Reconstructionism

•July 25, 2014 • 53 Comments

Recently I was having a “spirited” discussion with someone in the comments section of a blog post about, basically, how immersed one needed to be in an ancient culture to properly practice its religion (and how virulently one must eschew all other influences….clearly, if you are familiar with my path, my answer was “not very”). Now, it’s kind of ironic, in that I spent quite some time in my early days on the Hellenic lists arguing in favor of Reconstructionism as an approach, and now I find myself having to argue against it, at least to the degree that some people are taking it. Because, the thing is, I think Recon is a very good initial methodology when approaching the gods of an ancient religion. But when taken too far, it risks fetishizing the culture – in other words, humans – rather than focusing on how best to honor the gods. Once again, it becomes an issue of “It’s Not About Us.”

If the gods are real, independent beings and not a product of human imagination (and if you disagree with this, my comments are not really relevant to you), then They did not originate with us and They do not belong to us, not even to the ancient culture who first (to our knowledge, as such) worshipped Them. Those are just the folks with the most history with Them. Now, that’s very important, in that those people accumulated a lot of experience with those particular deities; they had centuries to figure out what They liked and didn’t like, what They wanted out of human beings, etc. Certainly, it would be foolish to disregard all of that and start from scratch. But that is the reason for adopting a Reconstructionist approach – not because that ancient culture was somehow more pure, or worthy, or even more inherently connected to the gods than any of us have the potential to be (though of course, the culture as a whole was more connected than our culture is, but that’s not something we can control no matter how much we play at being ancient Celts or Greeks; we are coming from a fundamentally different position and that’s okay, we can still have very meaningful relationships with the gods, They certainly will not reject us because of it). In fact, every one of those ancient cultures had plenty of problems we would not actually want to take upon ourselves.

My view is that the ideal process when beginning to worship ancient deities (assuming one’s goal is to know and honor those deities as deeply as possible – again, if this is not your goal, or if you’re more interested in human culture, then I am not addressing you) would be to immerse oneself in the ancient *mindset* in regard to the gods – through lots of research and reading primary sources and all of that good stuff – for a good long while, perhaps several years at least, while simultaneously getting to know the gods in whatever ways one can, and *then* once the mindset has been fully understood and internalized, extrapolating and creating new practices when/if called to.

Imagine your friend set you up on a blind date with a woman he’s known since they were both kids. Of course, you’d want to learn something about this woman ahead of time from your friend – maybe what her favorite flowers are, so you can bring some to the date, or what she’s like, and an interesting story or two about her. But you’ll only be getting that one person’s perspective. His view of her is probably flavored by his own experiences, and maybe he still thinks of her the way she was when they were teenagers and not the way she is now. In any case, once you get to know her, you would put much more weight, hopefully, on what she tells you about herself, and how she acts, than on what he said.

Again, I wonder how much the insistence on adopting an ancient culture in its entirety is a symptom of the tendency for many polytheists to focus more on people than they do on the gods. I am fortunately immune from this because I am a raging misanthrope! And I just have a hard time believing that almost any gods would refuse to accept worship from someone who has gone to the trouble to learn what They want and like and how best to approach Them (and yes, this can most easily and reliably be done by looking first to the past) simply because that person does not in other ways resemble the worshippers of the past, or has some parts of their religious practice that come from other cultures and times. That seems like a more human concern to me.

Tea Cards

•July 24, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Announcing something new in my Goblinesquerie Etsy shop: magnets and pins made from vintage tea cards with illustrations of trees, leaves, mammals, reptiles and birds! You may be familiar with the Brooke Bond collectible cards that used to come in packets of tea, featuring lovely nature illustrations. I’ve turned some into magnets, and mounted others on felt with a pin back. I have 8 designs of each type at the moment, but also a large selection of other cards that can be made into either option, on request.

Check out the current offerings – my favorite is probably the thylacine (which may not have been extinct yet at the time the card was made), though the flying lemur is awesome, and the mongoose too.

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Tea Card Magnets

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Tea Card Pins

 

 

A Typology of Spirits

•July 24, 2014 • 20 Comments

This is just something that came to me the other night when I was pondering the nature of spirits, and the different types of spirits one might encounter. I ended up with the following breakdown, based on my experiences and reading. I would love to hear what other spirit-workers and animists think of this – types I may have missed, how you would organize it differently, etc.

