Faith is what tells you your belief wasn’t wrong. Belief is what tells you your experience was real. Experience is what tells you your practice was right. Practice is what tells you your faith is alive.
Faith is what tells you your belief wasn’t wrong. Belief is what tells you your experience was real. Experience is what tells you your practice was right. Practice is what tells you your faith is alive.
Much as I love the idea of foreign languages and ancient etymologies, and much as I love a good academic discourse, in my experience most of these are somewhat irrelevant in usage and it is such an uphill battle to try and constantly hold to them and usefully debate them, even in purely professional usage. So I have my own set of definitions for a collection of key religious terms, which is the most useful contemporary way that I’ve found to navigate and actually put them to lived, rather than hypothetical, use.
It is my understanding and observation that people engage religiously and spiritually through a set of four basic spectrums: faith, belief, experience, and practice. I hear a whole lot of arguments (many of which I agree with absolutely, others I think are full of shit, and so forth) about their proper use and which is the “right way” of doing things religiously, polytheistically, and so forth. I think these debates are useful. I have yet to see evidence of a better way of viewing these terms in practical context (as opposed to academic assessment) and so this is how I choose to navigate them.
These four spectrums do not exist in a vacuum from one another, and while a person could conceivably be religious or spiritual with three of these and not all four, I view them as the sort of food pyramid of religion. These are your nutritional needs, the balanced associations of active engagement and passive reflection which keep one solid coursed and above water. Or way the fuck below it, if that’s the nature of their tradition.
I don’t like to use the word “faith” to denote a specific tradition, in the context of “it is tenet of my faith to do such and such”, because this is lazy use of language and fuck that. I sometimes use “belief” to refer to the acknowledgement of gods (and for that matter things like gravity and oxygen) but really what I (and “we”) should mean and say with these is “acknowledgement”. I acknowledge gravity, as my belief in it is irrelevant. (I also believe in the experience of gravity, but again, irrelevant. Helpful, in that I don’t get confused and panic-stricken when I fall out of a tree.) I avoid using the word “knowledge” for these things as well.
Language is tricky, and my own use of it is far from perfect… but these are my thoughts on what I see as the four most frequently used and misused and debated terms from religion of all kinds, all walks, and flavors.
It is not my intent to start a new debate, nor end somebody else’s, nor critique any specific uses of these terms by others which are contrary to my own. Rather, it is my intent to share my observations and experiences, which include running these terms by others and plugging my definitions into various debates or discourses, and I find them to basically just work, at the end of the day. I don’t go into orthodoxy versus orthopraxy because honestly I don’t think that these are necessarily opposed, but rather, misunderstood (and certainly misemployed by the majority of major world religions today, especially those of monotheistic structure). I’ll leave it to others to bring that discourse to the floor — or put it to rest in wormy earth, if indeed the time for such ever comes around! — and instead just focus on how I see these ideas best employed in the act of living authentic tradition and engaging with integral religion, rather than merely something calling itself that to fill an emptiness for a while.
Religion is something which is actively practiced, which leads to experiences, after which we are tasked with questions of belief, which inevitably face challenge which we must answer with a rising faith. All things exist upon a spectrum, a continuum, and nothing is static, and everything changes, everything is in constant, beautifully orchestrated but purely chaotic movement, spinning and turning and twisting. Practices bring us to the table of engagement, and introduce us to the equations themselves, as variables big or small. Experiences are the sum of those equation, which we can believe or not, and faith is the fall-back when shit hits the fan and the fogs roll in.
So, my wallet is falling apart. I need a new wallet. I would like to put my money into the hands of an independent artisan, rather than some faceless corporate empire. If you are are an independent artisan, or know of one who makes leather wallets (which won’t leave me with no money left to put in said wallet), please contact me with messages or links, etc.
I like wallets that are made from black leather that won’t fall apart. Contrary to what I know about ergonomic health and chiropractic considerations, I still keep my wallet in my back pocket; trifolds tend to be too thick, so I like a spacious bi-fold that is slightly longer than it is tall (e.g. not a square), so that it doesn’t get stuck in my pocket. Also bonus points if it is strong enough to occasionally house long-term traveling talismans, razor blades, broken glass or crushed bullet-casings without seam-popping. I am open to either embossed-with-awesome-design or plain leather, because leather is fucking gorgeous on its own. Cowhide mades the most sense but I am totally open to being compelled to use a fucking octopus-skin wallet or some other nonsense, if you can make a good case in favor of it.
