We set fire to the kitchen last night.
Metaphorically, I mean.
The conversation started while I was preparing dinner, and it continued on throughout the meal and into the clean-up. I woke up thinking about it, and I feel compelled to share some of it with you, my readers; my community of dig-deepers.
I’m not sure how to tie all of this together just yet, and I feel like some of these ideas may be much more foundational for me than I’m even aware. This may be future book-stuff, to be honest.
Buckle up. I’m about to throw a lot your way.
My friend has reached the conclusion that any theology which is not an embodied theology inevitably leads to fundamentalism. I asked for clarification.
“By ’embodied theology,’ do you mean, any theology which locates the divine in some place other than in our body, in the place we live, in our immediate world?”
I instantly saw what she meant, and agreed. Then, I paused.
But doesn’t this create a problem when we approach our altars or ritual spaces and invoke deity/deities to come into our space? Doesn’t the need for invitation imply that they are not present to start with?
I voiced this concern.
“They’re already there,” my husband stated.
Then why, I wondered, do we use language that implies separateness from the Gods or other spiritual beings? Is that useful? Or, more importantly is it accurate?
(Chew on that.)
There is a conversation happening among some Pagans about the need to make offerings to the Gods in order to win their favor. In essence, I lay some relevant item on my altar and ask that my offering be received, and then — Gods willing — the Gods comply.
My friend framed this as, “Capitalist Theology.”
When she said those words, my mind broke a little.
The idea of reciprocity is very important in ADF as a foundation of right relationship to the Gods. We give as a sign of respect, and to justify our asking. But to assert that in order to get something from the Divine we must first give a gift is very much like saying, “In order to get a paycheck, I must show up at work and do my necessary duties.”
A different idea of theology was offered up as an alternative: Grace Theology.
(If you feel a Christian-language trigger, please recognize that and try to put it aside for a moment. Take “Grace” to represent something broader, and more universally relevant a concept. If you don’t think it is, we can discuss that.)
Rather than work for your blessings, which is an extension of a Capitalist Theology, one simply acknowledges that there is already a great providence in the world, and we are best served (and best able to serve) by creating more space for receiving. The cultivation of our openness and ability to receive is the foundation of a Grace Theology.
(Now, chew on that.)
Here’s the thing — every morning I make offerings at my altar, and I use language that asserts that I’m making these offerings to honor and respect the Gods, Ancestors and Nature Spirits… and to be in good favor with them. The question is, when I’m doing this what is going through my mind?
Do I really think that the Gods need my little thimble of oil? Does the Divine need anything? If I don’t believe that these things offerings and sacrifices are absolutely necessary in order to be on the Gods’ good side, what is the purpose of daily ritual?
The conclusion I reached, somewhere between clearing the table and pacing around the kitchen, was that we do these things to create an awareness about what is happening within us; what is already, always occurring. Everything we do in ritual is (or, perhaps should be) focussed on creating an inner awareness of a spiritual constant (i.e. the presence of the Divine in its various forms).
If I make offerings, I am doing so in order to create the experience of gratitude, respect, and reverence. Making regular offerings is also a way of experiencing my commitment to a personal religion, my commitment to the Gods.
Reciprocity + Grace
There can be a balance, we decided as we sat on the countertop, bellies full, between reciprocity and grace. Reciprocity provides people with an opportunity to experience humility, gratitude, thankfulness. These are all useful human experiences. Grace also teaches a kind of humility, because one must accept that no matter what is given, materially speaking, no gift is really necessary.
There is a tension between these two ideas.
Perhaps — and this is the idea that really set me ablaze — it is the act of holding tension between reciprocity and grace that is the foundation of any genuinely relevant theology.
(All chewed out?)
Get ready to spit it out!
Take the time you need. Think on these ideas for a minute. Think about it over the weekend. Think on them for a lifetime, if you’d like. But, really sit with them. Let them burrow deep.
Then, let’s continue this conversation. Share the conversation with a friend. Take it wherever you feel like it should go. Ask questions! Tell me a parable! Anything!
I can’t wait to read your thoughts.
Argh, I haz no time! I’ll work on this after I get back from work. If I forget, poke me until I say something relevant! *flees*
Looking forward to it, Soneillon.
Okay, so it took me a few days to come back around. I’m gonna strive (fingers crossed) to keep this short.
1) I think the reason we set aside ritual spaces to experience the divine is the same reason we use headphones to listen to music in a crowded airport. We could listen to the music through speakers anywhere, but risk the sound being corrupted and drowned out by the rest of the noise. Setting aside ritual space is basically like clearing away the clutter. Many people have rooms or spaces dedicated only to handicrafts, only to scrapbooking, only to their piano or other instrument of choice, or even to their home theater. The purpose of all these spaces is to shut out distractions and allow us to focus. In my particular case, it’s to shut out a specific five-year-old so mommy can focus. 😉
Why then do we invite the gods into these spaces? I can’t speak for everyone else, but personally, when I enter my altar space I do feel as though the gods are already there. It’s like stepping into a church – it’s a place dedicated to this one kind of energy, so that kind of energy permeates it. But I think calling serves two purposes, the first of which is to get the attention of the forces we are going to be working with, however you name them, and the second of which is to make it clear that while we may have shut everything else out, they are welcome. The Divine exists at every level of the world, in every spinning atom, but an invitation is a spiritual way of saying “This place is just for you and me, it’s special.”
