“There’s always been a god shaped hole in man’s head. Trees were the first to fill it.” – Mr. Wednesday
My religion growing up was a three-headed snake: 1 part Southern Baptist, 1 part Pagan, and 1 part Catholic. All three co-existed without the other knowing. I would attend Sunday School in a white dress, bleached and ironed, afterwards I would trample around the vast Western North Carolina mountain side barefoot, inspecting the trees for spirits and waterfalls for sprites. I was educated in God, sin, the unknown and the unspoken. All three became a chain in a link that I outgrew.
As I got older the traditions lessened. My saint pendants oxidized and hung from a nail. My candles became less for worship and more for ambiance. Worse, prayer and intention became a last resort in desperate times. My faith became a failsafe when adulthood loomed when it was once a foundation I stood upon.
Then one day an advertisement appeared online. AMERICAN GODS. The tagline: believe.
I desperately wanted to. As the premier date inched closer I became exalted. There was a power beginning, a movement of remembering old ways and new rites. For the first episode, my Christian non-denominational roommate and I sat down with warm fairy lights and the door ajar to a Southern spring breeze to ingest Shadow’s story. A strange luring voice drags you by the hand into the old world, a land before America. “Wind could be reasoned with” I could hear my Bubby’s voice, guiding her hand along the vegetable garden below and saying “The land knows what we give it. The dirt, the trees, the wind…they listen.” The first episode left my heart pounding and aching with the feeling of being acknowledged. It was a story wholly unique yet familiar, like someone retelling an out of body experience. Just before the show began, I was forced by fate to move out of a bustling city to a rotting mountain town. It was extracting flesh and transplanting it into a new hostile environment. Shadow’s suffering from losing his wife, his best friend, and his life could not be compared to this uncomfortable patch I trudged through day in and day out. Yet Shadow could smell the coming snow as I was taught to smell the coming rain and in that familiarity I grew attached to Shadow being transplanted among the Gods.
As the show progressed, I noticed my habits changing. Subtle at first as all great things happen. In the dense humid nights, I would pray during my entire walk home. I’d pray to the night sky, the road I walked on, to the buzzing of insects, and I meant every word. Intention hung on every word. I hadn’t prayed with intention since middle school.
American Gods brings up the question constantly of having a choice in believing. In the second episode, Shadow gets bulldozed with ‘I Love Lucy’ soliciting him through a TV screen and seeks answers from Mr. Wednesday. “Seems like you have a choice. You may need to consider that you didn’t see what you saw or you did. The world is either crazy or you are.”
To believe in a higher power is a dangerously easy thing to do. You either do or you don’t. No matter the evidence self subscribed or heard from others, only you can determine your truth. As a child, the answer seemed obvious. What you see or feel or hear must be true. I could swear on my grandmother’s leather bible that I heard God or something like it when I ran through the woods. The choice was easy, but then I grew up. Others never heard what I did and many people had suffered too greatly for my Gods to be real. Then when I suffered, it was too damning to put my hands together and act like someone was listening. I had chosen to stop believing. The signs and omens and messages decreased till it flat-lined. During university, I forgot I stopped believing and years later, I could feel the murmur of a heart beat when I saw the tagline: Believe.
As more gods were revealed with no devotees or disciples following their name, I began believing as if someone was watching. It wasn’t pressure nor guilt that had me believing again, it was seeing what could be my own gods struggling to survive in this world. What I knitted together were my childhood traditions and private worship. My saints were always around my neck, my candles lit in someone’s name, and words started to flow out of me. I chose to practice again with help a line revolving in head like on a carousel. “Which came first, Gods or the people who believed in them?”
Savannah Wade graduated from UNC Asheville with a BA in Literature with concentration in Creative Writing. Her work has been featured in Smokey Blue Literary and Arts Review, Unapologetic, and IMFU. Currently she is working on a mixed genre collection about grotesque Western North Carolina. For updates on her creative projects, check out her tumblr.