Archive for the ‘belief’ Category

One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know   Leave a comment

(Scam, scam, scammity scam.  Oh, is this mic live?!)

“One Weird Trick Most Gods Don’t Want You to Know.” A bestselling strategy if there ever was one. Almost fail-proof. Get in on what THEY’VE been keeping from us, Honest Suffering Upright Citizens that we are.  Who doesn’t want IN? (Another 100 cable channels! Salvation by proxy! Acne-free in seven days!) Click here. Operators are standing by.  No credit? No problem! No money down! Just open a vein! (Can’t get no) satisfaction guaranteed!

(Can any truly worthwhile thing be bought?)

But YES! one god really does want you to know: introducing capital-L Loki, AKA the Trickster, the Wheeler Dealer, the Original Houdini of the Truth Trap, the Cosmic Con, Bad Penny, Black Sheep, the One in Every Family, Every Religion’s Got One Somewhere.  Him!  Well, who should know better than the Master, right?  (Deep down, that part of us all that’s a little loki-in-training.  Who whispers Alternatives, in spite of all the noises-against-the-voices we can dump into our ears.  Crank up the volume.  Maybe they’ll go away.) Figures that the only source for reliable info turns out to be a Trickster.

And he’ll tell you:  Religion’s all a scam, an empty fantasy, a fool’s errand, a wild goose chase. This god-or-not and belief- and worship- and daily-practice thing is, like you always suspected, just an endless maze of mind-tricks brought on like a nightmare, courtesy of an overactive cerebrum, that gift of Evolution that just keeps on giving, that two-hemisphere marvel and misfit that — in spite of all its tricks and traps and delusions and the stories it tells about itself and how wonderful it is — will still leave us all just as dead in a hasty handful of decades as if we’d devoted our lives entirely to pleasure. Just like the good old boys and girls over at Epicurean Central always told us we should.  Yes, go out and download the app for it.

lokiThanks, Loki.  Now a word from our sponsors.

Not.

Except …

Godding isn’t what it used to be.

(Even with a nose-and-chin like Tom Hiddleston‘s.)

Even the gods you used to be able to count on turn out to be … puny.

One weird trick most gods don’t want you to know is that their truth or falseness has little to do with what they can teach you, how interaction with them can change your life, and so on.

Just because they don’t exist has very little to do with anything at all. Existence isn’t an absolute.  It de-pends.

And like those pesky anatomical pend-ant or hanging things, the so-called “fact” of existence or non-existence can get us pretty confused about reality*, which is, after all, only another name for thing-ness. Anything that’s not a “thing” tends to get left off the List. Which is another weird trick most gods hope we’ll kinda ignore. For our own good, of course.  Lists. Everyone’s got one, gods included. (Gods especially.)

What to wear, say, think, do, attend to and let slide.  Everyone’s been be-godded, infected with at least one god, right down to our nail-beds and stomach linings: sex, wealth, image, status, art, pleasure, the “right views,” seniority, rationalism, salvation, comfort — even “just being left alone.”  Gods everywhere.  No place free of ’em. Hanging from the rafters, crawling around and inflaming our skin like some sort of divine psoriasis. No god-be-gone, available now while supplies last.  Annoying little (BIG!) suckers.

Even death won’t free us when-not-if — un-gods help us all! — we’re reborn into some vastly cooler, endlessly hip world where everyone is fashionably thin (or plump), calmly atheist and perfectly dressed, coiffed, housed, spoused, aroused and soused.  Tastefully conformist down to the designer toe-rings.  No gods here, nasty things — had mine removed eons ago, old chap.  Do yourself a huge favor, darling.

And so, illusion-free at last, eternity or oblivion (choose your mirror image) is ours!

Paradoxes to amuse children.

(Loki’s laughing all the way to Valhalla.)

And the Goddess? The Goddess is laughing at him.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Loki and The Hulk from The Avengers.

*Reality, from Latin res, thing; realis; re-al or pertaining to things or their qualities, like the ability to slap you in the face, fall on your big toe, eat you for breakfast, if you don’t pay attention to them. Which gods like War still do, come to think of it.  Details at 6:00 (or 18:00) tonight!

Advertisements

Margot Adler: NPR Reporter & Pagan Author, 1946-2014   Leave a comment

madler04

Margot Adler in 2004. Picture: Wikipedia OTRS, by Kyle Cassidy

Quietly, steadily, Margot Adler helped Paganism gain wider understanding and respectability. Her passing at 68 from cancer this last Monday, 28 July ’14, also leaves a gap on the airwaves.  Often people seem to know her either for her work as a veteran reporter and correspondent for National Public Radio (NPR), or for her seminal book on Paganism and her involvement in Wicca, but less often for both.  Yet the combination is a key to her life and significance, and helped to give her and what she had to say particular impact, harder to ignore because of her reasoned and thoughtful public voice over the decades.

The NPR website provides a couple of short audio segments acknowledging her work and her passing.  This one includes brief mention of her involvement in Paganism toward the end, around the 3:40 mark, and includes a link to the other segment.  Both segments include written transcripts as well.

