Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Outline Toward Druidic Mysticism, Part 2

Part 2: Historic World Mystical ModelsI: Western Models.While we have some traces of Pagan-era descriptions of states of illumination, we have much clearer depictions of method and result in the quasi-Christian mysticism of the Middle Ages and renaissance. I welcome efforts (including my own) to more clearly investigate classical Pagan sources like Iamblichus, classical neoplatonism, Pythagorus etc.

A: Mystery and Devotional Vision
In its Greek context ‘mystery’ is the experience of viewing the secret symbols and rituals of the tradition in which one is working. The word mystery is derives from the Greek mystes, meaning ‘initiate’. A mystery is in this sense something which is revealed only to initiates.

These ancient mystery rituals combined long preparation, effort, song, drama, wine and excitement to induce illumination experiences focused on the cult objects of the rite. The most famous of these experiences was at Eleusis, where thousands of mystoi were lead through days of pilgrimages, sacrifices, dances, and ritual drama to conclude in a final revelation that was said to guarantee the initiate meaning in this life and entry into a happy afterlife. Different initiatory sects offered different types of symbols, most of them unknown to us since their initiates have successfully concealed their nature to this day. We can imagine that the mystery symbols of the various sects might be a single deity represented in its traditional idol or physical symbol, a constellation of deities perhaps expressing some specific mythic narrative, or might include non-deity divine objects – ears of corn, cauldrons, etc.

Some of this is reflected on a personal level in cults of devotion - to the Gods and Spirits in ancient times, and well-preserved in the Christian cult of saints. These practices can lead to a kind of ‘mystery vision’ of the deity so sought. Medieval ‘mystery plays’ and the various church spectacles of the bigger systems, seem to preserve the feel of Pagan processions, displays of mystical symbols, etc. Even in public worship of the Gods we seek, perhaps, the Mystery of the Vision of each High Day, the constellation of symbols that expresses the season and the Gods of the feast.

B: The Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel.
Much of medieval spiritual magic was an effort to gain the counsel and aid of a spiritual being which would transmit the divine power or lead in practice to higher illuminations. The classical Greeks sometimes described a personal ‘daimon’ or intermediary spirit between the individual and the gods. Some later magical systems draw on Christian versions of that image to seek contact with the angel set over each of us by ‘God’ in that system. In any case the work of seeking contact with the ‘Holy Guardian Angel’ intends to contact the magician’s personal messenger of the divine.

The most famous system of contacting the Holy Guardian Angel is the Sacred Magic of Abramelin the Mage. This renaissance magician prescribed months-long retreats, involving ‘purifying’ and ‘exalting’ the soul through study, fasting and prayer. It reaches a yogic level of self-control. This purity and power of soul allows contact with the Guardian Angel who then reveals the secrets of contact with the divine, and of control of lesser spirits. One side-benefit of the process was the ability to command ‘demons’ – lesser spirits who could serve one’s will.

In its original form this method seems to have nearly shamanic implications – the Angel serving as a kind of ally or spirit guide. In later interpretations the Angel becomes more a symbol of the divine in the individual, of the ‘Higher Self’.

C: Progressive Advancement
Many systems propose a series of ‘levels’ or ‘layers’ through which the soul advances. One popular way of explaining the order of the worlds was to map a series of ‘emanations’ from the first cause, or layers in a ladder of progressive spiritual experiences. The model is visible from ancient mysteries all the way into modern fraternal organizations and occult orders with ‘degree work’ systems.

We might speculate on an origin in Egyptian or Mesopotamian afterlife or cosmological concepts. The Book of Coming Forth by Day describes a series of gates and guardians that must be passed on the way to the afterlife goal. The Babylonian seven-tired planetary heaven influenced later Neoplatonic image of levels, each with their own ‘guardian’, who must be passed by knowledge of the right rituals and passwords. These systems fed into the later Qabalistic systems that underlie many of the more modern occult ‘Lodge’ degrees. One major influence on later ‘initiatory’ mysticism is the structure of Mithraic Initiation. It was built in seven levels, considered by some to have corresponded to the planets. The notion of a ladder of planetary lights was widespread in the late Classical world Planetary Levels.

D: The Beatific Vision
In medieval mysticism, the Beatific Vision was the state in which the blessed souls of the dead were said to dwell. It was described as a vision of wonder containing all the Cosmos, the veritable presence of ‘God and his angels’ of all the worlds of the system’s mythology. As a mystical method one sought to achieve this vision while living, and perhaps to benefit from it in common life. This approached is not concerned with gaining a teaching spirit, or so much with possibly ‘magical’ goals, rather it is about subsuming the personal soul in the grandeur and wonder of the divine.

There was a distinct devotional component to this method. The Illumination it means to bring is based on exaltation resulting from nearness to deity. It works well in a polytheistic system, in which case it might resemble the mystery vision described above, coupled with the presence of a specific deity. It also employs the principle of microcosm and macrocosm – as the mystic perceives the divine worlds, she also perceives their reflection in herself.

