I have been reading William Butler Yeats’ strangest book, A Vision, for the—how many times has it been now? At least once for each of his twenty-eight phases of the Moon, surely, since I first picked up a battered paperback copy from a used book store in Seattle, one of those cramped and marvelous places where bookshelves lean whispering to one another over the top of narrow aisles. Yeats, as I hope most people still dimly remember, was a brilliant poet; fewer recall that he was also one of the leading figures in the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the premier magical order in Britain at the turn of the last century. A Vision came out of the marriage of those two passions of his, and also out of his marriage with fellow Golden Dawn adept Georgianna Hyde-Lees, who provided most of the raw material for the book.
A Vision is a book about cycles. Starting from the basic concept of two forces, one moving toward unity and the other toward differentiation, Yeats sets out a sequence of twenty-eight phases of the cycle formed by these forces, related symbolically to the twenty-eight days of the lunar month; he then shows that every human personality falls into one of these phases; then he goes on to trace out the same cycle, with the same twenty-eight phases, in each individual life, in the process of reincarnation, in the rise and fall of styles and fashions and artistic movements, and in the rise and fall of civilizations. It really is a bravura performance, with few parallels other than the I Ching, the great Chinese treatise on the theory and practice of cyclical change.
Each time I reread A Vision, though, some different theme strikes me more forcefully than the others. This time it’s the way Yeats talks about the history of religion. In the preface, dedicated to his friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound, Yeats wrote:
“Oedipus lay upon the earth at the middle point between four sacred objects, was there washed as the dead are washed, and thereupon passed with Theseus to the wood’s heart until amidst the sound of thunder earth opened, ‘riven by love,’ and he sank down soul and body into the earth. I would have him balance Christ who, crucified standing up, went into the abstract sky soul and body, and I see him altogether separated from Plato’s Athens, from all that talk of the Good and the One, from all that cabinet of perfection, an image of Homer’s age.”
Then, later in the same introduction:
“What if Christ and Oedipus or, to shift the names, St. Catherine of Siena and Michelangelo, are the two scales of a balance, the two butt-ends of a seesaw? What if every two thousand and odd years something happens in the world to make one sacred, the other secular; one wise, the other foolish; one fair, the other foul; one divine, the other devilish? What if there is an arithmetic or a geometry that can exactly measure the slope of a balance, the dip of a scale, and so date the coming of that something?”
Those of my readers who are Christians, or who grew up in one or another of the Christian sects and have not quite left it behind, may find Yeats’ equation of Christ and Oedipus blasphemous—and of course that was wholly deliberate on his part, and helps make his point. When he penned the introduction to A Vision in 1928, Oedipus had haunted the collective mind of Europe for a good many years already. Eliphas Levi’s book The Doctrine and Ritual of High Magic, which kickstarted the modern magical revival when it first saw print in 1855, built an entire body of symbolism from Oedipus and the cycle of Greek legends in which his life plays a central role; paintings of Oedipus and the Sphinx were accordingly standard fare for the Symbolist painters of the next half century, most of whom at least dabbled in occultism. I’ve wondered more than once, for that matter, if Sigmund Freud chose the figure of Oedipus as the iconic image for his most famous theory as part of the covert conversation with occultism that plays so large a role in his psychology, and burst into the open with the work of his student and rival Carl Jung.
It bears remembering, though, that the ancient Greek play from which Yeats borrowed the image was originally performed as part of a religious festival, and had the same sacred character at that time that the passion play at Oberammergau had two thousand and odd years later. Oedipus unknowingly committed the worst sins the ancient Greeks could imagine by killing his father and marrying his mother; he tore his own eyes out when the truth was revealed; he was shunned thereafter by all but his daughters, who stayed beside him in his wanderings; and he finally received pardon from the gods and descended alive into the body of the living earth. To the ancient Greeks, that made him as potent a talisman of human salvation as later generations found in Christ, who was traditionally without sin, suffered injury at others’ hands rather than his own, was surrounded by adoring crowds in his wanderings, finally pardoned the world—“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do”—and was received alive into Heaven.
Sometimes, gazing out my study window on the roofs of the largely Catholic and working-class neighborhood where I live these days, I wonder: what was it like to live at that period in the ancient world when the meaning and power was trickling out of the story of Oedipus, and an entire world of spiritual experience was slowly becoming opaque? Then I stop, and remember that the same process is unfolding around me right now.
I’m far from the only person to notice that something very strange has been happening to Christianity for quite a long time now. The liberal denominations that used to be the mainstream capitulated to atheism back in the 1950s—you’ll have to look long and hard to find ministers in any liberal church who actually, literally believe in the objective reality of the God whose weekly worship they’re paid to conduct—and now function mostly as charitable foundations and political-action committees with a sideline in rites of passage. The conservative denominations that took their place on the public stage in the 1970s promptly slid down the same well-greased slope; while there’s plenty of talk about faith in Jesus, their faith amounts in practice to defending the social customs of the 1930s and getting out the vote for Republican candidates.
It’s not at all uncommon, historically speaking, for religious institutions to turn into sock puppets for competing political elites, and that’s an important part of what’s happened here. Still, I’ve come to think there’s something deeper going on. My position as a sometime spokesperson for a quirky minority faith that gets nearly all its members from those who’ve left the mainstream has given me an unusually detailed idea of why people bail out of the established religions of our time. We can leave aside the people who grew up as atheist materialists and found the secular religion of progress unsatisfying; their concerns are important, but not relevant to the topic I’m trying to explore just now. It’s the former Christians I want to discuss here.
People quit Christianity for a great many reasons. Abuse of power by religious professionals is a massive factor. (Every single person who’s ever talked to me about why they quit the Roman Catholic church, for example, cited personal experiences of serious, repeated abuses of power by Catholic clergy and religious, which were condoned and enabled by the church hierarchy, as the chief thing that drove them away. If the Catholic church ever decides to clean up its act, I can suggest a very good place to start.) Failed apocalyptic prophecies are another common reason—it’s hard to maintain faith in a given sect when it keeps predicting an end of the world that never happens—and so is the hypocrisy with which churches that enthusiastically judge and condemn everyone else on the planet turn around and insist that others shouldn’t judge and condemn their leaders, or the politicians they favor, when these latter get caught doing something vile. Finally, of course, the intrusion of politics into the pulpit is an important reason: too many clergy these days seem never to have grasped that people come to church to pray and worship, not to be subjected to political hectoring of the sort already far too common in the media.
Yet there’s another thing, one that often doesn’t get mentioned until well into the conversation, and sometimes doesn’t come out at all until some later moment, perhaps sitting around a fire after an outdoors ceremony as the night deepens and most of the participants have stumbled off to their tents or cabins. That’s when you can expect to hear from the many, many people who quit Christianity because they prayed their hearts out for years and never got an answer. I’m not talking about those who wanted something and didn’t get it; I’m talking about people who found themselves, over and over again, staring up into an empty place where God was supposed to be.
If my experience is anything to go by, this is an extremely common experience. I suspect, in fact, that one of the reasons that atheist materialism is as common as it is today is that a very large number of people who approached Christianity in good faith found themselves facing that same void, and decided on that basis that the whole religion thing is a crock. It’s an understandable decision if not necessarily a valid one, as it generalizes about all deities from a sample size of one—but of course that same generalization has been pushed on them over and over again by Christian clergy, who like to insist that the only god that can possibly exist is theirs.
The basic notions of Christian theology have become so deeply entrenched in modern thought, even (or especially) among those who think they’ve rejected Christianity and all its works, that it’s probably worth taking a look at the world through other, older eyes. The notion that there’s one and only one god, who is eternal and unchanging, is a very rare one in religious history. Outside the Abrahamic faiths, the consensus has generally been that there are a lot of gods and goddesses, most of whom didn’t have anything particular to do with creating the world, if the world was created, and many of whom weren’t even around at the beginning, if there was a beginning. Gods in these other religions are born, mature, age, and retire, and some of them die.
The interesting thing about this more traditional consensus is that it mirrors, very precisely, the facts of religious history. Gods do in fact wax and wane over time, if their importance in the religious life of the cultures that worship them is anything to go by. Many theogonies—that’s what you call a genealogy of the gods, a common feature in polytheist faiths—go on at length about whole generations of gods and goddesses whom nobody’s worshipped in a very long time, while it’s not hard to trace the rise of the more recent deities who replaced them. The ancient world had plenty of examples: the old Roman god of war and livestock, Mavors (later spelled and pronounced Mars), was a hugely important deity in Rome’s early days; later on he became a minor figure reverenced mostly in a few very old traditional ceremonies. The earth god Veiovius had a similar trajectory, while Jupiter, who started out as one among many Roman gods, clawed his way to the serene dignity of Jupiter Optimus Maximus—from which exalted status he had already begun to slip when Christian persecution made the whole matter moot.
Set aside the presuppositions of Christian theology and all this makes an interesting kind of sense. Gods and goddesses, in the traditional way of thinking, are nonhuman beings—disembodied or, if you will, differently embodied—with whom human individuals and communities enter into various relationships, some of which deserve the good old term “covenant.” They vary in power and importance, but minor gods are still worthy of reverence; there have been any number of examples of covenants between small gods and individuals, tribes, or local communities, in which the latter seem to have benefited quite substantially from the interaction. Yet the divine partners in these relationships are no more eternal than the human ones, and so in polytheist societies you see a constant movement of worshippers from old gods who no longer answer prayers to newer, more vital gods who do.
In a very real sense, this is what happened in the ancient world when Christianity spread across the Roman Empire—but there was a crucial difference. The Greek-speaking intellectuals who embraced Christianity in its early days, when it was still a despised countercultural sect appealing mostly to slaves, had absorbed the worldview of Greek philosophy, which insisted that nothing could be ultimately real unless it was timeless and unchanging. From the Presocratics on, Greek philosophers had been fixated on the notion that the real world—the really real world—couldn’t possibly be the jumble of constant change and muddy interaction we see around us; no, that had to be a mere appearance, or even an illusion, blocking our view of a real world of pure, perfect, timeless unities. They proceeded to map this way of thinking onto the doctrines of newborn Christianity, and the result was Christian theology.
Over the short term, that was a clever strategy; it convinced a great many people who were unsatisfied by classical Pagan religion’s jumble of constant change and muddy interaction that the new faith and its god were qualitatively different. What’s more, the new god had the vitality that new gods generally display. Valerie Flint, in her brilliant book The Rise of Magic in Early Medieval Europe, has documented that a core reason Christianity was able to spread so rapidly across Europe, winning support from local warlords and kings, was that Christian monastics and clergy earned a reputation for being better at magic than their Pagan rivals: better, that is, at delivering the goods that religion is supposed to deliver.
That remained true for a good long time, and the religious literature of Christendom is full of the sort of robust divine manifestations that you normally see when people call on a strong and hearty god. It wasn’t until many centuries had passed that you start to hear whispers of the same autumnal chill that surrounded Jupiter Optimus Maximus in the waning days of his glory. Heinrich Heine, that astonishingly prescient figure, put his finger on it at a time when precious few people anywhere in Europe doubted the permanent ascendancy of the Christian god:
“A peculiar chill of horror, a mysterious sense of awe forbids us to write any further today. Our breast is full of a dreadful pity—old Jehovah himself is preparing for death. We have known him so well, from his cradle onwards, back in Egypt where he was brought up amongst divine calves, crocodiles, sacred onions, ibises, and cats. We have seen him as he bade farewell to these playthings of his childhood and the obelisks and sphinxes of his native Nile valley, became a little god-king in Palestine, with a poor nation of shepherds, and settled down in his own temple-palace. We saw him later on, when he came into contact with Assyrian-Babylonian civilization, and laid aside his all-too-human passions, no longer just spewing out rage and revenge, or at least no longer instantly hurling thunderbolts down at every bit of despicable behavior. We saw him emigrate to Rome, the imperial city, where he renounced all national prejudices and proclaimed the heavenly equality of all peoples, and with the use of such smooth phrases formed the opposition party against old Jupiter, and intrigued for so long until he took complete control, and from atop the Capitol ruled the city and the world, urbem et orbem. We saw how he became more and more spiritualized, how softly and blissfully he whimpered, how be became an amiable Father, a generic Friend to Man, a Contributor to World Happiness, a Philanthropist—but none of it could save him. Can’t you hear those little bells tinkling? Down on your knees! They’re bringing the sacraments to a dying God.”
Heine was as usual far ahead of his time. Friedrich Nietzsche, decades later, pronounced the patient dead on the scene, and even then noted bemusedly that the news of the event had yet to reach the passersby on the spot. Yet reach them it did, as more and more people turned prayerfully toward Heaven, the way two thousand and odd years of religious counsel advised them to do, and discovered to their horror that there was nobody home.
In the 1880s, when Nietzsche wrote, that was the terrifying private discovery of a handful of sensitive minds. By the early 1900s, the rumor had become sufficiently widespread to evoke counterblasts from the newly minted Fundamentalist movement, which tried to cover up the scandal by quietly substituting faith in a printed book for faith in the living God. By the 1950s, it had become a massive if still unmentionable issue, and played a major role in driving the liberal mainstream denominations to their surrender to atheism and their current death spiral. Writing in 1972, Theodore Roszak could say without fear of contradiction, “We are long past pretending that the death of God is not a political fact”—and in the decades that followed, as conservative denominations followed their liberal brethren down into the mud-wrestling pit of partisan politics, his prophecy was proved amply correct.
It’s standard, on those rare occasions when the emptiness on high gets discussed, to see it framed in terms of something human beings have done or left undone. Here again, though, we’re seeing the legacy of Greek philosophy’s impact on Christian theology, the insistence that what’s real must by definition be timeless and unchanging. I’d like to suggest that maybe we should stop assuming that human beings are the only active participants in the complex of relationships we call “religion;” I’d like to suggest that maybe the changes that have unfolded from Heine’s time to ours reflect actual changes on the other end of those relationships, and that the reason there are so many atheists these days is that something that used to be present is now gone.
If Yeats is right, the next divine influx will be on Oedipus’ side of the balance—the side of full participation in the world, not of withdrawal from it; the side of wholeness, not of perfection; the side of earth, not of heaven. If he’s right, in turn, we face a revaluation of all values considerably more wrenching than the one Nietzsche thought he was proclaiming—a revaluation precisely as wrenching, in fact, as the one that came when Great Pan died and Christ took his place. Yeats had something to say about that, too:
In pity for man’s darkening thought
He left that room and issued thence
In Galilean turbulence;
The Babylonian starlight brought
A fabulous formless darkness in;
Odour of blood when Christ was slain
Made all Platonic tolerance vain
And vain all Doric discipline.
Our thought is sinking into a confusion at least as profound as the one that swallowed “all that talk of the Good and the One, all that cabinet of perfection” that characterized the flourishing of the classical mind. The Babylonian starlight is still waiting, with no shortage of fabulous formless darkness to bring in its train. And the new influx? That will come when it wills, not when we choose. We’ll talk more about that in later posts.
Yes, I know this was supposed to be a links and news post. For the second month in a row, I sat down with a forest of URLs on my desktop, stared at them for a long moment, watched them turn into monkey-jabber, and wrote about something that matters to me instead. We’ll see what happens next month. In the meantime, many thanks for your patience with my vagaries…
“many people who quit Christianity because they prayed their hearts out for years and never got an answer. I’m not talking about those who wanted something and didn’t get it; I’m talking about people who found themselves, over and over again, staring up into an empty place where God was supposed to be.”
“found themselves facing that same void, and decided on that basis that the whole religion thing is a crock.”
Hit the nail on the head there. Sums up my experience with Catholicism perfectly. Praying, going to Mass, and hearing nothing, I became an atheist for 10+ years before quite literally stumbling across druidry, mythology, and polytheism; a whole new world opened up before my eyes.
I can’t help but wonder… you once wrote on Galabes the Twilight of the NeoPagan era, but aside from ‘pop’ spirituality, it does seem that more people are coming to polytheism. It seems that the Gods of old are ‘coming back’ so to speak, so I guess this post melds nicely with the previous one on reincarnation 🙂
I must admit though, I always assumed the Gods to be immortal. Yes, reading Hesiod’s Theogeny and Works and Days recounted the birth of Gods, although I always assumed Them to be immutable and immortal. It never occurred to me otherwise.
I think a large majority of your readers appreciate your vagaries, and is probably one of the reasons they like to read what you have to say. It takes us down different paths of thought that most of us probably have not considered. This post actually fits perfectly with my current reading of your book A World Full of Gods. I can attest, at least with regards to my own personal experience, with that wrenching revaluation of values. I find spirituality suddenly awakening within myself where it never really was before. I have no idea where it will take me yet, and although it is wrenching, it is also comforting in a way; I don’t feel lost, just open to possibility and for now I think that is all I need. As you said, the influx will come when it wills, not when we choose, and at least for me, I think my own dawning awareness of the nature of my own spirituality will come when it comes, whenever that may be.
Daniel, thank you! Certainly there seem to be plenty of gods and goddesses around these days, but I’m by no means sure it’s a matter of them “coming back” — on the one hand, there seems to have been no shortage of them all along in India, Japan, West Africa, and other corners of the world where polytheism remains standard; on the other hand, I’m by no means sure that all the gods and goddesses around these days are the same beings as those who went by the same names two thousand and odd years ago. My guess is that with the coming of Christianity and Islam, most people on the western end of Eurasia turned their back on all gods but one, and the gods rolled their eyes and reciprocated the gesture, while the usual process by which gods are born, mature, age, and die went on at the usual pace.
Dan, well, I hope so! I didn’t go through quite the same wrenching reevaluation, as I was raised in a family of lapsed Presbyterians and never found Abrahamic monotheism particularly appealing or convincing in the first place — such older visions I found by way of Greek, Norse, and (by way of the retelling of the Mahabharata I mentioned last week) Hindu mythology had much more appeal to me. Still, I’ve helped a lot of people through it over the years.
I can’t help but wonder what exactly it means to say a god is dying/dead. All it really seems to mean is not in contact with humans, but there’s an awful lot of things that might cause that….
I don’t think we’ll ever know one way or the other as human beings though.
Also, with regards to this instead of collection of links, I much prefer this post over collections of links. This is interesting, links much less so.
As far as I can tell, the current Christian goddess is Mother Mary. “Maryolotry” tends to give the more doctrinaire faithful fits.
“I’m by no means sure that all the gods and goddesses around these days are the same beings as those who went by the same names two thousand and odd years ago”
I have been curious about this for some time. The Zeus I know and pray to and offer to is nothing like the Zeus of myths I have read. That Zeus sounded more like a horny teenager, whereas the Zeus I honor today is more reserved, composed, and if I guess I could sum it up in one word, thoughtful.
This just might be one of my top favorite posts of yours ever written, and has got me considering a lot of things.
I’m glad you’re writing what inspires you instead of monkey jabber! I was raised a christian and remember being at Mennonite church camp as a preteen and praying, wanting, seeking so hard to connect to Jesus like they said was supposed to happen and finding nothing. It just didn’t make sense. Since then I’ve gone through gnostic/transcendental self I realization seeking (largely devoid of contact with spiritual entities, I would pray to my “higher self”,) Norse neopaganism (found no electricity with thos gods) and now back around to Solomonic magic steeped in judeo-christian mythos, but now I see it more as a kind of animism, where everything has a spirit, the Archangels are like gods and God is like Brahman, the Source of All. I’ve also, all this time, had a connection to nature that has defined my life, part of my living comes from raising plants, I wild forage and garden, and have found as much esoteric knowledge in practicing permaculture as from my actual esoteric persuits, so for me, tempering the Jesus with the Oedipus and vice versa seems to be the path. Do you see a place for the Source of All in a swing to an Earth centered spirituality?
A 28-day lunar cycle comes in handy in some musings, but in the real world it’s about 29.53 days. Indeed, the wiki page on the phases of the moon mentions that “traditional Hawaiian culture has a total of 30 different Moon phases (one per day)”. Either way it does not divide the (solar) year (about 365.25 days) evenly into 12 parts. The Jewish calendar is a combination lunar and solar one, where every month starts on a new moon – and 7 out of every 19 years get an extra, 13th, month, in order to synchronize, more or less, with the solar year.
Great post as usual John. I was raised in a conservative, Evangelical church in the suburbs outside Chicago- all white folks, fairly affluent, Republican voting, horrified by the counter culture that was ripping apart America at the time (1960s), generally supportive of the war in Vietnam as a war against Godless communism, etc. I left the church as an adolescent and came up with all kinds of rationalizations over the years but I think my main reason for leaving was just sheer boredom. By the time I hit my teens my church had become lifeless, sterile. The church building itself was like a warehouse or a government housing project, smelling of plastic and fresh paint. The father god I was taught to worship was no comfort to me- he was distant and uncaring. The whole concept of heaven as an endless church service appalled me. One memory that stands out for me though is of a visiting lecturer who gave a presentation on the evils of rock and roll music, which he called Satanic and “pagan”. He kept playing the opening bars of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” to drive home his point. The trouble is, it had the opposite effect on me. I was mesmerized, feeling the music sink down to the lowest part of my body, unlike church hymns that never reached below my head. Soon after that I started ditching church and walking to a park on the shores of Lake Michigan. Sitting there, looking at the sparkling water and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face, feeling completely at peace, I felt a voice in my head telling me “this is your church”. It was a feminine voice. I’ve been a pagan ever since…
I would guess that if Hurricane Irma hits the ” The Winter White House” so soon after Hurricane Harvey drenched “Bushland” Mam Gaia’s stock in trade as a vengeful and powerful god of nature will rise greatly among the leftward side of the political spectrum. The counter of that could be true, and the conservative and evangelical forces will see the destructive wildfires hovering in the mountains above LA, Portland and Seattle as proof that their traditional god is punishing Liberals and Sinners.
I have been learning about Whitehead’s process philosophy and the process theology the Chicago theologians built from it. With its notion of a changing, evolving God, it seems like a potentially more durable “foundation” for followers of Jesus who also want to remain Christians in some sense.
Many of us within the Church are concerned by the increasing clamor to “man the life boats” and retreat, Benedict style, to preserve a remnant that can survive a dark age.
I agree with Yeats’ and your suggestion that what’s in order next is participation. The only traditions that survive the coming years will be through practice. Practice that not only conserves what is worth keeping (culturally, morally, environmentally), but also that continues to liberate people. That is my take on Jesus’ good news.
Excellent post. Looking forward to hearing more.
Jesus and Oedipus – an interesting juxtaposition. Is this the same or similar to the dichotomy sometimes referred to as Apollonian and Dionysian? Or is there an easily encapsulated distinction?
Nassim Taleb argues that modern statistical methods of finding the truth are inherently Dionysian, in contrast to the old Apolonian logical approaches. That particular overturning is the cause of considerable strife within the church of Progress, and one which I watch with interest. Most of the research into magical phenomena make clever use of the former.
Unfortunately for me, since I’m partial to Apollonian heroes, fiction writers seem to have gotten the memo long before scientists and I’ve been hard-pressed to find decent fiction with an Apollonian hero. There are plenty of interesting takes on Batman, but Superman’s best stories all center on his very public death.
But if the Umbral deities ascend in a big way, perhaps I’ll be treated to Apollonian revolutionaries in popular fiction before I die…
Do the gods continue to exist after they are forgotten by mans?
I think those that we know of them, like the Greek and the Roman, don’t, but if I am wrong and they do then their existence is a miserable one, since they always took human worship so seriously and it was so important to them.
Nice timing of this post on the full moon, then. And if this is the kind of post that results from trying to sit down and make a links and news post, then please try more often!
Interestingly, I had never even touched a book by Yeats until three days ago, when I noticed a book of his poetry on a friend’s shelf and, in a bit of spur of the moment bibliomancy, actually read one. Funny that. “A Prayer to My Son”, it seemed to me that given Yeats’s magical inclinations that the ghost he was invoking to watch over and protect his son was probably not purely artistic metaphor. As it happens, it was my daughter’s 6 month birthday at the time of reading; I’ve been mulling over the significance, if any.
“Yeats sets out a sequence of twenty-eight phases of the cycle formed by these forces, related symbolically to the twenty-eight days of the lunar month; he then shows that every human personality falls into one of these phases; then he goes on to trace out the same cycle, with the same twenty-eight phases, in each individual life, in the process of reincarnation…”
Was this, by any chance, the source of your recent mention of an estimate of the human portion of the spirit’s journey to be about 30 lifetimes?
I am a Christian believer. Still! Reading you and observing the people around me, I should wonder.
All my live I got entangled with many different Christian factions. From the beginning I was peripheral. Even then, or I guess, just because of it, I wasn´t been catapulted out of it. I am used to that sort of awkwardness.
I experience that ominous transition, we are going trough environmentally and less obviously but noticeably too, mentally.
I can’t see god dying, but mingle with other deities and magic forces, gradually changeing its appearance, or you’d say representation.
Like you prophesise, that in the US, the different ethnics will intermingle more and a new human mixture will be the result. Such I see mirroring in the deity.
What will leave us commoners, while we blend together, will be a mentally reduction of complexity, of the exuberancy overloads of our mental capacities. The newborn goddess will loose lots of superfluous overload and will become a deity much closer to our needs.
Dear Mr. Greer,
A threefold Thank You! With your last post, on Reincarnation, and this one, it’s like old, rusty chains and locks have fallen away and a door has opened. To what, I’ve no idea, but thank you anyway!
I was raised Methodist, and by the time I was 17 was asking too many questions. The logic that was supposed to “prove” God’s reality and the truth of Methodist doctrines was too circular. The next decade saw me reading many of the texts to which you refer, many of them in the old, turgid translations such as those of A.E.Waite. (I just dug out my old, once read, copy of “A Vision” by the way.) So now my practice is Buddhist. The Buddhist doctrine of the six worlds of unenlightened existence together with the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence can accomodate the death of gods: When they die, these gods may have used their god-time to become enlightened, or they may just return to another of the six realms of unenlightened existence, which includes possible human rebirth. Nice post, as usual.
But where does this leave those of us for whom the Christian God has not gone missing? Do you think we’re delusional?
Simply mesemerizing. “What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Sounds like you’ll be reflecting on that in the week ahead. Your essay helped me so much. Perhaps I am just disillusioned by that religion of innocence, Christianity, and long for the more truthful religion of old.
I was raised in a secular “myth of progress”-believing household with a casual “Christmas and Easter”-type of relationship to the Catholicism of my family’s recent ancestors. I have gone through periods of praying and going to mass regularly because I find a secular worldview unsatisfying, but have never felt that anyone was listening when I have tried praying to Jesus. However, I feel a strong connection to Mary and to the cyclical nature of the liturgical year with the celebration of Christmas corresponding to the winter solstice and the celebration of Easter corresponding to the rebirth of Spring. My strongest spiritual experiences have occurred while hiking through the mountains leading me to a growing interest in nature-based spirituality.
I agree with John Roth’s comment about “Maryolotry.” Although technically Catholics are supposed to pray with Mary and the saints instead of to Mary and the saints since they are not gods according to the Church, many other Catholics I know also seem to have a much stronger connection to Mary and other saints than they do to Jesus. I wonder what goddess(es) are listening to prayers to Mother Mary.
I must be ‘weirder’ than I thought… apparently it’s only me that has always know, from childhood, that there must be something/one responsible for the mind boggling beauty of the natural world. It seemed blindingly obvious…just look! And, raised Catholic and dearly loving Jesus, et al, when I was introduced to ‘god’, I found a name for what I always knew. Of course, now I’m a Sufi, Hindu, Buddhist, Methodist, etc. and probably a polytheist… certainly a panentheist, etc, etc. But those are all intellectual labels… and the directly experienced is so much more real … for me, anyway.
My meditations lately have taken me down the path of seeing (and appreciating) the little dances that nest and combine within the Grand Dance. In particular, to not focus solely on the Grand Dance, but to also embrace those immediate dances as well (that of my own life, for example, or of my garden). As I read this post, I wondered if there was not a parallel with this perspective and the “great” and “small” gods which you reference.
Good golly John, thanks for writing, the stories you tell are such a delight in my life.
It is kind of funny (strange) that todays’ post kind of mirrors a story that has be gestating for a while in my mind. I have the beginning and an idea around the ending but the middle parts are still missing.
The story starts ~2,000 years ago with Mary Magdalene is fleeing a crowd that wants to stone her for being an unmarried mother. She hides the baby in the woods, then faces her death from the crowd.
The old god Pan finds the baby, realizes who the baby is and says something like; “the world is not quite ready for you yet, little one.”
Flash forward to near the present, when a jewish ecologist and her muslim, history professor husband find the little girl and decide to raise her as their own. They name her Gia.
Twenty years later on the spring equinox she encounters a snow white, story telling, chimpanzee named Pan Narrans. Who tells her that she needs to learn the truth about herself. And her journey begins.
The story ends with her becoming part of all living things.
(I am stuck with the middle part, what adventures on the journey need to be told?
I am not sure if I should wait for a muse to strike or use something like one of the gospels or Ulysses as a model for the adventures.)
Fascinating. And timely, since I recently started reading Yeats’ Vision, as well as Chinese classics like Zhuangzi and The Analects. The relevance of the latter is that Yeats’ cycle seems very much like a cycle between Yin and Yang, with Oedipus as a Western representation of Yin and Christ a Western representation of Yang.
Some (such as Benjamin Hoff, author of The Tao of Pooh) have said that religions that have dominated most of the world over the past 2000+ years have had a strongly Yang character. There have been exceptions, such as Shinto and Taoism, but even those have often operated alongside the more Yang-slanted Confucianism and Buddhism.
(Actually, Confucianism strikes me as a more balanced religion, similar to Judaism, in that while it’s slanted toward Yang, its emphasis is ultimately on repairing the relationship between perfect Heaven and imperfect Earth, rather than on jumping ship.)
Here in the west, where religions with a different take on things have tended to be discouraged a bit more emphatically, Yang has ruled the day—and most of the night as well.
If this is correct, then it casts Taoism in an interesting light as a kind of rearguard against the end of the last Yin age. Perhaps the story of the legendary Lao Tzu should be seen in that light: what he was really fleeing was the end of an age, and the Tao Te Ching was written as a kind of time capsule. This is all speculation on the part of another clueless American, though it seems possible to argue that Taoism is undergoing a renaissance now that we’re going back to another Yin age.
I’ve been doing some soul-searching recently (OK, more than I usually do), and on this matter I find my own soul is still in transition, still clinging in some ways to the austerity and otherworldly aspirations of the passing age, but also seeing the beauty of the current that’s gaining in power.
Hmm, around here where I live I am constantly astonished by the near universality of religiosity, great religiosity. Mostly Baptist and a lot of Methodists as well.
I’ve blamed the rise of atheism, which is largely a western phenomenon I think, on the hell teachings. But that might not be correct…
As for me, I would probably agree that my life experience in church was of a nonresponse from God, and yet, my particular reason for leaving the church was rather the opposite, a very profound and compelling visitation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that became my guru and personal trainer. So, for me, there is some nostalgia about the church, but no dislike at all. In fact, the whole situation was a kind of dark night of the soul, a valley of the shadow of death because I could not fathom the cognitive dissonance of the church which I now saw through as inadequate and untruthful in some profound ways, also gave me the pearl of great price: my soul quickened.
As for the arguments for an unchanging God, those are logical arguments I wish I were able to bring forth, as they are not the same as for the kind of gods you speak of. Perhaps those arguments would be similar for the defense of consciousness or awareness as the true substrate of the universe.
I was thinking, while reading, that this God, the true Source, etc. should not be subject to the kind of old age and moving on that you mention, but then, in my opinion, the Christian Churches, and Islam, and Judaism, are not worshiping that God. They are worshiping Jehovah, who in my opinion is exactly one of the regular gods of old, and Allah may be one also. Who or what Jesus is, I think we cannot know.
I’d also like to say that Hinduism also really does have a monotheistic or monistic root. The gods are not Brahmin, not the One without a second. That One, should not diminish.
The site is again not allowing longer comment, thus the 3 posts. The post comment button disappears. Someone once said what to do about it, and I wish I had copied that down.
Also, for what it’s worth, I’m quite content to get a “B-side” post each month instead of news and links.
JMG wrote: “people who found themselves, over and over again, staring up into an empty place where God was supposed to be.”
I suspect that this is also very common in other religions too! In Mauritius, the majority religions are Hinduism (50%), Christianity (33%) and Islam (17%), and throughout I very, very rarely encounter anyone who mentions any sort of communion with any sort of transcendental power.
It is my impression that people go to prayers and perform rituals out of habit, duty to tradition or as a form of social gathering. A lot of people have rationalised their practices and rituals, they seem to practice religion fervently but mechanically. They believe, have faith and practice but there is little or nothing else. Note that there is not much social pressure in Mauritius to practice religion, so if people practice they do it out of free choice.
Please note that I am 52 and have been into some sort of spiritual barren land for as long as I can remember so I may be biased!
The ‘death of the Christian God’ seems greatly exaggerated to me, since I believe that I have experienced contact with God and know multiple other people in the same boat. For me, not believing in His existence would be like not believing in the sun because it slipped behind a cloud for a minute.
I also feel I should point out that Christianity is present as a major faith in other regions of the world than the West, and as far as I can tell they don’t seem to have quite the same problems with people leaving as Canada or the USA. It may be more a Western Civilization problem than a Christian one. According to Wikipedia, the countries with the most Christians are 1 USA, 2 Brazil, 3 Russia, 4 Mexico, 5 Nigeria, 6 Phillipines, 7 DRC, 8 Ethiopia, 9 Italy, and 10 Germany. I would be completely unsurprised if there are more Christians outside the West than in it.
Strange. You have mentioned before that abuse of power had driven all the Catholics you knew away from the religion. This was not the case for me. I noticed the size of the emerald on the local bishop’s ring and there was at least one teacher at my Catholic high school who we all joked about having a strong affection for certain types of boys that attended my school, but this did not push me away. I would even go as far as to say that I regularly had the chance to see authority used in a way that my more anarchist inclinations could respect as worthy of being obeyed and that this is something I saw more there than in any institution I have been associated with as an adult. The waning power of the god behind the religion seems a likely reason for moving away from the church. The last time I attended church outside of obligatory family situations was on good friday nearly ten years ago. I found it incredibly moving, but I probably owe that as much to my interest in christian hermeticism as to the religious education that made way for it. I would like my children to feel that, but I don’t see it happening. My wife was raised protestant and we have not baptized our kids for various reasons (sleeping in on Sundays being a reasonable one). I feel the catholic church still has some of the magic and incense, but I don’t feel, to use Catholic poetic language, I hunger or thirst for the mass. Though I realize that one thing people still get from church is community and that might be nice if I could base it on shared belief, instead of joining for that.
One interesting religious trend is the increasing popularity of ayahuasca. It seems to give people the religious experience and the contact they never got from church. The healing that can take place from it has a way of turning around even the most hard-headed materialist and opening them up to ritual and other spiritual practices. There are syncretic ayahuasca churches who drink their sacrament under legal protection, but part of me would like to start my own. Though I shy away from that because I know how easily that could become a vehicle for my own ego. Still, the two current examples have things that could be improved on and acclimated to north american culture more specifically and with climate change the plants for the brew will be growing up north soonish.
I think it’s not just “God” who has died nor just Christianity that is troubled by his passage. I’m not a Christian so I can’t speak to that from a lot of personal experience although I will say that growing up in the South among protestants there seemed to be a lot of respect for “Devil” and all supernatural happens associated with him. Everyone I knew had a story of the Devil not nearly so many stories of personal direct experience with God. Their fear of the Devil always seemed a bit odd to me since there was supposed to be one all-powerful entity who created everything including, I assume, the Devil himself. It leads me to believe that they didn’t have faith in the own god’s complete mastery of his domain.
The lack of religious vitality is also palpable outside of Christianity, where religious groups as diverse as Zen Buddhism and Islamic Sufism appear from be slowly disintegrating. Buddhism becoming the realm of academics with a thin veneer of traditional believers in their native lands and tiny minority of well-heeled Western salary class types with highly intellectualized and personalized interpretations. Sufism suffering from a lack of inspired masters as well as an increasingly doubtful chain of transmission necessary to validate their claim to the mystical inspiration handed down from the time of the prophet Mohammad to the current master of each currently existing order.
I’m sure someone will be offended by my examples, but I think even the most dedicated followers from these traditions, and other faiths besides, will struggle in vain to come up with honest examples of enlightened and inspired masters from within our living memory.
I do not need to repeat how right you are in describing the disillusionment of Christians, and us Roman Catholics in particular. I am sure other commenters are going to better word my same opinion.
My problem with the Catholic church (and a Lutheran and Evangelical communities I tried to join later), was that I could not feel God’s presence there, not was I under the impression that anybody in church had ever felt it.
It was just ritual with nothing in it. In Protestant churches there is even little ritual. And the Catholic ritual was hollowed out during the Second Vatican Council. Nothing is left of the religious experience.
I find it disgraceful that we need to import Chinese or Japanese spirituality to have experiences which were as common as bread until 100 years ago, but the Church renounced meditation and contemplation and now we just do not know how to do it ourselves anymore.
Can anyone from outside of North America and Western Europe chime in on how Christianity is doing in your countries?
(((((first part of my comment))))
Is it Catholicism as such that is in trouble, or is it the Catholicism of the currently wealthy West?
It would help me in addressing my question if I had travelled more. But I will do the best I can with it, admittedly on the basis of limited experience. I got a kind of window into Asia through my 1985-1987 appointment at the National University of Singapore. Additionally, I follow Russia from the outside, as a worried diaspora Estonian. Although Russia is not a Catholic country, the post-1054 history of Christendom gives Russia a continuing Catholic relevance.
I occasionally rolled my eyes at the Catholic Church in Singapore. But the problems seemed to me to come from an occasional childlike naivete in a warm faith, not from a faith growing cold. From a quantitative sociological standpoint, the Church in Singapore was strong. The Catholics in my classes dragged me into extracurricular discussions of theology. Not only were Masses packed – I recall a brawl breaking out at my church (not that one commends brawls) when someone on a crowded Palm Sunday feared he or she would miss out on the usual palm frond.
“the religious literature of Christendom is full of the sort of robust divine manifestations that you normally see when people call on a strong and hearty god”
Forgive my naivety and ignorance, but to what sort of divine manifestations one could expect to witness?
((((second part of my comment – one part still to come??))))
When I go to Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) on some Wednesday nights here in Toronto, I find a situation (within the hard-working, financially poor, Ontario Asian diaspora) paralleling Singapore. At Wednesday-night OLPH, as in 1985-1987 Singapore, the pews are 80% or 90% full. At OLTH, to be sure, the people attending seem to largley Filipino, in contrast with the Chinese who predominated in the Asia I have known.
I get from reading an impression of a Russian church that is alive, in ways echoing both Singapore and OLPH. I wrote a bit on current Russian religion, among other current Russian things, at http://toomaskarmo.blogspot.ca/2017/03/toomas-karmo-anne-garrels-russia.html, in a blog posting headed “A Russia Situation Appraisal, for Kmo Case Officer and Others”, and timestamped 2017-03-20. (It is helpful to look in particular at what I wrote there concerning a journalist’s report on Fr Father Dmitri Yegorov, in some minor town called Chebarkukl.)
Should we not outright expect all forms of religion, the Christian forms included, to be now in trouble in the wealthy West – even as most or all other Western life-forms (climate policy, town planning, fine art) are in trouble? This is the society, folks, that fleeces young people of tens of thousands of dollars, so that they can escape adult life until the age of 25 or so while acquiring meaningless degrees in pseudo-disciplines such as “Business Management”, while being unable to write even coherent English (let alone coherent French, German, and Latin); that bred Mosley, the KKK, and the Fuehrerpinzip already decades ago, and now has been parading with torches in Charlottesville while chanting (I saw a vid) about “blood and soil”; and that forgets its own complicity in the unfolding disaster that is Syria. Such a society is doomed, folks. It went down hard in 1914, and thanks to its strengthening technology went down ten times farther in 1939. The next step down, with a still stronger technology, may come even in our own lifetimes, and it may see whole cities wiped off the globe.
Although one would like to imagine our local affluent-West flavours of Catholicism transcending the local cultural rot, this would amount to a demand (in this particular case, an unreasonable demand?) for a miracle. ((((end of comment))))
I’m reminded of a great tune by The Waterboys called The Return of Pan.
“At sea on a ship in a thunder storm
On the very night that Christ was born
A sailor heard from overhead
A mighty voice cry “Pan is dead!”
So follow Christ as best you can
Pan is dead! Long Live Pan!
From the olden days and up through all the years
from Arcadia to the stone fields of Inisheer
Some say the Gods are just a myth
but guess who I’ve been dancing with
The great god Pan is alive!”
Also, the death of the Christian God is awakening the interest of the Europeans for the Islamic God. While culture and history do not allow me to convert, it pains to look at the increasing number of Muslims and have to admit that they do things better than we do.