2) This is a tough one. I’m having a hard time pinning down exactly what I believe. My knee-jerk reaction is ‘reciprocity my ass, I’m a Witch. When I do magic, I’m the one who’s doing it. I don’t expect the gods to give me anything I can’t take for myself.’ Personal power and its mate, personal responsibility, were the main reason I got into the Craft in the first place. I was sick of passing the buck on to God and sick of being expected to hand him the reigns. I’m better than that. I deserve credit for both my own gains and my own failures. But, do I believe the gods exist and sometimes take interest in us and choose to nudge the fates one way or another? Yeah, actually, I do. But I believe they’re neither omniscient nor omnipotent, and they do so according to their own ability and their own will. We can ask, certainly, but I think it’s generally better to reach out and claim things for ourselves. You can’t expect a spell to manifest itself in the aether unless you’ve done the mundane work. So usually, when I’m calling a deity’s name, what I’m really trying to do is tug strands of Fate for myself and using a name as a communications short-cut. When I pray to Hermes to let me make a journey swiftly and safely, under the noses of watchful guardians (a.k.a. cops with radar guns), it’s not so much that I expect Hermes to answer and give me things as it is that I’m saying to the universe and my own conscious and subconscious will, “Hey, when I say this name you know exactly what I mean and what I want, so let’s get our intentions vibrating on the same frequency and make it happen”. Between my focus (the prayer) and the sympathetic response, we make it happen.
I think those forces, divine forces, Fate, whatever name you call them by, have their own resonance. I think when we make offerings, we are aligning ourselves with that resonance. We are attempting to give back of the material what has been given of the immaterial. We are exchanging matter for energy. And even if it’s capitalist, even if the intent is similar to a bribe (which it isn’t for everybody, some do it just for the sake of joyful worship or communion), I think the core of the act is one of recognition of the relationship between matter and energy, between the banal and the sacred, the mundane and the Divine. What we pull down, we also lift back up, and in doing so, we increase our familiarity with that resonance and we deepen a spiritual relationship. Which is basically what you said about Altar Talk.
3) Really, I think reciprocity between humans and the gods is all well and good. It sets the basis for a respectful relationship; you get out what you put in. But how and where a person seeks the Divine varies wildly. Some people believe the Divine exists on a higher level, one that we are striving toward. The Divine in this case seeks equality and reaches down to pull us upward. Others believe it’s immanent, as you say, already present in everything, and if we really want to gain wisdom our focus should be at our feet. I think when you par it down to basics it matters very little. Interaction is the point. I think grace comes in when we are powerless and incapable of interaction. That may be my Reformed upbringing talking, but I think when you can’t get to the gods, the gods sometimes deign to come down to you. This is as much a show of good faith as anything. It could even be interpreted as respect. Regardless, my understanding of grace is that it’s compassion we don’t deserve and didn’t earn.
In Buddhism this has been called “Spiritual Materialism” and I think it is pretty fundamental to how we interact with our Dieties, Nature, Creation, or whatever name we give to the spark of Divine we feel we connect with. In the Shamanic community, I have been most struck by teaching that encourages us not to ask our Spirit helpers for what we can get, but to ask for what we can give. A pretty basic turnaround for lots of us.
Thank you for the comment, Emily. How have you found that this practice of turning around the focus toward giving has helped you? What experiences has it led to?
uh-oh, you are asking me to be accountable for my words? I accept your challenge! hmmm. It’s funny because after the last 25 years of raising kids and be so focused on my family, I am ready to focus on ME, and lo and behold, I find that satisfaction comes not in getting but in giving. but wait, I wanted it to be ME ME ME…… the Gods are laughing along with me, I hope. Life is always a balancing act, the idea of Grace vs. Reciprocity doesn’t mean we keep score. Life isn’t fair, and we should be grateful that it’s NOT: just ask the billion of us on this planet who don’t have access to clean water in their daily lives. I do try to work for justice, pay attention to sending kindness into the world daily, keep my word, and ENJOY some CHOCOLATE whenever I can. There’s the balance.
In simple words: We honor the Gods, we ask for what we need, and then give thanks for what we get, even if it was not on that wish list.
I believe that when we give to the Gods, or our Ancestor spirits, it’s not because they actually *need* it, but more that in order to tune ourselves into them better, we need to perform the act of giving. Probably because it’s a learned thing. My personal experience is that the more attention I give the gods in my mind, the more they “talk” to me because I’ve improved my listening skills.
After reading Christian Day’s book, reflecting upon my life and spirituality I realized that if the dead are going to go to all the trouble of reaching out to me the way they have, I needed to do something to honor that. My grandmother’s favorite food before bed was a bowl of corn flakes with some all bran and honey. She also loved feeding birds and hummingbirds, so to honor her I am buying and stocking bird feeders, and when I need to talk to her I’ll be going into trance with a bowl of cornflakes and all the appropriate toppings.
By the same token, I could do something to honor a goddess who loved birds by feeding them, or some other related sacred act in her name. But that’s to tune myself into the energy they represent to me, not to “buy their favor”.
Thank you, Alan. I’m glad that you’re a part of this conversation. And your story about honoring your grandmother? Lovely. I still have my maternal grandmother, but I could imagine myself choosing to honor her in a similar way. That feels very resonant for me.
