Domesticating the Divine

For the first time this year I am deeply engaged with some serious Advent meditations and as much retreat as possible. In many ways this is all very wonderful. It has however, heightened my distaste and dislocation with the mainstream celebration of Christmas in our culture (discussed a bit in this post from last year). As  the Christmas frenzy hots up I am entering deeper and deeper into the Christian mystery and feeling the gap between my experience and the commercial Xmas celebrations that swarm around me.

The good thing is that this time of year highlights one of the problematic aspects of our modern approach to spirituality where we tend to domesticate the divine, to tame it and control it, making it easier to swallow and in some ways control. This, of course, is a very natural and a very human thing to do. Since we are blessed and cursed with self reflexive consciousness (the knowledge that there is an ‘I’ that will suffer and die) we tend to want to control what’s around us. So in a sense, our inner need to control and confine the divine is part and parcel of our divine makeup anyway 🙂 This comforts me a little, as I too am a deep offender here, I stand on no moral high ground but know my own limitations and failings in this area. This is why I have the ‘God is not’ saying on MOTO’s masthead – I need all the help I can get.

At Christmas our control is very obvious both within the Christian religious tradition and the social traditions borne from it. The most striking example is the focus on the deity of Baby Jesus. In many ways the concept of child as divinity is one of the most powerful images throughout many religions. However, without the corresponding awareness and acceptance of the transcendent aspect of the One, Baby Jesus becomes just another deity or supernatural being to pray to, adore and get things from. This can easily then slide into ‘Buddy Jesus’ theology, where we so humanise our Gods that they become our friends, compatriots on the way and buddies to talk with.

Obviously a personal relationship with our Sacred One(s) is a hallmark of western spirituality, but that relationship should be based on the prime awareness that the Divine has a transcendent dimension as much as an immanent one. The mystery of the Trinity was developed to show this awareness and how transcendence relates to immanence within an eternal and relational process that is both beyond space-time and an unfolding presence within our very midst. When we let go of that mystery, we risk imposing our own cultural, temporal and even personal ideas of deity upon the divine, asking ourselves for example, “what would Jesus do?”. Or to quote from that most brilliant of poets, Leonard Cohen:

Forsaken, almost human
He sank beneath your wisdom like a stone

Any deity form is a limitation of the One, the unknowable. When we recognise this and work with it, deities become a lens by which we can know the One and simultaneously receive the blessings of a particular aspect of the One. As soon as we forget this, as soon as we accept our deity as God we have tamed the divine and limited the unlimitable. The result, though mostly not as gross (or funny) as this clip from Talladega Nights, is often functionally equivalent.

New Age

Also at this time of year many folk are going about their social Christmas duties smug in the knowledge that they are “spiritual but not religious”. Using a broad sweep, many of these people belong to the New Age community and domesticate the divine as much as unthinking Christians and others. In fact from a traditional perspective, there is not actually much spirituality within the New Age. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it now:

…astral visions, aura readings, clairvoyance, channelling, energy grids, past lives, invocations, channelled messages from the Pleiades are psychic not spiritual experiences.

Cynthia Bourgeault, a contemplative Anglican priest with much esoteric study is even more stark:

…it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.” (http://www.sacredweb.com/online_articles/sw4_bourgeault.html)

Here the good Rev is talking about all western spirituality, not just the New Age, including Jewish, Christian, Pagan and magical too (of which more later). Read her article. Not sure about you, but it fairly makes me humble and sheepish.

The taming and domesticating of the the divine in New Age circles seems to come about largely from spiritual illiteracy. People believe they are practicing spirituality but they are not actually going beyond the pleasure-pain circuit, and thus their own selves which are temporal not spiritual in the actual sense of the word. They remain within astral experience, undergoing all sorts of healing and actualising processes such as the list above, but never getting to the core of reality.

