B.C. on Religion: Grow Your Own Religion

Are Jedi Knights Pagans?

My sweetie, Ldot, once explained magick to some of her friends. "You know the Force in Star Wars?" she said. "It's a lot like that." A lot of people seem to think that this is a funny thing to say because Star Wars is a work of fiction.

Here's an interesting fact: one of the largest (if not the largest) pagan organizations is based on a work of fiction. The Church of All Worlds (CAW. Not to be confused with the Canadian Auto Workers -- I'm always getting them mixed up) is modelled on Robert A. Hienlein's book Stranger in a Strange Land. CAW members, like Michael Smith, become water brothers.

Can we take the Church of All Worlds seriously? Or should we dismiss what they do as somehow... not real?

Miracles without the Special Effects

I don't want to be a messiah; messiah's die young.

-- Men Without Hats

My personal guru is Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And, in fact, to the extent that I can describe my religion, I would probably say that I'm striving to be a reluctant messiah.

Richard Bach's material just resonates with me in so many ways. But he doesn't write religious tracts. He doesn't write books on healing the chicken soup of the soul or anything like that. He writes stories. Fiction. He writes fictionalized accounts of himself meeting improbable characters.

How can I consider this serious spiritual guidance? Well, I can. Not only that, I take it pretty seriously. Richard Bach appeals to my analytical side; he intellectualizes his own spirituality, and he lets people come along with the discovery.

How seriously did I take him? Well, listen to what he says about miracles; here, Richard is talking to Donald Shimoda, retired messiah.

"Show me what you mean. Give me a little miracle of the magnet... I want to learn this."

"You show me," he said. "To bring anything into your life, imagine that it's already there. ... Something small, at first."

"I'm supposed to practice now?"


"OK... A blue feather."


He shrugged. "Fine. A blue feather. Imagine the feather. Visualize it, every line and edge of it, the tip, V-splits where it's torn, fluff around the quill. Just for a minute. Then let it go."

I closed my eyes for a minute and saw an image in my mind, five inches long, iridescing blue to silver at the edges. A bright clear feather floating there in the dark.


"That's it. You can open your eyes now."

I opened my eyes. "Where's my feather?"

"If you had it clear in your thought, it is even this moment barreling down on you like a Mack truck."

New agey? Yup. Camp? Yup, that too. But there have been times in my life when I genuinely believed it. In my final years of University, for example, I decided to believe that everything I needed to get through life would find its way to me. It was a letting go, of sorts; like being in the current of a fast-moving river, and just having faith that the waters would steer me clear of all the rocks.

I would cram for my finals -- hopelessly behind on my Fourier analysis and Measure theory. And when I knew that I wasn't going to have time to learn it all, I'd just let go, and visualize passing and believe that everything was going to work out in the end. And it did. I passed all of my courses. I got my degree -- a joint honours.

I still, occassionally, get into that headspace. But I think I've listened to too many people say "Well, the reality of the situation is...". I got a mortgage, and a job, and started to think about credit card payments and job promotion. And I've lost that centre. That faith. That ability to just let go.

Y'know, it's really hard to talk about this stuff without sounding like a complete and utter flake.

The Loneliest Number

you will
practice being fictional
for a while, you will understand
that fictional characters are
sometimes more real than
peoples with bodies
and hearts

-- Richard Bach, Illusions

I read Richard Bach's book, One, when I was in Australia. I was staying with a friend of a friend, and I leant the book to them. Bach introduces us quite carefully to the raison d'être of the book.  Richard recalls receiving a letter which read:

Remember the alternate Richard you wondered about in Bridge, the one who ran away, who refused to trade his many women for Leslie? I thought you'd want to hear from me because I'm that man, and I know what happened next.

The life of the man who sent Richard the letter paralleled Richard's life in an eerie number of ways. And, where Richard turned left, this other man turned right.

The whole turning left versus turning right language reminds me of descriptions of quantum theory. And it apparently reminded Richard of quantum theory also, because One is a book about the quantum nature of the human spirit.

Let me turn my attention to another book, for a moment: Robert J. Sawyer's Factoring Humanity. In this book, Sawyer talks about the quantum computers. He tells us about high school experiments with beaming light through two slits and getting interference patterns. When photons are forced to make a choice -- to go left or right -- quantum physics tells us that the universe splits into two universes. In one universe, the photon goes left. In the other universe, the photon goes right.

