I may not get to the planned-in-advance blog posts I had hoped to do today, but perhaps I’ll do one tomorrow, if the computer is functioning at a better level than it is at present. (Heavily-illustrated posts are that much more complicated to produce, as most bloggers know, and if the computer isn’t cooperating and freezes up every few minutes, they’re that much more difficult to produce…and, just typing, that periodic freezing is annoying enough. Anyway!)
But, in the meantime, a large variety of further thoughts have arisen, sometimes in relation to a few things I’ve been reading, and sometimes just randomly. This present post is more on the random side of things, but we’ll go with it anyway.
For a huge number of people, no matter what religion they happen to practice, “spirituality” involves things that are, for the most part, non-corporeal. Altered states of consciousness are often required to experience the presence of, or to interact with, deities, spirits, ancestors, and the like. Whether one likes this or not, that seems to be the way things work, and I think that’s fine as far as it goes.
Unfortunately, one of the things that is supposed to distinguish pagan (and some, though not by any means all, polytheist) religious engagements is a greater emphasis on embodiment, on the material dimensions of the cosmos, on the importance of the senses, and on affirming the goodness of material existence. That’s always been one of the things that has been a “plus” in considering the appeal of pagan and polytheist theological systems over other ones, which often have a rather negative view of the material world and bodily existence (as in Christianity, some forms of Gnosticism, and other religions), or which see material existence as an illusion or a delusion (as is the case with a great deal of Buddhism and philosophical Hinduism, etc.). We can natter on all day about whether we have souls, where they reside in our bodies, how many parts they have, where they come from and where they go when we die, and any number of other things, as well as the effectiveness or lack thereof involved in doing breathing exercises, “energy work,” and other things on impacting our souls/spirits/whatever; but, if someone reaches out and puts the flat of their palm on my chest, there’s an actual physical thing going on there that is quite often far more effective and literally “touching” than all of the rather disembodied Reiki work that a person might be able to do from across the room, or even across the continent.
This has been a cornerstone of my own religious theory put into practice for a very long time (at least since the late 1990s). It accounts for a number of my own predilections in both private spiritual practice and in the larger rituals I conduct. It’s the reason why I like to use vocal prayers, songs, hymns, and chants rather than silent meditation or guided visualizations in rituals; it’s why so much of my daily practice involves actually picking up, carrying, and otherwise manipulating and interacting with various devotional objects (which aren’t really “objects” in the sense of “inanimate” and “non-agents,” incidentally!); it’s the reason why I’m interested in and have done some study and practice of a variety of sacred sex techniques; it’s the reason why at PantheaCon every year (for the last two years at least, and into perpetuity if I can help it!), I’ll be getting a massage–no matter how well various divination sessions go, or what other insights I receive, as a result of all that goes on there, it’s something that is a treat for my body, and tells me where I’m at in relation to my physical self amidst all of this. I do need to make my relationship with my body better, and there’s a lot that I can and will be doing toward that end in the near future; but, it’s important to be reminded that bodies are very important, and not just because they are the localized containers of our souls/spirits/minds/etc.
While I do have dreams, visions, and other things of a non-corporeal nature, and have encountered deities in these contests on a variety of occasions, I have to say that in the last few years, the experiences of deities that have been the most important in my life have also been the most visceral. This is not merely mistaking physical symptoms of some bodily difficulty or other as divine experiences–I have enough of the former to know the difference! When I was at Findhorn back in 2001, among the various activities that I engaged in while there was what Lev Seller, the gentleman providing this service, called a “holistic massage,” which was in many respects more thorough in its intake interview than most doctor’s exams I’ve had. He was an excellent masseuse on a physical level, needless to say, and the use of particular massage oils and other atmospheric touches were certainly helpful; but there was also a dimension to the entirety of it which was working with what is known as the “subtle body.” While this may seem like going off into the ether with things like auras and such, the chakra system inherited from Indian esoteric practices has a basis in specific connections of spiritual energy and activity to parts of the body. While I had a number of experiences before the occasion of my holistic massage in which I felt the energies of a particular chakra stirred or stimulated, on this occasion the difficulties around some parts of my life and path were illustrated quite viscerally on several occasions. Since that time, I’ve encountered them again and again, and have had further experiences of this sort in relation to particular deities.
Sometime in August a few years ago–though I can’t remember if it was 2007, 2008, or 2009, though I’d lean more in the direction of the latter two than the first–I was traveling on an Island Transit bus between Everett and Whidbey Island on my usual afternoon commute to work. We were making the curves around the Outlying Field of NAS Whidbey just south of Coupeville, when I had an experience that I could not have foreseen…indeed, who ever said that the gods interact with us on our own schedules? I was listening to one of Krishna Das’ “Om Namah Shivaya” kirtans (I think the version on Live On Earth), when Antinous (not Shiva!–though the latter had prepared the way for Antinous to come into my life at Findhorn in 2001, I think) in the Dionysian aspect of Antinous Epiphanes, “Antinous who comes/manifests/shows up,” came into my immediate experience in a way he never had before. The only way I can describe it is that the Boat of Millions of Years came and went into drydock in my solar plexus, and I was doubled over in…not pain, but something, as I felt on a very deep and yet physical level that he was taking up residence within part of my anatomy, and I don’t think he’s left since. I felt a bit dizzy and almost faint, and yet I knew I wasn’t having a low blood sugar or anything of the sort (in fact, my blood sugar was fine); but it wasn’t the sort of uncomfortable vertigo that one gets in a variety of health-related circumstances. Right there, amidst my daily activities, my god came through and made himself known to me in a way that could not be ignored, and conveyed to me that he is with me and a part of me in a manner that I had never quite realized before, nor had I wanted to believe it. But, I know it and am reminded of it more frequently now, and since that time, which means that I have a much greater amount of responsibility to do certain things and behave in certain ways because of that knowledge.
Another example has to do with the Tetrad, and specifically with the birth of the first three members of the Tetrad (Panpsyche, Panhyle, and Paneros). While I’ve discussed this before, it bears repeating in this context. When they were spiritually “born,” it was not just a flash of insight and images, it was a physical process that I endured over several hours on that night in early March of 2011. I was having contractions in organs that I don’t physically have, and that left me laid out and more or less helpless…I remembered the story of Ces Noinden Ulad, when the goddess Macha put a curse on all of the Ulaid to have the birth-pangs of a woman in their hour of greatest need, and the only ones to be exempt from the curse would be women, children, and Cú Chulainn. (Of course, the circumstances of that story and the meaning of this incident in my life were quite different, but it seemed in some ways comparable.) But, the overall outcome of this event in my life was good, in that the Tetrad became known because of it. Panhyle and Panpsyche have shown their presence for me as well by feelings in my throat (for Panpsyche) and feet (for Panhyle) on a few occasions since then; since she is concerned with speech, and he with standing on one’s own feet, that makes a great deal of sense, I think.
And, of course, I also spoke about Sterculinus on Galina Krasskova’s Wyrd Ways Radio show as well…so, there’s another one to add in to the mix! (Eeew…!)
These and other such experiences have done a great deal to “ground” my spirituality, as it were, in physical things, and more particularly in my own bodily experience, material, and processes. As much as I like visions, insights, epiphanies, and other things of a more visual, aural, or other sensual or extra-sensual nature, these times when the gods are present in our bodies and make their messages and their motives known through the very definitely physical and bodily dimensions of our existence are important, I think, to bring into our conversations on pagan and polytheist spirituality.
What about all of you? How have your own gods, spirits, ancestors, and other divine beings interacted with your physical bodies? I’d be curious to know if this is as widespread a phenomenon as I’d think it might be…