If we’re going to get through the next few years, we need a change of narrative so profound that our entire culture changes direction.  We need not just new stories, but a whole new shape to what a story is. And it will start with our writing.


If we’re going to get through the next few years, we need a change of narrative so profound that our entire culture changes direction.  We need not just new stories, but a whole new shape to what a story is. And it will start with our writing.

Why your god is not the One True God

This is a parable, so sit and listen carefully. Put aside your prejudice and your cares and let your mind wander free.  Imagine that I am a fisher in a small village, somewhere that lives from the product of the sea. Or perhaps you are the fisher. We are fishing.  I/you/we go out one day in our boat on a calm sea with our fellow fishers and start to cast our nets.  We are doing well, lazily lying in the sun, occasionally hauling in the nets and we barely notice when the storm kicks up.

Soon, though, we notice: when the clouds pile high and the rain falls hard as hailstones and the thunder roars and the sea rises high as a house and the boat is tossed from wave to wave… then we notice.  But soon only I or you notice, because all our friends have gone – washed away in the turbulent sea. We find ourselves clinging to a spar in the black, cold water, tasting sea, breathing sea, seeing only sea.  We are, in fact, drowning…. And then at the nadir of our havoc, it seems to us that a giant purple octopus emerges from the waves and,with infinite care, lifts us back from the deep, onto a flat plank that is more stable than our spar, so that we can breathe air and see sky as well as sea.  And soon after that, we find ourselves floating against the tide, heading inland, instead of out into the greater ocean, and we are sure that the giant purple octopus, which is now our best friend in all the world, is pushing us home. We lose consciousness with that thought, and when we wake, all our relatives, our husbands, our children, our parents, are gathered round us on the shingle, wanting to know what happened, and where is everyone else?

We are taken home and dried out and left to sleep and in the morning, rested, we tell our story of how the Giant Purple Octopus that Lives Beneath the Sea rescued us out of the goodness of its heart and gave us life when everyone else had drowned. Because what is more precious than life to one who has seen death, and what gift could be greater? And so in giving that gift, the GPOTLBS could only be a magnificent Being.

From that day on, we are changed. Where we might have been tetchy, we are mild. Where we might have been miserly, we are generous, giving away everything, knowing that nothing matters but a life well lived. Where we were quiet and insular, we have become companionable, amiable, generous with our time: and most of all, we have become a quiet, fierce advocate of the GPOTLBS. We sing its praises – literally. We tell our story – always the same, always simple – and we lead others to recognise its goodness.  We are, more than anything else, a successful fisher; careful and daring at once, taking risks, but not great risks, knowing the GPOTLBS will rescue us. And so soon, given our success, and our goodness, and the simplicity of our story, others join us in our care for the GPOTLBS and they join us in giving a tithe of our catch back to the deep oceans as a gift – not to repay the infinite generosit of the Gift, for what can measure against a life? – but to honour the greatness of the GPOTLBS.

And then one day, quietly, with composure, knowing we rest in the care of the Octopus, we die.  And we leave behind a string of villages who mourn for us, and who begin to honour Us as much as they honour the GPOTLBS and they begin to compete in their generosity so that soon it isn’t enough to give a tithe to the sea, they must give something more precious – a human life, say – someone old, or ill or criminal, who has no say, but who can be bound and thrown living into the sea. And soon -say in two or three generations – someone thinks to write down what We said, because We are divine now, and whereas nobody can really remember it – people are notoriously unreliable witnesses – they can remember the gist of it, or at least, the gist of what they would like it to have been – and so soon, there is a body of Writing, which people can read and learn and memorise – and argue about.  And soon after that, grow up other Bodies of Writing which say subtly different things, because not everyone wants to remember what We said in the same way. And soon – say in three or four generations – there are monasteries of priests who worship Us and the GPOTLBS in their different ways.