Astral-psychic experience is not spiritual experience, though as said, the two are often confused in today’s world. This confusion stems from two errors: firstly, the conflation of spirituality with personal development and healing, and secondly the assumption that the presence of elements of esoteric and spiritual teachings within the New Age makes that spirituality authentic. Of the first, Lama Ngakpa Chogyam says:

…it’s very important that people look at their own personal pain in a ‘non-esoteric’ manner before they shroud their own neurosis in the cloak of arcane mysteries. The intrinsic Mystery of Being is mysterious enough without filtering our involvement with its methods of Realisation through the web of belligerent potty training.’ (Psychology and the Spiritual Traditions, p.33)

The modern appropriation of spiritual language, frameworks and techniques for personal and psychological adjustment does not mean the two spheres – personal growth and spiritual unfoldment – are one. While related, the two are not the same and the esoteric traditions clearly distinguish between them. In esoteric Qabalah the centralising state of consciousness, called Tiphareth looks ‘down’ towards the personal and ‘up’ towards the transpersonal. This shows the interrelation of the two, while recognising that the correct ‘upward’ view within the motivation and awareness of the individual is required to embrace what is beyond us. Writing on Christian mysticism Theodore J. Nottingham embraces the traditional view that spiritual unfoldment does not come about “through intellectual or emotional development” but through “another state of being”. (Theodore J Nottingham: The Mysticism of Christian Teaching). Or as the wonderful Karen Armstrong puts it, ‘You can’t feel God any more than you can think God’.

True spirituality is concerned with fostering this other state of being, which most esoteric traditions recognise as both immanent (within each of us) and transcendent (beyond all of us). Spiritual practices and frameworks will certainly give succour to our personal pain and it is appropriate to seek God to overcome pain. However, if our motivation for spiritual practice remains within this realm – the realm of the self seeking somatic, mental or emotional healing – this is where we will remain. We will never go beyond ourselves to the ‘other state of being’; we will never develop the right view and enter the eternal. The New Age homogenisation of healing and spirituality only adds to this tendency and encourages us to remain forever in the personal while seeing it as spiritual.

Or to quote the good Rev more fully:

As Buddhism observed long ago, pain and pleasure are simply two ends of the old “egoic stick.” As long as one is drawing one’s vital energy from self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-expression, even in service of the purest and noblest of causes, one is still orbiting within the egoic feedback loop. As long as happiness and a personal sense of selfworth are still the measures by which one relates to life and adjusts one’s heading; as long as vitality is the measure of spiritual wellbeing, one is trapped within the egoic feedback system. These are not moral judgments; they are descriptive criteria. And by these criteria, it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.

Magic

As pagans and magicians we also domesticate the divine. One way we do this, to revisit one of my favourite topics, is by our theology of invocation. When we view divine beings, such as deities and angels as able to be invoked and even controlled by our actions, we have tamed the divine. The whole premise of much of modern magic is learning the correct skills, names and processes by which we can make things happen, including the calling forth of angels and deities. As I discuss in this post there are several problems to adopting this approach without careful thought. The most obvious is the psychologizing of the divine, where angels, Gods and all beings become forces within or without us that we can control once we learn the right keys. This places the human psyche at the centre of the universe, and we all know where such an attitude will lead.

Assuming that magic works, that our invocations actually draw power, force, beings or presence by their own actions and not as part of a relationship is probably the single most obvious way of taming the divine I know. Think about it. What do we mean when we say “Before me Raphael” in the pentagram rituals? Do we mean the actual Archangel, the Healing power of the One is before us, drawn there by our words and will and inner actions? Or do we mean the blessings of the Archangel are there and our words and will and inner actions have opened us to these blessings? The former approach suggests a dependent actor, the magician, acting upon a universe and its contents which may be subject to her will, including Archangels and deities. The latter approach suggests an interdependent agent who by changing their inner and outer approach can deepen their relationship with the universe and all its contents, including Archangels and deities.

I suggest that most modern magicians fall somewhere between the two approaches above. Few of us would suggest the refined and developed human being can control all within the universe, but much of our approach, language and rituals remain influenced by such a world view. Since most magical curricula do not examine underlying theology in depth, wanting to get on with the practical work, we are left in a split and often confused state where our magical structures half attempt to control the divine and half call for relationship to it.