They believe the way we used to believe a few generations ago, and religion has a place in their everyday life.
One more generation and my children and grandchildren will be converting in droves.
Also totally good with getting this rather than news.
1) I wonder if there might be a divine/religious equivalent of Dunbar’s Number, which came up a couple posts back? When the number of people involved with a religion is greater than X, then dogma/bureaucracy/etc tend to take over from actual faith, and the god itself becomes more distant? Or is it a factor of time?
2) Calls to mind Kipling’s “The Disciple,” which I always liked.
3) As per the last post, what happens to gods that die? Do they enter another incarnation further toward the Source, come back around to animals, or something else entirely?
4) I like the mention of “retired” gods–as an antidote to the D&Dish notion of “gods need worshippers to exist and thus fight turf wars,” I occasionally play around with the idea of a retired god encountering a person who needs them to come out of retirement for just one more thing, and the ensuing weird mixture of theology and heist movies.
I was also raised more-or-less lapsed Presbyterian–Mom’s side is Catholic, but she left the church well before I was born–and Christianity never really appealed to me, except for the super-mystic aspects (always liked the story of the Wise Men and the Star best, at Christmas, because stars are cool and weird). One of the reasons I could never get into it in my youth, oddly enough, is because of the prohibitions against fortune-telling and magic in general.
I love Yeats and I haven’t really given him serious thought since my university days. You’re the second person to quote him this week, so perhaps it’s time for a reunion. Thanks for the reminder. Before I get to Yeats, however, I have a few books by Jane Jacobs and something called the Retro Future on the pile beside my bed.
I thought Yeats was a Theosophist. I don’t know enough about either Theosophy of the Golden Dawn to understand how the two are related, historically or doctrinally, if at all. Care to discuss?
Finally, I don’t know what may be slouching towards Bethlehem to be born, but there’s a helluva storm massing off our southern coast. And while Irma may or may not respond to prayer — if she hits Maralago, that was me — the material power of our planet can no longer be shrugged off as incidental, adventitious, or unresponsive. I was raised entirely without religion and later became a Buddhist. It’s worked well for me, but it can only do so much. If we don’t start venerating the planet that sustains us, I don’t hold out much hope for any religion.
-“it’s hard to maintain faith in a given sect when it keeps predicting an end of the world that never happens.”
That’s one of the things that got me thinking… That and the fact that, literally, the numbers did not add up, or if they did, that implied that Jehovah really is some kind of murderous Psycho (yes, yes, I know, but the propaganda stated otherwise). Anyway, I thought my way right out my religion! Did a healthy bit of agnosticism as a bit of a cleanse. Discovered a new way in thanks to Joe Campbell, and kept moving from there.
Do the old gods die? I suppose. Everything stuck on the wheel of Samsara buys the farm eventually. The problem is, any old divinity can just pick up a label, pin it to His lapel, and go into business. Now, maybe old Jehovah has given up the ghost, but apparently Someone is still going by that moniker: Sam Webster, author of Tantric Thelema, insisted on an interview he did on Chris Orapello’s podcast that he’d encountered said Old Testament fire-breather, and it weren’t pleasant. So… See? Maybe the Lord of Armies is still around?
Anyway, another fine post, sir.
Good grief, teacher, I’ll take this over monkey-jabber any day of the week! And twice on Sunday!
Although, even your monkey-jabber is darned good.
Picking up where we left off on the road to Gwynfydd, is it more likely that the gods actually die, or is it just that they stop interacting with silly humans as they move on to the next realm? I think it was you who mentioned that the young gods still like to play with us humans for a while after reaching Gwynfydd. Maybe that just gets old in time and they move on to other interests?
Perhaps God is not dead. Perhaps he just doesn’t like football as much as he used to.
“And also, Heavenly Father, we ask that you not embarrass the Gators next weekend, as you saw so fit to do against Michigan on Saturday…Amen.”
I downloaded a copy of Yeats A Vision to re-read because you mentioning in last weeks post (also partly because, having read a good bit of Yeats in the process of getting a degree in English literature, it was always the text professors didn’t want to get into. Too weird one told me, which is why I read it, but it’s been 20 years now). Unfortunately after about two pages I realized the Kindle is no way to read Yeats. Or much else really, but that’s another topic.
But what I really wanted to say is that this describes me exactly: “many people who quit Christianity because they prayed their hearts out for years and never got an answer….found themselves facing that same void, and decided on that basis that the whole religion thing is a crock.”
That was me. Went to church in high school because in my community that’s where the cute girls were :). I tried what they said, but nothing happened the way they said it would. Left. Decided materialist atheists were probably right.
But materialist anything always struck me as lacking imagination so that didn’t last long. Plus I have had a series of very strange encounters with uh, presences that were not tangible. I actually ended up deciding that getting rid of the political entity of the church/book was the answer, went for more direct experiences, everything from hallucinogens to reading Israel Regardie to just hiking into the backcountry and listening to the woods for hours. The last bit probably explains why discovering Druidry was huge for me. And then combining that with golden dawn excercises really felt like coming home.
Anyway, thank you for writing this.
The God of the Bible made His presence known; since then He’s become a hands off kind of guy. Clerics have had to step in where He has checked out. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, some Americans were compelled to ask where God was. Having faith in an omnipotent, aloof god is may be a tough act to follow.
Sorry: misspellings: (1) Chebarkul, not Chebarkukl; (2) Fuehrerprinzip, not Fuehrerpinizip.
Thanks very much for this, John! I’m recalling now a conversation that you, Sara and I had one evening last December, regarding the collapse of the traditional forms of Roman Catholicism. The possibility was raised of connecting the abandonment of the traditional liturgies in the 1960s, with the possible loss of the church’s inner plane contacts.
At the time, my interpretation of that was that the abandonment of the traditional sacramental/magical/liturgical forms came more-or-less first, leading to the loss of inner contact and corresponding failure of the new forms. But this post leads me to consider things the other way around: the contacts already being lost (due to the death of God discussed here), there was (a) nothing to keep the human members of the covenant from abandoning the now-already-ineffectual old forms which had once maintained that convenant, and furthermore (b) plenty of space for a flailing attempt at liturgical revision in the hope of stumbling onto something that would get the relationship working again.
Wow. So much to ponder here. Thank you, as ever.
@JohnRoth and @Lauren, re: “Maryolatry.” You might take a look at medieval European Christianity, when the predominant religious/spiritual engagement of most ordinary people was not with Jesus Christ directly (after all, the High Mass was tucked away at the high altar and/or behind the rood screen, and Holy Communion was received but once a year–the “Easter duty”), but with a patron saint who was held to be much more accessible, and thus more helpful and relatable. While this personal patron could be anyone, having such devotion to the Blessed Virgin was quite common.
So JMG, apparently my two children (9 and 7) believe that reincarnation is the way things work. I guess it’s just me who’s slow on the uptake. I would say that I regret the sort of close-minded militant Christian upbringing I had, but even that seems sort of foolish these days…
My daughter (the older one) describes to me a great circular room of dark stone with thousands of doors in the walls, ceiling, and floor. She says when one of them opens you just walk through and live another life! Hmmm! (I hate that it’s taken 9 years to get to this. Wait, no, I guess that’s how it needed to go. Man, this way of seeing things is different…) My son adds, very matter-of-factly, that if you’re moving into a flying creature’s body, you grab a string hanging from the ceiling and pull down the stairs (like a folding attic staircase I guess), and if you’re moving into a creature that lives underground, you pull up a trapdoor and descend through the floor.
I’m already enjoying this new facet of our relationship. Very much.
Unfortunately, I don;t have much to add to the subject of the post, I just wanted to second Dan Mollo’s sentiment that your vagaries are exactly why your weekly posts are one the things I look forward to. You have a very unique outlook and way of writing things that stretches my mind in ways that can only be beneficial in a time where the current events of the world seek to drag me down into sheer negativity.
Thank you as always for your writing JMG, both in the posts and your thoughtful responses to your readers which often add just as much thinking material to my week.
In my 57 years, I have traversed the gamut you mention, from fundamentalist evangelical born-again Christian rearing & teenage years to atheist materialism as a young adult to an interest in earth-bound spirituality in my later years.
I can’t entirely say the God I learned to pray to was absent. There was this one time – I was about 15, when I was overtaken during a standard prayer meeting by a sudden feeling of contact with a being of light and love who reassured me that I was loved and forgiven. It was a blissful experience, which I have never forgotten, tho it was never repeated.
Nevertheless, I was not at all sure this was the same God who had placed Hell among the possibilities humans could face, or whose plan for the better of us included “eternal life” – a prospect that despite all I was taught, I could not begin to find attractive at all.
In the end up I left the faith I was reared in, and, being besotted with biology as a way to understand nature, I found respite from the contradictions of fundamentalism in atheist materialism. However, I was eventually delighted to discover that nature is not *only* material, and that its study can help both mind and spirit.
As to the being of light and love, it never seemed to quite gel with me as being Jehovah, or Jesus, and yet, whoever it is, it saved me from ever falling into despair, though I would have otherwise been so tempted by circumstances.
As to “what it all means” I have not yet decided. But, I have faith that there is more “within” (that is to say, somehow behind the surfaces of what appears) than we can know, and that for myself, much remains to be experienced & learned.
A God may have died, but others are waiting to be born.
My favorite used book store sank into oblivion when its owner died. The other stores around town have walls of pink(romance novels) and black (horror). Nothing wrong with either of those genres, but no hope of finding Yeats, probably. My copy of the collected works has everything but “A Vision.” Maybe the editor didn’t want to explain it. I’ll have to search it out.
Fwiw, I enjoyed this essay, although I also have learned new things from the stormwatch post. Write what you want, I’ll still read it.
There are some rough parallels to this idea popping up on the popular media Noosphere. I know you don’t watch TV, but perhaps of interest to know: the idea of the vanishing/declining Christian God is a theme in the TV show ‘Supernatural’ (a popular show very much aimed at middle america).
It recurs in the new show ‘Preacher’ (aimed a much hipper audience), based on a comic book by an Irish writer. ‘Preacher’ also features a distant and heavily in-bred descendant of Jesus, – a hideous parody of the ‘Holy Blood Holy Grain’ idea – who appears to be a dry-humping imbecile.
Neil Gaiman has been using the idea of declining and ascending deities for a while, most notably in his book ‘American Gods’ (now a TV show, aimed at the high end/NPR types of the TV market), in which the old gods Wotan et al are living on subsistence, being out-competed by the new gods – media (in the form of Lucille Ball) and Internet (played by a 25 year old psychopathic hipster douche). In his pantheon, there isn’t one Jesus, there are hundreds (one for each denomination). Hippie Jesus, black Jesus, etc.
The post also brought to mind this passage by Michael Hartnett, the best Irish poet of the second half of the 20th century, Heaney be damned.
from ‘The Man who Wrote Yeats, the Man who Wrote Mozart’
by Michael Hartnett
Oh the wardrobes we have gone through
to dress our naked minds!
What goods we’ve cheapened and what suits
we’ve tried to cover up our tattered clothes,
to patch up every threadbare place
through which sharp wind continually blows
from the cold halls of space.
As Aristotle crippled logic
for two thousand years
and Plato and his minions
cluttered up the sky
with their humming spheres
of things already done
keep us trapped, like any moon
bound to its sun like a tethered goat
whose grass must finally run out;
and though not at all at ease
in this treadmill heaven,
as we argue from the given to the given
we see as we spin past
other systems, other stars
that we can never visit;
and though taught there’s nothing new
underneath the sun,
that there’s a limit to the roses
we can breed and cull,
we are not at all at ease
with the insistent notion
of something new underneath the skull.
God is not dead
It never will, because It’s not born
The perception of God by non-God is ever-changing
The self-appointed (in Christian circles and others) God’s favourite non-God (or God’s favourite creature) -humans- has now almost completely incinerated God’s abode -the heart- and is contently(?) living in brain’s skyscrapping
This will also change.
In a non-random non sequitur: Emanuel Swedenborg + <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Appleseed"Johnny Appleseed
A side issue, but the graceless modern liturgy, totally untouched by any sort of poetic anything, can’t possibly have helped. “I asked my Father for bread and he gave me a dry health wafer?”
Thank you, JMG, PLEASE keep writing about what matters to YOU, when the muse strikes. I need the education I did not get while being trained for a cubicle.
I’m delighted you skipped the links and news. What a magnificent sweep through history this essay took me through … timeless balance.
Parenthetically, I looked up Vejovis – had never heard of him/Him/it – and Wikipedia seems uncharacteristically gaunt on the subject. Yet even through that brief mash-up of barely related factoids, what comes through is the faint image of a very interesting fella indeed – a romantic, passionate, compassionate, rogue; the Robin Hood of the pantheon. The champion of the underdog. A bit rabble-rouser, a little hero, a touch magician. One I could immediately recognise in my own imaginary, internal round table. His appreciation for my recognition was unmistakable in that tell-tale jolt of warm life-force that feeds the heart, and forces you take your eyes off the words, and to your soul. I couldn’t help but think of this personal discovery as small evidence of the ebullience of vitality aching to emerge – the sub-strata of your article, and probably your writing.
Vejovis deserves a painting, I say. I got the feeling I ought to get to know these gods before they break the door down …
Fascinating, especially the Oedipus/Christ comparison. A couple things.
1) One other thing that the conservative churches are doing is a lot of “personal optimization” the whole positive thinking “name it and claim it/ abundance gospel” stuff. Which makes sense – wealthy parishioners means more donations.
2) The fastest growing sect (nominally Catholic, though condemned by the church) is the “Santa Muerte” sect.
3) I hope in some future post you will talk about what an “Oedipal” religious movement might look like in contrast with what we saw in the rise of Christianity.
John, great post as usual! I wonder if you could comment on the idea that the idea of God (the father) as a better version of the individual’s father. From personal anecdote as example, many dedicated Christians who I have gotten to know often have/had very loving, involved, and caring parents (specifically fathers) of their own. I don’t want to speak in universals or have this premise as a tautology (ie having a great dad means greater likelihood of loving a monotheistic god and having fulfilling spiritual life in this model), but it seemed to me that those of us with less involved parents and/or had church as an obligation (rather than as a source of familial bonding and comfort), have found it much easier to cast it off, despite our best intentions of being faithful.
However, other bloggers, like James Howard Kunstler, often decry the declining values of the age, social ones included. While I don’t wholly buy the argument, I think there is something to it. If one can view religion as a tool of social cohesion, then is this death of god just another reflection of the death of the family we have had since the middle class Victorians took up the cause?
Fascinating thoughts, although it’s not a perfect fit for my personal bias.
It’s my simplified view that, in Western parts, the gods used to represent the fickle ways of nature and humanity was subjected to their whims.
The monotheistic gods symbolizes the pure Mind and Soul that will completely control nature.
My conclusion is that humanity will for the next cycle eventually choose a middle ground and try bro become Nature’s partner.
Hi, again, JMG, I probably should do more than thank you and show appreciation. I am a southern Baptist in recovery. I also came of age and was eligible for the draft during Viet Nam. After many years of seeking I have found that Zazen, sitting with things as they are, without comment from the ego is the best religion for ME. I think it is a personal matter for everyone, and their responsibility to do the work. Also, Zazen, with its basis in dependent Origination, is most compatible with Ecosophia.
Hello JMG and all,
I am glad to see that your transition to WordPress seems to going well, judging from the hundreds of comments I see on your recent posts. Good Job. There are “threaded comments” plug ins for WordPress. I haven’t used one – ask your technical adviser if it’s worth while.
On the twice delayed links and news post – While I’ll still happily read such a post from you, it is unlikely that anyone really needs it considering there isn’t much good news to be had (at least in English), and secondly, there are all those other sources of news and links online.
My guess is your muse led you to something more important … the possibility of a mortal rather than an immortal God.
I was also raised in a Presbyterian family with a history going back to the Covenanters shooting at Englishmen, but I have always had trouble with the whole idea of immortality. It just doesn’t seem like the universe works like that: planets and stars are “born” and “die”, even the Buddha said “all created things must perish”. Death and rebirth seem to be the normal state. There are many stories of the dying and resurrected God(s) throughout history, but immortality seems like a real stretch. Generations of Gods that interact with generations of humans seem more likely.
Beautiful post. If this is the kind of “vagary” that you want us to have more “patience” for, consider my patience to be limitless.
As far as Christianity, ever since Constantine there has been a night-and-day difference between the persecuted mystics (who go back straight past Christ to the old Hebrew Prophets) and the rise of the spirit and functionaries of the Imperial Church. There are plenty of people (and groups) who still cultivate a deepening relationship with the Son of Man … but they usually have precious little to do with the political enthusiasms of the various Conquering Imperial Churches of the past 1600 years. Quite often, the mystics end up as thoroughly martyred by the Conquering Imperial Churches as do the peoples conquered by the various expanding Imperial States. Even moreso once Protestantism created even more Imperial Churches.
Same applies, in spades, to the schism between spiritual successorship and military conquest that immediately gripped Islam 1300 years back. The fiery political dream of a world-spanning Caliphate still grips millions of minds, and has precious little to do with the detached spirituality of other ways of living that Faith.
Same with Hindutva nationalism in India. Same with hyper-aggressive expanding-Zionist nationalism in Israel. Empire is always an easy idol to worship.
We are still early in a transitional phase of the Modern Age, I believe, discovering the brutal limits of the spirit of an exhausting Imperialism that now keeps over-extending and collapsing every generation (rather than every century or so). World War I and II exhausted all the traditional European Empires and their wannabe-replacements. The Cold War exhausted Soviet Communism. The forever-wars on resource-rich regions in Asia are now well on the way to exhausting Western Capitalism. And so on in the next generation, exhausting whatever China tries to bring to bear.
In modern centuries, the sister cults of Progress and Reason have been trying (and succeeding) in taking over the reins for many of these Imperial monsters. With Imperial Churches often broken and sterile, it is now often the ambit of Progress and Reason (and Democracy!) to reassemble and worship the monster, riding the Beast of State for the cause of Most Holy Secularism … but the FrankenSteeds keep breaking down and crushing their would-be riders.
If one needs to pick a date for the death knell of the old Imperial Age, and the birthdate for the rise of the modern era, I would offer May 24, 1844.
On the one hand, it was the day that the first Founder of my specific Faith proclaimed His mission, saying that the End of The World was taking place right then and there. Among many other assertions, He made the claim that the New Age would swiftly wash the old one away, which was a far less certain thing for theists to proclaim in the early 19th Century.
On the other hand, May 24, 1844 was also the date of the first demonstrated telegraph message from Samuel Morse. The historic first message that Morse sent, of course, was: “What hath God wrought!”
The age before that telegraph message is, by now, thoroughly Ended. This entire message board is but one of millions of specific examples of its End. We are well into a new dispensation, with markedly different spiritual realities on the ground.
My experience of the Christian god I grew up with was not of something dead but of something terrifying that turned increasingly unpleasant, splintering things into an insanity when I eventually found the courage to leave, still believing (at the time) that it was both evil and actively out to get me.
Another way of thinking about the same experience is around an unfortunate combination of toxic faith culture and a lack of support or healthier frameworks for understanding psychological stuff that was going to be happening anyway. But as most of the people around me in that church seemed well-meaning enough, either way it’s not exactly reassuring to know you can go that badly wrong while trying your best!!
Hello, I am one of your readers who started with the politically oriented ADR. This blog has definitely got me thinking on new but not entirely unfamiliar lines.
I had an insight into the unpredictable and capricious nature of the gods and ‘acts of god’ the other day as I vacuumed cobwebs in the basement. I wonder if there is a mythos about vacuum cleaner related ‘natural disasters’ among spiders. I can certainly see myself as both beneficent and destructive in my role as a gardener. Here I have created a beautiful Eden for slugs and earwigs yet I claim vengeance and retribution on those who eat my favoured plants.
More recently, reflecting on reincarnation from last week and the death of gods this week, I wonder if gods are just another kind of being who go through their own cycles of growth and decay, death and rebirth in an existence far beyond what we can imagine and in which we have a minor insignificant role.
Will, I tend to suspect that terms like “birth” and “death,” when applied to gods, are metaphors — but they may be the closest metaphors we can manage.
John R., Mary’s been a central figure in the sacramental end of Christianity for a very long time. I don’t happen to know how current she still is.
John C., thank you!
Daniel, that’s a good example of the kind of shift I have in mind. Another example is Hesus, one of the old Celtic gods. In the Druid Revival traditions he’s experienced as the chief of tree-spirits, a god of healing and wisdom; there’s zero evidence for this characterization in ancient sources — but, um, that’s the way he appears now.
Isaac, Druidry certainly has the concept of a transcendent unity as the source of all things, and so do a good many other earth-centered faiths, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that that’s an option.
Moshe, so? Yeats uses it as symbolism — as I noted in the post — not as a calendar.
Kurt, I’ve heard similar stories from many, many people!
Clay, I think it’s indicative that the forces of nature are dealing out wrath to both sides of the political spectrum! Not surprising, though, as (for all their posturing) the left has been just as complicit in trashing the planet as the right.
Daniel, I’m sympathetic to the “Benedict option” people, though I’m not sure they’ve quite grasped that we’re facing a real live dark age, complete with barbarian hordes and the end of literate urban existence over most of the western hemisphere and significant parts of the eastern hemisphere as well. I also tend to distrust current talk about “participation,” since this very often means replacing the spiritual dimension of religion with currently fashionable political and social causes. Still, as the conversation proceeds, perhaps you can clarify a little what you mean.
Christopher, all narrative art forms are fundamentally Dionysian, since they unfold through a sequence of crisis, suffering, and resolution; Apollonian art forms are experienced as a balanced and harmonious simultaneity. Attempts to import Apollonian heroes into literature inevitably bomb — you might pick up a copy of Sir Charles Grandison sometime for a classic example. You’re better off finding your Apollonian heroes in biography!
Nati, we simply don’t know. It’s always helpful to remember that the universe is trillions of light years across and your brain is around nine inches long…
Quin, Yeats was certainly not being metaphorical — he wrote at length about spirits as real beings — and yes, that was the source!
Hubertus, that’s also a workable way of thinking about it!
Haassmasithiam, glad to hear it. Happy exploring!
Phutatorius, most non-Abrahamic religions have no trouble with the idea that gods have a life cycle. It’s another data point I’m considering.
RPC, no, since my argument is largely based on evidence from religious experience, it would hardly be appropriate for me to rule your religious experience out of bounds! I note, though, that the old Greek and Roman gods still had some followers, who found their worship a potent source of consolation and inspiration, long after most other people in the Greek and Roman worlds had gone through the same kind of experience I’ve discussed here, and found their worship empty. Is it a matter of differential sensitivity, so that you are (and the last Pagans were) still tuning into a signal too faint for others to receive? Or something else? I don’t know; what I do know is that the perception that the Christian god isn’t there any more has become extremely widespread among people who turned their hearts and their prayers toward Christ and waited patiently for any response at all.
I have posted here before, but since the topic is rather intimate for me, I will use a new handle.
Everybody probably has a confirmation bias – I know more people who continue to feel the presence of the God of Abraham and Jesus, though I do know some who say they don’t feel it anymore or have never felt it though they wanted to. You, of course, by way of your position, are in contact with many people who have left the Christian faith, though you have said before that you also know a good number of Christians. In fact, I wonder how you explain their present experience of God.
For myself, I have had one true religious experience in my life, when I was praying a liturgical prayer in a small house all by my own and suddenly felt the absolute need to lay face down on the ground in awe, as if I were on hallowed ground, in the presence of the unspeakably holy. I never sought that kind of experience before or after, and at that moment it did not alter my life in any way. However, when I was in serious doubt about my faith, a few years later, the memory of that experience kept with me, and I have never been able to seriously entertain the possibility that there was no God. Moreover, I have always felt my experience was in agreement with biblical descriptions of God.
I have lived in Africa and in South America, and certainly there is no lack of Christians there affirming they have presenced signs and wonders after praying, whatever you make of that.
This post was probably meant to be provocative, and I will finish with part of a poem by Charles Williams that is supposedly placed in the 6th century, but of course reflects Williams’ own very personal experiences in the 20th.
Taliessin heard a word of the Empire; he heard
tales of the tree of Adam, and the rare superfluity
of moral creation, till the will of the superfluity
turned the tree to a rood for itself and Another
and envenomed its blood with mood; then the will of its Origin
shared the blood and fared forth well from the tree.
Dim and far came the myth to Taliessin
over the dark rim of the southern sea,
Poor, goetic or theurgic, the former spells
seemed beside the promise of greater formulae;
poor – control or compact – the personal mastery,
the act of magic, or the strain of ancient verse
beside the thickening dream of the impersonal Empire
and the moulded themes of the Empire; and they all
from Gaul to Jerusalem enfolded in the infinite hall
of the Sacred Emperor at operative Byzantium.
His heart turned to know more than could be learned
by Wye of that white healing metaphysic;
he sought the sea and the City; he was caught by a rumour.
Interestingly, if you trace the career of the Indo-European god Indra (and understand that he was basically parallel to Zeus, Jupiter and Thor), his ascendancy and decline across the world across a few cultures happened around the same time. Indra was a major figure in Vedic and early Buddhist religions, but basically withdrew to the sidelines following the ascendancy of religions worshiping other deities, such as Vishnu and Shiva. This happened perhaps starting around the fifth century CE, which is curiously when Jupiter/Zeus is replaced in the West. Thor was still around in Nordic cultures, but worship of Odin seemed to rise to greater prominence, and in due time Christianity swallowed up the polytheist communities. Still, his memory lingers, and a few traditions in Asia still recite a mantra or two for him as per tradition.
Wonderfully thought-provoking post–thanks.
I also appreciate the comments. I never knew (and am now heartened by) how many eclectic, earthy, and curious spiritual seekers like myself are out there wandering through the world.
Finally, here’s a relevant thought from Jung.
We are living in what the Greeks called the Kairos, the right moment, for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods’, of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time, which is certainly not of our conscious choosing, is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing. CW19, par 585
So far your record for “I sat down to do a news links post and this is what came out instead” is impressive. Not that there’s anything wrong with news links and a good summary of what’s happening in the world, but this post and Hate is the New Sex are pretty high up there on the wow-o-meter from where I sit.
If I’m reading this post right, and if I understood last week’s well enough (two very big ifs), there are a whole lot of ecosophical lessons to learn here.
I’m not thinking about the pantheon in the same way after these two posts. Instead of a list of characters whose roles and lines are unchanging like canonical Shakespeare, the spiritual plane (Gwynfydd to use your language) looks a lot more like an ecosystem in which conditions change, niches come and go, and the inhabitants evolve to meet changing conditions as well.
The metaphor of comparing Jesus to Oedipus could compare to changes in the climate, like the North American example in Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac of the shift in conditions favoring oak forest versus grassland in the upper midwest of the US. When the shift happens, it doesn’t happen all at once everywhere, but it does impact the relative prominence of different niches, inhabitants, and the overall feel of the ecosystem. Given enough time and a big enough shift, the competing influences of a forest of gods and goddesses can give way to the overwhelming influence of one (i.e. the shift in the Sahara region from mixed savanna to desert, in which the sun reigns supreme).
Also, would there be transitions from the equivalent of K-selecting seres to R-selecting seres? Given the tenor of this post, it would seem that we’re in a period of R-selection, in which not only would Individualities in Gwynfydd be moving from one niche to another, but the niches themselves would be changing, disappearing, and sprouting anew.
For instance, your reference to Individualities in Gwynfydd moving far beyond human capacities (to the point they don’t interact with us anymore) would be one way to explain the “death” of Jehovah. Maybe he didn’t die in the way we understand it, but the best way it could be explained to us is with the metaphor of death, through which people move beyond human existence. Or maybe his niche changed or disappeared, and he “reincarnated” in a different form. Or maybe the climate has changed to the point that people praying to him either get no answer or get a reply from someone entirely different in a similar-but-not-the-same niche, like a person praying to the regal saber-tooth tiger in North America either getting no answer or finding themselves in conversation with a wily coyote instead.
Of course, somewhere the metaphor of Earth-based ecology breaks down when talking about the non-material world. I don’t know how far up the wrong tree I may be barking with this line of thought, but it’s certainly given me a new perspective to consider and much fodder for meditation. Thank you for the inspiration.
It’s nice to see comments from others saying that the Christian God also felt absent to them. For years, I thought the problem was with me, that if I just tried harder, prayed more, read the Bible more, helped out more around the church, etc., then I’d finally be able to feel what everyone else said they felt – the presence of God. It didn’t work. He just wasn’t there.
Atheism didn’t work out too well either. You really need a materialistic worldview for that, and it turned out I just didn’t believe that. The scientific articles saying that your mind, your thoughts, are basically just the mechanistic workings of your genes, your brain, and your brain chemistry don’t line up with everyday personal experience. It looked to me like the scientists involved were probably atheists who were seeing the connection between your mind and your physical brain, which connection does exist obviously, and admitting only the existence of the brain —> mind influence. That fits with their religious beliefs, whereas the mind —-> brain influence does not fit.
So now I’m leaning towards polytheism, druidry maybe, but I’m still trying to figure out what works for me. If I go this direction, I’m sure to have a very strange pantheon of gods. St. George for sure, then possibly Lugh, Archangel Michael, and Archangel Gabriel, then whoever else appeals to me? But I also like the idea of having gods and goddesses of different things, like forest, home and hearth, agriculture (gardening!), etc. Plus how would this fit in with a yearly cycle of seasons and the feast days for them? At least I don’t have to get it all figured out and put into practice ASAP for fear of going to hell.
Someone above (sorry, I forget who!) commented that when Europeans became Christians and turned away from the pagan gods, maybe the gods shrugged and turned away from them as well. I wonder if maybe it was time for some of the gods to move on anyway, and that’s why so many Europeans converted. Also, I wonder if some of the gods just became Christian saints instead. Christian saints are basically a pantheon of gods by another name. It’s interesting too that European Christians used to have saints of things like wells. That sounds an awful lot like pre-Christian paganism renamed and integrated into Christianity.
Re: the “Benedict Option.” I had not heard of this until now, so thank you for alerting me to it. On the other hand, from my recent reading of Russell Kirk and other conservative writers, I have indeed become quite familiar with the notion of a “remnant” of moral, traditional folk who carry on “values” and refuse to wear denim. (no joke. I once dated a woman who took exactly this position.) It reminds me of (if I dare say it) Galt’s Gulch in Ayn Rand’s novel which I won’t name in which the “virtuous” people simply withdraw from the world and allow it to go to hell while they save themselves. There’s also a sci fi novel “A Canticle for Liebowitz” on the same theme. [Pause] To add more seems to lead to too many vague generalities so I’ll stop.
RPC and JMG,
One thought I had was that at the end of their time, perhaps the gods are like master craftsmen readying for retirement, taking on fewer and fewer new projects or apprentices, and only those that show exceptional promise?
You know, this whole discussion could help explain what happened to Judaism* in the 1800’s. The Reform movement practically threw all the theological stuff out, while a variety of Ultra-Orthodox sects became incredibly legalistic. Maybe Yahweh stopped answering them first? (He’s been at this quite a bit longer than Christ, after all.)
What’s interesting is that since then, the Reform movement have gone a great distance to re-embracing spirituality. It’d be interesting to know how common the experience of God is among them these days.
Wild speculation, just for fun: maybe one of the archangels got promoted.
Continuing this train of thought: about 2800 years ago, during the time of the major prophets, was I think the time that the notion of who the god of Israel shifted definitively from that of a local deity to that of a universal Deity. Perhaps something similar happened at the time? I may have to dig into that issue in the future.
* As always, my knowledge of Judaism is second hand. One of my good friends is a devout Reform Jew, and we’ve discussed some of the things I’m talking about, but I can’t claim an inside or even erudite understanding. Corrections from those more knowledgeable are always welcome.
JMG– Thank you for this fascinating post, which has inspired me to order a copy of A Vision.
@ Lauren — I jumped into the comments section expecting to share a unique experience, but your relationship both to Catholicism (liturgical year, Mary, Christmas) and to spiritual experiences in nature and in particular in mountains is so close to mine I could have written it myself.
That suggests to me that we’re both seeing hints of a new — What? A new eco-Christianity, something else? Coming through.
I recently read the book True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Louis de Montfort, an 18th century saint. De Montfort barely mixes words in calling Mary divine, and strongly suggesting without explicitly saying that she at the level of the trinity– “Everything that is Jesus’s by Nature is Mary’s by Grace.”
And when I go to New Age shops, and interact with the “spiritual but not religious” crowd who seem tuned into these things without the self-referentiality that would prejudice their point of view… devotion to Mary along with (e.g.) Buddha, Krishna and Kwan Yin is very common.
Mary– as Mother of God– doesn’t really make sense without Jesus… but there also seems to be a new vision of Jesus entering into the world, a Green Christ, representing– What? Sacrifice and Rebirth as the central aspect of the natural cycle?
I note also that Mary is linked to the Holy Spirit, who/which is sometimes considered female (for example, in the Gnostic Gospel of Philip) and that Pope Francis’s “Laudato Si” encyclical resurrected the old medieval idea of Nature as the other book written by the Holy Spirit…
I don’t have a conclusion here, only speculation. But I’d be interested in what our
This is all speculative of course… Hmm and hmm again. JMG, I’d be interested to hear what you think…
An interesting article. Makes me think. I’ve heard of people who don’t get a reply from prayer – and I was one of them for several years before I converted from fundamentalism to Catholicism (and a couple years afterwards). But in the past two or three years, all my prayers seem to get answered in some fashion, usually concretely, always in short order (my materialist friends don’t believe me when I say my unnaturally good luck comes from prayer, but they notice the results). I know a few other people who have had similar experiences.
I’m not trying to say you’re wrong, just that it doesn’t match my experiences. If you’re right, and the God of Abraham really is dead, what would you say I am praying to? If it’s the saints (I do keep a devotion to St. Joan of Arc), why wouldn’t it work for these no-response former Catholics who’ve posted above?
Your fainter signal theory might be generally true – but I’m definitely not a more sensitive receiver. Ask anyone (ask my wife!) and they’d agree. Whatever – whomever – I’m talking to is definitely responding powerfully.
Please forgive my rambling. I find the no-response people to be troubling. No-response folks also in the comments, feel free to answer me as well.
Interesting! It is a very good point that the modern Catholic Church differs from older versions of the Church as it has evolved over time. Thanks for the historical perspective.
Wow! This makes so much sense to me.
Do you suppose that gods can be reborn? Or new gods answer to old names? The clearest communication I’ve ever had from a god (and still not very clear, I’d say I’m spiritually hard of hearing) – was from Gaia. Or so I imagined.
I wonder if James Lovelock might have midwifed her rebirth?
I actually had a weirdly reversed experience from that described here. I grew up in a strongly Christian milieu, although my parents and I were not churchgoers (in fact, after I began attending church faithfully, I spent a lot of nights crying over my parents’ inevitably roasting in hell, since my mom believed in reincarnation and my dad was known to comment that God must be a real jerk to sent his only Son down here to get crucified if he was really omnipotent, but that’s another story). In any case, it was clear to me that my values and beliefs were not in line with those of the Baptist church I was attending, and things like their blatant denial of biological evolution were beyond my ability to swallow even with my constant self-brainwashing attempts. So I prayed for a sign. At which point a frankly ludicrous abundance of signs (including literal billboards!) sprung up in my path, people I hadn’t spoken to in forever called up to invite me to church, I kept finding random Bibles everywhere, I had religious dreams, etc. It was so obvious that I returned to church and stuck with it for quite a while despite my distaste for, even repulsion toward, much of Christian theology and my increasing inability to believe in most of the Bible. I then spent my college years and some time afterward as a materialist atheist and only recently have come into a somewhat wary relationship with Druidry through your blogs. For what it’s worth, when I first got involved with Druidry, I sent out a similar question about whether or not I was onto something, and received another bombardment of indications to the positive (my favorite of which was that just as I finished asking the question, I literally tripped over an oak sapling that had sprung up in my garden; its leaves perfectly matched the illustration on the front of your Druidry Handbook despite all the oak trees nearby being live oaks and totally dissimilar in looks, and it was already a couple feet tall despite being in an asparagus bed that I weeded regularly–and that was only the first of many indications). I still have no idea what to think about the abundance of signs I received regarding Christianity, a religion which was clearly wrong for me and which I consider myself well shed of, but they were so numerous and so blatant that I find it hard to dismiss them.
Your post here brings to mind another of Yeats’ poems, “Sailing to Byzantium”, whose 1st verse is: “That is no country for old men.”
Regarding the descent of Christian churches into the secular, another aspect that alienates many:
whoever came up with the hare-brained idea to add worship of the military to Sunday services around national holidays, oblivious to the inherent contradiction with what the Prince of Peace preached?
JMG, if what you say is correct, then the Christian god must have been an immensely powerful deity at his peak. Not even Jupiter can claim to have been as monopolizing and universally worshiped as him. Did something like that ever happened before, to the best of your knowledge?
Great post! Back when I was a practicing Christian I definitely felt a connection to Christ although it was indeed week, and as you wrote there was a sort of emptiness that later manifested in my own atheism. Which, I also couldn’t swallow as I did sense something, or somethings there.
It’s funny, but I seem to have a much firmer connection to some kind of Green Christ current as a Druid Occultist, and this Christ seems to be aware and good with not being the only god in town. I’m still much in process of figuring this out.
On another note, I was wondering which version of “A Vision” You recommend. I have the original version I read a couple years ago. I know I read somewhere he later revised it quite a bit in a later edition. Just curious on your take.
when I first read Nietzsche and his views on God being dead, I took it as a metaphor for the fact that people no longer needed God as they were looking towards science and technology to get them what they wanted. But you’re saying that this particular God might literally have been dead or at least moved on from much involvement with humanity, which is a very interesting idea.
I too was raised in the religion of Progress, and only ever read bits of the Bible here and there. Being interested in spirituality, I took it more metaphorically, more like an instruction manual for personal spiritual development. So when I joined a Christian church a few years back when we first moved to the area (purely for the community side of things – in our small town of about 3000 people, there must be seven or eight churches), I was pretty surprised to find that many of the churchgoers seemed to quite literally believe in the Bible stories (clearly I was being wildly and naively optimistic!) I figure there must be a sliding scale of belief to be found among people, but from the more vocal people, I get the idea that they actually still really believe in the literal truth of it all. The personal spiritual development aspect seems to be frowned upon, as from my understanding, it is only through God’s grace and the sacrifice of Jesus that people can attain salvation. Not through good works or any real effort on our part, since we are all born sinners and are incapable of saving ourselves! I definitely don’t hear a lot of accounts of actual direct encounters with their God though, no true religious experiences.
These days, the main way I make it through a sermon is by trying to read into it and look for those bits of hidden insight into actual personal spiritual development which I still seem to see, but I’m not sure if this is a worthwhile project or not. What do you think JMG – was Christianity actually intended for this purpose? A secret mystery school?
From the point of view of getting to know some of the local community members, joining the church has been pretty successful. But needless to say in that environment, I remain a closet pagan.
And just a bit of a side note, from what I hear, in Nigeria (where my husband is from), Christianity still “works” and has a big following. In fact, we know a Nigerian pastor who was basically sent to the larger town near us as a missionary to start up a new church, as his church back home felt that Western Christian churches had lost their spiritual power and needed some help!
Anthony, I was just about to mention Santa Muerte myself; it seems just the sort of thing this week’s post is talking about.. Actually, just this year someone opened up a folk medicine/folk religion store named after her in my town.
In the press she’s mostly associated with the narcos (drug dealers) and other criminals, but she seems to be to be popular with people from all walks of life here in Mexico, but especially so with the poor, the outcasts, and people with dangerous occupations.
An excerpt from an article published last Monday in the Texas Observer:
Asked to describe how he sees Santa Muerte, Muniz pauses. We’re sitting in the house of one of his friends, and Muniz has prepared part of an invocation, lighting a votive candle and a tiny brazier, laying out his tarot cards and a pair of hand-rolled cigars. On the shelves, his friend’s Santa Muerte figurine overlooks tiny bottles of vodka and tequila. He’d prefer not to speak for her, Muniz says, and he shuffles the cards. He rings a bell and speaks the rest of the invocation, calling down Santissima Muerte, the Most Holy Death, to guide his words.
Smoke coils from the tiny brazier. The candle flickers as from the passage of wings. After a long moment, Muniz speaks. He describes her not as a folk saint or lesser spirit, but as the holiest of the archangels, born out of the first murder, and carrying everything in herself that came from it: rage, sadness, mystery, the cry for help. That is why she is a spirit of last resort, a patron of those who’ve lost their way.
