Tag Archives: theology

Curious Antipathy: The Ongoing Struggle to Define Modern Paganism

Modern Pagan belief is largely founded on personal spiritual experience. Though there is, sadly, a great deal of infighting about what constitutes authentic experience, and near constant accusations of cultural appropriation, Modern Paganism marks a return of spiritual authority to the lay practitioner. Each Pagan has a unique and personal relationship not simply to the divine, but to discrete deities and spiritual beings. Paganism allows us not only to worship God as we choose, but to choose which Gods to worship. Essentially, Paganism is about building our own relationships with Divinity distinct of church structure. I am not, of course, saying, that everyone is therefore correct, no matter what they do, merely that Modern Paganism allows us much more spiritual freedom than many of us have ever experienced. There are still rights and wrongs, those concepts have simply been recontextualized.

From that basis, I find it baffling that so many of us spend so much energy trying to dismantle Christianity. We are all familiar with the various arguments against the authenticity of the Bible, with the historical malfeasance of the various churches and of the contemporary issues which many Christian faiths continue to struggle with or blatantly ignore. However, none of this says anything about the authenticity of the spiritual experience of Christians. How many of our source texts can evade the critiques which we level at the Bible? None. Not a single one. We talk about the lack of historic references to Jesus and the absence of archaeological evidence for the events depict in the Hebrew Testament, but how many trustworthy historical references and archaeological proofs are there for our own beliefs? Why do we require this kind of evidence from Christians, but not from ourselves?

I myself was raised in what I casually refer to as a cult. I personally understand the desire to distance ourselves as much as possible from Christianity. My experience was difficult and painful and I am still recovering from a lot of the trauma that I experienced. However, the reason why I eventually left that church had almost nothing to do with my personal struggle. The more I spoke to my fellow church members and to people of various faiths, the more I came to realize that my personal faith was simply not strong enough to justify my continued identification with that church. That itself was a traumatic experience. I had used that identification as a badge throughout much of my childhood. I hid behind it and used it to excuse my alienation from my classmates and peers and to disguise the things I found shameful about myself. That breakage was just as affecting as the religion itself. For years, I felt as though I had no solid identity. Eventually, this spurred me to do a great deal of personal reflection, and to figure out what I myself needed to foster and support my spirituality, my faith. I emerged from Christianity, and am emphatically not Christian, but that history had a profound effect on me and played a vital part in my spiritual development. While Christianity caused me profound pain, I know that without that experience I would not be the man I am today, a man that, for the most part, I am proud to be.

I think that we, as Pagans, need to accept our personal histories and understand the ways in which they continue to influence not only our personal progression, but also our progression as a culture. We need to resist the urge to attack the faiths with which we cohabitate. Of course, we feel persecution and alienation in contemporary culture largely as a result of the high saturation of Christian faiths in the Western World. That said, we do ourselves no favors by placing ourselves explicitly at odds with the people to whom we are trying to prove our authenticity, our equality. It is especially problematic when we, as a faith community, co-opt the strategies of the Atheist movement to attack our perceived enemies. We cannot require hard evidence of faith. We cannot demand proof which we ourselves cannot provide.

If we are willing to accept people who claim to have deep spiritual relationships with deities who have not been properly worshiped for close to a thousand years as speaking the truth, why do we refuse to recognize the deep spiritual relationships which Christians have with their God? We simply cannot denounce Christianity as false because it makes us uncomfortable.

The fear of Christian persecution has been built into the foundation of Modern Paganism. The Wiccan Rede reads as it does as an attempt to make Wiccans appear less threatening to their Christian neighbors. How many times do we hear random Pagans at Pagan events miscellaneously bad-mouthing Christians with little to no provocation? Our Christian antipathy frequently seems to be incorporated into Modern Pagan culture itself. That is problematic for so many reasons. Some of this, I believe, is a result of our continuing struggle to define our community identity. The simple question, “What is Paganism?” is notoriously hard to answer to everyone’s satisfactions and the current fuss brewing over at Patheos about polytheism versus nature worship is a good example of the constant back and forth bickering that has come to define the question. Pagansisms, and the plural there is intentional, are so varied from person to person, from practice to practice that any single rubric fails to account for all of the various forms of worship and theology that the Pagan community has incorporated into itself, or which have blossomed out of the occult and spiritual revivals of the first half of the twentieth century.

