Use that fabulous mind of yours – especially about your own beliefs. If you don’t, someone else will.

You won’t lose anything. You stand to gain a lot, though.

On another level, I guess I want to be a member of a religious/spiritual group that doesn’t talk rubbish. I was a member of evangelical Christian churches for a long time. My bullshit meter eventually exploded. I happen to think that the Pagan community can do better. Our community should be full of thoughtful, intelligent, well-read people who test our claims against reason, reality and science. I’ve met us. We’re clever people!

Faith Can’t Be Proven

Ultimately, some things will always be about faith, and unprovable. I believe in fairies, for fuck’s sake. What I don’t do is try and prove fairies with science. (Though now I want to draw a picture of gleeful fairies preventing me from proving them through science by messing up all my experiments.)

You have the right to your beliefs. Your right to impose those beliefs on others is much more limited. “Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose.”

And if you’re trying to persuade people of something using science, you’d better have a damn good grounding in what that science means. I don’t – I have GCSE science grade B (i.e. I know that plants contain chlorophyll and some basic formulae about mass and force). What I do have is a Master’s in Sociology and I’m a couple of years away from a doctorate in Religions. I stick with what I know, which is learning everything I can about why we believe what we believe. And what effect that has on the rest of society. That matters to me. I believe it should matter to all of us.

Now there’s a belief that’s probably full of logical fallacies…!

If you like podcasts, a great one on rational thinking, logic, philosophy and religion is the Reasonable Doubts podcast. And they have a wonderful Polyatheism section where they go over the highly unlikely pagan myths of the past. They’ve just started a three-week series on Cuchullain. Enjoy!

I’ll leave you with a link to a relevant article. Problem-Solving ‘Magic’ of Quantum Physics

Cross-posted to Accidental Auguries.

Polly the Sensible, and a Map for the Journey

“Stop,” said Polly. “Aren’t we going to mark this pool?”
They stared at each other and turned quite white as they realised the dreadful thing that Digory had just been going to do. For there were any number of pools in the wood, and the pools were all alike and the trees were all alike, so that if they had once left behind the pool that led to our own world without making some sort of landmark, the chances would have been a hundred to one against their ever finding it again.

- The Magician’s Nephew

She was quite as brave as he about some dangers (wasps, for instance), but she was not so interested in finding out things nobody had ever heard of before; for Digory was the sort of person who wants to know everything, and when he grew up he became the famous Professor Kirke who comes into other books.

- The Magician’s Nephew

Polly is a very sensible adventurer. Reluctant, literally pushed into her Otherworldly adventures, she retains her good sense throughout.1 She knows to mark out the way home, when Digory would rather just jump into the next world and not worry about getting back. She would rather not ring the mystical bell that, though she doesn’t know it, is there to wake the ancient kings and queens in the ancient hall, for she looks on the face of Jadis and knows that this isn’t someone to mess with just for the Adventure of it. But she also knows when it’s time to take a risk to fix the chaos they’ve created. Her good sense relates, for me, to the ADF virtues of wisdom and vision.

I need my myths and metaphors to be very accessible to me personally. There are a lot concepts I’m planning to explore through the Narnia stories over the coming year – concepts that I’ve previously had trouble with. Winter Queens and seasonal cycles. Battles. Sovereignty. Magic that plays with space and time. Journeying in the Otherworld. Appreciating both sides of an apparently black-and-white issue, and appreciating gods and spirits that have been cast in the mould called ‘evil’. These are concepts I have difficulty relating to, in a ‘basic Pagan’ myth set, and that I need new perspectives on. I’m sure there will be many others, too, as I go.

Some people like their guides to the Otherworld to come in the form of modern step-by-step-journeying-for-idiots guidebooks, or ancient irrelevant tomes. Some people insist that their myths are hard-boiled: overcooked, and set to last a long time, but ending up fairly tasteless and cold. I have long taken my wisdom from wherever I find it, and I find it in a lot of disparate places.

But still… Narnia. Often not popular, seen as indoctrination.

But still… ‘pop culture Paganism’, as it’s dismissively called.

What if I could reclaim both these things, for myself? What if, like Polly, I could choose the sensible option? No, it might not make me a famous professor-adventurer when I’m old. By which I mean, it might not earn the respect of my ancient-myth-researching peers. But it might just save my life – or my faith. Or my hope. Or my love.

