Sunday, December 28, 2014

Magus Magazine: Ritual & Transition States in Gods & Man

Magus Magazine: Ritual & Transition States in Gods & Man: Ritual &Transition States in Non-Humans by Preston Copeland Discussing non-humans has many more implications than just anthro...

Ritual & Transition States in Gods & Man

Discussing non-humans has many more implications than just anthropomorphism. As Latour has remarked, “Non-humans have not been emerging for aeons just to serve as so many props to show the mastery, intelligence, and design capacities of humans or their divine creations. They have their own intelligence, their own design, and plenty of transcendence to go on, that is, to reproduce” (Latour, Bruno. Will Non-Humans Be Saved?2009). Although many non-humans do have human-like qualities or tendencies, they are autonomous entities that have their own trajectory and hold their own agency. Attributing only anthropomorphism to deity production is like trying to play a three-note guitar chord with only two strings. Although there is a familiarity with the sound, something seems missing. This something in terms of non-humans is evolutionary and experiential.

Truth be told, non-humans aren't so much ineffable or infallible as incommensurable. Much like biological organisms, there is an evolution of the supernatural. Deities that are fittest or created with a favorable evolutionary trait tends to be more successful over time. These genetic variances may mutate and shift as in the case of the Holy Tree. According to what is known as the “Golden Legend”, the true cross came from three seeds from the ‘tree of mercy’ in the Garden of Eden. These three seeds were placed in the mouth of Adam’s corpse by Seth. After many centuries, wood from the tree was used to build a bridge that was used by the Queen of Sheba on her travels to meet King Solomon. When she walked across the bridge, Sheba was struck with a portent and began to worship. After reaching Solomon, she told the king about her omen of the holy-wood that would eventually lead to a new covenant between God and his people. This terrified the king and he had the timber buried. However, fourteen generations later, it would be wood from this bridge that is fashioned to produce Christ’s cross.

The narrative shows how non-humans have an evolutionary trajectory. The tree (object) went from being a seed, to a tree, bridge, crucifixion cross, and holy relic. But its symbolization, or what it means epistemologically, also evolved as centuries passed. This non-human’s meaning changed as it was imbued with the numinous. In fact, the severity of its numinous qualities ebbed and flowed through time. It was certainly a sacred object when it was in seed form and placed in Adam’s mouth. However, it lost some of its sacred power when Solomon buried it underground. Not till it was fashioned into Christ’s cross did the object reach its evolutionary potential. As a religious determinate, the true cross underwent an epistemic trajectory wherein its power as a religious symbol changed.

Self-determining deities also show evolutionary prowess as they move through time and space. However, there is an incommensurable aspect to the trajectory that keeps us from making oblique comparisons of sacred narratives. Because of its experiential nature, interactions with deities are necessarily incommensurable and must be examined as autonomous but non-comparable events. Its like comparing an entheogenic psilocybin experience with the visitation at Fatima by the Virgin Mary. Both are numinous events but they cannot be compared in any way. The experience of psilocybin-its affective qualities and pure unmitigated surrealism cannot be compared to any other numinous experience in any way because every experience of the sacred is new. Every numinous event is different in every way from other religious events due to the subjective experience in a sacred event. After all, we’re not comparing the experience of going to a baseball game or a movie. An experience of the deity is something extra-ordinary. It can be wholly beautiful or awful and terrifying. But the interaction will be unique and the experience new. And these are the qualities that are renewed or re-embodied through religious ritual. Although the experiences are incommensurable, they can be renewed subjectively to foster a change of state.

In the work of trajectories, the re-presentation of gods are a form of ritual economy. The rite of passage involves Man and the Deity to be successful. As Chris Knight and Camilla Power have remarked, “The gods do not just appear and then replicate themselves autonomously through being ‘attention-grabbing’. Rather, the immortals need organized communal help” (Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute. 4(11) March 1988. pp 129-132. Comment). Through the rite of passage sequence, the Deity and Man exhibit a ritual exchange of goods and services. But it is Man that performs the high-cost activities of conjuration. It is Man that does the dancing, and chanting, and trance exploration. They must in order to be embodied. And every occultist knows this.