Your comment echoes something that my friend and I concluded last night, which was that we make offerings (or invoke, for that matter) to initiate a change within us. That is has or does not have some outer effect isn’t really the point. The inner transformation comes first, and must.
Does that line up with what you’re saying?
Yep, pretty much. It’s a help to reach the spirits, I think, not something *they* need. I’m set for how to honor my maternal grandmother and my father, still struggling with how to work on the relationship with my sister though. She *finally* let me know she’s ready, 15 years after she crossed over!
It’s like music – unless you have perfect pitch, you need to hear a note or two to pitch your voice into the right key for the song you’re about to sing. Working with ancestor spirits or deity, our conscious and subconscious minds need the act of sacrifice to stay in the right key to sing the song appropriately 🙂
What an interesting idea, Alan. I’m not sure I would have ever thought of making sacrifices in such a way. I like that. Making sacrifices is a way of creating a tonal framework…
As an unabashed fundamentalist, and the one (compared to ADF) who does not locate the divine outside of us (see Archdruid Corrigan on that, or Archdruid Thomas, who also capitalizes Them), I disagree with the point of entrée. As I have repeatedly disagreed vehemently with the notion of *ghosti, so thoroughly integrated into the core of ADF rituals, I call it what it is, which is not capitalist nor grace theology – it’s magical extortion. Consistently framed as being a practice of honorable hospitality, the very magnitude of what is given and what is expected, displays the truth of the ADF theology: To bring up what I believe you have said before, it isn’t about what you believe, it’s about what you DO, and the core order of ritual DOES something to GET something. No more, no less.
What a fascinating comment, Phoenix Grove. Thank you for being a part of the dialogue.
Could you clarify what it means to you to identify as a fundamentalist? How do you use that word?
You use very strong language in your comment, which I I can respect, and I am curious about what’s beneath that language. Do you feel the CooR is being misused, or that it does not serve a noble purpose? Is there a method by which you honor the Gods that you feel is better? I’d love to open up this subject a bit further, and I value your perspective.
It seems I am unable to post a link, but I have written on all of these questions extensively on my blog at phoenixgrove.wordpress.com
In short, I don’t feel the COoR is at all noble, and I’m a pantheist, not a polytheist, so the whole of the universe is divinity, not this piece and that piece, under any name.
Sorry about that, Phoenix Grove. I appreciate you sharing the link, and I will spend some time with your blog.
I appreciate that this is a subject which is very close to you, and I pick up on how charged it is for you. Let me just say that I appreciate you being willing to share any perspective here, and I hope you remain willing to engage in dialogue with this diverse community of people.
Blessings to you.
That’s nice, but I’d much rather hear about how what you “believe” is relevant, given your previous statements on how what is important is what you are “doing”. It doesn’t seem to me to be fair to try to get credit for both your orthopraxy in The Action of Worship and this. In fact, to quote the very first line of the Wikipedia definition of orthopraxy, it is” a term derived from Greek meaning correct action/activity or an emphasis on conduct, both ethical and liturgical, as opposed to faith or grace etc.” You can’t have it both ways.
Awesome…I LOVE this. Truth is, I have always experienced ritual as a way of further or fully accessing, or aligning myself to, that which is already there. Thank you.
I’m glad to know that the post resonated with you, Coombeshilary. Thank you for being a part of this conversation and sharing your experience!
Blessings to you.
It may be oversimplifying things (and I am not ADF in practice, though I am a member), but I think of the rituals (elaborate or simple) as the equivalent of asking someone to come sit and talk with you, rather than shouting in their general direction across the entire house. Both your and their attention (the former probably the more necessary of the two) become focused on the conversation. It’s only polite. I would do the same for a friend. It’s the least I can do for a god. As for offerings… To me, this is less commerce than an expression of affection and appreciation. Do you have to hug your friend when you meet after a time (however long) apart? No, but they probably appreciate the sentiment if you do. Do you have to take your wife out to dinner for your anniversary in order to maintain a marriage? No, but if you do, she will probably appreciate that you took the time and trouble.
I like the way you think about rituals, Lace, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Have you found that this relational approach to the Gods leads to a deeper awareness of their presence? Does it change the way you experience your practice in a tangible sense?
Teo, my gods are with me constantly. They are part of me. I feel much the same about my closest friends, who are like family to me. Reaching out to a friend might take a phone call, or calling across the room. Reaching out to the gods is, for me, as simple as a mental turn in attention. As a result, most of the time I don’t feel the need for physical ritual. But just like you might schedule time to spend with a close friend you talk to all the time, when I feel more is needed than a passing hug or brief conversation, I will do ritual, formal or otherwise. Even sitting under a tree or on the beach is most often ritual enough for me. And if I feel more is needed, I do it. But then I’m solitary by both nature and practice. Someone more in need of close community would likely not find my way fulfilling in the long run, but it works for me.
“Why do we use language that implies separateness from the Gods or other spiritual beings?” Because that’s how we experience Life. Separation may ultimately be an illusion (and I tend to think it is), but we live as individuals. I find it easier and more effective to work on reconnecting than to try to convince myself that there is no separation. And when I do that “connectivity” work regularly and diligently, I find myself experiencing more Unity and less Separateness.
Religious reciprocity isn’t quid pro quo capitalism. When we receive in love our natural impulse is to reciprocate and give in love. The problem with simply creating more room for receiving is that it ignores the desire to give and the necessity of giving. Our ritual offerings affirm the sacred order of things: we receive and we give and in the exchange we all become more than we were.
