September 1st, 2008
|02:06 am - Musings on a Magical World [magic and pagan stuff]|
On Friday, the day before he left for CA, Aaron and I talked about the various spiritual communities that I belong or have belonged to and one issue about them that bothers him (especially since he is considerably less good than me at interfacing with different spiritual paradigms) – the fact that a large number people in them don't consider the world to be magical and that for many such people, only things that are hidden, isolated, and deliberately separated can be magical, sacred, or filled with wonder.
I see such beliefs as coming from two sources. The oldest is what Ronald Hutton talks about in The Triumph of the Moon, the birth of mystical pastoralism among British urbanites of the 19th century. At that time, there was a newly large and affluent group of middle class urbanites with sufficient time and wealth to travel a bit, who occasionally visited and more often mused on the countryside and because it was (to them) a rather foreign environment that they did not live around, it became to many a special and wondrous place, utterly divorced from their daily lives and thus became magical by virtue of its difference. This trend clearly continues today.
However, it is not universal, I have also met a few people who either actually live in non-urban areas or are working towards doing so and who spend lots of time in rural areas, and their attitudes are very different from the ones I am discussing. I find their preferences remarkably alien, but also largely devoid of the pastoralism so common to urban and suburban dwellers who visit rural and wilderness areas infrequently.
In any case, I also see many of the ideas and feelings mentioned above as coming from the typical geek-culture tend towards secrecy, hiding difference, and a more generalized fear &/or dislike of "mundane people" and the "mundane world". A version of these same ideas is also, I believe, the origin of the idea of using magic circles to create places where magic can exist, since to many pagans it cannot exist in the "mundane" world. These feelings are only made stronger by the fact that many people in geek culture (both magical and not) do their best to conceal their non-normative interests during much of their daily life, because they fear various forms of censure. Sometimes these fears are justified, sometimes not, but the result is the same. You have a great many people who view the world as consisting of tiny pockets (isolated in either time, space, or both) of wonder, like special glades, SF cons, otherkin gathers, or perhaps simply one or more rooms in their dwelling, amidst vast swaths of dullness and possibly even oppression.
Aaron, like myself to a large extent, is very much of a pantheist and sees as much magic and wonder in a city park or a lovely sculpture of building as in the wildest forest or most isolated and secret gathering place. As a result, he is simultaneously troubled and baffled by the assertion that people's daily lives and the environment they live in is in some way mundane or devoid of wonder and magic. As for myself, I personally find far more magic and wonder in cities than in any sort of wilderness.
I was also reminded of various conversations I've had about otherkin gathers out in the woods, where various people talked about needing time after the gathering to integrate back into "the mundane world". I have never felt this and don't really understand the concept. After such events, I very much miss leaving the people and the social environment, but am simultaneously grateful to be returning to civilization and leaving the rigors of camping behind, while also not feeling any sort of difficulty in returning to an environment that I find far more comfortable and familiar that a tent in a forest.
Much of the reason is clearly my comfort in cities and discomfort in wilderness areas, and some of it is perhaps that I have made a life that I truly love and that I find absolutely no benefit in discomfort or deprivation, but I think part of the difference in my reactions is that like Aaron, I also do not feel that something needs to be separated, secret, or isolated from the "mundane world" to have power or meaning. The only value I see in magical secrets is that talking about some things with people who have no experience is at best useless and at worst actively confusing. Beyond that and, of course, various peoples' requirements for privacy, I don't find secrets to be particularly useful. Separation can of course be useful for some things, but the most intense and wonderful conversations are ones I've had in my own home or the homes of others and I've participated in rituals in living rooms, city parks, or back yards more powerful than any I've seen in any isolated or otherwise separate or isolated environment.
In any case, while I understand the many and powerful reasons that so many people only find magic in events and places specifically separate from their daily lives and the places they live in and near, the idea of living like that seems (to me at least) to be very sad and limiting. I both do not understand why someone would not wish to learn to see the magic and wonder around them every day, and also why they would wish to experience such things only in very limited and delineated places and times.
Current Mood: thoughtful
|Date:||September 1st, 2008 09:43 am (UTC)|| |
I'm going to try to write this without using the word "wavelength", as I am still in detox from its use in '80s New Age magazines. :)
Yeah, I agree very much with your last paragraph in particular. I think the key thing is that the numinous (to grab a suitable handle that doesn't make me hate myself) comes in a whole lot of flavors. Just as we all have distinctive strengths and weaknesses in the overt senses, so when it comes to dealing with the world's faces. It's a matter both of wanting to experience the rest and being willing to submit to the discipline of doing so, which starts with denying ourselves the luxury of dismissing things as "just" what they appear to be at first glance. The flip side of the fannish and other security-seeking you describe is too often a contempt for the target, and the world does not in general open itself to contemptuous viewers.