We already know that transition states lead to re-presentation of the initiate. What isn't as readily discussed is the effect ritual has on the deity. After all, ritual is an interaction. In the past, the deity has enjoyed a central place in the interaction. As Bastaire & Bastaire have remarked, non-humans had a central place in theology, in spirituality, in rituals, and of course in art which they have almost totally lost.[1] Nowadays, a crisis of representation has nearly left the deity completely out of the ritual equation. Uncertainty about adequate means to interact with these non-humans has led many religious systems to forget their presence entirely. The ritual may be performed without god even in mind. When the process becomes mindless, re-presentation doesn't occur and the ritual fails.
Moreover, ritual interactions are the most successful when both the ritual specialist and the non-human connect personally. I don’t mean pure anthropomorphism although the deity may take on human or animal qualia. I refer to metaphysics of presence that function as an ontological foundation. This gift of presence is consciousness. And it is this presence, this re-presentation, which forms part of the fabric of social reality. Until now, we have viewed the present crisis of representation as one distinctive, alternate swing of the pendulum between periods in which paradigms, or totalizing theories, are relatively secure, and periods in which paradigms lose their legitimacy and authority-when theoretical concerns shift to problems of interpretation of the details of a reality that eludes the ability of dominant paradigms to describe it, let alone explain it.[2]
We have conjured a reality where non-humans exist but lack any ontological ethos. We are quick to assert that god exists but ascribe no autonomous status to the concept. Our interactions with non-humans are without any interaction at all. Yet it is us that provide meaning to the deity. We imbue it with qualities and characteristics and even a personality. We give it presence and in so doing, renew its importance in reality. The same concept is used by quantum physicists to describe the position and momentum of particles in the universe. These postulated entities are defined and given meaning through the techniques used to measure them. Like deities, they wait on us to give them an ontological situation.
And we have many ideas as to what makes up the qualities of our deities. Some cultures say that god resides in caves, others in forests; for many, god is in the sky while others suggest underground. And still others would persuade us that god is a form of consciousness while their counterparts argue for an entity outside of the human universe. The prevailing thought is that either god is out there or in-here. We call this relationship transcendence and immanence.
Transcendence refers to our deities as being outside of human influence. God then, is beyond anything that is other than god. This form of thought is indicative of monotheistic religions. However, polytheistic and ‘nature-religions’ also experience moments of grace or enlightenment characteristic of transcendence. A transcendence deity is beyond thought, ‘above’ physical things and apart from the world we live in. In the Kantian sense, transcendent means beyond all the forms and categories of experience and knowledge: space and time, as well as quantity (unity, plurality, or universality), quality (reality, negation, or limitation), relation (substantiality, causality, or reciprocity), or modality (possibility, actuality, or necessity). All these things are the preconditions or presuppositions of human experience and thought. Hence to imagine creation (causality) and creator (first cause) of the universe is only to project the categories of human experience and reason beyond their field.[3]
On the other hand, Immanence refers to the divinity being near or within. In eastern orthodoxy, it is hypostases or energies of god. Immanence finds god in this life and in the world around us. According to Joseph Campbell, the immanence of god is in the faces, personalities, loves, and lives all around us, in our friends, or enemies, and ourselves.[4]Furthermore, immanence takes place in the mind and is entirely subjective. Perhaps the best way to understand the immanence of god is in its experiential qualities. When we experience the divine or what if feels like to be the deity.