“She’s nothing but love,” he says. “She’s not evil. … I find a lot of love in her. I’m not a narco. I went to her to help me get away from drugs. But the narcos will go to her for protection, too. She doesn’t discriminate. That’s why the LGBT can go to her, the Roman Catholic can go to her. Death accepts everybody.”
So I’m mulling over the concept that when a god dies but still has followers, something else steps in to fill the void and soak in the worship. That said, how can a worshipper tell if such a substitution has taken place? So far the answer seems to be ‘it feels wrong’, but in the absence of such feelings or the absence of any yardstick to measure how a god ought to ‘feel’, how do you tell?
A great post. Your best as far as I can see.
The old gods didn´t always disappear – they simply morphed into Christian form. Note the irony of the Christian Church officially declaring Mary “Theotokos” at Ephesus. Great is the Diana of the Ephesians, yes? I suspect many warrior-saints are really Thor in disguise, etc. Note also the similarity between Christ himself and earlier mystery gods! Personally, I fear that before we get an earth-centered spirituality, there will be a last and lethal outpouring of other-worldly apocalypticism, but also of a kind of “this-worldly apocalypticism” connected to bio-engineering, etc. What you wrote in “UFOs” and “Star´s Reach” might be true: a proliferation of UFO-related cults promising techno-salvation, then suicide when promise fail to materialize. Perhaps the new spirituality will become a mass movement/option only after the old versions have *completely* failed? A chilling perspective!
On a happier note, I think there is something eternal/unchanging, presumably some kind of Neo-Platonist “god” at the apex of the cosmic pyramid. Is this what you call Ceugant?
DiDi, “the widening gyre” Yeats mentions in the first line of that poem comes straight out of A Vision. Next week we’ll be talking about the Second Law from Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth, but yes, I plan on pushing this discussion further in upcoming posts.
Lauren, I know the feeling. I feel close to divinity when I’m face to face with nature; in most churches, I feel as though I’m in a mausoleum.
Nancy, it isn’t only you, but there are a lot of people who don’t have that awareness.
David, I think there’s a very close parallel indeed.
Jim, that’s a story I would like to read. As for the adventures, have you considered the cycle of the seasons as a framework? That seems like the most straightforward option to me.
James, the metaphysics in A Vision can be very easily related to yin and yang, and not by accident — Yeats was a passionate fan of Japanese literature, and No plays in particular, so he’ll have known his way around the Japanese version of that standard East Asian way of talking about duality.
Onething, and your experience also deserves to be included in the discussion, of course. I wonder whether the power you call the Holy Spirit is the same one that Christians call by that name, though…
Karim, interesting. I know very little about Mauritius so that’s worth hearing!
Corydalidae, er, there’s a difference between the statements “God is dead” and “Christianity is dying,” you know. As for your own experience of God, as I noted in response to an earlier post, that’s a data point that has to be included, of course. My question to you, though, is what you make of the fact that a very large number of people have turned to God, the way you do, and gotten no response at all. You compare your experience of God to your experience of the sun; what would you say to those who have seen only a night without stars?
Greg, okay, you’re the first! As for ayahuasca, I may just be an old stick in the mud — or I may be generalizing from my own somewhat extensive youthful experiences of a certain illegal chemical — but to my mind, hallucinations are hallucinations. You can drink yourself blotto and see pink elephants, too, but I don’t think it’ll get you far to start worshiping them… 😉
MTC, depends on what you mean by “enlightened and inspired masters.” I’ve known teachers in a variety of spiritual, religious, and magical traditions who were profoundly inspiring and interesting people, the kind that made me (at least) anxious to emulate their examples. Were they superhuman “masters”? Not a chance — and I would not be interested in any such livestock. I want to be fully human, not a plaster saint with a halo…
Discwrites, there’s no shortage of instructional material on the performance of meditation and contemplation in the Western tradition, you know — you just have to go back a little more than a century, and with current online resources, that’s pretty easy. Have you considered giving that a try — or are you by any chance engaged in that work of revival?
Toomas, I didn’t say that Catholicism is in trouble. I speculated that its God is dead. The survival of a deity and the status of an institution are two very different things, you know — and it’s highly indicative, at least to me, that when I talk about the vitality of a god, so many Christians immediately deflect the conversation to the claim that churches in some distant country are doing really, really well.
Karim, Christian monks and holy people up through the Reformation and Counter-Reformation (say, 1550 or so) seem to have been tolerably good at getting tolerably impressive miracles in response to prayers. That still happens, but it happens much less often than it once did.
Toomas, again, you’re changing the subject. I’m talking about the experiences of the many individuals, in many Christian denominations, who turned to God and got silence and emptiness instead. Are you suggesting that all of these people have become morally inferior or something, because they live in the industrial world, and that’s why God is ignoring them? Or what?
JMG – well, that was provocative, thanks!
Is there a concomitant emptiness and lack of result in, say, Buddhism in the past several centuries? If there is a changing of the heavenly guard in the works would it be across the board, so to speak?
Even though I rejected my parents’ Christianity not long after I learned to articulate the word “no”, and even though I did come upon a particular spiritual path that would seem to have little to do with classic Christianity, I still loosely define myself as an “esoteric Christian, perhaps because I find that invoking some of the Christian saints to work well; they seem spiritually potent to me. Same with what much of the Marianic mvt’ is all about, the emphasis on the hitherto untapped power of the Feminine aspect of Christianity.
I think there’d be a distinction between invoking the power and blessing of saints as opposed to praying to an abstract concept of a monotheistic God. The former, you get results; the latter you get nothing, which is what you might expect if the concept of God has been over-intellectualized to shreds. OTOH, if one conceives of God as being “the Great Regenerative Force” …. that’s at least somewhat “palpable” and I think it can be experienced in meditation. As to whether it can answer prayers and give good results, I’m uncertain; I prefer the more hands-on presence of my own guardian angels and the occasional saint.
Re the death of the Great Pan – he’s not really dead, is he? People still have encounters with him in some manner or another. He was surely superseded by Christ, but in a way couldn’t it be said that Pan’s passionate essence was integrated, perhaps sublimated into the Christ energy? I’m wondering if the “death of the Christian God” isn’t also a slow integration/sublimation into whatever new influx may come.
If Jehova’s not answering your prayers, you could take the path of cowardice and pretend that he still is, take a slightly more courageous route and leave the religion, or if you’re really feeling up to it, you could do this: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/24/atheist-pastor-canada-gretta-vosper-united-church-canada
You mentioned in an earlier comment that many of the gods worshiped by contemporary neopagans may actually be different entities than the ones that bore the same names in ancient times. Do you think that the pre-babylonian captivity god of the Israelites is actually the same entity as the one that became the Judeo-Christian god later? For that matter, are Jews and Christians even worshiping the same god? Is Jesus distinct from the christian god, or are they somehow partially the same entity, as the trinity would suggest?
Off topic a bit:
In one of your Report post you quote ‘The Ruin’. I quite like the translation you drew from, could I ask which one it is? Most are overly literal or excessively modernized for my taste.
Fascinating! While I was a rather active mainline protestant in my teens I did indeed always kind of feel I was faking it. My theory was that I would follow the observances first and the faith would follow in due course—the “fake it ’til you make it” school of religious devotion, I guess. (I want to say this is from St. Augustine, but can’t put my finger on a source.)
A couple of commenters mentioned Santa Muerte. I find her fascinating, and frankly a bit scary.
Finally I wanted to say a few words about Bill Pulliam, which I neglected to do last week. I don’t know that we ever interacted directly, but I read many of his comments (all of them, in fact). He was an interesting cat and I wish him and his loved ones the best.
I’d like to echo some of the other comments about this being one of your best posts. I really enjoyed it and coming on the heels of last weeks post, found it useful and easier to digest.
Like you said, my falling out with Christianity came because I noticed god lacked power. I know the exact moment when it happened. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness, I was always expecting the return of Christ to be quite literal and soon after that the world would be returned to a paradise Earth. One of the members of my congregation was an older, soft-spoken yet powerfully persuasive gentleman who I felt above all deserved to be alive to see the Return of Christ. He lived a simple life. All he wanted was to be alive to see the Return of Christ. The day he died was the day I lost my faith. The way the organization treated me after not attending their meetings after his passing just put the nail in the coffin.
From that point though, I had been looking for something to fill that spiritual void. Spirituality is a very powerful, and useful need. It’s exciting to understand that we will be involved with the birthing, or metamorphosis of a new god, or gods.
I noticed Yeats use of 2000 years, which is the relative equivalent of an astronomical age. The past, or current age is Pisces, a fish, and Jesus was called the “fisher of men.” As we transition to the next age, the Age of Aquarius, there will be some connection with water. Considering the havoc being wrecked environmentally, especially with water, this connection is quite astounding!
I’ve often wondered about the concept of a sort of parliament of the heavens, wherein a young active god with a interest in humanity receives the adulation and following of a core of people, and thus gains, and/or sustains interest in those people, and rewards them by answering ones prayers. The loud ones might get the attention of the masses. It thus becomes a synergistic relationship, and an active community of worshippers can sustain a god, perhaps both in life and in interest. Interest from worshippers can extend the god’s life perhaps, but not indefinitely, as the Christian experience shows, however, there might still be echoes left behind upon the god’s passing, or it might just be that the passing of a god leaves echoes.
I have noticed the increase in interest in traditional Catholicism – however I am certainly not Catholic. The revival of interest in the Tridentine mass interests me. I wonder if in this case its not a God they are tapping into, it’s more of an egregore left by congregations past. Still powerful, but short of a god.
Thank you for another very thought-provoking post. I am still working out last week’s reincarnation discussion, which is going to take some more time to process in full.
Coming from a line of Episcopal priests, I can certainly relate to the “nobody’s home” experience. With the exception of Christmas, which still has some energy, I found the services, rote, empty, and uninspiring.
At times, I have felt envious of friends who are members of Mormon or fundamentalist groups because despite the kooky theology that goes along with those sects, they seem to have managed to regain some of the lost vitality of Christianity. They seem to be really engaged and getting a lot out of participating in a strongly bonded social group.
In the corner of the liberal Northeast where I live, a lot of people are casting around for a spiritual tradition that works for them. Could you comment on seeking enlightenment for its own sake as an individual versus the human need for group participation in sacred ceremonies?
Also, for what its worth, on new religious movements and their efficacy…
One of the most powerful displays of spiritual “power” I’ve ever experienced occurred while I was crossing the street at a public festival. On the other side of the street a group of Falun Gong practitioners were sitting in meditation. The field that they generated was so powerful it was like walking into a physical dome or force field. I am sensitive to these things after years of magical practice, but the person I’m with isn’t an occultist or qigong practitioner (is a yogini, but who isn’t these days?) and felt it as strongly as I did. I could be wrong, but I just don’t think I would have responded as strongly to a group of Zen monks, Hare Krishnas, or Franciscans.
After that I had to look into their literature. One of their practices involves cultivation of a “falun,” which is understood to be an actual living being from a “higher dimension,” in the area of the lower abdomen (lower dan t’ien in Chinese internal alchemy). Maybe it’s because I’m stuck in the old aeon, but that idea freaks me out, and so I explored no further. But I have a feeling that I got a glimpse into what the next religious movements will look like…
Having been away from the Christian church of my youth for nearly 15 years now, and having been a regular reader of Galabes and now Mystery Teachings, I find I reflect often in why it might be that the church ended up being unsatisfactory.
I have concluded that one major reason that I never had meaningful spiritual experiences was that my practice of Christianity was nonexistent aside from attending services weekly. This was not an accident, by the way. I can only speak for my church and my experience. It seems to me there was virtually no practical instruction offered by elders and leaders in the church as to HOW to practice the faith. Indeed it seems in retrospect to have been a matter of faith that all one had to do was accept Jesus, and the rest would just come easily. Various points made in Mystery Teachings and Galabes about the value and utter necessity of practice helped reinforce this for me. It seems a shame that my experience should have been more meaningful. But it also seems an inevitable consequence of modern “faith before works” theologies.
One of your best posts John, it has given me a lot to think about.
Okay. As I understand it, and please bear with me, you are not using the metaphorical language so common in discussion of religious matters, nor pointing out the barricades that our mechanized, commercialized, numbers-on-a-list culture have put up to the search for God. Nor even pointing to the many times an old concept of God has been replaced by another. You’re saying that God, Jehovah, possibly Jesus, has actually left the building. Although the comment about Christianity in faraway places was not just a statement of churches growing and thriving, but IIRC, indicated that they were actually reporting the sort of divine intervention so rare in this world. Or am I mistaken?
The Norse believed that gods could die and that they would. I’ve read some theories that Ragnarok is not in the future, but took place in the past at the same time as the Dark Ages became the Middle Ages once and for all … when the conversion of the Germanic cultures was complete. So I can, taking a very big gulp in doing so, believe that God has at least withdrawn from us. Although Great Pan lived on in folklore as, frex, Robin Goodfellow, Puck.
BTW, from the experience recounted by a friend half my age, Mary is certainly still around and active in the world, or was when my friend was a child and a teenager. The saints certainly are. And Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe certainly is. But then, as the chant goes, “The Goddess is alive and Magic is afoot.” But … sorry. It’s a lot to take in, even though I understand the theory behind it.
I think it was either the author of Future Shock, or another writer in dialog with him, who said “I do believe you are shocked” should be said with compassion for those whom the future slammed into like a Category 5 hurricane.
The ebb and flow of magic in cycles was something that I was thinking about for some time, since I read John Beckett’s “the Veil is pretty much ripped to shreds these days” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnbeckett/2016/11/the-veil-is-shredded.html.) Some reaserch in this area the sources are extremely interesting. I noticed it particularly in Athanasius’ On the Incarnation. There, he is addressing non-Christians, and uses the death of magic as a proof of Christianity:
“When have oracles ceased and become void of meaning, among the Greeks and everywhere, except since the Savior has revealed Himself on earth? … When did the practice and theory of magic begin to be spurned under foot, if not at the manifestation of the Divine Word to men?
“And what is one to say about the magic that they think so marvelous? Before the sojourn of the Word, it was strong and active among Egyptians and Chaldeans and Indians and filled all who saw it with terror and astonishment. But by the coming of the Truth and the manifestation of the Word it too has been confuted and entirely destroyed.”
What is noteworthy here is not so much the evangelical argument as the context. Athanasius takes it as a given both that magic exists, and that it is fading during last three centuries, and he assumes that his critics will think the same as he don’t even try to preface it with “btw, did you noticed that magic is fading from the world?”. This was apparently something that would be so obvious to anybody living in this time period (ca. 300AD) that it can simply be taken as given.
Athanasius is not alone. The great pagan historian Plutarch, also noticed a great weakening of magic, to the point that he dedicated one of his dialogues to explaining it (De Defectu Oraculorum).
So the ancient were quite aware of that change you are describing. Where has all the magic gone? Will it return? Is it returning, slowly and steady?
I can’t gauge, mostly because I can’t think of good metric or experiment to test it (I mean the UFO sighting are reported at all time high, despite sceptics few years back proclaiming that smart-phone camera in every hand will kill the UFO sightings once and for all..
 I consider the phenomenon more of the psychic one that physical.
I grew up with a mix of Christian, new age, and scientific materialist influences, enough religion was in there that I learned to pray to God, I never felt anything from prayer but didn’t really expect it either, I just assumed that if there was a God that created the universe he wouldn’t care much about one little human, I had the idea that prayer was about asking for things which I concluded was pretty pointless but still occasionally did sometimes, I never even considered until much later on what people might be thinking of when they talked about feeling the presence of God and such, but I never felt anything like that from the Christian or the pseudo-Christian new age things I was taught.
Now I’m in the situation where I do feel something, I’ve noticed for a while the presence of certain subtle energies but now am wondering if I am feeling the presence of something that would be in the category of God/Goddess, but it in no way feels like what people expect from the Abrahamic God, but neither does it really fit with anything in particular of any pagan traditions I know of (although there’s plenty I don’t know about the subject. All I can say is that there’s a certain presence I feel, that actually I think was there in the background as far back in my life I can remember but is much more prominent now, if I focus my awareness on it, it’s very hard to describe but it’s associated strongly with nature, natural cycles and the dynamic,ever changing balance. It doesn’t feel human at all or associated with any human or religious values I’ve heard of. It all sounds so abstract but doesn’t feel that way, it feels just right there if i pay attention to it, and it seems to be something that gives me strength of mind and calms anxieties, it’s the feeling that my situation in the moment is just a small part of a much larger whole, and although much of my life is similar on the surface to what it was like before I felt this strongly, something deep down has changed significantly.
My skeptical nature (not in the sence of the pseudo-skeptic materialists but just trying to avoid premature conclusions wonders what the source of this really is, it feels like something much larger than myself but I wonder if it really is that or just the more conventional explanation that it’s purely psychological changes within myself. Either way, this nonrational experience is able to bring what seem like positive changes in a way that rational experience never could. For instance, a while back I got into reading about reincarnation evidence, NDEs, and evidence for other spiritual phenomena, and although it gave me interesting things to think about, it didn’t do anything to relieve simmering anxiety and fear regarding death that I thought were just normal, but just letting this feeling into my life has to a large part done that. I still have the same everyday fears and anxieties and wouldn’t want to get rid of those completely as they are important instincts to have to keep me from doing something stupid, but it feels now like they are more superficial, they don’t reach as deep.
Revere, I’ll have to listen to that one of these days.
Discwrites, quite possibly, as Islam is about 600 years behind Christianity in its historical arc, with its Reformation and Wars of Religion already visible on the far horizon.
Isabel, very good questions! I rather like the blend of theology and heist movie; more of that would, I think, make for better theology. As for the prohibition of magic, oh, granted — and of course there’s a huge and rich tradition of Christian magic which most Christians pretend doesn’t exist.
Liz, Yeats started out in the Theosophical Society, the way almost everybody did back then — the TS was in that time what eclectic Wicca is now, the gateway drug to popular alternative spiritualities — and then went from there to the Golden Dawn. You can find good capsule summaries of both online with a few keystrokes. As for the necessity of venerating the planet, and expressing that veneration by changing our individual lifestyles, you won’t get any argument from this Druid…
Casey, I think it’s quite possible that any number of beings are answering to such labels as “God” and “Jesus” these days, and some of them are decidedly creepy.
Tripp, if God has lost interest in football, it speaks well of Him. 😉
Scott, as you’ll have noticed already, you’re not alone.
Bumblebee, and having faith in a god who is theoretically omnipotent but gives no evidence of his existence is even harder.
Barefootwisdom, certainly the changes in sacramental rituals didn’t help — the esoteric Christians I know consider the current, post-Vatican II (Novus Ordo) ritual of the Mass to be a travesty, for example, and let’s not even talk about guitar masses. Still, I’m really wondering if something’s going on on a deeper level, as I hear the same things from former members of denominations that haven’t changed their rituals.
Tripp, I’d trust your kids. They’re closer to the experience than you are. 😉
Sub, you’re welcome and thank you!
Scotlyn, no argument there.
Katsmama, thank you! Most Yeats collections leave out A Vision, since it’s book-length and philosophical — though it has some really beautiful prose in it (Yeats was a first-rate essayist and storyteller), and you can’t really understand some of his poems without knowing the symbolism he’s using, which is out of A Vision.
Dermot, I’d still put Heaney on top, but no question, Hartnett is also good.
Armenio, funny you should mention Swedenborg. We’re probably going to have to discuss him at least briefly as this unfolds. While you’re thinking of Johnny Appleseed, you might also like to know that Helen Keller was a Swedenborgian…
Patricia, I ain’t arguing.
Mac, oh, trust me, I will. I never learned the trick of writing what doesn’t interest me.
Marco, please do paint an image of Veiovis! An interesting old god with very deep roots in the Indo-European past — the Jupiter-Veiovis polarity has a range of close echoes in the polarity between Perun and Volos in Slavic mythology, and Indra and Vritra in the Vedas. If he’s stirring, or some other young deity has taken up the title and the job description, all the better.
Anthony, I tend to translate the words “personal optimization” as “cheap sorcery,” as that what it usually comes down to. Debasing the Magic of Light to feed your greed is bad enough; debasing your relationship with a god for that purpose is considerably worse. As for Santissima Muerte, I’ve tended to think of that as the resurgence of classical Mesoamerican religion under a very light coat of Catholic spraypaint; if Huitzilopochtli and Quetzalcoatl were to resume their ancient rivalry, I don’t know that I’d be a bit surprised.
Steve, hmm! Interesting. I’d have to ask around.
I don’t know, God does not seem any dead to me, but I can see lots of people for whom that is the case. For reference, For those who don’t know me, I am Mexican, and a Roman Catholic.
In my formative years, up to 21, I don’t recall having any personal experience of the divine. The closest I’d get there would be through singing (I was part o a choir from age 16 to 20, roughly). My mother’s family is very devout, so I knew plenty of adults who were very open about having religious experiences, but that was mostly not the case for my peers or younger kids.
I started life as an adult, went on with the motions without much internal faith, got married, first child was born… and I began drifting. Not because there was anything wrong per se with the Church, but because it was more comfortable to do as I see fit. Many people are like that in Mexico, and while 80% of the population calls themselves Catholic, but many are marginally attached to the Church and do not see any need to cut ties completely.
There is a very vocal and large minority that are very engaged, too. And you do not hear any lack of divine manifestations: miracleous heallings, redemption from bad life choices, arrested tragedies due to fortuitous good luck, etc. I am not very fond of this crowd, because they have a tendency to be pretty dogmatic about matters both religious and social, and because some of them are obsessed with evil, as I commented last week.
Also, I think John Roth is spot on. It’s been said that Mexico is not Christian, but Marian, and there’s some truth in that. The Guadalupe mystery is deeply rooted in our National Foundation Myth, with Father Hidalgo using such image as a banner to rally the peasants in his war with the Spanish Empire. It is said that December 12th is the safest day to go around in Mexico, because even criminals close shop and do not work then (which is of course an exageration, but the idea is there).
Personally, I experience responses in prayer from both the Lord and His Mother, but I feel closer to Her, specially in the advocations of Mary of the Incarnation, and Mary Help of Christians. Jesus does not normally answer, but when he does it comes more in the form of a insight in my own mind, no voices or anything, just me acknowledging something I was trying very hard not to notice. All very subtle. I do not normally pray to the Trinity, but when I do, it also feels distinctly stronger, in a way that Mass normally does not.
A thought which may or may not be on topic (please let me know).
When I did my PDC (Permaculture Design Course) I felt there was something behind it, an ‘energy’ to it, more than could be explained by my enthusiasm.
Thinking of a recent post of your (I think it was the Wotan one) and the last two has made me think if an individual who has spiritually grown to god/saint/angel/whatever word matches is driving that.
If this is possible, how different would that individual be different from one of these gods your describing?
For what it’s worth, my (admittedly ignorant) educated guess of the gods ‘dying’ would be if we’re calling those individuals who have spiritually progressed beyond enlightenment to be gods, then they hang around a while to assist those still stuck in humanity. After a while, they would have processed beyond to other more pressing concerns.
In the end the universe doesn’t solely exist just for us, we’re just 1 cog in a much larger machine.
Just want to say thanks again for last week’s essay, and thanks so much for this one, JMG. These, and the comments, are a delight.
My story is like so many others: Raised Presbyterian, followed by a lifetime of earnest searching for “home”, for lack of a better word. Or maybe that is the word? Been down several spiritual cul-de-sacs, if you will, but now see that as part of the trip. Wowsers, and what a trip it is! For me, and clearly for countless others.
Tim, I hope not. If we learn anything out of the current mess, I hope it’s that we’re not as smart, as strong, or as important as we like to think. Nature’s partner? What arrogance! One of nature’s minor products, rather…
Mac, if that’s what works for you, go ye forth and do that thing.
ArtDecoHQ, myself, I try to go by the data, and the data from the history of religions tells a story of gods emerging, rising to importance, aging, fading, and vanishing. If you get the same thing based on first principles, that’s also interesting.
Darth, lots of people like to insist that because we have an assortment of energy-consuming toys, we’ve entered into a new age of the world. I don’t buy it — not least because our habit of using those toys is a self-limiting one, due to the exhaustion of resources and the buildup of unwelcome consequences. What’s more, I don’t recommend holding your breath and waiting for the so-called imperial age to end. Still, that’s a subject for another time.
Alex, fascinating. May I ask what denomination that was? (I’d like to know because I’ve heard similar accounts, and would like to get a sense if it’s specific to certain ends of the religious spectrum.)
Elaine, that does seem plausible, doesn’t it?
It’s interesting to consider this idea of “God is dead,” as it seems to contain the suggestion that God is (or was) there for us. But in what capacity… and what would he be there for? To dispense mercy, answer prayers, give comfort? In other words, a “responsive” God?
I recently came across another idea, which has surfaced lately, and which I’d like to hold up against the preceding one: namely, that the above is somehow missing the point — rather, it is the soul which needs to become relevant to God — and not the other way around.
There has also been the image of the Good Shepherd tending his flock, which presumes what might be an extraordinary amount of guidance available to souls, to prevent them from straying. However, I think relating to “God” doesn’t depend on discouraging our own sense of self-sufficiency, or seeking a dependence on God’s mercy, even in the form of a desire to “know” God directly in some way through grace. Rather, it’s the soul that makes itself relevant to God — and not least for the sake of participating and effecting its own attainments, if not “salvation” (whatever that happens to mean to you).
As someone who was born Catholic (when the mystery of the Latin mass hadn’t disappeared yet), and left a church whose over-confidence emptied out its content after the modernizations of Vatican II (with its condescending approaches such as “folk mass”)… to experience varying degrees of bleak modern life, only midway to return to spiritual outlook — via the different paths of Taoism, Sufism, advaita satsangs, Tibetan Buddhism, anthroposophy, and back to… Catholicism (where the Latin mass has been making a comeback and attracting a younger generation of people), and now shifting to Taoism again for its simplicity… I can only say that while pagan, druidic or shamanic paths never quite captivated me like more traditional ones, in any case, any authentic tradition is worth preserving for the sake of the souls who need to work with them, no? (Hopefully not jumping around as I have…)
As John O’Donohue once said, “Memory is to the individual, as tradition is to the community.” A tradition is a collective matrix kept alive through participation… and where direct experience means everything to the individual.
Voodoo still works. Just a heads up.
Glad to hear someone else relates to my experience! I have always suspected that I was experiencing echoes of older, pagan religious traditions that Christianity co-opted in my attraction to Mary as a goddess of sorts and to the celebration of Christmas as Solstice and Easter as Springtime in the cyclical liturgical year. Perhaps we are sensing hints of a “new” eco-Christianity that is really a cycling back to an older religious sensibility…
Like some other commenters, I have never felt that God is absent simply because I don’t get answers or experiences when I want them. This may be because I grew up in a reformed protestant tradition where “experiential” faith (eg. feeling the presence of Jesus) was looked upon with suspicion. I also have tended to reason that life isn’t about getting answers and experiences on tap. It makes me sad when I hear someone say that they gave up on faith because they never felt anything or got any direct answers, after some well-meaning believer told them it would happen at some youth camp. I’ve heard that a number of times.
When I began to embrace a less insipid and more emotionally-charged worship tradition, I did sometimes feel that I was tapping into something deeper, but even then it seemed more like the generosity of a creator opening my eyes to the beauty of his work in art, music and nature, calling me to have the same generosity rather than to wallow in some mystical experience.
I also think it’s unreasonable to assume that those sorts of experiences will be, or ought to be, common. Particularly since, as noted in comments above, modern churches have forsaken a lot of spiritual practices they used to have. But also because I don’t see much precedent for it in scripture. Instead, I see a lot more exhortations to do what’s right, and exasperated statements that “I won’t even answer when you pray because your hands are covered in blood”. Sounds a lot like most developed countries in the modern world economy, not to mention what we’re doing to our world, and we know it.
I went once to a Sunday service in a small Russian Orthodox Church here in Melbourne. What astonished me was how they took a good 5 to 10 minutes to call out the whole hierarchy of people between the God and the congregation. Twice. In the opening and the closing parts of the ritual. I was in a rather sensitive state at that time and I was initially surprised that I felt nothing out of the ordinary. The surprise evaporated when they started to call out every middle man standing in line between simple people (“God’s slaves” is the term) and the God they were preaching. It made it sound nearly impossible that this God would need any way of communicating with me when he has so many important people to consult first. It felt like the whole orgnisation is set up in a way to make it next to impossible to contact God directly. So they really have it covered if someone asks them why is it that God is not responding to my prayers! Also, (surprise!) Orthodox Church is very explicit in forbidding any non-orthodox practices – magic most of all.
Despite this, the church is on the rise in Russia. Partially due to the religious void of the Communist era and partially as a way to convince ourselves that we are more spiritual than the West. As the church grows it also gains astonishing arrogance – it becomes increasingly difficult to get baptised. Other than growing prices, some churches may examine your knowledge of the Bible and send you away if you are “not ready” – something they themselves admit they couldn’t do even a few years ago. Another complication on the way to God. Even getting admitted to the ranks of the God’s slaves is not easy any more.
Said that, I do pray to Christ regularly and the entity that responds seems to be OK to share the space with a few others in my rather eclectic pantheon.
As to the God Russian Orthodox Church is praying to – yes, he is dead. Russian Orthodox Church killed him long time ago.
> there’s no shortage of instructional material on the performance of meditation and contemplation in the Western tradition, you know — you just have to go back a little more than a century, and with current online resources, that’s pretty easy. Have you considered giving that a try — or are you by any chance engaged in that work of revival?
I am not part of any work of revival, but I have considered joining an order as a secular oblate. I have sympathy for the Benedictine rule. Maybe something for later, though: the area I live in is mostly atheist and Protestant, there are no monastic communities in the northern Netherlands. And I have children to raise first.
Doing things on your own is a Protestant thing: we Catholics always need a mediator for this sort of things, and there are no valid ones in my surroundings.
I am thinking about taking the OBOD course, though.
Another fine post – thank you – though, in the event you do get to publishing a links post, I’ll be curious how you separate the “fake news” from the truth.
I’m not in agreement with the “cycle” of religion, at least as you’ve described (or as I understand your description), since I see it more as a product of culture and science, and the cycles that affect those factors. In 1859, On The Origin of Species was published and became a real game changer. Darwin described a secular mechanism which explained where the species of man originated, and it contrasted sharply of course from the traditional interpretation of the Western holy scriptures. This not only jump started a move towards atheism, but also allowed for other non-traditional views within theistic and polytheistic faiths to flourish. In other words, a leap in science allowed modern civilization more latitude to “explain” the supernatural. At the same time, the culture of the mid-1850s also seem to birth some odd changes in religion, for whatever reason, as cause and effect are deeply intertwined. (Book of Mormon, anyone?)
Since then, the growth of atheism seems to have stagnated, and was never too popular even in the communist dictatorships. Today in the U.S., almost 70 percent of the population still describe themselves as Christians, and most polls indicate atheism in low or mid single digits. The only faith growing in meaningful numbers is Islam, which could be argued is sometimes under duress. Most people seem to have a need for a “faith” of some sort, and lately the Western culture has promoted “do what feels good or right”, which seems somewhat self-centered, at least versus a dogmatic view of religion – any religion at that.
In short, I agree that a shift of the balance of religion more towards full participation, wholeness and earth seems to be coming – but it’s a symptom of decline, and not organic within itself.
Leaving cathollicism I tried first fundamentalism in my youth. At least there they read the bible, were more sociable, prayed intensely. It was not just blah blah. Catholic charismatics was similar and an answer to that. Abandoning all that to secular humanism, history, literature, wider knowledg, philosoph w no bad thing. Later anintegrative proach ws meditation plus yoga whic holistially included body, mind, health and let me be possibly neutral, agnostic with lesser gods cum gurus to mantra to. My secular humanism remains with its huge body of studies along with bible, greco-roman literature. So I keep adding on, growing. It is easier for an ex ctholic to do druidry or hinduism with arcane rituals, prayer beads and no texts to read than a devout fundamentalist who ponders bible ss literal truth and makes individual prayer. As a catholic rosary prayers wre what I knew, like mantras and no bible reading. Your beliefs, readings were your own problems. I just found it boring, uninvolving except for short time witj chariismatic youth group where we prayed, learned emotional involvement.
My esoteric experience is a religion of one, no community of worrshippers, just managing inner life, griowing energy to help my personal, family and societal balance, to give me a foundation. Religious groupings are to me suspect as hypcritical gatherings to create conformity. I do what works, then if meditation leaves me cold I pick up tai chi, etc. It changes over time.
Thought-provoking and rather Philip K Dickian. What you’re saying is there may really be gods with life-cycles and they may really die, and their waxings and wanings affect our cultures. This – I suggest – presupposes multiple layers of reality, with something placed in the analogous relation to the multiple gods as they are placed to us. The reason I presuppose this multilayered idea is that I’m still in that Platonist-Christian mode of thought to do with Oneness (I am a Christian) because multiplicity, to me, implies underlying unity – I cannot conceive of multiplicity being ultimate. That’s arguably a mental limitation on my part. On the other hand, if you think of gods co-existing, there must be some common medium for them to exist in, just as people co-existing must co-exist in a room, a landscape, or at any rate some continuum; and then you start thinking, what is that common medium, where did it originate, etc. Anyhow, I can believe in your “gods” idea in a multilayered context. I am a sort of henotheist, in that case.
I am rather late to this party, but on reading this article I find that it only applies to a small and shrinking patch of the planet, namely non-Moslem Western Europe and the part of the US I’ve come to call “Yankeeland” (from living in the South)—specifically the shrinking non-Latino non-Moslem parts of it. The big religious battle over “hearts and minds” I see taking place right now is between moderate Islam and Orthodox Christianity, and here Christianity seems to be holding its own. Both are vibrant religions, and coexistence and accommodation between them is possible. They share the common fight against Salafism/Wahhabism. Catholicism is still vibrant in many parts of the world, although the current pope, who is something of a traitor to the Christian cause, isn’t helping matters. The religious dynamics within India is another huge topic. In short, how do we know that in saying “God is dead” we aren’t actually saying “Western culture is dead”? Perhaps “God is dead” is just a pompous way of saying “My dog up and died”?
JMG Sure – they weren’t formally affiliated to anything, but I think had roots in the British house church movement (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_New_Church_Movement) . I would say they were broadly neo-charismatic (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-charismatic_movement ). They were very into the Toronto blessing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Blessing) and later had some links with Vineyard churches. The word of faith (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Word_of_Faith) / prosperity gospel teachings also increasingly seemed to be an influence.
I’d be interested to know if the similar accounts you’ve heard were from the same type of churches?
I am a materially poor man and so having to offer in return for this wonderful gift except my sincere thanks John Michael Greer.
I haven’t said equal partner.
But it looks like we’re damaging enough to get closer to an extinction event. There is no region untouched by human hands or waste. It does give us a place in nature, but of course not a place to be proud of. The closes comparison is probably we’re like gut flora getting out of hand making somebody ill. On the other hand, gut flora can also help and protect a person, should humans evolve to take up that role.
But if the cycle will continue as before, it looks like we had a few millennia of humans trying to cut down nature to size, soon followed by nature cutting humans to size for a few millennia and most likely do it all over again in some way at some point in the future. It is my belief there must be room for a middle ground. But of course, I often think strange things.
A fascinating post JMG. I ponder if there is an interrelationship between faith and religious experience, i.e. the stronger ones faith, the more likely you are to receive an experience. A bit like listening to a radio, if you are not tuned in correctly you won’t hear anything. In my experience, going to church is not a very effective means of ‘tuning in’. Meditation and contemplation seems to be far better tools for tuning in, and have produced significantly better results.
@Toomas, @RPC, @JMG, if I may enter the conversation:
I will certainly try to listen carefully and respect what those people have to say who didn’t and who don’t have any religious experience while praying to the God whose interactions with humankind are described in the bible. On the other hand, when you (JMG) write:
“Toomas, again, you’re changing the subject. I’m talking about the experiences of the many individuals, in many Christian denominations, who turned to God and got silence and emptiness instead. Are you suggesting that all of these people have become morally inferior or something, because they live in the industrial world, and that’s why God is ignoring them? Or what?”
I wonder if you are not doing something similar in the opposite direction: you speculate, based on your personal contacts in the USA and Europe, that those of us Christians who believe in the continued presence of our God are somehow mistaken, since in your opinion either our God has gone away and we are praying to somebody else, or (as you comment to RPC) our God has become weak and we are the last remnant who still feel a connection.
Is this not a very strong conclusion based only on part of the evidence?
I’ve always liked Terry Pratchett’s take in Small Gods, that the power of the god depends on the amount of belief in their followers. Once their followers stop believing in the god and start believing in the church (rules, rituals and bureaucracy) then the god becomes a shadow of themselves even though the church may roll on.
I was raised Catholic, and unlike the majority of those with whom you seem to have conversed, was lucky enough to only encounter honourable members of the Catholic clergy or laity. My departure from faith was rather one of realising that the vast majority of those who call themselves Christian fail to follow his teachings, while condemning others who fail. There are far too few Christians out there who have disposed of their worldly goods, love everyone unconditionally and leave judgement to God. Instead, as in Pratchett’s writings, the church (and this applies to most faiths that I’ve encountered) is far more interested in temporal power and influence than in saving the souls of their congregation. Churches have become political structures designed to elevate certain individuals at the expense of all the others. Too much of the Church’s history has concerned the destruction of those groups or individuals that challenged the authority of the church as the sole arbiter of Christ’s teachings.
Raw, Dawkins-style, atheism left me cold as it seemed to presuppose that only the world that can be perceived is all that there is, when anybody with a reasonable education in biology and physics knows that we perceive very little of the world and that those perceptions are entirely translated by the mushy stuff of our brain.
However spiritualism fails me too as I have never experienced anything that would indicate that consciousness or spirit exists separate to our physical body. We are born, exist for a while and pass. The atoms that make us, pass through us and others during our lives and have been around for an inconceivably long time. At times they have been part of rocks, trees, stars and dinosaurs, that is sufficient for me. In the meantime I will continue with yoga and explore Buddhist & other philosophic teachings on how to be a better person without troubling myself to find another faith. That will be interesting an interesting path to travel whatever lies on it.
In the meantime, I would posit that the established churches will continue for as long as there are people who believe in churches, even if they cannot connect to the deities. Western moderate churches have failed because people have transferred their belief in the church to belief in the government as the source of answers. Governments stated that they would make everybody’s lives better, whether they have or not is an open question. Individual quality of life may have increased when measured by the availability of food, shelter, medicine, etc. But that progress is clearly unsustainable. Prolonged difficulties always seems to stimulate religious beliefs. It will be interesting to know what will arise when governments fail and people find themselves dealing with the troubles that come with combined resource depletion and climate change.
Well, if Oedipus is on the upswing, why not Dionysius as well.
Seriously though, I agree with you at least partially about hallucinations. I roll my eyes when people take dreams or hallucinations too seriously or literally. However, there is something different about ayahuasca and I think it would be worth reading up on as it does touch on both the subject of this post and I believe ecosophia more generally. Perhaps it is different because it is not a chemical cooked up in a lab, but a combination of plants. I’m somewhat reluctant to employ what could be seen as a naturalistic fallacy here, yet I think this characteristic is one of the first things that disrupts materialist’s brains. They ask how people in the amazon who we think of as primitive discovered a plant combination that needs to be combined and concentrated to be effective (nobody figured it out by accidentally gnawing on plants, or even by making a simple tea. It needs to be reduced for hours in addition to being combined). When asked how they figured out how out of the hundreds of thousands of plants in the amazon they knew to combine these two the shamans down there say, “the plants told us.” This does not satisfy the materialist, yet they find it hard to believe the shamans came across it entirely by chance.
I don’t think I could see people worshiping the plant or the medicine, but I think it could be combined with other religious modes and that interests me (this is the case with the Sainto Daime church). There is a lot of convincing speculation that many religions have their roots in psychedelic experience and it could play a role in developing new religions in the future. I find the shamanic use of it very interesting as it asks people to bring something to the experience if they wish to get something from it. Compared to other substances it is much more capable of answering questions and giving lessons. These lessons tend to be very practical, specific, about human relations instead of grand ideas, and, you will like this, about limits. Someone drinking it is much more likely to be told to try and treat their neighbor better (with specific and practical insights) than to come out talking about humanity’s destiny in the stars or some kind of navel gazing observations. Of course, there is potential to chase mirages which is why I think it is something to be incorporated with occult understanding and jungian psychology amongst other things. The way mestizo shamans use it to answer questions and heal people is really fascinating. People often get the miracles they are looking for, or at least the one they need. This usually takes place in the form of healing. If you would like to read a good source on the subject check out the writings of Peter Gorman. I have read some articles by him and he has a book called Ayahuasca in My Blood. He is one of the people who writes on the subject who does not come at it from the the new age gringo yogi protestant angle.