Adler’s signature book, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today, to give its full title, was first published in 1979 by Viking Press. The Amazon page for the 4th revised 2006 edition enthuses:

Almost thirty years since its original publication, Drawing Down the Moon continues to be the only detailed history of the burgeoning but still widely misunderstood Neo-Pagan subculture. Margot Adler attended ritual gatherings and interviewed a diverse, colorful gallery of people across the United States, people who find inspiration in ancient deities, nature, myth, even science fiction. In this new edition featuring an updated resource guide of newsletters, journals, books, groups, and festivals, Margot Adler takes a fascinating and honest look at the religious experiences, beliefs, and lifestyles of modern America’s Pagan groups.

ddtm1sted2005 article in the Religion Journal of the New York Times, “Witches, Druids and Other Pagans Make Merry Again in the Magical Month of May,” observed that “the book is credited with both documenting new religious impulses and being a catalyst for the panoply of practices now in existence.”

My 1981 Beacon Press* paperback edition has begun to yellow with age.  Paging through it as I write this post, I remember how I read and re-read it, fascinated by practices, perspectives and beliefs that variously called to that 20-something me from a place both familiar and strange, echoed my own experience, or surprised me with their outright oddness.

If modern Druids and Pagans more generally have relied heavily on books to launch and sustain them, that’s because it’s often principally or solely through literacy, books, and reading that many Pagans learn they aren’t alone after all, that others like them really do exist, and that the spiritual energies they finally must acknowledge are at work in them deserve expression rather than repression — that the way opening before them is possibly even worth the risks and hardships that may come with it. The brave Solitaries in their personal practices, and the Pagan groups that have formed and continue to form, resemble those of many other new religious and spiritual movements that coalesce and arise, and have arisen historically, within cultures typically oblivious, resistant or actively hostile to the opportunities, perspectives and critiques such movements offer. Where else, after all, would you expect Pagans to begin?!  Where and how else do any new spiritual and religious movements begin, but by those with a shared experience or vision recognizing each other, and drawing nourishment from the common ground between them?

That original book cover of Drawing Down the Moon looks tame today, but it made me want to hide it from casual view, even from my parents who were very accepting of whatever their bookish son was currently reading.  So what happened next with me?  Very little, outwardly.  But the book and its many voices, together with its author’s reflections on the Pagan movement, fell onto fallow ground.  I can trace its impact directly to my involvement in Druidry now.  And from what I’ve heard, I surmise this proved true for many others as well.  Roots and branches of many lives.

So all this is to say thank you to Adler for her book and also for the questions she raises in it, most of which remain valid.   While various streams and strands in Paganism have grown and strengthened since the time of the first edition of Adler’s book, the challenges she perceives for Paganism persist.  I’ll close with an example:

Neo-Pagans, Adler asserts (pp. 385-386*)

have so many different visions that together they seem broad enough to sustain the human need for beauty, freedom, and growth.  They contain a vision of the earth that is a noble one, a reverent one.  I am still inspired by it.  These ideas seem capable of stirring great ferment; they seem capable of ending human alienation from the planet.  But will they?

… It also seems clear that those who choose to be Pagans do so to nourish and sustain a Pagan vision already inside.  This vision exists as a painting exists, or a piece of artwork.  And Neo-Pagans are the artists.  But the relationship of artists to living on the earth has always been uncertain.  Perhaps it is important to emphasize the visions of Pagans rather than the realities of their lives, the poems they write rather than the jobs many are forced to keep, the questions the movement asks rather than the goals already attained.  The goals sometimes fall short of transcendence, and Pagans are often imprisoned by the very civilization they criticize.

Of course, that’s partly WHY they criticize it.  Plant a dream, and it may well take time to germinate, if conditions are less than welcoming.

“You’re much too journalistic,” Michael told me again and again as we walked around Craftcast Farm in the winter of 1976.  “I want to know what people feel like in the circle.  That’s what I want your book to tell me.  That’s what I want to know.”

Along with her good thinking, and the words of many who have become our Pagan elders, Adler’s book definitely conveys both that atmosphere and the challenges Paganism continues to grapple with.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images:  Margot Adler; book cover of Drawing Down the Moon, first edition.

*Adler, Margot.  Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today.  Boston: Beacon Press, 1981.

Edited 4 Aug 2014

Public Celebrations, Iconic Images, and Personal Experience   Leave a comment

In the lovely and iconic image below, courtesy of Cat Treadwell, Druids climb Glastonbury Tor earlier this month as part of OBOD’s Golden Anniversary. Fifty years ago, Ross Nichols (1902-1975) — poet, Druid and school-teacher — formed the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids.  As a member of the Bardic grade, of course I yearned to attend.  For a delightful acccount of the event, go here for Joanna van der Hoeven’s 9 June 2014 post “Celebrating 50 Years of OBOD” on her blog “Down the Forest Path.”

OBOD 50th Celebration -- Druids climb Glastonbury Tor

OBOD 50th Celebration — Druids climb Glastonbury Tor. Image Courtesy of Cat Treadwell

Does it matter whether Druids and Glastonbury share a historical connection? Ultimately, only to historians. The lived experience of Druidry, as of any flourishing tradition, means that what we do today shapes our experience more than what may or may not have happened in the past. When my fellow Druids assembled in the town and on the Tor, the sense of community, the sharing of ritual, the reunion of friends, the inspiration of the talks and workshops, the sense of history, and the beauty and much-vaunted “vibe” of Glastonbury, all converged.  And the same kind of convergence is true of personal experience as well.

