My son and I, arrayed for a night of trick-or-treating of which the bards will tell in tale and song for all the ages.
It is glorious.
Posted in Religion, Spirituality, Uncategorized, tagged Asatru, Celtic Mythology, Culture, Deity, Dichotomy, Druidism, Druidry, Duality, Eclecticism, Genealogy, God, Gods, Greek Mythology, Heart, Hellenismos, Heritage, Islam, Mind, Mysticism, Myth, Mythology, Neo-Paganism, Neopaganism, Norse Mythology, Orthodoxy, Paganism, Polytheism, Reconstructionist Polytheism, Religion, Self-Denial, Soul, Spirituality, Submission, Tension, Theology, Uncategorized on April 14, 2009 | 10 Comments »
In short, the problem with eclecticism is that it seems just too dang unprincipled to be viable.
I have written before about how I get to feel claustrophobic with boxed religion. Although I was specifically talking about religions that present the whole package–theology, practice, etcetera–in one neatly-defined package with firm orthodoxy-borders all the way around it so that everything in the box is prescribed and everything outside the box is proscribed, I feel similarly about conceptual boxes on a smaller scale. This is part of why I can’t go with a reconstructionist religion like Hellenismos or Asátrú. Even having experienced intense mystical contact with gods from Greek mythology, a single flavor of paganism is just not sufficiently spiritually fulfilling.
The thing is, although I see the value in picking one direction and sticking with it, I genuinely feel spiritually moved by the Celtic and the Norse as well as the Greco-Roman. Maybe it’s a heritage thing; my ancestors were Celts, Teutons, and Vikings, and my cultural ancestors are the Greeks and Romans. I am a fusion of multiple strands of paganism, so it is only natural that I should feel some attachment to each of them. And again, while I can see that there could be personal benefit in picking just one, I don’t think I am capable of doing that. My connection to these three (at least) mythical-cultural traditions is not one that allows for picking and choosing. It is sufficiently strong so that I would feel that I was denying a part of myself if I left one of them behind.
(Interesting: three traditions. Possible Druidic significance?)
In short, while I acknowledge the probable spiritual benefits gained by embracing one tradition exclusively, it is vastly outweighed by the sense of deep personal spiritual connection that I feel to each of these three: they touch my heart, mind, and soul in a deep and primal way. It’s basic economics of the soul, really: what I stand to gain by specializing is worth less to me than what I stand to lose by specializing, so I choose not to specialize.
On the other hand, I look down on eclecticism. I think of it as unprincipled, ridiculous. If you can have three different mythic traditions, why not four? Why not ten? Why not all? Why not just take whatever you want from whatever tradition you want?
The questions actually aren’t completely rhetorical. I think it’s worth asking whether picking and choosing is a big deal, especially given that we’re going to pick and choose to a certain extent no matter what. In the end, though their reasons may be subtle and complicated, everyone is going to choose the religious expression that most suits them. I’m not Muslim after all, because on some level and for whatever reason, Islam does not suit me. If not for some permutation of personal preference then we would have a much harder time picking a religion. What metric would we use to decide what we believe, even if we stayed in the religious tradition we were born into?
But at the same time, I think that the idea of submission is incredibly important to religion. One of the most religious utterances ever made is “not my will but thine be done.” The ultimate spiritual experience is mystical union with the divine, where the self is swallowed up into somehting greater. Self-denial, putting aside your own special narcisissm in favor of something greater and higher, is at the heart of religion and real spirituality.
If you’re just ordering whatever you want from the menu and cobbling together a religious gumbo from whatever concepts, practices, and gods suit your fancy, then you are really not worshipping a Deity at all, but in a twisted way you are actually worshipping yourself. Real gods demand that we grow and change in order to worship and experience them. Real religion has to be fundamentally transformative; otherwise it’s just a sociocultural phenomenon that serves no individual spiritual purpose. And in order to be transformative, religion has to be demanding. On a certain level, God is undamentally alien to humans, and in order to experience God, humans have to be willing to bend and be shaped to be able to meet God partway. If you’re assembling some kind of a FrankenGod from a pile of divine characteristics, then all you have is an imaginary god born of individual fancy. Your own fancy. That’s what you are worshipping.
So how to reconcile this with the undeniable fact that people pick and choose when it comes to religion, and with my personal spiritual connection to multiple strands of paganism? I don’t really know, but I feel like there’s a line between the extremes that can be walked. If we recognize and embrace the tension between these competing religious metavalues or realities or whatever, then maybe there’s a way to navigate them and even benefit from them without being torn apart or thrown one way or the other.
