Nearly every religious person I know spends a good deal of time talking (and worrying) about the "purpose" of human life. For the first years of my life, I did spend a bit of time thinking about such things myself. Truthfully, I heard more about it than I thought about it- teachers and other respectable adults in my life were almost non-stop in their sharing of the many myths of human purpose.
It seems so logical, to quite a lot of people, that we should all have a "purpose". When I say "purpose", I'm really not talking about any individual sense of destiny. I'm talking about that general sense of "what humans are and what important challenges or choices we face". The best (and by far the most worn-out) example of a widespread myth of human purpose is found in the halls of Christianity: the myth of fall and redemption.
Humans, in this myth, are creations of a loving and all-powerful being. This being endowed humans with "free will" and, thanks to the exercise of this fine gift, all of mankind "fell from grace", into a state of sin and death- where we currently find ourselves. This situation is grim- we were created, as the story goes, to give unending praise to our generous creator. Now, we've made quite a botch of things, and suffer greatly, in need of redemption. Our kindly creator responded to our need and sent a perfect sacrifice in the form of his son, Jesus, and now, anyone who accepts the sacrifice can be assured redemption and eternal life... after this life is over, of course. Until then, you still have to suffer, just because.
Now, I don't want to sound to flippant because I find that nearly all myths from ancient traditions have some value. But my point in writing out a short and somewhat irreverent outline of the Christian myth is to illustrate my original topic and point: for Christian people, life has a real and burningly important point: to submit to the redemptive powers of Christ and get spared from eternal death, or (worse yet) hell. Life's purpose is a high-tension race to redemption, an urgent quest to find the "right" redeemer, find the correct and narrow path, find the righteous way, and die in it.
And in the Christian myth, you only get one chance. No more, no less, no seconds or thirds, and (depending on which Christian you talk to) very little mercy for failure to comply with the rules as Christian churches teach them.
When I personally sit down to consider human life and purpose- and consider it I do, every day- I have little choice but to view it from the perspective of the worldview of Wyrd. This is not surprising; I am a Wyrd-worker, a Wyrd-knower, a Seidman and a Heathen mystic/philosopher of types. Given that I have all those labels weighting me down, I am entitled to a few biases and presuppositions about things. Furthermore, I am human, and just being human gives me a right to a few natural biases, chief of which is the right to consider life from a more compassionate, balanced, and (dare I say it?) realistic angle for human purpose, than the typical myth of fall and redemption.
You'll have to forgive me; maybe it's just the benighted little Heathen heart in me dragging me down to hell, but I can't bring myself to believe that all of this great and vast universe, and all of this great and vast variety of mind, emotion, and experience that we are all heirs to, can be reduced to such a simplistic and slanted myth as taught and believed by our Christian cousins. As appealing as such a fast and simple little story may be (to some) I can't believe that life is that simple, or that the universe really amounts to a simple little human-choice drama.
Let me take a little side-path here, and have a mini-rant about "belief" and "faith".
I don't just believe in the vast kindreds and hosts of wights and beings that fill this universe; I know them. I don't set my mind and heart-knowledge aside in the category of "belief", thus rendering it "one step less true" than other beliefs like "science" or what have you. I don't place my knowledge on the "belief" pedestal, thus introducing it to the endless attacks and debates and the constant moronic harping of the skeptical fools regarding the differences between "knowledge" and "faith" and what have you. I don't have faith in the Gods. I know the Gods. I know them because I, like you, live on the back of a Goddess and see her every day. She holds my house up, my hometown, my state, my country, and even has the oceans in big, deep indentions in her body.
So, seeing this Goddess every day, I don't have to have "faith" in her. I just have to treat her well and walk with respect on her back. Now, this gives a Heathen blackguard like myself a "one up" on my philosophical opponents in the many other "faiths" in this world- few can take me outside and introduce me to their God.
Now, back on track, and to my point: the universe is vast- all of its Nine Worlds are packed full of power, beings, wights, Gods, giants, and Wyrd the Mighty knows what else: and we humans are only a tiny part of this massive outplaying of many sentient and non-sentient forces. This is the worldview of the sorcerer: this is how sorcerous eyes see. This is the ultimate mystical vision of mental, physical, and spiritual plurality.