It is because of that difficulty that I suggest that many of us fall back on negative descriptions of ourselves. We are Pagan, and that means we are not Christian. Mallory and I have discussed this dilemma at some length, and she, quite rightly, asserts that people need something to define themselves against as a means of solidifying group identity. It is true that group identity is strongest in opposition, psychology has shown how deeply entrenched people become when challenged with an opposing idea, even casually. To a certain extent it makes sense that we look for things which differentiate us from the faith communities which surround us. The problem arrises, as I see it, when we solely define ourselves against other groups. Paganism cannot be defined negatively. Now, I know a lot of people have been doing a lot of work to produce positivist descriptions of Paganism, and yet it seems like a good deal of the community is content, in a practical sense, to simply identify as Non-Christian. There is, of course, the other pole of this wherein we end up saying things like “We’re just like you, only we worship the Goddess instead of the God.” Both of these definitions retain Christianity as the central term. Paganism is defined in relation to Christianity. These descriptions fall back on simple reductivism.

We simplify our identities to make them more palatable either to ourselves or to others. I firmly believe that if we are to continue to identify as a single community despite the broad variations which Modern Paganism contains that we need to do a lot of work as a community to build a coherent and cohesive definition. In doing so, however, we need to be willing to set aside our own identity defenses and end up in inter-community bickering, trying to establish ourselves as more Pagan than you. There is a large array of characteristics which combine and overlap to describe contemporary Pagan practice, and we need to be careful not to privilege anyone of those over the others. Doing so only leads to defensiveness and tension between different Pagans and Paganisms. We cannot reduce Paganism to Polytheism versus Monism, nor Nature Worship versus Deity Worship, nor thaumaturgy versus theurgy, nor any any other combination of polar relations.

Part of the difficulty in this discussion, I believe, is that may people see these polar relations as just that, polar and therefore incompatible. This dualistic relation, I do think, stems from the Christianity infused culture that Paganism has emerged from, at least in the United States. We as Pagans need to be able to release the dualistic world view of God against the Satan, of good against evil. At the very outset, Paganism has proposed a plurality of forces which act in the world with a variety of prerogatives none of which are necessarily good nor evil, nor even concerned with human activity. If we are willing to make that theological leap, why do we seem so hesitant to follow through with the appropriate ontological shift?

Hard and Soft Polytheism are not necessarily incompatible. Dionysus was worshipped across the Hellenistic World with a variety of guises and epithets, and yet each iteration still relates back to the same essential deity. Different regions, different villages would all have unique and idiosyncratic forms of worship and conception of Dionysus depending on the needs of the people, and yet, across these differences, the same God was being worshipped. We need to recognize that the Ancients’ relationships to their Gods was not as hard and fast and strictly defined as we would like. Our grade school mythology fails to describe the actual experience of these Gods and their relation to their devotees. Across cultures, the Ancients viewed their Gods as having profound control over their presentation and prerogative depending on the task at hand, on the social class of the supplicant, on the needs of society, and yet they still remained the same volitional beings, the same discrete Gods despite the variety of epithets with which they may be approached. We also seem to be properly terrified of admitting the role of syncretism in the Ancient World. The spread of Gods across Europe and Britannia should be sufficient to show that this was a strategy consistent with Ancient Worship which each culture had very little issue with. Would we really be willing to assert that the Isis worshipped in the British Isles is an entirely different being from the Isis of Ancient Egypt? What about the Isis cult of Rome? Are these not the same Goddess in different guises, in different aspects suited to the needs of the varied communities and cultures? Hard and Soft Polytheism begin to collapse into each other.

I recognize that I have provided very few strategies for moving forward and that, as it is, this sits as a rather harsh critique, and yet I feel like this is a necessary part of the greater conversation. Part of the difficulty with generating strategies is that it seems to me that we have a great deal of work to do both personally and as a community on coming to terms with the unique stresses that being Pagan in a domineeringly Christian culture has placed on us. A good deal of the time these stresses get ignored or externalized and the blame ends up getting passed around either within the Pagan community or pushed off onto our perceived foes. We need to be willing to do the work we need to do on ourselves before looking out into the community at large for all the answers.