Incidentally, Tony Lamb has a good post on the topic at the Association of Polytheist Traditions.
Posted in Spirituality, tagged Ancient Order of Druids in America, Anglican, Anglicanism, AODA, Baghavad Gita, Balance, Celebration, Celtic Mythology, Celtic Paganism, Christianity, Divination, Divine, Divinity, Druid, Druidcraft, Druidism, Druidry, Environmentalism, Gobbledygook, God, Gods, Greek Mythology, Green Spirituality, Harmony, Hellenic Polytheism, Hellenic Reconstructionism, Hierarchy, Hinduism, John Michael Greer, Latitudinarianism, Legitimacy, Libation, Meditation, Mormonism, Music, Mysticism, Nature, Neo-Paganism, Neo-Pythagoreanism, Neopaganism, New Age, New Ageism, Norse Mythology, Numerology, OBOD, Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, Organized Religion, Orthodox, Orthodoxy, Paganism, Philip Carr-Gomm, Poetry, Polytheism, Polytheist Reconstructionism, Practice, Prayer, Reconstruction, Religion, Revival Druidry, Ritual, Sacrifice, Seasons, Semantics, Spirituality, Theology, Universalism, Validity, Wicca on April 7, 2009 | 9 Comments »
In a previous post I talked about my troubles with boxed religion. My conclusions were somewhat contradictory, but I think they boil down to this: I want to feel like what I am doing is valid and legitimate, and I want some kind of structure to help me know how to practice my spirituality. I hunger for the divine in a way that necessitates some action, some drawing closer on my part. Navel-gazing and thinkin’ ’bout gods by itself just isn’t going to do the trick–I need a practical element to my spirituality.
So the question becomes, how do I get those things–practical spirituality and a feeling of legitimacy and validity–without also having to deal with the suffocation, claustrophobia, mental revision, and inevitable shame and embarassment that seem to be inescapable by-products of boxed religion.
One thing I know for relatively certain, is that my personal theology doesn’t appear to match any currently existing and widespread theology, so no complete boxed religion will do–no matter which one I pick I will wind up feeling the need to change what I believe in order ot be orthodox. I know I shouldn’t, but that’s not the issue. I will. So then, where do I get the things I am craving out of religion? How do I practice a religion that’s out of the box but still stay focused, on track (even if the track meanders and changes), and maybe most importantly for me, feels valid and legitimate?
One possible route that I have been seriously considering is the Ancient Order of Druids in America. The AODA’s spiritual practices don’t involve a specific theology, although they have theological implications: they are earth-centered, they skew strongly towards some kind of (neo)pagan approach, they are meditative and contemplative, and they tend to favor some ostensibly new age stuff like magic, divination, etcetera. There appears to be a strong tendency toward Celtic paganism (no surprise there; we’re talking Druidry after all), but with an openness to different “flavors,” even if it means going (shudder) eclectic.
The thing is, I have been interested in the AODA for a long time, but I have recognized that it onvolves in some ways a spiritual skeleton, a kind of box with nothing in it. While I have no doubt that you could practice Revival Druidry without any further theological baggage, and int he process develop a strong earth-centered green spirituality of your own, I have always felt that I wanted something more to fill the box with. I wanted some kind of mystical component, a catalyst even, that had specific theological and spiritual implications to flesh out the practical skeleton of the AODA’s approach. From that perspective, I have everything I need to begin. Granted, it still means cobbling things together a bit, and I admit that the spiritual experiences I have had do not necessarily point directly toward Druidry (it’s not even one of the implications I mentioned in my last post). At the same time, Revival Druidry is completely compatible with what I have been doing so far.
So I want to go through a list of advantages and disadvantages of choosing Revival Druidry as a spiritual path. I will start with the advantages.
First, Druidry is green. It is earth-centered. It is a spiritual practice that recognizes the power of the earth, has roots in the living earth, and draws strength form protecting nature and the environment. I haven’t necessarily shared this before, but I have long felt a spiritual connection to the earth. I feel recharged (and less crazy) by being outside. I think there is wisdom and balance to be gained by being more connected to the natural world, and that is an aspect of spiritual existence that I feel compelled to explore. Maybe I will go into more detail in a future post, but suffice it to say for now that this is important enough for me to make it actually be a big problem with Hellenic Recon Polytheism, which is not connected ot the earth enough for my tastes.
Second, Druidry provides a box, but not a claustrophobic one. Even though the kind of Druidry I want to practice is connected to an organization, the organization does not claim special authority to dictate to me what I should and should not be doing, and what is acceptable for me to practice. The is partly due to a general neopagan norm of live and let live, but it also has specific roots for the AODA in Anglican latitudinarianism, as the AODA’s historical roots go back not to ancient druids, but openly and honestly back to the Druid revivalists of several centuries ago, most of whom started out as Anglicans in the midst of a growing trend toward Latitudinarianism–an allowance within Anglicanism to admit diverse theologies but come together in practice. So Revival Druidry provides direction but is not forceful. And the Anglican connection, which comes out in a lot of other practices, especially in the AODA’s meditative approach, doesn’t make me cry either.
Third, as a kind of corollary to the second above, Revival Druidry is a big enough box to contain all of the disparate spiritual elements I have swirling around in my head and heart. It certainly can accomodate all of the different kinds of western mythology that I feel drawn towards–Greek, Celtic, and Norse. In fact, it is a context that will allow me to move around and through those three diffferent mythic and polytheistic contexts as my personal theology continues to grow, develop, and solidify. (Hmm–three is a number that is significant and sacred in Druidry) Druidry is also definitely expansive enough to encomepass a cosmology that is based on the Baghavad Gita. But better still, Revival Druidry’s box is big enough to account for all of the different possible ramifications of my spiritual experiences. Revival Druidry is compatible with a green, mystical Anglican Christianity if that’s where I ultimately end up (and if I end up Christian, I highly suspect that that’s the kind of Christian I will be), and certainly with the male/female archetypical divinities that I might be dealing with (DruidCraft–the fusion of Revival Druidry and Wicca–is already fairly established and has a major advicate in the form of Philip Carr-Gomm, one of the most important voices in modern Druidry and the head of the British Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids). Moreover, practicing Revival Druidry in no way excludes the practices that have so far become important in my paganism: prayer, libations, and small sacrifices to the gods.
Fourth, Revival Druidry practice involves things I want to be doing anyway. Seasonal celebrations, meditation, poetry, music, divination. It wraps all of these together in a whole, centers it all on environmental spirituality, and interlaces the whole thing with a healthy respect for the gods and a default polytheistic worldview. There’s a lot of good juju in that box, really. I might be on to something here after all.
On the other hand, I have some concerns with the AODA as an organization and with Revival Druidry as practice that I feel I need to address and think about.
First, the AODA is an organization that is in the process of rebuilding. There are not a lot of members, and that means not a lot of community support. The flip side to this is that it being a part of the movement means being able to help build something with a lot of great potential. A connected oncern is the place of John Michael Greer at the head of the organization. Don’t get me wrong-I think Greer is absolutely awesome, a prophetic voice who deserves more attention than he gets. But is the AODA just Greer’s fan club, or can it be an organization that stands on his two feet without him? The AODA’s not a personality cult, and Greer doesn’t really play that part, but is it basically the same thing for practical purposes? Of course, on the other hand, practicing AODA-style Revival Druidry doesn’t actually mean I have to be a part of any organization whatsoever, so the organizational concerns may be a moot point.
Second, I don’t know how comfortable I actually am with the idea of calling myself a “druid.” I am convinced by Greer’s rationale that, as descendants of the Druid Revival, modern Druids have every right to claim the name–not because they are descended from ancient paleopagan Druids, but because they are descended from mesopagan revivalists who called themselves “Druids.” The term Druid has been used to refer to revivalists for three hundred years now, and (in Greer’s words) it is easier than calling the movement “British Universalist Post-Anglican Latitudinarian Pantheist Neo-Pythagorean Nature Spirituality.” Nevertheless, the idea of calling myself a Druid seems, well, kind of silly. Again, maybe I am making a mountain out of a molehill. I am in charge of how I label myself, after all. I can practice Druidry and even join the AODA and call myself whatever I want. Maybe I would be the most compfortable thinking of myself as a Pagan who practices Druidry, or something like that. Or maybe thinking of it in terms of “Revival Druid” instead of just “Druid” would seem less ludicrous and more intellectually honest. Semantic niceties aside, the way I label myself and the way I construct my own identity is really important to me.
Third, Revival Druidry has a lot of New Age ideas built in, and I am suspicious of New Ageism. I don’t think I really believe in “magick,” or feel like it is an important or even desired part of my spiritual life. I don’t believe in auras or moving energy around at will. I think a lot of that stuff is kind of flaky gobbledygook, and by entering a movement full of that kind of thing, I risk being associated with it or being seen myself as a New Ager, or alternately getting frustrated and fed up with what I see as flaky, non-valid spiritual beliefs and practices. Nevertheless, this is not a concern that is unique to Revival Druidry, but is one that I will face everywhere in the Neo-Pagan world. Perhaps if I was content to be a hardcore Reconstructionist, or was happy to act and practice in total solitude, I wouldn’t have to worry about it. But I am not and I don’t necessarily. So as long as I think of myself in terms of paganism, New Age is always going to be on the radar, whether I am involved with Revival Druidry or not.
Fourth, the big one, is that athough it may be the perfect box for me, it’s still a box. This is really my problem, not Druidry’s problem, but the chances of me pushing myself towards whatever passes for Orthodoxy in Revival Druid circles despite my contrary beliefs, intuitions, and desired practices, is really high. Orthodoxy is basically bred into me–I grew up Mormon after all, and it is really hard to root out that kind of thinking, especially when it is more of a knee-jerk inclination anyway. I naturally lean towards obsessive orthodoxy in whatever I do, regardless of whether it actually makesme happy or bears any kind of fruit in my life. But this is going to be a problem wherever I go, no matter what direction I decide on, probably even if I make up my own spiritual direction whole-cloth.
So, what does all of this mean? Honestly, I think my reasons to practice Revival druidry outweigh my reasons not to. And when it comes down to brass tacks, Druidry is something that has attracted me for a long time. I have hesitated before, but never because I thought I might be unsatisfied with Druidry. I either felt held back because of a hesitation to move in any spiritual direction without some kind of mystical catalyst to hang it all on, or I have held back because I thought I might need to set Druidry aside in favor of some other Orthodoxy. And now both of those reasons have evaporated: I have had a decidedly pagan mystical encounter with the gods, and I have recognized that Revival Druidry will fit almost any spiritual direction I have a reaosnable chance of ultimately settling down on, assuming I can keep my Orthodoxy reflex in check. In fact, practicing Revival Druidry may wind up being the perfect cure for said reflex, assuming I don’t wind up jerking my knee towards orthodoxy in Druidry itself.
Posted in Spirituality, tagged All-Father, American Gods, Aphrodite, Bhagavad Gita, Deity, Dionysus, Divinity, Experience, God, Gods, Greek Mythology, Hera, Hinduism, Identity, Mysticism, Neil Gaiman, Neopaganism, Norse Mythology, Odin, Paganism, Pantheon, Polytheism, Psyche, Religion, Sleipnir, Spirituality, Tattoos, Vedanta, Zeus on April 3, 2009 | 1 Comment »
In case it hasn’t been crystal clear yet, I believe in multiple personal gods. I have personally had intense spiritual experiences with Dionysus and Aphrodite, but I am not necessarily set on specifically and exclusively honoring the ancient Greek pantheon. However, I have also prayed to Zeus and Hera at different times, and I have some mental head-space reserved for Ares, Hermes, and some others. Mostly, I am not trying to tackle too much at once, but to take the gods as they become important to me or relevant to me, or as I intuit that I should for some other reason.
I also have some hunches and intuitions about the Norse god Odin (not to mention a sweet tattoo of Odin on his horse Sleipnir on my calf), and I think I might have seen him on the Metro one time, but I was too chicken to ask. He was an old bearded man with a brimmed hat and an eyepatch. It was kind of spooky, and my brother was pissed off that I passed up my chance to talk to the All-Father. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that direct contact with Odin can be perilous. I’ve read American Gods, after all.
I’m not sure how all of this necessarily fits together, although like I have said before, my wider position on cosmology and metaphysics is largely informed by a Vedantic interpretation of the Bagavad Gita, and I have some rough ideas about the nature of these gods that I am interacting with. However, the whole thing is not developed enough for me to be able to define or label my religion/spirituality at this juncture, if I ever will. But I have been grappling with “polytheist” as a partial spiritual identity, and I have come to grips with it. I am cool with describing myself as a polytheist.
I realize that other people may bery well think I am uncool, delusional, crazy, weird, or pathetic. The thing is, I’m not sure I care. I mean, I care inasmuch as everyone wants to be well-liked and well-regarded. But I’m not going to pretend to be something else so that other people are more comfortable. I mean, I’m not going to wear a t-shirt that says “Hey You! Deal With The Fact That I Am A Polytheist!” but I’m also not going to go to great lengths to conceal my spiritual position just because it is unconventional. I am not ashamed of my gods.