And you explained this very well with “Altar Talk”.
Reciprocity forms the foundation of sacred exchange. Grace is the humble acceptance of the reality that none of us are self-sufficient – we all have needs that must be met by others.
And that brings us back to the illusion of separation and the need to affirm our interconnectedness.
Good concepts, well presented – thanks, Teo.
Thanks for the comment, John. Glad to see you here again.
I’m not sure I agree with the statement, “The problem with simply creating more room for receiving is that is ignores the desire to give and the necessity of giving.” Something about that feels binary to me, as though to create the space for receiving is done in a vacuum. Knowing my friend, I don’t see this to be true. I think the idea that she was getting at (and she could probably speak to it better than I were she involved in this particular dialogue) was that creating the space for receiving is a sensible response to the abundance that is already offered to us. I don’t see that this act is done in ignorance of the need to give.
Does that make sense?
I hear you, Teo, and having not been present at the conversation I may be taking your summary in a way not supported by the larger discussion. But I don’t see giving/receiving as a binary either/or thing. I see it as two parts of the same process: both sides of a balance scale. Perhaps a better metaphor would be feeder streams flowing into a lake and a river flowing out of it.
I don’t know your friend – you describe her as a generous, thoughtful person who understands the need to give as well as to receive. There are many who aren’t so thoughtful and who think it’s the Universe’s job to give them more and more stuff.
That’s why I think it’s necessary to emphasize the need to make offerings and sacrifices: not only is it a polite way to treat your most honored guests, it affirms that we need to give and we need to receive.
I think that people forget to be grateful for all that they have, and making offerings to the gods and spirits is a way to express our gratitude. I do like the idea of asking the kindreds to give us the abilty to help others. I don’t see offerings as any kind of spiritual blackmail. I think we do hold the essence of the gods within us, and offerings, and prayers, and focused intent are all means of communicating, and being able to hear their voice. I do think it is a way to develop a realtionship with them, and that like showing hospitality to dear friends , it makes us grow closer. Why do we make a fine meal for a friend? Because we love and care about them, not because they buy us great birthday presents.
Thank you, Niniann, for commenting. I’m glad that you’re a part of this conversation.
I love that you introduce the idea of asking for assistance in giving assistance. That’s something I haven’t heard in the conversation as of yet. Is this something you have experience with? Have you found that these request led to you being more capable of offering help to those in your life?
I do think people need to be grateful for all that they have, and offerings are one way to show our gratitude to the gods and spirits. I also like the idea of asking to have the ability to help others more. I believe the essence of the gods is within us, and making offerings, prayers, and rituals, are all ways to be able to better hear their voices so we can become wiser. I do not think offerings are a form of spiritual blackmail. I think that offerings are like the hospitality of cooking a fine meal for a dear friend so we can spend time together. We offer good food to a friend because we love them, not because they buy us nice birthday presents.
I don’t see *ghosti as a capitalist exchange. Capitalism uses a representation (money) to assign a particular value to things/services/etc. Money can be used to exchange for anything, and you do not have to “want” me to have that shirt I want to buy. You just have to want the money I’m willing to part with to purchase that shirt from you.
On the other hand, *ghosti is more about giving a gift you believe the recipient will like. In my experience and observation, people who “demand” a specific reciprocal “gift” from the Kindreds is more likely to be disappointed than someone who gives something in offering & worship with a hope of inspiring the recipient to give something of “some” value in return. I do see a huge difference between “demanding” (such as Ceremonial Magic appears to do) and giving freely with a hope of reciprocity (as in good ADF rituals). To me, Ceremonial Magic looks like Capitalist Theology, whereas *ghosti is about exchanging gifts that are freely, thoughtfully given.
In terms of hospitality, I can invite you to my house and offer you dinner. You may choose to bring a bottle of wine, or a dessert or flowers, but it is entirely your choice what to bring if anything. If you are a thoughtful guest, you will choose something you think I will like. And it’s the intent & attitude that counts between good guests/hosts. Hospitality and *ghosti is about both the host AND guest relationship and responsibilities to that relationship. It creates the type of relationship you mutually desire.
Sometimes the choices are inappropriate — and in those instances, the guest and host have the responsibility of informing the other politely if it is necessary. For instance, a “good” guest who was vegetarian would politely decline your offer of chicken, yet be satisfied to eat your salad, potatoes and other non-meat offerings. And the next time you invited the vegetarian to dinner, you as a good host would offer more vegetarian-friendly choices if you wish to further the relationship.
I see the Deities receiving our offerings as akin to parents receiving presents from their children. As children grow up, they become more aware and thoughtful of the presents they choose; but that does not diminish the preciousness of the 3yo’s art project made and given with love. It just changes the relationship between parent and emerging adult. I see the intent and “energy” given in the offering to Deities as being important to Them — if we listen to what They want, we can develop our relationships more fully and thereby increase Their influence in our lives.
Thank you, Serendipity, for taking the time to comment. I’m glad that your were willing to share your ideas on this subject.
I see what you’re saying about ghosti. My question is: how much of our conception of the Kindred is being informed by our own cultural conditioning? You and I may have a conversation about dinner customs or gift-giving, and we may understand one another on account of having been raised in fairly similar cultural conditions (an assumption I’m making, but follow me for a moment), but for someone with a completely different cultural framework these things may be completely foreign. So, when we seek to ascribe out cultural practices onto something ethereal, divine, *other*, I wonder how much of what we’re seeing is a reflection of ourselves, and how much is actually true about the Gods.