This is it: we are parts of the Web of Wyrd, a web without boundaries, as "large" as the universe, and infinite- without beginning or ending, forever full of every force interacting, changing, evolving, friction-tearing, communicating, trembling and weaving, spinning perpetually. In this vast web of forces, life arises, in many places, in many forms, some "physical" as we know the word, others not so, but no less alive or intelligent.
All these forces rely on one another, in some ways; all can communicate; most do communicate, though "communication" comes in many forms; All of this power- all of this vast power- you feel it every day that you live and walk and breathe. Set your mind just a bit to the side of Wyrd's weave, a little up, a little down, a little high, a little deep, and entire new vistas of reality open themselves to you.
It is to our benefit to know this reality of endless interaction, and interact well with the other beings that share this universe with us, beginning with the beings who share our planet. It is in our power to tremble the threads of Wyrd to wonderful or devastating effect. We humans may be a tiny group of players in a vast cosmos-scape of Wyrd, but we are no less important than any other part of the web. Without us, the web would not be complete, and therefore, the web would not be able to exist in wholeness. It would, in fact, cease to be, for it needs all of its parts. Wyrd is the ultimate vision of inclusiveness.
This is enough to outrage the fools in our modern world who love to belittle mankind and talk about how unimportant we are in the "grand scheme of things"- as though their blind little eyes, sometimes squinting through telescopes, oftentimes stuck in the pages of a Dawkins book- could really know what the true "grand scheme of things" entails! One does not discover the true depth of the "grand scheme of things" by looking at distant stars or measuring distances between galaxies. One discovers the grand scheme of things by looking within the mind and measuring how deep the Underworld really goes- which is, as they say, "all the way down".
Until you've taken into account the depth of emotion, mind, interaction, and the unutterable mysteries of sacred mythology, you've not even begun to dimension the grand scheme of things. Until you've seen into another world, and glimpsed the timelessness of spirit, there is no chance of understanding "the grand scheme of things".
The "grand scheme of things"! What a figure of speech! This, of course, brings me right back to where we started: the grand scheme of things, and the "human place" or purpose within it.
What does it mean to be a form of life, a human being, whose body-mind-spirit complex coalesced out of the many turnings of Wyrd, and was a child of so many forces? What does it mean to be one of this race, this species, this group we call "mankind"?
Are we stuck in a rat-race to get the right religion's stamp of approval on our souls, before Wyrd turns our bodies back into dust? Are we "here" to learn this or that secret about the universe, or to be kind to one another? Are we here because we ignorantly wandered here, under the power of delusion, to suffer through yet another lifetime, before moving on to another?
All fine questions. And while I feel the need now to suggest an answer (I wouldn't have made you wait this long for nothing!) I need to warn you that such answers seldom fall easily into letters and words. The sheer complexity of Wyrd prevents over-simplifications in anything, truth be told. And I don't want to over-simplify an answer to a question of this much importance, lest I fall into the error of the Christians or the Muslims.
Because goodness knows many great men have thought on this answer for thousands of years, and have given many great answers. Who am I compared to them? I'll be honest with you- and say what you probably already suspect- I'm not much compared to them. I'm not Plato or Augustine or Mohammed or Buddha.
I'm a man from the southern forests of a beautiful but suffering continent, an exile from his ancestors' homelands, who claims he can see visions and talk to spirits. I'm a Pagan in a Christian world, only surviving because times have changed, and the local church in these days can't send policemen to arrest and burn me.
I'm a guy who fully admits to being phobic of air travel and public bathrooms. I have a nice (and alarmingly large) collection of University degrees behind my name, but I'm not particularly wealthy, and I've not managed to start an academy in Athens; I've been to lots of caves, but I've never had tight conversations with Archangels; I've sat under lots of trees in trances and meditated, but never found "enlightenment". I've written a lot of letters that pissed a lot of people off, but I've never been handed a sainthood for all my troubles. No, I don't stack up to the "great men" of philosophy and religious history.
