I have recently begun an introductory course in Parapsychology with the infamous Koestler Unit at Edinburgh University. We are an intimate group of just 20 people, not for lack of interest but because small numbers encourage the most intense discussion and don’t allow for people to slip between the cracks and be lurkers.
In addition to coursebook reading (An Introduction to Parapsychology), we have specialist reading each week, as well as several expert interviews and articles to write and/or comment on. We are a varied group with people from China, UAE, Malta, UK, Australia, etc. This brings the additional twist of a range of cultural norms and interpretations. Apparently, ghostly happenings are so de rigueur in Malta that house sale contracts come with an extra clause that says, if any paranormal occurrences happen post-sale that were not declared prior to sale, you can renege on the sale and get your money back, i.e. if you end up with a spook and a spook was not listed in the house contents, you can return the house! Wowzers!
The study group comprises scientists, psychologists, therapists, alternative healers, Christians, non-Christians, a metaphysicist, a philosopher, a paranormal investigator, and me – the only one who put it out there and said, “I’m a witch.”
Part of the reason for me taking this course is to fine-tune my bullshit detector. I’m sure we’ve all been with the woo-woo-wah-wah brigade who declare every creaking floorboard to be a ghost, and it’s hellishly frustrating. I have heard tales and encounters and sometimes I call “Bullshit!” and sometimes I think “Interesting.” But each time I am going on a gut-feeling and it’s not always clear-cut as to why I should perceive one thing to be bonafide and the other thing not.
Sometimes it boils down to trust in the individual telling the tale – personal credibility can go a long way. And as to myself, I have experienced some things that are truly inexplicable (according to science as it stands today) and some things that have proven to be a mere bump in the night and I have just laughed off. So I hope to gain some cognitive skills from this course in order for me to say WHY I think something is BS and something is not. That’s the plan anyway.
The Parapsychology course runs for another 3 months. In the meantime, at the end of April I will be starting a course on Ancient Nubian Art & Archaeology. I am totally stoked about this course. The Nubians apparently are the ones who brought high culture into the Nile Valley, and it was due to the Nubians that Egyptian culture became what it did. Again, I look forward to learning about the roots, causes and facts so that I can back up my opinions with evidence and knowledge.
I saw a thread on Facebook the other day where someone was complaining that he had corrected a Fluff about some point or other, but instead of thanks he received verbal garbage about how if person A *feels* that black is white then it is white to him. No. I do think there is a place for Unverified Personal Gnosis BUT some things just are what they are, and ultimately whatever your spiritual choice there WILL be spade loads of reading and learning involved if you want a sincere and authentic experience as opposed to a lifetime excursion of make-believe.
So embrace every opportunity to learn. However much experience you have, you are always at the beginning of your journey into knowledge.
Worth listening to:
Following on again from a timely reference in a post on my beautiful friend’s blog, “Going down to the sea again“, I found part of the interview with Lars Iyer (linked HERE) even more thought-provoking and inspiring for me personally:
Cultivate your legitimate strangeness: that was my mantra. ‘Cultivate’, because it is a struggle, a kind of asceticism. To drive the demons out, you have to know that they are there. A kind of self-knowledge is necessary – not the petty narcissism we find in the ‘misery memoir’, but a growing awareness of those forces that have constituted you, that have made you what you are. ‘Your legitimate strangeness’: ‘Your’, because it is yours, your space, the person you are, that you have become, even as you might alter this space, remake it. ‘Legitimate’ – that part of you that is not yet subsumed by capitalism, that free part of yourself that is not a slave. ‘Strangeness’ – because it must appear strange to the slaves and their masters, to everyone around you.
Great words to start a day with!
A little ritual work this evening, a medium dose of reading and a lot of ritual writing. Good to be back on track after a break of a couple of weeks – too long; I felt the spirits nudging me kindly, but enough’s enough and I don’t want to drag my heels and get a sledgehammer hint over my head that I have been neglecting Them.
A beautiful reunion this evening.
Ritual writing exhilarating as always. Because I find it easier to speak my rituals than to write them, especially if I am adapting from several books, I use a voice recognition software which can be a tad unreliable as I am very soft on my consonants (my German heritage is sadly lacking there).