There are ways of life that I can't see into, and I'm aware of contempt as a unifying thread in a lot of them. (Not all: there are some where my blindness is driven by the pure rage of response to personal evils, and like that.) But I treat this as a weakness in myself, rather than a badge of honor. If my heart weren't locked up in some of the ways it is, I could see the light behind more things than I do now. I hope someday to overcome more of the barriers that keep me from doing so. The right response to "I see nothing interesting or edifying in that" is "and that's my failing".
I see this urge to separate and categorize off the numinous (I'll use it too, as I'm quite fond of William James' exploration of it) as a very left-brain civilized thing in general, not even necessarily having to do with the motives or aesthetics of the early 'pastoralists'. In tribal cultures there is no necessary separation between mundane and magical, except that one may make more deliberate preparation for some activities than others (despite the strong ritualism and symbolic content of each).
It's the appropriation of "reality" by the everyday-devoid-of-higher-significance that has marginalized all areas of significance or power, be they ritual activity, introspection/dreaming or artistic creation, into being "special" categories for special/restricted occasions rather than pervasive elements of living. There is no reason why they should be kept so, save that the pressures and commercial emphasis of modern daily life tend to make them seem either too trivial and self-indulgent or too "sacred" and reserved to be blended with the commonplace -- not to mention the generalized Western suspicion of non-congregational spiritual activities. It's Sundays/Sabbats or nothin', and you gotta have the proper candles, colours, vestments (or not...) and verses.
Yes, it's bullshit. There's no reason that one can't cast a circle spontaneously with a chopstick, or fend off a demonic attack directly on coming out of the shower. The real world does not separate itself into discrete (or discreet) categories, so why do we, except out of some misplaced Puritanical guilt or High Church sanctimoniousness?
As for the magic circle, that's hardly (in the functional sense) to "create a place where magic can exist" but rather to eliminate distractions and be able to focus energy more effectively within a given space to initiate the desired action. Really, a computer screen is just as effective a field in my experience. The only way in which I see the mundane world as in opposition to magic is through the status quo of mass consciousness and "worldly" distractions -- that is, it's easier to focus on one's work and carry it through when one has a definite ceremonial area for a microcosm, and preferably when it's night or otherwise deserted of active/waking human life in general, unless one is very good at keeping other (uninvolved) people's presence or activity from disturbing one's concentration.
Pragmatic magic is far more useful than the paraphernalia-and-taboo-ridden kind...I tend to recommend The Urban Primitive to anyone seeking a useful overview of magical applications, without the denominational frills. Even though it does say that cities are not generally the healthiest place to live -- but then, different cities, different people, different energy.
"Yes, it's bullshit. There's no reason that one can't cast a circle spontaneously with a chopstick, or fend off a demonic attack directly on coming out of the shower. The real world does not separate itself into discrete (or discreet) categories, so why do we, except out of some misplaced Puritanical guilt or High Church sanctimoniousness?"
Actually, that is the one thing Dominionists all get right. They all know that everything is sacred. When I was one in college, I knew it was normal to talk to God and get an answer back (not audibly, of course), that everything was of significance, and that everything I did was of import, no matter how trivial, for the Kingdom of God. Religion imbued everything and tolerated no separation from any other aspect of life.
It's the Technocracy/Banality at work, man.
(But on which side?)
|Date:||September 1st, 2008 05:53 pm (UTC)|| |
While it doesn't talk about exactly the same thing as what you're talking about - it's written by a strict reductionist / materialist, after all - this post nonetheless made me think about Joy in the Merely Real
over at Overcoming Bias.
|Date:||September 1st, 2008 07:07 pm (UTC)|| |
Indeed. My personal answer is that explaining something makes it more interesting and wonderful and not less, but that seems to be a fairly rare PoV.
|Date:||September 1st, 2008 07:27 pm (UTC)|| |
> I was also reminded of various conversations I've had about otherkin gathers out in the woods, where various people talked about needing time after the gathering to integrate back into "the mundane world".
Not having listened to your exact conversations but having been to those events, I suspect you're misinterpreting the context of the complaint.
You get it right a few paragraphs beforehand, when you say:
> These feelings are only made stronger by the fact that many people in geek culture (both magical and not) do their best to conceal their non-normative interests during much of their daily life, because they fear various forms of censure.