Though OBOD’s Golden Anniversary celebration tugged deeply at me, my wife and I had already committed resources to a trip within the U.S. I couldn’t manage both, so I had to forgo what was by all accounts a moving and delightful celebration. But I couldn’t sustain much self-pity, because our own itinerary included a return to Serpent Mound in southern Ohio. I’d visited before in 2008, and experienced a strong past-life recall there.  I saw and heard further details this time.  Among them were a specific name (of a tribe?  a person?  I don’t — yet — know), voices singing, images of  the tribe’s shaman, and of my death near the Mound in an inter-tribal conflict.

trailsignsmBut these details, while moving and significant to me, matter less than the impact which these kinds of experiences make in general.  As an instance of “unverified personal gnosis,” my experiences don’t require any belief on my part, though of course I may choose to believe all sorts of things as a result.  Nor do such experiences legitimize any attempts I may make to persuade others that my experience was “real” or that they should act differently towards me — or their own lives — as a result.  What the experience did establish for me is a strong personal resonance with a place and a culture, and a doorway to potential future choices and insights about my life and personal circumstances that I might not have been able to access in any other way.  Whether I choose to act on that experience is my responsibility. (What is significant to me right now is that the details of my experience form the basis for a decent historical novel, for instance — one way to dramatize my personal experience and — with further hisorical research — turn it into art.  I feel I can explore and concretize its significance most vividly and vitally this way.  And who knows what further confirmations such research may provide?)

SerpMndplacardsmThe Serpent is “a 1,348-foot (411 m)-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound located on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio” (Wikipedia entry, and the sign above).  On the ground, it’s not a particularly impressive structure — at first.  A 30-foot viewing tower near the tail of the Serpent allows some height and perspective  for the kind of photos I took. Shadows in pictures taken early or late in the day help highlight the shape and outline of the Serpent.

Both the age and purpose of the Mound are a matter of debate.  Many published sources estimate the time of its construction around 1000 or 1100 CE.  But the Ohio Historical Society guide at the site assured us that recent archeological studies, due to be published later this month, revive the claim (with apparently solid evidence) that the mound dates from an earlier period around 2000 years ago.  Artifacts recovered from the mound include charcoal, beads and other jewelry, flint knives and arrow-heads, and deer-bone tools.

serpmoundsm

Aerial shots like the one below begin to convey the size and significance of the mound:

aerialSMnd

Add to this the presence, both at Serpent Mound and elsewhere in Ohio, of separate conical mounds like the one below (the picnic table in the foreground gives an approximate yardstick to estimate its size), and for me at least the sense of Adena tribal presence and purposefulness grows in my heart, a living thing.

SMmoundsm

 

/|\ /|\ /|\

Image: Aerial shot of the Mound. All other images by me.

Boku no Shinto: My Shinto, Part 2   Leave a comment

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2] [My Shinto 1 | 2]

PYogananda

Paramahamsa Yogananda

“Its technique will be your guru.” With these words (ch. 11 of his famous Autobiography, online here), a young Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), founder of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) and a principal exponent of Kriya Yoga in the West, counsels a peer he has just initiated into the tradition he follows himself. With these words he also points toward a kind of spiritual path that Westerners, rightly wary of super-sized personalities and god-realized con-men, can approach and walk.  A flexible and potent technique can be a trustworthy, profound and endlessly patient guide.

Technique as guru:  as a practitioner of OBOD Druidry and Eckankar, I know firsthand that a technique responds to practice and devotion as much as any teacher.  Religious and spiritual practice will always be as much art as science, because they welcome (and can profoundly benefit from) our subjectivity, even as they also point to their scientific aspect — definite and repeatable results we can achieve from dedication and regular practice.  My emotions, my commitment, my ambition and drive, my struggles and dreams can all contribute to my practice — leaven it and enrich it and make it “mine.”

my double -- b/c we were both angry at each other

“other” as double: both of us angry at each other

My anger at the driver who cut me off in traffic last week, on my way back from dropping my wife off to stay with her cousin, can help me uncover other unexplored pools of anger I can work to identify, learn from, and transform.  Anger by itself need not be bad, only unconscious anger, anger I act from unthinkingly, little different from a live wire I brush against in the dark, unintentionally — or attach to a light fixture and illuminate another step along the way.  Without the experience of anger, I might well miss the wire altogether, and forfeit a chance at illumination.

I can, if I listen, come to see that my whole life is laboratory — not only what I close the door on at 4:00 or 5:00 pm each weekday and return home from.  The individualistic-narcissistic-tending “MY spirituality” gets whittled down to more beneficial size through ongoing spiritual practice. And paradoxically reveals a personalized curriculum tailored to me, right now and here.  Anger?  Yup — that’s on my curriculum, though it may not be on yours.  And my life is ideally set up to help me work with precisely that curriculum point, just as yours is for your distinct points.  Yes — we share a “common core,” too.

compost is transition

compost: just another point along a transition

A practice like Druidry that places me in the natural world immediately begins to slim down ego in concrete ways and immediately accessible ways:  merely walk out the door, and at once it’s clear I’m not the center, nor even the “most important” thing in the universe.  I constantly meet the “spirit other”: animals, birds, trees, and beings without skin on — or bark, or fur, or scales.  I am a paragraph in a chapter, not the whole story. And that’s a good thing, because the world is guru, too. Hard limits of some kind are the only way a world can work (try seriously to imagine one without them), but if I engage them wisely, they build spiritual strength rather than frustration, nihilism and despair.  This physical body is eventual compost, like everything else: but not yet.  And this interval is all.  (Whether it is also “only” is an experiential question, one which only experience can accurately answer, not some dogma to be believed or rejected.)

