Monday, March 5, 2007

In the Country of the Blind

“The organ that senses the numinous atrophies with the flesh.” -- Hakim Bey

“Standing downtown, seeing sunset gilding
asphalt, old brick, the buckled concrete
slabs yielding to shoots of stunted elm,
the corner’s guardian,cracking stone’s grip.
As we stop there, something holy glides by,
warm/chill spirit fingers fondle us in passing,
That which is acknowledging those who know

Only the maimed believe they are alone,
but so many are ...” -- me

I’ve worked in bits an pieces on a post for more than a week that now threatens to become 3,000 word essay, and I’m still not satisfied with it. The work seems to be worth saving and maybe publishing someday somewhere, but has become too unwieldy for a blog post. And I had sworn I wouldn’t go a week without posting something here.

I set out to write something about the nature of gods and of our knowledge of them. Perhaps nothing distinguishes Paganism from the other religions and even from materialism/atheism, is the active presence of our gods and goddesses as real entities with who we may interact directly, all citizens in our degree and role of monadic multiverse.

Starhawk, in The Spiral Dance, says that, when people ask her if she actually believes in the Goddess, she asks in return “Do you believe in rocks?” This beautifully terse rejoinder neatly captures the spirit of the thing.. Goddesses and Gods are with us all the time. No grace is required, to know them. No faith is required to learn from them. You need only be alert with all your senses, including the senses you’re not supposed to use. Or so it seems to me.

But, if we are honest, we must acknowledge the problem with this: Rocks are different from gods. If one discovers a huge rock in the back yard, one can predict,with great confidence, that any number of other humans who come into the back yard will agree that there is a big rock there. On the other hand, if one encounters a god or a goddess -- or a fairy or an angel or an oread -- we can have no such confidence. Most likely a randomly selected person will either make circly motions around his ears or perhaps call for help. Likewise, no amount of scientific testing, as it now exists, will find the slightest trace of manifest deity. Why is it, if our deities are manifest, that so few humans notice them?
Maybe we’re just crazy. Maybe when we claim that gods and spirits are around us and speak to us and respond to us, we are no different from the ragged people who sleep in alleys and wander around the streets chatting with invisible presences. While I might point out that I’m pretty functional -- I made good grades, have a career in a profession, own a home, keep bills paid most of the time, have raised children to be fairly functional themselves. I don’t think I’m crazy. But not I, and neither you, can prove the existence of our gods. And unlike Christians as such, we cannot fall back on the inaccessibility of our transcendent deities.

For myself, the question of the reality of the gods does not arise: they are as real as myself -- however real that may be -- and I am no more able to not know them than I can cut out my eyes.

I use that image -- of self-maiming -- deliberately. The only adequate explanation I can come up with is that most people are maimed, that some of their capacity to perceive what is real in the world has been taken from them. It arises, I think, from the teaching that the self exists apart from the flesh; that we humans are a glob of permanent stuff zipped up inside our bodies like a banana in a peel. Real spirit is rooted in fiber and dirt, and water and stone, and fusing hydrogen and whirling ions, for that matter, but not different from matter and energy. Matter/energy makes no sense without spirit, but spirits which don’t know their own flesh cannot know other spirits and so are alone.

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