This is probably going to get me a lot of trouble, and probably get me lumped in with the so-called “Piety Posse”of polytheists and magical types who I often violently disagree with, but I need to say this:
There’s a tendency I’ve noticed within the neopagan, magical, and polytheist communities on tumblr and the occult blogosphere – but also offline and on other platforms.
What is this tendency, I hear you ask?
It is, quite simply the tendency to automatically privilege the corporeal over the non corporeal. Because somewhere inside is the subconscious assumption that we can either a) remain inviolate and unaffected by incorporeal things or b) It’s all in the mind and we should be able to somehow ‘control’ our minds.
It’s like the assumption that words can’t hurt you, because they’re only words – when several millennia of war and hatred whipped up against one’s neighbor puts a lie to that.
Now, I can see a legion of people with active spiritual lives nodding their heads here, not to mention those who have intimate connections with gods or spirits, whether that be physically or otherwise.
But if I write the statement that, as an example, runs: People are more important than noncorporeal spirits then something interesting happens.
Because if I write that statement in a piece on spiritual discernment, those people I mention will be there, sagely nodding. Yet, if I write the above example in a piece about dealing with making sacrifices or offerings to one’s gods and spirits, and I suggest that cooking a large meal and then leaving it by the crossroads for the gods/wights/spirits is a waste, and one would be better off donating to a charity?
In that case I suspect many would get hot under the collar, wouldn’t they? After all, how dare I tell them how to practice their religion. How dare I position myself as gatekeeper over the methods by which they interact with their patrons!
Yet, if I wrote that in an article, and swapped out People for Animals then I’d risk the ire of several spiritist religions who perform animal sacrifices. Likewise, if I wrote: Non corporeal spirits are more important than people I would risk the ire of many folk; have messages and rebuttals thrown at me from all directions, from various quarters, not least from those who have suffered abuse by spirits or by so-called religious authorities. Perhaps I’d even be ‘called out’ on it for all the racism and atrocities committed in the name of non-corporeal beings, because actually they’re not real, they’re like, archetypes.
(Seriously, go and look up what Jung actually meant when he used the term. Really.)
Yet, for all the possibilities and difficulties associated with both versions of the example, we can see that context subtly shifts where the weight of communicated intent lies.
Of course it does – context is king. Blanket statements are by their nature designed to cover all eventualities. A world run on such axioms will soon come unstuck, purely because the actuality of existence is more important and more complex.
So, here is where I lay it on the line, so to speak. You see, it has been my experience that, while human perception is an imperfect metric for judging so-called ‘objective reality’, it seems as if the basis of existence arises out of the interactions between what we have we have previously and perhaps erroneously referred to as non-corporeal spirits.
To boil down the previous mouthful of a paragraph:
Everything we experience appears to be the result of and addition to, the interaction of entities we call spirits/daimones/wights (including gods therein).
Note that this does not, in fact, exclude people. People are wights too:
wight (n.) Old English wiht “living being, creature, person; something, anything,” from Proto-Germanic *wihti- (source also of Old Saxon wiht “thing, demon,” Dutchwicht “a little child,” Old High German wiht “thing, creature, demon,” German Wicht “creature, little child,” Old Norse vettr “thing, creature,” Swedishvätte “spirit of the earth, gnome,” Gothic waihts “something”), from PIE *wekti- “thing, creature” (source also of Old Church Slavonic vešti “a thing”).
Nor does it privilege one particular origin/creation narrative over another. In an Ensouled or animist kosmos, this also means that not only can the four(five?) fundamental forces of physics co-exist with Ymir’s dismemberment, or Qingu’s victory over Tiamat without contradiction, subatomic particles may happily co-exist with maggots-turned-dwarves.
Wights come in a variety of shapes – a variety of forms. Some have skin and hair, others bark and leaf, others are composed of energy fields which when they interact with humans, conjures sensory experience.
In an Ensouled kosmos, the keyboard I am typing on is not “dumb matter” – it exists on multiple levels. The electrons in the molecules of plastic which make up the keys interact with the electrons in the molecules of my fingertips in response to nervous impulses from my brain tensing muscle and tendon – thus is pressure produced.
The plastic itself is a child of the Earth – oil drawn up and polymers arranged just so by the firing neurons of a human mind which designed the machines which give it form. That same plastic is mated with metal, also drawn from Earth, while electrical impulses are converted to radio which is received by my computer, appearing here on the screen. And so on and so on for every object in my room, in my house, in my block, in my town, in my county, in my country, in the soil of my land once again.
And thus you see – not “dumb” matter at all, but myriad paths to recognise; multplicities of action and interaction.