A recent (and completely mundane) exchange has got me thinking about how various people engage with their realities, and those of others, and in general with a certain degree of deficit in what I will refer to as cognitive (or even ego) flexibility. By flexibility in this case, I mean literal nimbleness. I once taught a yoga class (read: once. I was not allowed back) and was amazed by the lack of flexibility that a number of the lacrosse players in the room had. I figured that athletes who spent their entire sporting careers running around and being swift and able to spin on hairpin turns to dodge their opponents would have some level of flexibility, but these dudes couldn’t lower their knees past their chests while sitting cross-legged, nevermind allow them to relax toward the floor. These were not body-builders whose muscle structure was just so big that such a posture would be an impossibility; they were just people whose whole exercise routine was focused in one narrow parameter with no mind for the greater or systemic whole.
But back to my recent exchange. I was asked to help brainstorm ideas to rearrange the furniture in a bedroom, without getting rid of, replacing, or adding any furniture. As this is a small bedroom with a lot of furniture (no open walls except under the one window, and the sliding closet), rearranging without changing what is in there has only limited options. However, the entire point of a brainstorming pursuit is to think outside of the narrow confines of the dread box, and be creative, which is to say, embrace or adapt in a short-term way to a more flexible mode of thought and process in order to allow different sorts of ideas to come through. Brainstorm is about hurricane winds and lightning strikes and flashfloods of cognition, most of which will not work and are not applicable to physical reality, but the objective is not to come up with a list of “things that will work and can happen”, but rather, to come up with a process of cognitive electrification that might leave in its wake a usable and implementable approach.
So we began brainstorming. Attach the bed to the ceiling with bungee cords, turn the closet into a bat-cave, and so forth, were amongst the early ideas. These were shot down coldly and with a certain aggressive volatility that took me aback: obviously I didn’t think beds from ceilings or secret lairs were the right critical direction for the room’s evolving identity configuration, but we weren’t doing critical planning at that stage, but creative brainstorming. That process is literally the process in which you remove all obstacles and narrowed thought schemas in order to allow new ideas to come through, some of which will just breeze by (batcave!) and others might find purchase and stay a while.
I was astounded by the lack of cognitive flexibility in the person — an old friend — to whom I was offering my creative process. Given that I am somewhat known for my abilities in arranging spaces in highly efficient ways, especially when they are small and overfull with fixtures, it made sense for this question to come to me. However, I did not anticipate the level of resistance to the creative process (e.g. change) that would come out, and so with the hostility entered the equation I bowed out. Because I don’t want to fight about the mechanics of creative process around a situation that doesn’t even remotely involve or hold consequences for me. I have better things (e.g. religious devotions, theological writings, crafting rituals and planning the new shrine space in my van) to concern myself with.
And the funny thing? My bowing out was met with even more aggression.
This is clearly a case of ego investment and a resistance to change — pretty much the definition of inflexibility of the mental variety — but it serves as a great example of issues that I see every day in every walk of life, not the least of which being religious, polytheistic and theological discourses.
How intolerant of new ideas and suspension of our own ideas (or our own egos and experiences) we must be.
There is a fear response that is triggered when we ask our egos to step aside and allow a more creative process to unfold. This is a normal human psychological response. We hold to our values and our experiences and beliefs in order to stay anchored in a reality that is pretty much the most wind-tossed and treacherous sea imaginable. The idea of suspending those values and experiences and beliefs and practices is terrifying to all humans, to one extent or another, because those are the things that we utilize in defining and identifying our selves, internally, as we relate to our own personhood-ness. When we are asked situationally to suspend our values and experiences and so forth, we are met with the silent and unasked question of how to engage with a version of ourselves not defined in such a concrete way, in other words to reach for an increased flexibility of self.
I am hardly somebody who could be accused of advocating for the removal of value systems or held-to experiences. But I am also not going to shy away from the enlightenment and understanding that can come from suspending those things in order to allow opening for newer things to fly through and take purchase. I have confidence in my values to know that this “brainstorm” will not dislodge anything that was firmly rooted enough in the first place (e.g. essential things) and that anything new that gets picked up may well be something that I needed to acquire, anyway.