I would describe it as you describe the shift happening on “the side of wholeness, not of perfection; the side of earth, not of heaven”. Any experience that is known equally for bliss and purging and comes from the jungle seems to fit this profile. As an aside the more I think about the Oedipus Jesus juxtaposition the more it rings true. There are very striking similarities and difference that I find relevant. I identify more with Oedipus’ human failings, but aspire more to the transcendence of them represented by the cross. Christians are told Jesus died for their sins and who needs that more than Oedipus.
I could see a religion that has regular community services for all on Sundays or Saturdays and invites people to drink the brew with clergy members on Friday or Saturday night if they choose.
Anyway, that is enough preaching from me. I do think it is worth looking into more given the thrust of this blog and the popularity of the practice.
Yes, JMG, I agree that something deeper seems to be going on. Perhaps I was unclear, but that’s what I intended to express in my first comment: Let’s think about interpreting the Catholic ritual decline/upheaval right alongside the turns to politics in various denominations, and right alongside the general sense of Christians getting the sense that nobody’s home—all of these as effects or symptoms of the deeper change.
Thanks for your reply. Regarding this: “Mary’s been a central figure in the sacramental end of Christianity for a very long time. I don’t happen to know how current she still is,” I might note that she seems most interested in maintaining a relationship; witness the apparitions at Fatima, Lourdes, and Medjugorge. The cult* of Mary is certainly quite strong in the Catholic churches in my area.
* “Cult” here is used in its Catholic sense of “a group of people who exhibit particular reverence for a supernatural being other than God.”
Related directly to Yeats, if a bit indirectly to the death of God:
Did Yeats’ explicit connections to Spengler in A Vision play any role in leading you to The Decline of the West? I just picked up A Vision for the first time last night, and was startled to encounter those references.
Great article John. I also really appreciated the previous article on reincarnation. Thank you.
As a student of magic, I find that the more I am involved in Western esoteric currents, the more I get out of studying the bible. Exposure to the Mysteries helps one read the book afresh. Like any book worthy of repeated study (as is Yeats Vision), the Bible has layers and layers of mystery… and with the key, you can see how a lot of it goes back to Egyptian & other polytheisms. Those teachings are there in different forms in the Old & New testament.
And as a resident librarian a new book on the subject of this article was recently published by Harvard professor Robert Knapp. It is called “Dawn of Christianity: People and Gods in a Time of Magic and Miracles”. It touches on many of the things talked about here -basically how Jesus was seen as the ultimate magician by the new subscribers to the religion back then. Very interesting book.
No surprise here, I was brought up in two (in succession) of the mainline Protestant denominations. (“Mainline” as in having proliferated across Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line rail suburbs; later conflated with “mainstream” though they arguably never were the latter.)
Like MSweet, I eventually noted in retrospect a lack of any attempt to teach congregations how to practice their religion in any way that would result in actual religious experiences. Starting with Sunday School, where we sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” In other words, one must learn of this great love third-hand via a song about a book; don’t expect to experience it directly. I recall a sermon years later that made the same point explicitly, and another whose theme was that if you did happen to have a profound or emotional religious experience (despite our best efforts?), all well and good, but now it’s time to come back down to earth and get on with your mundane duties. (Instead of the unspoken alternative of looking for another church that would teach you more about it, presumably.) At what point does the abstraction of academic theology become actual atheism? I don’t know, but they were sure close to it.
However, services were still fairly traditional at the time, and there were some nuggets. Such as the four words “Thy Will be done,” embedded in the liturgy like a fully functional violin among the toy instruments handed out to a kindergarten class. And among the hundreds of interminable hymns, “This Is My Father’s World,” an unabashedly deist paean to nature and science.
Being somewhat historically literate, I tried to restore some grandeur with my imagination. “Imagine these stained glass windows are the only intense colors you see for half the year. Imagine this is by far the largest room you’ve ever been in. Imagine that organ accompaniment to hymn #431 is the only kind of polyphonic music you know.” The vestiges of the separateness and liminality of a sacred ritual space were still present. We still dressed up in our literal Sunday best back then as well.
And eventually, I did (despite their best efforts?) experience grace, as a direct personal experience rather than an abstract theological concept or a retroactive characterization of some turn of good fortune. And understood why some not-so-mainline congregations danced and shouted and sang “Amazing Grace” every week.
Today, when I talk to people of similar backgrounds, some now atheists, some still Christians, and some now in other faiths, and I get bored of discussion of who “believes” what, I explain that I prefer to see religion as having three equally significant and interdependent parts: narratives (including but not limited to beliefs), practices, and experiences. Most often, the Christians and atheists tell me they’d never really considered the latter two as having all that much to do with religion! (I also know some self-proclaimed atheists who tell me they attend services regularly, often to honor a spouse’s preferences, and that they perform the sacraments and even find them beneficial, but they’re not Christians because they don’t believe.) It’s partly the fault of the Christian doctrine, constructed upon e.g. John 3:16 and 11:25, of the primacy of belief. But more recently significant, I think, is the attitude of “hands off, leave [whatever, in this case religion] to the trained professionals” that seems to have proliferated everywhere.
So, yeah, all those One And Only Gods whose liturgy amounts to “contemplate and worship from afar, but don’t attempt to interact with if you know what’s good for you,” are long gone from the scene. (Social and political institutions that have been moving in that same direction are likewise doomed.) “Look but don’t touch” is the motto of museum exhibits. But when I visit the Brothers of Charity, their God’s living presence is palpable.
Notwithstanding the notion of TED talks as “infotainment for the highbrow”, Tanya Luhrmann’s talk on (and anthropological study of) the experience of “When God Talks Back” in some Christian churches is worth a view (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DloTO-SwFZA).
What struck me most about her research was the need to train the imagination in order to have God literally talk to you. I think there are fruitful parallels to your own magical practice and, I imagine, experience.
If we categorize such communication under the general rubric of “Acts of God”, the question then becomes (ala Dirk Gently), “Act of God yes, but which God?”
The God talking to these Christians is not the old High God of the Canaanite pantheon, Elohim, who had a sufficiently wide girth to incorporated his relatives; thus making him the one and only (but oddly still grammatically plural). I think we are talking about a god closer to Yahweh, the god that you can walk in the garden with or even wrestle with.
Being the Christian god, we can suppose the god they are hearing is more like Jesus’s god than either Elohim or Yahweh; the god Jesus addressed informally as “papa” or “dad”; the kind parent deity who, if we take Yanya’s research at face value, cares enough to literally tell you when to get off the bus so you don’t miss your stop!
That Christian god is certainly not the one (not found) in the mainstream Christian Churches. Still, again if we take Yanya’s research at face value, I think we can say that the Christian God is not dead to those who have trained themselves to hear him.
JMG, sorry for not correcting grammar and spellchecking my last replay, now I see it’s a mess of a post. The big question is: do you agree with John Beckett’s observation that we are seeing a lasting change/increase in manifestations of “otherworldly”?
A few months ago I was walking through Copenhagen with my daughter and we went to look inside a famous Russian Orthodox Church there. No one was there, but we both got a bit triggered, just being there. How? The aroma. We left feeling uplifted.
Dumbing down the church services? Not a good idea. Here’s a lovely piece:
Good Morning (Good Afternoon), JMG.
“Casey, I think it’s quite possible that any number of beings are answering to such labels as “God” and “Jesus” these days, and some of them are decidedly creepy.”
It looks very possible, given the sheer volume of varying accounts that the experientially over-driven provide: Gentle Aliens, Cruel Aliens, Happy God, Nasty God, Angel/Demon, Good Witch/Bad Witch… And how’s the mystically inclined inquirer supposed to know before it’s too late? I’m guessing this serves to illustrate the necessity of things like banishing rituals etc.
What I’m wondering, though: Given what you understand about CG Jung, in both of his roles as a practicing psychologist and as an occultist, and given what he said about his concerns regarding the Germanic psyche, Wotan, not to mention archetypes; and given your previous week’s post on the Individual as a more essential reality than personality… I am wondering what you think about where (or if) our deeper natures sort of shade into the the deeper natures of other individuals, beings of whatever type. I’m guessing somebody may have already wondered about this in the comments above. Just point me there and I’ll look.
Are these divinities just deeply submerged aspects of our own psyches? I wonder if you’re familiar with the work of Donald Hoffman (UC Irvine). I know you probably don’t watch YouTube, but
His ideas are similar to Bernardo Kastrup’s, whose writing I’ve found very interesting. Anyway, it’s all just consciousness all the way down, so to speak, depending on how consciousness is defined… the point, I guess, is that something akin to what we can call Spirit, the immaterial, is the One Thing.
And given the possibility that We are just composites of ‘conscious agents’ (Hoffman’s term) I wonder what that means for reincarnation as humans or as gods. Is there any possibility that for the ill-prepared, that upon death, one’s poorly consolidated being can find itself being ‘absorbed’ (I’m not sure what word works here) into other personalities? How Very important then, to pursue Jungian Individuation, as well as a death practice like the reading of the Book of the Dead in Tibet, and the forming of the Rainbow Body, or the constructing/growing of a Body of Light as Mark Stavish in Between the Gates. Do you think that we, as individuals and not as personalities, are essentially impermeable and inviolable between lives? Just how Creepy does it get?
Just wondering what the Druids think…
I was on the board of a minor Christian professionals organization. They wanted us to pray about God’s will for the organizational structure, so I did, and got an idea to have a mandatory 7th year off of the board—a sabbath rest. The other board members wanted to know why I was proposing this. “I prayed and that’s what came back” did not seem to be a good enough answer. After discussion they thought it was a good idea to “churn the board and get new blood in,” and wrote it into the bylaws. It was interesting that they felt the need to come up with a logical justification before enacting it. I could tell that they knew in their spirits that it was the right thing to do, but they didn’t have the confidence to go with it for that reason alone.
One of the larger questions behind your post is, “How do religions (such as Christianity) arise in the first place? IMHO, it could be analogous to the ways we can manipulate sunlight– Generally, all of us can walk outside on a sunny day without bursting into flames, even though we can have as much as a square meter of skin exposed to sunlight. Yet, if you focus the small amount of sunlight that would hit half of a sheet of paper with a two-dollar fresnel magnifying lens, you can make a dry stick burst into flames in about 30 seconds.
Applying this to religions, what if a Revered Holy Person is mostly just someone who happens to be at the focal point of the prayers/intent/will of generations of future followers? Like an ant caught at the focus of a magnifying glass, this person experiences a surge of power, and finds that he or she actually can heal the sick, raise the dead, talk to animals and know things about the future that later turn out to have been true. Why? Because the spiritual energies/beliefs/expectations of a vast multitude are focused, across time, directly on this person. And like the focus of the magnifying glass, people nearby can see the light and feel the heat—although that dissipates the further you go from the focal point.
If there’s any truth to it, then Jesus would be a joint project of generations of Jewish People in his past, focusing their prayers on the future Messiah combined with generations of Christians directing their prayers backward in time. Roman Catholics, praying to saints might be generating the same focal-point effects.
Every time a Muslim says “…and Mohammed is his Prophet,” it may send a jolt of energy back in time to Mohammed in his cave. Many possible examples come to mind.
I can echo others who have had a singular experience of being overcome by the non-physical presence of holiness. Mine was in a Baptist revival meeting in college, and was wholly unlike anything I had ever known from Catholic school mass or liberal Presbyterian services. Interestingly, while I was compelled to kneel I did not feel an urge to place my face on the ground. It was also wholly unlike the only time I’ve seen a “fey,” which was a dragonfly wrought in a golden rainbow filigree of dust motes above my head in my grandparents’ basement. We observed each other for a time before the motes dispersed. That time was a mutual curiosity, as though we had stumbled upon each other.
In the years since that revival I’ve come fully to the position that the God(s) of Abraham are not my gods, real though He/They are real. I never encountered more than an old husk, like a shed cicada skin, in Presbyterian or Catholic services, but have a lingering sense that one of the vengeful biophobic Christs might show up if I hung around the Souther Baptists long enough. As an intellectual animist who places biodiversity as one of the highest sacraments I have no interest in meeting such a god.
As an aside, I initially misread Oedipus as Orpheus. I only know Orpheus from the childhood tale in D’Aulaires’ Greek Myths, but it strikes me that there is resonance between the oncoming Oedipal slanted dark age and a tale of descent into the Earth where even then we cannot ever fully (re)capture that which is there for us to learn. The songs we learn and bring back from those deep places may be of terrific and terrible beauty, but they will be only a pale shadow of what inspired them.
It is funny that you mention both Yeats and Oedipus within the same post, as my increasing studies of the moon phases and their relevance in astrology and life, have convinced me that you touch on an evolution from a primarily lunar driven world to a solar driven one. (I doubt I need to hash out which god is a spokesperson for each luminary.) And you likely have already heard the theory of the precession of the equinoxes and that Gilgamesh was the closing of Taurus into Aries, and Christ the closing of Aries into Pisces.
Here is where I find a critical difference between the classical world and the modern one, and why my recent readings of the Oedipus trilogy inform my view on concepts, not of god or gods, but of free will and fate. Want to see astrologers get into fist fights? Suggest that they have little to no free will and they go mad! But this is where I defer to Oedipus as a perfect realization of ancient understanding of fate as an unchanging force we have no control over. This concept has died with the modern age. I propose that a society with increased velocity of travel, an abundance of energy, and intense complexity, conspire to give us an illusion of free will, when in fact, without those key factors, we are as helpless as the ancients to resolve a myriad of problems once accepted as limitations, i.e., fate.
I wonder if the rise of Christianity had as much to do with giving the populace a measure of feeling like they had control over miserable circumstances (suffer on earth now, and be free in heaven later), as oppossed to being told that life is a force that controls us? If so, it is not so much a matter of God dying, but of people discovering all those promises of free will, did not in fact grant them much control over their lives. There is a whole populace now who are quite busy plucking out their eyes. After all, having two did not advance their station in life, and they’re quite angry about it.
This ongoing argument – or nonargument, since no one cares to discuss it – in the astrological community is of chief interest to me, because it used to be that classical astrologers would look up death charts for clients. I’m not insensitive to reasons this is not readily done today, but all the same, the taboo seems to be excessive, since the information is worthy of study – but its also the quickest way to be shunned in astrological groups who appear to be under the impression they will live forever. It creates a schism in the concept of free will. We are not so free if we must acknowledge the limits of life itself.
Apologies if I digressed, but it seemed to me the connection of concepts of fate and the astrological world were intertwined with the subject of dying gods. I also find that there is usually a shift in how time is reckoned when these gods die. I think of Oedipus very often nowadays, and his story is a lesson I am still, and always learning.
I don’t know why some people experience the presence of God in their lives, and others don’t. I can’t give you a definitive answer.
I’ll take a stab at a few hypotheses at the level of western society, rather than the individual: 1) the cognitive dissonance in western society is interfering with signal reception, 2) outright hypocisy in western society means many people may not want to hear what God has to say, 3) western society as a whole has been too rich too long, and is hurting others and its own weaker members, so God is mad at us, 4) God’s paying more attention to his many followers in the developing world, 5) Maybe God’s responding to the cult of progress by ignoring a lot of people over here, 6) the cult of progress tends to disallow or ignore religious experience, so people doubt what they have experienced. Our society is pretty unhealthy, so I’m not surprised there are problems in our largest religion.
Interesting. Thank you. I wrote this a few months ago, with apologies to WB. Yates.
Is it that a god dies, or more that a religion dies,as it ages and becomes encrusted with custom, ignorance, power-structures, theological aridity, personal and institutional corruption?
In other words, it simply loses the connection ?
Curiously, the most fervent believers I have encountered so far have been Muslims, who have told me that the sensation of reciting from the Koran proved the divine reality to them – ‘nothing like it, so beautiful!’ etc. That god has been knocking around for a good while…..
In a far less brilliant/virtuosic/elegant manner than JMG, I have speculated Christianity and Islam are driven by a fear of eternal death and the symptom of this fear: hatred of nature, including human nature. http://veganhedonists.com/blogs/death-and-fetus I was raised by lax Protestants and the most adamant Christians always struck me as the worst people: my cousin who made our sweet 79 year old grandmother cry because he told her she was going to hell for not attending church, the tragedy down the block who made her kids go to Jesus camp and then spent her hardworking daughter’s college tuition money remodeling and enlarging an already more than adequate house, the scary creeper-stalker guy from the holy-rollin’ vegetarian health food store, plus the whole battery of pedo priests and televangelist twits. Contrarily, the non-believers always seemed to actually live Jesus’s supposed values, no price tag attached. My generous-to-a-fault grandmother and parents, the scientist guy who taught me how to can tomatoes and helping me re-tire my bike, *ahem* that semi-secret fountain of knowledge known as John Michael Greer…
Given that (at least in the SouthWest) the ‘warbands’ of the future are, or will evolve from, the latin-american narco gangs of the present and that public mimesis of the authentic power figures and culture is a certainty, I am putting my bet on Santa Muerta as the primary Goddess of the decades to come. We all know in our bones that there are too many humans for us all to live well; personifying, acknowledging and respecting Death seems like a pretty sensible notion, especially if you prefer to pay her what your owe later rather than sooner! Honduras and El Salvador have the highest murder rates in the world and it is not surprising that the practice of petitioning La Flaca is spreading with the people fleeing those places.
Interesting – I had always assumed that the experience of a palpable presence in response to prayer was the exception rather than the rule. My understanding was that it took sustained attempts at making contact, ideally supplemented with practice of exercises to develop the spiritual senses, before one could expect to receive a clear response to spiritual overtures. That’s why I was never surprised when I could not perceive any response to my fumbling attempts to reach out to various spiritual powers throughout my years of dilettante/armchair occultism – I assumed it was due to my own lack of discipline and perseverance. My initial reaction to your post was to think that the reason so many people don’t feel anything there when they pray is because of the general deadening of mystical perception in the modern world. This would also explain why, as various commenters have pointed out, Christians in countries that have not turned aside so thoroughly from the nonphysical world do still seem to be plugging into a live current.
Are you saying that this is not the case – that those who reach out to an active, vital god can expect to receive a response with relatively little effort? Or are the reports of emptiness you’ve received coming from people who have put in the spiritual mileage, so to speak, and still found the destination lacking?
@JMG: True! Especially (in my experience) in the more WASP-y Protestant version I was raised in–magic and intercessory anything and mysticism/pageantry are Suspiciously Ethnic, I suspect, or at least Suspiciously Papist, to paraphrase Dad’s rather-unpleasant-sounding aunt. I joke that his side of the family believes in God the way they believe in a good credit rating and a martini before dinner: one *does*, of course, because That’s Done, but one does not get too involved in either, or risks becoming the uncle nobody wants to talk to at the holidays.
This is an exaggeration: my father’s side, in fact, has very ardent beliefs when it comes to cocktails. (I think I’ve mentioned the WASP Wheel of the Year–G&T Season, Manhattan Season, Martini Season–and Dad has informed me that We Do Not Drink Triple Sec In This House, Young Lady.)
Mom’s mother, OTOH, was Catholic (raised before Vatican II) and frequently used a little incantation to Saint Anthony whenever she’d lost something, had saint medallions, and so forth; I found them pretty fascinating whenever I visited, and I wish I’d gotten interested enough in this sort of thing to ask questions before she died.
@Walt: “I recall a sermon years later that made the same point explicitly, and another whose theme was that if you did happen to have a profound or emotional religious experience (despite our best efforts?), all well and good, but now it’s time to come back down to earth and get on with your mundane duties.”
This seems to me like they were misinterpreting a reasonable point between balance between the spiritual and physical worlds. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water; after enlightenment, chop wood and carry water,” always seemed sensible to me, but enlightenment has its place in there too.
You probably know this already, but Phillip Pullman’s fantasy series His Dark Materials features an increasingly senile and enfeebled God, who still clings to power. Whether he started out as benevolent is not clear, but he has transmogrified into something much worse over time…
Whether the deities themselves age and decay over time is a great question. I suspect that one reason for the decline of religions is that the scriptures get stale over time. Spiritual matters are inherently difficult to put into words, and ancient texts are written from an ancient perspective for an ancient audience. For a modern reader, that is adding a second layer of difficulty.
In an effort to avoid watering down the holy teachings over time, there is a danger that scriptures can fail to adapt to changing circumstances. Over time, they may become ossified and irrelevant.
Polythesim might be inherently more anti-fragile over the long run, but I still have difficultly interpreting the ancient Hindu materials. Can you think of an example of a religion that does a particularly good job of updating its scripture without getting rigid on the one hand or excessively diluted on the other?
I always took Nietzsche’s phrase as meaning that Christianity was dying, i.e., that the power of belief had waned. Likewise, always assumed that for those who feel nothing, the lack lies within themselves. Therefore, if churches in other lands are full of energy, wouldn’t that be important data?
“my practice of Christianity was nonexistent aside from attending services weekly. This was not an accident, by the way. I can only speak for my church and my experience. It seems to me there was virtually no practical instruction offered by elders and leaders in the church as to HOW to practice the faith. Indeed it seems in retrospect to have been a matter of faith that all one had to do was accept Jesus, and the rest would just come easily. “
I must say I agree with you and the reason is the salvation theology that I’ve long thought was a cheap and lazy spiritual path because Jesus does it all for you. That’s why I brought up the issue last week of how such a salvation is even compatible with free will. I do think, though, that most faithful do try to live it, and the way the older churches, the RC and Orthodox handle the problem is to always keep you uneasy as to your salvation.
The fun thing about your tangents is that they often end up being just as interesting as the original train of thought.
Since we’re speculating here, let me throw some thoughts out there.
Gods and spirits can certainly die, just as they can certainly be born, but isn’t it entirely possible that the also reincarnate? The Vedic faiths are explicit on this matter, the gods go through cycles of reincarnation with old forms dying off and new ones taking their place. In fact there is considerable writing on this matter, I rather wish I could track down some translated works, but don’t know if any exist.
If we use the Druidic take on reincarnation that a being must know all things, be all things, and suffer all things before they can proceed to the next stage of being, then isn’t it possible a similar process is taking place on the other planes?
If a similar process does take place, and there is a holding period between their death and rebirth then perhaps the holding period is when they stop responding, when their magic is muted or dead.
Isn’t it also possible that the gods are much of firmer character, so that once they die, and are reincarnated they are much more able to present themselves as they were than we human beings? But even being of firmer character the wise ones go through the process of change, grow out of old bad habits.
Avatars of the gods, as I pointed out in a previous discussion, are the physical manifestation of the gods. If the god of water dies, but its body is the whole of the water on this planet, does it necessarily mean that its consciousness died? Perhaps some gods have more than one consciousness that blink in and out of life, while others (such as the goddess of the earth) have much longer lifespans than others?
The body of Saraswati died long ago, she was a river that was prominent during the Indus valley period, but she is one of the prominent figures of modern Hinduism. She sits in one of the Trimurti – Ganesh, Lakshmi, and Saraswati. I’ve prayed to this specific Trimurti, and I can attest that there is definitely someone on the other side.
Okay, enough speculating on my part.
Apologies as this is a bit off-topic:
Lévi places a lot of emphasis on the importance of self-control, in apparently all areas of pleasure, as a prerequisite for influencing or guiding the astral light.
Can fasting be looked at in this spirit? Is fasting a way of augmenting one’s capacity when praying or performing rituals related to magic?
how do you see fasting? It seems to be popular among fairly radical Christians, which makes me hesitate, but of course, it may still be a valid and useful exercise. I would welcome any guidance in this topic or trustworthy online sources.
I realized at the age of 9, when I was studying for my 1st Communion (Catholic), that I didn’t believe in the Christian GOD. Oh, the horror! Of course, at that age you can’t tell anyone, especially your devout Catholic grandma, that you are an atheist. You expressed the feeling perfectly, the feeling that God just wasn’t in the church, the sky, or anywhere else. I remember at Christmas, going out at night in the cold to look for a star to shine for me, like the one the wise men followed to Bethlehem. Nothing. Sounds goofy, but I was looking for a sign. Nowadays I see signs everywhere, little signs of affirmation and generosity from small, helpful “spirits” for lack of a better term. I still don’t believe in the HUGE, GINORMUS GOD of the Abrahamic faiths.
I wasn’t going to jump in here until I saw the comment from John Beasley, which really resonated with me. I too find the no-response people to be troubling.
I would say that, based on the anecdotal evidence alone, how can we be sure there is nothing there? I’m sure some of these friends you cite legitimately found nothing, but I think it highly possible they were simply banging on the same brick wall over and over without realizing where the door is.
I am someone who has tried praying to The Source (the God of Abraham if you prefer), and the first problem I see is that nobody knows what the word prayer means and nobody knows how to do it. That’s not to say that it’s impossibly hard. Quite the contrary. But it is something that everyone talks about and nobody really knows what it is. That’s the elephant in the room for the mainstream churches. There’s no spiritual practice. There are no rituals. There’s no prayer classes. You’d probably have an easier time finding a kickboxing class at your local church than any instruction on what prayer is or how to do it. The closest thing instruction, if you can even call it that, is to treat God like a heavenly vending machine and to ask for what you want.
That’s my experience. I learned more about how to pray from bits and shreds picked up from sources as diverse as meditation books, very old books on prayer, and AA’s Twelve Steps. There’s no lively “prayer how-to” section in your local bookstore.
I’d still consider myself crude and quite clumsy in prayer. It’s easy to talk, but not so easy to listen. So why do I continue to pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or the Source, the Divine, Infinite Intelligence, the Creator, or whatever you want to call it). Because when I do, STUFF HAPPENS. When I started to actually practice prayer a couple of years ago, I was amazed at how quickly my prayers were answered. It is practically instantaneous. In some cases it’s a little frustrating, because I couldn’t handle the rapidity of it.
And I would say I’ve never felt the presence of God. I’ve only gotten responses to my prayer. (Actually, I take that back, there was one time I felt the divine presence brush me, and it scared the living crap out of me. It was a feeling I can only compare to being something like being alone, stepping out of the shower and suddenly feeling a hand on your shoulder. Even if it’s a gentle touch, it frightening to suddenly encounter something that clearly you are completely exposed to. It was after that experience that I started to think maybe I don’t want to feel God’s presence.)
So my current thinking on the subject is that we’re not really intended to feel God’s presence in this lifetime directly, only indirectly.
But I wonder what others think. I wonder for those who got no response, what response were they expecting, exactly? I certainly almost never get any response I expect, let alone hope for. Sorry if the question comes off as direct. I’m not trying to be confrontational, I just typed this rather hastily.
I am making a mental connection to the post about reincarnation. Of course gods are born, mature and die, (well some might not even mature…) and they do this on their own plane, just as we do. This also explains why there are repetitions in certain God characteristics. These beings are going through the experiences of being Thor-like etc.
For years, I’ve meant to read “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” by Julian Jaynes. Finally did it this year. Haven’t been able to stop wondering if Jaynes was on to something ever since, esp. whenever the topic of anything “divine” comes up. . Curious if you’ve ever read it, and what you thought of the book, if you did. (So far my favorite review said something like it was either a work of unparalled genius or a load of bollocks, but it was impossible to know for sure which). Can’t find the source for this last quote, sorry.
Found it: Richard Dawkins’ “…either complete rubbish or a work of consummate genius, nothing in between.”
More of an out-loud musing than comment or question, but as I reflect on my own path in the recent years and the subject of this post, I find it interesting that I began, some years ago, seeking (with some trepidation) the raw experience of a direct encounter with the untamed desert god of Abraham and Yesua, but ended up with an equally disturbing/exhilarating experience with an earth goddess (Gaia? Magna Mater? She-who-has-yet-to-be-named?).
Something I share with others here is a sense of having connected meaningfully with some of the gods of monotheism; of course HaShem, but also I’ve had strong experiences from praying the rosary. That being said, with more embodied gods I’ve experienced actual miracles, which really is a different order than what I’ve felt with the old desert gods. I even had a dream a few years ago where Jesus lifted me up into the beautiful, white light filled Kingdom of Heaven and I sat there in His glorious light and simply felt a little bored and desired to return to the farm where I was working and living at the time. I awoke disappointed; I hold the Christ in very high regard and love Him dearly, but I knew then in my heart that what He offers isn’t actually something that I personally want to live in or for.
Taliessin, as I’ve noted repeatedly in these comments, the Christians who report having experiences of the kind you describe need to be taken seriously, but so do the people who’ve done everything the Christian faith calls on them to do and experienced silence and absence instead. That’s one of the reasons why I titled this post “a speculation.” It’s clear to me that something is happening that doesn’t seem to correspond at all to the presuppositions of Christian theology; the exact nature of that “something” is unclear, but the shift predicted by Heine, proclaimed by Nietzsche, and discussed by Yeats in symbolic terms does seem to be one way of talking about it.
Jeffrey, yes, Indra was one of the deities I had in mind — hugely important in the Vedas, a relatively minor figure now.
Pierre, Jung was definitely on top of things. Someday when I really want to toss a cat among the pigeons I’ll talk about his essay “Answer to Job.”
Steve M., excellent! I tend to default to metaphors drawn from ecology anyway — they seem far more relevant than metaphors drawn from feudal European politics, which play so large a role in mainstream religious thought to this day — and so the suggestions you’ve offered seem plausible to me.
Garden Housewife, most of the Druids I know have decidedly odd personal pantheons — in fact, yours would be considered pretty straightforward in some circles! The thing is, in the more cosmopolitan polytheistic societies, that kind of thing was extremely common, I think of Proclus, one of the last great pagan philosophers, who kept all the holy days in the Athenian and Egyptian religious calendars, and also had a personal devotion to Cybele, the Syrian Great Mother goddess. Purists can splutter all they want; it does seem to work.
As for gods becoming saints, yep — it’s been documented. Jean Seznec’s The Survival of the Pagan Gods, as I recall, covers that in some detail, as does Philippe Walter’s Christianity: The Origins of a Pagan Religion.
Phutatorius, that’s one of the tricky things about the Benedict strategy. Do it too soon, or too late, and it normally flops. Do it at exactly the right time, and you define the next thousand years or so of history. Oh, and it helps if you embrace absolute poverty and an ethic of humble service to everyone in your area, so the locals have reason to see to it that nothing happens to you; that’s a detail that most attempts to do the thing never seem to get.
James, interesting. I wonder if they’ve got somebody other than the god who responds to their Orthodox neighbors; scrapping the Talmudic rules, which I’ve been told by Jewish friends is pretty much universal among Reform Jews, would seem likely to have that effect.
Steve T., you’re most welcome.
John Beasley, many thanks for this. I don’t know who’s responding to you; if you’re getting your prayers answered, that’s definitely a good sign! It’s precisely the difference between people like you and people who aren’t getting any response that makes me wonder if something outside the standard theological categories is going on.
Graeme, or he may simply have performed one of the usual functions of a prophet, that of proclaiming the advent of a deity.
Jen, fascinating! You may just be the kind of person who attracts synchronicities. 😉
RCW, yeah, Mark Twain had some very sound things to say about that in his story “The War Prayer.” It’s one of the things that suggests to me that a lot of people who call themselves Christians are worshiping their notion of traditional American culture instead.
On the subject of pagan gods becoming saints– It seems that one of those saints was, in origin, none other that Gautama Buddha!
First of all, a point of sympathy for Christian churches:
The grandest church I’ve ever been in is Notre Dame in Montreal, and I was suitably impressed. It is a fantastic bit of architecture and standing in the main chamber listening to someone practice organ music, despite no real Christian sentiments at the time was an experience on par with the best moments I’ve had, courtesy of nature:
Encountering, as a small child, a pure white mountain goat hiking in the Pacific Northwest and us staring at each other for what felt like a minute or two before my parents came up the trail behind me and it ran away.
Being alone on a lake in the Canadian Shield in a kayak with a loon I couldn’t see because of the fog.
Turning an 8th-story apartment balcony into a mostly-edible garden which attracted an amazing variety of insect and spider life.
To paraphrase Jordan Peterson, “Churches are a forest. They have darkness and light in balance and are shaped like a cross to represent meaning in spite of the tragedy of the human position”. Sure, an Apollonian, human-centric narrative that JMG and others have no shortage of valid criticism for.
My thoughts on the notion of the death of the Christian god are pretty mixed. Even though I have come to really like Christianity, I’m quite sure the future of North American religion is polytheistic – and of course, I hope that whoever the Aesir and Vanir have promoted to fill the positions that were mostly vacated 1000 years ago in the Baltic region and Scandinavia are part of it.
I think the real reason I like figures like Jordan Peterson and reading about Christianity is because the great things about the Christian tradition are being broken open and revealed so that new things can take root in the newly fertilized soil. Whether you take your view or mine on the human experience it really is an exciting time to be alive.
Bruno, I don’t know if it’s that Jehovah was an unusually powerful deity, or if his followers simply had an obsession with the claim that they’ve got the only god there is. (In sour moods, I tend to think of this as the Theological Hostage Gambit: “There’s only one God, we have Him, and if you ever want to see Him again, you’d better pay your tithes…”)
Dean, I’m still completely uncertain what to make of visions of the Green Christ. (For those who aren’t familiar with this concept, it’s something that’s been popping up among some Druids of late — visions of a Christ crowned in oak leaves, crucified on a living tree, and associated in various ways with the energies of nature.) As for A Vision, the original 1924 version is almost impossible to get these days — there’s a copy in the Special Collections section of the Providence Public Library, and I plan on spending a day going over it in detail sometime soon. The 1937 edition, or the lightly updated version done posthumously from Yeats’ notes in 1962, are readily available now. If the one you have has a preface entitled “A Packet for Ezra Pound,” it’s the newer edition; if it doesn’t, and has a section entitled “The Dance of the Four Royal Persons,” I’d be extremely interested in a scan if you can make one!
Stefania, a few blocks north of us, there’s a mission founded and run by a Nigerian church for that same purpose. I admit I wonder whether the god they’re talking to has anything in common with the one who’s being prayed to by the Baptists a few blocks over.
Kfish, a good question for which I don’t have any firm answer. One thing I’d look for, though, is whether the rules change suddenly. If the believers in a god end up behaving in ways that their own scriptures condemn, and especially if they contrive not to notice the mismatch, then there’s potentially a good case for the hypothesis that somebody else is now in charge…
Chris, thank you.
Tidlosa, there’s reason to believe that some of the Pagan gods were later revered as Christian saints, but not all of them by any means; it’s a complex subject, probably more complex than our minds are capable of comprehending. With regard to mass suicide and other outbursts of otherworldliness, I’ve been expecting that for a long time now — it’s occurred to me more than once, for example, that the Boomers here in the US may set one last mediagenic fad in motion, and hold suicide parties where they play the music of their youth, and then down the vodka and sleeping pills to duck out of having to deal with the mess they’re leaving the generations following them!
With regard to Ceugant — for the benefit of others, this is old Welsh for “the empty circle” and refers to the realm beyond Gwynfydd which, as Barddas puts it, “cannot be traversed by any created being” — yes, there’s a transcendent unity at the heart of all things in (most versions of) Druid Revival cosmology. That transcendent unity isn’t a god, though. The “argument by semantical gymnastics,” as the Principia Discordia calls it, where you claim that something is simultaneously a transcendent unity at the heart of all things and an irascible personal deity who has a son and chooses one ethnic group as his special people, doesn’t get much traction (or much respect) in Druid circles.
Will, Buddhism includes the concept of “the latter days of the Dharma” — the notion, apparently taught by the Buddha himself, that the Buddhist dharma has a limited shelf life, and eventually another Buddha will have to put in an appearance to revive it. I know of some Buddhist groups that believe that we’re in the latter days; I don’t happen to know what evidence they cite for that. As for the death of Pan, that was reported in the time of the emperor Tiberius — the story’s in one of Plutarch’s essays.
Ezra, my guess is that Jews and Christians are worshiping different gods, and indeed that there are quite a few distinct deities within Christianity. That’s only a guess, admittedly, but it would explain the dramatic differences between what different groups of Christians insist their god is telling them.
Anders, it was my own translation. I have a nodding acquaintance with Old English, and riffed off the original text with the help of a couple of translations and a dictionary.
Escher, it used to be a standard teaching in Christian churches that if you could get someone to do the observances faith would follow promptly as a result of an outpouring of grace. Why that no longer works for a good many people is exactly the issue. As for Santissima Muerte, no argument there — a potent and rising goddess, who is likely to become a major figure in the religious life of the next twenty centuries or so here in North America. If I were to rewrite my novel Star’s Reach, I’d find her a place in the religious beliefs of 25th-century Meriga.
Prizm, I get that. It’s got to have been equally fascinating, watching the bubbling cauldron of religious inspiration in the first century CE — but it’s worth noting that nobody but John of Patmos (whose astonishing and accurate prophecy of the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity hasn’t been helped by being redefined as a story of the end of the world) seems to have guessed that it would be Christianity, rather than one of the scores of other newly kindled faiths of the same era, that would become the religious framework of the next two thousand and odd years.
blue sun says:
“I would say that, based on the anecdotal evidence alone, how can we be sure there is nothing there? I’m sure some of these friends you cite legitimately found nothing, but I think it highly possible they were simply banging on the same brick wall over and over without realizing where the door is. ”
Conversely, I would say, how is is that some people think there IS something there, or if there is, WHAT it is? It’s all “feelings”. Well, you can whip yourself up to feel anything, believe anything, if you try hard enough and/or are in the right social environment, if you are prepared in the right way. This I learned in the 60’s and 70’s, to say no more.
I am not an atheistic scientistic materialist by a very very long shot, but I do sometimes have to wonder at the extremely low bar of evidence that people set up for certain kinds of experiences. One has plenty of strange and sometimes uncanny experiences (and “feelings”) over the course of a long life, but to map them onto highly specific systems of spirituality has always seemed a real stretch to me. Six levels of this and seven planes of that – whatever works for you. But why the need to systematize and categorize? I guess I’m just more comfortable with Mystery, with ambiguity. To paraphrase T. McKenna, Mystery is not a problem ot be solved – it is an experience that simply will not admit of closure. To further paraphrase T. McKenna, where is is written that talking apes should be able to understand the Universe in all its glory?
But don’t listen to me – I live in the New England woodland, and my place is infested with fay folk. They are mostly pretty straightforward in our dealings, though they sometimes have a twisty sense of humor, a bit pawky you might say. But then, so do I. Myself, I like having them around, and I do think of them as I manage my gardens and livestock and woodlands. They seem to get along with my goats, but sometimes they drive my dogs nuts 🙂
Prizm, both Pisces and Aquarius have watery symbolism, but Aquarius is an air sign ruled by the malefic planet Uranus, while Pisces is a water sign ruled by the benefic planet Jupiter. The enthusiastic folks back in the Sixties who assumed that the age of Aquarius was going to be all mystic crystal revelations have another think coming. (Mind you, it’s still a cool song.)
Peter, the interest in older versions of the Mass makes a great deal of sense to me. My wife, who grew up Catholic, recalls with painful clarity the day the Communion host stopped feeling like anything more than a scrap of bread — it was the Sunday when her parish finally adopted the new Novus Ordo ritual of the Mass that the power and magic went away. I know this view is far from acceptable in Catholic circles generally, but a lot of old-fashioned occultists think of the Mass as one of the great rituals of Western magic — and it’s a commonplace of religious history that magic still works even when religion falters.
Samurai, the quest for personal enlightenment is valid, and so is the quest for communal worship. Exactly where the best balance between these two lies is up to each individual to find for himself or herself; as Druids are fond of saying, there ain’t no such thing as the One True Path.
Steve T., Falun Dafa’s a young religion that’s faced persecution without flinching; I’m not surprised that they can get a response from the inner realms!
MSweet, hmm! I wonder how many other denominations actively discourage their members from engaging in spiritual practice. That would certainly seem to be an effective way of making sure your religion dies out in a hurry…
Raymond, glad to hear it.
Patricia, thank you for taking these ideas as seriously as I meant them. Yes, they do imply some pretty sweeping consequences.
Changeling, something pretty clearly happened right around the first century CE, and yes, Athanasius was not the only one who noticed it. That was also when people across most of the old world stopped worshiping the gods of nature and started worshiping dead human beings instead. I’m far from sure the entire story of that transition has ever been told — and I’m also far from sure it was as benign a change as it’s been made out to be.
Kashtan, that’s a very common kind of religious experience. I’d definitely encourage you to foster the relationship with the presence you perceive, and to explore practices such as the “prayer of regard’ — this consists of simply sitting quietly and paying attention to the presence for a few minutes every day, just attending to it and seeing if it offers you any guidance or information.
CR, many thanks for this. Here again, since I can only draw on my own experience up here in Gringostan, it’s useful to hear what’s going on in other parts of the planet.
KNS, hmm! Have any of the founders or important figures of Permaculture died recently? In a lot of polytheist societies, if that happened and then a new spiritual impetus started being felt, the assumption would be that the spirit of the person in question has become the guardian of the tradition, and if properly invoked, could be expected over time to become at least a minor deity who could help keep the tradition on track and answer prayers related to it. (In Shinto, for example, such a spirit is called an ikigami, and there are lots of them.)