It was far from obvious, in the performance of the Qabalistic Cross, whether the kingdom, the power and the glory belonged to God or were being promised to the human carrying out the ritual…” (Hutton, R. (1999), The Triumph of the Moon, p. 79).

Most modern magicians will point out the magical view of the non-separation of human and divine, which is part and parcel of pretty much all religious thought as well. That within the Qabalistic Cross we connect with and aspire to the divine and for the time of the performance we are divine. This is all well and good, even if achieved each and every time by each and every magician (which it is not), but conflation of human identity and divinity is simply another way of taming the divine. As soon as we assume we are or can be the One, or we have known the Unknowable we draw the divine into domestication. The principle of transcendence has been violated and we are either left with an unworkable bastardised monist philosophy or an ego that truly does believe the nonsense that it has known the Unknowable.

The way out of this quandary, I believe, is to revision our modern magic and remove or recreate those aspects of our traditions that emphasise the independent magician  as controller of the universe. To reintroduce and emphasise the interdependent and relational aspects of magic and the esoteric. So the magic circle is no longer a place where the magician stands at the centre, controlling the universe around her, but rather is place to enact in flesh and blood the truth we learn early on:

God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

This is what much of my approach and teaching in the GD and elsewhere has been about, and much of what MOTO is about. I am told there are all sorts of rare and auspicious astrological events and circumstances about today. Even though I am still undecided on this form of astrology, I do hope the alignments carry my Christmas wish far – that we all learn to relate to, and not domesticate the divine this holiday season 🙂

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10 comments

  1. Michael · December 21, 2010

    Merry Christmas, Perregrin – this is a great post.

    A small string of thoughts:

    What about an emphasis on meditation / contemplation over ritual? I know that ritual has its place and is the most outwardly exciting element of the practice, but as you pointed out, it isn’t too hard to begin seeing yourself as the center of the universe.

    Contemplative practice tends to put the emphasis aright, as you are more or less opening yourself to revelation – it takes a certain amount of humility to do this. When we emphasize ritual, ritual, ritual, the core symbols and meanings of our system are usually just memorized, as the focus is just on knowing enough to make the ritual ‘pop’.

    Maybe we can reverse this emphasis? The qabalistic system, in my opinion, seems to favor this method out of the box. Look at all of the rich symbols (including the Tarot) waiting for us to explore!

    Thanks!

  2. Peregrin · December 21, 2010

    Hi Michael,

    Hi Michael, thanks for the comments. Very appropriate. I could not agree more.

    Meditation, centering prayer or whatever we call the practice is essential. It is always among the first skill taught in any good tradition, and it should be insisted upon as a daily practice, from neophyte onward. In addition, we were taught that any symbol, deity, being, force that was to be invoked or worked with in ritual should be meditated upon extensively before the ritual. In that way we form a relationship with the symbol etc, awakening the interior presence within our mental selves and this ensures correct and balanced ritual practice.

    However, the tendency to go for ritual over contemplation is quite pronounced and we are in a minority here. Since the GD system, for example, is replete with blessings it is all to easy for someone to grab a rubric, perform a ‘ritual’ that simply produces astral intoxication, a rush of ‘power’ and they think it is wonderful and great. The real transformational force of a ritual, as you say, relies on the opening to the revelation the symbols point to. Whilst this can be done in ritual, it is rare without deep contemplation and relationship prior to the ceremony.

    Thank you so much for your comment…I am glad I am not alone in these thoughts 🙂

  3. dirkt · December 22, 2010

    you’re certainly not alone 😉

    however, i make no distinction between ritual and meditation/contemplation. for me, ritual is simply a form of very active maditation, involving visualisation, movement and the engagement of all the other senses via the ritual props. compare to tantric yidam practice and moving meditations like qigong.

    currently working on something like the conflation of regardie’s opening by watchtower ritual structure with ideas from the five wisdom buddha mandala….

    concerning the “psychologizing of the divine”… let me put it this way…

    when asked, what is the “world”, the buddha stated:

    “Insofar as it disintegrates, monk, it is called the ‘world.’ Now what disintegrates? The eye disintegrates. Forms disintegrate. Eye-consciousness disintegrates. Eye-contact disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on eye-contact—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too disintegrates.
    “The ear disintegrates. Sounds disintegrate…. “The nose disintegrates. Aromas disintegrate…. “The tongue disintegrates. Tastes disintegrate…. “The body disintegrates. Tactile sensations disintegrate…. “The intellect disintegrates. Ideas disintegrate. Intellect-consciousness disintegrates.
    Intellect-contact disintegrates. And whatever there is that arises in dependence on intellect-contact—experienced as pleasure, pain or neither-pleasure-nor-pain—that too disintegrates.
    “Insofar as it disintegrates, it is called the ‘world.’” — SN 35:82

    so.. according to the buddha, the “world for us” exists only insofar as subjective experience goes. putting the human psyche at the centre of the “universe” is not the point at all, as this psyche/consciousness is (in a way, and without falling into radical solipsism or metaphysical idealism – and that’s where the safeguard of “compassion” comes into play-) that selfsame “universe”. but erroneously putting that little part of the psyche into the center of this “universe”, that we call the ego, that’s the problem to be dealt with… (IMHO). so the use of ritual/meditaion is not about putting that little defiled ego into charge of external/internal “angels & deities” and thereby domesticating the “divine”, but rather to transform that defiled ego by getting rid of it’s delusions of substantiality, separateness from-, being in charge of- that “universe”, which existes within/is that consciusnees itself and so finally in a way “opening it up to” or “dissolve it into” that consciousness/universe as a whole, that can be experienced either as the “divine”… or to put in in buddhist terminology… “emptiness”.

    most interesting for me… using the buddhist/emptiness approach, you don’t have to engage in ontology. if we speak of “transcendence” in this context, we’re speaking of transcending ego consciousness, while at the same time not leaving the realm of consciousness and limitations of subjective human experience itself and so have no need to engage in unfounded claims about what is beyond (“knowing the Unknowable”). no need for questions like “are the gods real or are they just figments of my imagination?”. within our conscious experience, they are dependent arisen phenomena (and therefore empty of selfnature), and therefore as real/unreal as anything else within that experience and… that experience itself. that’s all we need to know, and from my POV… all we can know.

    experiencing/realizing that “emptiness” or “buddha-nature” (defined as empty in essence, clear & cognizant in nature and compassionate in it’s actions -mind, speech, body of a buddha) is more than enough. as an experience, it stands for itself and at the same time dissolves all needs for holding views about it’s ontological status, as there is no substantial nature in that experience to be found anyway.

    just some thoughts. hope, i got it across somehow. writing in a foreign language certainly doesn’t help.

    and before someone screams bloody murder again, concerning my views on some of the vajrayana teachings… i’m still learning and experimenting… 😉

  4. Arcad · December 23, 2010

    Care Fra. Peregrin,

    This is a very interesting post. It kept me thinking throughout the day yesterday and pushed some of my thoughts about two posts I am going pregnant with somewhat further. I agree with a lot of what you say. However, I have a few thoughts here and there.

    I do not think that the identification of the “One” as such is taming the divine. Of course it depends on the definition. I mean what is God? Unfortunately the common Christian definition of it somehow cuts and limits it. Looking at the Jewish tradition with its manifold names, well most of it lost in translation…. The Baby Jesus thing is a very good example of how the divine is indeed tamed and domesticated. Although I consider myself being Christian, and I do not mean this in any form of a re-born accept Christ as your personal saviour etc kind of way, I see Christ as but one emanation of the big and indefinable, unknowable One. But I see that most people see God exactly and only as what they learned as being the Christian view – whatever that in fact is. I say, a question of definition though.