One is also reminded of the subject object relationship in philosophy. The subjective immanence seems to sit in stark contrast to the transcendent object until we realize that a unitive experiential understanding of the divine dissolves any distinction between immanence and transcendence. Spetnak remarks that what is emerging now is the nondualistic understanding of immanent and transcendent long seen as opposites in western cultural history, transcendence is coming to be understood as “beyond” but not “above” the material plane we can see in everyday life. Our minds will never be able to map the endless networks of what I call “relational reality”, so spirituality that seeks to commune with either immanence or transcendence now sees that they are no apart. This realization is not new to eastern philosophy or indigenous cultures, of course; we were simply late coming to it in the modern west because of our dualistic and mechanistic worldview.[5] Understanding god as both immanent and transcendent was also proposed by Plotinus when he asserted that “we should not speak of seeing, but instead of seen and seer, speak boldly of a simple unity for in this seeing we neither distinguish nor are their two”.[6] And also by Flemish alchemist Theobald de Highelande when he says that “this science transmits its work by mixing the false with the true and the true with the false, sometimes very briefly, at other times in a most prolix manner, without order and quite often in the reverse order; and it endeavors to transmit the work obscurely, and to hide it as much as possible”. [7] We understand then that the deity and what it feels like to be the deity are one in the same. Just as the object and subject, seer and seen, even god and man enjoy a unitive relationship, we can expect that a rite of passage would affect the deity equally as much as the neophyte.
 It’s hard for many to accept this basic occult principle. The tendency is to see god outside of ourselves or as something greater than us. We grant him extraordinary powers and omniscience. We are taught that man is flawed or wicked and must be separated from god. At least for now. And this separation is the definition of hell. Our dualistic frame of mind places us, by default, in an experience of eternal punishment by refusing to acknowledge the one-ness or at-one-ment of god and man. This wasn't always the case. Scotus Erigena discussed divine ignorance in the 1800s when he stated that there is yet another kind of ignorance of god, inasmuch as he may be said not to know what things he foreknows and predestines until they have appeared experientially in the course of created events. [8] Just as the initiate must undergo experientially the rite of passage that confers a new state of consciousness, so too the deity must wait until events play out in order to know what the ritual accomplished. Erigena goes on to say that there is another kind of divine ignorance, in that god may be said to be ignorant of things not yet made manifest in their effects through experience of their action and operation; of which, nevertheless, he holds the invisible courses in himself, by himself created, and to himself known.[9] Just as man has nascent potentialities that must be unlocked via ritual, so too the deity is ignorant of things not yet made manifest. A rite of passage must unveil or bring to light aspects of himself.
Furthermore, sometimes the rite of passage involves man awakening nascent potentialities in the deity. Carl Jung one stated that, “For the alchemist the one primarily in need of redemption is not man, but the deity who is lost and sleeping in matter only as a secondary consideration does he hope that some benefit may accrue to himself from the transformed substance as the panacea, the medicina catholica, just as it may to the imperfect bodies, the base or “sick” metals, etc… His attention is not directed to his own salvation through god’s grace, but to the liberation of god from the darkness of matter”. [10]
Here man acts as initiator to the deity. Object and subject although unitive are also autonomous entities that reveal parts of the whole to the other. It is a paradox. Object- subject immanence-transcendence, man-god is both unitive and separate. They are mutually exclusive yet inseparable.
This classic example of religious of religious paradox is best seen in the idea of light in darkness and darkness in light. When consciousness becomes unitive or objectless, we are left with a consciousness not of anything. It is a pure or “cosmic-consciousness”. There is nothing empirical in this state of mind. Unitive consciousness is both something and nothing. Sometimes it is described as there and not-there. Merleau-Ponty has remarked that this state of being is experienced not from the depths of nothingness but from the midst of itself.[11]
Religions have many names and describe “cosmic-consciousness” in a myriad of ways. Christians identify it with god. The bible calls it a “desert” or “wilderness”. Dionysius the Areopagite stated that god is “the dazzling obscurity which outshines all brilliance with the intensity of its darkness”. Buddhism also recognized this paradox by labeling it the void. The Tibetan Book of the Dead speaks of “the clear light of the void.”  It is the darkness of god. It is called darkness because all physical distinctions disappear. It is the same as the Indian Brahman and identical to the Atman. Object-subject distinctions simply dissolve. Therefore, we can’t say that there is a light in the darkness because there would then be no paradox. The light is the darkness and the darkness is the light.
Philosophers have also identified with unitive experience brought about by metaphysics of presence. Schopenhaur called it the ‘Will’. He stated that,

