April 11th, 2006
|11:39 am - Subjective mystical experience and religion|
arethinn linked to this excellent and thoughtful post. It's written from a pagan perspective, but I see it as applying universally to all religion and spirituality. In it, the author talks at length about something they call "Unverified Personal Gnosis", and which I tend to call subjective experience.
The discussion starts out:
Anyway, any number of spiritual or mystical experiences can fall under this category. There's nothing wrong with UPG...I live there a lot, myself. It can be useful, enlightening, and a source of creativity. I love me some UPG. Mine's called Ishtar...among a few other names. and continues in equally interesting directions.
However....as with all of these categories...when you start confusing or conflating one category with another, you got Trouble. And while UPG is the one that's least easily evaluated and is kind of useless to try and prove, it IS possible to evaluate it to a surprising degree.
Subjective experience the thing that I consider to be the heart of my own (and ultimately every other form of) spirituality. I perform magic for practical ends – in my experience this sort of spiritual practice can be analyzed in fairly concrete terms along the lines whether the spell worked or not. Similar things can be done with prayer or any other spiritual practice directed towards worldly ends. In my experience, most such spiritual practice does not work and the only way to make it work is by a combination of innate talent and careful study (the more you have of the first, the less the 2nd is necessary, but both are always required). If you lack sufficient amounts of both, then you're not going to get results that are more than random chance.
However, religion is (for me at least) a completely different sphere of spirituality, which includes everything from deities talking in your head, to summoning spirits to gain spiritual knowledge, to being otherkin, all of which have absolutely no measurable or quantifiable impact on the physical world. This is the realm of mystical experience and of religious faith.
As I see it, all religion is based upon "Unverified Personal Gnosis", which is why I have so much trouble with the concept of organized religion. There is no guarantee that everyone involved in a faith will have UPG's that fit together into any remotely coherent whole. More importantly, many religions are based on one or a few people (the founder of the faith, the priests, whatever...) having UPGs and most members of the religion accepting these personal revelations as truth. In my experience (and as the author of the above post describes) the nature of all such UPGs is that they usually apply only to the person experiencing them. Several different people may all have visions of a being that identifies itself as Innana, Llugh, or Jesus, but each person will be seeing a very different facet of this deity, these facets may be incompatible (at least to any limited human understanding) and much of the knowledge or advice may well apply only to the person who receives it.
From my PoV, one of the key problems with any spirituality comes when it becomes divorced from subjective mystical experience and becomes people accepting the UPGs of others as any sort of truth that is applicable to anyone other than the person who experienced it. This way lies dogma and often (and maybe inevitably for many people) literalist fundamentalism. Taking any sort of book, from the Bible to The Lord of the Rings, or any other person's words as revealed truth is to me a dangerous and foolish act. Such things can definitely help one find one's own subjective truths, but w/o personal mystical experience, I cannot see how spirituality of any sort can be anything other than oppression by others, self-deception, or at, minimum an empty shell devoid of any heart or depth. I value and accept all forms of subjective experience, and honor and respect anyone who has them and lives by them, be they pagan, Christian, Buddhist, or worship a deity they found in some 1990s fantasy novel. As long as the person is sensible, understands the subjective nature of their experience, and finds the practice to be honestly useful to their life then they are in contract with the divine. However, organized religion as a concept, and specifically the idea of accepting others' revealed truth as applicable to oneself troubles me greatly.
While I am no longer Wiccan, I very much value what my HPs (high priests) taught me. To both Dee and Ed, the essence of being a priest was being a teacher and the heart of Wiccan teaching was teaching others to become priests for themselves and others. That is a definition of a priest that I can respect, someone who teaches others how to find and understand their own subjective mystical experiences, and not someone who expects others to accept the priest's (or anyone else's revealed truth as their own).
Current Mood: contemplative
I've been using that phrase for years, and was first introduced to it while I was in the now defunct Fiskjorn Kindred several years ago.
One of the things I've noticed with that, and through talking with others, especially with the related lore and how people view the entities therein is the similarity with what people have experienced - some of whom have had no exposure to the written lore before hand. This would lead me to conclude that not only are people exeriencing the same things, both then and now, but that, because of the commonality, there is more going on than mere subjectivity.
To give you a modern example, I am part of an LJ community dealing with Loki (yeah, I know big shick that...). There are several members who have all independantly come to the conclusion that Loki really likes to have Tang (and strong coffee) as one of his beverages. No-one understands why, however. Personally I wonder if it's the toxicity of it, the Tang, that is (shudders at the thought of having to drink it)...
Anyway, for me, there is a reason why Thor is said to have red hair and a red beard and Odhin has one-eye, though otherwise lools like Gandalf - enough corrobating UPG. Besides, there's also the thought in Heathenry that the Gods *can* walk the Earth. If so they could easily be encountered (which was a reason given for me to stop "beliving" in certain things, 'cause the gods would come down and give me a whoopin').