Does that make sense? Can you see what I’m getting at?
Thinking about it, I think I would have an easier time with the idea of approaching the Gods with a practice that is familiar or respectful to me (like bringing a bottle of wine to dinner) for no other reason but for that it is something I do, as a human, and that it is relevant to me. Removing from the equation any presumption about what the Gods might like feels more valid. For, how can I know? Better to be respectful as I know how, simply because that’s all I can offer.
Again, does that make sense?
Thank you for writing such an inspiring comment!
For me, ‘ritual’ is simply a human/planet-bound framework to engage in a non-human/multiversal endeavor. It creates and temporarily holds a non-temporal and mutually safe ‘bubble-space’ where our particular minds/souls can commune and interact. Done in a consistent manner, ritual builds and continues a relationship that is beneficial for both us, and the entities addressed.
Thank you for sharing this perspective, Sunfell. I’m grateful that you’re a part of the dialogue.
Tell us — how did you come to this awareness about ritual. There is something about your language that feels both scientific and mystical, and I wonder if there’s something more to that.
Hmm, I hate to be the odd man out, but I actually think there’s a flaw here. I really think that gods and spirits need us. I think they’re better off when we give them offerings. They’re not all powerful, all knowing creatures. Especially the smaller spirits I work with truly seem to appreciate and “eat” the offerings I give to them.
Years before I joined ADF or heard of anyone giving offerings to anything, I did trancework and worked with spirits who specifically asked me for offerings of tobacco. It freaked me out a little, but years later when I was introduced to ADF I specifically was interested because they gave offerings. It’s not capitalism to feed a friend.
At the same time I absolutely agree with you that embodied theology is essential. My logical conclusion is that if what you say here is true:
“By ‘embodied theology,’ do you mean, any theology which locates the divine in some place other than in our body, in the place we live, in our immediate world?”
then the offering that I gave is truly sacred and important. For me the question is not if offerings are polite check for services but if the offerings that we give are truly embodied in the land, how do we give offerings that feed the spirits effectively? Are factory manufactured offerings as good as something grown locally? How do we embody our religion in the land and our own physical selves effectively?
I love that you posted this, Melissa. Thank you for taking a stand and speaking your perspective.
I wonder if you’d be open to exploring why the Gods and Spirits need us. I’m reminded of the complicated ecosystems in forests and jungles, and the inevitable interdependence of the largest and smallest things. When you think of the *need*, are you thinking of that kind of interdependence?
I also love that you draw attention to the kinds of offerings that we make, and I’d like to take that a step further. Could you conceive of an affective offering as being nothing more than true, genuine sincerity of heart or mind? Would an honest commitment or expression of devotion be a worthy enough offering, do you think?
I like the idea of thinking of our spiritual relationships in terms of ecosystems. I could see having different sorts of relationships with different Beings. Some might be more symbiotic, some less so. I imagine here the relationship between a bird and a tree. The tree gives food and shelter to a bird and we don’t immediately see what a bird would do for a tree until we explore the larger complex of relationships and how the bird distributes seeds that support the larger community, provides information for other animals through it’s behavior, really all sorts of things.
It seems to me that the spiritual ecosystem is so complex that it is difficult to untangle the relationships there as well. One of the reasons that I am convinced that looking to what the ancient pagans did is worthwhile is that they were forced to be in relationship with their physical and spiritual ecosystems in order to survive. We are buffered by our modern conveniences. We don’t have to know how to keep a fire going through the night to keep warm. We don’t have to know how to hunt or farm, or provide food directly from the land somehow, and I’m not sure that knowing how to work in a modern office provides similar insight into the ecosystem.
As for offerings, I think it is possible that an honest commitment or expression of devotion would be a worthy offering, but only if it was followed through with real, physical, worldly action. We like to play games in our head, but it seems to me that if it never leaves your head, if it’s all just a thought or an idea that it has very little real meaning. By committing to something, the implication is that there is a plan, an action, involved. If that commitment leads to change in the real world, then that change is the offering as well. I think that is worthy.
Well, let’s see:
* I absolutely believe that the gods and spirits have some real existence outside of my own head;
* I absolutely do not believe that this will always lead to fundamentalism, and ask – no, defy – your friend to prove otherwise;
* I absolutely reject that spiritual work is only valid for the effects it has on you personally (or as I call it, “masturbation theology”);
* I absolutely reject that *ghosti- is capitalism. Barter, maybe. But I see it far more as Steph and Mel have already posted. It’s about establishing and maintaining relationships with the spirits for both your benefit and theirs.
* And I reject grace theology to the extent that it can let you think you deserve something good from the spirits just because you’ve done some navel-gazing and called it meaningful. *Ghosti- means I’m always striving to do good works on behalf of the gods as an integral part of my practice. I’d rather be a bad person who does good things than a good person who does nothing.
Other than that, great meal. Sorry I had to spit most of it into the napkin. >8)
Thanks for the comment, Rob. Let me see if I can sort through what you spit up. 🙂
* I think that embodied spirituality may not be mutually exclusive with the idea of the Gods & Sprits existing outside of one’s head. I don’t think this binary, although I’m not sure I can explain exactly how it isn’t.