This evening I was also adapting a meditation written by Ariock Van De Voorde in ATUA (probably the most vibrant and inspiring collection of occult essays in a very long time – more on the book at a later date – if you don’t have it and are interested in LHP or the Voudon Gnostic current, then you MUST buy this book – you snooze, you lose – and there is so much to explore!). The meditation is a method for approaching those hard-to-manage, obtuse passages we all hit against, here specifically in the Voudon Gnostic Workbook, although it could be applied to any occult reading. His advice however was interpreted thus by my voice recognition software as I read from the book:
Once you have either finished a chapter, or encountered a section that you find particularly obtuse, immediately stop breathing [sic].
… a little harsh even by my standards. However, Mr Van De Voorde had in fact merely suggested “stop reading”. Phew. Inhale. Exhale. Phew. I shudder to think how often I would have to cease breathing otherwise!
So a productive evening. I mastered bullion knots this afternoon and am a quarter of the way through finishing a necklace. Candles still lit that will accompany me into the Land of Dreams, incense still permeating the room … I felt the floor tremble when the spirits came. Beautiful Aakhu. Beautiful Spirits of Hoodoo.
I am currently reading Bodies Under Siege: Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry by Armando R. Favazza, M.D. It is the first comprehensive attempt at dealing with the subject of self-mutilation from a cultural psychiatric perspective. I am only about 20 pages in, but I already feel that this man has understood the concept of self-mutilation not only from a cultural and ritual perspective but from the perspective of a mentally ill person.
Many people, knowing either vaguely or intimately my personal belief systems and practices as a witch, question and frown upon my use of a crucifix in my practices, and the fact that I often wear one when I am in a particularly bad “demonic” phase. The fact is I take great comfort in aligning myself with the voluntary self-mutilation that the mythic image of Christ allowed to be imposed upon himself. The crux of Christian myth is based around this voluntary sacrifice, but the issue for me is not sacrifice for another but identification with excruciating internal and external pain.
The images of Christ on the cross have been graced over the centuries with a virtual delight in the gore and excruciating agonies of this man-God. As such he can become the epitome and symbol of a self-harmer’s attempt to make peace with the forces inside and to say yes to life; because self-harming is not a suicide attempt but an attempt to avert suicide.
Quoting a discussion about Fakir Mustafa by Graver, Favazza says:
[Fakir] feels [the pain] not as a foreign invasion of the body but as a sensation of the body that separates the body from the mind.
And this is certainly one of the prime motivations for my own self-harming urges – to demarcate boundaries between mind, body, and I would add, soul, to separate out the mix and to ease the pain of their co-existence.
Suppression is a beautiful tool which can facilitate the survival of someone who has lived through the unspeakable; but it can too easily become a means of self-destruction, where the emotions that should be focused on “enemies” is turned inwards, thus indeed creating a form of social self-sacrifice. Favazza elucidates this point:
Blood has awesome symbolic and physiologic powers, as evidenced by its role in religious sacrifice, healing, the formation of brotherhoods, and blood feuds. When harvested properly, it can alter the course of personal and communal history. It is my contention that some mentally ill persons mutilate themselves as a primitive method of drawing upon their blood’s ability to foster bonds of loyalty and union among members of their social network, to demonstrate their hatred of and conquest over real and imaginary enemies, to heal their afflictions, and … to set right their relationship with God.
Favazza discusses the subject of self-mutilation within Christianity extensively, identifying possible schizophrenics, anorectics and self-harmers amongst the martyr crew. He writes:
It is clear that the individual human body mirrors the collective social body, and each continually creates and sustains the other. Misperceptions of reality, feelings of guilt, negative self images, antisocial acts, and all the other symptoms we associate with personal mental illness defy understanding without reference to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical integrity of the communal “body.”
