The title occurred to me while I was thinking about how many folks seem to think because they see a raven, they're being watch by Odin, or they see Thor or Mjolnir in the clouds, or they're convinced that they hear wights whispering in the trees. Now, I'm willing to put aside my disbelief for some things, but many things do have scientific explanations.
Jesus on a Grill Cheese Sandwich, or Pareidolia
|By Viking 1, NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
Both pareidolia and apophenia are normal human psychological behaviors. In other words, if you experience it, you're normal. There have been several theories as to why this occurs. Carl Sagan actually suggested that it was an evolutionary development so people could recognize whether someone was a friend at a distance or an enemy. Most likely we've evolved to recognize faces because we're social animals. We've evolved to look for our parents' faces and to recognize them once they've been established as our caregivers. That way, when we see other people, who may or may not be friendly, we can differentiate between parents and others.
So, when you see Thor's shape in the clouds, a cloud that looks like Mjolnir, or Odin in a crepe, you're dealing with pareidolia. It doesn't mean you're gullible or stupid. It actually means you have a well-connected brain and you can see patterns that some other folks don't.
Apophenia, or Trying to See a Pattern in a Random Data Set
But wait a second. Aren't ravens fairly commonplace? How many times have you seen a raven and nothing happened? (Why would you remember it, since nothing happened?) My point is that the randomness of seeing a raven and having good things occur is that: simply random.
Now, if the raven were to come over to you and start a conversation, this would change from pareidolia to either you've got some good hallucinations going (stay off the acid), or one of Odin's birds have shown up to chat.
It's Not Just Visual, Either
|Man in the moon?|
Our brains are trying to make sense out of a random noise, so we start "hearing" a pattern in the noise, even though we don't.
Where am I Going with This?You may wonder at some point why I'm bringing all this up. The first reason is fairly simple. I get tired of people announcing that this god or that goddess has shown their favor because they saw something that is most likely pareidolia. Or maybe you looked in the mirror at night and thought you saw your fylgia looking back at you (again, pareidolia). If it's dark and we see something, our minds are quick to fill in the image we saw.
The second reason is to educate you on how your mind works, so you don't mistake simple tricks of your mind as being "magic." That way, should you really have contact with gods or wights, you know it's not just a simple trick of your mind.