* I wonder if you could see a connection between a “disembodied theology” and legalism.
* While I smirk at your term, I don’t think it’s accurate at describing the idea my friend was exploring, or certainly what she practices. I’ve actually never known anyone who is more engaged and active at being in the world, making positive change, and holding herself (and everyone else) accountable for who they are and what they do. There is actually a very close relationship between her sense of space-making and her practice of action in the world. And, while she isn’t actually on trial here, I think it is valuable to point that out in order to affirm that there isn’t a complete misunderstanding about her character and ethic.
* How do you see *ghosti benefiting the Kindred? I ask with complete sincerity — I would like to know more about how you see that. I really like what Mel said about that, and I’d like to know if you could contribute to that conversation.
* Do you feel as though being alive (with all of its navel-gazing) is enough to be worthy of the bounty of the world, or do you feel that the world is earned? Is that a navel-gazing question? 🙂
*”I’d rather be a bad person who does good things than a good person who does nothing.” — Preach. I can dig that, and I believe that about you.
I really appreciated your comment, Rob. I hope you’re open to some more dialogue around this.
Sure, why not, I can’t get to sleep after watching all that basketball anyway. >8)
I actually do think that the gods exist in our heads to some extent, just not entirely. When I saw the quote about “any theology which locates the divine in some place other than in our body”, I thought it was reflecting the more narrow view, and I may well have misinterpreted it. Apologies if so. Despite my being a computer programmer, I seldom think of anything outside a computer as strictly binary, honest.
Not sure how you mean “legalism” here, so I won’t try to guess at this hour.
It’s good that your friend is active in the “real world”, and I don’t think spiritual navel-gazing necessarily makes people that way, but it sure feels to me like it could encourage it. I’d rather encourage a spirituality that celebrates interaction with others as a central part of is practice. It’s certainly worked better for me since I joined ADF than the passive pantheism that I so desperately tried to believe in my early Pagan days, because that’s what I thought being a Pagan required. (And apparently some of your readers think I’m super-evil for rejecting, based on how much verbiage they direct against ADF Clergy on their own blog. >8)
I’m in agreement with Mel (maybe it’s a Michigan thing?), and have been for years, about the gods and spirits needing us as much as we need them. If they do exist (as I believe) but are not omnipotent or omniscient or even omnipresent (which I also believe), then their ability to affect the world is limited. They can inspire us, and maybe plant ideas or emotions in our heads, but only we can turn that into real-world effects. I don’t think Athena herself can weave a tapestry or protect a city from invaders or make olive oil, but she can help us do any of those things. “In league with Athena, put your own hand to work”, as the Ancients said, so we honor her (and I think strengthen her as well) in the doing, and she honors us with the inspiration it takes to do it and the satisfaction of having done it well. (Egads, I’m getting dangerously close to that theoretical “Pagan Work Ethic”, aren’t I?) And so with the other gods and spirits.
And I’ve never felt that simply existing was a worthy thing in and of itself. Love and respect need to be earned, IMHO. Which no doubt shapes my views of deity and practice.
I’m not done chewing, but lemme throw a few quick thoughts out there while I’m working on it:
You say: “Then why, I wondered, do we use language that implies separateness from the Gods or other spiritual beings? Is that useful? Or, more importantly is it accurate?” I wonder why you point out accuracy as being more important than usefulness when you go on to basically make the opposite point about your daily offerings. That the image of an exchange of equal value is illusory, but useful… It stood out to me that you would phrase things like that. I think, and again, I’m not done with my thinking, but my first reaction is that the accuracy of our language is less important than its purpose.
Secondly, I think your friend is on to something regarding embodied theology and fundamentalism. I hadn’t given it much thought, but a cursory look over my personal religious history shows an inverse correspondence between degree of embodiment and, I guess, tendency toward fundamentalism (for lack of a better way to describe it). I started in an unabashedly fundamentalist protestantism which is so disembodied it’s practically manichean. I moved to Catholicism which is fundamentalist at the top of the hierarchy, but much less so among everyday folk, and which has a strong sense of embodiment in the sacramental worldview, and a much less pronounced strain of “world=evil”, from there I, of course, fell into the modern pagan community which is highly embodied and pretty unfundamentalist. So while I haven’t had much opportunity yet to think about WHY, I’d have to say I do see the pattern holding in my own life anyway.
Thirdly, and again, I need to process this more, but I do see the offerings and reverence we give to the gods as something they need in some sense or other. I am not worshipping an omnipotent, omniscient, omniwhatever Jehovah-type-god, but a pantheon who have rather visibly fallible moments. They are greater than I am, but they’re not so… unreal… that they can’t benefit from their relationship with their worshippers. A being that doesn’t need anything and can’t be affected by anything can’t enter into a reciprocal relationship, I don’t think.
Those were some “quick thoughts” huh?
This is great, WhiteBirch. Thank you for sharing do much about your personal experience.
The conclusion that “the accuracy of our language is less important than its purpose” was one reached during our dinner discussion. I have some reservations about that still. I’m curious about how the idea sits with you.
I look forward to any further revelations that surface after you sit with these ideas a little longer!
I think you have to place ghosti in its proper context in history and the human experience.
As Charles Eisenstein points out in his excellent and mind-bending book, Sacred Economics, barter is not the basis of human economics, but rather, gifting. Barter was used only for trivial exchanges, and with untrusted strangers. Most ancient communities were held together with gifts.