Which leads me on to the disgust, bewilderment and rejection that self-harmers continually face from the “communal body”. Favazza’s statements support my own experience of the anger, disgust and fear that self-harmers illicit not only amongst passers-by but even amongst their so-called “caretakers”. Nobody truly understands the self-harmer from a psychiatric perspective and instead dismisses the person saying, e.g. it must be a chemical imbalance, or part of borderline syndrome, or a way of getting attention. Favazza summarises self-mutilation amongst the mentally ill as a morbid form of self-help, but warns that it is nothing to trifle with and that for those individuals who cannot control the behaviour it may end in unsightly scars or even “the loss of an eye”.
Personally, I wear my scars as a warrior would those won in battle. When your insides resemble the direst of Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings, and your outside is that of an amicable, sweet and smiling Englishwoman, there is a sense of relief when your external appearance begins to resemble the internal reality. Naturally this comes with extreme forms of social and familial rejection. Nobody likes to see pain, nobody likes to be forced to imagine what’s inside the person wearing the scars. There are very few who would reach out and kiss the scars, saying, “There is beauty in such life-affirming pain.”
Yesterday evening Kundalini yoga was on the study plan. I worked through the introduction to Jung’s Psychology of Kundalini Yoga (based on the seminar he gave in 1932) and took notes. By the time I had finished I was pooped so snuggled in bed with a Kundalini-lite book.
I bought it because I want to learn new positions, new hand mudras (which I love!), mantras, breathwork … well, anything new really. Some of you may remember me talking about it last year, and about some of the really appallingly sugary sound-bites that are sprinkled through the book, and the fact that apparently I should be wearing a turban whenever I do my yoga. Argh!
Last night, maybe because I was tired, I just became aware of all the numbers being thrown at me: pseudo-scientific statistics to give credence to some very dodgy dogma. I wondered if such numerical profligacy was an example of New Age gematria…
- Women are 16 times stronger than men (oh, just don’t even ask!)
- We are 15 % slaves to routine
- 1 negative habit will automatically attract 4 sister habits
- There are 2 guiding instincts in man – to improve his future or to block improvement of his future
- There are 4 stages to sleep and a healthy adult only needs 5.5 hours sleep (my arse!)
- There are 6 steps to prepare for bed (one of which includes running cold water over your feet … like I said, just don’t ask!)
- And there are 2 things you must do every day – sweat and laugh
I was also slightly baffled at the author’s obsession with people going insane. [More numbers…] In the 1960s, out of twenty million young people [random!!], millions died, were permanently damaged or went insane from using marijuana. Later she says, “demoting” i.e. negative habits will make you a “physical wreck, mentally insane and/or spiritually defunct”. Some of my best friends are mad 🙂 but I do quite like the phrase “spiritually defunct”!
The page that finished me off for the night included advice for women (originally from a man, naturally!):
- Make-up is evidence you are handicapped
- Stimulants kill you
- Do not jump out of bed like a hot potato (perhaps he has been smoking too much of that marijuana, I have never seen potatoes jumping out of bed, hot or otherwise)
- Wash your hair with oil and yoghurt (nice)
- And because god does not allow hair to grow on our foreheads, women should not have fringes
When I read such twaddle it makes me feel extremely contrary … in fact, right now I think I will apply full Goth-style make-up, make a strong cup of coffee … I may have trouble growing hair on my forehead … but I shall lounge in bed while jumping out at regular intervals like a hot spud to apply more make-up … It’s a picture, isn’t it? My left-hand path to enlightenment … or is that right-hand? Where’s a potato to ask when you need one…
This is a brief summary of the Occult of Personality podcast interview with David Beth. I would recommend you listen to the full interview, as I will naturally have only picked out points most interesting to me, and there is plenty more to be had from the interview. My sincere thanks to David Beth for revising, editing and approving this summary.
Who is David Beth?
David Beth is Sovereign Grand Master of the OTOA (Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua) and the LCN (La Couleuvre Noire) and presiding bishop of the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna. The OTOA and LCN are originally Haitian Gnostic occult societies associated with each other, but which function separately. The OTOA works with a fusion of ancient Haitian and European Hermetic currents. The LCN is more specialised, with a focus on sorcery and direct spiritism. DB shares leadership in these groups with SGMA Courtney Willis.