Ottergirl, you’re welcome and thank you!
Peter, it really does seem to depend on the deity. Christ made some pretty open-ended promises to his followers about helping them, but you’re certainly right that not all gods or goddesses have that attitude.
Papa Legba, yes, I’m well aware of that! Whether the Christian God is alive or not, the lwa certainly are.
Nathan, fair enough. That’s certainly one way to approach the question.
Ganesh, fascinating. Thanks for these data points!
Discwrites, the OBOD course is very solid stuff. I took it back in the 1990s, have worked my way through it again three times since then, and am currently going through it a fourth time.
Isn’t this the earlier version of A Vision? https://www.amazon.com/Collected-Works-W-B-Yeats-XIII/dp/1476740887/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=NJ2ECKJ7T6AE92AGNGNM
This new religiousity which is forming will be fascinating. The god of death which seems to be strengthening now, and in other areas it seems rebirth is being worshiped. Look at this new set of Rust Belt inspired Tarot Cards
We really are in for some interesting times but I have no doubt that the next god or gods will definitely have a connection with nature in such a way that our current lifestyles will be viewed as having been most destructive and ignorant.
*If he’s right, in turn, we face a revaluation of all values considerably more wrenching than the one Nietzsche thought he was proclaiming*
But this is exactly the revaluation of values Nietzsche was looking for, in his own words (basically his last published words before his madness AFAIK):
“—Have I been understood?—*Dionysus against the crucified one…*”
A transvaluation *back to pagan values* is exactly what Nietzsche was advocating.
This post provokes a flood of thoughts, may I have good fortune in trying to tie them together sensibly.
Last fall there were crates of parsnips being harvested at a farm I worked. So I asked if I could search through them for a few to save seed from. I chose just seven parsnips to bike home with and bury in my Mom’s flower garden. Their kin were burnt to death and devoured. This spring I was joking around in the garden and said to the seven parsnips “Look guys, you are going to seed a multitude of fields.” So far I have harvested and carefully put away well over 40,000 seeds from those plants; they are one of a few varieties I hope to cross to develop a parsnip landrace for my area. It amused me to a great deal how well my relationship with those parsnips parallels G-d’s relationship with Abraham. I have a bunch of standard of judgment that aren’t at all intuitive to a parsnip, but if they don’t measure up I throw them into a pit (well, pot) of life ending heat. And I conspire to great effort to give those which abide by the covenant the best gig in like a veggie can ask for. When we form a working relationship, with a strange and exotic form of life we are doing something very theological in nature. The side of the relationship with the power and or understanding is basically the God. We domesticated chickens, but cats domesticated us, with dogs and horses its more of a wash.
Domestication works best as a parallel for monotheism, less so for polytheism where relationship can be much more of a mutual awareness and good (or ill) will.
In any case parsnips and I live in very different worlds, and our understanding of one another is vague, but on there part they better figure out what I like if they want to breed, and I better figure out what they like if I want to eat (parsnips). Similarly a relationship with a God is no minor thing, we may be as strange to one another as either of us are to a parsnip.
So for there to be a relationship is not easy. We only vaguely understand what drives a God to connect with us, or how they do so; similarly we have our own reasons for attracting or avoiding their attentions, and turning our own attention toward or away from them.
Based on the accounts in this thread, and accounts from others I know, there is at least one God, and likely several, responding to prayers addressed in the Christian fashion; but many religious traditions don’t have their number; or the call is going to messages; or some people don’t know how to dial; or God is screening his calls. The theological position that the Christian God is the only god is really hard to hold at peace with multiculturalism; and that fact might be putting some interferrence into the possibulity for a connection.
Also, based on the people I know who have regular powerful spiritual experiences there are clearly some very powerful ‘spiritual agents’ active at this time, some for better some for worse.
For the record I left Christianity after so many prayers unanswered. The most powerful encounter I recall was a woman in blue, she came through the west gate of a SoP ritual, and was a very comforting and wise presence. I don’t know what else to say of her, but she was amazing.
Drhooves, you’re confusing two very different things. The reason the growth of organized atheism has flattened out of late is that the public face of atheism is that of a blowhard, know-it-all jerk. That’s unfortunate, because there are plenty of thoughtful, compassionate, courteous atheists out there, but they aren’t the ones grabbing the limelight. Meanwhile the fraction of the population that doesn’t belong to any church at all but also doesn’t call itself “atheist” is rising steadily — “spiritual but not religious” is a common label here — and there also seems to be a dramatic rise in the number of people who call themselves Christians but don’t believe in the literal truth of the doctrines of historical Christianity. These are the groups I’m talking about.
Gandalfwhite, a lot of people are approaching spirituality in that kind of open fashion. It’s got its risks, but of course so does following the instructions of an authority figure!
Zendexor, henotheism is very much a live option. The old Pagan Platonists used to suggest that the One, the transcendent unity behind all things, isn’t a god — or, for that matter, God; it can’t be defined by any term so limiting! The gods, to Plotinus et al., are the next level down, the eternal beings of the noetic level; and when they manifest to human beings, that’s another level down still, on the psychic level. It’s a workable schema and one that (as Iamblichus demonstrated) explains human religious experience quite well.
Dmitry, first of all, like some others, you’re confusing an organization with a god; whether or not the Russian Orthodox church is thriving at this moment has only a peripheral relationship to whether the god it worships is still there. Second, your Russocentrism is showing; the only part of the world where the contest between Orthodoxy and moderate Islam is the keynote is a band of Eurasia reaching from the southern Balkans to the eastern end of Kazakhstan, including a good chunk of Russia. Elsewhere, other players are considerably more significant.
Alex, my exposure to them was limited enough that I’m not sure. I’ll have to make some inquiries as time permits.
Stephen, you’re welcome and thank you.
Tim, I certainly hope there’s room for a middle ground, and the history of humanity before the modern era suggests that this isn’t a forlorn hope. I tend to think, though, that the way there leads through humanity’s recognition of its own cluelessness and insignificance in the face of nature.
Averagejoe, faith alone doesn’t seem to do it; most of the people I mentioned in the post started out with complete faith that God was there and that their churches taught the truth about Him, and only lost that slowly as their prayers echoed in emptiness.
Matthias, that’s why I called this post a speculation. I don’t claim to know what’s actually going on, but I’ve heard the same thing so many times from so many people that I don’t think it’s reasonable to claim that it’s all just the fault of inadequate faith on the part of the people I’m discussing, or what have you. For the reasons I’ve discussed in the post, I think there’s reason to believe that something has changed on the nonhuman side of the equation.
Gavin, that’s the acid test, no question. In the past, crises have brought people back to the churches — but it’s a commonplace of religious history that at some point in a religion’s decline, you get a crisis that sends people away from the faith rather than back to it, and then it’s basically all over.
Greg, maybe so, but I remember hearing people say exactly the same things about LSD back in the day — and after all, it’s a natural product too (it occurs in ergot fungus).
Barefootwisdom, I was also unclear; I was more or less agreeing with you: that’s also part of the picture.
RPC, so noted. That’s certainly the sort of thing you’d expect to see from a relatively vigorous deity.
Barefootwisdom, only indirectly. I didn’t follow up on Yeats’ comments on Spengler directly. Years later, when I was beginning to grapple with cyclic theories of history, I found a library copy of a one-volume abridgment of Spengler, took it with me on a cross-country trip, and somewhere around Louisville remembered that Yeats had mentioned The Decline of the West…
Justin, you’re not the only one. Magical interpretations of the Bible go way back, and a lot of Christian occultists draw heavily on Biblical texts and symbolism in their work.
Walt, interesting. It hadn’t occurred to me that so many Christian denominations might have abandoned spiritual practice so completely.
Dave, now there’s a name I remember! Luhrmann’s book Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft, one of the very few academic studies to explore the Neopagan and occult scenes in late 20th century Britain in a relatively sympathetic fashion. Interesting to see that she’s kept some of the same concepts and is applying them to Christian practice.
In your experience, what sort of stories do the people who move towards spirituality from a more atheist-materialist position share? I’d be interested to compare and contrast those experiences with the ones shared by the people whom you discussed in this post. My apologies if this has already been asked!
I still see the Christian god answer my mother’s prayers with the stunning sort of bizarre coincidences that create new gods.
I left Chiristianity when my prayers to the same god did not go unanswered, they were violently rejected. Unanswered prayers would never have been enough to shake my faith after watching the tiny miracles around my mom.
I don’t want to argue so much as add a different, complex, somewhat supporting viewpoint.
When my mom was a cleaning lady, before she opened her restaurant, she had many clients that loved her work. As she focused on the restaurant, she gradually trimmed her client list, carefully choosing those who were a good fit for her to keep, and carefully pairing former clients with other cleaning services based on who would be a good match (this sort of thing really is possible in a small community).
Perhaps the Christian god is too busy with ALL the monotheists, and is reducing his client list based on which people benefit most from his influence and which are better served elsewhere. In retrospect, Christianity would never have fostered my personal spiritual development as much as Paganism did. It still serves my mom very well, though (and she is very supportive of my differing beliefs). Nor would I recommend Paganism to most people I know (“Are you sure you want to do this? It’s really a lot of work…”) perhaps Jehova and Jesus are nearing retirement and looking forward to quiet time as a smaller deity.
I can also say with absolute certainty Mars is not dead. This summer I asked for his help on a project. I had never worked with him before and needed help from a metalworking deity. I spontaneously thought of him and called out Mars Ares, and I looked down and saw a little metal label like a coin that said “Thompson” so he answered back…. but didn’t really help with the project. I can’t say for sure whether that was his way of politely declining, or maybe I have something to learn from this by doing it entirely myself. Either way, I think it means Mars has found some free time in his retirement.
Just my two cents
There’s a lot to take in from the post and all the comments so far.
For my part I don’t think that God is dead at all. As you might know from my previous posts I’m Roman Catholic, and here are some things that have been mentioned in the comments that “work” and very strongly echo my personal religious experiences:
1. Being in the New World (I’m Filipino)
I have absolutely no clue why this is the case, but God(s) seem(s) to be somehow more attuned to New World folks than Old World Christians. I don’t think we’re any better or stronger than Europeans or Americans, spiritually.
2. Marian Devotions
The Rosary is especially powerful, and Jesus seems to respond very very strongly when you have a close relationship with Mary.
3. Devotions to the Saints
As per the observations of the others here, some saints respond to certain people and not to others. Nevertheless, all the observant Catholics I know have a strong devotion to a particular Saint. Mary (as per #2) is the common denominator, plus one or two others whom they pray to.
4. Traditional practices
The Mass being a big one. For a few years after my “reversion” to my childhood faith, I consistently attended a nearby Tridentine Mass. In my current subculture we use the Novus Ordo, but in a more “traditional” manner than is usually done in the average parish (more Latin, the older prayers get used more, High Mass during feasts, etc.). I have a priest friend who has faculties both in the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo) and Extraordinary Form (Tridentine Mass), and he says nearly all the priestly vocations come from the boys who are exposed to the EF!
I’m not entirely sure why God “died”, or at least became unresponsive. My speculation is that as religious beliefs have been supplanted by the cult of progress, traditional religious expressions faded away in favor of secular (and anthropocentric/anthropolatric) concerns. Two common pathologies in modern churches are hyper-rationalism or secular utopianism, which seem to be rooted in a God-as-Man paradigm. Maybe that’s why He appears to be more active in the New World.
As part of the process away(?) from the sort of hardcore, materialistic atheism that a lot of commenters here went through in young adulthood, I recently picked up Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. In it you said that you believe that in healthy systems things tend to oscillate around a midpoint. In this post it looks to me like you’re treating religions that value the immaterial and religions that value the material as the two directions that we swing in. This process happened once already in ancient times, prompting the loss of faith that opened the way for Christianity in Europe.
Does that make a sort of atheistic, grey sense of absence the hinge, or is it an extreme? I got the impression from MTftLE that the hinge was some sort of desirable state or equilibrium, but does it have the capacity to be just as radical as either end of the spectrum? And where are the sorts of racial mythologies and other ideologies that were common in the 20th century located on this spectrum? They seem more like an extreme than a midpoint to me, but that might just be because they were able to have such large effects thanks to all of the energy available to them.
Feel free to disregard that earlier post I made – I read through the comments and found a lot of what I was looking for.
As part of the process away(?) from the sort of hardcore, materialistic atheism that a lot of commenters here went through in young adulthood, I recently picked up Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. In it you said that you believe that in healthy systems things tend to oscillate around a midpoint. In this post it looks to me like you’re treating religions that value the immaterial and religions that value the material as the two directions that we swing in. This process happened once already in ancient times, prompting the loss of faith that opened the way for Christianity in Europe.
Does that make a sort of atheistic, grey sense of absence the hinge, or is it an extreme? I got the impression from MTftLE that the hinge was closer to some sort of desirable state or equilibrium than the extremes on either side of it, but does it have the capacity to be just as radical as either end of the spectrum? And where are the sorts of racial mythologies and other ideologies that were common in the 20th century located on this spectrum? They seem more like an extreme than a midpoint to me, but that might just be because they were able to have such large effects thanks to all of the energy available to them.
Feel free to disregard that earlier post I made – I read through the comments and found a lot of what I was looking for.
JMG, KMS – re: permaculture: One of the two major founders of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, died on 24 September 2016.
He was known for being brilliant, outspoken and stubborn – quite possibly the exact sort of person who would insist on becoming a guardian. Next question: how to invoke him in an aspiring permaculture garden?
if you collect data points (and what is representative data if not sufficiently large collection of anecdotes?), I can share and confirm the observation that Mary, Mother of Jesus, is strong as ever in my home country.
Poland have several Marian sanctuaries are almost always full.The Black Madonna of Luminous Mount[*] (Polish: Jasna Góra), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Madonna_of_Cz%C4%99stochowa) is – if one ask around charismatic groups and I know couple of people inside such groups – a font of miracles like healing, freedom from additions and guidance.
I still remember when someone explained that one of the neighbours died in accident, because he cut down tree sheltering a Mary shrine (there is long tradition in rural areas of building lovely small shrines under/on trees – see wiki-commons for picture: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chobot_-_kapliczka_przydro%C5%BCna.JPG to get an idea, the area I grew up had five of those in short walking distance) and cutting down one of such trees was considered to bring worst of luck. It’s small bit of rural folklore, but still very much alive when I was a child. Alive in the sense “everyone knows”.
You don’t get that vitality impression for Father and Son now when I think of it.
Thanks for your input, Mr. Greer. I believe there’s a powerful spiritual matrix that evolves with old religious rituals, and with the Latin Mass, since it goes back so many centuries, and also reminds me of Rupert Sheldrake’s views regarding morphic fields of prayers and rituals.
However, it’s interesting that the Eucharist does not seem to be the main draw for me, which will probably render some nonplussed to hear that. To clarify, I’ve sometimes had certain subtle experiences which let me know I was fully “receiving it” without having to actually line up and kneel at the altar, as profound an effect as that bhakti moment would usually produce for many. It’s also the music as well that offers an incredible transport: the perennial mass settings in beautiful Gregorian chant, offset with the timely propers usually selected from the rich classical repertoire of Palestrina, Lassus, Victoria, Desprez, etc. And all this every week!
In the end, I would say it’s the liturgy as a whole that gets my devotional side, not the Eucharist per se, perhaps because of some Buddhist after-effect which has made an insistence on receiving the host seem unecessary, a kind of “spiritual materialism.” My sense of bhakti goes beyond that, and I have the same kind of immersion when I am home reciting the Benedictine hours from the Latin Diurnal. With that recitation, the psalms are also special doorways that work in magic and yet different ways at different times…
In the end, it’s hard to know who’s on the “other side” when one is attending in these ways. A qigong master may say that if his students really could see all the myriad beings surrounding everyone all the time, without a proper prep, they’d surely freak out… Or someone like Lorna Byrne, the “angel lady,” who says she’s seen angels since she was a child, all the time… It has always seemed like an endlessly busy realm indeed, but I no longer wonder where God is in all of that.
At a workplace years ago, I knew a Brazilian fellow who was secretly a kind of shaman type, and when I offered to pray for some of his current problems to be resolved, he chided me, saying: “Don’t pray to God – pray to Jesus, or Mary, or even to the angels… but don’t pray to God – He’s too busy!”
@Steve T – For what it’s worth, re: Falun Gong… I tried the practice years ago, as a form of qigong to take up, and shortly after decided strongly against it. There is an expectation (largely unspoken publicly by their community) that the novice will undertake the cultivation of Falun Dafa seriously by following the teachings of their master Li Hongzhi (which are available for study in the second “blue book”). His teachings were quite a bit strident in many ways and controlling, indicating for example that once you commit to the practice you need only do that and should forego all other practices… and that by a dedicated performance of this qigong regimen, you are allowing him to install a set of “falun” or wheels into your subtle bodies, which will provide subtle guidance, influence and “keep you from error.”
It was interesting that Qigong master Ken Cohen reviewed the form for Qi magazine, who said he had no opinion about the related “spiritual teachings” of the form, but in any case, the Falun Gong seemed like a “good, sound qigong form” that would offer health benefits. I wasn’t convinced… Glad you stepped away from it. In the end, it may be something karmic that draws certain people to certain things such as this. At the very least, the number of people who have met with suffering or fatality in China because of their adherence to this path, is appalling. It has even crossed my mind that the Falun form as a matrix might somehow invite or promote confrontation, even of a “peaceful” kind…
Surely you’re not saying the lack of growth in atheism is due to a single crank (I assume you meant Dawkins)? I think it’s more easily explained by the fact that it’s reached the saturation point already. The vast masses need to replace the Father Figure from childhood, or have something tangible to hang on to for hope (heaven and the afterlife) – basic psychological needs. As for “spiritual but not religious” types, that’s modern culture, for better or worse, being more tolerant of non-traditional religious views. I would agree with you in that I’ve sensed a shift away from the traditional religions during my life, but I think it can be explained with a non-spiritual cause (note for full disclosure – I’ve technically been an agnostic since the age of 10 or so).
As for the “sunshine” Christians that really don’t believe or practice their doctrine – that’s easiest of all to explain. I’ve met bunches of them – generally weak personalities. Many people, perhaps the majority, are not spiritual, and go along with peer pressure in whatever environment they happen to grow up in. Almost all Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, even atheists that I’ve met share the same faith of one or both parents. Their lack of belief doesn’t necessarily mean God is dead – He’s always been dead to them, it’s just safer now to come out of the closet. This explains, to some degree, while nobody answers when some people pray – their heart’s just not in it.
@ Walt and Fred Naumann
I think you both hit the nail on the head, here. My mother has an intense, interpersonal relationship with the Christian god, probably because her grandmother did. I have known many others who started from the assumption that a relationship with God is the natural, default setting of spirituality. When you know this is possible, and you see how it’s done (usually through other people who do the same) it comes naturally.
My experience was different, because my spiritual activities and Christian prayers yielded obvious results of an entirely different nature. It’s too weird and complicated to explain fully, but what I realized later is this: I would never have thrived under the teachings of the American Protestant Christian church because it yields most of the spiritual experiences to authority figures. I would have had to sacrifice everything else in me to become one of those authorities to reach my spiritual potential, but it would have cost me too much to sacrifice my other life goals. I needed a grass roots religion to reach my own potential, so the Christian God and Jesus nudged me away to find another direction. It was a great act of kindness, though intensely painful at the time.
I now think of all named gods and goddesses as masks for the same powerful energy, or eddies in the same ocean of divinity. It will respond to whatever name you give it and give you whatever you need to spiritually advance, only if you reach out with true sincerity and prepare yourself for the answer. (Do the masks live and die? Do they follow their own life cycles? Surely, yes, they must change, they must exist as beings in their own right too, like we do; we are also masks of the divine energy). In other words, you have to make yourself ready. Most modern Western churches don’t teach these things to the congregation. It is probably a problem of technique rather than a lack of devotion or sincerity, or lack of attention from divinity.
Honestly, our society has eroded connection to nature, family, community, and true governance. Why would spirituality be any different? The crisis of our times is a lack of connection. I suspect our culture of mass consumption is to blame. We consume the most, we generate the most profit, when we are lost and seeking connection we can’t find. True family, true spirituality, true autonomy, true community, ANY ONE of those things could empower someone to choose not to participate in civilization’s dysfunctional power structure and suicidal environmental trajectory. By accident or by design, these are mechanisms of control that bind us from finding better ways to live.
My two cents
Two of the most prominent members of Permaculture did indeed die last year, Bill Mollison and Toby Hemenway.
What do you make of that?
I did my PDC about 7 years ago, so was actually thinking about before Mollison & Hemenway pased.
If some entity(s) is behind Permaculture, could it have been someone from the earlier years of Permaculture helping it along, or someone working through Mollison & Holmgren assisting from the start?
I wasn’t thinking of leading lights of the movement who had passed hanging around and helping.
Would those two be spiritually developed enough to play that role? In my view of reincarnation, I doubt it (Holmgren is clearly another matter but he’s still alive and kicking).
I guess would be an interesting recursive meditation subject of someone with better trained than me 😉
(I came from the emptying mind school – which you’re not a fan of and the most spiritual thing I do these days is read your blog, anytime I try to meditate my 5 year will have other ideas)
A friend of mine, one who has immersed himself for many years in studying – in-person – with a variety of indigenous cultures, recently told me that the San Bushmen (at least I think it was the San) have a tradition that when a tribal member is repeating a tribal cultural myth/story (to the group), s/he is required to tell that story a little bit different than it’s ever been told before. Their belief is that the Spirit of Life will only be in that story if creativity is used in the process. Otherwise, the story – and their connection to that story – begins to lose life. If that continues, eventually the story will die and the people will lose a point of connection to the lineage of their ancestors (their lifeline).
I found that so interesting. It’s so contrary to the entire underpinning of Christendom (and the other Abrahamic religions), which rests upon the unchanging word of the Bible and, in most cases, church dogma. I do recognize that some people find immense comfort in that fact, but I am one of those who ended up in the “lifeless zone” there.
I am grateful to have been born during a time where the option to explore an earth-based spiritual practice (mine is Druidry as well) without risking torture and death!
JMG, that’s reassuring that I wouldn’t be the only odd person with an odd pantheon, if I decide to try this. Thanks for the book recommendations. They look very interesting.
A few commenters remarked that they knew Mary still answered prayers, or something to that effect. I had considered her, but wasn’t sure how that would work without including Jesus. Do you know of any druids who include her in their personal pantheons? Like maybe as goddess of mothers and the home? Or would she be patroness of something else? And, well, do you think she’d be upset if I prayed to her but not to her son? But then, I think he isn’t there anymore anyway, so maybe she wouldn’t be upset?
The last few years I was a Christian, she was one of the saints I prayed to most often. She actually did feel like she was there.
You said magic keeps going even as religions fail, does that mean magic doesn’t work in cycles? If it did I could see magic having different levels of effectiveness, being good for different things and having different methods of use in different times (independant of human beliefs or quality of magic training). Is there any evidence this is the case?
The idea of gods receding reminded me of Barbara Ehrenreich’s Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. It details how public festivities were banned in a fairly rapid period. There are lots of social, political and economic explanations for it, but this theory could also explain it by the party animal gods sleeping it off in a ditch somewhere and leaving us lumbered with puritanical gods.
If a society is switching from one god to another, what’s the best way to do it? Do you have a retirement party for the old god or something?
You said previously that you didn’t expect Druidry and magic to ever have mass appeal. But I think there is a psychological reward that could make them much more appealing. If we end up in a low tech future that’s going to seem like a massive and total loss that we have no choice about. But a lot of people who do magic find they can put the fluence on something handmade much easier than something mass produced. Many of them then want to learn weaving or blacksmithing or other craft skills so they can put their intention into an object as they make it and so get a lot more out of their magical abilities. It makes these skills look less like an evil necessity and more an opportunity to do something you couldn’t do any other way. Magic could satisfy both a concious and subconcious desire to salvage something from the ashes.
Will M, wouldn’t emptiness and a lack of results in Buddhism be a win by their standards? 😉
Also – just discovered the solution to the ‘post comment’ button disappearing. Go to the bottom of your text and press return several times, then backspace back to where you started and it sort of ‘takes up the slack’ and the button comes back into view (until you type in a few more lines describing the process, then it disappears and you have to do it again) 🙂
Blue Sun, it wasn’t that I expected any particular response from God. I just wanted to know he was there. When I prayed to him, it was like I was talking to empty air. It wasn’t like that when I prayed to certain saints, like St. George or Mary. They were there. I didn’t have any spectacular, out-of-this-world experiences with them. It was just that I could feel their presence.
It’s hard to explain the difference if you haven’t experienced that yourself, just like your explanation of your experience with God wouldn’t make sense to someone like me who has never had that happen.
The warnings about Falun Gong seem well-founded: even a cursory glance at the Taoist classics show repeated and earnest warnings as to the very dangerous effects of some practices.
Sufis teachers have also warned as to the foolishness of the essentially random adoption of unsuitable techniques in a quest for spiritual experiences, which is just a disguised
‘You can perfume the scorpion, but you won’t escape it’s sting!’
In the end, though, people tend get the teachers they deserve,do they not? .
JMG, I think you write some of your best posts when you go off-script and let inspiration lead you. Thank you for this one. I was raised Catholic until I was 11, then my parents “found Jesus” and transitioned over the following couple of years to Evangelical Christianity. I never understood why they “found Jesus” when the Catholic Church is Christian. You’ve provided the only explanation that makes any sense.
I spent my 20s being nominally Christian, then in my early 30s I went back to Evangelical Christianity. I wanted spirituality in my life and that was what I knew. I decided to give it a fair shot. I left three years later because, as a woman (especially as I was single at the time) Christianity simply did not have anything for me. I kept being told that if I just married a nice Christian man and let him lead me, it would all make sense. That seemed like an awfully big gamble.
You’ve given me a lot of food for thought. Perhaps my inability to have the ecstatic experiences others were having in church was not due to my unwillingness to submit to being led by a husband after all. I was okay with that, but this post brings up other ideas that are far more interesting.
Very interesting post, and a huge amount of good comments also
About Catholicism, it has survived 2000 years because in reality is not intrinsecally monotheistic as Reformation and Judaism say, also because is “full of superstitions” as that of considering some spaces or places “sacred”. Reformation, for example, erased all the links between nature and religion in this sense
In fact what Catholicism made was to adapt, to integrate, the local beliefs in the “new” faith, as, for example Virgen de Guadalupe “is” in fact Tonantzin, and it occupy the same sacred place with a continuity of pray and faith uninterrupted for millenia
Here in the west of the Mediterraneam Sea, Mary took the place of the Old Great Mothers, and in my very small village in Andalusia, the people meet her in the countryside, every April, in his hermitage, sorrounded by oaks, united in a “brotherhood” to celebrate the Resurrection of Life (personified in Jesús), and the Compassion and Unconditional Love that Mary represent
This faith has a continuity of many millenia, and it will continue for many more, I am sure
This faith resonate a lot with the old agrarian societies of the South, because is a call to the renewal of the life, to the fertility of the earth and to the “gifts” of all the fruits we do not deserve, as the children do not “deserve” the love and care of their mothers, a “sacred” truth
No, it is not the Judgment of The Father; when the soul has been beaten and mistreated seeks the balm of unconditional love, without judgment, as the mothers do. Because mothers see their children, always, as the same helpless being who wept in their lap. They see with another eyes the continuity of our life, and their immanent innocence.
And we pray for this
The times are changing and the old extense families are vanishing even here, but I have lived in fact in a “Matriarchy”, because, at least in my family, the men thinks they are “in control”, but women are who care for the continuity of life and wellbeing of the family, and they guide, in fact, all the practical decisions at the end
The women think always that the men are like children: fighting to “have the reason”, trying to be “strong” or “intelligent and brilliant”, or “rich”, to be admired by the comunity when they go out with their new toys (material or spiritual), as children….
The women I knew have too much job to grow the children mentally and phisically healthy, to solve the practical issues, and to heal the pain of the weaks inside the family when their dreams falls apart
They are the “adults” of the house, and they fight to sustain a live worth to live
Do you consider the Christian God of the 18th century to be the same as the one St. Paul talked about? Is (or was) it the same as the God of Jews? The same as Allah of Islam? I am only discovering these thoughts, but this aspect of the topic seems rather ambiguous.
I found Spengler’s view of Christianity quite convincing. He argued that western Christianity born in Dark Age Europe and the earlier Christianity of the Middle East are fundamentally different religions (with Eastern Orthodox churches and Islam connecting to the latter). Is it possible that their central entities are still the same?
Thank you for this post. There was a time when it would have disturbed me but that was a long time ago.
Bright gods, JMG, don’t apologize! This is fascinating. The interest in a Stormwatch post isn’t to use you as a news aggregator, it’s to hear your commentary on events. Here’s an event, described and commented upon in depth. I think your readers are better off this way.
That said, topical commentary on the literal storm-watch — can we expect the North-east to get it in the teeth next? All the people hoping/wishing/praying/casting for hurricanes to devastate red states, makes me wonder if we can use your Raspberry Jam Principle to make that kind of prediction. (There’s something of a meme going on along the rightward end of things, showing screen-shots of Florida liberals rejoicing at Texan misery, then shortly afterwards loosing their bowels that it might happen to _them_).
Perhaps Jehovah rather than going away, is amusing himself by adopting different guises. At one point he seems to have decided to call himself Dialectical Materialism, and at another he started to call himself The Market. It think his current guise is called “Progress”, and it’s among the devotees of this ethos where you will find his most ardent worshipers.
Hi John Michael,
Well this topic is an eye opener. You know I tend to see that in the long term, the inverted bell shape curve which everything is on – even the sun itself – is a good representation for how nature works with entropy, and well, you’d have to speculate that Gods and other spirits themselves are part of nature too. Such a perspective as you’ve written about them only makes sense really. Sometimes letting go can be hard.
As an amusing side note, well maybe not so amusing, I once went to Mormon wedding and the preacher was talking about eternal marriage (the one in question only lasted a few years before ending up in the court system) and I poked my wife in the ribs during the ceremony and said quietly: “I like you, but this talk of eternity business scares the …. Out of me!” And we enjoyed a quiet shared laugh at my silliness (23 years this year).
The other thing which is going on from last weeks discussion, it occurs to me that perhaps the Christian God died of being too successful? You have to admit that being too successful (whatever that means in that sense) would be cause for promotion to the next level of existence. Just sayin…
Gods, spirits, whatever all seem very different to me. I have actually wondered for a while now whether geographically we get a whole different bunch of them down here than what you see up your way.
My exit from the Catholic Church wasn’t very spectacular. I had three small kids at the time, the youngest had been baptized not long before, and while I wasn’t connecting much with the god of the Catholics, I was still attending.
One Sunday I attended happened to be Vocation Day. The priest, not surprisingly, made his entire sermon about vocations in the church, but for the 20-30 minutes he spoke, he mentioned women once, in passing, as an afterthought, something to do with a convent. The rest of the time he hammered home the message that God loves young men, God wants young men, young men are precious in God’s eyes, young men have callings to greatness, young men have value to God, and on and on.
I have felt excluded from many things in my life because of my sex, but to be devalued eternally, spiritually, cosmically was a bit much.
I walked out that day thinking “I’m outta here.” And never went back.
Drhooves, if I may jump in:
Richard Dawkins,Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Bill Maher, shall I continue? It’s not just one bad apple, but a lot of atheists in the public sphere are the sort of people you really want to find on the other side of a debate.
It’s convenient to say it’s only Richard Dawkins, but the problem with the public face of atheism is much deeper than that…
>> … Buddhism includes the concept of “the latter days of the Dharma” — the notion, apparently taught by the Buddha himself, that the Buddhist dharma has a limited shelf life, and eventually another Buddha will have to put in an appearance to revive it …,<<
That's what the Theosophists intended Jeddu Krishnamurti to be, before he opted out in favor of "the Truth is a pathless land", no? Some, like writer Henry Miller, thought K's renunciation of the Savior role that had been prepared for him as being heroic; Miller actually compared it to the Gilgamesh Epic. I always enjoyed reading K's writings and lectures, but I realized that very few actually understood what he was saying. I've often wondered just what would have happened if K had accepted the role which had been prepared for him, and with the power of Buddha behind him, had gone on to address his audiences in terms they could really grasp. Would that have revived Buddhism and gone on to make a real difference in the spiritual climate of the 20th c?…. because as far as I can discern, Krishnamurti spiritually transformed no one, unless a transformation occurred while in close contact with him.
I guess the difference is that in the case of Ayahuasca people are already using it in ritualistic settings (and have for hundreds, possibly thousands of years), either with a shaman or at home in a quiet dark room. The few foolish enough to drink the brew in the types of situations that many people take LSD or mushrooms don’t do so again. The purging in particular makes it difficult to be out and about, which as also makes people more open to doing it in a ritual setting.
After having more time to think about your speculation and read comments here I think you are really on to something. I get something out of prayer, though I must admit I have fallen out of the habit recently and do it irregularly. But it is less about me getting something and more about aligning my will with a higher one “thy will be done”. Attempts to do otherwise are considered by some christians to be arbitrary magic as opposed to sacred magic. This view and the reason for its existence seems to have lot to do with your speculation.
It is interesting that some people get something out of christianity and others don’t. Just as it is interesting that so many christians have taboos about magic, or asking too much from god. Perhaps the God of christianity is not dead, but he may have moved to the divine equivalent of Florida. Perhaps he is a snow bird who can only be reached some of the time. I don’t know what is going on, but you are onto something.
re: “a few blocks north of us, there’s a mission founded and run by a Nigerian church for that same purpose. I admit I wonder whether the god they’re talking to has anything in common with the one who’s being prayed to by the Baptists a few blocks over.”
I wonder the same thing. We did go to this church one time, and the Pastor did seem like a powerful person overall, not to mention the whole experience was quite different from the one at our church down the road that we usually go to. He prayed to Jesus, but I have no idea who, if anyone, was actually answering. From what I know of Nigeria, it’s a real mixed bag (like most places, I suppose) in terms of religion and spirituality. There are many followers of the indigenous traditional religions, but also fairly large Christian and Muslim (in the north) contingents. In my husband’s family, for example, his father was a devout Christian, while his mother primarily worshiped the Orisha (Goddess) Olokun, a deity traditionally associated with the water (I wonder how those two would have got on – must have been an interesting family dynamic!) So I would theorize that Nigerians might be more used to getting results from the many gods that are still active in their culture, and may also have retained knowledge of traditional ways of prayer which may be more effective, even as they moved over to Christianity or another religion. But it would be pretty difficult to know for sure. I do agree with you that it is likely not all dependent on our actions, that there is probably quite a bit happening on the other side too. As we may not have any way of knowing who is actually responding when we call upon a particular deity, caution would be indicated in case they do reply!
In the West African countries I have visited, magic seemed to be alive and well. Although I haven’t yet been to Nigeria (I met my husband on the street in Vancouver, he came here as a refugee, but that’s a bit of a long story for another time as I’m already off on a bit of a tangent), in Senegal and Guinea I personally witnessed quite a bit of stuff which would pass for strange here in Canada. For example, feats of divination which were so accurate and specific, right down to things which were true but I hadn’t yet admitted even to myself, practically down to the color of shirt I was wearing when it all happened! There is also a fair share of dark magic or ‘witchcraft’, which one would do well to steer clear of if at all possible. My husband was offered initiation into a more magical-sounding tradition, but because of the even stranger and scarier displays of witchcraft he witnessed as a youth, he decided he didn’t want to get involved at that level.
I guess from a more practical viewpoint, if one finds they are not getting any ‘results’ from their current practices, it may be wise to cautiously seek out something different, as there are still many gods that may deem to respond.
About the concept of salvation through grace alone: in digging through mythicist blogs I came across the tidbit that both St. Augustine and Luther were perennially plagued by ideas that they were sinners and consequently had doubts about whether they’d get to heaven, so they invented theologies that didn’t require them to deal with their perennial habit of finding everything they did sinful. Augustine invented original sin, and Luther invented “by grace alone.” Calvin upped the ante on this with predestination. I’m not sure which one of them invented “essential depravity.”
Prayer is very important to the conservative branch of Christianity; it’s just the liberal branch that seems to have lost that practice. Unfortunately, I’m in the “never learned it” camp, since the only prayer I ever learned in my Methodist upbringing was saying Grace before meals.
On the other hand, the couple of times I really prayed, things did happen – right away.
We’re going to have a go one of these days on the “Great Ages,” because there’s a typological problem with the usual formulation. I follow Rob Hand in tracing the progression of the vernal equinoxes through the constellations as defined by Ptolomey. This apparently works with all four axes and other constellations: the Summer Solstice through Gemini seems to define Western Civilization from Julius Caesar to the last four holders of the title Caesar in 1917 or so; he did a short piece on the transition through the constellation of Aquilla as the United States. I’m going to have to look it up, since there are three major events left.
I’ve heard of Falun Gong, but have never gotten close enough to really see it. From what you say, “installing” something seems to be similar to what Reiki does and possibly what the old Notory practices do. I’m somewhat put off, especially since what little I know of the old notory practices suggests that they bring in a lot more than a clean copy of a talent.
(Regarding Marian apparitions.) “That’s certainly the sort of thing you’d expect to see from a relatively vigorous deity.” Indeed, and I forgot about Guadalupe (apologies to CR Patiño and countrymen). An interesting aspect (to me, anyway) is that she invariably chooses to appear to the poor and/or outcast and her message is typically a kick in the butt to the official hierarchy and/or the comfortable. Not surprising, I guess: “He has pulled down the mighty from their thrones and raised the lowly ones on high; he has filled the hungry with good things while the rich he has sent away empty” and all that.
In general Catholicism seems to have a history of resurrection/renewal – the church has a tendency to ossify Jesus as “King of kings” but someone comes along to point out that the Jesus of the Gospels is a poor itinerant preacher who reserves his harshest criticism for those in places of comfort or power. Perhaps we’re due for another such episode?
One might see echoes of what you are talking about in the late 16th century’s John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul, and more-recently the fact that no less than Mother Teresa of Calcutta herself struggled with the divine Absence. Those faithful recognized the “death” of God as His letting go, His gracious gift of moral freedom, and His prodding to His children to grow up and leave the nest, living their lives in conscious memory of their Father, leaving behind the childish things and maturing into a self-sustained adulthood. I’m reminded of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor: “I tell you that man has no more tormenting care than to find someone to whom he can hand over as quickly as possible that gift of freedom with which the miserable creature is born.”
Your recent posts (astrology, reincarnation, death of God) have excited in me a common theme. Consider the intellectual shift one must make to transition from Euclidean (or flat, or parabolic) geometry to one of the non-Euclidean geometries (hyperbolic, or spherical, or elliptic). They all have in common the first 4 postulates, but the non-Euclidean geometries all have some variation of a specific sort of negation of Euclid’s 5th postulate about parallel lines. There are some people that actually believe that Euclid’s 5th postulate is true, and that by extension this precludes all of the other non-Euclidean geometries from being true, no matter how useful they may be in a given context. Those who understand geometry, however, recognize that belief (depending on how one understands this term) is not the proper disposition of a geometer to a specific intuition about parallel lines. In the same way I see your response to “do you really believe that?” with regards to astrology and reincarnation, that you are not in a state of belief with regards to these things, but rather you have the flexibility of mind to shift from one “geometry” to another when such a shift can help you tease out something useful — if only through metaphor and analogy and not directly. It is this flexibility of mind that makes you an effective author of fiction.
Today your post makes me think of a “moral geometry” predicated upon a living God (Christ) and another one predicated upon a dead god (Oedipus), and you demonstrate your deftness in switching between the two, almost effortlessly. I have defined “faith” in the past, not as the ability to will myself into belief without chasing down the truth through proof and evidence, but rather as a creative flexibility of mind that allows one to derive insights by exercising certain ideas after starting with a handful of well-chosen assumptions.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” is not an observation about the obviousness of the truths that follow that statement, but rather it is the act of choosing the fundamental assumptions of whatever geometry you are going to use to describe the best government, the best way to live, the best way to understand human history, or whatever project you intend for that geometry.
Santa Muerta is a fascinating figure, but Our Lady of Guadalupe really resonates with me. Mary appeared to Juan Diego on a hilltop and told him to tell the Catholic bishop to build a church to her on that hill. But was it really Mary? Or Tonantzin, the ancient Aztec goddess whose temple once stood at that very place. It is interesting that Catholicism tried to subdue the old gods of the new world, but may have itself been changed.