There are those who say that eight legs are great and that they are actually five legs plus three legs because five and three are mystical numbers.  There are those who say they are three legs plus five legs because three and five are mystical numbers and it matters what order they come in.  There are those who say they are four plus four, and the order doesn’t matter. And there are the few mystical fools, derided by them all, who say that eight plus nothing equals eight and that nothing is the most mystical number of all. And soon- say in seven or eight generations – armed gangs are raiding each others’ villages, forcing people to convert from the 5+3 to the 3+5 at sword point (or the other way round) and wealthy men who wear ceremonial Fishers’ Wear decorated with gold and ivory and pearls who  take the Writings and examine them and then torture to death the people who disagree with their interpretations for they are Right and everybody else is Wrong, particularly the people who say that 8+0 is mystical. For them, they reserve the longest, slowest, most ghastly death. And soon – say in twenty or thirty generations – there is no longer one church that worships Us plus the GPOTLBS, but four or five different strands of worship, each with their own distinct sects who will kill one another quite happily to prove that their interpretation is right.

And you and I? Where are we in this? And where is the Octopus, that may or may not have existed on that stormy afternoon in the deep sea? The Octopus, which, let’s face it, was a figment of a somewhat harrowed imagination, has taken form, and has grown and has split, in the way amoebas split so that there are, in fact, eight, nine, ten, a dozen different entities that take the name of TGPOTLBS: each of them was formed, as gods are always formed and  always will be formed, by the devotion, care and full attention of their human worshipers, for mystics have always known that if you contemplate something long enough and hard enough, you can bring it into being. And if you don’t like the work of long, hard contemplation – which is the hardest work known to humanity, so that most of us will do almost anything to avoid it – then the next best way to create an entity is to torture someone in its name.  Things come into being if you feed them enough misery, pain and death.  And in the way of humanity, there’s a lot more misery, pain and death than there is ever the long, hard contemplation, and there’s far, far more than the deep, still contemplation that leads us to the All That Is, which transcends the gods and their petty jealousies.

Because gods are jealous and the GPOTLBS is quite happy, having been born of our intentions, to take all that we give it of human blood and pain and effort. It will drink them endlessly; in fact, it must drink them endlessly to survive. And it will, on occasion, help its worshippers; it will send dreams, or heal wounds, or move mountains, because these things are possible to gods, although they take a lot of focus and frankly they’d rather not bother.  But if they need to, to make sure the worshippers keep feeding them what they need to survive, they’ll send the odd dream, whisper in the occasional ear, tip the balance of a decision to keep things smooth. But there’s always a price and that price, almost always, is exclusivity for gods, above all, are jealous things, and hate the idea that they might have to share us with others. And in the end, if they can convince us, against all evidence, that they are The Only God, then they have won, for we will have no recourse, except to step back, and look at all the gods and ask ourselves what kind of a god we might choose to make, did we choose to make one, and how it might be fed and cared for, and what we might ask of it, and whether, in the end, it might not be easier simply to sit in the deep, still place of meditation and come to know that all-that-is-one-ness of the All That Is.

And that is the parable of the Giant Purple Octopus that Lives Beneath the Sea, and how it did not exist and will not exist, unless you choose to make it so.  But remember: ‘You can always be sure you have made your god in your own image when you find that it hates all the same things you hate.’ (That’s from Annie Lamott).

Edit – DHL have just delivered my line edits.  How very timely is that…?  Enjoy the reading. I’ll be writing for a while.

Edit II in response to a response: I am a shamanic practitioner (I don’t believe anyone raised in a western society can be a shaman, but I follow the spiritual path that is shamanic dreaming), and it informs every moment of my waking and sleeping life. I teach it, I live it, I dream it. I follow the old gods of this land (the UK), but not in the belief that they are the ultimate all-that-is. I have a relationship with them and we help each other when we can. I strive for balance in that relationship, knowing what I can give (my intent, my attention, a connection to this world) and what I can receive (advice, help, healing) and without at any point considering that my view is exclusive or that I have a monopoly on the truth.)



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