DB is also involved with the Fraternitas Borealis, a hyperborean magick group with a cosmic tradition of magical exploration. The Gnostic church focuses on a more general transformation through the apostolic-gnostic sacraments and gnostic initiations and conducts esoteric research in a more classical gnostic sense. The Fraternitas Borealis achieves the same thing through experimentation with magical techniques and sorcery as well as basing itself on very specific transcendental ideals.
On the Ecclesia Gnostica Aeterna:
The EGA is an apostolic Gnostic church, where Gnostic attainment and liberation is achieved through the sacraments. The Church views itself as a continuation of the ancient mystery schools, a way of empowerment passed on through Gnostic Christianity. The sacraments are tools to provide the seeds of gradual enlightenment and development as Gnostic beings. It is then the initiate’s role to cultivate the seed to flower and fruit. Initiation is a combination of outside forces being given to you that also need to be fused alchemically with your own readiness. Occult spirituality needs nurturing.
Unlike the ancient form of Gnosticism, this is not approached as escapism or as a way of leaving the body and its associations behind; this Gnosis is Kosmic Gnosis, i.e. through the body and senses we can achieve a unified experience with the cosmos, hence avoiding dualism.
On the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua:
The OTOA was never a Masonic fraternal organisation as such, perhaps in the beginning and more particularly through its division into lodges. Building on occult haitian-voudoist roots, they took the essence and qualities of Masonry, stripping away the superstructure and further into the C20th the Masonic elements were gradually eliminated. In the 1960s the organisation was based in Chicago, New York and Haiti, comprising small groups totalling maybe 50 people. The OTOA presents a more abstract form of Voudon gnosis but still with a practical focus. There are a few group rituals although most of what is done is on an individual basis. Initiations are given from master to student. The OTOA provides knowledge of Voudon Gnosis (a basic preparation to approach the LCN) – you need the foundations of the OTOA first, and once the principles have been grasped then a student would be eligible to move on to the LCN, although not each student wishes to progress to the LCN because of the extreme character of the (spirit) work and the specific demands of the LCN subcults.
On La Couleuvre Noire and Bertiaux:
Bertiaux’s Voudon Gnostic Workbook is the main public teaching tool of the LCN, presenting a spiritist type of sorcery. The student first establishes contact with spirits, working “lucky hoodoo”, a simple but effective way of establishing spirit contact before moving on to more complex areas. There is a symbiotic relationship between the spirits and the practitioner. Whether the spirits are internal beings, Jungian archetypes or external realities is irrelevant as long as the relationship is effective.
A fundamental understanding of metaphysics allows us to incorporate esoteric Voudon into our own systems. Bertiaux drew parallels between systems; his was not a kitchen magick taking simplistic ingredients to make a composite whole, he goes deeper than that, drawing on the essential core which because of its bare-bones truth can be clad in the flesh of other systems.
On his book, Voudon Gnosis:
DB’s own book was published as an introduction and commentary but would only really be understandable to slightly more experienced occultists. It is not a dogmatic introduction to how people should study Voudon Gnosis although it contains some “official doctrine”; it is intended more as an introduction to ideas and perspectives. At the same time however the book, through its language and ideas, can work as an opener of inner gateways and dimensions and so takes on a truly unique magical character. It is a book to be read with your gut and soul open on multiple levels, not processed purely by the cerebral cortex. Topics cover Las Prise des Yeaux, Points Chauds, Spider Sorcery, Time Travelling, Elemental Sex Magick and The Grimoire Ghuehde, including two appendices on ‘Nganga and the Fetish’ and ‘A-Mor: an initiated analysis of Love’.