There are lots of nasty names for people like me, and lots of pills that can be prescribed for people like me. You probably don't have any reason to trust me, and I wanted to be up-front about this. If you like what I am about to say, you'll have to accept it on your own terms, Caveat Emptor and all. I'm not a great sage from history, but I am very honest and unafraid to live my own path through life, regardless of what all the hostile little faces around me say.
I do communicate with spirits and have a capacity for spiritual vision that extends beyond the normal; the fire in me certainly is the delirious demon of the DSM-IV, but it is also the fire that has burned in a lot of muddy-bearded mystics on the side of a lot of forest roads in a lot of distant countries. And I'm strangely comfortable with it... except of course, when I'm not. On those days, I write long, rambling letters and post them on the internet somewhere.
So why listen to my answer (which I swear that I'm getting to?) Because you've read this far, you might as well. And because Wyrd the mighty has woven you here, just like She wove me typing these words right at this instant. We're together, you and I; we're inseparable. And you probably won't like what I'm about to say.
I would NEVER think to tell you "human life has no purpose; purpose is all constructed". I HATE it when people pull that cop-out. But they do have a point about the word "purpose" and its cousin-word "meaning". Everyone seems to have a different opinion or idea about what these words entail, in relation to human beings and our lives, anyway. Who's right?
The people who are "right" are likely the people who can (to a lesser or greater extent) separate themselves from pre-conceived notions born in culture and religion BEFORE they try to puzzle out the definitions or "meanings". But what's left when you step outside of cultural encapsulation?
The bare facts of Wyrd- of the system of linear AND non-linear causality- are left. The bare bones or threads of the universal tapestry. And here we are, all right where we've been woven. I can't say why I'm here, but I can say where I am and what I do here. I am in the southern forests; I'm in my house; I'm in my town; I'm in my profession. I'm in this world. What do I do? I think, I write, I read, I go into trances, I talk to people, I help to bring about therapeutic change within the systems of other people's lives; I love my family. I know where I am and what I'm doing.
I can't even begin to describe the chain of forces that came together to make such a being as myself, or which stands behind all the things I do. I can't describe those forces in their totality for you or for anyone else. I couldn't describe them for even the smallest grain of sand. But I know where (at least a few) grains of sand are, and what they do.
And I know what I hope- and what many others hope. And I know what people have done, and why I still do what ancient people- my ancestors- did. It's enough. It moves me through life with peace in my heart.
My answer is now forming, but it isn't enough; it's not complete yet.
Here we are, spinning in the web of Wyrd, you, me, everyone, everything. A point comes- I don't know when, or how, but a point comes when you find yourself wherever you happen to be, doing what you happen to be doing. A moment of clarity arises, for all of us. When you string those moments of awareness together long enough, use that fine memory of yours to create a personal story, a personal narrative of moments, (give yourself some chronology) then you have a "life", so-called. And there's your life, spinning out, and here is mine.
You knew this already. We can all get this far. But why did we get this fine clarity, this space of mind, these memories, this ability to string together moments, these hopes, these inclinations, these dreams?
They are Wyrd. Fate spun them out. Fate spun you out, and me. It may seem so self-willed, but in reality, it is quite mechanical. This is the universe, not that poor tiny thing you call "you", friend. What "you and I" really have is the precious chance to realize all this, and marvel at the amazing power of it all. At this moment, stop and look- smell the Wyrd Roses; how marvelous is all this greatness! The vast deep- the great sweep of timeless experience and causality- real eternity, all right now, in this moment of clarity.
Man, this is material enough for a smile, a headache, or yet another psychotic break. I'm not sure which. Or maybe it's just food for thought. Whatever it is, it brings me one step closer to my answer.
We are not here to find "redemption". There was no primordial error in Wyrd, nor among our first ancestors. We didn't "fall" from anywhere. We were always here, though this moment, this human moment, may be the first time we've ever consciously experienced things as human beings. We all think we were born, and are living, and dying, and yes, I think there's some truth to that. But I don't think that "birth-life-death" is the entire story. I don't want to venture too far into saying what I think the "entire" story might be, because as I have always said, Wyrd won't ever let us know the "entire" story; it's just too big.
And that should be a tip to us all: if it's too big for your minds, then you don't need to know the whole story to live well. So stop worrying about such abstract things, and deal with what you do know- where you are, and what you are doing. If you add a sense of wonder to those two things, you get a life of quality.
