When I was a little kid, up to the age of six, I was scared of wooden panelling with knotholes. The knotholes looked like eyes to me. I thought they were the eyes of the murdered trees, looking accusingly from the paneling, the spirit still in the wood, able to "do things." This was long before I was taught anything about religion, other than the "Now I lay me down to sleep" prayer...
We are born animists, all the world is alive to us, in mysterious ways. Stuffed animals, dreams, symbols, clouds, shapes in the ceiling and in the wall...
Little kids, huh.
I believe in God. I do, but I am not dogmatic about things. I believe in God the way most people meant in the old days when they said "I believe in God." That (God =the Creator) doesn't cause any friction between my Ioway beliefs (God = Ma'un = Earthmaker) and my Catholic beliefs (God = the Father, Son and Holy Ghost). It doesn't, not for people from the older generation I was brought up around. You believe in God, do your best, avoid doing bad things, treat people the way you want to be treated. That's how you live.
When I was little, I fell in love with Greek mythology. The first thing I ever remember drawing was a Cyclops, from the Ulysses movie starring Kirk Douglas ("More wine! hahaha!"). The book I remember is D'aulaire's Book of Greek Myths; it formed my mental pictures of the Greek Gods and it still does. The Greek Gods were as real to me as a little child as Gumby and Pokey, and God, and my stuffed animals that also were alive, and the clouds that sent down lightning. And the dark things under the bed and in the closet that moved around at night and caused nightmares. The knotholes in the walls' wood paneling were the eyes of trees that had been killed, accusing one of the crime.
It was only as I grew older, that I learned that I was to believe only in some of these things as "real." And older than that, I learned that I couldn't believe in both the Greek Gods AND God with a capital G. And then when I went to Catholic school, things got even more complicated. I had known about God for a long long time ("Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep...") but now there was Jesus, and the Holy Ghost, and Mary. And I took it all in stride and believed in them as well. And I wasn't allowed to believe in anything other than these new additions to my understanding.
But there were problems. They said only humans had souls. But that was untrue, as I knew my dogs also had souls...I could see it in their eyes, their souls. And the idea of hell. I didn't like it. It made me even more scared, adding hell to those dark things that roamed around at night. I knew EVERYBODY I knew was going to heaven when they died ("If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take" wasn't a lie was it?).
So what about the Greek Gods and Goddesses, and the souls of my dogs, and the eyes of the murdered trees in the planks, and the plants that grew and could even grow vines to strangle you at night? And the wind that spoke and rain that seemed to say something to me? Many years passed, and I still wondered about these things. While in Church I prayed to God, and took communion, and wondered about the dark feelings in the Church's basement and the carvings of staring faces on the cathedral's stonework: who were they?
I learned about the theories of anthropology in college, about the development of witchcraft and religion. I learned about apophenia and paradoulia and simulacra and people seeing Jesus' face in a tortilla...
Most of the Gods and Goddesses of Classical Paganism and the various Indigenous Ways, can shown to be, in their essence/origins:
=I. Universal Major Elements/Forces
1. Sky Father
2. Mother Earth
7. Ice, Fire, etc.
=II. Human Ancestors who went through Apotheosis
1. Fathers and Mothers of an Ethnic Group
2. Direct Ancestors
3. Ancestors who were expert craftspeople or practitioners
4. Ghosts, Egregores, Tulpa, etc. formed by emotions, rituals, memories in the land placed there by ancestors
=III. Local Anima Loci "Spirits of Place"/landvaettir
1. Mountains, Volcanoes, Cliffs, and Hills
2. Plants, Groves and Forests
4. Unusual Features (rock spires, etc.)
5. Watercourses: Rivers, streams, springs, ponds, lakes, waterfalls
EVERY God or Goddess I can think of, when you look at the origin myths, has an origin in one of the above categories, even if it was later amalgamated with another category.
-Odin: Originated as a Germanic ancestor, added features of Sky Father, and craft of magic and cunning.
-Shango: Originated as a great West African chief, added feature of amalgamation with thunder and fire.
But many of the polytheistic pagan faiths also had a distant "Creator" god that made all things but didn't get much involved in human affairs. For my tribe, we believed in Earthmaker (Ma'un), but when you went out to get a vision or made sacrifices, it was to one of the Persons created by Ma'un...it was THESE Persons (Thunder, Bear, etc.) who became one's Helper in a Vision Quest.
So whatever path we take for ourselves, it is okay to believe in "God" (however one wants to think about "God", as an old white-bearded man, Zeus/Deus, or "the Force" or whatever) but the day-to-day business of living is tied to one's local natural forces and places, animals and plants, as Persons, and also to one's Ancestors and the ancestral practitioners of one's craft/way of making a living.
And so, I still struggle to make sense of all this.
I have never had God tell me anything. Nor Jesus, nor Odin, nor Mary, nor Apollo. Not so I can tell without second-guessing myself. A couple of times I have had dreams in which it seemed angels talked to me. But those were only dreams. That came true, even if it was decades later.
But I have seen the souls of dogs in their eyes, and the hair rise on my neck in a dark place in the woods where I know I am not wanted, and the lick of a butterfly that landed on my hand, and the blessing of a cold drink of water. I know these exist. I KNOW... I don't have to believe.
I do think there might be something to what I thought as a little kid, before the world got to me, with all its ambivalence and confusion of beliefs. When things get too confusing and you feel like everyone else's dogmas and beliefs are weighing down on you, and you don't know what YOU really believe anymore, --go back to what YOU believed as a little kid, before parents and school and friends and church and television and books and movies and stores and the overarching culture we all live in, got to us. Try to remember what YOU believed back, wayyy back.
Really though, I think I was onto something when I was a little guy, about that wood paneling...not the fake wood paneling we see today, but the old, REAL stuff, made of wood. Look at that old paneling or old school plywood. You will see the eyes of the murdered trees looking at you...