Maybe I’m a little dense, and then again I haven’t read all the replies on this one yet, and maybe someone else has addressed it, in which case my apologies, but…….So are you saying that “the god/goddesses”, whomever they might be, actually ‘retire’ themselves or die, or that we humans sort of “grow out of” a particular set of god/gods and their accompanying philosophies and organically create new ones on some very deep level as societies change and their spiritual needs evolve over time?
I practice certain qigong forms daily, and I teach it also… but I have learned to be extremely careful with the practice. I read some of Li Hongzi’s work and the discussion of “installing a falun” into the lower dantien was enough to keep me away. Still, it’s hard to deny the power of the practice, and like JMG said, their persistence in the face of some very serious persecution suggests that they have a future.
You might find this interesting… About a year and a half ago I ran into serious issues which probably resulted from doing qigong to excess and combining them with Western magical practices. It felt like weird *stuff* or even entities were sticking to me, and I couldn’t get rid of them. My teacher was no help at all. At a loss, I decided to attend mass at the local Catholic church. Despite the Novus Ordo liturgy, a lack of Holy Water, and head-ache inducing electric things instead of candles, I still felt a palpable effect when the priest consecrated the host. I didn’t receive out of respect for the rules (not practicing, no intention of going to Confession), but simply being in the presence of the consecrated host, and then receiving the priest’s blessing, seemed to have an almost exorcistic effect on me.
I am sure that you are correct that many people leave Christianity because of the four reasons you give. But none of those were the reason I left it behind in my teen-aged years. I left it primarily because the story I was asked to believe — no, required to believe — in order to be a Christian, was, from beginning to end, preposterous.
I was brought up in the Southern Baptist Church. For Southern Baptists, Christianity is a historical religion and you must believe in at least the most important parts of the religion as actual history or you go to hell. You have to believe that Jesus actually existed, that he was a god, that he sacrificed himself to save humans from eternal hell, that he actually died and then regained life and flew up into the sky, where he now lives in a heavenly place up there.
By “believe”, I mean believe in the same way that I believe the sun rises in the east. In the same way that I believe that elephants do not congregate in my backyard. Now, I will allow that I always hold out some sliver of credulity for anything. I could be nuts, actually living in an asylum, out of my mind for years, and in the real world the sun rises in the west. There are elephants outside. It’s remotely possible. But very remote. Holding out a tiny, tiny sliver of possibility is not the same as “belief”.
When I was a little child, I was taught and I believed that there was a hell below, a heaven above, that invisible gods and spirits and demons were all around us. That the events of the New Testament were actual history. But as I grew older, it became completely obvious that it was all a pack of lies. So, I left that pack of lies behind.
In an age where common people have access to almost all human discoveries and what has been written about those discoveries and common people actually can and do read, well, religions that ask you to believe literally in preposterous stories are just not going to work. Those reglisions depend on keeping people ignorant.
I am not in any way a Christian, but let me try to look at this through Christian eyes while retaining part of JMG’s outlook. Rather than look at God’s disappearance as a possible failing on the part of God, or even as evidence of God’s death or at least passing on, let’s take a look at the situation from the other end – that of the person experiencing that disappearance.
As I understand it, for JMG the purpose of living is to “experience all things” throughout the course of our various lives. “All things” should, I presume, include the experience of being abandoned by God (cf. the example of Job). In this context, the withdrawal of God is only apparent. It is a necessary part of the growth of the individual. God is withdrawing for our sakes, so that we can survive on our own. After all, if we ourselves are to become in some sense godlike, that will not happen while we are dependent on some other divine agency to keep us going. So the “abandonment” situation is part of God’s strategy for us.
The question then arises, why now? Why are so many people facing disillusionment and abandonment at this precise moment? And why does this disillusionment appear particularly strongly in people in the developed world, rather than in less affluent regions where contact with God still appears to be strong?
The obvious answer is that this is an auspicious time for it to happen. It is the stage in the development of Western civilisation when orthodox religion is floundering. I understand that the same thing happened in Rome at the equivalent stage of its development. If we were to wait for a later stage in the rise and fall of civilisations, we would confront Spengler’s “age of religiosity”. Such an age can only come about when God appears to be answering his people. For a large proportion of the population, therefore, the abandonment has to happen NOW.
But this only applies to those living in the heart of the Western Empire. People tend to be reborn in the area in which they lived their past lives, so those who are living in the Western Empire now will normally stay in the Western Empire. They are the ones who will be reborn in the “age of religiosity” and so must face abandonment at this precise time. Those living on the periphery will have a different destiny.
I see one problem with this explanation, from the (more-or-less) orthodox Christian point of view. If God disappears, it somewhat spoils the point of the exercise if his mother or a random assortment of saints step in to answer instead of Him. So perhaps “letting go of God” is a gradual process, and we become more independent of God in stages rather than in a single leap. (Or perhaps God’s court is a more unruly place than we imagine.)
(I’ve just seen that Bruce E posted something similar to the first two paragraphs of the above.)
I don’t know about the rest of the Catholic pantheon, but prayers to St Anthony still get results.
Changeling, not to judge from my experience. To my taste, Beckett is rather too fond of assuming that whatever passes through his mind must be of earthshaking importance, and I suspect he simply got around to noticing something that a lot of others have been living with for a very long time.
Casey, I’ve always thought the notion that the gods must be parts of our own psyches shows the typical anthropocentric arrogance of our era. It makes rather more sense to me to suggest that if gods exist and interact with humans, it makes sense that we would have appropriate senses for perceiving them — if only via Darwinian selection! You might as well claim that the sun and moon only exist in the psyche, since we perceive them through known neurological and psychological structures…
E. Goldstein, or — ahem — a god might have something to do with it, you know. Why must every single explanation depend on the suppositious powers of human beings?
Buzzy, interestingly enough, Orpheus was another of the figures from Greek mythology that old-fashioned occultists talked about a lot, and French symbolist painters liked to paint. So you may be on to something…
Starsbydesign, I’ve long thought that the quarrel between believers in free will and believers in fate is a classic example of the opposite of one bad idea being another bad idea. Clearly there are things none of us can change; just as clearly there are things any of us can change; it’s not too difficult to see the area in between — not a gray area, but a technicolor one! — where some degree of freedom intersects with some degree of constraint. Some of the old Druid teachings like to discuss this in terms of three factors: fate, which is the sum of the consequences of previous actions; destiny, which is the inborn trajectory of the soul toward certain goals, and will, which is the ability of the individual to choose within existing limits. Any two of these can overcome the resistance of the third, which is why the will can produce astonishing results when it moves in the direction of destiny, and why it can’t accomplish a thing when fate and destiny are in cahoots. Still, in a society that so often insists that a spectrum can only consist of its two extremes, I don’t expect that approach to get a hearing any time soon.
Corydalidae, all of that has been proposed many times before; it’s standard in cultures influenced by the Abrahamic faiths to assume that changes in religious experience must always be entirely the product of human actions. What I’m suggesting, of course, is that there can also be changes on the divine side of the equation.
Jon, nicely crafted.
Xabier, Islam is almost exactly 600 years younger than Christianity, and is about as vigorous as Christianity was 600 years ago…
Kimberley, I’ve known some very compassionate, thoughtful, and wise Christians, and I would be the last person to hold myself up as any kind of model for imitation, so I’m not at all sure I’d agree with your generalization. That said, it’s odd that a religion that used to talk so much about its capacity to change human nature for the better through God’s grade doesn’t, all things considered, have any better track record at producing decent human beings than atheism, of for that matter any other religion.
Island Poet, I certainly think that Santissima Muerte has a very good chance of becoming a massive presence in North American religion over the next two thousand years or so.
Fred, it’s the latter — people who spent years pursuing a relationship with the Christian god through prayer, Bible study, and all the other approved means, and got nothing. Garden Housewife’s comments above are pretty typical.
Isabel, I’ve encountered that attitude toward religion, but not toward cocktails! You can tell that my family clawed its way up onto the coattails of the middle class in my parents’ generation — my grandfathers were a firefighter turned pulp mill worker and a shipyard worker, my grandmothers a small town librarian and a full-time Oakland housewife; my dad’s sole effort toward respectability in his drinking was a taste for wine rather than beer, and it’s generally wine out of a plastic-lined cardboard box.
Samurai, the religions that I know that are really lively and good at adaptation are all fairly new. If you’ve got scripture, or anything resembling it, you probably have to put up with literalist fundamentalism and all the other perils of scriptural religion — I’ve seen American worshipers of the Norse gods get all fundamentalist over the Elder Edda, for Thor’s sake! So I think it’s hardwired into human nature.
Onething, sure, but it doesn’t cancel out the impressive absence of energy in churches right here. I’d also want to know more about exactly why those churches in distant countries are so successful; I know, for example, of some fundamentalist sects that give free livestock to converts — a very effective way of filling your pews in poor countries, but how much beyond lip service they get is a very interesting question.
I just finished reading Jung’s “Answer to Job”. Something which Jung emphasized is that men are more inclined towards perfection whereas women are more incline towards wholeness. This dovetails quite well with Spengler’s observations that Greek culture was feminine and Faustian culture masculine. In common parlance there is ample talk of “Mother Earth” and some, although quite a bit less, of “Father Sky”. Oedipus descended into the earth while Jesus rose into the sky.
There is the receptive, feminine and earthly aspect of Christianity which is, of course, Mary. It is interesting to me that much of the most potent Christian devotion is centering around Mary and female saints, rather than Jesus. This is evidenced by my and others experience that the Marian prayers of the Rosary get serious results, and the various Marian cults are so clearly and actively numinous. Jung discusses the advent with the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, which began November First 1950, and believed it to be a profound shift in the theological nature of Christianity. This appears to me to be a powerful affirmation of Yeats’ vision.
In a precisely parallel vein, liberal Jews often tend towards an emphasis on Shekhina as equal to HaShem. Actually, it is my understanding that the theology of Shekhina was introduced by none other than the Baal Shem Tov. IIRC many of the practices of the Hasidim are centered around the Shekhina. On top of this, a good argument can be made that the Reconstructionist and especially the Renewal movements of Judaism are Neo-Hasidic. Certainly the prayers are not uncommonly changed over from “Adonai” to “Shekhina” with the dramatic grammatical shifts that this entails with Hebrew. Again, it is an elevation of the principal of feminine, earthly wisdom over the more pneumatic, masculine attributes of G-d.
Literally cleaning house – emptying out old folders and notebooks – my rationalist-materialist phase was shorter than I thought; I was still floundering around looking for spiritual answers, and snatching at the hints found in some fantasy novels of a magic reality I wasn’t seeing. (Fanzines with dates given as Beltane Samhain, for example.) The therapist I was seeing at the time – the one who told me I wasn’t crazy, I was being emotionally abused (long story) told me I had to look for The Goddess. Meanwhile visiting a local amateur-run Renaissance Fair looking for gifts, I walked into that magical world.
Now I’m willing to answer the comments some people make about seekers wanting a Big Daddy in the Sky. Great Ghu, no! Not me! I’ve had my fill of Big Daddy mansplaining the world and everything to me very early on.I wanted and still turn to, the lap of the Mother. Childish? I fully admit it. So on my altar sit the Earth Mother and Pan, more of a Brother than a Father, if you have to classify any god as such. Or, in the Norse manner, a friend. If you can call Thor your friend, I can certainly call Pan my friend. A wild and unpredictable one, to be sure, which makes it all the more real.
And if I need someone to dribble a little wisdom into my ears if I sit still and listen, there is always the Lady of the Owl, patroness of cities and citizens, of teachers and students, reason and handcrafts, defender but not warmaker.
JMG, and @Xabier, 2000 years ago Christianity was just at the beginning of its consolidation phase, by spreading throughout the lands of the Roman Empire. 1300 years ago, it started its expansionist phase, by converting the whole of Europe. Finally, 600 years ago Christianity was wrapping up its expansionist phase, by converting the Americas and sending missionaries to Asia and Africa.
Now, Islam had its consolidation phase during the Ummayyads by the 700’s, the start of its expansionist phase by the Turks some six hundred years after that, and now it’s supposed to be wrapping up that phase by expanding to Europe and some parts of Africa. How’s that for you?
Huh, I never thought that I could get down on my knees and be able to relate a kind of shopping list …or…I mean what kind of answer would God give? The loud voice from heaven? I mean, of course I pray for certain things: people to get well, storms to calm down, but since I read a bit about the Huna-philosophy I always end with, “if it´s best for me, them and all living things, thank you.” Who am I to decide that e.g. a person gets well? And to make it a bit more drastically: maybe the person getting well means that there will be no… whatever: WorldPeace(TM) or something other very important.
I was raised catholic and the most reason I went from passive catholic to gotten out of it was the role that women can´t be in catholic church and the years of covered up child-abuse and the mismanagement of it when it became public.
To me, God is – like the force – in everything, like the Creation is God. And only my little mind has to have it that God is X or Y, because it´s difficult to encompass such an enormity. Maybe that was my mental escape-hatch: that I thought God was in everything, so it´s more amorphous than Catholic Church insists.
That´s also one of the reasons I have a difficulty to find a new haven. Why should I make God smaller and subdivide it into something? Yes, to be able to call down that ascpect into my live ok, but why go with complete conviction into this – that makes the concept of God smaller for me. In one fantasy-series (Midkemia-Saga by Raymond E. Feist) there is a plethora of gods, still the more advanced acolytes get to know that in the end it´s one source. That would be nice, I think.
The Jesuits have the motto “ora et labora” (pray and work), which I´ve gotten explained once as: pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on your work. That will give best results no matter what.
Oh – one other thougt:
Maybe God left because in most churches the music isn´t there any more, or isn´t good any more? The church of my parents has got a very active organist, choir and a fairly engaged community maybe that belongs together hand in hand? That and a (team of) priests (they are sharing a few parishes) that can do interesting sermons?
Thanks again for your vagaries and great post, I like the cats among the pigeons 😉
About current Maryology: today (friday 08th september) is the day of Mary´s birth and in the usual spot on the radio for the catholic and evangelic church there was a catholic woman explaining what the day meant for her. (God becoming human by aquiring a lineage that apparently goes back to king David – althoug I wonder how much of that lineage got ennobled after the catholic church has gotten power)
The idea of a newly minted god slipping into the role of an older, more well-known god reminded me of a scene in one of my favorite movies, “The Princess Bride,” as Westly explains to Buttercup:
“Well, Roberts had grown so rich, he wanted to retire. He took me to his cabin and he told me his secret. ‘I am not the Dread Pirate Roberts’, he said. ‘My name is Ryan; I inherited the ship from the previous Dread Pirate Roberts, just as you will inherit it from me. The man I inherited it from is not the real Dread Pirate Roberts either. His name was Cummerbund. The real Roberts has been retired fifteen years and living like a king in Patagonia.’ ”
Westley goes on to explain that the method works because Roberts’ notorious reputation inspires overwhelming fear in sailors. Ships immediately capitulate and surrender their wealth rather than be captured, a fate they imagine to be certain death. A pirate operating under his own name is said to be incapable of such infamy: “No one would surrender to the Dread Pirate Westley.”
And no one would worship a greenhorn god named Todd either…”Heavenly Todd, I ask that you…eh, never mind, I need to go feed the chickens…”
Makes some sense, I have to admit.
Following on to several comments about faith and finding God in the results of prayer:
Trying to decipher a weak signal among the everyday is precisely what I have no intention of spending my time on. If I have to guess that it’s God I’ll just pass, thanks. What I’m after is something fresh, something alive, something invigorating. I don’t need a god to hold my hand and give me encouragement every day, but if I’m going to honor or (this word scares me) worship a superhuman being I need to know that said person exists. Unequivocally.
I envy those of you who have had those sorts of experiences, and am intrigued by some of the ideas as to why I might not be sharing in them. Sometimes I think maybe I’m just a jerk and haven’t found a god who will take me!
I just read the article JMG, so this might have been already written by others too but, being raised as a Catholic I always could see resemblance to polytheistic religions. I can imagine that experiences might differ depending on locality, but in European tradition, and especially in certain countries the cult of certain saints, Jesus the ‘godson’ and especially the figure of Mary the heavenly mother could be seen almost as lesser gods of a Christian pantheon.
I know the reason behind this is that pagan rites blended nicely together with the new religion, but I’d propose to look at christianity that way anyway. The point is, if we separate dogma from popular religion, we might see – as far as it could be identified- pretty similar results and practices in antique religions and christianity, meaning the religious experiences ofcommon folks were probably pretty similar then and now showing a pretty clear continuity in that sense.
I could imagine these entities as kind of unchanging existences, taking up new and new names and functions through ages and cultures. So what we really have is these nameless shapeless ancient powers from the dawn of mankind with their cult that takes up the shape of any religion unconciously.
If we tear off the names and tags, manmade stories and superstitions, all is left is a pantheistic world view with spirit filling up everything around us to certain extent, cumulating in certain points, forming lesser ang greater entities of power or will that are acting and affecting human life in one way or another.
Thanks for the latest two posts, the road you’re taking us seems pretty fascinating.
As someone else above commented, you ask for patience, you will receive it in copious amounts for this sort of post! Thanks for writing it.
I like the idea someone wrote above about older gods taking on fewer apprentices. I’m pretty sure the Christian God is still around (will explain below) but I do not worship him, and as far as I can tell, he doesn’t mind. I think the eternal damnation thing is just something the church made up.
As a child, I alternated between belief and disbelief, as I had plenty of experiences where Jesus showed up and/or answered prayers, to the point where I learned the truth of “be careful what you pray for” but for the most part the stuff they tried to teach me about God in church and sunday school never made any sense.
I left the Christian church for good while I was in college (at a large baptist university) due to the obvious disconnects between their preaching and practice. Tried atheism, but never could make that work, either – I always felt like there had to be someone there, based on my childhood experiences. A series of personal crises brought me back to a spiritual life. Jesus appeared soon after, and when I said how much I missed him, he pointed out that he wasn’t the one who turned away. My personal pantheon now contains a diverse collection of beings, and Jesus occasionally stops in for a visit, just as he did when I was a child.
As for recent experiences with the Christian god “the father” – I was caretaker for elderly relatives a couple years ago, and they kept inviting me to visit their church. I finally broke down and did so. The service was just as unenjoyable as I feared, with crying, shouting, singing, raising hands in the air and more shouting and singing. I’m rolling my eyes mentally at the seeming silliness of it (flashbacks to university) when I hear a voice clearly and distinctly say “Do not despise these people: they are doing what is pleasing to me.” Flash forward a year or so: my uncle so befuddled by alzheimers my aunt can no longer take care of him. The decision is made to place him in a specialized care facility. He possesses just enough cognitive ability to understand what is happening, and is upset by this, but cannot express his thoughts in any coherent manner – his attempts at speaking are random word salads. In the meantime, she has covered all the mirrors in the house, as he has taken to attacking his own reflection, apparently thinking it is an intuder who has broken into the house. One day he walked into the livingroom, and very clearly announced that he was ok with going where the family wanted to send him, because he saw God, and God said He would take care of him. My astonished aunt asked where he saw God, and he led her to the bathroom, where he had uncovered a mirror, and he pointed to his reflection and said, “He is right there.”
As I said, I’m not a Christian, but I do believe the Christian god spoke to me and appeared to my uncle on these occasions. Or maybe instead of “the” Christian God (Yahweh) I should say “a” Christian God – as you have pointed out, there seems to be more than one being answering to the name Jesus, and there could be more that one being answering as “God the father” who certainly does seem less violent, petulant, and spiteful nowadays than the one in the Old Testament.
A note to whoever above mentioned the raspberry jam principle in praying for Irma to hit certain locations in another state: I think you’re spot-on with that. I have found that regardless of who I’m praying to, asking for harm to befall someone else is always detrimental to my own well-being.
P.S. I didn’t comment in time last week, but your suggestion that clueless humans are animal spirits in their first time around, because there aren’t enough large animal bodies left, is similar to the hypothesis that I came up with a couple years ago to explain the increase in autism/aspergers. Perhaps we are animals that weren’t quite ready to be “promoted” and that is why we don’t understand humans. The only thing I remember of any past life is my death – shot by villagers who incorrectly thought I had killed one of their children. I am rising up above the scene looking down as they are gathering around my body (large, thick-furred feline) while my blood flows out onto the snow. This came to me during meditation a few years ago, when I was looking for the answers to why I 1) Don’t care about and in fact actively dislike most humans in general 2) Reeaaalllly don’t understand “the rules” that everyone else just seems to know – though after several decades in human form, I have, with some effort, figured out how to follow enough of these rules to pass for normal in most situations and 3) Generally hate stories where someone is punished for something they didn’t do.
And I, too, will miss Bill. He was one of the few people I actually hoped to meet and talk to some time. I wonder if his Viking guardians will stay with his land, or move on.
P.P.S. Regarding my comment two weeks ago and your reply re: the grail and Star’s Reach. Complete mind-boggle, that was! I was so sure it was intentional! I suppose next you’re going to tell me Jennel Cobey Taggart has nobody named Dagny in his family tree!
@JMG it was just a passing curiosity really, don’t go out of your way on my account…
Actually I’d be really interested to know your take on this if you have time: How common are these nastier more dangerous aspects of the spiritual realm, and are there particular red flags that can help you steer away from such things? (eg anything spiritual done for financial gain seems to me to be a big one!). Bad experiences seems to be a theme that comes up every so often in comments, not just my experience. I’m asking because learning to tell the difference between really toxic and just regular imperfect human groups really helped after leaving that church and I’m in the process of figuring out the same thing with spiritual stuff and also in general whether the spiritual landscape is mostly safe more like the equivalent of a stroll in a well-lit park with an occasional but rare mugging or mostly dangerous more like playing russian roulette with the mafia and expecting to get out OK! Because that church’s ‘everything except our god is dangerous …. but then it turned out that god was nasty [as well / instead/ ?]’ didn’t really leave a lot of useful information to go on.
@Tripp and others:
Orual, the sister of Psyche, has the strong wish to see the gods as clearly as her sister can, and is indignant that she cannot. “Till We Have Faces” is the book of Orual’s accusation against the gods, and is my favorite book by – guess whom? I don’t know any better or more mature description of the state between knowing and not knowing, acknowledging and not acknowledging that something or somebody is there.
Varun, I tend to take Hindu discussions of gods fairly seriously, since they’ve had a lot of experience with it over a lot of centuries.
Student, fasting has at least two effects that are useful in any kind of spiritual training. On the one hand, it increases sensitivity to the nonphysical; on the other, it strengthens the will, as do all austerities. I’ve done it with good results from time to time. I wouldn’t say that it’s in any way required, and given the profound neuroses that surround food, eating, and body fat in American society today, I’d encourage people to make sure they can approach fasting without dragging in the kind of self-defeating fantasies that surround dieting these days before considering it, but it’s one tool of many that can be used by those so inclined.
Danae, the irony there is that a lot of Christian literature talks about the “still, small voice” of God. A large deity need not have a loud voice.
Blue Sun, interesting. Depending on your prayer technique, you may actually be practicing magic — and that certainly works. I’d be careful, though, about assuming that because you’re uncomfortable with the thought of experiencing a god, human beings aren’t meant to experience a god. The universe need not conform to your ideas of the comfortable…
Alnus, that’s also a possibility!
Joe, I read Jaynes when his book was first published. I’m by no means convinced that he’s right about the bicameral mind et al., but his book’s well worth reading because it takes religion seriously — he discusses the evidence that people in the past were actually talking to something and hearing it respond. It’s simply his insistence that the “something” must be internal to the human brain that I find unconvincing.
David, one of the classic things that pretty much everyone agrees about deities is that they decide whether they’re going to appear to you; you don’t. The interesting thing is that I know a fair number of other people who had similar experiences to yours.
Violet, it interests me that a thousand years ago, or even a couple of centuries ago, heaven was something that really appealed to a lot of people. Now? I recently wrote a short story, a weird tale verging on horror, for which I’m looking for a publisher; one of the themes in it is the stark horror of heaven-as-imagined, of being hauled up into the sky to hang there in the pure unsparing light forever.
Steve, yep! Sts. Barlaam and Josaphat probably ought to go alongside saints Cosmas and Damien, aka the Greek gods Pollux and Castor, as examples of religious flexibility…
Justin, I have profound sympathy for traditional Christianity; there’s a lot of richness there, though also some ghastly problems. I suspect, though, that you’re wrong about Christianity becoming the soil on which new things will root. My guess is that the Christ child will get thrown out with the baptismal water, and it’ll be another two thousand and odd years before the same themes get picked up again.
Kyle, good heavens. I had no idea it was back in print. Many thanks!
Prizm, that’s a fascinating and very well designed Tarot concept. As for the primacy of nature in the next influx — yeah, there I think you’re dead on target.
DE, there’s a vast distance between Nietzsche’s interpretation of Dionysus and the god himself; it’s worth remembering that Nietzsche was a materialist atheist. He used Dionysus as a metaphor; the Greeks who worshiped Dionysus did not.
Ray, a case could be made!
Spicehammer, by and large it’s one of two things. Either atheist materialism leaves them feeling unfulfilled, and they go looking for something to fill the gap and find it in religion; or they have an experience that can’t be shoehorned within the worldview of atheist materialism, such as a visit by a recently dead relative, and go looking for an explanation that makes sense.
Jessi, hmm! Interesting. The violent rejection isn’t something I’ve encountered in my conversations with people who’ve left Christianity, and I’d be interested to hear more about it.
Carlos, well, some of the New World, maybe. Most of the people I know who spent years trying to establish a relationship with God and got nowhere live in the US or Canada.
Spicehammer, those are big questions. I’ll consider a post on each of them.
Kfish, do as you’d do for a saint or holy person: find an image, make a little shrine in the garden, and each time you go to do some garden work, ask him to help you and intercede with Gaia for you. If you get a favorable response, continue.
I wonder how much shifts in dominant religion or ideology are driven by very prosaic forces such as the ability for systems to provide food and protection. Were poor people living in late Roman society better provided basic necessities by rising Christian influences than by declining Roman power centres? Take note of how churches work very hard to extend material support to the poor. Did people in industrial societies abandon the church when they felt they didn’t need it to ensure food on the table and a roof overhead?
Since a couple of people have commented on prayers which may cause others harm (“Oh, Lord, let the hurricane hit another state,”) – on my path all prayers should include “For the good of all and with harm to none.”
Hope this helps.
@ Janet D
That makes perfect sense. In the old Irish traditions, if the storyteller doesn’t add something to an old tale, he or she hasn’t done a good job of reaching the audience.
JMG, you are not the first, and I believe will not be the last, to suggest that God may be dead. For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind just after I read your post was Psalm 146:3 (no offense intended. It merely was the case). Also, as @Dmitry Orlov and others pointed out, Christianity is still going strong – and eliciting strong religious responses, not merely going strong in the institutional sense – over many parts of the world. Thus, I don’t think He is dead: on the contrary, God seems to periodically withdraw and then come back again, sometimes suddenly, to sift through his followers, to separate the faithful from the unfaithful, sometimes quite dramatically. He did it many times during the Hebrew’s long history, and I think there is reason to believe He is doing it again, possibly specifically to the Americans, as they seem to have abandoned Him, as the Hebrews did many times over.
I would agree that prayer is important to the Conservative side of Christianity, but in my exploration of conservative churches, they do not seem to know how to pray.
I would consider prayer one of the tools in the toolkit of ‘spiritual practice,’ along with meditation and magical rituals. Viewed from this point of view, it is something whose purpose is to do something (e.g. a change in consciousness in accordance with will) and therefore YOU have to put some work into it. If you don’t have to put some WORK into it, what is it?
Gathering into a group and saying “I have a headache again this week. Pray for me.” sounds misguided to me. (That’s an actual example from a pastors’ wife at a fundamentalist church I attended–sorry to put her on the spot, the poor woman). To me, that’s not spiritual practice. I don’t see how that accomplishes anything. Isn’t that merely asking for quick fixes from a divine vending machine?
And although I doubt that JMG’s acquaintances were lazy or looking for a quick fix, the reason I’m skeptical of those who’ve worked and worked and got nowhere and think there’s nothing there, is because I think in most cases they’re simply misguided and wasting their energy on a dead end. I think so because I’ve done it myself. And I’ve seen others be misguided. So many people today think prayer is only about asking for what you want.
Interesting. Everyone has their own experience. I can’t speak to yours. It’s foreign to me. I guess you must have been raised Roman Catholic or something because I don’t even know who St. George is, and I only know the little about Mary that is recorded in the Bible. So I wouldn’t know enough about them to even think to pray to them. One should commune with whatever heavenly being(s) resonates with you, I guess. I’m glad those connections provided you comfort.
I will say that I have no reason to believe that the divine brush I had was the Creator/ the Source. It could have been an angel, spirit guide, or a lesser god for all I know. In other instances where I had my prayers answered, I felt totally alone and felt no presence of God at all. In fact in one particular instance, after several days of fervent prayer that felt like a complete waste, I had practically entirely given up on spirituality one night when a person (who was praying that night also and felt inexplicably called to help me), suddenly showed up the next day. He was the most unexpected messenger, no less. It was a major turning point in my life. I felt no presence of God at all, but I clearly saw God’s response directed through another person.
For yourself, maybe it’s the role of St. George and Mary to connect with you, because they relate to you better for some reason or another. It’s just my belief that they report to somebody higher up.
The way I am, I think it’s always safest to go straight to the top. (I never trust delegates to deliver a message, LOL!) That’s just me. Its just like here on Earth. You may write an email to the head of an organization and then hear back from one of his or her subordinates. That doesn’t mean that executive doesn’t care about your concerns.
In my mind your experience doesn’t preclude the existence of an ultimate Oneness. I guess that’s what troubles me about the conclusion some people jump to. Just because there’s no personal connection to God doesn’t mean He/She/It doesn’t exist. And I know modern mainstream Christianity likes to promise a personal God, but come to think of it, I don’t believe that a personal God was ever the original promise of the Abrahamic faiths at their conception. Maybe it was. I’ve never really thought about it.
I may very well be practicing magic for all I know. Based on what you’ve described of magic, I would consider magic to be a form of spiritual practice along with prayer and meditation. If you do it the right way, any spiritual practice should get results, shouldn’t it? I just think most people are doing it wrong in the Christian West today.
As far as the idea that human beings aren’t meant to experience a god, I am not saying that’s true for all humans, but I think it may be true for me. Or maybe it’s true just at this point in my life. I’m not sure how the heaven experience fits in with the god experience, but I’ve read a lot about NDE’s of late, and although having an NDE sounds like a fascinating experience, I think my personality is such that if I had to come back to Earth after experiencing that bliss, I’d probably become depressed or become an alcoholic. I don’t think I could continue to chop wood and carry water after enlightenment.
As far as generalizing to all humans, I do think it’s true that humans aren’t meant to experience the Creator/ the Source directly. I read somewhere in the Gita (can’t recall the passage) that to see God’s totally revealed face would basically vaporize a human being. That just makes sense to me, who knows why. (Maybe that’s just the way I like God to be, LOL.)
There is a Christian preacher out of New Zealand, who has some sermon podcasts I like, who characterizes God this way (Andrew Strom, who I also like because he has poignant insights into the decline of Christianity in the West). He likes to point out that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.” I think some people might dismiss this as old fashioned ‘fire and brimstone,’ but to me it’s not. You know, I think it appeals to me for the same reason that you like to remind us about deep time–if we can melt away by merely seeing God’s face, then we humans aren’t the most important creatures in the Universe that we like to think we are.
Changeling, most interesting. Thank you.
Peter, that’s a tolerably traditional view!
Drhooves, I’m not talking about Richard Dawkins, or any other single crank. Have you seriously not run into the pompous atheist blowhards who throng public venues online and off, and entertain themselves by flinging cheap schoolyard taunts at anyone who disagrees with their dogma? The local CSICOP guys (they are almost always male) who for decades now have reliably shown up, ready to bully, badger, and sneer, when somebody makes the mistake of admitting that they’ve seen something that the atheist-materialist viewpoint says Must Not Exist The online equlvalents whose endless, dreary drive-by trollings of online Druid communities helped inspire my current Druid order’s Frequently Thrown Tantrums page? I’m sure if you sat down with some Christians and asked politely, you’d get even uglier stories; Druids get off lightly, because most atheists in the English-speaking world seem to reserve their nastiest behavior for the religion they left in childhood or young adulthood.
The insistence that people who don’t get responses to their prayers just aren’t trying hard, for that matter, flies in the face of my experience and that of many others, though no doubt it’s a comforting dodge. If you’d had the opportunity to sit in on conversations where I listened to people’s heartbreaking accounts of having their faith whittled away an inch at a time by the total nonresponse they’d gotten from years of prayer, made worse by the smug insistence on the part of those around them that they just had to try harder, I seriously doubt you’d be as flippant about this subject as you’ve come across here.
Lordyburd, I don’t know, they’re not my deities.
KNS, occult philosophy also has it that there are plenty of beings out there who aren’t human, and never were. My suggestion that it might have been a dead human being was purely a guess.
Janet, I ain’t arguing. The notion that it’s okay to kill people because you disagree with their religious beliefs has been rather too popular among the Abrahamic faiths…
Garden Housewife, I know quite a few Christian Druids who invoke Mary and an assortment of saints and angels far more often than they invoke any of the persons of the Trinity. There are also a lot of people who invoke mother goddesses who don’t happen to be called Mary, and some of them got there because they were praying to Mary and she told them, in effect, “Now it’s time for you to call me by a different name.”
Darkest Yorkshire, magic has its own cycles, but they’re different — and since operative mages tend to be very eclectic, and always have been, they usually have an easy time switching their relationships from one spiritual power to another in order to maintain things on an even keel. As for switching from one god to another, usually what happens is that the number of worshipers of one god rises while that of another god declines — though I can think of deities that probably would have appreciated a good retirement party, or a really lively Irish wake!
Xabier, to some extent students get the teachers they deserve; to some extent — I can vouch for this! — teachers get the students they deserve. Even so, it seems sensible to me to warn people that certain kinds or combinations of spiritual practice can land you in a world of hurt.
Maria, I’ve met people who followed the advice, married the supposedly nice Christian man, and found out the hard way that being married to a guy who wasn’t there for them when they needed him didn’t change the fact that they were worshiping a God who wasn’t there when they needed him. I tend to think you made the right decision!
DFC, fascinating. That makes a good deal of sense.
Sleiszadam, my working guess is that the entities aren’t the same, for whatever that’s worth. They don’t behave the same or give the same instructions.
Dusk Shine, good question. The west coast is getting it in the teeth — Seattle and Portland spent days having ash drift down from the sky from forest fires further east,and large parts of the west are on fire right now. As for the Atlantic, you’re better off trying to predict the output of a random number generator than the weather systems that come off the Atlantic any time of year!
Phil, but even there, He’s failing to respond to the prayers of His worshipers. How many people commute by jetpack just now?
Chris, funny! Yeah, I’m far from sure eternity sounds like a good idea in regard to any human relationship…
Myriam, I get that! Unfortunately, these days, one has to wonder if the priest’s fixation on young men had a less pleasant side…
Will, Krishnamurti’s story is one I’ve reflected on at length. I see his renunciation of the messiahship Annie Besant tried to push onto him as an act of remarkable personal courage, with good results. It wasn’t Buddhism the Theosophists around Besant wanted him to push, it was Besant’s own authority over the Theosophical Society, which was fraying very badly due to her own arrogance and mismanagement. She basically devoted a decade to manufacturing a bogus messiah, who had the good sense to decline the role. I don’t know whether anybody attained enlightenment from Krishnamurti, but for many years you could count on meeting people in the alternative-spirituality scene who read his books closely and seemed to learn a great deal from them.
Long time, no see. Always nice to hear from you!
I have question, though. What makes you think Pope Francis is a trator? I am genuinely curious, but I must say that I like the current one much better than his predecesor. Pope Benedict, known around here (in the less reverent circles, anyways) as God’s Rottweiler, represents everything that is wrong with the Church: the golden bureacracy, the cover up of priestly infamy, the filtration with shady finances (if not outright white-collar crime), etc.
@DFC and Danae
Maybe you already know, but many old churches in Mexico are built with stones from toppled ancient temples, often at the very place. The “idols” were used as raw material for the foundations, so that the ancient gods would be still there, yet unseen. I cannot help but think that syncretism here was a matter of mutual trickery in the name of going ahead togheter.
Sorry to hear of you leaving in such terms. And while it is a fact that women in most concervative churches including RC are marginalized, I would not feel too bad about the sermon you heard. It has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the preacher. You see, even with a little knowledge of psicology, those words sound clearly as a projection, of a man that is overwhelmed with guilt from not accepting his own homosexuality, – “precious young men” are of bounds to him, but it is ok for Jesus to take’em away from their would be wives, for enterily different reasons, – but of course that comes with its own can of worms.
@RPC, not sure why you had to ask for forgiveness.
It is a good thing you did not partake. It is not meant as an insult, but take a look at the warnings in Lauda Sion (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauda_Sion) and you will realize the Sacrament is not meant to be given to the uninitiated. Just in case you need it again, there is such thing as a Spiritual Communion, and members are allowed to do that if, by example, they had not chance to go through Confession, but I do not know if it is safe for non believers to do.
Greg, it’s a fascinating theme and one I want to explore further as circumstances permit. For what it’s worth, I pray daily, and I also practice magic daily — they’re not the same thing, but from my perspective, at least, they’re far from incompatible, and I’d feel the absence of either one bitterly.
Stefania, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the West African denominations are getting results because they know a good deal more about contacting deities than people in the US generally do — though that leaves open the question of who or what they’re contacting!
John, I respect Robert Hand’s work but I think he’s making a mistake in importing sidereal constellations into a tropical understanding of constellations. The signs, as I have to keep reminding people, are not the constellations — and that would suggest that the signs through which the celestial colures move as a result of precession aren’t constellations either, but 30 degree arcs of the ecliptic. The only challenge then is figuring out the location of the precessional signs, and that can be done readily enough by an equivalent of rectification: when do Piscean/Neptunian influences begin to fade out and Aquarian/Uranian ones show up? It’s on that basis, as well as a range of other factors, that I identify 1879 as the approximate beginning of the Aquarian Age — as was predicted, interestingly enough, in advance of that date. Of course you’re free to disagree!
RPC, an episode of Catholic renewal would be great, so long as it didn’t simply replace the last scraps of the old magic with some suitably bland pastiche satisfactory to upper middle class congregations…
Bruce, excellent! Yes, “We hold…” is a definition of postulates rather than a purported statement of fact. I’m trying to explore some different postulates in these posts.
Danae, the chattering of philosophers and theologians — and archdruids! — is one thing, the deep currents of the spirit is something entirely different, and those currents, as the saying goes, blow where they wish and not where we think they ought to…
Lydia, it’s very standard in our society these days to assume that if something changes, human beings must have changed it. I’m suggesting that maybe the change wasn’t our doing at all — that maybe something changed on the other, nonhuman side of the equation.
Gary, so noted. Did you consider talking to any of the many Christians who don’t insist on such a rigidly literal take on their religion’s mythic narratives?
Doug, yes, it’s hardwired into modern popular culture to ignore the possibility that there could have been a change om the nonhuman end of the relationship, and to fixate obsessively on the notion that some human being must have done something. I’m not surprised to see so many people insisting on rehashing that bit of the conventional wisdom when I try to have a conversation about the possibility that something different may be involved!
Glenn, most of the St. Anthony workings I’ve seen — for example, to sell a house — are magic pure and simple, and yes, that works.
Violet, one of the things I find least satisfactory about Jung is his tendency to fall into gender essentialism, and insist on imposing a variety of rigid binary distinctions on the very diffuse and variable ways that actual human beings relate to each other and the world. Labels like “masculine” and “feminine,” unless they’re specifically linked to particular cultures in particular periods, obscure far more than they reveal.
Patricia, I get that. I don’t find family labels useful when talking about deities; God, if you will. is no more a father than He (or She, or It) is a great-grandchild, or a second cousin once removed, and such metaphors have a lot of unhelpful baggage just now.
Bruno, yes, that’s basically what I had in mind.
Emily, tossing a cat among the pigeons makes for very good performance art, no question. I like your suggestion that God may have left the churches because the music is so bad!
Tripp, I hereby christen that way of thinking about religion the Dread God Roberts theory. Thank you! As for weak signals, I can see a point in that, but yeah, if as Thales said, all things are full of gods, you don’t need to settle for a weak signal if you don’t want to.
Berengar, exactly. The folk practices are the same even though the intellectuals chatter about different concepts. One of the difficulties we have over here in the US is that manyof the folk practices didn’t get here, so all many Americans have for religion is the watered-down notions of the chattering intellectuals!
Other Michelle, I suspect there are various causes for autism spectrum disorders. It could well be the case for some people that Aspergers et al. comes from not having been human very long; in my case — I have adult residual Aspergers, the remnant of a whopping case when I was a child — it doesn’t seem to be that, as I remember quite a few human lives before this one.