In an Ensouled kosmos, we learn to recognise myriad ways of Being and Becoming. Rather than crude anthropomorphism, we instead open ourselves up to non-human Beingness, and in doing so cannot privilege our form as being more moral or better than another. We must accept that even categorical, axiomatic morality is contextual.
By acknowledging multiplicities, we are no longer hidebound, we are free to say that our morality is not handed to us passively, but by wilful agreement amongst ourselves.
In an Ensouled kosmos, what we conceive of as ourselves is enlarged to a huge, almost terrifying degree. For we are no longer individuals but multiplicities also. Mind and body entwined, together with our ancestors, the land on and in which we dwell, the food we eat, the water we drink and bathe in. All tied together, part knot part interference pattern, we interact-with, and are inter-acted-with. By necessity, in almost a direct confrontation with post modernity, our contact with other wights informs our morality – even going so far as to consult being older and potentially wiser than we.
(As a Heathen, who I am is influenced, not only by my daily life but interactions with my ancestors, spirits and gods. I am composed of all those interactions).
I not only becomes We, but also emerges from We.
In an Ensouled kosmos, I only exists for a moment – for that single duration in localised spacetime – as an event, an Image. We, on the other hand, while constantly coming together and breaking apart, is capable of appearing in all times and all places.
We is eternal – it can exist for ten thousand years, seemingly vanish from sight, only to re-emerge again in a new shape, composed of new body, new blood.
I dies constantly, only to be reborn in the next moment; it emerges from the Fire upon the Deep for the space of a breath, then sinks down again.
But through that unique manifestation of I, one can enter into the realm of an eternal re-Imagining. We are constantly refreshed, made new by that which makes us.
Creation is ongoing.
The sacred reality depicted in myth informs us and shapes us whether we like it or not. Myth-as-Image draws us into that space of Creation, infuses us with living vitality, which we bring forth by story, song, ritual and art.
Those wights we call spirits are part of the ecology of existence. Just like a bear is part of an ecology, and we do not say a person is more important than a bear, automatically, do we?
If this were so, there would be no nature preserves.
Yet even the foregoing resembles a paper tiger, designed to evoke a commodified sense of wilderness.
Instead, might we not say that Earthquakes are part of the ecology of California or Japan?
If this be so, then certainly the assertion that People are more important than earthquakes is ridiculous. Japan at least recognizes this, and builds so called earthquakeproof buildings on rollers.
Because the moment when an earthquake hits is inescapably, brutally real. You just have to ride it out, and see where you end up.
I find myself wondering how many in the neopagan/magical/polytheist community have ever felt that. Like an Earthquake sure, if you’re lucky you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, maybe file an insurance claim and use it as an anecdote in the future.
But in the moment? It’s inescapable and social rankings and morality are the furthest thing from your mind. Thought vanishes and there is only Being.
How many even truly dare heal the split between mind and body, between song and rain, fire and wind? Far too few, I suspect.
And that, strangely enough, is why and how things like Fascism and Communism fail, where individuality is subsumed by the State or Nation. Because the State is not eternal, and actively resists changing shape and form. The Nazis committed horrific crimes in the name of purity, not realising that the very thing they sought was impossible, being only a momentary temporary thing born of maximum variety. Emerging from it, by Necessity. By nature messy, organic, and virtually, if not completely impossible to predict.
When they tried to turn Nietzsche’s work into a pro-Nazi rallying cry, they misunderstood the nature of the Ubermensch – he was never achievable for Man, because man is the bridge. When Hitler suggested that the best, the most pure, were those who were capable of overcoming, the unstoppable pure,untouched elite, what was forgotten is that Overcoming is but half – the other is Being Overcome.
But Being Overcome does not mean submission – not kowtowing. Rather, it is being seized, enthused.
Raised up and Cast Down. As real as blood. As real as bone. As real as breath
enthusiasm (n.) c. 1600, from Middle French enthousiasme (16c.) and directly from Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos “divine inspiration, enthusiasm (produced by certain kinds of music, etc.),” from enthousiazein “be inspired or possessed by a god, be rapt, be in ecstasy,” from entheos “divinely inspired, possessed by a god,” from en “in” (see en- (2)) + theos “god” (see theo-). Acquired a derogatory sense of “excessive religious emotion through the conceit of special revelation from God” (1650s) under the Puritans.
Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s the kind of furious inspiration the Ensouled kosmos brings to me, rather than any Puritanical disparagement. And if you’re going to argue that’s not ‘Real’ enough to affect you, but the news is – well then I feel deeply sorry for you!