So I’m going to lay down here some goals for this blog–or rather the conditions for a…movement? association?…that I want to foster. However organically that might happen.
Association might be the best word. Philip Harland has a great series of podcasts (as in introduction) to associations in the ancient world. (Among many other topics!) And the book that these lectures are based on, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations: Claiming a Place in Ancient Mediterranean Society, has a ‘pay what you can’ structure for the ebook. Anyway, an earlier introduction to companion materials, associations are noted as:
…small, unofficial groups (ranging from about 10-100 members) that met together regularly for a variety of intertwined social, religious and burial purposes. These groups were widespread in the Roman empire, especially in regions like Asia Minor, and they went by a variety of ancient terms including koinon (“association”), synedrion (“sanhedrin”), thiasos (“cult-society”), synodos (“synod”), synergasia (“fellow-workers” or “guild”), collegium (“college”), and corpus (“body”).
Except for “burial purposes” (hey, maybe someday), this really struck me as a way to describe what I’m doing here, cybernetically–to put out a beacon and find “fellow workers” who might be a few hills away from me, tilling their own fields.
So what is my wish list? In a way, this is kind of a manifesto in reverse. Any type of association that grows from this online experience must be:
1. spiritual: this is the trickiest one for me to pin down, and yet is essential to denote, too. But the reason I’m starting this blog is because of a dream I had about a week ago that was, indeed, intensely spiritual. Maybe at some point I’ll get into the specific contents of the dream itself. But there was a sense of inner-space and interconnection with something beyond me. Experiences of cosmic fragility going hand in hand with venerative desires and then acting upon those desires.
2. …yet materialist: awareness of this dream as-dream and sub-cognition didn’t preclude its power upon me. I know that I am wired a certain way, that I lean toward certain explanations rather than others for the (rare) direct spiritual experiences I have. And that’s okay. Materialism also precludes a certain type of celestial well-wishing, but at the same time opens up new possibilities of just how strange reality actually is.
3. …however, not reductively so: It is this strangeness that interests me most, and provides the cartilage that prevents from bone from scraping upon bone. As human beings we need intermediary substances. Cognition is not purely mechanistic. Folk psychology (and thus folk religion) acts as a ballast against ennervating, mammoth systems of abuse and control: churches, states, scientific organizations, etc.
4. radical: We (oh, am I talking about a ‘we’ here already? Pretty presumptive. Well, all right) must disassemble past assumptions to the roots. This is where Continental Philosophy holds a certain appeal for me, and can do a lot of heavy lifting. And though I’m not experts of these philosophers, nor a philosopher myself, I’m looking to write more about Lacan, Deleuze and–yes–Zizek in relation to contemporary paganism. (Zizek in particular feels particularly perverse. Yes.) In particular, seeing spirituality purely as a form of personal development/”self-realization” isn’t what I’m really aiming for.
5. apocalyptic: Radicality is needed because of the very urgency of the project. The twin catastrophes of climate change and bio-engineering will affect everyone. What I mean by “apocalyptic” isn’t strictly in the pop-culture sense, however, but rather apocalypse as unveiling, what Joseph Donahue calls “a literature of complete yet coded protest against worldly domination structures.” (However, this does not mean “millennial” in any sense of the word–there will be no hearkening toward an apocalypse in the commonest sense of the term).
6. universal: All people are welcome, and no people must come to physical or verbal harm. We must not treat the bankers, the petty capitalists, and the oil executives as scapegoats–and if not these, then neither Internet “enemies” either. Of course, this is not going to be for everyone, but the point is that it should not be exclusionary in any way. This being both a result of its exoteric nature and its radical inclusiveness. I know some well-meaning spiritual communities–Christian, pagan, or otherwise–who, though inclusive and welcoming of GBLTQA folks, still treat them as a benign “other”, instead of radically breaking down barriers and doing the tough work of considering what makes the core of a community “normative.”
7. rooted in poetry and poetics: Poetry, in the broadest sense of the term (including many forms of sound, invocation, and utterance), should be crucial as a way to provide a non-linear leap into territory that isn’t defined by Western rationality and discourse. I can feel worn down by a realm of pure ideas. I want poetry to be balm and thread. And again, not in a wishy-washy way that contains its own self-confirmation bias. One that respects silence and difficulty. Less Mary Oliver, more Lorine Niedecker:
8. pastoral: Caring for people. The inward should be outward. Getting out of one’s comfort zone.
9. honest: Being willing to admit when there’s been a fuckup, and (this will happen a lot) when I don’t understand something. And also willing to risk embarrassment.
10. scalable: Finally, being able to engage with people in a lot of different ways, to meet people where they are, whether it’s a weekend of contemplation or a lifetime’s work. By the very syncretic nature of American spirituality that this project is dwelling within, this is almost a given. I still think it’s important to make a conscious decision to make tools and resources that have different structures based on people’s interest and level of commitment.
That’s what I have so far. These of course are only broad sketches. Filling in the details is going to be the interesting part.