On the Merciless Path:
DB speaks of the Merciless Path which has complex implications within the Fraternitas Borealis and calls for a focus and dedication which should be observed by anyone with a sincere intent to study Voudon Gnosis or in fact any occult system; a dedication of their whole being to their spiritual and occult calling: this is a vocation. Occultism has become part of pop culture, a thing done in our spare time. A vocation calls for everything else to be submitted to the path, a kind of sadhu of Western Esotericism who sacrifices everything to focus on their spiritual development through occultism. It is called the Merciless Path because this type of dedication is self-critical; it requires constant challenging of our own status quo, and questions what our ideals and motivations are. It is a cruel look in the mirror everyday. People should continually move out of their comfort zones, and continue walking the thorny path even when it gets difficult. Instead, many approach their “spirituality” like an “occult supermarket” buying only those ingredients that fit their lives to build their own religion. Occultism as originally conceived in Gnosticism and sorcery is only for people with a vocation. It requires the student to take a stand against society, to face their fears and stand against the crowd in a secular society where spirituality is not highly regarded. The only spirituality that flourishes in mainstream societies such as America is the superficial spirituality of evangelists.
On membership, students and mentoring:
The OTOA and LCN have a very small capacity and are consequently selective in their membership. The aim is to create a smooth-running structure to facilitate the mentor relationships between student and teacher and to provide the best possible working environment; however, students must also display a suitable character to respond to such an opportunity to learn. The societies want people who work individually and have an experimental mind and approach (in particular applicable to the Fraternitas Borealis). It doesn’t provide a social group or environment like many other pagan groups. There is a focus on the individual and the burden of work falls on him or her.
Advice to students, the ‘Left-Hand Path’, sexual magick and esoteric love:
When asked what advice he would give to people interested in membership, DB said for the individual to question exactly what their motivation is in their involvement with occultism. What do they truly want? Materialistic powers? To overcome their outsider position in the society at large? Is it a vocation or supplemental to their life/a hobby? Their true motivations will soon be uncovered within the group. The would-be student must be ready to have his or her Self challenged and to break through boundaries. Lots of groups provide a sociological setting for people to have a devotional relationship with the divine where they can meet like-minded people and share in the odd ritual. People of the ‘Left-Hand Path’ (an inadequate and sorely abused term) need to challenge their own ideas, concepts and status quo constantly. They may need to do things they consider inappropriate, especially within the context of sexual magick. As a preliminary, they need to want to work with sexual energies and sexual magick in all forms in a way employed for spiritual advancement. If a person has some kind of extreme sexual tendency, such as masochism, they may have to act as a sadist in some contexts. The intention here is to break through the original framework and free the practitioner of such extreme constraints. If you work with sexual energies, you are also working on the liberation of self, without being dependant on an outside person (a Luciferian idea). In specific ritual contexts, the other person can act as a spark to ignite the inner fire of transformation. The risk here, however, is that the practitioner can confuse the other person with a full embodiment of the divine bride or groom.
The body is viewed as a temple, a tool to express the divine. Through experiences of the body, a person can experience the divine, and by employing the body in particular ways combined with a trained mind, it can lead to spiritual enlightenment. It is not about satisfying cravings for darker magick but about challenging what you think is proper for you. It is not an occult path that supports a person in maintaining the chimera of who they are at this moment – it strips that away and challenges it. The student must avoid interpreting things the way they want to, which is why the mentor relationship is so important, so he or she does not get stuck within their own prejudices and fantasies.
Myth conveys an esoteric reality; a form of collective memory clad in myth. The symbolism of myths communicates most to the cultural group it is closest too. Unlocking myths provides you with occult tools; such as Parsifal, the spiritual warrior, walking the Merciless Path, he sacrifices all to his cause. Myth provides us with a link to a living occult tradition; for example, the icon of Christ, the dying and resurrected man who through spiritual transformation obtained divine status. We must die to the profane self, crucify self on the cross of the elements and be resurrected in a higher self. In such an instance it is irrelevant whether Jesus was a historical figure or purely mythical, the message is still relevant against either premise.
On magick’s role in spirituality:
The spiritual journey per se is the path up the mountain; the magickal journey is the exploration of the mountain. Magick fulfils a searcher’s cravings for exploration and is a way to discover one’s own potential. Magickal work can support spiritual existence if employed as a supplement to spiritual development.
On the state of published occult knowledge today and pop culture:
Occult works are more prolific today as the fear of persecution has for the most part been removed. The question naturally exists as to what is authentic, and in particular with the use of the internet, one must consider the source.