Of course, not everyone wants to be part of the larger Pagan community, but those people need to respect the work that others our doing to build and foster the Pagan community, and if they are unwilling to do so, then they must simply keep themselves to themselves. We simply do not have the time nor resources to indulge in this petty sniping, these divisive and alienating more Pagan than Pagan arguments. We must be willing to approach the work of community building compassionately and intelligently, and foster understanding of our selves and our relations to others, as well as the roles which we play in the world at large. If Paganism is to survive as a community then we need to be willing to lay our personal issues aside and approach each other mindfully focussed toward the community, and finding that which makes us alike rather than that which makes us different. Only then will the community be able to serve broadly as a means of strength and support. Otherwise we are better off fracturing off into our own little schismatic factions and focussing our attention on our private affairs.

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Reflecting on Pagan Identity

It seems silly so late in that game to ask, “What is Paganism?” and yet, in my continuing interaction with the Pagan community I find that, honestly, I have very little idea of what Pagan actually means. The problem largely seems to be that we, as Pagans, have too many different ideas of what that actually means. Consider how many of us try to subsume Hinduism under the umbrella of Paganism, when Hindus themselves are largely disinterested with our attentions and frequently oppose the classification.

The most common generic definition of what classifies a Pagan religion is a non-Christian Earth based faith. However, that description includes faiths like Shinto, Hinduism, and potentially Buddhism which have long lasting traditions quite distinct from Modern Paganism, while at the same time excluding African Diasporic Traditions, like Candomblé and Vodou, and frequently leaving no place for Appalachian Conjure and Rootwork. Let’s not forget, either, how heavily Christianity influenced Modern Occultism. The Golden Dawn and its antecedents are positively dripping with references to Christianity. What exactly, then, is Paganism? Can we really exclude Christian influence from Paganism?

So, perhaps we introduce another definition. Paganism refers to belief systems which incorporate elements of magic into the core of the faith. Now we need to define magic. Simply said, magic is the manifestation of change in the world according to will. So, what does this definition produce? Now we seem to be able to exclude some of the problematic religions incorporated into the first definition, but have we sufficiently narrowed field to the point that we exclude the Judeo-Christian Faiths? I remain unconvinced. Attend a Catholic Mass and tell me that magic is not built into the very foundation of that ceremony.

I think that it has become apparent that we need to back off and approach this conundrum from another angle. So many of us Pagans have emerged from Christian Faiths, frequently as a result of trauma, and we seek to distance ourselves as thoroughly as we can from those traditions, while at the same time never really coming to terms with the ramifications of our conversion. I propose that Modern Paganism is, in fact, a spiritual revival movement beginning with the birth and subsequent rapid growth of Wicca in the 1940’s. Modern Paganism has progressed in a fairly straight line from the Occult Revival of the Victorian era. I do not believe that it is in anyway controversial to assert that Wicca is the touchstone of Modern Paganism. Wicca itself is a modified form of Golden Dawn teachings combined with various other traditional and fictitious English Hedgework and witchcraft teachings.

I, therefore, assert that Wicca is a heresy of the Golden Dawn. The basic foundation of Golden Dawn ritual is preserved wholly in Wicca. The great innovation of Wicca is to reorient the gender of the Godhead and place the feminine divine at the center of its ontological structure. The male is preserved as a divine consort, in relation to the feminine. This ontological shift is the springboard of Modern Pagan thought. It is precisely this shift, with the maintenance of Golden Dawn structure that shows Wicca to be precisely what it is, a Golden Dawn Heresy.

The Golden Dawn itself is a Christian Heresy. There can be no real doubt of that, any substantial exploration of Golden Dawn teaching reveals it to be a very strange mixture of Christianity, Egyptian mythology, and a rather messy port of John Dee’s Enochian. The roots of Modern Paganism are fundamentally intertwined with Christianity. It may be a bit of a stretch, but a good deal of Modern Paganism could be described as simply a Christian Heresy. The story of Modern Paganism is tangled and full apocryphal tales, but with a little research it is fairly easy to tease apart the strands.