“My Shinto,” my Way of the Spiritual Order of Things — let’s call it WOTSOOT — begins with the circumstances of my life today.  Here I am, a 55 year-old white male, a teacher, a cancer survivor, married, nearsighted, in fair health.   The initial details of your personal WOTSOOT naturally vary less or more from mine.  They’re also often quite superficial — party chitchat, gossip in my cul-de-sac. Because I am also a point and vector of conscious energy situated in widening networks of energy exchange.  I breathe, and chlorophyll all around me gets inputs it needs.  Bacteria on my skin and in my gut flourish, and help me flourish too, if I stay alert to their balance. I sweat and crap and piss, and nutrients move where other beings can begin to use them.  I consume some of these other beings — not too many, if the system is to remain in equilibrium — just as some them will consume me.  New networks arise, as older ones shift or die.  And part of my practice is: all praise* to the WOTSOOT!

Such processes of the physical realm are both fairly well understood and all too rarely incorporated into larger networks that spiritual teachings of all kinds tell us glow and ripple and transform and pervade the universe.  Scientific insight begins to catch up here and there with spiritual wisdom.  Not dogma, not theology, not creeds — that’s merely paparazzi spirituality — but insights into living networks — the shin-to, the “spirit-way.”  As I write and you eventually read this, we use an electronic network we’ve crafted that simulates in surprising ways organically occurring ones, and we can acknowledge the remarkable power and potential of such interactive patterns of energy and information flow as analogs to the ones we are born into.
calhobresolution

One valuable key to working with the WOTSOOT that I keep reminding myself of is “small steps. ” This works both as a starting point and a successful process, too. Any attempt at change, on any level, meets what we experience as resistance, because of inertia and equilibrium implicit in networks. (Otherwise, without inertia or resistance, they’d never have a chance to grow and develop at all, shifting and falling apart at the least push or pull from outside.  They wouldn’t become “things,” which are semi-lasting whorls and eddies in the flow of WOTSOOT.)

We all have heard that “If it works, don’t fix it,” which is fine, except that a corresponding inherent tendency toward change means that even as it’s working, it’s also changing, or accumulating energy toward change.  Often the changes are small, and if we model ourselves on this larger pattern, our small changes will accord with the flow around us.  (Small ongoing changes help us avoid really disabling larger ones, that can manage to accumulate a staggering wallop of energy if we don’t make those smaller changes.)

“Change your life,” counsels your friendly neighborhood deity of choice.  Okay: but do it in manageable chunks, unless a cataclysm conveniently presents itself to you, ready-made. I have a profoundly messy office right now: too much for a single day of cleaning, without a herculean effort.  Sometimes I can muster one.  But one box today, one shelf tomorrow? That I can manage most days.  Thus both my spiritual paths exhort me to daily practice. (With two paths, as long as I get in at one least set of practices, I’m usually ahead of the game.   I double my options — and find overlaps and interweave and insight from such doubled options — the paths are no longer nearly so separate, but feed each other and me.)

gmplogo

our local VT electrical utility

In concrete terms of just one network, in one person’s life? — Let’s choose the physical for convenience, since we’ve established and can understand a set of fairly common labels like physical measures.  My wife and I have reduced our “garbage” to an average of 8 pounds a week — mostly non-biodegradable packaging and other non-compostables at this point — and I’m working to bring it down from there.  (Why? Throw it “away”?  Nothing goes “away” — it always ends up somewhere, and the nastier it is, the deeper it usually sinks its fangs in my butt when it returns.  Part of my practice, then, is shrinking my “away” — out of pure self-interest, mind you!)  Everything else we’re able to compost or recycle, thanks to recycling options in our region of southern Vermont. We continue to tweak our car and woodstove emissions by wise use, insulation, consolidation of trips, carpooling, etc.  Infrastructure shifts will eventually impact these, as mass transit improves and efficiencies increase, or whole modes (like petroleum-sourced energy) eventually fall out of use.  Only this February 2014, out of the past 24 months, did we use more electricity than our solar panels generated, so we’re in the black there.  But a chunk of that comes from liberal surplus buy-back subsidies from GMP, our local electrical utility company.

Cap'n Henry T.

Cap’n Henry T.

All told, apart from property taxes, our annual shelter costs run roughly $600 — for firewood.  I mention all this as evidence for one person’s start at working with one network among many — by no means an endpoint, nor a claim for any kind of praise or desire for virtue** or self-satisfaction.  It’s part of practice, a point along a continuum, remembering my practice is both a “what to live for,” and also a “how to live” at all.  And again I repeat: your practice, because you are you, necessarily differs.  As H. D. Thoreau observes, “I desire that there may be as many different persons in the world as possible; but I would have each one be very careful to find out and pursue his own way, and not his father’s or his mother’s or his neighbor’s instead.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images:  Paramahansa Yoganandathat “other” drivercompostCalvin and Hobbes resolution;  Green Mountain Power;  Thoreau.