It isn’t about ceiling-beds and batcaves (although maybe it should be!), but it is about making room for the chance that it might be, if only for an instant, if only to allow a related idea to come on through.
Humans have brains, which house minds. Minds are the environment of thought. Thoughts work via a web of interrelated associations. Brainstorms play on creative associations with critically structured idea patterns, and therefore lead to breakthroughs in innovation, process, practice or belief.
Gods use our brains in Their divine engagements with us. This is not to say that gods exist within our brains (anymore than the oak tree we just fell out of exists only in our brain, merely because it was our brain that processed its stimuli!) but rather than absent brains, we as incarnate humans cannot process experience of Them here in this world, while living within its physical and physiological confines. The gods and the spirits know how our brains work, mostly, and they utilize the systems of interrelated associations and cognitive patterning in Their process of engaging with us, in how They choose to present or reprimand or prophetically engulf us.
If we cling so desperately and inflexibly to certain cognitive patterns and idea structures in our brainmeats, we stand in the way not only of creative brainstorming — batcaves! — but also of divine inspiration and helpfully interpreted gnosis. Because it is possible to be wrong, in religious experience. It is possible to draw wrong conclusions, to jump to wrong assumptions, to infer wrongheadedly from the gods and spirits who engage with us…
Because brains and minds, as potent and brilliant and wonderful as they can be, are frequently just big mushy paperweights that leak out and get in the way like cats underfoot. Let’s see if we can breathe into our proverbial knees a little bit and find the flexibility of thought to stretch our theologically-engaging thoughtmuscles a little bit, contort our egos the fuck away for a moment, and try to get somewhere new. Unless where we are is perfect and done already, in which case, let’s stop talking about it. (Personally, I don’t feel done.)
This morning I am waking up slowly with a cup of rum-buttered and whiskey-added drip coffee over five shots of espresso, with a raven on my shoulder and the second half of last night’s double maduro in hand. Smoke and feathers and spirits and caffeine: I now feel adequately equipped to engage with PSVL‘s latest thought provoking and rather epic-in-implication post over at Aedicula Antinoi. Join me in reading it here.
That this sprawling discussion derives in some part from my own recent discussions of hospitality notwithstanding, I am moved by the process and the continuum through which this socio-theological discourse winds and surges and spins. I find myself nodding along at much of it, but also hesitating at other parts, but I will withhold comment on either until I’ve had more whiskey and a cigar fresh to this calendar day. (My day has not begun until I’ve finished what I began the day before, and in this case, that will take another forty-five minutes or so, as this was a large cigar.)
For now, though, I feel comfortable saying that this is amongst the most important sets of dialogs and discourses for polytheists — as individuals and as movements/traditions — and for the other non-polytheists with whom we share overlap, ritual space, bedsheets or broomsticks.
I encourage folks — especially those who like to have clearly defined use of terms and ideas of what certain things mean — to suspend those for the sake of this discussion, and allow a certain level of elasticity to come into things so that we can navigate to the core of what is being discussed. It isn’t exactly about how one defines atheism or piety, but rather about some basic and intrinsic expressions of respect and acknowledgement-of-the-personhood-of-the-divine.
And in closing I think that polytheism itself, as a collective movement (which is ever held in measurable space by its slowest parts or its most aggressive instincts or its most passive concessions), would and should and could be greatly bettered if more people engaged in a learned discourse around the practical implications of animism, which is in some ways far simpler than –theism (as it does not require a specific definition of deity) and in other ways far more complex (as it steps outside the realm of little theories and big theories and into the space of lived fact and acknowledged reality). The term “personhood”, or merely “person” (as used by PSVL in today’s article in relation to the gods) is drawn from studies in and praxis-oriented discourses from within animistic engagement and consciousness.
(I am not equating animism and polytheism, but rather saying that in most instances, a certain level of animism is inherently required in authentic (and reasonable, holds-water-on-its-own, lived and practiced) polytheisms. Not all animism-based practices and traditions are themselves -theistic, but I would hedge that all polytheisms do require a certain degree of animism.)
