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 IV
On the Backs of the Gods, Part IV:
On the "Living" of Theology:
Execution of Practice and Belief in the Really Real World
I want to continue from my previous post by bringing all of this "home" to a centered place of living what we believe. I don't care about empty theological engagement that doesn't lead to a deeper relationship with the world around me. I don't care about intellectual or ritualistic engagements that don't have a practical real-world component. My religion, my spiritual life and practices, are not hobbies or intellectual thought-experiments, or hypothetical novelties. My religion is the science through which I engage with my gods and my world, and it encompasses, defines, directs, and colors every area of my life in this world.
My view of traditional religious modeling breaks down into three basic "camps": personal/domestic religion, community/social religion, and mystic/mystery religion. These three areas, in my mind, make up (or should make up) the practical theology of any living religious structure. In other words, each should be accounted for in a healthy living religious tradition. These are the interrelated, interconnected, and completely intertwined essential core of a healthy and authentically realized religious tradition.
The first camp covers personal practice, household practice, and ancestral practice, and has no clergy beyond the head or heads of a household or family. It is concerned with issues of personal and family health, prosperity, love, procreation, professional matters and trade matters. It is concerned also with the spirits of one's house and land, with the connections to one's family lineage (ancestrally), and to any patron deities or collective totems that grant their blessings upon a given individual or one’s house and family.
The second is about community outside of the immediate household relations, which can (and should) mean a number of different things. These can be gender-specific groups or societies from the local area, or a community of religious authors gathering to share their works, or an internet confederacy of rogue theologians, or a fertility cult doing classic ritual on the mountain sides to greet the change of seasons with wild abandon. This is the realm of festival and parade, of community support in times of duress and of community celebration in times of blessings. These are gatherings, large or small, for the purposes of building, nurturing, and living community.
The third is the realm of magic and mystery, "the world behind the curtain". These are the initiatory traditions, the spiritual hierarchies and disciplined spirit-workers. This is the camp of specialists -- those dedicated to life-long pursuits of mastery and efficient use of spiritual technologies -- which are either joined or consulted at various times. (In other words, lay folks not dedicated to these pursuits should be able to rely upon those who are for aid and consultation, whereas those who have chosen to walk behind the curtain should understand themselves to be at least in some way of service to the greater community, even if that service is unseen and unnamed.) This is the camp of reverent awe, of respect, and of discipline.
The three "camps" are all interrelated and, to my view, universal. Everyone has a place in, and a need for, each. Earlier I brought up three elements of theology that I think all healthy and complete theological models should have, and those again are tradition, belief, and practice. Combining that with this "three camp" model just presented, and I believe you have the basic equation for a living, realized religious tradition. Each "camp" of a religious life should have all three of these elements accounted for: personal/domestic traditions, beliefs, and practices; community traditions, beliefs, and practice; mystic traditions, beliefs, and practices. With each of these settled up and factored in, a person or group can find themselves with a fully intact, foundationally solid, and effectively livable theological structure.
No theology is static. That is not why they exist, or are developed, or talked about. Nothing is static, and permanence is a lie, beyond the constant flux and change of the dance of being in an ever-moving universe. The purpose of a theology is not to create something that is permanent, but rather to create something that is flexible enough to withstand the heights-and-depths and pressures of being lived and deployed in our worlds, in our lives, in our communities, and in our faiths and in our hearts.
Ultimately, theology -- just like psychology or the study of human sexuality or radiological medicine -- is about a road to understanding a set of wildly complex and at times incredibly unpredictable circumstances. Structures of thought or engagement can be thought up and field tested and held onto or tossed aside later and this is all fair game, because the game is never paused and there is never a half-time or a bathroom break and so our structures will be carried with us through our lives, at our best and our worst. We'll drag them down into the gutter with us when we have tragedies and hopefully -- if they were good structures in the first place -- we can use them to climb back up from those. If they broke under the weight of our falls, then we reach for something new that will hold together better next time we stumble.
All of this has to ultimately be about living a set of beliefs in this world, in a way that makes this world better. Safer. More beautiful. More awesome. More secure. More tolerant, or even better, more accepting. All of this needs to be about knowing how to talk a conflict down from the brink of violence or explosion and knowing when to pick up a bat and take a stand or how to find the people who will do so on your behalf, with you at their back. All of this needs to be about healing those who have been injured and teaching those who did the injuring a different way to go about living. All of this needs to be about healing ourselves, and teaching ourselves, and learning each day more deeply -- through our relationship to this world and to our gods and to our blessed dead -- who it is that each of us is in this world, and what our purpose in living in it might be.
We stand in this world supported by our many gods, on the backs and on the shoulders of our many blessed and immortal deities, and it is on each of us to be sure that we stand with reverence and respect, not treading mindlessly, carelessly upon Them in this world, Their Creation.
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