II: Historical Models part 2 – Eastern or Indian Models
The word ‘yoga’ is from the Sanskrit and means ‘yoking’. The image used in all discussions of yoga is of the human body and mind as a team of animals that must be brought into unity of will and direction so that the human being can accomplish her will in the worlds.

A: Raja Yoga – The “royal yoga” is a system (or many systems) of disciplined training of the mind and body, leading to a progression of deeper experiences, intending to lead to the transpersonal. Most of the various sorts of Yoga we know in the west are variants or subsets of Raja Yoga. Raja Yoga leads the mind through a series of disciplines, seeking fairly specific results:
1. Asana – physical exercise and the ‘postures’ that are the most well-known image of Yoga. The “Yoga of the Body” – Hatha Yoga – is an entire system that is often seen as the foundation of Raja Yoga. The practice of asana builds strength and discipline in the body, brings poise and relaxation and the ability to remain still for meditation and ritual.
2. Pranayama and Pratyahara – control of the breath, and withdrawing from sense-awareness. These basic techniques bring awareness of and a degree of control over the autonomic physical systems, and free the mind from the body’s distractions.
3. Dharana – concentration, limiting awareness to a single object. This is the basic level of what Raja Yoga refers to as ‘meditation’. The student focuses on a single object, such as the breath, or a mantra, or a visual object. The thoughts and flows of the mind are ignored in favor of that concentration, and eventually the chatter of the mind slows and even ceases.
4. Dhyana – dissolution of subject/object distinction. Yogis teach that success in concentration, when the chatter ceases and the student is alone with the object of the concentration, the mind may lose the perception of a distinction between the observer and that which is observed. This a basic level of what the Yogis call ‘illumination’ – the realization that the self is not confined to the body/name complex. As an exercise such states are sometimes focused on a simple thing such as a flame or a tree, but in practice mystics often seek to make this state with a deity.
5. Samadhi – the personal soul dissolves in the all-mind – Atman makes dhyana on Brahman. The final goal of the Raja Yoga system is to realize the identity of the personal soul with the all-web of cosmic existence. Hindu philosophy speaks of the atman – the personal eternal divine spark – and holds that in Samadhi the atman realizes its identity with the brahman – the impersonal all-mind of the cosmos. In practice, Samadhi is also a term for the tomb of an enlightened man, but once again we find the idea of perhaps coming to know what the Blessed Dead know while still alive.

Through the whole Yogic system, there is a core doctrine of the identity of the personal soul with the all-soul of the cosmos. This all-soul isn’t conceived of as ‘God’ in any sense, it has no temples and no cult, but it is the goal of much mystical seeking.

B: Bhakti Yoga -
Bhakti means devotion, and Bakhti Yoga is the Yoga of Devotion. The student focuses awareness on the form and deeds of a specific deity or group of deities, through worship, contemplation and loving aspiration. Then goal is for the personal soul to approach the divine through love.

Some sects hold that the personal soul can become identical with the object of devotion, dissolving into the divine being. Others hold only with exaltation and ‘bliss’ for the personal soul by the close approach to the divine. Much of eastern ‘religion’ is the public expression of this sort of devotionalism.

C: Jnana Yoga
This system seeks mystical experience brought on by the understanding of truth – Jnana means ‘knowing’, from the same root as the Greek gnosis - and this is the yoga of ‘knowledge’.

Jnana Yoga arose in connection with the Advaita Vedanta sect of Hinduism in about 800 C.E.. The Smarta sects are advaitins, but they retain ritual worship of the pantheon of Gods and Spirits. Later Vedanta systems rejected much ritual and myth in favor of philosophical interpretation of the ancient symbols.

Jnana Yoga is usually based on the ‘non-dual’ (a-dvaita) concept – which holds that enlightenment lies in knowing that manifestation is not separate from unity. It focuses on the unified all-mind called the brahman, that is said to underlie all specific manifestation. It often contains a corollary idea that the manifest world is ‘untrue’ or ‘illusory’, making a doctrinal priority out of the experience of Samadhi.

Advaita and Jnana yoga arose out of the matrix of an IE Paganism. However it’s radical monism – which has often been exploited by monotheistic apologists, may make it less than fitting for our neopagan purposes. We shall see whether years of mystical experiment produce these ideas in our own systems.

D: The Problem of Monism.
The idea that at the deepest level all things are united in a single thing/process/existence – is a recurring presence in what we know of ancient spiritual philosophy. The Vedic Brahman, the Hellenic Anima Mundi, Norse Wyrd and Orlog all point to the idea of a ‘soul of all’ or ‘mind-material of all’ or ‘underlying unity’ that is within, and shared by, all things. If nature is One Nature, then in the same way the divine might be One Divine (though not One Person…). Monism is more prominent in the eastern systems, but occurs in various forms in western Pagan experience as well. With the rise of monotheism, monism was sometimes offered as evidence of ‘evolved’ thought by eastern thinkers. Monism has, in a few sects, sometimes rejected more folkloric polytheism, and many Pagans are skeptical of its value in our contexts, but it remains a menu-item in the list of IE models of mystical experience.

No comments: