Posts Tagged ‘Soul’

(thanks to my favoritest pagan for pointing it out to me)

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I have been turning into something of a tarot enthusiast here lately. I’ve been fascinated by the tarot since I first played around with a deck back in high school, but I didn’t have my own deck until I bought a Rider-Waite from a game shop during my first year of law school, near to the time when I first started to really broaden my horizons in terms of the scope of my spiritual search. I did a few spreads with it back then, but mostly just let it sit around until a few months ago when I finally started to grapple with the tarot in earnest.

I feel like I have a talent for the tarot. I have done spreads for myself, for my beautiful and sexy wife, and for my brother, and some of them have been shockingly insightful. I’m still using a couple of guidebooks to make connections and understand the meanings of the cards, but I am slowly gaining an understanding of my own through a combination of committing key-words and other peoples’ interpretations to memory, and also through meanings that have emerged from readings I have done. Not every spread I do winds up being useful or insightful, but enough of them seem to be so incredibly on-target that I think I have a lot of potential as a tarot-reader.

While I have not yet written the post I want to write about magic, I will say that I don’t necessarily think that the tarot cards are supernatural. A good deck of tarot cards is composed of powerful symbols that correspond to complex structures in the mind (conscious, sub-, un-, and probably super-), and can be used to make connections or better yet reveal hidden connections between emotions, ideas, and events. So my basic understanding of the tarot is that it is deeply psychological, but psychological nonetheless.

I’m kind of a purist as far as decks go. I’ve looked around at some of the alternatives, and I am generally not impressed. For most decks, I don’t even think the art is all that good, and I definitely would be hesitant to even bother with divination with any deck but Rider-Waite. On the other hand, I realize that my prejudice is purely a matter of personal aesthetics, snobbery, and a persistent nigh-insuppressible orthodoxy reflex. Which means I don’t think you’re an idiot for using a different deck, but I’m going to pretty much stick with the one I’ve got. Although I need a new box or bag for my cards, because the one they came in is rapidly disintegrating, since I habitually take my cards with me, stashed in a pocket of my backpack or rucksack.

Personally, I have grown to identify strongly with the Knight of Cups, and I am considering eventually getting a full-sized tattoo of the card, probably on an upper arm or back shoulder. I imagine at that size and in full color it’s not going to be cheap, so I will probably wait until at least next summer when I have a job and a steady income. Anyway, the Knight of Cups is the consummate questing knight, the grail-knight, on a journey of discovery that is a journey into the depths of the subconscious. Cups have a lot of water-symbolism, and water is an element of mystery and the subconscious. It’s also a strongly female element, particularly when associated with cups or the grail. So there are aspects to the quest and the quest’s object that are associated with the divine feminine, the deep places of the soul, and the mysteries of the unconscious mind, all of which are intensely relevant to me. It’s also the card that I used as a significator—purely because of the color of my hair and the instructions in the little pamphlet that comes with the Rider-Waite cards—way back in high school when I first started to become familiar with the tarot.

I plan on spending a lot more time and effort with the tarot. I’d like to have a deep understanding of all of the cards, even the tricky ones that elude me, and I would like to start moving past individual cards and out into the relationships between them. It’s exciting and compelling stuff for me. And also, it is just plain fun.

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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.

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So, based on my experience with Dionysus, I started looking into Hellenic Reconstructionism as a possible spiritual avenue. I realized that a vague spiritual closeness to one particular god could have a number of other possible interpretations and could signal the beginning of a lot of different things, but taking it on its face seemed the simplest, at least while I was just feeling things out.

So I started poking around a bit on Reconstructionist blogs, sites, and forums. It was fruitful in a sense, because a discussion on a Hellenic Recon forum is what provoked my intense experience with Aphrodite. But moving from that point forward, Hellenic Reconstructionism seemed like a dead end, and it still does.

Part of it is a basic head-space issue. When I try to think of myself as a Hellenic Reconstructionist or a member of the religion “Hellenismos,” it just doesn’t click right. It seems foolish, even–the idea of me as a Hellenic Recon, not the idea of Hellenic Recon itself. I started looking into Sponde (which is a great site that seems to have sadly and suddenly disappeared), and reading Tim Alexander’s forum a lot, with the end result being that is just didn’t all feel right. In fact, I started to even waver in how I felt about the gods: trying to force myself into a Reconstructionist mold was actually pushing me away from the divine, not propelling me towards it.

When I realized it, I almost breathed a sigh of relief. I was getting to that same place I always get, when I wake up one morning and decide that everything I thought was so great last night is now stupid and even embarrassing. And that’s not acceptable: if Reconstructionism makes me embarrassed about my gods–gods whose presence I believe I have really felt–then regardless of the arguments for it, Reconstructionism is not for me.

Although I have had powerful experiences with gods who were worshipped by the ancient Greeks, I don’t necessarily feel like that means that I am bound to worship them or think about them the way the ancient Greeks did. In fact, I feel that there’s no particular reason at all to draw that conclusion except for lack of any other viable spiritual avenue.

This is not to say that I think the religious practices of the ancients are irrelevant or worthless: at the moment my spiritual life consists primarily of prayer, libations, and small sacrifices of barleycorns and wine to the gods. Those are practices that the ancients most certainly would recognize if they walked into my living room or kitchen today. But I can’t see myself identifying as a true Recon for a number of reasons (partly a gut thing, and partly because I’m not sure the Greek Myth paradigm punches all of the spiritual buttons that I feel like need to be punched in order to be fulfilled, but more on that in a future post), and I certainly have no interest in drawing the borders of my spiritual beliefs and practices in the range that is generally considered acceptable to Reconstructionists.

So the gods are in, but Hellenismos is out. What does that mean for me? I have indicated that I have a hunger for the divine that I want to fill, and I have an intuition that appropriate spiritual practice is an extremely important part of what I am after. So where do I get those practices? Do I look outside myself at all for the limits of my belief, or do I shoot completely from the hip, accepting the consequences and dealing with the likelihood that in the end my beliefs will be an undisciplined pile of incomprehensible, substanceless mish-mash? Or is that really true, or is it just the Mormon in me still thinking that religion is only legitimate if its borders are clearly defined and its beliefs and practices are clearly prescribed by a hierarchical authority? These are the questions that try my soul. Not as an academic exercise, but as real things for me to consider as I try to move forward spiritually.

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