Now, imagine we had a quantum computer. You're trying to write a program to guess someone's bank card number, and all the computer has to do is make a choice -- to guess one particular number. But if that decision is being made by subatomic particles, then the universe splits into ten thousand different universes, each of which guesses a different number, and one of those numbers is right.

So, Richard Bach's book kinda takes the view that different people who make different choices are not much different from quantum computers. People are therefore operating as facets of a gigantic collective computer consciousness. That somehow, we're all tapped in to a gigantic incomprehensible communication system that is looking for answers from among millions and millions of choices.

Only Jung Once

"Collective Consciousness"? Ah, yes. Here's where we bring in Jungian psychology. As you've probably heard, Frued was the first person to suggest the idea of the personal unconscious, but Jung extended that theory with a theory of a collective unconscious.

Jung believed that our ideas about myth and gods and archetypes were related to this collective unconsciousness. Jung argued that mythology is the common language of that communication system. We cannot understand the workings of the collective unconscious, but we can see a sliver when we contemplate mythical archetypes.

And that, for what it's worth, is a very common pagan perspective. Vivienne Crowley [1989] writes:

Jung calls myth that which is not objectively true but is psychologically true, "...the bridge to all that is best in humanity." It was this inner reality which was portrayed in ritual and the method of portrayal was to use allegories found in nature...
By examining their perceptions of the world around them, men and women came to an understanding of their own inner beings.

But hey, I haven't even quoted Jung on this topic. I've only been talking about works of fiction! Oh well. Is there any evidence for these crazy ideas?

Fact is, there are a lot of learned scientists now trying to understand what quantum physics might teach us about consciousness. Many of these people are peering intently on a collection of proteins called microtubules. Stuart Hameroff writes:

If such proteins are configured in a lattice so that coherence occurs among the superposed states, "quantum computing" (e.g. Benioff,1982; Deutsch and Josza,1992; Feynman, 1986) may occur whose outputs regulate neural firing. Issues of isolation and bioenergetics required for biomolecular quantum coherence are tricky, but feasible. (Frohlich coherence is the subject of a weeklong conference in Prague, September 11-15, 1995.)
Microtubules, geometric lattices of proteins, seem particularly suited for such a role. They have the following characteristics:
1) high prevalence,
2) functional importance (for example regulating neural connectivity and synaptic function),
3) periodic, crystal-like lattice dipole structure with long-range order,
4) ability to be transiently isolated from external interaction/observation,
5) functionally coupled to quantum-level events,
6) hollow, cylindrical (possible waveguide), and
7) suitable for information processing. Membranes, membrane proteins, synapses, DNA and other types of structures have some, but not all, of these characteristics. Cytoskeletal microtubules are the most likely (but not necessarily the only) biomolecular quantum devices in neurons.

For me, the collective unconscious is the divine, and we are all part of it. And we cannot fully understand it except in metaphor.

Pagans worship archetypal Gods and Goddesses, without necessarily believing that they are "objectively true"; instead, they are "psychologically true." What's more: the God and the Goddess speak quantum!

True Fictions

One of the ideas related to a collective consciousness is that when a new idea is thought up, it tends to suddenly appear in a lot of places around the world in a very short period of time. One might suppose that all of those thinkers are tapping in to the collective consciousness, and finding the idea.

I believe that there's a purpose for this kind of idea discovery; that different people with different experiences and knowledges are all meant to contribute to the process of finding answers and meaning. Scientists will have ideas that will find their ways into the heads of theologians, and philosophers, and artists. And fiction writers. And each of those people will develop the idea in new and interesting ways.

One of the fundamental questions of the pagan community involves whether or not Gerald Gardner was given the secrets of the Witches as part of a traditional initiation, or whether he invented them as a synthesis of Freemasonry, anthropology, and Crowley's writings on magic. And, for me, I don't care what the answer to that question is.

I believe in the philosophy of Richard Bach; he is very up-front about inventing his own belief system. I can believe in a religion that was dreamed up in the 1940s just as easily as I can believe in a religion that goes back hundreds of years, before the "Burning Times".

Because, you see, I don't think that weighty ideas on topics like religion come from nowhere.

Copyright © 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last updated: January 25th, 2000

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