*I don’t know about you, but I can feel gratitude without needing a target, a recipient or respondent:  a magnificent cloudy sky or bright flash of plumage or swirling blizzard evokes awe and gratitude I love to express.  Do I need to say I’m grateful to Anyone?  Can’t I simply be grateful for? Of course! Gratitude feels good.  Why deny myself such pleasure?  There’s a motivation if you need it: practice gratitude out of selfishness, because it makes you feel good, if for no other reason!  Or if I choose to thank a spirit or Spirit, that in no way detracts from my gratitude.  A target for it is another kind of pleasure I choose not to deny myself.

**Except for virtue in the older sense of “strength” or “power.”  This kind of “original virtue” is literally “manliness” — what a vir “man” ideally accomplishes that makes him worthy to be called vir — to de-gender it, “what humans do at their best.”  And what’s “best”?  That which accords with the Way, the Tao or pattern of the universe.

Updated: 7 July 2014

Bad Girls and Goddesses, Censorship, Good Press and the Dream World   Leave a comment

donigerWendy Doniger’s gotten some extensive press lately. Not on the scale of Kim Kardashian, but still … Whether or not Doniger or anyone accepts the half-truth that “all press is good press,” recent books by this University of Chicago professor of Hinduism have aroused the ire of vocal Hindus variously called fundamentalists, conservatives and Hindutva-vadis, supporters of Hindutva or “Hindu-ness.”

Penguin Books in India recently recalled Doniger’s 2009 study, The Hindus: An Alternative History, because the Delhi-based group SBAS — Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti (“Save Education Movement”) — characterized the book as “malicious,” “derogatory and offending to Hinduism” and containing “faulty representation of Indian history and historical figures.”  SBAS advanced its case with a successful push for the withdrawal of a second book of Doniger’s as well, On Hinduism, published in 2013.

hindubkprotest1The legal footing that SBAS stands on appears in the Indian Penal Code.  SBAS spokeperson Dinanath Batra benefits from the code which states that “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs shall be punished with imprisonment or fine, or both.”*  We’ll sidestep for now the apparent dangers of granting such strong legal recourse to anyone whose sensibilities might be offended.  After all, outrage is the stance du jour of much of the political conversation in the States.

Of course, censors and free-speechers have been waging these and similar battles for a long time, with no likely end in sight.  When Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still the fourth most frequently banned book in the U.S., as well as a “Great American Novel,” such controversy comes as no surprise. (A 2011 edition of the Twain classic removes the 200+ instances of the word “nigger” and replaces them with “slave.”)**

opmythsDoniger, now 73, is a respected scholar, having taught at Chicago for 36 years, and published dozens of books and hundreds of scholarly articles.  Even before publication in India, she worked with editors to soften potentially inflammatory wording.  But as Doniger remarks in a February ’14 New York Times article, her focus is on popular Hinduism.  She wanted “to tell a story of Hinduism that’s been suppressed and was increasingly hard to find in the media and textbooks … It’s not about philosophy, it’s not about meditation, it’s about stories, about animals and untouchables and women. It’s the way that Hinduism has dealt with pluralism.”  The Times article continues:  “Asked if she could sympathize at all with those offended by her work, Ms. Doniger said: ‘In general, I don’t like people saying nasty things about other people’s religion, but this is something else. This is fundamentalism, which says that parts of its own religion are bad. In a sense, I’m defending their religion, and they’re attacking it.’”

As Slate notes, “The Hindus, which is still available internationally, is currently the number 11 bestselling book on Amazon, which is not too shabby for a four-year old religious history book by a University of Chicago divinity professor. The worst enemy of censorship is always curiosity.”

Columnist Swati Sharma in the 20 Feb. ’14 Washington Post concludes,

There are some concerns when it comes to Doniger and Western media articles about the backlash against her work. While you can disagree with the book and still want it published, Doniger repeatedly blames any criticism of her work on the right wing, sweeping aside any real concerns about it. It’s almost too easy to frame those who are religious as religious fundamentalists — when some on the far right try to ban “On the Origin of Species” in the United States, it doesn’t mean all Christians support such drastic measures. In the same sense, there are many Hindus, scholars and academics who disagree with her writings but believe the book should be published. Those voices get trampled by an easily digestible battle between religious fundamentalists and secular liberals. But that’s what happens when a book is basically banned; the debate on the actual content is lost and is focused instead on free speech. That’s where Doniger is in the right.

That doesn’t mean the right-wing party isn’t pushing this debate — after all, elections are coming in May. That said, Penguin’s decision to not wait for a judgment and to settle is disappointing. It’s easy to publish books that are safe. It’s for the ones that challenge us that the concept of free speech exists.

Doniger doesn’t shy away from the provocative remark.  She gets off a few zingers, for instance, in her article in yesterday’s 5 March ’14) NY Times, “Banned in Bangalore“:

I must apologize for what may amount to false advertising on my behalf by Mr. Batra, who pronounced my book “filthy and dirty.” Readers who bought a copy in hope of finding such passages will be, I fear, disappointed. “The Hindus” isn’t about sex at all. It’s about religion, which is much hotter than sex.

“Hotter than Sex” would make a great book or blog title.  Yes, you’re welcome.