    I also agree with most you say referring to New Age and spirituality. I know it is not necessarily new age but very similar is the use and misuse of Reiki. Not necessarily a spiritual way if not embedded in some other form of spirituality but often taken as such. And then you see all these new inventions like “Smurf Reiki” – no joke. I am also very careful if I see a book which states that the author is some astral being and was channelled through XYZ. But also here I assume we have to look at the definition of spirituality. If that channelling or better that channelled being is connected to the medium’s faith or believe system, well who am I to say that this has nothing to do with spirituality. What about Rose Crowley when she channelled Aiwass? Well in her case it was more her husband who had a spiritual epiphany from this than Rose. The thing is that as much as I love how open most of our societies are towards other religions, esotericism, the occult etc, I see that anything poping up in someone’s head these days can be labelled as spiritual, with the creation of a very individual full pantheon of gods if it has to be etc. And there I agree with you. All that is besides the point and limiting the divine. The not so funny thing is that these folks then doom Christianity (mainly just Christianity) as a fake man made religion. The thing is that these days no one understands and even seems to be interested in the real mysticism behind the Christian traditions (this includes most labelled Christians). And indeed this is where things become rather fine tuning of the ego than being based upon a real deep felt/lived spirituality. It also helps in defining your (moral) point maybe not in the universe but in this mundane world. And that is, you are above anyone else. This is why god hates you but loves me. The rapture is near… oh my. As such, religion and the divine are a vehicle for self justification. Maybe the most ridiculous way of taming the divine.

    However, you say “Astral-psychic experience is not spiritual experience” and you are right. But they can go together – without being identical.

    As for Magic, well I am not sure here. I still have to digest this a bit more since my experience may not be big enough. I think that personally I see myself as part of the divine, not as the divine itself. I also have to say that so far I did not feel that I could control the universe. But I felt that the universe is there around me, supporting me, being friendly to me and me, being part of it. Same with the divine – as I said, without identifying myself 1:1 with it.

    I like this: “God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere”.

    Thanks for this post. It will keep me thinking for a bit.

    May the divine light be with you, Merry Christmas and all the best to you,

    In L.V.X.

    Arcad

  5. Peregrin · December 23, 2010

    Hello Dirk, thank for your very thoughtful comments.
    Good luck with the working of Watchtower and five wisdom Buddhas…the same occurred to me a few years back, but I never worked on it. The correspondence seems very acute.

    Thanks for the insight of how you work ritual. Yes, this is exactly what I am saying – Vajrayana monks and nuns meditate far more than perform ritual and thus build up the capacity for the active meditation for ritual when they do practice ritual.

    I agree compassion is the prime safeguard in all this…essential.

    If I understand correctly what you say about ritual being used to transform the ego out of its illusion of separation, I agree fully. To me this is the co-arising interdependence which may be experienced as ‘emptiness’. This is the same as the mystery produced by contemplating the meditation from St Bonaventure, “God is the circle whose centre is everywhere and circumference is nowhere”.

    My point is the language, structure and forms of ceremonial magic often have a contrary view and therefore we need to restructure them. Of course, they may appear only contrary when viewed from the modern mind set, not the traditional-medieval mindset from whence they arose. Either way we cannot take them on face value.

    Agree fully with what you say about the Gods, and I think western approaches leads to the same realisation. Buddhist ‘suchness’ and Christian ‘isness’ are the same mystery experienced by different cultures.

    Thanks for the ideas and thoughts…nothing wrong with your Vajrayana exposition as far as I can tell 🙂

  6. Peregrin · December 23, 2010

    Thank you Fr Arcad for your thoughts and warm wishes,
    Yes, I agree with you regarding ‘God’. I think the manifold names from the Semitic traditions were created/revealed precisely to keep us from assuming we have known ‘God’ because we have named ‘Him’. And of course the Holiest of Names was never uttered. In English, the single word ‘God’ robs us of this. What we can name we psychologically assume we know. There are whole schools of therapeutic psychology built on this premise.
    This is why that great Vatican II theologian, Karl Raehner said the western world should stop using the word ‘God’ for a hundred years. If we cannot name the mystery, the unlimitable, we cannot assume we know It. This is why, like I’ve recounted before, whenever someone says ‘God is…’ or ‘God wants…’ I get all nervous and embarrassed. 🙂
    In terms of what is and is not spiritual, I am taking the approach of Rev Cynthia: “These are not moral judgments; they are descriptive criteria.”