Up to now, the concept Will has been subsumed under the concept force; but I am using it just the opposite way, and mean that every force in nature is to be understood as a function of Will. For at the back of the concept force there is finally our visual knowledge of the objective world, i.e. of some phenomenon, something seen. It is from this that the concept of force derives…whereas the concept Will, on the contrary, is the one, among all possible concepts, that does not derive from the observation of phenomenon, not from mere visual knowledge, but comes from inside, emerges from the immediate consciousness of each of us: not as a form, not even in terms of the subject-object relationship, but as that which he himself is; for here the knower and the known are the same.[12]

The Will then, is without empirical content. It is pure “cosmic” unitive experience. This is not a new or radical concept. It is simply experiential. Our metaphysics of presence is one in which personhood is granted to the deity. In other words, there is not one deity in the mind and one in the physical world. As Neils Bohr once remarked in terms of the Quantum, “Theorizing should be an embodied practice, rather than a spectator sport of matching linguistic representations to preexisting things”. [13] When we unite object-subject, we unite matter and meaning and man and deity.

That’s not to say that the deity is solely a part of man. Again, they are mutually exclusive yet inseparable. When we experience the deity, we experience a corporeal or bodily component to experience. At the same time, the object(body) gives us access to subjective or numinous experience. And in this state, we cannot articulate the experience because we are embodied by the deity. You could say we are possessed. Mystics are used to this idea. As Stace remarks, “the mystic, of course, expresses thoughts about his experience after the experience is over, and he remembers it when he is back again in his sensory-intellectual consciousness. But there are no thoughts in the experience itself”.[14]Philsopher Merleau-Ponty also states that “He who sees cannot possess the visible unless he is possessed by it, unless he is of it”.[15] Those who possess the numinous cannot see it because they are, at that second, part of it. They are experiencing the unitive.
This is exactly what is occurring as man and deity undergo the rite of passage. But there is one crucial difference. Whereas man embodies the unitive and experiences subjectively what it feels like to be the deity, the deity itself is re-embodied. While man is transcendent and immanent undergoing a change of consciousness, the corresponding deity is also unitive yet because of their inherent divinity being renewed through the ritual. Anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep identified three stages to the rite of passage. First, the initiate is separated from his or her group. This separation is also one in which they abandon their previous social niche and head into the unknown. This unknown is a state of liminality. Here the initiate is betwixt and between or without any social status at all. It is during rites of liminality that the initiations actually occur. The rite then culminates with the neophyte being reintegrated into society. They return a new person with a new social role and identity.

The deity also experiences a rite of passage as the initiate undergoes a change of consciousness. During the ROP, the deity is sent into a liminal state and is also betwixt and between. However, this liminality is unitive or at-one-ment. The deity cannot transcend or enlighten because they are already transcended; they are already enlightened. There is nothing for the deity to become for the deity has already become. The ROP is a renewal of the numinous. In it, the deity is ‘made anew’ or ‘re-embodied.

Furthermore, a deity is both a determinate and self-determining. As well as being able to decide their own course of action or fate, the deity is also a fixed or distinct symbol. For example, the goddess Demeter is a mother to Perseophone, daughter of Cronos & Rhea, and part of the triple goddess manifestation. She is spatially identified with Greece and the Telesterion; She is temporally identified with the Thesmophoria and the festival of Chthonia. But Demeter is also a mystery. She is the goddess of the harvest and responsible for the frigid winter months. When she is renewed or re-embodied through a rite of passage, the harvest is also renewed. Her determinate qualities are inherent and a part of her, and they too become re-embodied through the ritual. In this way, man’s transformation that occurs as part of the ROP also acts as a renewing agent for the harvest and agriculture. Moreover, as his state of consciousness changes, man renews not only the transcendent qualities of the goddess but his own immanent determinate symbols.

[1] Bastaire & Bastaire 2004
[2] George E. Marcus and Michael M.J. Fischer, ed. Anthropology as Cultural Critique: An Experimental Moment In The Humans Sciences. 2nd edition. University of Chicago Press. 1999. Chicago.
[3] Joseph Campbell, The Masks of God: Creative Mythology. Penguin Arcana. 1968. New York.
[4] Ibid pp 578
[5] Spretnak 2011
[6] Plotinus reference
[7] Theobalde de Highelande reference
[8] Scotus Erigena 1838. 594c.
[9] Ibid 596c.
[10] Carl Jung, Psychology and Alchemy. Trans. by R.F.C. Hull, Bollingen Series XX, vol. 12. Pantheon Books. New York, 1968.
[11] Merleau-Ponty 1968. pp 113
[12] Schopenhaur, Die welt als Wille und Vorstellung, II 21; Samtliche Werke, Vol. 2 pp 152-153
[13] K. Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Durham, NC. Duke University Press. 2007.
[14] Walter T. Stace, “Subjectivity, Objectivity and the Self”, Religion For A New Generation 2nd edition. Ed. Jacob Needleman, A.K. Bierman, and James A. Gould. Macmillan Publishing Co. New York. 1977.
[15] Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible. A. Lingin Trans. Evanston. Northwestern University Press. Pp134. 1968.

[16] Bruno Latour, “Will Nonhumans be saved? An Argument in Ecotheology.”  Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. (N.S.) 15. pp 459-475. 2009. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Doctor Abdullah visits a Pagan Ceremony.