Alex, the thing to do always — in dealing with any spiritual, religious, or magical group — is watch how they actually treat other people. Ignore the verbiage — some very nasty people are full of abstract jabber about compassion and unconditional love. Watch how they behave. If you find a group that treats members and nonmembers with courtesy and compassion, you’re unlikely to go wrong.
Shane, Christianity spread across the Roman world when the empire was at its height, so that’s at least not the whole story.
Bruno, well, we’ll see!
Blue Sun, there I won’t argue at all. A being you don’t fear is a being you don’t respect, and worship — the word was originaly “worthschippe,” in modern English “worthship” — starts with profound respect. (In case it isn’t obvious, I don’t accept the New Age notion that fear is bad. If you live in southern Florida and aren’t afraid of Hurricane Irma, you probably want to make sure your next of kin are notified sooner rather than later.)
My apologies, I meant to say “First World” and “Third World”, not “Old World” and “New World”, respectively. Especially the wealthy countries in the West when it comes to the “First World”.
One thing I notice about my fellow countrymen (and other Third Worlders) – those who migrate and settle in a wealthy, Western society tend to lose their religion after a generation. Those who are only there temporarily and come back tend to be more active in practicing their religion in their host country, and retain their practices when they come back.
I’m rather inclined to think that it has to do with the Cult of Progress, and the philosophies of scientific materialism and mass consumerism that tend to go with it. As some other commenters here pointed out, it might be that growing up and/or assimilating in certain advanced societies tend to dull spiritual senses. Scientific materialism and mass consumerism are filters, and very efficient ones at that, designed to sanitize any knowledge or experience that’s anywhere outside their parameters. They’re tinted glasses, if you will, and the unfortunate thing is that mainstream churches are so deep in the surrounding cultures that the pastors don’t even have any idea how to take off those glasses or how to use differently-tinted ones, much less teach their congregations how to do so.
Good stuff! Gets me thinking about how this connects to the Industrial Revolution, Darwin, and our current God of Progress that I know many of my friends worship these days. I’m on board with your thoughts on the power/influence of Jehovah rising and fading…so maybe if it hadn’t been faith in science and the Industrial-technology world, it would surely have been something else to take Its place? My Western-Christian-centric brain always assumed that our materialist culture was the main force pushing us from a relationship with God, and once that were to crumble in the coming centuries, that Abrahamic God would be waiting for us, ready to pick up where we left off. I’d never had the thought that that God himself might be fading on Its behalf, not simply because we suck on our end!
I grew up in the highlands of New Guinea and an aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, daughter of evangelical Christian missionaries. The thing I noticed about those communities was that there was no real concept of ‘belief’ in the spirits/gods/beings that surrounded them and permeated every aspect of their lives. The spirits were just there, doing their thing, and the people lived in a world in which material and spiritual were inextricably interwoven. The spirits were accorded respect, veneration, fear, in the sense of fear of crossing them. They were gossiped about; signs, dreams and visions were discussed and dissected on a daily basis. They all had different personalities, likes, dislikes, preferred offerings, and were involved in the community’s life in different ways. Some you visited for women’s business, or men’s, or sickness, or the power to heal or divine, or whatever. It was like the spirits were absolutely part of the community, but just on a slightly different plane.
In comparison, my own version of evangelical Christianity seemed completely cerebral and achingly distant, spirit-wise. We had to ‘believe’ and ‘have faith’ because we didn’t seem to be able to just interact with our spiritual tradition in the immediate, matter-of-fact way that these older societies did.
Like many children brought up in a polytheistic culture full of spirits I accepted those manifestations as completely normal until I grew up and moved away and decided that I had made it all up. Except that I didn’t, and I’ve always known it. But I wonder what I would find if I went back now? Because the nature spirits especially were so very dependent on locality. They lived in a particular tree or pond or mountain. What effect does it have if those natural places are clear cut or mined or drained and made into commercial farmland? I will never forget the first time I read The Narnia Chronicles, age 7, and came to the description and illustration of the dryad dying as her tree is cut down in The Last Battle. To me, the idea of cutting down a sacred tree was horrifying, because I had a tiny bit of understanding about what that might mean to the people I lived with. Maybe the gods do die, maybe they are very much attached to some particular part of the earth?
The Old Testament God seems to me to be a very local God, so local that the Jews are still fighting about the particular patch of land he lives on. Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be like the Buddha – a man with an Idea, and not a deity at all. It seems that many local spirits and deities were borrowed when Christianity came along, and superimposed. Maybe we have been worshipping them all along, but with the industrial project have killed off our familiar gods and spirits, and are now looking around all bewildered and thinking, “Well, now what? I feel like I am meant to be having some kind of relationship with a spiritual being, but it’s not happening?? Where have the gods gone? Maybe I can substitute neuroscience/psychology/shopping/sport/politics/empire building/the form of an old religion?”
Is that why we are so soul sick? Because part of being human is relating to all the non-human entities around us and we have a) forgotten how and b) killed so many off?
Exactly, JMG. It’s important to help people to avoid self-harm, if they are worth it.
The old saw also comes to mind:
‘The false teacher is easy to identify: it’s the one who will accept YOU!’
So, last week the topic of the Fay came up in the comments section.
Hypothetically, would a thorough enough restoration of nature, sacred places, and re-enchantment of the world in the centuries ahead, restore such beings to our world? Or are they truly ‘extinct’ – they left due to causes on the spiritual plane?
I always assumed they left due to the disenchantment of the world, but perhaps humanity had nothing to do with it…
Hi again JMG
About your comment that religiosity could be an adaptation in the evolutionary process to “detect” de Gods, I would like to submit to you another possibility to explain the universal presence of religion in all the human societies as a central feature:
When I was 8 I saw the Kubrick’s film “2001 a Space Odyssey” and I was shocked with the firsts scenes of the film, those with these proto-humans wandering and looking for food and shelter, all of this was fascinating for my mind, and one of the think that impacted more to me was the scene where the “man” discover the use of a bone as a weapon and then kill first a tapir and inmediatelly another “man”
So the tesis of the film, in my point of view, was that the man kills as a consequence of the technology, is the technology what makes a killer of the man. We kill because we can…
Now a remember the quote from Ernst Mayr, in the frame of cold war and the threat of a all-out thermonuclear war saying: “intelligence is a lethal mutation”, as an answer to the Fermi Paradox. Because rationality makes you to question all the traditions, even the moral and ethics arguments, in a never ending serie of: why not? As John Faltaff said “reasons are as plenty as blackberries…everybody has reasons, and of course very important reasons…” or something like that
Rationality at the end is a tool, is a way to achieve goals, or desires, it has no “sense”, it cannot give “sense” to the action. Rationality “resides” in a 1,5mm layer in the pre-frontal lobe, below is the “thick mass”, the submerged continent
You have plenty of reasons to build thousands of H-bombs and wipe-out all the Humanity, as Von Neumann said “I will use the H-bomb (against the soviets) tomorrow before than the next monday, this afternoom before than tomorrow morning, this morning at 10:00h before than this afernoom”, because the games theory is at the same time a monument to the rationality and also to the human monstruosity, as a very famous film of Kubrick shows (Dr. Strangelove)
On the other hand a normal feature of all the religions is the concept of “hybris”, if you look at the greek tragedies and in general to the mythological narrations you will see the same pattern: these men or dinasties that want to be as powerful as gods (why not?) but are finally punished hard as an exemplary lesson (Dr. Strangelove for me is a greek tragedy, with the Man as the tragic hero punished by his own creation)
Could be, at the end, that religion was an adaptation to the extreme danger of the “naked rationality” that could have wipe-out thousand of times the pre-human groups after the “game theory” is fully applied from some people to the rest of the group with the expected destructive outcome?
So religion and myths would be ways to limit the damage that the extremelly powerful instrumental intelligence could inflict to the human groups, and also limit the development of the technology, because at the end it has always a double purpose (to help and to kill), technology is a way to concentrate power in fewer hands, and technology is, at the end, what destroy the “stories” of the group
This argument could sound similar to the Freud story of the dawn of Culture in his book “Totem and Tabu” where the group of “Brothers” murder the “Father” and then destroy the group itself, so at the end Culture arrives with the acceptance of the group of the “Law of the Father” (express in the superation of the edipean phase of the children). But in the freudian argument the main threat were the instincts (thanatos), not the rationality, and for me this sound a lot to the calvinist “intrinsic depravity of men”
I know this could sound as a simplistic/mechanistic way of explain such a complex phenomena which is religion, but for me has some sense, and in fact it does not talk about the “true” nature of reality
On the other hand there are people as Neil de Grasse Tyson, that is better I do not express my opinion of him (for the sake of avoid profanity), who says:
“Dinosaurs are extinct today because they lacked opposable thumbs and the brainpower to build a space program”
May be in the future we can safely transport our old H-bombs in our brand new starships and destroy many many more worlds, destroying only one seems little compare to what we deserve
“The flea and the elephant” – from today’s Albuquerque Journal. Some actress has claimed that the hurricanes are a sign of Mother Nature’s wrath (true enough!) …. at the fact that we elected Trump! Gag, choke, rolls eyes….as if Mam Gaia gives a flying frack who we elect to what office! One wonders what the carbon footprint of said actress is.
Thanks for the “fear and respect” post. We tend to forget that. If you don’t take Thor seriously this month, if all you remember is the funny stories about his misadventures, you’re just not paying attention. (Remind me to buy some mead as an offering)
There are a couple of things that impress me about Rob Hand’s work in that area. The first is that he can match the transit of the axis across each star in the constellation with a major historical event. The second is that it’s not limited to the zodiacal constellations: Aquilla (the Eagle) is not a zodiacal constellation.
I’ve never seen any one describe an internal structure to the standard “great ages,” so that different things will happen at different times, in sequential order.
I thoroughly agree that the late 19th century was a major turning point that will bring in major changes, but I account for that in a non-astrological fashion.
The Green Christ sounds interesting. It´s almost as if Christ was combined with some older dying and resurrecting mystery god associated with trees, and then explicitly connected to (our) ecological concerns.
I read some of the discusion. I recall Jesus parable of seed falling on stony annd on fallow ground. I recognize the former as my youthful enthusiasm without patience. The description of one church as becoming lukewarm to be spewed out of god’s mouth applies to modern church. On ideology generally. Take communism. In the beginning people were fanatics. By the 70s the saying was ‘we pretend to work and they pretend to pay us’. Then it collapsed as nobody cared. Same is happening with western democracy. I generally understood that Jesus, buddha were mystical geniuses and that every one after was just a shadow of previous so inevitably they cooled off if it became a mass institution. Indian gurus OTOH taught in secrecy mystical knowledge which developed slowly powers. Sufis do the same. Probably early church did same but it got lost so lukewarm was best they could do. Magic mushrooms, ayahuasca plus, twirling dervishes, similar in tribal africa, years of disciplined meditation all needed to get body mind complex focused, trained. Spiritual experience being a biochemical slow transformation to birth the butterfly. God being the call of the wild to come home. Civilization is aspiritual artificial state like living in a zoo for animals. The jungle is holistic experience. When we rise above that we live in monocultures like a golf course. Spiritual experience is like putting the individual back into the jungle emotionally. It is dangerous. Perhaps civilization takes us out of ‘evolution’ like survival of fittest does not happen due to modern medicine, agricultural reserves, industrialism. If poor jungle wild people are in touch with god in here and now seeing signs eveywhere instinctively,understanding god intuitively while we are dead to our bodies signals much less a denuded nature is question. Devolved modern man is in a dead end then evolutionarily as spirituality is how evolution works. It is total awareness of what is. On gods as such I don’t really know what to say. Do we create them as from our purest animism of wildman we start to control environment then intelllectual natural forces or functions, thunder, mother, father. Once we lose pure instinct and function as being one with nature, aka god and separate it out we slide down the slippery slope to where we are effectively dead, think god is dead, whhich is actually a description of our own death by slices over milennia. So the wild animal has a true waking soul and ours sleeps. True spirituality tries to awaken us from the slave control of civilization, king, church institutions which inhibit us. I am sounding quite hippy today or stone age peak oil conservative brutal.
@ the permaculture types ’round here
Re: permaculture as spiritual inspiration
Oooo-ooo! Me too!! I can tell you the exact date and the speaker I was listening to on that very special occasion. It was the day after Obama’s inaugural address, and I was listening to a YouTube interview with David Holmgren talking about his new (at the time) book “Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability.” (The book is fantastic too.)
I had this heavy a-ha sort of moment about humanity’s place in the scheme of things from his talk, and it changed my life radically. I mean, it was big, and I still go back and reread the subsequent series of entries in my journal from that time now and then, as well as watch that interview once in a while for the sake of nostalgia. We even named our son Oliver, partially because that’s David’s son’s name.
As my personal pantheon develops David Holmgren will eventually have an honored place therein, whether he wants it or not! Bill Mollison is also a big influence, but not like David. I have a hawthorn tree in my garden planted for Bill. Geoff Lawton will undoubtedly have his spot in my inner circle too.
Now, Toby Hemenway, I hadn’t heard about his passing. I’m blown away by that bit of news. How did I miss that?? He wasn’t even very old. Guess I need to add another magical tree to my garden for him. I remember him complaining about how his talks always drew in the “pagan goddess types,” when he was very obviously a serious scientific chap. He was confounded by it. I never understood that. Permaculture dovetails very nicely with our host’s mystery teachings I think – Wholeness, Flow, Limits, Evolution, etc, it’s all there.
Archdruid sir, I have an interesting question to ask your opinion on…
I mentioned late last week that I’d been laid up with a back muscle pull (no idea how it happened) which gave me the time I needed to read all the comments on the reincarnation post (which is rocking my world currently). Into this back muscle pain my wife was rubbing some of a Tiger Balm type cream we make one evening, and when I asked if she would do it again the next night, she responded rather sheepishly, “I only hesitate because of what happened last night when I did that. This is going to sound strange, but while I was rubbing your back last night, your muscle pull…um…bit me…twice. My hand was flat, not under any sort of pressure, or in any sort of weird angle that might have caused me to feel the sensation. It bit me. The first time was a warning shot, and the second seemed pretty aggressive, like when you kicked that scorpion in the bed and went back to see what it was.”
I have since quit drinking and smoking the wacky stuff, a regular habit for the last quarter century on both accounts, as both of these made the back pain worse immediately. Talk about unambiguous negative feedback…
What’s your take on something so bizarre?? Have you heard anything like this before? Is this one of those “unequivocal” signs I was looking for?
I guess, after reading through the myriad comments and your essay, I am thinking; what makes a God in the first place?
It is readily apparent, at least to most, that if there is an omniscient, omnipotent and eternal God – how and why are there so many other options out there for faith to be placed in? Would not this singular God have eliminated the others? Displaced them? Outsold them? Out-loved them? And yet, history shows the opposite. I think your reading of the ash bin of our history is reasonably accurate wrt Gods.
If Gods can die or decline or waste away, then by what mechanism is a God created?
My mind lends itself to the thinking that Gods become when they are imbued with substantial faith and belief. What is a God made from? That might be the hopes and prayers and yearnings within the souls who are doing the praying.
Misdirected prayers go into the dead-letter box, but where does the energy and belief that is imbued in these prayers go? Perhaps a weak God or an incipient God, willing and in position to grant a prayer does so, and thus that energy is used to imbue them in turn? Where does the energy of belief and desire go when it is released from the soul?
How is Godhead achieved anyway?? To me, any God would have to be made manifest by the desires, will and belief of many. Was Jesus the Son of God, or was he a kind, ethical and empathetic man who was made God by those hungry for the solace and honesty his words brought? Made real by his actually taking a stand when others were unable to bear the price?
It’s pretty apparent to me that his followers were hijacked when the Bible was assembled, and led down some rather questionable paths by some unusual ‘logical’ arguments. Yet I haven’t been able to ken how a God who was and always will be suddenly came into common knowledge 2000 years back…
Just some musings for which I doubt there are answers…
Exchange of experiences in the way of searching for meaning is a good way some time to reach safe abode. In the fifties I read initiation into hermetic by Franz Bardon a Geman spiritual worker who is accused of being a black magician. In the following decades I started reading Ibn Arabi one of the Moslim sufi who has open his heart to accommodate all religions, saying in one of his poem that his heart becomes a church for monks, a synagogue for rabbis, a temple for pagans and a shrine for others. Ibn Arabi is one of the believer that there is a system of drawing down divine knowledge to the human sphere through certain formation of alphabetical intonations. A method being used by transcendental meditation school but not to serve the the word of god but to cater for the human development away from the call of reality. The calamity resides in thinking that we have been given consciousness for survival and not for a higher purpose that of serving truth, honesty, goodness and beauty and not get enslaved like animal in mere survival. I feel sorry for those who no longer feel the glow of the light of the universe that activates everything through its system of never ending process of information exchange.
Regarding the gender binary & Jung, I tend to think of Masculinity and Femininity as platonic forms – and us squishy, imperfect mortals as containing variable amounts of both.
Just a data point regarding the current state of Christianity in the liberal, west coast town where I live. My neighbor is a pastor at a popular Christian church. His congregation recently bought the building across the street from their church building because they needed more space. Last year he moved into his newly built mansion across the street from me, that is currently valued at slightly over one million $. He spends all of his time (when not writing sermons presumably) building/rebuilding classic cars, riding his motorcycle and driving around in his modest but always new sports car. The scuttlebutt around town (I’m not in contact with his parishioners) is that the cars are bought for him by church members that are grateful for his services.
I have not read A Vision yet, but from your description, it sounds like a 28-piece oracle could potentially be put together based on it…now I’m curious. On to the book list it goes!
Best wishes from the “fervently hoping for rain very very soon” NW,
(And there’s the rain! Wonderful!)
I just want to say (and full disclosure, I’m an atheist) this is one of the most thought provoking things of yours I’ve read. Going to have to re read about 20 times I think.
On the idea that people may be worshiping different deities despite using the same name, I’ve certainly had the thought that certain denominations are really more interested in Satan than in God, since the thrust of their whole theology and sermons and evangelizing centers around a fascination with and avoiding of hell, and basically being saved FROM God, who has rather demonic characteristics. Something like, where your treasure lies your heart is also. That which you pay most attention to, is where you mind and heart lie, your interests lie…and they have such luridly detailed visions of hell, and heaven just sort of…not so much.
JMG. The death of god. I have for years tried to find another way to say this. Still not sure how to express change. my first thought reading this piece was, Robert Hunters lyrics to Crazy fingers. I feel a small part of being the color of this place we call home. We have tonal qualities and wave lengths also. I don’t fear for the long haul, i fear for those that fear. Thanks for still writing.
I was in desperate need of this post and didn’t know it. It’s amazing how one tidbit — the Greeks’ insistence on the unchanging permanence of reality — flips my perspective on its head. And the flip is exactly what was needed to understand what I’m going through right now. I would have had to stumble around a lot more without the shortcut you just provided.
Hi John Michael,
I do try to entertain as well as provoking thoughts and different ways of thinking about things! ;-)!
You know, every time I have tried to move away from the tasks here at the farm, I am drawn back to it by circumstances. The message is inescapable: This is what needs doing and you must do it. Perhaps likewise God did not have as much freewill in events as we all imagine and even Gods are subject to limits? Dunno but it seems likely.
One comment on prayer which I rarely do, seeming to me to be perhaps a naive personification, externalization of divine. Or perhaps a concrete request( ‘ oh god won’t you buy me a mercedes benz’) seems dangerous interference in karmic flow, ‘careful getting what you ask for’. Perhaps the car will be your undoing, like story of 3 wishes and the monkey’s paw. So prayer to me is brother lawrence’s ‘Practice of the presence of God’ a sort of in the zone, self observance, whereas prayer looks suspiciously like churchgoing, i.e. prayer is a permanent state of mind that deepens with the years. Earlier this week before your post appeared I was thinking on religious people and imagined arguing with them vehemently ‘but do you really believe in god’ foreshadowing your post. After my ‘hippy post above I saw a lone butterfly flit by my window this morning, recalling my comments to me. I know we are all connected,
humans, animals. The insects, birds like to tell us they know what we are thinking and want to be our friends if we will let them.
reading through the comments I noticed there seemed to be a few times where someone said something along the lines of they think God is not answering any more because people are somehow doing or believing something incorrectly, whereupon you replied that it was your theory that the thing that had changed was in fact on the God side of the equation, not the human side. I’m just wondering if this isn’t a simple either/or situation, but one where we need to look for the more complex reality of the middle ground. Wouldn’t the Law of Wholeness apply here too, as per your recent post:
”Everything that exists is part of a whole system and depends on the health of the whole system for its own existence. It thrives only if the whole system thrives, and it cannot harm the whole system without harming itself.
Like all living creatures, we habitually think of our environments solely as a background for our own actions and reactions. That’s useful but incomplete. There’s another way to see any environment — as a whole system in which every living and nonliving thing is a part, dependent on the whole for its survival.”
If we look at the world as a whole ecosystem with some parts not quite visible for us here on the material plane, made up of a huge diversity of rocks, plants, animals, humans, and a real range of god-type beings on other planes, wouldn’t the actions of every entity contribute in some way to the attributes of the entire system? Or is this still giving too much credit to the impact that humans can have?
I figure you probably didn’t mean it as an either/or situation (since you taught us about the Law of Wholeness in the first place!) but it seemed to come across that way in parts of the discussion.
A few months ago, while thinking about who might be the spirit that is present in my life, a very clear name popped into my mind: Ariadne. I have no doubt that it was a voice from a spirit because it came through so strong and firm out of the blue, but I had no idea who she was and never heard of her. A bit of research on the internet yielded a murky picture. There are a lot of different stories, but possibly she would work as a goddess for women who have been treated badly by men because she apparently was abandoned by Theseus after falling in love with him and helping him kill the Minotaur.
In any case, this post and the comments have me wondering if she would still be around, and whether it is a different Ariadne who spoke to me. If gods/goddesses grow old and die, is it time that makes them fade away, or is it something else, and if so, can a very old (according to our time) god/goddess be as vigorous as a new one? What ages a god? Maybe the amount of prayers they answer? The energy they devote to humans? Maybe to go on to the next level they have to be a god or goddess to humans for awhile, and if Ariadne hasn’t yet done the full arc of that, would still be here and vigorous? Kind of like taking care of babies and children causes a maturation process in parents but also ages them.
If Mary is still here, why not Ariadne?
However, if she herself went through many reincarnations on her way to god/goddess-hood, wouldn’t she have many other possible personas she could be using when presenting herself to people? Or maybe she is using the Ariadne one because it would be helpful in my particular case? Just musing.
I asked her what I might do for her, and what she would like from me, and did a divination on the answer. In response I got the blank few that I tossed into my Ogham few bag awhile back, with a clear “talk to me” message.
So I have begun chattering to her as I go through my day. I’m afraid it feels like having an imaginary friend that no one else can see but is very real to me. If I didn’t feel perfectly sane I would be wondering if it’s time to cart me off to the loony bin.
(continued on next post)
While musing about the previous post, I remembered a chapter in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, a text I’ve long believed was occult. He describes the creation of an imaginary council that guides him through his desired changes towards becoming the man he wanted to be.
“Every night, over a long period of years, I held an imaginary Council meeting with this group whom I called my “Invisible Counselors.”
The procedure was this. Just before going to sleep at night, I would shut my eyes, and see, in my imagination, this group of men seated with me around my Council Table. Here I had not only an opportunity to sit among those whom I considered to be great, but I actually dominated the group, by serving as the Chairman.
I had a very DEFINITE PURPOSE in indulging my imagination through these nightly meetings. My purpose was to rebuild my own character so it would represent a composite of the characters of my imaginary counselors. Realizing, as I did, early in life, that I had to overcome the handicap of birth in an environment of ignorance and superstition, I deliberately assigned myself the task of voluntary rebirth through the method here described.”
If this doesn’t sound like a technique for changing consciousness in accordance with will… magic in other words… I missed something.
In any case, the point I wanted to make had to do with how the men around the table took on a life of their own, and how he became frightened by what was happening. The chapter can be read here:
Possibly there were some gods or entities, or maybe the spirits of the dead people in question, that were showing up. It’s regrettable that he was using his techniques to make money, and I wonder who exactly was showing up.
On a side note, I see he added Schopenhauer to the imaginary council, which may not have been as imaginary as he thought. Many gods in the making there, possibly?
“Casey, I’ve always thought the notion that the gods must be parts of our own psyches shows the typical anthropocentric arrogance of our era. It makes rather more sense to me to suggest that if gods exist and interact with humans, it makes sense that we would have appropriate senses for perceiving them — if only via Darwinian selection! You might as well claim that the sun and moon only exist in the psyche, since we perceive them through known neurological and psychological structures…”
JMG, thanks for responding. As always, these discussions get a little foggy for me, because although they are absolutely fascinating, there is always the question of whether my set of definitions match up with your set of definitions. This is a problem I see all over when it comes to… discussing esoterica.
Currently, as a human, I probably do display anthropocentricism… Possibly, in previous incarnations, I may have exhibited ursocentrism or corvocentrism.
Certainly, whatever the gods are, it must be that we interact them as individuals meeting other individuals. No doubts there… But I also suspect that some of the especially delightful and vivid dream contacts I’ve had with other beings, who provided me with information or hope or criticism, may have been aspects of my own psyche, hiding there in the shadows. Yet I was interacting with them, person to person. The psyche is a weird place.
“You might as well claim that the sun and moon only exist in the psyche, since we perceive them through known neurological and psychological structures…”
😉 Got it!
@ Tripp, JMG…
The ‘Dread God Roberts’ theory would seem to both limit the Gods wandering about in search of, well, whatever they are intent on. It would also allow for a lot of other things, like where energy and effort directed at a God would not be wasted, were that particular God to go walkabout, but utilized by the newly installed one.
Maybe it’s like a franchise? And the God name is strictly a brand, and the managers rotate in and out? That would allow for maturation and training of managers to begin their own brand in future as the earlier brands declined…
I’m just musing a bit over your reply that gods are just there, apart from our tendency as humans to think that somehow we must have a prime place in creating them. I’m willing to entertain that as a possibility, however, other thoughts come to mind…..I think Oilman2 makes some good comments in that regard. If ‘gods’ exist apart from human co-creation, how can it be that there are several who claim to be the “one-and-only”, and if there are indeed several making this claim, how can we trust any particular one? Ditto if there are several “wind goddesses” , for example…..do we rely on ratings? Advertising campaigns? Even from a young age, when others would try to “convert” me to their particular religion or denomination, I always had a sense that the reason that person was Catholic, or Mormon, or Jewish, or whatever, is because they were raised in that religion, and if they’d been raised in another religion, they’d be just as adamant about that one. (And this could also be the reverse…..raised Catholic? All the more likely to rebel and become a Druid, or whatever). Also, if these gods exist and rule over all creation, where are all the cats, foxes, pine trees and etc. on Sunday mornings? (I know, I’m getting a little out of hand here)………
Nonetheless, you do make a very good point that we humans tend to see ourselves as the most important factor in anything important in the universe, including the god-creation business. What seems more likely to me is that there is some ultimately unknowable web of interaction between humans and all of creation and this mysterious force we label as “gods”. And it’s just our particular form of conceptual ability that makes us think we can understand it, label it, etc.
Dear JMG and all,
thank you for your answer. Longer thinking on the subject and reincarnation results in the following, that you probably also thouht of:
If God (a God) is through with it´s development at the earth-table, maybe it´s like doctors going into retirement: some of them don´t close down shop all the way but tend to some clients they have taken a liking to or interest in until those clients are well, or the doctor in questions has run out of time or useful interventions.
In the first chapter (I haven’t made it much further) of my copy of Thomas Keating’s Open Heart, Open Mind, there is some discussion of this subject. The shocking part to me was the assertion that less than five percent of the cloistered contemplatives Father Keating had met had any felt experience of God. I presume that as a monk and abbot his sample size was sufficient to make this noteworthy. He says that the people he’s met who have the most exuberant mystical lives are married or in the active ministry.
Since this is Catholicism, there is an explanation; the reader is referred to Ruth Burroughs’s Guidelines to Mystical Power and her attempt to distinguish between “lights off” and “lights on” mysticism. The hypothesis is essentially that everything is working but that there is no faculty that can perceive it, and if one goes forward in pure faith one will ultimately end up in transformative union.
He speculates that “Perhaps God does not help cloistered folks in the same way because He has decided that they have enough support from the structures of their enclosed lifestyle.” And in good Catholic form, tells the reader “You do not have to feel it, but you have to practice it.”
It seems rather unsatisfactory considering he’s spent the bulk of the chapter discussing charasmatic gifts, psychic phenomena, levitation, prophecy, and the like. It seems equally likely to me that cloistered contemplatives are particularly boring to God, who presumably interacts with people for some purpose better served when those people are active in the world.
I think the main problem with Western Christianity is spiritual depletion. Centuries of authoritarian abuse by the Catholic Church and the wasteful spiritual expenditure of the Protestant Reformation have taken their toll.
Eastern Christianity, on the other hand, does not seem to suffer from spiritual depletion. Eastern Christianity has mostly retained the original spirit of Early Christianity and has also been influenced by other Eastern religions.
Oh, regarding entheogenic plants, I’m in favor of them and quite surprised when people dismiss them. It seems obvious to me that our resting, normal perceptive state is the default to which we must always return for our safety and regular survival functioning. But people have always and always will crave other states of consciousness, which they get from cigarettes, alcohol, and all the many other techniques. Considering how valuable other states of consciousness are, and that they do indeed exist, it seems to me a form of prudery to reject the access plants give. Even more intriguing is the idea that plants and their “souls” or individualities are on a separate trajectory of experience and development. This really opens up some beauty. Many people have felt that ayahuasca, for instance, has a real entity that comes to them from the plant, and certainly several other plants qualify. I, myself, have experienced a very healing session using amanita mushroom, which has been compared to a Christ-like being. That plants are indeed beings with a very different soul path is a new twist; thinking of the reciprocal see-saw between the breathing in and out of the respiratory gases between plants and animals, our entwined evolution and the astounding chemistry contained within the plant world, how can we even consider dismissing that some wise old plants have something to offer us, some keys to unlock the capacities of our own minds?
JMG, re your God Is Dead speculation – and as far as speculations go, I think it’s a sound one; the Book of Revs does refer to a “new heaven” as well as a new earth, after all – would this mean that Christian saints would lose potency because their “battery pack” is essentially drained of juice? Or would they be able to act independently in Spirit, apart from the Source which once gave birth to them?
I’m thinking of the recently canonized Padre Pio who I have heard has interceded and manifested in various ways since his death in ’68. From what I have read of Pio, he was the most “Medieval” of modern saints, with the stigmata, assorted miracles, bi-locations, etc. l’m wondering if Pio’s “back in time” Medievalism would invest him with a particular potency in our modern age, more so perhaps, than other saints.
One cool thing about Pio – he absolutely hated television right from its inception.
Rich dialogues with visions never stops giving birth to new visions. I thank the author of the blog who have set all these visions in motion. I was thinking of the law of negation and affirmation and why negation preceded affirmation as if it is meant to clean the human land for new erection. We are in a continual process of destruction and construction, one only need to look around to see the forces of death and renewal. We are in a world that ignites more questions than supplies answers as if we are meant with our given consciousness to improvise the answers. It is strange how human is programmed to trip on the way up or down. It is not the problem of god,his death or his birth and the human inclination to give the non-defined god
the attributes of the humans, forgetting we are created in his image and not him in our image. The blunders that have never stopped over the many nows that have been given to humanity to grasp better. We have to be careful as not to mix the attributes of the divine realm with the concepts that are provided for the physical realm. Earth is a testing ground as well as a tasting ground that is why they say, he who is blind in this one with be more blind in the new incarnation.. It is not the spiritual of the part that should hold our attention but the spirit of the whole which our part only one of its subsets. It is a wonderful world and a wonderful consciousness that keeps the communication going toward a higher comprehension and appreciation. I am not a new comer to your blog but I have been enjoying reading your posts and the comments of the readers and your responses more than four years now.
Fellow Pagan readers may remember anthropologist Tanya Luhrman’s book _Persuasions of the Witch’s Path” which examined how average middle class people in England came to adopt a magical mindset. She continued to study various paths to ‘conversion’ with a book on the training of psychiatrists. Her most recent work is a study of the American evangelical community called _When God Talks Back_. I haven’t read the book, but I heard her give a presentation on her research a few years ago. It was evident that many of the people she interviewed did indeed feel that they were able to communicate directly with Jesus, talking over problems as they would with a trusted friend. Luhrman’s interest as an anthropologist is in how people come to adopt a belief system at variance with the mainstream of their culture. But the work seems relevant to the questions raised in this post. These people do not seem to be as consumed with concerns about the sins of others as the Pat Robertson types. Maybe a different entity identifying as Jesus is answering them.
Rather late to commenting on this one. Really incredible essay, the last three in fact.
The idea that the ‘title’ remains while the actual deity changes is a fascinating one. The ‘Dread God Roberts’ theory, I like it.
It fits rather well with the interest in Odin I’m seeing among those I know, and for myself.
His name is more or less a title anyway. “Master of Ecstacy/Fury/Inspiration” https://norse-mythology.org/odr-concept/
I could see it being the case of a new being taking over the title.
I had thought that what I was seeing in this regard was more along the lines of Christianity overlaying something else that had been there all along, and as Christianity loses its strength what had been there before would be exposed again.
I’m curious if this is your thinking on Asatru likely having a strong future in America? Is it a case of new young gods gaining a following, or is it a deity/deities towards the end of its/their life cycle gaining followers once more as Christianity fades?
First rule of spirituality ought to be, stop expecting anything to happen. That way, anything that *does* happen, has to be a bonus.
I think you were having a little fun with the idea of God leaving the mainstream Christian churches first. Its a novel approach to the issue of declining enrolment in such churches.
I’d grant that these Christian churches don’t teach how to experience God well, if at all. Nonetheless, there are esoteric and other traditions within Christianity that do. The churches that practice these traditions don’t seem to be having the same enrolment issues as far as I know.
So my question is:
In your experience, have you seen people abandon pagan/occult beliefs for much the same reasons you have seen some abandon Christian ones?
I ask the question because it seems possible the experience could work both ways.
This might be an unfair question given people don’t normally announce why they leave a religion to those still in it, but I suppose it is not impossible you have some experience with this.
“RPC, an episode of Catholic renewal would be great, so long as it didn’t simply replace the last scraps of the old magic with some suitably bland pastiche satisfactory to upper middle class congregations…” Ha! Indeed. But that would hardly be a renewal, would it? I’m thinking something more in line with the explosion of the mendicant orders in the late medieval period.
One wonders whether the Old Testament God, whoever or whatever that was and is, has ever been present in any of the Christian cults?
After all, Christianity is such a muddled jumble. of beliefs and rituals, of Neo-Platonism, resurrection cults, saint-veneration and Mithraism, Northern pagan cults, and so on….
Haven’t the mystics of the Church (and churches) usually related encounters with Jesus, the saints and angels?
So, to call on God and get the answer phone might well be no real surprise…
Christian preachers and congregations that dwell on Satan and all his naughty works and impish minions are really just getting a kick from words.
How dull it would all be be otherwise.
Wonderfully satirised in the character of the preacher in ‘Cold Comfort Farm’ – there’s an excellent movie version.
@Lydia Gray, who asked ‘where are all the cats, foxes, pine trees and etc. on Sunday mornings? ”
I can’t speak for foxes and pine trees, for whom being in the wilderness may well be enough, but the Egyptians had an answer for where the cats are. And a lot of my cat-loving friends have little statues of Bast on their mantel or bookcase, which certainly serves as an altar, formally or not.
I have commended the spirits of a good many cats to the Mother of the Cats, to sleep in her lap and play in her green fields (fast butterflies and slow mice) and possibly, when the time comes, a kitten will appear…..
@TheK – “…Eastern Christianity has mostly retained the original spirit of Early Christianity and has also been influenced by other Eastern religions.”
Not sure about that — any number of Orthodox priests would point to the vast corpus of the desert fathers for verifying that their tradition is truly their own, and not influenced in any way by eastern traditions. On the other hand, it’s more than possible that the contemplative practices performed by the early monastics in places like Syria, made their way to the East, where they had some influence in Buddhist and Taoist circles.
On the Catholic side of this, someone like Francis Tiso, who is a canon in the Catholic church, has published a book called “Resurrection and Rainbow Body,” which also demonstrates the question of just how far practices and “narratives can walk” great distances. In the book, he also explores the nature of the rainbow body phenomenon (which is the atomization of the Tibetan Buddhist adept’s body after death) and its possible validation of the “resurrection body” of Christ.
Just a couple of comments more.
On fasting–back in the 80s I read a book called _Fasting: the Phenomenon of Self Denial_ by Eric Rogers. According to my book list I thought enough of it to have taken notes. Unfortunately I have no idea where those notes are. Too many moves. I do recall that it was an extensive explanation of the history of fasting in various religions and the author’s comments on its value. Some of the writings of the Wiccan lineage I belong to advocate fasting before ritual. I used to do this, and one thing I tried to do was to consciously dedicate the action to the deities. As the day would pass and I would think “Hungry” I would follow up with a mental dedication of that energy rather than allow myself to feel deprived and resentful. I don’t do it any more as fasting isn’t advisable on some of my medications.
On the non answering of prayers–some time ago I read a blog post by a Christian pastor who said that he had come to a revelation about the arrogance of assuring Gay Christians that God would relieve them of their homosexuality if they prayed sincerely enough. He realized that the ‘try harder’ they got was similar to what he had received when praying most sincerely for God to heal his partial deafness. Fellow church members had treated his frustration as a test of his faith. And he had been guilty of the same in regard to homosexuals who assured him that they sincerely wanted to be cured.
When I was 13 I attended a fundamentalist, full immersion baptism, justification by faith not works, etc. chapel at the suggestion of my best friend who was a member. I was completely into it and prayed most sincerely to be “saved.” This was described by others as a very specific experience in which one would know that Jesus had accepted you. Never happened. I described this later as ‘sitting by the phone waiting for a call like a girl on a dateless Friday night.’ If reproached for becoming Pagan–well He had His chance to call.
This is a belated question on reincarnation. I had a friend who told people that he was a walkin. He had been gay. He suffered a severe illness that also left him diabetic. He claimed that another spirit had occupied his body. Not sure if original pushed all the way out i.e. that he had died and been reanimated, or just overshadowed. Afterwards he was heterosexual. Wish now that I had asked more questions. Does Druid view of incarnation allow for such happenings?
Re: The Silence of the God(s)
In 1983, Steven Brams published “Superior Beings: If They Exist, How Would We Know?” which applied mathematical game theory to the question of prayer and religious experience. Here’s a sample (from memory): suppose that what a god wants is “to be freely worshiped by a faithful person”. This seems intuitively plausible (much like what we desire in personal relationships?) A game-theory terms, that’s his best possible outcome. But a god needs to decide: to (re-)reveal himself, or not. Too much revelation, and the person is no longer as free; proof makes faith superfluous. Given individual freedom, each person has to decide: to worship, or to ignore. Thus, there are four possible outcomes, after each “player” decides. 1: god hidden/person worships, 2: god revealed/person worships, 3: god hidden/person ignores, 4: god revealed/person ignores. Outcome 1 is best (for god), and 4 (rebellion and rejection) is the worst! I’m not sure how to rank 2 and 3, but it doesn’t really matter. Remaining hidden is a winning strategy for god.
But perhaps there is a third choice for god: dropping ambiguous hints, and answering prayers in unexpected ways, which leave room for free faith for those who are so inclined.
I would like to start by saying that I am glad to have followed the migration to the new platform. I have to confess an abiding interest in your writing, content and style, and it continues to confound and interest me. The last few times I wrote in a comment on the Archdruid Report, I remember writing in length about the rise of the alt-right and its influence in American politics with the advent of the presidential election. I recall talking about egregores and the rise of Kek and all of its contistituent chaos.
I was rather caught up in the moment, and it seems to me that lately thinking about the Long Decline has tempered my enthusiasm for wading in the froggish swampy terrain of the alt right. At the very least it has greatly increased my desire to change my damp socks!
Please allow me to thank you for helping me to engage in a serious interest in two things: brewing beer and permaculture – the former means I’ve managed three brews of beer, one of cider and one of mead. Useful in case of grim warlording hordes! Or at the least, passing down in knowledge to my descendants.
This post has caught my attention and utterly gripped it. You have touched upon my experience with my upbringing in the contemporary protestant and evangelical church. Much of it was spent in a seemingingly mind numbing experience of extraordinarly bland worship songs, paltry sermons, and diffuse anxiety about supernatural realities. I found solace in deeper and more ancient traditions. I recall purchasing a book on Celtic Prayer written by monks from the 14th century in Ireland, and finding that more useful and fulfilling as a prayer ritual than any guidance given by many of the evangelical tradition.