You might have noticed that I’ve been exploring the Wood Between the Worlds as a starting-point for Otherworldly journeying. I’m also working with the concept of the White Witch as a Snow Queen/Faery Queen type, the keeper of wisdom and magical secrets – with whom you have to be very careful, like the bean feasa/fairy doctors had to be careful with their own Otherworldly guides. And I’m working through the stories to see what the characters have to teach me. Like Polly, and her Good Sense in the face of an irresistible journey.

A Map for the Journey. Worth no more or less than ancient myths. Just as full of unease, and difficulty, and compromise, and the need to keep shifting perspective.

May the Forces that echo through every myth, ancient and modern, teach me new lessons.
And may Polly the Sensible teach me that Sense is more important even than Adventure. For without it, the great Adventure can end very abruptly.

.

1: I dislike the term ‘common sense’, since that was always something I didn’t find easy to develop, thanks to my Asperger’s. But good sense – now that’s something worth working on.

October: Chaos

I get the call at 5pm. Merlin needs to be put to sleep, tonight. I look at my watch and know I will not get there in time.

-          -          -          -          -

The car mounts the pavement a few feet to my right. I run, unaided, tripping on the pavement edge. My head slamming, all in an instant, against unyielding grey tarmac. The urban earth rising to meet me.

-          -          -          -          -

Hannah takes my hand and we lock fingers. For a moment we acknowledge that this will be the last time we see each other. Then she asks if my psoriasis is better, and the moment has gone.

-          -          -          -          -

Day 10, and my temperature is going up and down like a yo-yo. I’m aware of every part of my body, joints screeching at me not to move. Which is fine – the dizziness takes care of that. In sleep I see the Caiileach pounding rocks with a hammer, and a dark-haired Winter Queen stands high above me.

-          -          -          -          -

I do not think that my Lady killed my cat or broke my nose. My partner’s aunt died of cancer, which had even less to do with me. I got the ‘flu because my immune system sucks because I have a genetic condition. These things are the way of the world, and not the responsibility of any person or being.

But there was a reason why Beara asked me to dedicate myself to her at the edge of summer, on the edge of the world. Welcoming in a goddess of chaos and creation, dedicating myself as her priestess-in-training, I made a serious commitment, and she took it seriously. Letting Cailleach Bhearra into my life, completely, meant a flooding in of her waters against my seashore, carving a path into my edges. And as Samhain creeps in, the days contracting suddenly, the gates to the Otherworld are all at once flung open, and the Trooping Folk flood in. Chaos reigns.

I’m not great with earth energy. Two deaths, one illness, and one literal encounter with the ground later, I’m starting to experience Beara’s earth energy very directly. It burns when you look into that volcano. It breaks your nose when you hit that road surface.

I don’t deny that the gods could break my bones if they wanted to. But I don’t think my Lady would. Not because she’s all touchy-feely, either. She’s not concerned with breaking my little bones – she’s got winds to stir up and mountains to carve out of the landscape. If I want to serve her, I get to live at the foot of her mountain and let the waves engulf me. It’s the only way.

These are the Long Days of Misrule before the sun stands still. Let the Folk dance where they will. She’s keeping an eye on them. I can’t say that she won’t let me fall – but I do know that she won’t push me.

-     -     -     -     -

I call on my lady as I sit in traffic. ‘Clear me a path, lady of the wild winds and shifting earth.’ The rain beats down, unrelenting. But there’s a rainbow just to my right as I reach the vet’s, minutes before they’re due to close. I get to tell Merlin that he was the best friend I could have asked for, to help me through two years in the wilderness. And that it’s OK, and he can go to sleep now.

The cliffs of Inis Baoi.

The cliffs of Inis Baoi.

The coolest cat.

The coolest cat.

Stories from the Pilgrimage, Pt 1

hag stone 3

hag stone 2

My lady sits on a cliff top, looking out across the bay, where land, sea and sky meet. She is the mountain embodied, the land given form as a god.


She waits for her husband, the sea god. She watches her land and her people.

 

hag stone 1

 

 

 

 

 

She asked me to dedicate myself three times.

Once in the presence of Manannan mac Lir, at the bay where I met him many years ago. Manannan her husband; Manannan the lord of all my journeys. King of the Wanderers, Lord of the Sea.

sealbay

And once in the presence of Duibhne, goddess of the Corca Duibhne people, her sister and my first ancestor. I did this part at a spot I discovered because there was literally a rainbow sitting over it as I drove past the previous day. (I’d been on the Corca Duibhne peninsula for a few days at the beginning of my trip, but nowhere there quite worked like this spot did.)

