Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monism and Monotheism

I don’t feel like talking a lot about this, but I want to respond to RO in the comments. This also addresses the notion of ‘basic framework' he talks about in another post. I may actually try to do one - it would surely be instructive
• Monism is the notion that, at root, all things are One. This is most fully expounded in the Vedic notion of the Brahman – the all-mind that contains and reconciles all things in itself. Let me quote myself, from my ‘Toward a Pagan Mysticism’ monograph:

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. … 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.

• Monotheism is the notion that only one being can truly be called ‘divine’, that one consciousness is the owner-operator of reality. This is always a specific being with likes, dislikes desires and intentions. There are only a few examples of monotheism in the religious world, almost all Abrahamic. Some sorts of Saivite Vedanta may come close, though they have too much of the brahman to imagine Shiva as caring about ‘what happens’…
• Monism does not hold that the all-mind is any specific person. It cannot love rather than hate, cannot be just rather than unjust, or express any other moral or conditional quality above another. Especially it cannot have a Providential Will that manages the cosmos.
• Monotheism denies the deity of ‘lesser’ spirits, positing a difference of kind between ‘God’ and the ranks of other spirits. Polytheism tends to see only a difference of degree between Gods, Dead and other Wights – Homer referred even to the gods as daemons.
• Monism holds that all manifest things are expressions of or constituent parts of the One. Thus ‘the divine’ can be multiple and also participate in the One, without making that One, itself, a god.
• I’ll admit that I don’t really know what a ‘monad’ is. Neoplatonism is really too late for my theological focus, and renaissance hermetic theology is right out at this point. (I tend to center around Homer and Parmenides, since we don’t have any Pagan Gaelic theology to read.) I assume there was/is a First Cause, but consider that far in the cosmic past, and not in any way equivalent to an owner-operator. I don’t find infinite regress unlikely – “it’s turtles all the way down…”

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Tale of the Blind Men

Monotheism is like tying together a python, a bear and an ostrich in a room, then telling three blind men that there’s only one animal there. They will feel about in perplexity, each devising some imagined chimera, and begin to argue between them about whose perceptions might be right. Thus in monotheism the effort to imagine a single god who contains justice and mercy, love and wrath, cunning and honesty, who manages the whirling cosmos and knocks the sparrow off its branch is as unlikely and confused as some hairy, feathery, serpentine beast.
The divine is multiple, and it cannot be understood if the perceiver insists otherwise.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Starwood 2010- A New Beginning

In the southeastern corner of Ohio, along the wide Ohio River, the hills rise wild above low dells, stream-cut gorges and round-worn glacial boulders. If you leave the modern highway at the antique colonial river settlement of Marietta a web of switch-back roads takes you into country filled with the remnants of faded coal labor, farms carved from stony hillsides and tiny mercantile settlements. Only the university town of Athens offers big-box stores and intellectual culture, yet there is another thing that the college has given to the surrounding counties.

Hippies, falling in love with the green hills, have moved in. The live-and-let-live ethos of the impoverished hills has accepted the long-haired incomers readily, and small homesteads and farms dot the region. Deep in the dells lays a large spread, called by those who keep it Wisteria. Wisteria was created by young people from the northern end of the state, seeking the magical spirits to be found in those old dells. Find them they did, and the place has become a haven of comfort and enchantment for those who find it.

Into this peaceful valley rode the traveling circus called the Starwood festival. Created 30 years before, the multi-ringed show of music, Pagan teaching and ritual, arts and ideas and soul-lighting revelry flowed down the hill and into the valley. Almost immediately, the two seemed to fall into sync.

Wisteria is set in a long, narrow plain, with a ridge to the south and a deep valley of forest to the north. A horseshoe road runs through the center, and almost all the workshop and festival sites are conveniently placed along the road. This made the set-up job of the event (my own task this year…) pretty painless. Years of careful and loving development has built lovely clearings in the deep forest good for workshop spaces, well-cared-for paths and shaded camping.

Shade was valuable, as the southern Ohio sun beat hard that week, and those in the flat camping in the meadow had to make their own shadow. Some might complain about the heat. To me, it reminded me of Starwoods past, in the 1980s, before we moved to the cold, damp north. Hot days give way to cool, easy nights that can be enjoyed in a skirt and shirt, or less. Promoting clothing-optional living at night is a big plus to the Starwood atmosphere. Perhaps we might ask the spirits for 10 degrees less, but I hesitate to question the heat…

Starwood officially begins with our traditional Opening Circle, but first we must register our guests. Thanks largely to an astounding reduction in redundant and annoying paperwork, the pre-registered guests were able to pass through their registration in five minutes, with a little longer for walk-ins. In the many delighted comments from guests this year, one of the most common was “Five Minute Registration!”

L. and I worked our Opening Circle in the usual way, in which we cast a spell to protect and focus our event. The land seemed to welcome the energies, and it felt like throwing a switch. The Starwood light is lit!

And it seemed that it was, as concerts and rituals filled the night from the very first. The music was diverse and powerful. I was especially pleased by the Celtic rock of Coyote Run, the hard but melodic sound of Electric Junkyard Gamelon, and the folk multi-instrumentalism of Emerald Frequency, but every act was skilled, original and entertaining. Wisteria offers multiple stages, at the Café and at their Green Man Tavern, providing lunchtime concerts with actual audiences. I predict more music and more diversity than ever at Starwood.

The concert facilities were excellent, as long as it didn’t rain, but blanket-seating under the stars turned out to be delightful. The Starwood crew dressed the stage beautifully. Light, color and sound made the main stage an environment to remember.
Starwood is a menu-driven event. If you want an arts and music event you can make pottery, learn classical table rhythms or belly dance, see bands and participate in jams. If you want an alternative culture event you can learn about modern progressive politics, environmental activism, green living and alternative healing. If you want an occult and Pagan event you can discuss traditional witchcraft, participate in a formal sweat-lodge, attend a druidic fire-sacrifice or learn shamanic vision. Of course the organizers also promote a mix-and-match approach – guests will seldom get a chance to sample a wider variety of ideas and methods.

Starwood has always been a fire-and-drum show, and this turned out to be easy in our new space. Many of the folk of Wisteria are in fact Starwood alumni, and the spirit of the drum is already honored there. While the event offered a nightly fire on the plain, the local culture has built its own circle in a wooded glen. Down in the Paw Paw Patch the fire was hot and so was the drumming and dancing. New drummers mixed with local talent, and every night produced a first-rate fire party.

You may have heard of the Starwood Bonfire. It’s big. Sometimes it’s been really big. The thing is, we realized a few years ago that if we kept making the Fire 10% bigger every year, we’d eventually outgrow any meadow. So we’ve been looking for the right size to be Damned Cool while being actually useful as a party fire. I think we got it right this year. A good crew of Woodbusters came from their customary grounds up north and built us a gorgeous Fire with an amount of wood not so embarrassing to environmentalists… We are very grateful to the Woodbusters. In whatever alien DNA swap spawned them, Starwood is surely one of the parents, and we appreciate those who came to help the old girl (or whatever) out.

L. and I did Closing Circle, balancing and ending the work of the Opening. I’m not usually the spontaneous vision sort, but in the eyes-closed portions of the closing rite I plainly saw a shining pentagram. Now, I haven’t used or worn the pentagram in decades, and this was no after-image. In my occult opinion this was the presence of the Starwood Light, making itself plain. To me this means a successful working, a transplant that will grow, and blossom, and bear.

If you missed it this year, do consider coming next year. It’s a whole new ball game.
Genuine Starwood; accept no substitutes.