The last 30 years of publishing have seen a plethora of poor quality material produced. New occult writers are bringing very little that is new to the circle, merely regurgitating the discoveries of the Old Guard. Nowadays fundamental research is missing, and people are instead looking for quick answers and quick-fixes. Superficiality is what glues people together today. There is no longer a desire for a Weltanschauung (a philosophical, conceptual understanding of the world at large), there is a greater desire for the “wild ride”, so occultism succeeds in popular culture as long as it is wild and interesting. People are a product of their society, a fact that infiltrates the occult community too. There must be a will to study and learn. The opportunities are there, but many don’t take advantage of them because they are comfortably ensconced in the society they live in; they neither have the capacity or the will to sit down and study properly. The purpose of true occult spirituality is to engage in a work that serves a higher purpose (which ultimately benefits the Self too). It cannot be approached as social group membership or in a consumer role with the wish to fulfil the aggrandisement of his or her ego.
On the future:
DB envisages a hope for the future where there is a chain of initiates who will carry on the work until the dark times of spiritual apathy are over, when a new consciousness will kick into action which will tear down the dualistic, exploitative and dehumanising structure we currently inhabit. The attainment of Kosmic consciousness for all of humanity will be sparked by this chain of initiates.
I know that most pagan writers are self-published or working through small publishing houses where budgets are tight. But why, oh why, oh why can’t they at least run a basic spell-check if they can’t afford a decent proofreader? Are people so arrogant that they don’t get a friend or colleague to read through their manuscript before going to print? Or are their friends so sycophantic, all they can say is marvellous, rather than, bloody hell, where did you learn to speak English?
I have read pagan books by Worthies in the past and really struggled with their phraseology and ‘typos’. This is a trend in publishing in general; the standard of proofreading has slipped considerably since the 1960s. Am I betraying an academic snobbery by thinking that people who are published should take pride in every aspect of their writing? I know when I worked at the bookshop that the same slovenliness applies to mainstream writers too. I received a proof copy of a novel by someone like Maeve Binchy or Patricia Cornwell (a woman writer at any rate). This proof had not passed the editorial bench yet, so I was reading it in the raw. I only managed 2 pages before throwing it on the pile to be pulped because the standard of writing was appalling. This writer MAY have come up with the original idea, but based on the writing, the future kudos for her work most definitely lay with the editor…
Last night I cracked open a new tome on witchcraft. I’m not going to mention names because his writing is typical of many. Apart from the spelling mistakes … and I really don’t believe they were all slips of the finger on a keyboard … his phraseology was so obtuse that I had to virtually do the ‘magic eye’ trick by unfocusing my brain and allowing my subconscious to filter the main words in a sentence and try and make sense of it that way. This book is a modern-day grimoire. It is a book leading the reader into some very dark aspects of magick. The writer warns the reader that he takes no responsibility for what happens to the practitioner working with this book. If he is so bloody concerned, shouldn’t he have at least done a spell check on his demon names and invocations??!! At best nothing will happen, at worst the practitioner will summon a demon as pernickety as me who will want to know why his sigil is wrong and his name mispronounced!! I am (as usual) writing with tongue firmly in cheek, BUT this is a serious point.
I have often felt compelled to offer my proofreading services to certain pagan authors. I am a qualified proofreader, and I would even do it for free as a matter of principle to raise the dross standard of pagan writing. How on earth can we expect to be taken seriously, if our literature – the very books we base so much of our learning on – is full of errors that even a mundane-minded 15-year old would spot. If writers are so lackadaisical as to allow basic grammar and spelling mistakes to pass (bear in mind, their readers are paying for this substandard shite), then I start to question the seriousness of their research and the magickal gnosis that they say they are imparting to me.
I identified one basic error of Egyptian mythology within the first couple of pages of the book I started last night, and now I feel that all the other information I am being fed, I will have to strain through a filter of research and double-checking. I am not a knowledgeable person, so if I can spot an error, how many others are stuck between the pages. And this is NOT about deliberate blinds, smoke-and-shadows, hiding the true gnosis from the initiated; this is about slovenly research and poor writing skills.
