Thursday, December 1, 2011

An Outline Toward Druidic Mysticism

In discussions on the in-house ADF lists the topic has turned to Druidic Mystcism, and the problem of the transcendant in Indo-European myth and religion. I ended up promising to post this essay. It has been available as the back third of my "Toward A Pagan Mysticism" monograph. However the rest of that material has ended up moved to another publication, and I'm more-or-less withdrawing it.
I'll be posting this in three or four parts over the next couple of weeks. Comments welcome, here, or, for members, on the ADF-discuss list.

I: Defining Mysticism and Enlightenment –The terms mysticism, enlightenment, and illumination are widely used in discussions of religion and spirituality, but are frequently only vaguely understood. ADF (and Paganism at large) might wish to build some discourse about what we mean from the vantage point of our spiritual understanding. We have spent our first 25 years developing our mythic and ritual structures, and we have drawn on some very old and very deep symbols to empower them. It is Your Humble Author’s opinion that we are ready to begin asking ourselves how our work can bring the personal soul into direct experience and awareness of divine and spiritual things.

Let us begin by reciting some dictionary definitions:
For ‘Mysticism’, we find:
“a doctrine of an immediate spiritual intuition of truths believed to transcend ordinary understanding, or of a direct, intimate union of the soul with God through contemplation or ecstasy.”For Enlightenment, the dictionary presents mainly doctrinal ideas from the east:
the beatitude that transcends the cycle of reincarnation; characterized by the extinction of desire and suffering and individual consciousness; pure and unqualified knowledge. Illumination, likewise, finds:knowledge, revelation, insight, wisdom; intellectual or spiritual enlightenment and understanding; a condition of spiritual awareness; divine illumination;

These stock definitions only lead us into more difficulty, as we ask ourselves what we mean by ‘spiritual’ or ‘ordinary understanding’. One thing we notice is that all the definitions refer to events that happen to individuals. They refer to states that affect the individual soul even if connected to group practice by doctrine or ritual. They all point toward a component of spiritual awareness, not based only on faith, but on experience.

In order to begin the discussion, I’ll propose a more technical, perhaps modern, definition of the terms ‘enlightenment’ or ‘illumination’. Let us say that these terms refer to specialized states or events of awareness that connect the personal mind with transpersonal awareness/experience. We’ll spend some time on the idea of transpersonal awareness as we go. More plainly, the terms refer to states of spiritual awareness, of deep connection with the divine and peace and wisdom in the self.

We will use ‘mysticism’ to refer to specific efforts made to reach these states. A ‘mystical’ system is a system that intends to induce illuminations, and ‘mysticism’ is the practice of those methods. The word derives from the Greek, of course, from ‘mystes’ – an initiate. A ‘mystery’ religion involved initiation – a formal moment in which the student was immersed in the spiritual symbols of the system. Just as these were systematic events, planned an executed for initiates, so we may use ‘mysticism’ broadly to mean the systematic pursuit of illuminative experience.

Every religion, every spiritual system makes choices as to which types of specialized state conform to the system’s models – that is, which become accepted and traditional. Within the large religious categories – such as ‘Hindu’ – we may find dozens of specific mystical programs, each run by a teacher or group, each serving those that are drawn to it. Even the monotheisms present multiple models of the personal search for contact with the divine.

Building Mystical Practice in ADF
To date, ADF has largely focused on public Paganism and what we might think of ‘village’ religion. We have organized groups to begin to restore our local relationships to the deities, a path of sacrifice and blessing, in which we seek the simple goods of health, wealth and wisdom for ourselves and our land and folk. In ancient Paganism I think even the mystics of the folk would have kept their connection with the sacred rites of their tribe and land – assuming they weren’t leading them! I think it could be time for Our Druidry to begin to develop personal and, possibly, group practices meant to build the individual’s relationship with the divine, to exalt and expand the mind, heart and soul. I think some of the symbols and meanings that we can use will be found in our existing ritual order and ides, but I think there are new directions available as well.

History and lore present us with a menu of cultural and technical methods of seeking illuminations. In order to decide which practices will become ADF practices, we must decide, to some degree, what we intend to mean by these traditional terms, and what sort of mental and spiritual states we wish to induce under the banner of Druidic mysticism. Indo-European Pagan models (especially northern European) have not left us any distinct understanding of what sorts of states were sought by ‘mystics’ among the Celts or Germans. We have hints and models, but very little context. We have some accounts and method remaining from the Hellenic and late Classical ages, but even there the soul of the work isn’t clear. We have far less context than we could use.

In order to begin a discussion on mystical strains and practices in ADF, we begin by making a few bald assertions of what Your Humble Author thinks might make a system or practice Druidic. It is worth our while, when we have the time, to discuss theology, and feel around for the edges of our systems. I also want to discuss what I feel are some useful ideas from postmodern thinkers, occultists and mystics. Some of this is by way of full disclosure, since those ideas have influenced my own, and those of other ADF members. (Long-time readers of el bloggo will have seen some of this before...) In our next section we will examine several traditional models of Indo-European and later European and Indian mysticism, and then compare them to our ethos and goals in ADF. That will be the first goal of this effort. From there we may proceed to some simple suggestions for methods drawing on models we like.

II: A Digression into the Modern
Postmodernists and Illuminists -

Many of us in ADF have been influenced by the ideas of some modern and postmodern thinkers, both ‘occult’ and philosophical. The core lesson of writers such as Wilson, Bey, Leary, etc is that our perceived reality is largely socially and psychologically constructed. Daily life for humans usually consists of a body of habitual programs and models that shape our common thought, decision and action. These habits are shaped by our history and reactions to events, by the pressures of our immediate physical and social environment and, occasionally, by our deliberate personal choices.