Of course, I do not mean to say that we, as Pagans, are still essentially Christian. We are not. What I am saying is that our community has its roots in Christianity, and it has grown and developed out of a society that is heavily infused with the Christian worldview. Christianity, after all, can be viewed as simply a Jewish heresy, but it would be patently ridiculous to say that we are all, secretly, Jews.

I think that we, as Modern Pagans, tend to forget our roots. We forget and disguise our history to our detriment. Knowing where we came from helps us to understand who we are now, and to see where we have yet to explore. Paganism is growing tradition, still very much in a stage of flux and transformation. It is important that we hold on to our history, our true history: history that we can verify and source. Every faith, every tradition needs its mythology, but we must understand how mythology and history function separately of one another and learn how not to mistake one for the other.

Essentially, I suspect that the question, “What is Paganism?” is a question that we are very much in the process of answering. We are looking for our identity as a community, but in doing so, we must resist the urge to allow our personal history, our pain and transformation, from blinding us to the history of the community that we are building.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 3

Again, I present another digression before moving on with the discussion at hand. I apologize for the crawling pace at which this discussion is proceeding, but at nearly every step I encounter a more quandaries which I feel I must address before moving forward.

Before beginning this series, I emailed Emjay about it asking her permission as well as sending her a draft of the first post. The two of us do, I admit, rather ominously, have further plans involving this theory, but I thought that it was important for my own understanding of it to begin working through it and presenting it here. In that initial draft, I had a throw away line which I then excised before posting, about how I felt Emjay was irritated with me for my final hesitation. She clarified, saying that she was not irritated with me, simply confused.

She suggested to me the reasons for my balking, and I do believe that her analysis of my reaction was correct. Our ur-theology is terribly open ended. That was, of course, the intent. And yet… Emjay suggested that I am too uncomfortable with a theology that tolerates all moralities, including those which I, I feel justified in claiming, find to be reprehensible and destructive. I feel like part of our disagreement stems from our views on the purpose of theology. I personally feel that it is quite important to keep a sharp line between ontology and theology, as I feel that they have very particular domains.

Emjay and I have since engaged in a rather truncated discussion of the role of theology in morality (mostly do to both of our schedules and our erratic response time to emails).  She, scolded me for implying that theology plays a vital and formative role in morality. In a message to her I said, “Ontology shouldn’t produce morality, but theology should. Have we produced a theology or an ontology? I do think that the ontology is secure, but if the theology cannot function to produce a faith, then it kind of fails. Isn’t morality part of spirituality? Are they not somehow linked? I don’t mean to say that one must know god to have morals, I believe one can derive them entirely humanistically, but isn’t that still an appeal to transcendance, merely human rather than divine?” I am not comfortable quoting Emjay’s response here, as I haven’t asked her permission, but I will summarize her rebuttal. Her response was that morality is not linked to theology (and that such a position was dangerous, as it allows for religious culture warriors to claim to have the only true rights to morality) but culture. Further, such a position invalidates Humanist and secular moralities.

I certainly do not disagree that morality is a social function. It is in operation within the social sphere and has a strong component, perhaps, honestly, the strongest component, of social concern. However, I think that it is also important to recognize that theology serves a similar function, in its embedding within society. Here I think we see a parallel evolution, theology and morality grow alongside and influence the development of each other. I think it would be a mistake to sever all linkages between morality and theology. While one may not precede the other in origin, each inflect and disturb the other through their growth. Thus, theology and morality are organically linked in the roles they play not only within society but within each other. After the fact, however, or perhaps even during, theology is viewed as the dominant partner in the relationship. Retroactively the social forces which shaped morality are shifted in the domain of theology. Taboos previously established because of social factors become divine edicts. Thus, theology serves to reinforce and preserve moral codes. Religion acts conservatively, resisting social pressures and maintaining a particular moral code of conduct. While theology is flexible, I would argue that social and culture forces are much more protean, especially in the contemporary world. Therefore, the function of religion in the moral sphere is to resist cultural and social pull. So, theology is likely not the dominant player in a society’s moral development, but it certainly has a hand in the longevity of any particular morality.

So, religion, as the theological institution, becomes an institution of morality. I use the indefinite article quite purposefully here, as I see no reason why there cannot be manifold institutions of morality, or perhaps, more controversially, moral institutions. Religion has historically been viewed as the dominant moral institution, though it is by no means the only one. Platonism in its pure form is largely unconcerned with religion and spirituality, indeed, Plato’s writings have a largely secular focus, and yet Platonism has served as a moral institution for centuries in various forms. Stoicism as well, which stands directly opposed to the metaphysical, is a philosophical movement caught up entirely with morality. Again, a moral institution which derives its force not from appeals to divine transcendence, but from appeals to lived experience and rationality.

Modern Secular Humanism owes a great debt to Stoicism in particular, I feel, for its approaches to morality. Thus, Secular Humanism functions in the moral realm in a way quite similar to religion, merely with different derivations. In place of theology, Secular Humanist moralities derive from philosophy. I hold that neither is necessarily incompatible with the other. Theology first places authority in divinity, while philosophy privileges human reason. Neither need contradict the other. Difficulties emerge when particular theologies and philosophies denounce the privilege of their peers. A particular theology or philosophy may instantiate a flawed morality, but this does not contradict the functioning of morality within the class of institutions deemed moral, be they secular or religious.

Must morality be institutionalized, then? There is a great danger in answering yes to the question, as then morality is removed from the individual and implanted within the group. As such, there would be no individual accountability, all moral force is transferred to the group, for good or for ill. Thus, no single person is responsible for their actions, as their actions are merely reflections of the collective’s morality. One is moral or immoral in as much as the group is moral, and moral judgements can then only be made from outside that group, as each constituent actor would be acting in accordance with group morality, thus nullifying moral judgements as a class and defining them instead as forms of cultural warfare. I propose, then, that moral institutions serve not as the moral actors, but as libraries of morality. Moral institutions preserve and disseminate moral knowledge (which, of course, is heavily inflected by the social and cultural forces of the group in which such institutions are embedded). Moral knowledge is not, however, predicated on the presence of such institutions.

Morality, I suggest, is praxis. All that is absolutely necessary for the presence of morality is a theory from which it derives. The motion from theology to morality is exactly analogous to the motion from theory to praxis. The same motion, of course, occurs between philosophy and morality. Morality is the active practice of theology or philosophy within the social sphere. Therefore, the individual is entirely responsible as a moral actor. The individual is responsible for the derivation or acceptance of any theory or worldview presented, and thus responsible for the moral choices which proceed from that theory. Morality, while linked to society and institutions remains foremost within the individual and actions which that individual engages in in relation to others. Morality proceeds through the actions of the individual from the underlying theory.

I do not believe that I am mistaken in my desire to establish a strong link between theology and morality. Of course, the project which Emjay and I have engaged in is fundamentally different from the model I described above. We are not dealing with an organically developing theological/moral matrix. We are creating a theology out of whole cloth. What, then, is incumbent upon such a theology? How does such a theology relate to morality: how must it relate in order to preserve its position as theology, rather than drifting into mythology (which can still be immensely powerful, but differently so)? These are questions which I am still very much engaged with and as yet unable to answer to my satisfaction.

Thus, I have been very purposeful in this project in my selection of the term ontology: the study of being, emphatically not the study of god. So far this project has not even touched upon Divinity. Nearly every other essay I’ve written here references the Divine in some sense, and I am not decidedly not bringing that concept into play here. There simply is no room for it. This discussion rotates around the Subject. This discussion takes place before God, it precedes and anticipates Divinity, but it is emphatically not addressing the Divine. The Divine must relate to, must be of the Subject, and until the Subject there is no Divine. So, ontology, not theology. I am here merely defining the ground out of which a theology may emerge, and, eventually, I hope present why the theology which Emjay and I have developed progresses logically and consistently from this ground.

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I woke up this morning from a strange dream. I have been having very strange dreams these last few weeks, but this one in particular left me, well, shaken.

I dreamed that I was walking along a busy street. It was a city that I’ve never been to, but it was the city I lived in. I was quite familiar with everything. I have to say, too, that it was a lovely city, full of sunlight and white stone and well kept gardens.I found myself caught up with a group of women dressed like conservative Jews talking in hushed tones amongst themselves. Evidently they were on a mission, a very important mission. We all stopped before a long slung stone and glass structure, vaguely Japanese looking, with broad overhanging eaves and a lovely garden of small herbs set in a patch of pale grey stones. The women had either not noticed or did not care about my presence, and so I decided to continue and observe.

As well as the garden, there were two deep pools of water with a large cairn rising from the center of the pools. However, the left most pool had been drained. Before the pool on the right sat an older man dressed like a conservative Rabbi. He held a long brass rod with a small cup attached to the end of it. With this device he scooped up a cup full of water and poured it upon the stone, praying.

One of the women, a motherly looking lady, approaches the man and gestures angrily at the empty pool. He mutters something, upset that she interrupted her, and says that the women responsible for setting up the pool was sick this morning. She snaps something back at him and he shrugs her off. Furious, she turns on her heel and storms into the building. Several young men in the older man’s retinue rush off after her.

I step forward from the sidewalk to examine the pool, and a young man in an ill-fitting suit stops me from coming any closer with an expression strangely of sympathy and confusion. Taking my accidental distraction as her cue, a young woman rushes forward to the pool, pushing past a few young men. The older man shrieks at her. She has a small cup in her hand. The young men turn to grab her, but are suddenly caught up in the arms of the other women.

She cannot touch the water, the water is holy. The water is holy and the stone atop the cairn is holy, and she must venerate the stone, as the stone which has been privileged to her sex was not prepared this morning. It seemed this was an ongoing struggle. She, however, must not touch the water. She kneels down and leans carefully, as her companions scuffle with the young men behind her. She canot quite reach the water. One of the women slip free and holds her so that she can lean further out.

She gets a small cup full of water. The old man in shrieking his prayers. She casts the water out and it splashes upon the stone. Her friend hauls her back upright and she spins and dances and the stone flashing upon which she stands gives way and she plunges into the pool.

No one moves. The young men are paralyzed, the old man has collapsed onto his knees. “God save her!” I shriek and leap into the pool. The women follow me.

There is a ledge within the pool. The pool is much deeper than it appears. There is a large cubic block upon which stands the cairn. She has fallen down, another twenty or thirty feet, between the side of the cube and the wall of the pool. The broken ledge lies on top of her. “God save her!” I cry again.

The women swarm down to the bottom of the pool. I am standing atop the cube, my head and shoulder above water. I yell at one of the young men to fetch an ambulance. He shakes out of his paralysis, nods and runs off. Over and over I am screaming “God save her, God save her, God save her.” The women are struggling to remove the broken ledge. A young women is returns to the surface, but she has no strength to lift herself to the surface, as she comes up to the edge of cube, I grab her and haul her up. Twice more I do this. I look down, “God save her, God save her, God save her,” where there were two women there are twenty, five young men are lifting away the ledge, and she is brought up to the edge of the cube, and I haul her and the last two women atop the cube and she is a dolphin.

A young man rushes to the edge of the pool. The ambulance is here, but he is silent, because he sees that she is a dolphin. We lift her from the pool, and as her head and shoulders break the surface, she is a woman, bruised and breathing raggedly. “God save her.”

And I awake.

Now, those who know me will know that I am the last person to cry God save anything. Honestly, upon waking, that was what disturbed me the most. I have never been a man of faith. Which isn’t to say that I don’t believe, that I don’t feel strongly, just that I don’t, well, have faith. Or at least, certainly not the kind of faith that would drive me to turn to God, any God, for help. I have never been the kind of man who thought that a God would care, could be moved, to reach out to us. I look at the world and I do not see love pervading. I see love, of course, in little places, in small rooms, between two hands, in eyes and glances and the tenderness of shoulders. I don’t see love, though, as a force in the world. So, I think, perhaps, then, I have never seen a God, and maybe I am looking in the wrong place, and maybe I don’t know what I am looking for. I was raised, as well, in a religion which for the longest time destroyed all hope for me. Only over the last four or five years have I been able to regain my spirituality.