But I’m getting away from the point, which is and always should be, whiskey and coffee and ravens and cigars. The bird has now drawn blood (talons to bare shoulder and all) which is my queue to stop typing and start tending to him while I read. So I leave you with this:
Sannion shares some elevatory insights following the latest debacle with the Tumblr Kids, and I’m in full favor of this. The path of an Orphic is after all the path of descent into the Underworld (sometimes literally, sometimes proverbially, sometimes Theatrically, and sometimes Tumblr) in order to gain the insights and wisdoms and fucking badass Titanscars to climb to higher heights in one’s own titanismic spiritual path, which is to say, the path of living-and-dying-and-living again in order to, through these cycles, become bigger, better, bolder, to become more worthy of the blessings of the gods upon us all.
And so I applaud him.
You have shown how fiercely we cling to our excuses and weaknesses.
Just this brief brush with your world has filled me with contempt and revulsion, deepening my longing to immerse myself in ritual and other forms of worship as a corrective.
Just by being yourselves you have shown me everything I loathe and hope never to become – and which I fear that I was. Without your intervention I could have stumbled down the wrong path – the path that creates people like you. Instead I will choose the noble and pious road, no matter how hard and strewn with obstacles it is.
As I create myself through my continuous choices I will now have something to weigh my options against.
Is this what they would do?
What is being spoken of here is a thing that I have referred to in Thracian spiritual technology as the tension of hesitation on the threshold of choice, or more simply put, the necessity of tension and torque in all things. Without obstacles and adversaries — or obtrusive ideas which contrast as hurdles to your own — one cannot move in any direction at all, for all direction is informed by that which opposes it. Our enemies are but landmarks that we blow up against and split in twain as we pass through and leave a bloodsauna of corpses and lacerated miscreant misunderstandings and misused ideas and movements wronghearted to their core in our wake.
And so I reiterate a thing that I’ve said before in each conflict that embraces my corner of polytheistic movement and development, which good sir Sannion echoes so nobly here: thank you, adversaries, for your opposition. You define my landscape, and as I pass through you and your weaknesses of mind or heart — as I define these things, at least — I will be sure to honor those who helped to form you into your perfect state of imperfection to oppose my own imperfect (but better aimed, engineered and calibrated) trajectory of devotion, teaching, and ritual service.
Thracian druids, Orphic Aion, and Lady Gaga all feature in PSVL’s latest, much of which I had a sneak-peak of as we rampantly discussed the first two items (and I in fact turned em on to “Da Vinci’s Demons” with its “Sons of Mithras” plot!). I was debating writing around these as well (and may still!), but pop-culture is probably never a thing whose commentary should be left in my hands, as I am the sort of person who needed to spend an hour looking up who the fuck Miley Cyrus was after she broke the internet at the VMA or whatever. Anyway, enough from me. I give you the illustrious P. Sufenas Virius Lupus!
In any case, I go back and forth on these matters: are we in a position to have the “no publicity is bad publicity” on some of these things, or are we in the position of “just wait until some 19-year old claims to be following an ancient secret Thracian druid tradition that was handed down by the Sons of Mithras to Lady GaGa, who is a secret Freemason, and we’ll have to school them on how wrong they are”? It could very easily go either way, depending on how intelligent someone encountering these matters happens to be. Time will tell, I suspect…
P. Sufenas Virius Lupus, Aedicula Antinoi: A Small Shrine of Antinous
I was excited while watching Da Vinci’s Demons, at least in the beginning. And then I was a little bit baffled by the Orphic funerary passports being attributed in spoken form to a Renaissance Mithras cultus in Florence run by an enigmatic psychotropic-wielding Turk, with zero mention of the Orphic or Titanic implications of the passage (which is basically just a code-phrase to denote membership, from what I have seen). I’m in staunch favor of Mithraic cultic developments (in media and otherwise!) as He is a favored foreign god in my House, and similarly I have obvious vested interested in Orphic stuff continuing to rock on out. And a blend of the two is actually both syncretically sensible and kind of fucking cool. But not if they’re ignorantly blended with no commentary on this, in a way that misleads or confuses an audience with deliberate misinformation. Just pick one, or if you fucking need both for your plot to be snazzy and poetic, write both of them in, rather than just bending and folding one to fit inside the other.
But the masquerade sex scene was awesome.