They say that postmodern ideas of religion have no need for anachronistic or archaic pagan debris left by the wayside of complex religious institutions. These old rituals died long ago and good riddance. Nowadays, organized religion has tried to run over any alternative like a rotten piece of road kill. We’re talking about so-called legitimate organizations of the sacred that are overwrought with pedophile priests, crazed assertions of a one true faith, and greedy evangelicals that live the highlife of hookers, heroin, and hedonism. It’s a rockstar status and nobody seems to mind that these spiritual charlatans are conducting the heavenly orchestra. Have we learned nothing from Swaggart and Baker? Good god! These salesmen don’t even try to be pious. And most now equate the Ten Commandments with the ten venereal diseases that rack their holy-poisoned bodies. “Thou shalt not pick up hepatitis from the Whore of Babylon on Lexington and 2nd street.” “Thou shalt not covet the church leader’s wife until that harlot gets treated for gonorrhea and my rash goes away.” And yet we fork over millions in a feeble attempt to make Jesus happy. And why? Why my brethren do we buy our way into paradise when it can be found in any number of ways?

I recently attended a pagan ‘full-moon ceremony’ held at a local university. Since I’d had no real experience with pagan ideology, there were no preconceived notions on my part. I didn’t fear being cannibalized or chased with pitch forks. Actually a little raw fear may have intensified the experience. After all, I was warned of the pure, unadulterated evil of the pagan persuasion. I came to expect wild, crazed dancing and Bacchic fits. I was fully prepared to be terrified by a torch-lit procession of anthropomorphic lunatics chanting in unison and dragging the carcass of some poor pet-owner's dog in their wake. I even brought my pepper-spray just in case I had to douse somebody and make a run for it. Oh, I was warned. “They’re gonna be taking over and burning some effigy of Jesus.” One correspondent remarked. Another witness just hid in the bushes adjacent to the ritual and mumbled Christian counter-curses to ward off the pagan idolatry. “They should burn!” He seethed. “They should all burn in hell!” We can expect this kind of reaction as the pagan movement gears up for an all-out assault on the local political scene. Rumor has it that a neo-shaman and traveling warlock plans to usurp power from the conservative Christian hegemony that characterizes North Utah. “We’re afraid to leave our homes at night.” One local remarked, “The goddamn pagans have set up shop in the canyon and [sic] doing who-knows-what in the hills up there. I heard they eat babies and worship a goat.” The police department has been inundated with calls about maniacal howling, a Witches Sabbath, and a secret meeting place deep in the National Forest where pagans perform filthy rites and speak in tongues. The zeal of the local community in castigating this pagan tribe has reached fever pitch with the coming of the full-moon. A demonstration in the middle of town was checkered with signs that read, ‘Save our babies, punish the pagans!’ and ‘The only good pagan is a dead pagan!’ As I approached the small clearing where the pagans had gathered, I must admit to a feeling of trepidation. I could still hear the hissing of that freak in the bushes and the night seemed electric and ready to deliver something awful and unexpected.

As we stood in a horse-shoe pattern and read aloud the introductory prayer, I didn't notice anything overtly heretical. We weren't forced to trample a cross, lick anybody’s ass, or worship of bodiless head. Seemed pretty tame. Even by my standards and I was fully prepared for some hideous blasphemy. Or at least some screeching of the faithful sort. What I found was basically coherent and actually quite beautiful. Amid the nervous mumbling of the uninitiated, the comfort of those used to buying this brand of holy-roller, and strange screaming coming from somewhere not far away, the experience felt legitimate. I could tell by the care taken with the altar and the honesty of those participating that the mechanisms used to negotiate belief was apparent in the pagan experience. And although in the back of my mind, I really wanted some terrible goddess to show up, I didn’t know if all the players present could handle such a vicious jolt of the sacred. An appearance of Persephone to somebody not really equipped to handle the shock could lead to a sleepless night of anxiety or such a severe case of righteous bewilderment that being afraid of the dark just wouldn’t seem to cover it. How do you tell your Sunday preacher that a great and powerful goddess likes to straddle your chest at night and whisper beautiful sweet-nothings in your ear? That it arouses you and her scent still lingers long after she rejoins the underworld. What do you say to that? Well, be that as it may, the pagan experience was a kind of soft beauty. There was a calming lucidity that led to gentle smiles and warm caresses. And towards the end, in that stillness and the slight rustle of trees, there was a breeze and within it, the breath of a smiling and satisfied goddess.