Humans have the ability to notice our own programs and habits and, to some degree, to step outside of them and manage them - even to reshape them. Our ability to watch our own thought, and apparent ability it actually initiate changes in our thought at least on some levels, offers us the ability to adapt and thrive. It also offers us the potential to expand our mind into states and events outside normal sensory life. In this sort of neurological mysticism, judgment tends to be reserved as to the ‘objective’ merit of some spiritual experiences, but there is little question that they can have value.

In this secular sense one of the basic ‘enlightenments’ or ‘illuminations’ is the experience of noticing that “you” are separate from your construct persona and have some degree of control over it. This understanding seems to occur naturally in a number of folks, less so in others, but it’s proposed that anyone can get better at noticing and managing the programs and habits of the common self, and even to learn to step outside of it into more unusual states.

Many Neopagans have begun with this rather rationalist approach to spirituality, to move toward traditional religion, magic, yoga, etc. These systems are ancient and long-practiced attempts to use the self-management ability to produce transpersonal spiritual events in the self. Modern Pagan religion, mysticism and occultism, can offer individuals a level of sovereignty over the self that has not always been present in most recent religions, with a depth of practice comparable to any world system – at least in time.

Occultists and Mystics -
Another set of modern influences on my own thought, and on that of many Pagans are the various modern schools of occultism and occult mysticism. The more mystical modern occult thinkers – Crowley, etc - have proposed that there is a spiritual reality that underlies the psychological mechanisms of the layers of the personality. While much of this sort of thought accepts the basic psychological models of modern mind science, it also accepts the idea of paranormal events and the value for growth and health of unusual spiritual states. Postmodern mystics might say that the objective reality of spiritual phenomena isn’t really an issue in effective use of magic or religion. Other modern mystics find reason to accept the objective existence of the spiritual worlds.

The Veil and the Path
I’m not entirely sure where to file this idea, so I’ll discuss it here… Both in this modernist perspective and in ancient ways, mystical illumination is often depicted as the discovery that common awareness, or reality itself, is a ‘veil of illusion’, that Things Are Not (only) As They Seem. The work of the mystic reveals the invisible sides of the worlds, reducing the common to just a section of existence.

Thus we find the Quest motif, the Great Work, the Fools Journey that inhabits much of the folklore tales of personal growth and mastery. From the Proto-Arthurian tales of the medieval Welsh to the symbolic forms of alchemy to the tales of great mystics such as Buddha or Merlin, the call to ‘come away’ is in many ways the core impulse of mysticism. We leave behind out metaphoric hearth and the Lands We Know to grow past our origins, to become more than we are.

This is an unusual position for our ADF ethos – we have worked to solidify our spirits in hearth and nemeton, to grow roots and networks where we are. From such a beginning the mystical quest might once again have meaning. To set forth on the Path, leaving behind the fields we know, is a powerful symbol that can’t be ignored.

III: What Makes It Druidic?In which I stick my neck out to suggest what the boundaries of our modern Druidic spirituality might be. Please, Dear Reader, understand that I only mean to present my part in our discourse, and never to suggest any of this as fixed doctrine or creed for Our Way. I hope that this paper and these ideas will provoke discussion and adaptation of these ideas.

Druidic Spiritual Metavalues
1. Nature Centered – I feel I am safe in proposing that a Druidic spirituality is one that takes nature as a divine revelation, perhaps as the very presence of the divine. We view nature as a true and good image of spiritual reality – it is unfallen and holy as we find it. This includes the rejection of the idea that nature or spirit is divided into ‘good and ‘evil’ – we are not moral dualists, imagining that nature or spirit chooses sides between the light and the dark.
2. Life Affirming – Just as we value the material world as holy, so physical life is also holy and good, and death is a natural and holy part of life. We know that sorrow and suffering will probably be unavoidable, but we have confidence in our own virtue and strength to reduce and mitigate it.
3. Human Affirming – Just as physical nature is holy and good, so human personal and social nature is a true and holy part of nature. We are as much an expression of the divine as an oak or an eagle.
4. Polyvalent – We observe that in nature every kind of thing exists in multiple examples, similar but each unique. To us this demonstrates that the divine must also manifest as many beings, and that there must be multiple paths and methods to accomplish almost any goal. Thus, we are polytheistic, and understand the divine will to exist in and as many individual wills.

ADF Customs and Models
these will tend to have immediate influence on which models we choose.
1. Ritualistic – We are not, generally, quietists, seeking to simply be still and know whatever. We favor expression of ideas in formal speech and symbolism, and use ritual to solidify spiritual powers into the manifest world. We are slowly developing a body of meditation practice that supports and reflects our ritual ideas, but we have not very far developed our own Druidic meditation models for seeking mystical states.
2. Reciprocal – Our work joins our personal spiritual reality with that of the greater divine and spiritual world. We intend to build relationships between the divine and the personal, the core idea of our practice is, in many ways, reciprocity. We can ask ourselves how that will apply to a more immediate union between the divine and the personal.
3. Mythic – ADF has tended to reject an ‘archetypal’ or purely psychosocial understanding of the Gods and Spirits in favor of a more directly mythic description. We enjoy working in the mythic models of the ancients – how will we use those tales in efforts to induce spiritual experiences, and in what directions will they send us?
4. Social and Tribal – Our Druidry has been focused on the social group, from the Hearth to the fully developed Grove. Mysticism is commonly done alone or in small focused groups – how will we adapt our direction for that?

Beginning with these basic ideas, we’ll go on, in the next part of our series, to examine various models of mystical practice in IE and post-IE Europe and India. In the final part I will discuss my thoughts on where we might begin in developing specific mystical practices inside our existing systems.

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