I’m chewing a very tough meal at the moment, trying to grasp the magnitude of how this works, because it is so foreign to our modern Capitalist miserliness. Let me see if I can get the idea across. Let’s say I have food, but I’m not starving at the moment. Let’s say you have no food, and you are hungry. In a gift-economy, I give you all my food. “But what about tomorrow?” you might think. Well, tomorrow, you will have food, and you will give me whatever I need since I no longer have the food.
What is key to gift economies is trust, and where it is placed. Think of the tightest of family bonds. Think of a tribe (or neighborhood gang) of blood-brothers. Think of a squad or platoon of soldiers in combat. Think of any close-knit community in which wealth is measured by the well-being of all members of the community, not the ostentation of certain members of the community.
Gifting binds communities together. It nurtures reciprocal trust. As it plays out over time, it confirms, again and again, that others “have your back.” And it creates a binding upon you, that you will “have their backs.”
Our money-based cultures — they are old, but they are not ancient — do not honor the gift. They have, rather, trivialized it. A child’s toy. A box of chocolate. Flowers. A word-cheap “God bless you.” The true gift is a bond of trust that says when you have need, others will come to your aid. If your need is great, they will give deeply. They will give everything they have.
That has nothing to do with a box of chocolates.
My understanding is that money-based economies — advanced barter economies — arose out of the need to deal extensively and non-trivially with people you have no reason to trust. They are in fact founded upon distrust, and their primary goal is to sever the bond of obligation the instant the transaction is complete. I have your potatoes, you have my money. We’re done. I don’t owe you anything more, and you owe me nothing. And by the way, these potatoes are small and wrinkly, tomorrow I’m going to buy from your neighbor (your competitor) — and you can starve. Or eat your own damn wrinkly potatoes. You didn’t serve your clientele properly. Your product is shoddy. Your service stinks. You don’t deserve anything from me: we have no bond.
I’m new to this concept of a gift-economy, and it’s slowly blowing my mind. It seems obvious to me that this is the correct context in which to understand “ghosti,” but I’m finding the meat tough (if extremely flavorful.)
One thing that’s obvious is that you can’t give a gift — a real gift — to someone or something that has no needs. There can be no reciprocity, and therefore, no trust.
So rule one: stay away from “omnipotent” gods. The only need you could possibly feed is a bottomless need in proportion to their “omnipotence,” like (for instance) an insatiable megalomania. Since the need is bottomless, your finite gift is worthless.
Rule two would be that, to “gift” to a deity, you must know the needs of that deity. You have to “get their back” in a way that is meaningful to them. If they have no needs — or if you don’t understand their needs — you are merely currying for favors. You are begging. You might get a few coins or bread crusts — if that’s what you want, well done. You might also get kicked.
It’s late and I’m starting to free-associate.
The purpose of the gift is to meet a need. To claim “tribeship” with the deity. The expectation is not largess, but reciprocity. Betrayal is possible — it takes time to develop trust, and not all people — not all deities — are trustworthy. If they break trust, you abandon them. If you break trust, they abandon you.
The movie “Joe’s Apartment” — meeting the needs of the cockroach hive-mind, and in return, kicking the bad guy’s ass and getting the girl. Reciprocity.
Marta’s grandfather, who walked across a Colombian mudslide to get her antibiotics that saved her life when she was a small child. That was a gift. Did Marta ever “repay” him? Unlikely. But she’s repaid — and continues to repay — his son (her father.) Her own sons. My sons. There’s no “accounting” package that measures when she’s paid “enough.” The very concept is insulting, appalling, disgusting.
Triage. Sometimes, the community has to abandon some of its members. A platoon has to leave a man behind. The elders have to follow the ice floe into the ocean. Though sometimes, the tribe decides to stand together to the bitter end, making it a race where the goal is to all cross the finish line at the same time — no one left behind, even if we have to pick up our comrades and carry them. Sam and Frodo at the Cracks of Doom.
Carrying the bleeding, broken carcass of your god back to his or her place of power. To recover. Or to die in peace. Is this to curry favor? Quid pro quo? Capitalist Theology?
I think not.
It’s taken a couple of days for me to comment, since I’m not quite sure if my comments are what you’ll be looking for, but, well, I’ll throw it out here for your consideration:
I’m in seminary right now, and two of the classes I’m taking are Christian Worship and Christian History (I go to a very progressive seminary in Berkeley, CA). What’s interesting about your post is that these are the very same topics we are discussing in both classes:
What does it mean to love [deity] body and soul?
Is faith in [deity] the only requirement, or are good works/offerings/observances important too? (And OMG the Reformation…but that’s a whole other conversation…)
What is the nature of divinity?
Do we embody the divine, or is it out there “somewhere”?
Being the syncretist that I am, I think the answers come from many places, and from ourselves. I’ve been finding as much to think about reading Luther as I did with Starhawk. I’m finding that the ideas of theology that you bring up here are ideas that people have thought of since the idea of deity came to be.
And, weirdly, I find that comforting.
(Ok, this kind of rambled, and I hope it had a point in there…mind is kind of in that middle space these days…)
Gina – I’m so grateful that you took the time to comment. Yes, these thoughts are what I’m looking for, in that I’m always looking for people to respond with what feels most relevant and meaningful to them. Your words are always welcome here.