Otherkin gathers are, more than anything, safe spaces to share those interests. To open up to others of similar mindset. Many gather attendees only rarely get to discuss their identity/spiritual interests face-to-face. There's a real culture shock in being able to explore that in an environment that feels safe, and then having to go back into the closet, as it were.
|Date:||September 1st, 2008 08:20 pm (UTC)|| |
True, but for at least some of the people I know (amberite
being one), they live with or close to others who they can share this with on a dialy or at least frequent basis and still feel this way.
"You have a great many people who view the world as consisting of tiny pockets (isolated in either time, space, or both) of wonder, like special glades, SF cons, otherkin gathers, or perhaps simply one or more rooms in their dwelling, amidst vast swaths of dullness and possibly even oppression."
I think this comes from many geek culture members (including myself) projecting our high school experiences onto the rest of the world. I am learning not to do this.
The idea that "only things that are hidden, isolated, and deliberately separated can be magical, sacred, or filled with wonder" is one reason that cults and organized religions tend to flourish, even in the Pagan and magickal communities. By holding the monopoly on magick and the sacred, organized religions can attract and retain followers.
My own experience with Nature up close and personal at Gaian Mind knocked any remaining bits of pastoralism out of me. 1) Lightning storm, complete with thunder and torrential rain - with no way of getting inside despite my being tired and 2) getting stomach flu due to too many people (1500) for the plumbing (6 flush toilets and 6 porta-johns). I now pause many times a day to thank God for our technological society (complete with air conditioning and indoor plumbing) and to pray that peak oil does not bring about the end of these conveniences.
"The history of civilization consists of getting as far from Nature as possible." -- Pratchett or Neal Stephenson, I think, or both.
|Date:||September 2nd, 2008 02:50 am (UTC)|| |
My response to this, in its complexity defies ready articulation. There are so many places where I agree and where I disagree. So a couple of observations.
1) I'm an outsider, mostly, not being a pagan. But I am not ignorant of modern neo-paganism.
2) With you on the cities and urban environments. I subscribe to urban_decay
because of how often the numinous is captured in art there. I like my Nature in nice, domesticated parcels. I have had a rather lengthy post brewing in the back of my head on the topic for some time.
3) I suspect some people want/need the numinous to be Far Away From Them because they feel about it the way I feel about Nature: they appreciate it, so long as it comes in small, manageable doses, and they can leave any time it gets too threatening or dangerous. In this sense, for many urban pagans, pastoralism serves as a container
to protect them from the numinous.
4) Cause I'm completely with you on the immanence of the numinous. I'm not a theist, but I am
a surrealist. I walk in wonder wherever I go.
5) That said, I think you miss the power of liminality
as a socio-psychological technique. It's good for so many things. Demarcating boundaries is an act with psychic power in its own right, not to be underestimated. There are mental things which I think most people can't do without either vast amounts of societal support (making them normative) or liminality. I would not be surprised to learn that liminality is exploited by any small, unpopular religion to make up for the lack of societal support.
In short, most people do not have the ego-strength to do anything which feels "too weird", which includes most unpopular religious observance. They are inhibited. Liminality is a means to breach those inhibitions and make "normal" within a bounded space behaviors which would otherwise provoke a strong urge to self-censor. This is even more so when among others; liminality serves as a kind of social contract emotionally legitimizing otherwise non-normative behavior.
|Date:||September 2nd, 2008 07:11 am (UTC)|| |
I don't remotely understand the psychology behind (3), but I suspect you are correct. However, I think that in this separation is in part because of a sort of neo-Gnostic loathing of the "mundane" (and perhaps ultimately of the entire physical) world. Those sorts of gnostic-related ideas are ubiquitous in much of neopaganism which is very odd for something most people describe as "earth religions", but it's nonetheless true..
Your point about (5) is very well taken and I completely agree. It's easy for me to forget that even in the furthest fringe communities there are many people who feel inhibited by the norms of mainstream culture. I'm a self-described freak who has managed my life so that I have no more interaction with mainstream culture (or in fact, anything outside of my carefully defined social sphere) than I desire (here's a related post about this
), but it's equally true that most people both can't and don't want lives like that, and perhaps for them liminality is extremely useful.
|Date:||September 2nd, 2008 03:21 am (UTC)|| |
The funny thing is, my life is full of wonder and mystery all the time, and I don't even have strong supernatural beliefs or a coherent spiritual system.