And don’t even get me started on books that contain statements like,
“[The author] … is (like me [the person writing the preface]) constantly in the company of beautiful women as any true Magister should be. What more proof of power need there be? Genuine power is sexy. Crap magicians do not get laid.”
Oh, puhleease pass me a barf-bag. Really.
© starofseshat 2008
Erich Fromm, in his book Psychoanalysis and Religion (specifically p. 24-38), speaks of the general compulsion in humanity to transcend the disharmony of living, to make sense of his condition. Because man is mind and body, he needs more than just a thought-system, and more than mere physical satisfaction.
The choice is therefore not IF religion but WHICH religion – any thought system that invokes a sense of devotion he considers a religion. Consequently he cites an unprecedented focus on one or both parents as a form of ancestor cult. Totemism is expressed in the exclusive devotion by a person to his state or political party. He gives an example of fascism or Stalinism to illustrate the religious vigour that people apply to this kind of “modern-day” Totemism.
The difference between such religious forms and a neurosis is that in a society where ancestor worship is accepted, the worshipper finds acceptance and understanding, he can share his thoughts and feelings. Otherwise he is isolated. This feeling of isolation is the sting to the neurosis!
Once a doctrine (however irrational) has been established in a society, people will rather believe it than feel ostracised and isolated (cf. the example of fascism and Stalinism).
Ideally monotheistic religion (as Fromm says) should protect man from falling back into regression, should protect man against ancestor, totem or idol worship (e.g. devotion to the power of the capitalist market – money and profit as idol form). This would be the case if religion managed to succeed in its stated ideals. But history has shown that religion capitulates to secular power again and again, concerned more with dogma than with practising ‘religious’ traits such as loving your fellow man.
Can we continue to trust religions to represent these ideals? Or should we start to separate religious needs from organised religion to prevent a further collapse of our moral structure?
Fromm distinguishes between two forms of religion (as a general concept):
authoritarian and humanistic religion.
Authoritarian religion is where the religious experience is based on the surrender to a power transcending man. The main virtue is obedience; the cardinal sin is disobedience. In contrast to the omnipotence of god, man is insignificant, weak and powerless. Submission to this overruling power is the way he escapes the feelings of isolation. Through surrender he loses independence and integrity as an individual, and feels protected and PART of the awe-inspiring power. Man is subject to experiencing self-loathing and a feeling of poverty of mind, grateful to be subsumed into the omniscient god-mind.
Humanistic religion is centred around man and his strength. Man should develop reason to understand and a relationship to his fellow men and the rest of the universe; he must find his place in the world. He must develop powers of love for himself and for others and experience solidarity with all living beings. This religious experience is the experience of oneness with All. The aim is strength not powerlessness; the virtue is self-realisation not obedience. Faith is certainty of conviction based on one’s experience of thought and feeling, not blind dogma taken on the pure merits of the person proposing the dogma. Here, God is a symbol of man’s own power which he tries to realise in life, not a symbol of force and domination with power OVER man.
These are two forms at opposite ends of the spectrum and yet they can exist within one religion at the same time.
On the surface of it we can see Christianity as an authoritarian religion, and surprisingly witchcraft as a humanistic one. I say surprisingly, not because I would have expected it to fall under an authoritarian structure, but because I did not think it had such an established moral structure as might be necessary to call it humanistic. That is based on my own misunderstandings. But another thing that these notes make clear to me, is where in my life there is still an old hangover from the authoritarian religion of my childhood. This split between authoritarian and humanistic has suddenly enabled me to draw some very clear lines and circles in myself. I can see now some of the things that have been holding back my spiritual progress – the lack of self-love, the doubt – these are things belonging to my past and to a religion I don’t hold any more. Yes, the two focal Christian (although originally and still Jewish) commands of Love the Lord your God (authoritarian), and Love your neighbour as your self (humanistic) are a combination of these two. Yet as Fromm points out major religions have consistently capitulated to secular power and sacrificed the humanistic aspect. I think in some ways I have been guilty of the same things in my life. How interesting that reading Fromm should confirm and reassert my humanistic path, and clear my head of the final vestiges of that authoritarian god-form: a step forward on my path as witch.
© starofseshat 2008