In the mist and the rain…

rainbow2

…and on a clear day

But at last I was headed to the Hag of Beara Stone, for the final dedication, to Beara* alone, and I was incredibly nervous. This is the spot where my Lady is most famous. I’ve met her in different parts of the land, and found that she is different everywhere. She’s wild in the mountains, warm and protective in the valleys, stormy by the sea… What if her aspect at the Hag Stone didn’t know me, or I didn’t recognise her?

hagstone4

A gate guards the way to the stone

hagstone5

An information plate about the stone, something I’ve only seen in one or two other places on the Peninsula

It was good that I was prepared. The Hag Stone was overwhelming. There, she’s like a great wind that forever rages across the mountain, exposed and open. I was hit with the force of dozens of centuries of stories told about this single geological feature, its total captivation of the people who saw it. In the offerings on and around the stone, I knew I was not alone in my worship of An Chailleach Bhearra, even though it may sometimes seem that way, and even though I may not understand the ways in which others relate to her. We are still all her people.

hagstone6

Offerings are all over the stone. This is a sacred place for many more people than just me.

hagstone7

The view across the bay from just behind the stone

I feel like a liminal person when it comes to many different things. In many parts of my life. The way I relate to my gods is just one thing that’s difficult to reconcile with what others around me do. I feel different – whether I actually am or not.

It’s time to stop being ashamed of my differences, and to embrace them – all of them. It’s time to stand on the clifftop and shout out Beara’s name to the waiting land below. It’s time to start learning how to stand proudly, like she does, between.

It’s time to start learning how to be her priestess.

More stories from the pilgrimage soon.

Sunset over Bantry Bay

Sunset over Bantry Bay

*Look, I’m learning how lenition works in Irish! :D

A Dedication

You are the Weaver of fate.
You are the Spinner of dreams.
You are the Unravelling of hope.

You are the Waters of the Well of chaos.
You are the Seed of the Tree of justice.
You are the Spark that lights the Fire of life, and burns it out.

You are the gentle evening breeze in the trees.
You are the terrible, raging gale on the mountaintop.
You are the Shaper of the land.

You are the child that is born from the waters.
You are the old woman who will never get down to the water in Time.
You are the Beginning of life, and you are its End.

You are the Mountain.
You are the Wilderness.
You are the Wild One.

You were the there when the sea first drew breath
and the land rose up from its depths
and the sky settled on the horizon

You will be here until the land drowns
Until the sea rises up and swallows her whole
Until the sky falls and the world burns.

You stand between.
You stand between the mountains and the shore.
You stand between the sea and the sky.
You stand between the dawn and the sunrise.
You stand between the twilight and the night.
You stand between the shadows and the darkness.
You stand between the candle and the star.

You are the sovereign Queen of the land called Beara.

I did not seek you, but you found me.
I did not want to live in the liminal spaces, but you met me there.
I longed for the light, but you have shown me the power of the shadows.

I am your liminal one, who stands between solitude and community.
I am your liminal one, who stands between healing and death.
I am your liminal one, who stands between the ancestors and the world.
I am your liminal one, who stands between my reality and theirs.

Not English, but neither entirely Irish.
Not able-bodied, but neither entirely disabled.
Not neurotypical, but neither entirely neurodivergent.
Not Christian, but neither entirely Pagan.
Not of the Otherworld, but neither entirely of this one.

I am the child of the Mountain.

You stand between.
You stand between the mountains and the shore.
You stand between the sea and the sky.
You stand between the dawn and the sunrise.
You stand between the twilight and the night.
You stand between the shadows and the darkness.
You stand between the candle and the star.

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The Irish Road in History and Mythology

Léithin Cluan:

A lovely reflection on the road in Irish myth and history.

Originally posted on aliisaacstoryteller:

irish Road 1

A stretch of the R438. Could it have followed the route of a more ancient Irish road?

I was driving along the R438 on my way from Sneem in Co Kerry to my home in Co Cavan yesterday, when it occurred to me, not for the first time, how very long and curiously straight certain stretches of this road are. And it’s not the only one I’ve come across whilst driving around Ireland.

We have always credited the Romans with building incredibly straight roads as they advanced on their campaign of dominion across Europe, but the Romans never came to Ireland in anything other than small groups to trade and barter. What  if the Romans were just making use of a network of roads which already existed? I mean, why go to the extra trouble and expense of excavating and building new roads, when all they had to do was…

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