The oddest thing, though, was the waking realization that the God I was calling to, the God who I was filled with faith for, was Dionysus. Of course, Dionysus would save her, and of course he would save her by turning her into a dolphin. And then, doubly odd, was the realization that what my faith had done, was not only save a woman’s life, but demonstrate to these other people of faith, that there was more than one God, and that it was not their God which saved the life of one of their people.

It was a very strange dream, and there was a good deal that I do not understand. I live in a neighborhood with a large conservative Jewish population, so it makes sense that my mind would turn to their aesthetic to depict a devout religious group. The gender binary was also important, and so, again, the attachment of the Jewish aesthetic was fitting. I have always had a great deal of respect for the strength of women, and so it makes sense to me that they would be the protagonists in my dreamworld. Women too often must fight for what is theirs by right. So, of course, I am given the struggle for faith in terms of women demanding their birthright.

I am left wondering: do I have faith, now? Do I have that thing which has baffled me, that Neo-Pagan buzzword, a Patron Deity? I don’t know. I know that I have a great deal of work left to do. I know that I am still deeply affected by a very short, very strange dream.

I really would appreciate any insights or comments that any of you have to offer. The thing that I am mostly deeply looking for is a community, is conversation and mutual understanding and growth. Please, let’s talk.

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Towards a New Ontology, Part 1

Emjay and I recently spent a brief handful of days pouring over our years of experience, research and theorizing, and in the span of what could not have been more than six hours pounded out a strange, unsettlingly coherent ontology based around the subject which allowed us to produce, quite cleanly, an expansive theology. It has been an interest of mine for quite some time to explore the idea of a primordial theology, an ur-theology, to borrow a phrase, of deep magic from before the dawn of time.

I must, now, admit that I, at the summation of our discussion, felt arising within me, a deep, intuitive dissatisfaction with the system which we had constructed that I was not able to properly articulate. Emjay was confused with my sudden hesitation. She told me quite flatly that she did not understand why I was having difficulties so late in the game, after us having spent so long in total agreement. I suspect that now, after several weeks of reflection, that I am nearing an answer to her. However, first I must do what I can to elucidate the system which we developed. I sincerely doubt that I will be capable of doing it justice, and this project will likely take several posts to properly explore, however, I shall endeavor to present our conclusions justly and fairly.

Let us begin with the three fundamental precepts which I believe are necessary to develop a Subject Oriented Ontology.

First: the Subject is Total and Irreducible. There is no such thing as a partial Subject. One cannot fracture the Subject without destroying its fundamental nature. That which is Subject is only Subject in its Totality. The Subject is not partes extra partes, but a total coherence, a part in and of itself. Indeed, this coherence is the justification and reification of the Subject. Once the Subject passes from potentiality into concrete instantiation it radicalizes all that was mere partes extra partes within its organization into a single discrete whole. While the Subject may face damage and mortal peril, such stresses do not, as a starfish, mutilated, produce new Subjects. The result is either a denaturing of the Subject, or its total dissolution. There is, within the concept of the Subject Denatured a Pathological Subject, which is not of direct interest to this present discussion, but I note it now as a point of reentry later on.

Second: the Subject is necessarily Embodied. The Embodiment of the Subject need not necessarily conform to any particular structure, all that is necessary is that the structure be capable of supporting the Subject. The Embodiment of the Subject serves as a necessary substrate out of which the Subject emerges, and so doing radicalizes its structure into its very nature as Subject, dissolving the structure into its totality as Subject and inserting itself through all points in time along the structural substrate’s existence. Once the Subject emerges, the structure disappears into it. The Embodiment of the Subject is then that which necessarily is the Subject as a result of the Subject’s reflexive embedding within the world at large. The structure of the Subject serves as the locus of Being within the World which contains and defines the Subject’s range of potentialities within the World. The Subject, embedded in the World is embedded within its Embodiment as a means of action and perception within and of the World.