And in her  blog post “Respect For Women Yes, Worship of Goddesses No” Doniger observes:

But the goddess feminists are whistling in the dark when they argue, first, that everyone used to worship goddesses (some people did, but many did not) and, second, that this was a Good Thing for women, indeed for everyone, their assumption being that women are more compassionate than men.

In fact, when men as well as women do worship goddesses, as they have done for centuries in many parts of India, the religious texts and rituals clearly express the male fear of female powers, and the male authors of those texts therefore make even greater efforts to control women, as if to say, “god help us all if these naturally powerful women get political power as well.”

There is generally, therefore, an inverse ratio between the worship of goddesses and the granting of rights to human women. Nor are the goddesses by and large compassionate; they are generally a pretty bloodthirsty lot.

Goddesses are not, therefore, the solution. Equal respect for human men and women is the solution.

But if our deities mirror ourselves, as they seem to do, we can be grateful for changes in both.  We can be grateful that slavery is now illegal, that racism no longer gets such an easy pass, that women’s rights are a live issue, that the beginnings and ends of life are being examined critically, despite our weariness with the wars of political correctness and with conservative-liberal polarization.  Does morality evolve?  Just what absolutes are you looking for?

I like to let my subjects have the last words (even if I chose them to illustrate my own post rather than letting them make only their own points).  So here’s an excerpt from another of Doniger’s blog-posts, “The Mutual Dream,” which offers a polytheist perspective worth examining for its explanatory power:

A better idea, I think, is captured by several of India’s many philosophies of reality and illusion, which suggest that we do indeed create god (and therefore religion) in our imaginations, as we create all of our reality, but that at the same time god creates us in god’s imagination, that god is, like us, constantly dreaming into existence a reality that includes us imagining god. We are mutually dreaming, mutually existing.

A modified, slightly rationalized, version of this belief would be the assertion that, although we do not make god ex nihilo, nor does god make us ex nihilo, we are the ones who bring god fully to life, while god in turn is what brings us truly to life, makes us fully alive to the phenomenal world, dream world though it may be.

This is not an idea that is easy for people trained in Western philosophical ideas to swallow, and it all depends upon how you define god, but for me it is rich in meaning.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Times of India 2 March ’14 article and 11 Feb. ’14 article.

**Daily Mail, 5 Jan. ’11.

Image: Doniger; book protest; Other People’s Myths.

Updated 8 March 2014

The Four Powers: Know, Dare, Will, Keep Silent–Part 4: Will and Imagination   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 5]

waitomo-dawnDaily you call me to pray — not the prayer of asking, of importunity, but the prayer of communion, of celebrating blood flowing through veins, of life moving in lungs and belly.  In the cool of dawn this morning I slip outdoors for air plush with oxygen, newly breathed out from the green lungs of the trees.  I gaze on the mist-shrouded pines and maples and scrub oaks, hear the neighbor’s rooster break into the sheared metal cry that is his morning’s call.  The other birds are already about, the jay chicks now big as their parents, and noisier, in their cries to be fed.  A fox bitch slinks back into the woods, cat-footed and deft as she threads her way through tall grass and brambles.  Dampness clings to my skin.  Life-prayer, what the birds and wind and water and morning light are saying.

I say “you” call me to pray: there’s a presence I address, though it’s not a person.  I could call it the echo of listening, the ambit of my attention, some kind of answer or reverberation to the pressure of a human walking the land and caressing the world with hominid consciousness that wants to talk, to name, to engage, to encounter as a person, to bring down to size a world that resolutely will not yield to whim, or whimsy.  But that’s not quite it, either.  “You” is the best I can do, to honor and salute the world I encounter, particularly when it glows or sparkles or hums or burns.  Others have called it god or gods, Spirit or numina.  We know a little better, in some places at least, how names can trip us up.  But names can be good talk. It is awen, too: that Welsh word for “inspiration” that is also the presence of Spirit.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Wadin Tohangu comes unbidden, unless it’s a prayer to the universe which alerts him as well that I’m actually paying attention again.  Fallow time has “done it,” though merely “going fallow” as I mentioned in the previous entry doesn’t cause a change to happen, but it often accompanies it.  Something about the will is involved.  Sometimes the greatest magic is to set aside the will and be open to change.  I don’t like surrender because I can’t claim credit when the change comes.  I want it to be under my control.  Stereotypically to surrender is a male difficulty and a female strength, but there are plenty of strong-willed women who find surrender difficult, and weak-willed men who need to work on self-assertion.  So that’s not it altogether either.

“Are you finished talking to yourself about this?” Wadin asks, his mouth crinkled in a smile.  I realize he has been sitting there for some time now as I swam and splashed in my thoughts.  I smile back, unable to respond right away — or rather, my mind spins over a thousand responses, none of them particularly graceful or useful or true.  But I do know I’m glad he has come.   That’s something I hold onto in gratitude, and the whirling of thought slows enough that I can say it.

“It’s good to see you.”

His smile widens — he seems perfectly at ease in the moment, as if he came expressly to do nothing else than sit and listen to me think. Not in an obtrusive way, not eavesdropping, but simply how he is, awake to what goes on around him.

“You’re struggling,” he says, “with how to talk about the will, and that’s also been a focus for you for some time.”

“That’s definitely true,” I answer.  “I guess inner and outer worlds do line up from time to time.”

“What happens when they do?” he asks.

