A polytheanimist Thracian perspective on creating, rebuilding, and embodying ancestral religions as living traditions in the 21st century. Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being.
On the Backs of the Gods, Part III
On the Backs of the Gods, Part III
Musings on the Necessities of Spirit:
Religion as Life, Life as Spirit, Spirit as Being
As the debates of Pagan and Polytheistic definitions and theologies continue to rage, with increased discourse on Fundamentalism (which I'll weigh in on later), I can't help but reflect with some amount of amusement -- or cynicism -- how ridiculously privileged some of us must sound. So many of us dabble in intellectual and pseudo-intellectual debate, raging and flame-warring with one another across the internet -- wonder of wonders that it is -- from places of relative luxury, "free" from the burdens of worldly concern. Free from necessity.
21st Century American spirituality is not a thing of necessity but luxury, to be later cataloged I am sure alongside other post-post-modern essentials like Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, purses for small dogs, sunglasses that cost more than a feast for a whole rural village in West Africa, and constantly replaced irreplaceable digital gadgetry, tabletry, and so forthetry. In the ages that birthed spiritual engagement and religious devotion, "luxury" did not exist. (For most of the world, even the Western world, "luxury" did not really exist until the late 1970s; there was "living well", but the luxury class of commercialism we know today is relatively young in the world, though its effects have permeated all but the most remote corners of our globalized society.) No, back in the earliest days of spiritual engagement, humankind turned to spirits and gods because they would die if they did not.
"Religion as life, life as spirit, spirit as being": this necessity is the core of my religious engagement. “Luxury” is a major hindrance in connecting to lived tradition today. I believe that the privilege of luxury is a current symptom of a greater issue of human disconnection from the natural (mortal) world, wherein we view ourselves as progressively more and more separate from the myriad other species and environments that surround us. This is an illusion. We are not separate. Just as a wolf does not have the luxury of side-stepping worldly concern -- if he stops being a wolf for a while to ponder what it is to be a sparrow or a vein of ice or a northernly gust of wind, he will likely perish -- I do not think that humans should overindulge in this pursuit either, without proper awareness paid to the realities; the essential, mortal necessities.
Recently I was speaking of theological and social concerns with a brother priest of mine who is incarcerated in a state penitentiary in central California. We were discussing some of the differences that we have observed in people's approach to religion, and agreed that many people have trouble connecting deeply to religion for the same reasons that they have trouble connecting to their own lives, selves, communities or purposes; it is hard to connect to anything when there is no penalty for connecting to nothing, which is the ineffable outcome of widespread "luxury". Until we have been set upon by a cougar while lost in the hills or made to stare down the barrel of a gun purposed toward us at range near enough to smell the oiled steel and brass, or had to scavenge or hunt or steal just in order to live through the night, how can we possibly understand life? One cannot know the true importance of freedom until they have seen it taken and replaced with confinement, and so forth. All of these disconnections are the result of luxury and -- perhaps more importantly -- of privilege. We shared an observation that in today's world, many are sheltered from life by the privilege of post-post-modern society's luxurious offerings, while those who experience life in the extreme are often swept up into lifestyles and choices that can lead them astray, due to the lack of traditional structures in the greater society at its core.
I am certainly not advocating for violence or near-death experience or trying to ride cougars in the hills at night. I am not suggesting that those who suffer or struggle are more noble or more deserving or more wise, by virtue of their trials. I am suggesting that trying to understand religion and spirituality as ways of life, as essential necessities for survival, is very challenging when one has never had to question their own survival through the night. This is the underpinning of all religious developments. We pray, we worship, we sing praises and pour libations and offer sacrifice along the lineage cycles of tradition in order to better serve and engage with the lives we have been given. But in an age of privilege, how many among us truly view religion in this light? How many of us feel that we are dependent upon our gods, our guides, our spirits and our blessed dead for a return to this world each morning?
When I pray it is not for things that I want. It is for things that I need. (I am chastised for this frequently, by both gods and colleagues, who encourage me to ask for the occasional race-car or pet giraffe.) When I sing my praises and give thanks to my powers, it is because I am still alive, and not yet taken by the wilds, as I one day will be. When I am taken by the wilds, I will sing praises and give thanks then, too, for the blessed return that comes; the blessed return that I'll have spent my life investing in and preparing to embark upon.
Stay tuned for On the Backs of the Gods, Part IV, wherein I explore putting theology to practice "out there" in the world.
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