Third: The Subject requires a network of Subjects and objects for its fundamental resolution. It is not apparent to me how a Subject may arise in isolation, as the complex action of Subjectivation, wherein the Subject emerges from its structural substrate appears to rely heavily on the presence and action of other Subjects. The Subject becomes through a complex set of interactions that require not only the surrounding network of other objects, but also the presence of action of other Subjects. Before the Subject is a subject, it is merely an object, a presence governed purely by formal object relations. It is through these inter-object relations that the Subject may begin to recognize its difference from other such objects through the presence of, I suggest, perception and intent. However, the total action of Subjectivation requires the presence and interaction of other fully formed Subjects, so that the Nascent-Subject may come to cognizance of its own subjectivity in relation to the subjectivity of others. I do think that it is possible for the Nascent-Subject to fail to achieve this final step in remain in a pre-subjective state of mere perception and reaction. The totally realized Subject becomes such once it recognizes the full power of other Subjects and the potential for that power within itself. The Embodiment of the Subject need not necessarily produce a Subject, it need only allow for the manifestation of the Subject. The human form, its bodily structure, appears strongly predisposed to produce a subject, but it is not necessarily so that it will, merely that it may. A human, deprived of the network of relations in which it is commonly embedded would not achieve the transformation from object to Subject, but would remain merely flesh.

And so now, we have three basic premises: the Subject is total and irreducible, the Subject is Necessarily Embodied, and the Subject cannot emerge in isolation (or the Subject requires a network of other Subjects and objects). Where do we go from here? What does an ontology which takes these three premises as its starting point look like? I will, of course, continue with this project and further elucidate the work which Emjay and I developed, but at this point, I would love to hear what thoughts and feelings occur to you all.

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Being and Divinity

After having written my last entry, I had a long discussion with a friend of mine who holds not dissimilar views to mine. However, that conversation led me to realize that my own views, as previously explicated, require further refining.

I do firmly hold that the only useful definitions of Divinity are those which arise out of experience, however, I also feel that Divinity is not a thing which exists in the objective, formal world. It is my belief that Divinity is entirely entrenched within subjectivity, that it is a mode or aspect of the subject, and not a thing in the world, like a table or the sky. It seems to me that Divinity is a thing experienced, purely, in being.

As I stated earlier, I posit that being, as a verb implying continued action, requires a subject to execute it. Objects cannot be in the same sense as subjects. Objects subsist. Their presence is one without awareness, and therefore one without the sort of action which only the subject is capable of. Were I to posit a grammar of being, only subjects would take the perfect and progressive tenses, objects would be left with the simple present, the simple past & the simple future. Objects do not execute actions through time, but exist in successive present states, each moment a totality isolated from former and future positions. It is only the subject who presses itself against these objects which recognizes, through its own temporality, a temporality of objects. Objects subsist devoid of time.

Therefore, Divinity, belonging solely to the subject, cannot be constrained by the same sets of rules which apply to objects. This is not to say that there are no rules of the subject. There undoubtedly are. The subject, being within the objective world, is constrained by the formal nature of the world, yet, by its presence, radicalizes that world. That which would be purely formal, possessing no awareness or change, is transformed through the primary action of the subject, that of being through time, into something significantly queer. Within the objective world, all which can exist must exist. All relations are carried out explicitly and totally according to the natures of those objects in relation without variation or change: the initial conditions of such a world define explicitly the conditions of its conclusion. However, the subject, through the experience, mutates the world with the addition of meaning, quantification, categorization, organization and manipulation. The objective world is no longer simply formal, but thoroughly suffused with intangibles, theories, concepts which could never be present without the being of the subject. All of these are entrenched thoroughly within subjectivity, yet arising from the objective world as experienced by the subject, and, through that movement, pressing back upon the objective world in the reflexive nature of  being.

By its presence within subjectivity, Divinity possesses the mutable powers of the subject. The Divine, as mode of being, is given by pure experience: as the subject resolves itself out of the experiencing of the objective world, so does Divinity manifest through the subject. I suggest, then, that first we must have a subject, and then we may have the Divine. Divinity, then, acts upon the world in as much as the subject does, or through the same motion or set of processes: the action of the Divine is analogous to the action of the subject.

As yet, I have made no attempts to define Divinity, merely explore its nature in relation to subjectivity. In short, I am at this point merely attempting to establish the proper conditions in which the Divine can be explored. As a mode of being, as a thing which dwells in and resolves out of experience, I suggest that the only proper way to define Divinity is phenomenologically. Any definition of the Divine must begin within experience and then seek to clarify and comprehend, but, always and at every moment, maintaining its link to pure experience.

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