    For any practice, theology, ritual etc to be technically ‘spiritual’ it has to involve the spirit. This is the eternal, unborn, the Neschamah. So, for example, whilst the energies that heal in Reiki may indeed be transpersonal in origin they do not engage either the healer or the patient at this level. This is clear when we examine the function and technicality of Reiki – it is about individual healing.

    I am afraid to Google “Smurf Reiki” in case it is real…

    Your example of Thelema may not be a good one, as there is a very good case to be made that the contents of Liber Al were derived mostly (or at least heavily tainted) by Mr Crowley’s subconscious. Pecking the eyes of Jesus an’ all… Some beautiful Goddess passages though 

    I agree true revelation is dependant on the spirit, and is spiritual, even if the religions formed by followers of the revelation/revealers may not be.

    I am not suggesting things like Thelema, new age processes, Reiki have nothing to do with spiritually. Of course they do, as many of the people involved have a spiritual motivation or need. What I am saying is that technically, unless we engage the higher reaches of the human being, it is not spiritual. All religions are still valid, and all religious people are still whole, perfect images of the One. But I do think we need to be honest and clear about what we are doing and what we equate with what. We in the west have so little active spiritual traditions of note, we owe it to ourselves.

    I agree, Fr… astral and spiritual experiences can go together. The former are keys to the latter. Traditionally though, astral or psychic experience without prior spiritual formation and holding was considered dangerous. I think it is all too easy to enjoy magic and astral based processes and get no where.

    Thanks again and may you have a wonderful and inspiring Holy Season.

  7. Arcad · December 23, 2010

    Indeed, teh engagement of teh spirit is key and we do not get anywhere if we do nto go beyond the picture that we are looking at. Maybe this one of the reasons is why the reformation sacked the pictures – or at least it could have had that effect if people were just getting the point. But it is just easyer to stick to somethign we seem to know, to be comforted with. This is why I prefere the plain cross before the crucifix with body. The symbol is teh key, not the picture.

    I am not sure if google finds smurf reiki but a few years ago at home I found that flyer somewhere. The Spiritual Smurf – a good title for a book. Can one channel them?

    😉

  8. Samuel · December 27, 2010

    I really like this particular blog. Peregrin, you certainly hit upon this topic in a timely manner.

    The materialism of the Holiday Season as it has become leaves a lot to be desired for those that have a more spiritual bend. Taming the unknown has always been something that humans do so as to control it.

    The Divine is something that is too unknown, too alien, as it were to be tamed. Like you I get nervous when I hear someone say, “God wants…” or “God is…” If the Divine is so outside of our, as human, understanding, just how do we know what God wants? Maybe I am not as connected to the Divine through my practice and spirituality as they are.

    As far as Ritual and Meditation, I certainly agree. I believe that both should be worked in conjunciton to produce a well rounded and balanced magician. We are supposed to be on the Middle Pillar, the Balanced Path in our return to the Divine through the Magnum Opus. One cannot be emphasized over the other, but both should be worked equally, in my opinion.

    Likewise, learning and knowing the basics before doing the more glamorous rituals is best – it prevents some of the dangers of ego and merely dabbling. Like following a balanced approach, the firm foundation must be built as well.

    In LVX,
    Samuel

  9. John · December 29, 2010

    Brother,

    as someone who left the western GD tradition entirely for the more ancient tradition exposed by the Arabic (you may call it Eastern) magic of Rouhaniat… I could not agree more with your post. It exposes your genuine experience, as I have experienced it in genuine magic – which I could not get and believe I could never have gotten with today’s corrupted viewpoints.

    How much damage these trends have inflicted on our western magical minds… I am scared to tally. But I do know that real spiritual access is not granted to such tom-foolery as Big Al promulgated unfortunately. I hope your thoughts nest in those that read it.

    For your words and sharing your thoughts with the western community I thank and bless you.

    John

  10. Pingback: Spirituality: are we doing it right? « Magic of the Ordinary

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