“I’m freed up to write about it, for one thing,” I say. “I get unstuck.”

“The stuckness often comes from pushing with the will,” he says.  He leans forward a little, resting his elbows on his knees.  “It’s a common confusion to think that will involves strain.”

“Sometimes we push through, and we can accomplish a lot.  And athletes push against fatigue all the time,” I say.

He nods. “That’s true for the physical body, of course.  Muscular effort moves objects.” He pauses before continuing.

athlete

“We feel pain and can push through it with the will.  Sometimes that means we ‘win.’  And of course sometimes that means we end up with a sprain or torn ligament or some other injury, too.”

He gazes at me.  “So what causes the difference?” he asks.

“I’d say, listening to the body. Not fighting it, but working with it.”

“Good,” he says. “Certainly listening can spare you injury or tension or strain.”  He runs a sandaled toe over a design on the carpet, and I realize we’re sitting in my living room.  I write “sitting in my living room,” and look up from the keyboard, and of course there’s “no one there.”

“Come back to our conversation,” he says, reaching to prod me with a forefinger.  “There’s more to talk about.”  He looks at me with interest.  “What did that feel like just now, when you returned from ‘no one there’ to our meeting?”

“I could feel an energy shift,” say. “I got interested again.  And I wanted to keep going.”

“All of these are important,” he says.  “The shift is something you ‘do,’ but it’s not a strain or a push of what we normally call the ‘will.’  And your interest and curiosity also matter.  They draw you in, rather than you pushing against resistance.”

I say nothing, waiting for him to continue.

“Imagination is effortless.  You can ‘try to imagine,’ of course.  Or you can simply imagine.  This is the difference between will or imagination, and strain, which is what most people mean by ‘will’ or ‘willpower.'”

“What about people who say they ‘can’t’ imagine?” I ask.

“They’re usually telling the truth. Fear blocks them, or their straining against their habit or desire keeps them from accomplishing what they ‘try’ to do.  That’s what they’re imagining instead. Imagination runs ahead of ‘will’ in that sense. It’s already ‘there,’ at work in the ‘future,’ long before ‘will’ arrives.  While ‘will’ is still waking up, imagination has already constructed a palace or dungeon for you to inhabit, according to your focus.  Not everyone imagines in pictures, of course.  For many it’s often feeling instead.  We already feel a certain way about something, and that ‘colors our experience,’ as we say.”

“But where’s the element of choice in that?” I ask.  “It sounds like will or imagination is just a reaction to circumstances, rather than a conscious decision to focus on what we choose.  Isn’t that the will?  What we choose, rather than what we simply let happen?”

“Discipline of the imagination is the key to life,” he says, looking at me steadily.  “What you attend to, what you look at or focus on, and how you look at it, determine your experience to a great extent.  That’s the actual ‘will,’ not the strain to do something against our intention.”

“Would you explain that?” I say.

“Remember your own experience a short time ago,” he answers. “As you looked where I was sitting, you ‘realized’ that I ‘wasn’t there.’  Then your attention shifted, and our conversation continued.  I’m ‘here,’ though I’m not ‘here.’  Which do you focus on, my presence or my absence?”

“You mean both are true?” I say.

“Yes.  Though ‘true’ is a distracting word.  You activate one or the other with your attention.  That’s will, or intention.”

“But what about human suffering?” I say. “We don’t choose to suffer or experience hardship or disasters or …”

He was smiling at me again.  “The challenge is that our habitual attention gives lasting reality to our imagination.  ‘As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he,”* goes one way of expressing it.  ‘What you do comes back to you.'”

“But what about people born into horrendous circumstances?  You can’t say they imagined them into being!” I could hear the hint of outrage creeping into my voice.  “The circumstances happened to them.  They certainly didn’t choose them.  Who would choose pain and suffering?”

“That’s an important question,” he says. “Do you know anyone who keeps making ‘bad choices,’ as they are called?  And keeps getting painful results?   That’s a fairly severe example of such choices at work.  Of course we often face the accumulated consequences of long imagining.  Lifetimes of imagination can solidify into exceptionally firm and unyielding circumstances.  In such cases, an hour or day or even a year of change  and effort may bring only surface alteration.  Deeper transformation can take longer.”

“Aren’t we blaming the victim in such cases?” I say.

“You see, there is no blame here.  We are talking about growth.  You may know the story of the Galilean master who is questioned about the man born blind.  “Who sinned?” his followers asked him.  ‘The man himself, or his parents — what caused him to be born blind?’  And the Master answers them and says, ‘Neither one.   All this happened so that the work of God might be shown in his life.’**  A circumstance can be destiny, and we can lament limitation, or it can be opportunity, and we can move and build from there.  It depends on which direction you look.  One way to understand it is that a disciplined imagination is one that is ready to accomplish the ‘work of God.’  Imagination is a powerful tool of Spirit.”

“But where does it all start?” I say.

“Often the fledgling falls from the nest and learns to fly the ‘hard way,'” he says. then pauses at my expression.

“But gravity is not ‘evil,” he continues, “though it may hurt, if the chick tumbles onto a branch or onto the ground.  But when the eagle has mastered using gravity to move through the air, it can soar.”

“Is that the price we pay?” I say.