But is it our "purpose" to "get a life of quality"? I can say this: Wyrd didn't "plan" out our lives; Wyrd is not "predestination". Life isn't a planned-and-executed event; it is a perpetual motion of reality. That's us, spinning along, right now, like always.
A point comes when you have a chance to think about these things, in a very abstract way. I don't know how or why the point comes, but it comes- a space of mental clarity sort of "opens up" for you.
Maybe, if you haven't pulled your hair out by now from reading my thoughts, you're in that space as we communicate now. Maybe you like what I've said. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you don't understand it. Maybe you think you understand it too well. Maybe you think I'm trying to be too deep. Maybe you think this is shallow. Whatever. You think what you like- but think. Use the moment when it comes to you. We're human beings, beings that have an opportunity, a chance that comes many times in our long and perpetual existence, to think about things, to study this world, to come to many sorts of knowledge. We are, after all, "Homo Sapiens"- right?
We're forever parts of this web of life, this web of Wyrd, and for "most of our time" (not that time matters over-much when you escape from the boring limitations of basic perception) we haven't been very aware of the fact of our participation in the great sacred web. And yet, here we are, and always were, and always will be. Maybe we, for timeless ages, were hyper-conscious of our state; perhaps we were Hel-dark and unaware. But something changed, and here we are, as human beings. I have an idea about what changed; the pure spirit that is the seat of these thoughts- it was in Allfather, before he breathed it into human bodies, born of this earth. Now that spirit is part of the experience of a Human Being.
There's no purpose here, just opportunity. We can grow in awareness, gain in wisdom, or not. The universe won't end if we don't; we won't be punished by the Gods if we don't; all will be well- as it always was and always will be.
So the pressure's off. This life- our timeless existence in the weave of Wyrd- is, in my opinion, about exploration. There's no punishment for not exploring, although you can hardly help it; it's part of being woven through so many different situations and experiences. Of course, if you don't explore, you'll be unhappy, because the deepest longings within your mind and heart will always wish they had gone further, seen more, discovered more.
I can say that I do think the Gods- who are fellow beings exploring this Web of Wyrd with us, though much wiser and powerful and more long-lived than we- have given us good advice on how to be happy and fulfilled during our explorations. Our explorations come at different times- the moments just come, and I don't really know how. But the mead of experience comes. Whenever the moments come, these precious times, the Gods are there to help and guide. So are our fellow wayfarers. Some beings are there to hurt. Some don't appear to care.
There's no time limit on your expeditions of exploration or learning. This does NOT mean that I believe "life is all about learning, and you learn lessons in each life"- no, I think that's a bit silly (though it's no more silly than what most people believe, and actually, a lot less hateful or harmful than some myths that were already under discussion) but I still think it's silly. I don't think we're all consciously "choosing" to be born here and live and explore. Wyrd is weaving this for us. We weren't here, it seems... and then, we were. We emerged from the web, consciously. And we began to make sense of it all. And so on we go.
This vision, this story of "exploration within complex causality and mystery" makes more sense to me than the "UP OR DOWN, SINNER" story. It seems to suit our environment- that of great timeless sacredness and complexity- better. It shows how so many explorations can lead to so many different experiences, conclusions, and places, without one being "the only right one". It just makes sense. Like Wyrd, this story is inclusive and not a little strange.
So, is there an end to this exploration? No. That might sound fearful or tiring, but as vast as this web of reality is, trust me- the vast spirit in you wouldn't have it any other way. In my vision, the beings who are honored to dwell in the worlds of the Gods are those valiant souls who cast themselves into the voids of uncertainty and the great task of life- with all its many dangers- without fear.
Those beings who come to rest in the deepest darkness of the Underworld are people who could be in the worlds of the Gods, if they weren't afraid or avoiding the exploration out of some personal weakness. Those who Fate has seen fit to place on the side of the mountain are us, in this middle-world, spiraling along our roads, which can go many places. The moments (which we call "roads") just come- they arise. I don't know from where they come, but I know where they can go.
So on we go.
Bear in mind, dear reader, that these are just words, models, ideas. Tools for the exploration. Be safe.