Stop Would-Believing

Sophia Burns
3 min readSep 12, 2021
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Paganism has no creed and no central authority. Not only is there no orthodoxy — there isn’t anyone to test for it. That’s made it home for people with all kinds of speculative, avant-garde ideas.

Sometimes that freedom allows people to create beautiful concepts, theological artists creating masterpieces of ritual and revelation. Sometimes, though, Pagans end up accepting beliefs that simply aren’t true. But even when they do, they can still articulate their thinking — why they choose to believe in spite of good reasons not to.

For instance, I once found someone who talked about the great benefits of divination with regular playing cards, instead of a Tarot deck. He talked up the problems with Tarot and how his method avoided them — for example, one of the suits unambiguously predicted misfortune, whereas Tarot always gives you wiggle room (what reader wants to be forced to prophesy doom?). But knowing that certain cards were just straight-up bad news was much truer to life. Therefore, playing cards were a more realistic — and therefore more useful and reliable — tool.

That all makes total sense. The only problem is that there’s no reason to believe that any deck of cards, Tarot or standard, works the way fortune-tellers promise. If you don’t grant that basic premise, who cares whether playing cards “would” do the job better? Why should they do the job at all? It’s true that a banana is much more comfortable to hold up to your ear than a pinecone, but that doesn’t mean it works better as a telephone. If neither of them functions as a telephone in the first place, why bother about the ergonomics?

Or take astrology. Isn’t it better to know someone’s star chart than to ask them what the hell they’re doing? After all, the horoscope can unveil their hidden motives, but talking to them only gets you what they’re willing to admit. The trouble is that knowing someone’s sign gives you no meaningful information about them whatsoever. Better to get the partial truth they’ll own up to than the secret one that’s pure fiction. It’s irrelevant that it “would be” useful if you could probe their inner psyche based solely on their birthday. It’d also be useful to fly like Superman. Should you start leaping off of skyscrapers?

The would-believing trap can catch anyone, not just Pagans. I’ve known many…

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Sophia Burns

Paganism, Buddhism, Classics, philosophy, LGBTQ culture, and the art of living well. Former activist; I don’t trust culture war. http://patreon.com/sophiaburns