1. Spirits of Animals, Plants, Fungi and Minerals
a. so-called “Grandfather” spirits of an entire species, e.g., Little Red Man (fly agaric)
b. spirits of individual specimens

2. Spirits of Place (both in nature and man-made)
a. overall genius loci, e.g., “The Presence” on Mt. Washington in New Hampshire
b. wights who live in a specific place and do not leave, such as nymphs

3. The Dead
a. biological ancestors
b. spiritual ancestors – individuals not related by blood but who are treated as ancestors
c. heroes – dead people who have become elevated by a group or culture
d. collective dead – died due to same event or cause (e.g., veterans, victims of tragedy), buried in same place, etc.

4. Faeries (includes alfar, dwarves, goblins, gentry, banshees, brownies, etc.)
a. solitary wights – domestic and wild, tend to stick to same area
b. trooping – always experienced collectively, and move from place to place

Of course, there are lots of spirits who are crossovers between types. For instance, the Slavic rusalki are women who died young, haunt a particular body of water, and are generally treated like faeries, so they would fall into categories 2(b), 3(d) and 4(a). An old oak tree with a powerful spirit would be 1(b) and 2(b). The inhabitants of a cemetery would be 2(b) and 3(d). And so on.

Chimaera

•July 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

My latest creature is up on imWalde, and this one is actually available to buy on Goblinesquerie.

Die on Purpose

•July 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There Is Someone I Think You Should Meet

The Decapitation of Douglas Harding

Die on Purpose

 

When I was born, I had no head

•July 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

“The best day of my life—my rebirthday, so to speak—was when I found I had no head. This is not a literary gambit, a witticism designed to arouse interest at any cost. I mean it in all seriousness: I have no head.

It was eighteen years ago, when I was thirty-three, that I made the discovery. Though it certainly came out of the blue, it did so in response to an urgent enquiry; I had for several months been absorbed in the question: what am I? The fact that I happened to be walking in the Himalayas at the time probably had little to do with it; though in that country unusual states of mind are said to come more easily. However that may be, a very still clear day, and a view from the ridge where I stood, over misty blue valleys to the highest mountain range in the world, with Kangchenjunga and Everest unprominent among its snow-peaks, made a setting worthy of the grandest vision.

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking. A peculiar quiet, an odd kind of alert limpness or numbness, came over me. Reason and imagination and all mental chatter died down. For once, words really failed me. Past and future dropped away. I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, all that could be called mine. It was as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories. There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head.

It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

It was all, quite literally, breathtaking. I seemed to stop breathing altogether, absorbed in the Given. Here it was, this superb scene, brightly shining in the clear air, alone and unsupported, mysteriously suspended in the void, and (and this was the real miracle, the wonder and delight) utterly free of “me”, unstained by any observer. Its total presence was my total absence, body and soul. Lighter than air, clearer than glass, altogether released from myself, I was nowhere around.

Yet in spite of the magical and uncanny quality of this vision, it was no dream, no esoteric revelation. Quite the reverse: it felt like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming. It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind. It was the revelation, at long last, of the perfectly obvious. It was a lucid moment in a confused life-history. It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see. It was naked, uncritical attention to what had all along been staring me in the face – my utter facelessness. In short, it was all perfectly simple and plain and straightforward, beyond argument, thought, and words. There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.”

- On Having No Head, Douglas Harding

“You’ll never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars.” – Thomas Traherne

Pathwalking

•July 23, 2014 • 3 Comments

Once again, a correlation between the practices of the spirit-worker and those of the artist:

“Nature’s particular gift to the walker, through the semi-mechanical act of walking — a gift no other form of exercise seems to transmit in the same high degree — is to set the mind jogging, to make it garrulous, exalted, a little mad maybe — certainly creative and supra-sensitive, until at last it really seems to be outside you and as it were talking to you, while you are talking back to it.” (Kenneth Grahame* – found via a post on Myth & Moor)

There does seem to be something about walking that invites this altered state of consciousness – which a spirit-worker might use for communication with the gods and spirits and/or for pathwalking, whereas the artist can use it for inspiration. I tend to walk everywhere, since I deliberately do not own a car, and I use it often to slip between worlds, even if I’m only walking to work in the morning or down to the store. I find it easier to move on a spiritual plane when I am also moving on the physical one (I often am reminded of an Amberite moving between alternate worlds this way). There is also plenty of opportunity, at the slower pace of walking, for omens to present themselves in the tangible world around you – whether you’re in the woods or in the city – and for the spirits of place to reveal themselves.

 

*Coincidentally, I just read Wind in the Willows for the very first time. How did I, a devotee of Beatrix Potter and Winnie the Pooh, totally miss this classic in my childhood? Fortunately, the situation has been rectified.

 
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