Every month, the Animist Blog Carnival (organized by the devoted Heather Awen) gathers together essays and blog posts on a particular theme from writers all over the world who are exploring animism as an aspect of their spiritual lives. If you consider yourself an animist, you can join in! It's super-easy: just share your reflections, thoughts and experiences on the month's chosen theme on your own blog or website, and then email a link to your post to Heather (or that month's ABC host). And now's a great time to get involved. The theme for this month's ABC is Animism and Religion, and Heather shares a list of thought-provoking prompts over on her blog to get you started. Deadline: November 28, 2013
We want so very much to understand our gods, to know them intimately, to see how they work in our lives. It is tempting to dissect, to analyze, to categorize. And sometimes, it is necessary, even beneficial. We are categorizing creatures, we human beings. We pick out patterns as a matter of survival. When it comes to our gods, we reach for them not only with our prayers and offerings, but with our reason and our intellects — we would know them with our whole selves, in all their parts, in part so that we might know our own selves better in all our parts. The challenge is to delve into theology without killing its subject, to try our hand at analysis and critical thinking without pretending that the numinous divine is a dead thing that will hold still beneath our careful knives. Theology is not dissection. It is much more gruesome than that; it is vivisection.
What is ecological polytheism? That was the question that I knew I'd eventually have to answer. There was something going on in the root-webbed dark, some new kind of way of being Pagan that was starting to take shape for me. I tried to answer this question, or at least articulate it, in a couple of posts over on No Unsacred Place, and they became two of the most popular posts on the blog. I wasn't the only one interested in asking these kinds of questions, it seemed. Lots of other people were wondering the same thing. What is natural polytheism? How does ecology inform my theology? How can I bring science and religion into conversation for a more grounded and earth-centered Paganism?
Meeter gives Christianity a bit of a soft sell, emphasizing all of the ways that being a Christian can help you get your head right and find a more meaningful way of living. But what he doesn't do is justify, or even articulate, some of the foundational ontological beliefs on which he's based his arguments. Since the kind of god we worship affects the kind of human beings we are, let's see if we can't find out a bit more about Meeter's god by looking at the kind of human he inspires.
Why be a Christian (if no one goes to hell)? That might seem like an odd question for a Pagan Druid to be asking, but it's the title of a new book by Daniel Meeter that caught my eye.* I like to take up these challenges every now and then, in part because remembering the religious tradition that I came from helps to remind me why I left, and what lessons or insights of value I want to hold onto and carry with me into the future, even if I no longer call myself a Christian. After all, I remember being a Christian. In fact I was, if I may say so, a really fantastic Christian. I Christianed the hell out of that shit. So what happened? It's a long story (with a few twists and turns). Suffice it to say, I'm in a different place in my life now, and that place gives me a different perspective on the purpose of the spiritual life and the assumptions we bring to it. That's why I wanted to read Meeter's book. To stretch my muscles a bit, to remember what it's like to think about the world differently, and to keep my interfaith work bilingual and useful.
My last post has generated some fantastic conversation both in the Meadowsweet Commons and elsewhere online. I'm still sweltering at my parents' house and will be traveling home again this weekend, so although I'm in the middle of composing a response exploring some of the ideas readers and commenters have shared, that post probably won't be up for another few days at least. In the meantime, I wanted to highlight some of the many insightful comments my last post has inspired. There is so much more to say on this topic, and it's one that I think lies at the very heart of not just Pagan leadership, but also Pagan spirituality in general. What do we emphasize in our rituals and spiritual work, and why? How do different forms of ritual shape our approach to these questions? How do we choose our leaders, and just as importantly, how do we support them in ways that allow them to continue to grow, explore and take risks? What are your thoughts on the relationship between sincerity, competence, and integrity?
The process of cultivating real integrity is sometimes messy and sometimes ugly. Fostering community is not about learning to be a good actor or an appreciative audience, but about learning how to take the messiness and clumsiness and ugliness in stride and discover the beauty within all the chaos. It's about learning to recognize the grace of intimacy and the power of integrity, when inner experience and outer appearance are brought into more authentic communication with each other. I can't help but wonder if this is why elders and leaders in our community are sometimes not very well respected, and why those who are sometimes choose to step down out of the spotlight. Have our leaders become so focused on the outer appearance of competence, professionalism and legitimacy that they've foregone the difficult, messy work of authenticity and integrity?
They say you can't be neutral on a moving train, and if recent developments on the American political scene have demonstrated anything, it's that the Catholic Church is a train headed in a pretty distressing direction: away from equality and social justice, and set on a collision course with the wall of separation between church and state. In many ways, the Catholic Church abandoned me years before I finally woke up to the fact and left of my own accord. For years, I struggled with the feeling of being a solitary Catholic liberal crying out in the wilderness. I felt beleaguered by atheists and secularists on the one side of me, criticizing Catholicism for being a monolithic monstrosity of backwards-looking conservative patriarchy, while on the other side of me were many of my fellow Catholics striving to make the Church exactly that.
Steampunk isn't going away any time soon. It speaks to a deep ambivalence that many of us hold about the modern, industrialized cultures that we live in — societies in which computer technology seems each year to get more obscure and esoteric, in which skill and creativity are treated as less important than fame and wealth, in which ecological damage and environmental destruction persist despite our vast scientific knowledge about how the ecosystems of the world work and our own role in that destruction, and in which strict gender and class norms are often subtly (or not so subtly) reinforced even in the same breath as we congratulate ourselves on our diversity and tolerance. Steampunk looks back to the historical roots of modern culture in the generations before the first world war, picking at old scars and still open wounds, exploring what went wrong and what we might have done differently. It is absolutely vital that we engage in that process, even in the face of ghosts we would rather leave undisturbed.
We turn through a world of tension and pressure, movement and poise. Cycles within cycles that turn together, their teeth in rows — the still center of being, that emptiness around which every gear circles. This is the clockwork of the universe, a shining mandala of interconnection and interrelationship. The delicacy of craftsmanship expressed through the primal forces of the elements: forged metal, fire, water, steam and space. All these have their place, turn their way, in an intricate dance with one another. The steampunk shaman knows the intricate patterns of the dancing world. Her wisdom penetrates the delicate work of friction and force, knowing exactly when to introduce the slightest pressure, and where, and how hard. No brute or bully pushing her will onto the world, she turns, she gives way, she waits in the center of stillness and open space, waits for the gears to shift into alignment. When her work is done, you might say it was all just coincidence, the wheels of fortune spinning out through inexplicable chance. This is the work of the steampunk shaman: she turns the gears of coincidence. Through creative nonaction, all action is done.