I converted to Eastern Catholic after I was married. I have always been interested in spirituality and the existance of further realms than the simple material. I worked at a bible camp in my early 20s, and I can distinctly recall one experience that forms an underpinning of my faith. I had a coworker who was quite into esctatic forms of worship, including dancing. I recall praying, and following this fellow around a field late at night, after we’d put the kids to bed in the cabin. Here he was dancing away, and I plodding and praying. Suddenly, I was struck with a profound sense of OTHER. Attention from the cosmos. A personality and will that literally drove me to my knees, crumpling in on myself. Not malicious, but overwhelming, and powerful. His Eye was upon me – and I recalled childhood scripture about the fear of God. That summer, following this experience, I had not one or two strange events, but five regarding shooting stars at specific moments of prayer – all of which were directed at my specific struggle about finding a spouse. Later that fall I began correspondence with the person whom I married, who was devotedly Catholic in an Eastern tradition that is more Orthodox than Roman.
Protestant churches, both evangelical and mainline are dying. Roman churches are dying, except for the “strange” ones – those that cater to ritual, Latin mass, pre-Vatican II, etc. My own adopted faith tradition is doing OK. The Ukrainian Catholic church was underground during the Soviet era, and its current, young, leader rose up during intense and real persecution. The church is seeing a resurgence in Eastern Europe, as well as Russia among the Orthodox.
Rob Dreher of the “Benedict” option of cloistered Christianity is an interesting data point. He converted Russian Orthodox. In the context of your post, I am willing to entertain, at least hypothetically, a deity that seems to behind a resurgence in Eastern Europe is real and vibrant. Our new priests all come from Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. Many of the younger ones cite miracles as part of their witness, curing of blindness, conversions, exorcisms, etc. It seems that Jesus, surrounded by icons, and the haunting melodies of the East seems to still have moments of intersection and real power with our world.
Carlos, thanks for the clarification! Also for the interesting data points.
Ross, no doubt there are changes on our side too. I simply think, in the light of religious traditions outside the Abrahamic fold, there’s reason to wonder if a core factor in the change is on the divine side of the line.
Jo, I seriously doubt we killed them off. My guess is that they stopped interacting with us here in the industrial world because we stopped interacting with them, and if we made the effort to reach out and make amends, there’s a good chance they will respond. Your broader point, though — that our society, and we ourselves, are suffering from an illness caused by a shortage of interaction with nature spirits and the like — strikes me as very much worth exploring.
Xabier, that old saying is new to me, and very much to my taste. Thank you!
Brigyn, I don’t think they left at all. I think we’ve been taught not to see them, and since our behavior for the last two thousand and odd years has by and large not been such as to invite their presence and friendship, they’ve probably done the sensible thing and turned their backs on us.
DFC, does your theory allow for the existence of actual gods and goddesses? As for Tyson’s display of ignorance, though, we’re in perfect agreement. The dinosaurs endured for more than a hundred million years. We don’t show much sign of making it for even a small fraction of that time…
Patricia, for what it’s worth, I’ve found that thunder gods also respond extremely well to libations of really good dark beer.
John, the difficulty with Hand’s analysis is the same problem that the more extravagant cyclic theories have — there are always important historical events happening, so that finding a historical event to fit any sequence of dates is pretty easy. My sense that the Aquarian age arrived in 1879 is based on something more like rectification — I look at the meanings of Pisces and Aquarius, and also of Jupiter and Uranus, and look for a historical inflection point where one began to give way noticeably to the other.
Tidlosa, it’s an interesting phenomenon, I’m far from sure what to make of it.
Gandalfwhite, or stoned — were you by any chance ripped on weed when you wrote that? I used to run with some people who were fairly serious potheads, and wrote and talked in that sort of cascade of concepts when buzzed…
Tripp, if that’s what gives you spiritual inspiration, go ye forth and do that thing. As for your unambiguous sign, yeah, it sounds as though your body is really, seriously trying to tell you something. Do you tend to push on and keep working when your body needs rest?
Oilman2, are human beings brought into being by the hopes and wishes of the dust mites that feed on our skin? Or do they come into being by some other process, and dust mites simply adapt to their appearance and disappearance?
Abudulmonem, and if that works for you, by all means.
Justin, fair enough. I tend to think of them as cultural constructs that build a vast amount on the modest foundation of human sexual differentiation.
Pyrus, sure. And exactly what does this have to do with the existence, or lack of same, of God? God is not a church, you know…
Bonnie, yes, though it’ll take a lot of study. Just don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the phase of the Moon when you were born has anything to do with your phase in Yeats’ system — even though he rejected that explicitly in his letters, there are astrologers who’ve tried to use A Vision that way.
Whomever, glad to hear it. Thank you!
Onething, the magical axiom is “what you contemplate, you imitate.”
Bob, feeling like a part of the Earth is a really good place to start!
NoHype, glad to be of help.
Chris, I can easily imagine a god grumbling to the other patrons at the god bar about having to take care of human beings!
Gandalfwhite, “Lord gimme this” is to my mind a corruption of prayer; if that’s the way you approached a relationship with a human being, you’d better expect to get told to stuff it! A relationship with a god is a relationship, first and foremost, and governed by the same rules of courtesy and respect as any other relationship…
Stefania, good. The reason I’m stressing the possibility that change takes place on the divine side of the human/divine boundary is that so many people assume automatically that all such change must be caused by human beings. It’s a weird sort of anthropocentrism — the notion that everything else in the cosmos is passive and static, and we alone change things.
Myriam, the New Thought movement — which is what Hill was part of — was derived from older magical traditions, in much the same way that the New Age movement was derived from Theosophical occultism. The habit of using the imagination as a vehicle to have conversations with the differently embodied is not new to Hill! Carl Jung’s practice of active imagination is worth examining in this light. As for Ariadne, if that’s the name she wants to be called, I’d say go for it.
Casey, oh, sure! The psyche is a weird place — and that’s why it’s unsafe to assume that everything you perceive through it is inside it…
Oilman2, I like it! The Divine Franchise theory. “Would you like salvation with that?”
Lydia, you should attend more Druid services. Cats, foxes, pine trees, and much more tend to have a significant presence there. I suspect there are plenty of wind goddesses, because there are plenty of winds; as for beings that insist that they are the one and only god that ever existed, almighty, omniscient, etc., how often are the gods claiming that, and how often is it their followers showing the same kind of vanity that leads some people to insist that they have the very best model of car?
Emily, that’s a workable hypothesis!
WRW, good gods, Five per cent? Christianity is in worse shape than I thought. The contemplative orders used to be that faith’s spiritual powerhouses.
TheK, or is it just that the grass looks greener on the eastern side of the fence?
Onething, you’ll remember that my usual criteria is to look at whether the same claims have been made before, and how that turned out. People have been talking about this or that psychedelic drug in the same terms for a century and a half now, and somehow it all just turns into people having drug trips.
Will, dead human beings who were remarkably pious during their lives have performed postmortem miracles in every culture I’ve ever heard of, so I’m not in the least surprised that Padre Pio is performing to spec. If he loathed television, he was wise as well as pious!
Abdulmunem, that’s a very traditional way to think of these things within the Abrahamic religions. I’m simply suggesting that maybe it’s time to look at them from an older perspective.
Rita, thanks for the heads up! I’ll put that on the to-read list.
Jason, a lot of old divine names are titles rather than personal names. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone else had risen to fill the boots of the Odin who died on Vigrid Plain. As for Asatru, my take is that it probably has a very substantial future here in North America, as it’s broken out of the narrow social class that usually takes up (and then drops) exotic religions, and found followers among a great many ordinary Joes and Janes. If it survives the current twilight of the neopagan era, it will likely go on to become a significant long-term presence in North American religion.
Wayfarer, that’s like saying that the first rule of cooking should be not to expect to get anything edible out of the process. Sure, that saves you from feeling disappointment, but is avoiding an unpleasant emotion really the most important issue?
Dave, it’s not an unfair question at all. Right now a lot of people are drifting away from mainstream eclectic Wicca because it doesn’t provide them with spiritual experiences, and there are other ways to get laid and feel edgy and antinomian. Some other Neopagan faiths are facing the same problem, while others don’t seem to have that happen anything like so often.
RPC, granted, but when privileged liberals talk about a renewal of this or that religion, ditching its spiritual content in favor of a more complete identification with the latest set of political fashions is usually what they have in mind.
Xabier, heck of a good question. Until somebody invents a theometer, I don’t know of a way to find out…
Rita, Druid teachings don’t discuss the “walk-in” phenomenon, and I’m not at all sure what to make of it, as I haven’t encountered it first hand.
Lathechuck, sure, but there’s no reason to assume that that’s what all gods want. Again, it’s not safe to apply the presuppositions of the Abrahamic faiths to all gods…
Phil, and that’s the sort of thing that a vigorous and powerful god is supposed to do. If you find your relationship with that God satisfactory, then go ye forth and pursue it!
@ JMG, thank you for your responses. It is mind blowing to me that until recently people wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and that some still do. It was very dull and somewhat grating while I was there.
As for Jung and gender essentialism, point well taken. I’ve read Illich’s book on gender, which gives a good sampling of the cultural constructions of gender expression with an emphasis on the manifold diversity as well as some repeating structural aspects. That being said I tend towards what Justin describes as an understanding of gender as Platonic ideals. This may be a petrified assumption that isn’t helpful. I’m heavily informed by my reading of Jung as well. Hmmm, this is a big concept that I’ll have to chew on it for awhile before I can really digest it.
Gosh, this post and comments have given me a lot to think about. I’m a follower of Jesus, with Quaker influences, but a long time ago I came across a story from a Jewish mystical tradition in which an ancient Rabbi was said to have great spiritual power because he knew a name of God. It was said that the name of God that he knew was what gave his prayers power. Since then I have thought carefully about how I address my prayers.
This post made me think that how I address my prayers might matter even more than I realized before. Also helped me realize that my own sense of the reality of my relationship with that divine power beyond myself, that sense of the relationship and my part in it, but also the part of what I perceive to be the divine power, is an important part of my spiritual guidance. In my contemplative practice I am seeking for the connection with that wellspring of redemption and transformation who leads and guides me. If I can’t find it I feel I am not right in myself. But the content of my practice has a lot to do with the ‘Whom’ I am reaching out to, because I am clear I am seeking and finding Someone beyond myself. Thank you for going with your inspiration for this week’s post, certainly has provided material for my journal reflections and meditations.
In prayer I use names for God in the sense of describing the character of that being I encountered in my most profound spiritual experiences (“Wellspring of wisdom and compassion”), and with the character I sense in the parts of the bible that resonate strongly for me — such as this passage from Isaiah 58:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”
Also since I am moved to comment I will mention I was strongly struck by your mention of the Green Christ image, as it could summarize the path I find myself on, of feeling called into a new relationship of reconciliation with the earth by the One whom I know as Jesus.
@Will J – I misunderstood JMG’s term “public face” for atheists, and thought it terms of single person, and not in the plural. It’s seems that all faiths suffer PR issues from the dogmatic attention seekers, who unfortunately are often cast in the limelight.
@JMG – I was trying to point out the limit to the growth of atheism, as every survey I’ve ever read indicates deists/polytheists to be 90+ percent of the population. Of course I’ve been subjected to blow-hard atheists, and due to numbers, even more blow-hard Christians. As an agnostic virtually my whole life, I gotten it from all directions, often lumped in with atheists, which of course is not accurate. Atheists make a basic mistake in logic IMHO, and your posts describing the limitations of our human senses explains much of that. I freely admit my views are mainly materialistic, but I don’t discount out of hand things which I don’t understand or can’t comprehend.
As for those “not trying hard enough”, I think we’re discussing two different types of people. My opinion was about those who really aren’t spiritual at all regardless of their practices, versus those who are truly seeking spiritual or religious relief/insight in life. I did not intend my response to be flip nor disrespectful in any way, though upon rereading it I could see a bit of smug “insistence”.
I follow your blog to gain a better understanding of non-traditional views, because I agree with your prediction that as the decline continues, the popularity in religion will rise. Your posts and the comments here are very educational. And that will help me guide others in the right direction when I’m asked for advice, which for some reason, happens often.
BTW – though I might object to being tossed into the “Frequently Thrown Tantrums” corner, I find that write-up worth some laughs – and though I’ve been accused of (and guilty of) worse, especially when I was younger (and insufferable, or maybe just more insufferable), it was deserved.
@Emily – though I haven’t attended a church service for 35 years, I do miss the tunes. Many of the hymms we sang at our Luthern Church were quite moving – and competed quite well with the Beatles, Beach Boys and Scorpions for my favorite songs.
Thanks for your reply (and all of them), JMG. If it wasn’t obvious, my post was mostly tongue in cheek until the last sentence. I certainly do believe that animals have a strong spiritual dimension–plants too! I have had many cats who have demonstrated that to me beyond a shadow of a doubt. But I still feel that the spiritual forces in the universe are so vast, so profound, so unknowable to our human mind/brains, that it rarely makes sense to me to reduce them to “named” gods/goddesses. Just my 2 cents.
Consider if the “Christian” god isn’t dead, but instead as the God of Moses hardened Pharaoh’s heart what if there is a God today hardening people’s heads?
Violet, it’s worth taking the time to chew on. If I may bring up a point you raised in an earlier discussion, it seems to me that much of what’s problematic with today’s cultural construction of transexuality is precisely that so much of it takes current notions of “male” and “female” as biological absolutes into which diverse human beings must be shoehorned. You’re not supposed to say “I’m male, but I’m not the kind of male our culture presents as the default option; my kind of maleness incorporates many features our culture arbitrarily assigns to the category ‘female’.” Instead, if you’re not male-as-our-culture-defines-it, you must be female-as-our-culture-defines it, and vice versa — with surgeons in waiting to shove you one way or the other across the boundary.
Alice, using cogent descriptions of the Being to whom you pray is both very traditional and very effective — a lot of what atheists mischaracterize as groveling praise directed at deities is to my mind exactly this sort of naming-by-description. The Baal Shem Tov, the great Hasidic Jewish mystic you mentioned, is certainly a model to follow! (The title means “Master of the Good Name.) So I’m not in the least surprised that your prayers are getting good results. With regard to the Green Christ, fascinating that that’s not just limited to the Druid tradition.
Drhooves, I apologize for some degree of crabbiness on my part! It certainly wasn’t your fault that I’d been fielding a flurry of blowhard atheist trolls in response to this post. (In a fine bit of irony, shortly after I responded to you, I got a flurry of equal-and-opposite blowhard Christian trolls.) Thank you for the clarification. I’d point out that most of the public spokespeople for atheism in recent times have displayed the same sort of smug, aggressive ignorance that Richard Dawkins so often parades — consider Greta Christina, for heaven’s sake, or Sam Harris, or Neale Degrasse Tyson’s insistence that philosophy is all nonsense because he can’t shoehorn it into his notion of what knowledge ought to be, or — well, I could go on at quite some length. There are, again, plenty of decent, compassionate, courteous atheists out there, but they’re not the ones you encounter all over the media and the internet, and I’ve met a fair number of people who don’t believe in any gods but won’t have anything to do with organized atheism because they don’t want to be associated with the kind of people I’ve named.
As for the reasons people aren’t getting responses to their prayers, here again, I said in so many words that I was talking about people who’d devoted a great deal of time and energy to that task, thus my irritation at the way you characterized them. Did you read any of the comments by people in this category who posted their experiences here? If not, you might want to do so; it’s painfully obvious that what’s happening is not just that they’re insufficiently serious about it.
Lydia, so noted! The point about Druids still stands; I’ve long since lost track of the number of times that, say, a hawk has circled over a Druid ceremony all through the central invocation, or squirrels have gathered in the trees around the rite, apparently watching.
Ray, it’s always possible to get out of the dilemma by assuming that the god you’re dealing with isn’t a loving and compassionate Father, but the kind of being who likes to slaughter people en masse for his own greater glory. Whether that’s a god you want to have anything to do with, on the other hand, is quite another matter…
I don’t discount what you said, that maybe there’s the other end to the relationship that changes. But I wonder how much really changes in the human sphere outside the view of the big thinkers? You know, out in the villages and countryside where people keep doing what’s been done since the end of the last ice-age and even before. Proclaim this or that dead and gone but how much that replaces it is the same age-old thing with a bit of repainting? I’ve seen magic rituals – used in my case for sickness – which used the names of Christian saints. But I wonder how much that ritual really changed from the Neolithic. And I’ve seen shrines at roadsides and on hillsides with Christian images. But I wonder if those same shrines sit atop pagan foundations maybe from the time before farmers. Does the Virgin Mary sound like a goddess to you? She sounds like it to me. And the saints as minor deities? Seems to me that the folk never took to monotheism. Too austere. Too far removed from the everyday concerns of the unwashed, often life and death concerns. Reward in the hereafter is one thing but people have problems now. They wanted their multitude of gods – good gods and malicious gods. Maybe they still do.
” People have been talking about this or that psychedelic drug in the same terms for a century and a half now, and somehow it all just turns into people having drug trips.”
Not all! I suppose this is why there are so many reports of real psychic healing and spiritual breakthroughs with ayahuasca, because in the case of ayahuasca, people are taking it in the right kind of setting with intention to have a real learning experience. And of course multiple drug takings are part of shamanic training as well. People having drug trips is largely due to it being a casual experiment in entertainment by people who are generally too young to be doing that they’re doing. Some of the experiences I had when young and dumb (didn’t know I was dumb) were wasted on me. And then there’s ibogaine. It has the power to cure heroin and tobacco addictions.
Stanislav Grof, now there’s an interesting cat. He was a psychologist behind the iron curtain who began experimenting with very controlled LSD experiences back in the 50s. He started out a scientific atheist but slowly changed his mind after many exposures of his patients and a few of himself. He mostly was doing birth work, but other things occurred as well.
@JMG, I don’t have a strong opinion about whether such a God is good to worship or not. I am just suggesting a hypothesis which would account for God being there for some and glaringly absent for others, and which has precedent in the Abrahamic tradition. Also it meets the requirement of the prime mover being on the non-human side of the picture more so than the human. After all we have no reason to assume that the explanation to this riddle, what ever it may be, has the best interests of the humans thereby cut off from the divine.
Well, is there evidence that dust mites DO NOT will us into being? Until something more evidential is clear, it’s only our anthropomorphic tendencies that preclude us from acknowledging the dust mite as arbiter of our existence. Douglas Adams might agree with me…
As I said, there are answers, and then there are things we assume as humans with hierarchical predilections.
I was not talking about the physical plane, but the other – soul plane if you will. A lot of energy goes into prayers and wishes – where does it go if the God isn’t home (gone fishing) or retired?
That’s why the brand/franchise thing popped into my head after the Dread God Roberts bit made me smile.
If there isn’t any “conservation of energy” law that applies to spiritual energy – then there is quite a lot of energy being dispersed into some continuum somewhere. Does spiritual energy get converted into something like spiritual matter? Or vice-versa?
Some interesting thoughts on display this comment section…
Though if we fold in the idea of the Dread God Roberts theory, we would get a situation where the seats might have recently been shuffled and the new crop of gods filling out the various kinds of Christian god are reluctant to deal with many.
It so happened that I was reading on one of Antonia Dias blogs
an article by the name ‘” built to last”” I saw a reference to your idea of thought stoppers which made me think of its relevance to the world of our sell-realization irrespective of old or new since the purpose is one, that is to move through the waves of physical incarnations and spiritual incarnations toward the luminous energy waves. My question is the role of these thought-stoppers in the processes of the transformation we re speaking about, because I feel the importance of such stoppers in helping the humans to change course in this transformative life of ours, amidst our never stop changing cosmos.
A fascinating theory. There does seem to be much less enthusiasm for the Christian faith today than there was when I was a child. I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism four years ago, and the Protestant churches of my past seem to be falling to pieces behind me. And yet, the faith does not seem any more solid where I am. Even the bishops don’t really seem to believe many of the traditional teachings of the church, preferring to focus on social causes rather than matters of religion. I am fond of the Latin Mass traditionalists, though I find some of them a bit grumpy. Beauty is vital in worship, I believe, and that is something the Latin Mass and Byzantine Divine Liturgy have in abundance. With the new Mass, experiences vary.
I think mainstream Christianity will fade away, leaving traditional Catholics and Orthodox, along with a few independent Protestant groups and the Mormons. Paganism will likely grow in importance. Atheism is probably a fad, stemming largely from a rebellion against Christianity. As Christianity fades, rebelling against it will lack power as a form of protest.
I am reminded of S.M. Stirling’s post-apocalyptic Emberverse future, in which my home region of the Pacific Northwest is divided among Celtic-influenced pagans and medieval-influenced Catholics. I should prefer the Catholic Association or Mount Angel, but there is something so colorful and vibrant about the pagan land of the Mackenzies. Of course, in that world, the gods and saints (possibility the same thing) tend to show up in very visible and obvious ways. I can’t say I have had a similar experience in this world, but perhaps I am just not paying attention.
If there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, I would very much like to know.
Curious how spirit stuff keeps popping up even when somebody like me does not quite know what a ‘belief’ might be. I think I have mentioned before ‘seeing’ one lady’s ‘goodness’, although she was a stranger. I wondered afterwards if it was a more regular event back in the day and might be the kind of experience that lay behind Plato and ideals.
A little similarly I had something like an ‘insight’ that ‘God’ might be a child. There is biblical material that might have led me that way, but my guess is that I could have ‘personified’ the reality of ‘potential energy’ as a metaphor for the beginnings of a life when potential is at its greatest. I have thought that the Christian (?) notion of being able to start-over again was a good idea – impossible in a literal sense, but a pretty good working rule of thumb when the day makes it new and ‘potential’ is revived.
Hi John Michael,
Yes, I do wonder why people would believe that Gods will look after us if we can’t be bothered doing that ourselves? It seems to be a rather strange conceit especially given the sheer turnover of species on this planet over its lifespan. I am rather curious about the funk that I see in other people as there is something much deeper going on there.
Interestingly, I’m currently reading Helen and Scott Nearings book “The Good Life” and they are true believers about a Vegan lifestyle and not keeping animals on their farm. Now of course I have no problem with Vegans as long as they’re not bashing me over the head with ideology. Anyway, the little light dawned on me this morning over breakfast – they do keep animals on their farm, it is just that they are two legged animals and the authors don’t see them as animals. That little insight makes it easier to understand the authors perspectives and it is also a rather neat tool which can be used at will, don’t you reckon? ;-)! I reckon they won’t like it though and that makes it an excellent sledgehammer.
Thanks for the laugh too about the pub. Hey, two Gods walk into a bar… :-)!
Chris (with all this talk about Christianity etc… I’m starting to regret using my name here…)
Hi JMG & all,
I wonder if anyone has thoughts on “The Church of the Sub-Genius” in this respect?
This is an organization that parodies Christian churches and some other belief systems, like Scientology. A summary appears here;
Among other things, followers of JR “Bob” Dobbs are encouraged to journal their meditations. At least some followers are getting religious benefit from it, such that other followers are worried about them making it into a cult.
SO…If there are people worshipping JR “Bob” Dobbs (who was never real or intended to be a representation of any divinity) and getting a response back, what does that mean?
@Oilman2 – dust mites, no, Gut bacteria, assuredly YES.
JMG, I want to ask a perhaps silly question that’s been on my mind for a while. (Relevance to topic: nature of the gods.)
I grew up Christianish (not fundamentalist) but converted to Islam for marriage. I intended my conversion with as much sincerity as I can muster, but don’t really practice. Meanwhile, I am (for the first time in my three and a half decades) finding myself wanting to explore in depth the Christian tradition, which in fact holds a lot of emotional resonance for me (which Islam doesn’t; a lot of the stories are the same, but the symbolism is foreign). Meanwhile, on an intellectual level I am more drawn toward polytheism than any monotheism…
I know in the Druid scene people interact with some eclectic pantheons. How does this apply to those jealous Abrahamic monotheist gods? I’d hate to step on the toes of anyone particularly vengeful. (Though they’re based on the same tradition I agree with your assessment that Allah and the Christian God don’t feel like the same, er, people.)
On the side discussion on psychedelics: my handful of experiences left me with a far better understanding of how my mind works.
The thing I remember most about church as a kid was the baskets coming round for money, not once but twice.
Last Sunday, the Pastor of my little Lutheran church was talking about the original Passover, the ritual of slaughtering a lamb, painting its blood on the door frame, eating it (and incinerating the remains), and waiting for Yahweh to slaughter the firstborn of the Egyptions. She set this in a general context of rituals, having had a college class on the topic. If I recall correctly, she said “there are three parts to a ritual: we prepare ourselves for the presence of the Holy, then we experience some transformation in the presence of the Holy, and then we complete the ritual with something that solidifies the transformation as we return to our routine activities.” And I can see that this is a framework that she brings into the activities of our congregation, in both obvious (Eucharist) and subtle (“blessing on departure”) ways. I thought to myself… this might be the kind of magic we need.
As for me, I repair furniture, change light bulbs, mow grass, pull weeds, keep the WiFi running, the drains flowing, the furnace heating, and the A/C cooling. I’ve told the Pastor: “I just take care of the building; you take care of the people.” But what I really mean is “I’ll maintain the space; you fill it with magic.” I think it’s working.
Yes, having good controls is necessary in that kind of work, and I don’t know if Hand did what I would do – which is start with several good histories that list the several dozen or so most important events, combine and filter them and only then do the comparisons while sticking to the original list of events like glue. As you point out, it’s way too easy to make things come out the way you want if you don’t have a solid methodology.
Methodology is important. When I was working out the astrological correspondences for the Major Arcana, I had a rather unusual question in mind: did the person who arranged the Major Arcana have an astrology theme in mind, and if so what? (There were several different orders originally, by the way, and some of the cards have changed. The High Priestess used to be the virtue of Prudence, for example.) I also asked that it be simple: I had just come off of finding six different sets of correspondences, some of which looked like the author had just tossed them in the air.
I scored the correspondences from 0 to 3 to keep myself honest.
It turns out that using the classical rulerships was the key. if there was any validity to the result, the author may have used them as flash cards for teaching really basic astrology.
By the way, why do you use Uranus with Aquarius and Jupiter with Pisces? Old practice would be to use Saturn for Aquarius, while modern practice would be to use Neptune for Pisces.
There’s a lot on “walk-ins” out there, but I haven’t looked at the material since the late 70s or early 80s. In the Michael Teaching, the acid test would be whether the Role, Overleaves and Soul Age appear to have changed, and that’s not something that can be described easily. These characteristics are on the “soul” side of the “body and soul” divide, and they’re set as part of the life plan. A different Essence would set these characteristics differently. Another test would be whether the person’s entire life course appears to have changed, as well as drop old friends and associates and get new ones.
Not everyone who claims to be a walk-in is one.
From my perspective, a lot of gods are basically job titles. The original occupant goes on to do something else, and some other entity steps into the role and begins doing similar things. Some of them may have the Astral equivalent of an Artificial Intelligence answering prayers.
Roger, are you in Europe by any chance? There, you’re certainly correct, and there’s good documentation for it. Here in the US, the only people who have been doing the same things since the Ice Age are the First Nations, and their traditions didn’t get taken up by the folks who arrived here from overseas. That’s likely to be one of the reasons the religious climate is so tangled.
Onething, ayahuasca is the hot new fad. Give it ten years, and the trippers will be waxing rhapsodic about something else.
Ray, oh, I get that. My point is that we do have the choice of which gods to worship, and a god who’s deliberately making his worshipers fail in their efforts to please him may not be the best choice…
Oilman2, I tend to think we have a fairly good idea of where new human beings come from, and it’s not dust mites!
Ray, or a crotchety old god close to retirement, and a bevy of new ones who are staking out competing territories!
Abdulmunem, what I meant by “thoughtstoppers” are slogans that people use to avoid thinking. We have way too many of those in the US these days!
Christopher, if you want to know whether there are fairies at the bottom of the garden, you can treat that question the way you’d treat any other relationship — learn as much as possible about the persons you’re trying to contact, find out what they like and don’t like, and then act accordingly in nonintrusive ways and see what kind of results you get.
Phil, I tend to think of “belief” as meaning “an idea someone accepts uncritically.” It differs in crucial ways from faith, which is an attitude of trust directed toward someone or something. Some of the people I know who have very strong religious faith don’t have very strong beliefs — they simply trust in the god or gods they revere, without insisting that they know hard and fast truths about the same.
Chris, I ain’t arguing!
Emmanuel, I’m familiar with the Sub-Genii, though (unlike the Discordians) I never got around to joining them. A church whose revivals include sickenings as well as healings has already earned my respect. 😉 As for what they’re getting — that’s probably an issue for a later post, when I have the chance to tell a story about what happened when the Reformed Druids of North America made up a god…
Escher, I know a lot of Christian Druids; I’ve met some Jewish Druids; I’ve never encountered a Muslim Druid. It does seem to vary! I hope you’re not going to land in any kind of trouble with your inlaws for showing an interest in Christianity when you’ve formally accepted Islam, btw.
Dennis, yeah, that’s something I’ve heard a lot of people discuss.
LatheChuck, as long as it doesn’t involve the mass murder of children, I trust…
John, because I got sloppy, of course. 😉 I did several years of intensive work in Renaissance astrology, which leave Uranus and Neptune out entirely, and then circled back to the early 20th century astrology I’d originally studied, which I find more congenial and which gives me better results…but I’m still getting caught by the newer planets.
Agreed about methodology. I haven’t previously encountered the claim that the High Priestess is Prudence — most of the historical analyses of the Tarot I know that deal with its actual history note that the original deck invented by Marziano da Tortona had sixteen trumps, not 22, and the number oscillated for a while; thus the absence of Prudence is explained by the historical vicissitudes of the deck.
Not only dustmites and gut bacteria. The fungi living on people scalps can influence people to want something sweet to eat, that ends up producing the tasty skin secretions where they live.
JMG Your definitions of faith and belief are very sensible.
There is far too much belief of the’thought-stopping’ kind around! But, like sugary snacks, they taste good in the mouth…
I can’t remember the exact source of this, (It is Persian, I think) but I’ve always liked it:
‘Until mosque and minaret have crumbled/ This holy work of ours will not be done./Until faith becomes rejection,/And rejection becomes knowledge/There will be no True Believer.’
A well-earned dig at the pious fanatics of Islam (think of Iran today), or indeed any of the Abrahamic faiths, and a call to pursue knowledge of the gods (not an atheist poem, as one might at first think)
PS I can’t wait to read about the Druid revival attempt to invent a god and what they ended up getting……
““Lord gimme this” is to my mind a corruption of prayer; if that’s the way you approached a relationship with a human being, you’d better expect to get told to stuff it! A relationship with a god is a relationship, first and foremost, and governed by the same rules of courtesy and respect as any other relationship…”
Agreed on the first. On the second, though: polytheistic religions may not require rigid obedience as Abrahamics do, but the respect still is, AFAICT, one-sided – would you say deities ever make shows of respect towards humans? If there’s a “like ants to humans” analogy coming: ants seem to (all?) lack reverence for humans, and just do their stuff in shared spaces if the humans don’t decide to get rid of them. Why’d anyone choose to conceptualize a relationship where all the respect needed is from one side (if polytheists don’t do that, some monotheists do)?
I think this might actually be ‘skin mites’ (Demodex spp).
I trust that Demodex and gut microflora have a deal going somehow ‘on background’ where we have little access and very little choice. These decisions apparently have continuity dating back in evolutionary time and it seems different geographical human races show differences in such associations. The question we might ask for any one of us, is who is in charge? Smile.
JMG and Escher—I know I’m not adding too much to the discussion, but Muslim Druid here (Twelver Shia Muslim specifically)! Granted I haven’t really spent too much time knitting the two together in my mind or justifying the combination (particularly from the Muslim point of view), but I’m drawn to both traditions/approaches. (Actually, I’m not much for justification, period, since I’m gay as well, and see no problem with it.)
I’m leery of direct interaction with spiritual beings besides Allah, but at the very least I don’t see much issue in seeing Allah as the Source or Ultimate Reality (or at that portion of the Source or Ultimate Reality which I can interface with), and other gods as powerful beings.
I was Christian in my pre-teenage and teenage years, but I too noticed the gaping God-shaped hole you referred to. Since then, I’ve had my most profound spiritual experiences either in nature, or in Islamic ritual (specifically prayer, and also the ritual ecstatic mourning of the grandson of the prophet). Odd combination? Maybe, but it works for me. 🙂
P.S.—All the above being said, almost two years ago, I did have an unsolicited imagining, inkling, or maybe even message of/from a powerful feminine being who seemed to combine these two traditions (Shia Islam + Druidry and magic), as well as representing or being rooted in my bioregion (Ohio River Valley), along with a list of regular practices I should do if I seek to know Her. I haven’t yet explored this, but I’m intrigued, if still a bit unnerved. Thoughts?
Re: mind-altering substances…
In my 20s I found LSD and Psilocybe to be valuable for opening my eyes to other ways of seeing things, but then I felt like I “got it” and didn’t need to keep doing the drugs to have the insight. For whatever that’s worth.
JMG, oh sure, permaculture provided the spark that started the journey, and I still practice it loosely, but I haven’t spent even a tiny fraction of the time on permaculture forums that I’ve spent with you since. Regrettably, there were a few years of wasted effort spent with one Mr. JH Kunstler in the interim…
I’ve learned bucketloads from you, and the incredible density between my ears is starting to mellow, very slowly, as a result.
BTW, love the Dread God Roberts theory!
JMG, with regards to your question about me pushing on when I should rest. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone would label me a workaholic, although I chose a very manual life for myself several years ago. The old chop wood and carry water approach is very much a part of my day-to-day existence. And as such, I don’t feel like I have enough left to “accomplish” anything beyond a pretty basic existence. I mean besides running a small business, slowly building our house with manual tools, clearing, planting, and tending gardens and orchards, caring for our chickens and goats, raising and homeschooling two children, refereeing soccer, jiu jitsu, helping run a new farmers market…
Nope, pretty quiet and cloistered life really! 😉
One last item, if I may. It appears that I’ve called down the thunder with my request for louder signals. Literally. Tropical Storm Irma rolled through my ‘hood Monday night and laid an 18″ oak tree across my garden fence, snuggled up right next to the house and power shed, where we keep our solar power equipment and such. Somehow didn’t damage any structures, but all 4 of my 5-year-old peach trees were obliterated. I’ve never gotten any production worth mentioning out of them, and was recently contemplating taking at least a couple of them out to provide more sunshine to vegetable beds.
Voila! Conundrum solved. And I’ve got next winter’s firewood supply laid down as close to my firewood racks as is possible without making a REAL mess! And fresh mushroom wood for my fall mushroom presentation at the library next week.
As recently as a month ago, I would have considered all this to be a very convenient coincidence, but I can’t just chalk it up to that anymore. Now, as to a name for who’s behind it…I’m reading through that part of the conversation very carefully.
I don’t even drink coffee or alcohol maybe once a year. This is the type of born mindset that tends to the impractical visionary or unfortunately to drug addiction. Pisces can get lost if other planets don’t stabilize sun sign. But it must be a kick compared to needing drugs and alcohol just to loosen up of virgo. According to what I read you get born pisces late in reincarnation cycle because you aren’t that attached to material life. Maybe I can finish up the cycle or screw up and move back to aries for another 12 rounds.
Archdruid Greer, certainly.
I was a young teenager, and I was very devoutly spiritual. I decided I wanted to be more careful about how I prayed (because many of the prayers around me sounded selfish). I only prayed for good things to happen to other people. Once I started doing that, very bad things happened, literally the opposite of what I prayed. For example, I prayed that my friend’s baby be born healthy and she miscarried. When everyone on my sports team was praying that we win, instead I prayed that no one would get hurt… and we had 3 major injuries at that game including a broken bone and an asthma attack severe enough to require an ambulance.
At the same time, any time I asked a question, the Universe would provide the answer very quickly. Even stupid questions, like can freckles appear on the palm of your hand (yes they can).
The resulting crisis of faith was caused by feeling a strong enough connection to God to get responses, coupled by a strong enough rejection of prayers to send me running from prayer-based spirituality led me to the shaman-based practices of Paganism. I think it was meant to happen this way, I would not have benefitted Christianity, and Christianity would not have benefitted me. The problem was not the theology, it was the techniques. Now I have no problem praying, it’s a small part of a much more balanced system. I am also immune to the common Christian crisis that occurs with the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” (The world is more complex than simple good and evil) and I don’t have to wonder “Why isn’t God answering my prayers?” because I have plenty of other tools in the toolbox to troubleshoot the events in my life.
I could also note that before this I got a reputation for derailing Sunday school discussions and convincing the kids the adults were wrong (“yes dogs DO go to heaven!” “No Catholics don’t automatically go to Hell!” Christianity in the South isn’t always the best form of Christianity, by the way).
It comes at a cost though. At weddings and funerals, I’m the odd man out, and I don’t get the community-based spiritual support that churches provide. For the most part, I’m on my own to make sense of my spiritual life. This is why I don’t recommend it to other people, you really have to be a certain type of person to get rewards that outweigh the costs. It’s also why I understand that Christianity does work really well for some people, just not everyone. Some people really need a strong community and an authoritative spiritual clergy. It just so happens that’s exactly the opposite of what I needed. Some people probably fall in the middle, where that doesn’t really work for them but they don’t violently rebel against it either.
@Husayn — Apologies in advance of comment, in case it proves insensitive–
I have -no- background at all in Muslim beliefs or views, but I remember reading the very controversial book some years ago entitled ‘The Satanic Verses.’ In this work of fiction, author Salman Rushdie suggests that, at the very beginning of Islam, there was a female goddess known as ‘Al-lat’ who was worshipped at Mecca along with Al-la.
Could this possibly be the goddess you are meeting? I wonder how a person can find out? Perhaps if you ask her?
“The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive.
The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable.
Because it is unfathomable,
All we can do is describe their appearance.
Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.
Alert, like men aware of danger.
Courteous, like visiting guests.
Yielding like ice about to melt.
Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.
Hollow, like caves.
Opaque, like muddy pools.
Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?
Who can remain still until the moment of action?
Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment.
Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.”
Do you personally believe that the everchanging world is the only real thing or as real or more real than anything else?
As per the above quote, an out form that appears responsive and fully alive can hide an inner peace and knowledge of higher, unchanging forms and patterns… What that knowledge is exactly is lost to us (even Plato say in this letters that he did disclose the deeper secrets in his dialoges)…but does that mean the world of the unchanging forms is not real?…
Meant to post this a little earlier…
We will be having a one hour lecture/discussion at the St. Louis sci-fi convention Archon, at 3pm local, on Saturday, September 30th, on “Post Industrial” fiction. Sophie Gale, forum regular has agreed to come down from Peoria, to help me give the talk. The convention will be held in Collinsville, just east of downtown St Louis, at the convention center there.
(The Archon website is here: Archon St Louis )
The lecture title and programming blurb I sent in earlier this year when I first proposed the lecture was:
“Surviving (and Even Thriving) in a New “Cli-Fi” World”.
Description: “We are facing a hot and harsh Future. Come learn about this hot new genre of fiction in a round table discussion with several MidWest authors who have recently published in this field, share some of their experiences and helpful hints on how you too can become a first time published author. Also learn how their Tales of the Coming Decades may well come true for us all and what you can do to survive it.”
We will handing out flyers for “Into The Ruins” as well as Founder’s House Publishing, as well as info on the recent “Worlds That Never Were” contest, and several others that have cropped up.
If you are a writer in this area, please stop by our discussion thread on what we want to talk about, on the Green Wizard forum here: “Post Industrial Fiction Lecture in St Louis, September 30th
And while the Archdruid Report has been closed down, we at the Green Wizard forum are still here, and discussing how to prepare for the coming Collapse. Feel free to stop back by us and see what we are talking about.
Two final points, around “steadfasting” God… I certainly wouldn’t vouch for an “unchanging God” since two ultimate tenets of Buddhism, which is that everything is impermanent as well as interdependent, would have to hold at all times, as creation needs a living foundation. However, in a similar encompassing sense, I would venture that there would have to be a single source or agency for everything else that exists and which allows it to exist — including any and all other gods — and I would probably maintain that, even against the suggestion of an “infinite regress”… Because at the end of all considerations, there has to be one conclusive factor, under which everything else appears, and that is: context. Whatever provides context is what contains and includes and offers the framework for the bigger picture.
And as for whether “he” — the popularly referenced “God” is still around… well, even if it should transpire that human agency has some influence, then His eternal status is already taken care of: consider this formula, which has been repeated an indeterminate number of times since its introduction, in one form or another: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.” The “ever shall be” is something to reflect on, since whatever has been venerated and proclaimed in such a manner, and over millennia, has indeed been set up for eternal life, even should successive generations of religious adherents wax and wane…
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