“You hoped it would be painless, I see,” he says, smiling again.  “Pain does get the attention in a way nothing else can.  Maybe that’s why it’s still useful as a spiritual tool.”

toolbox

“Pain as a tool?  I’ll have to think about that some more.”

“You think a lot.  Everything can be a tool,” he says. “You just need to decide how to use it, rather than getting stopped by it.”

/|\ /|\ /|\

The first post in this series looks at kinds of knowledge.  The second shows how wanting to know leads to discoveries about our real selves.  The third looks at daring and how it is a kind of freedom.

/|\ /|\ /|\

Images: Waitomo Dawn by Richard Tulloch; athlete; toolbox.

*Proverbs 23:7

**John 9:1-3

Updated 30 Sept. ’14

Messing with Gods, Part I   Leave a comment

A couple weeks ago I read a blog post I’ve been carrying around with me ever since — it pops up at odd moments, because it touches on a profound experience of the divine familiar to many Druids and other Pagans.  But it goes deeper than that, too, in its perception of the nature of divinity.  You can find it over at Banshee Arts, courtesy of blogger Morpheus Ravenna.  She reflects on her patron deity, the war goddess Morrigan, and receives wisdom from her that we need to hear and contemplate.

Here’s Morpheus’ post for March 22, 2013, “Voice of the Sacrificed,” which I cite verbatim in its entirety, so you can read it all here.  The italics are original with her post:

This week brought my 37th birthday, and with it the tenth anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

Yes, it was my good fortune ten years ago, to watch as my country preemptively invaded another and lit its skies on fire with “shock and awe”, on my birthday. I remember it vividly.  Though I knew the war wasn’t launched on my birthday for any reasons to do with me, somehow that coinciding still did make it more personal and even more unsettling to me than it already was. My oldest friend had recently joined the army and I knew she would soon be deployed there; I’d been worrying about that all winter as the war loomed inevitably closer. And then it launched on my birthday.

That war felt terribly intimate, as though it had attached itself to me; as though by inaugurating on my name-day it had taken my name and was ruthlessly marching its destructive way in my name. Well, it was. Not just me, of course. It was destruction in all our names, all American citizens.

And I suppose it also felt intimate because I was eyeballs deep in a personal moral struggle over my devotion to a war Goddess. As the country stomped its bombastic way toward war, I had been engaging in a series of deep meditations communicating with the Morrígan. I was confused, scared, disturbed. I had always felt some unease about my devotional relationship with a war Goddess – had wondered if on some level I was condoning the brutality of war by worshiping Her. Now those questions haunted me irrepressibly as the war began. I went to my altar and prayed, chanted, begged for answers. She spoke.

I recorded my memories of those conversations in my journal (to the extent that direct nonverbal communications with a divinity can be translated into words). Here are a few fragments:

Why have I been chosen to have this connection with you? You know I am ill at ease with your warlike aspect.

It is in your blood. You are descended from invaders, violent warring Celts. Warfare and violence are part of who you are. You cannot run from this. You must understand it, and it is through me that you can understand this part of your being.

I am troubled about this war, about the justice of it. How can we tell a just war from an unjust war?

There are no just wars. For each individual who experiences it, war is an injustice. It is an injustice to those who suffer and die when they should have lived; it is an injustice to those who find themselves doing violence to their human kin in the service of war. War is always an injustice. The Gods cannot tell you whether your war is right or wrong by the standards of your justice; you must count the cost and choose, though you are blind. And sometimes it will come on you without your choosing, and that too is an injustice. Your task, when you do choose to make war, is to pursue it swiftly and strike with certainty. You must recognize that every life destroyed is in your hands and it is up to you to make that sacrifice worth something.

The reason your ancestors revered their enemies so much is this: when you slay your opponent in battle, the spilling of their blood is a sacrifice to your sword. It is required that you honor their sacrifice by dedicating it to a worthy purpose.

The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains. I arose in the form you know me among the old Celts. Their culture was shaped and defined by tribal warfare. You, and your culture, are the inheritors of this in many ways. When you alter your culture to contain a different set of possible actions, then you may be able to solve your problems without bloodshed. Until then, I will always be present. My role in war is to make it swift and terrible, and effective; to carry for you the knowledge that you could learn from your actions if you choose to listen; and to mourn the cost.

Unlike most gods of monotheism, the Pagan gods specialize (though often enough Jehovah gets his war on, so we can be excused for thinking he’s principally a war god, too).  But what wisdom Morpheus (and the Morrigan) offers here:  “The law of human life is that you are only capable of solving your problems within the set of ways your culture contains.”

Or to paraphrase so apparently unrelated a thinker as Muslim reformer Irshad Manji, “There is nothing wrong with a culture that cannot be corrected from what has been historically right with the culture.”*  Or to go to the Qur’anic source that inspires Manji:  “Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (Qur’an 13:11). But I would add that the change may alter the culture sufficiently so that many feel uprooted, or even perceive that their culture has “died.”  All things are subject to change, and human creations like cultures don’t stand exempt.  Certainly we walk today in the midst of deep change in many of the world’s cultures.  This is a time rife with change, and also ripe for change and possibility.

/|\ /|\ /|\

*Check out a half-hour interview with Manji by Canadian talk show host and Conservative pundit Allan Gregg on Youtube — the line cited above is paraphrased from Manji’s comment around 13:00 in the video.

%d bloggers like this: