The list of posts I’d like to make on this blog looms ever-large, and some of them will take considerably more effort and time than others to produce…time which I don’t necessarily have in copious amounts at present. However, doing one post a day on here of late has proven to be satisfying and useful, I think, and thus I’d like to keep that up for the next few days, at very least, and possibly through the end of the month. We shall see…
But, in the meantime, a number of thoughts and ideas and news stories have come up that I think deserve a little bit of comment here, and thus I give you the present post, with various sub-headlines appropriate to each matter discussed. Some of them are literal passing thoughts that are probably only of relevance to myself, while others may have a larger impact in the wider community. You decide which may be which, dear friends!
“Jump In The Air! What Do You Need?”
The above is a phrase I heard in a Breton story while I was in Oxford back in ’97; it was the phrase that a magical wish-granting being said each time he was summoned to grant a wish. I have chosen it for the present somewhat at random, because I think I had a bit of a wish granted in the recent dark night experiences I’ve had.
A long while back–I can’t quite remember when, but in the last six months certainly–I was discussing with Sannion about different aspects of Antinous, and mentioned that the daimon version of Antinous (as opposed to the hero or the theos/god) is something I had not previously experienced. I was reading a short book called Fallen Angels by Harold Bloom last night, and one of the things he mentioned is that, citing Apuleius, a daimon is said to have a body of air, and thus they can be heard but not seen; he also says that a daimon, as in Socrates’ case, is one’s own personal genius, in every sense. (Let’s ignore for the moment the various Greek ideas that suggested that the gods are likewise daimones and so forth…!?!)
So, perhaps the dark night experience from which I’ve recently emerged is one that highlighted the voice rather than the form of Antinous, as that had been present in a manner perhaps more strongly and to the fore than it had ever been in my previous experiences of him. And, during that process, I had to rediscover and be guided by my own genius, my own daimon, or what-have-you, to see me through the difficulties. A few good poems certainly came about during that time which were far more experimental than anything which had come before. So, perhaps that’s a bit more insight into what occurred than I had previously…While I may not have asked specifically for a more daimonic form of Antinous to emerge, that’s what ended up happening, and there we are now.
The Spirit Is Willing, But The Flesh…Tends To Die Rather Easily
Many of you know that James Arthur Ray was just convicted of negligent homicide for the 2009 disaster in his retreat’s sweat lodge that left several people dead. Various pagan blogs have discussed this, including The Wild Hunt, and Lupa at Therioshamanism has an excellent discussion of the more serious matters at hand in the case.
My own observation (and possible contribution to the discussion) is the following. Far too often, both in modern paganism and in religious practices more widely, there is an underlying assumption that spiritual things are always more important than physical things, including one’s own physical well-being and one’s own physical limitations. It is always assumed that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak,” and that pushing past one’s reservations and boundaries is a positive thing in and of itself. Yes, I do not deny that those who engage in ordeal work and who make it a practice to push themselves further than they may have thought they could go is a good and positive thing for them; but, when one is working with others, or putting oneself into another person’s or group’s hands, the option always has to exist to “safe-word” out of it, as it were. And, that little (but very essential!) bit of etiquette or ethics was entirely lacking in this particular case.
For my own part, if my “no” is not respected in relation to any spiritual activity that is taking place in a group, then I know for a fact that the group or individual in question is abusive and not to be trusted with anything. I do have a number of physical limitations in the form of chronic illnesses, and if I am not aware of their possible impact on my activities at all times, it’s pretty certain that I’ll land in a difficult situation–and this extends even to things that aren’t overtly physical, or that wouldn’t be considered such. (I’ve had more than one major medical emergency sitting in a classroom or a library or studying in my room at home.) And, to illustrate this contrast, let me give you two brief accounts of two different rituals I took part in at different times in religious/spiritual traditions that were not entirely my own.
1) In North County Cork, Ireland, I attended a ritual in early May of 2000 at a renowned Wiccan’s property, which took place in a poorly-lit field that had been reclaimed, but was not cultivated or even very well maintained. I was required to remove my shoes and be barefoot for the part of the ritual in which I participated; there was a skyclad portion of it that was going to happen afterwards. I debated about the latter, but the thing which bothered me far more was that I was told that I would not be allowed to participate if I did not remove my shoes and socks. As someone who has had numerous foot problems, neuropathy, and a variety of other difficulties that would make walking barefoot in a field where rocks, scrap metal, and other such things could pose a very real danger to my foot health, this was a major concern for me. I asked if an exception could be made, and was ignored by the ritual convener; some of his flunkies insisted that I remove my shoes and socks and just “not cause any trouble.” Very stupidly, I sucked up my reservations and went along with it, thinking I’d be standing in one spot for the majority of the events. Nope, we had to process around and dance and so forth, and my own movement was severely hindered because of my attention to what I might be stepping on in the process. I did not find the ritual particularly appealing or useful even apart from that, and the lack of consideration for those who might have special circumstances completely turned me off to pretty much everyone and everything occurring at the time.
2) I went to the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America early one morning in September of 2008 in order to do misogi, the Shinto practice of purification in moving waters (whether ocean or river). One does this practice wearing a fundoshi (loincloth), and a kind of headband, and that’s it. I had expressed some reservation on the matter earlier to the priest of the shrine, as there is a large expanse of gravel that one would have to walk over between the main shrine building and the river, and the river itself might have unseen things on the ground, which could cause problems for someone with the foot difficulties I’ve had. So, the shrine priest said it is more important to do the practice than it is to make it impossible or dangerous for someone who has such foot difficulties, and thus he said it would be fine for me to wear water shoes in order to take part in it. I wore the water shoes, was not worried at all in the process, and was able to have an experience that was…interesting, to say the least!
So, whatever else can be said about the incompetence of James Arthur Ray in running a sweat lodge, or his possible cultural appropriation, or his (and the general phenomenon of) new age hucksterism, at the very least there should have been an “opt-out” mechanism in place for the practice, given its dangerous nature. There was not, and several people died as a result. Very rightly, thus, he will serve time for negligent homicide, which is perhaps not as full justice as one would like in this situation, but it is at least something.
Hurrah for Singing Lesbians!
I’ve been watching NBC’s The Voice (yes, I have a penchant for NBC singing/talent shows, what can I say?), and have enjoyed it greatly–particularly Cee Lo Green’s team. I’m happy that Tacoma-based Vicci Martinez has come through on Cee Lo’s team, and also that Beverly McClellan has been the winner on Christina Aguilera’s team (though I do think Frenchie Davis is also awesome). Having two of the four finalists be such excellent singers who both happen to be lesbians as well is, as far as I’m concerned, stellar and something to be celebrated–not too many lesbians (to my knowledge) have done well nor featured prominently on the reality singing/talent show circuit in the past number of years, though a number of gay men have (e.g. Prince Poppycock, Adam Lambert, Clay Aiken, etc.). So, hurrah and congrats to both Vicci and Beverly, and I hope one of them wins! (Though I have to throw my hat more behind Vicci, somewhat because she’s local, I must admit!)
However, I was very sad to see another excellent singer, who also happens to be gay, get sent home in the process of all this: Nakia from Team Cee Lo. Thus, I’d like to just take a moment and pay tribute to him, and to his very supportive partner, and I hope that this will not be the last the national music scene will have seen of him. He came onto the show with both guns blazing, singing Cee Lo’s “Forget You”–but may Nakia never be forgotten!
Note to Self: Stop Liking Other Countries…
Lots of crummy things have happened in world history this year. Some of them are rough spots on the way to something better, some of them are just disasters and atrocities.
I love Ireland, and am very interested in Irish history, literature, and mythology…and now Ireland is in a disastrous financial situation.
I love Greece, its history and culture and literature and religion…and Greece is likewise in a financial meltdown.
I am interested in Shinto, which comes from Japan…and a series of earthquakes and tsunamis worse than any on record rocked the island nation earlier this year.
Egypt is the birthplace of the cultus of Antinous, and has been of interest to me since my earliest childhood…and of course, it had a revolution earlier this year, and the effects from that will be ongoing for a while.
And, I’ve expressed interest earlier this year in Septimius Severus, who was from Roman Tripolitania, and who became connected to Syria by marriage…and now both Libya and Syria are in serious civil unrest.
So, the various further cultures I’m interested in, I’m just going to shut the hell up about, lest they all get swallowed up by the earth as well in the remainder of this year.
Alan Moore: Good Magician, Bad Theologian
At the Pharyngula blog, noted skeptic/atheist P.Z. Myers recently wrote about Alan Moore’s appearance at the Cheltenham Science Festival. And, among the short snippets given to characterize Moore was the following:
Moore has an affinity for a 2nd century oracular sock puppet, but he doesn’t worship it. He believes in magic, but he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He also doesn’t like religion.
I have to correct Moore–once again!–that Glykon is not a sock puppet, nor is he a glove puppet; he was a combination real trained snake with a marionette head that eventually incorporated a speaking tube…but I guess “sock/glove puppet” is just easier to say or something. (!?!) All of the above is stuff that we’re used to hearing from Alan Moore–or, at least those of us who read an awful lot of what he says are used to it…
However, what he gets wrong over and over and over again is the matter of “belief,” and of what “religion” is (the latter he understands as an entirely institutional phenomenon, whereas if one understands “religion” as “systematized articulations of particular experiences of divine reality,” then Moore is just as religious as the Pope, if not more so!). Since when does religion or magic have anything to do with belief at all? And, while some would say that “worship” is utterly required in order to have a relationship with a deity, what it really means is to invest any idea of “worth” or “worthwhileness” into something, which Moore clearly does with Glykon. So, honestly, I don’t think he’s doing himself any favors with this particular line of presentation, if it’s essentially meant just to make himself sound more “reasonable” to a bunch of skeptics and atheists. His magic (in the form of storytelling) is still top-notch (usually…!?!), but his actual theology (which he’d probably deny having at all) is naïve at best, alas…