I love that this is a discussion being held in seminary classrooms. I’m glad for that. The timing of it happening there *and* here seems a bit magical.
I, too, find the syncretism to be a bit conforming. If can also be confusing, but only when I’m grasping for something solid and reliable. Currently (and perhaps because it is Spring) I feel less inclined to have everything make perfect sense. I’m happy for the growth and movement.
Needless to say, your comment brought a smile to my face. Thank you for being a part of this conversation here.
I think that we and the Gods have a reciprocal relationship to some extent. If no one believes in them, no one has faith, do they survive? Do they weaken?
They are out there, they are everywhere, but I do believe that our altars, our gifts and offerings to them sustain them, give them more heft. I believe that they do sort of “feed” on our offerings, which are a sign of our faith and belief.
I love the questions you present, Mrs. B. As imaginative exercises, these are how I like to approach my religion. I like to wonder about that which is very difficult (if possible) to know. Why, I’m not completely sure, but it works for me.
You put “feed” in quotations. When you think of the Gods feeding, do you see that as a metaphoric exchange? Do you feel like there is some sort of spiritual exchange that is *like* feeding, or do you believe that the Gods need us to stay alive (as in “American Gods”)?
Would someone mind tossing out a definition of “ghosti”? I’m strongly suspecting it’s an ADF term that describes some kind of sacred hospitality, but I’m not sure I’m right, and I’m totally missing the nuances…
It’s a Proto-Indo-European term, but we in ADF use it frequently. Borrowing from the article at http://www.adf.org/articles/cosmology/nine-tenets.html because Michael is a better writer than I am:
Druidic ritual is centered around our understanding of hospitality in the Indo-European world. It rests on the idea of *ghos-ti-,
which is a Proto-Indo-European word that exemplifies the idea of
reciprocity and the guest-host relationship within an IE cosmos. What we
do in ritual informs what we do in our mundane lives, as well, and we
seek to exemplify this reciprocal ideal in all our relationships.
Hospitality has two sides: the good host and the gracious guest. A
good host ensures that his guest is appropriately treated, and the
gracious guest ensures the he does not overburden the host. Both guest
and host are responsible for the maintenance of the relationship.
Our relationship with the Kindreds is one of reciprocity, much like
the friends at the dinner table, or the guest and the host. This is an
ancient feeling, and can be seen even in the Rgveda, where Agni (the
fire) is described as drawing the folk together as a guest draws
together the family that hosts him at their hearth.
Implicit in this relationship is the idea that we can form
relationships with the Kindreds: the gods and goddesses, the spirits of
nature, and the ancestors are all interested and willing to form these
sorts of bonds. Because of this, we seek to form these bonds in any way
we can: through offerings of praise which come from our deepest hearts,
offerings of work we have toiled over with our hands, and thinking on
them and turning to them when times become difficult.
We know that the Kindreds find joy in these relationships and wish to
enter into them just as we do. To that end, we work hard to enliven
this reciprocity with word and deed.
Thank you. And I didn’t mean to imply it was a made up thing, if it came across that way. Just an unfamiliar term needs a bit of explanation.
I don’t believe they made it up. It’s a reconstructed word (not attested to by anything except the existence of known words, indicated by the *), for which the actual definition is a reciprocal obligation. Basically, if I give you something, you are obligated to give me something in return.
I’ve got a LOT of thoughts on this. Definitely a good topic to chew on…It’ll be a little bit before I’m sufficiently ready to unpack it all, and I feel it’ll be a quite long post, but again, a very interesting topic.
Definitely some interesting topics. I had a lot of gut reactions that I decided to jot down at my little personal blog. As an adjective discovering eclectic Pagan (pantheist, animist, bitheistic, solitary, etc) I realize the difference in meaning this post may have for those of a more specific set of practices/traditions/rituals or even group/coven/hierarchy-based mind-sets. I can see where some of these questionings may be even more challenging there.
I do feel I got a little lost when it came to reciprocity and grace, but I do really like the idea of relevant theology and would suggest the idea that maybe it isn’t only between reciprocity and grace, but one’s own personal tensions that help to build a balance while relevant theology is a constant that is always kept in motion by trying to maintain that balance. As for these ideas in relation to my own beliefs, if you feel like reading it here
http://thepaperwitch.blogspot.com/2012/03/taking-bite.html feel free.
[…] post here. Yeah, I’m blog trolling again. […]
As promised, here’s the response I have; I haven’t read any of the comments yet, but I’ll get to that as I can.
No offense, but your blog is incredibly hard for me to read. Dark grey script on a black background does NOT work well once the eyes start to go. *sigh*
That being said, I found it to be an excellent post. Thank you.
I think the inviting them and the alter is more in the idea of having a really nice meal with the family. Everyone is already there, but it takes time for everyone to get dressed up, the room cleaned and decorated, and the food ready to eat. It’s more saying “I’ve finally got everything ready, so let’s sit down and eat now.” It’s a way to signify this a special (for what ever reason). As for the offerings…well I don’t believe they need it, but I know when I ask a big favor of a friend I like to get a small token of thanks for them (something small or even just a thank you note). It’s not payment, and they don’t expect it, but it’s just me. It’s more “good manners” than a requirement.
Reciprocal giving relationships are common in people and in other animals, too. But they’re different than business transactions! This is why people reward their friends for helping them move with pizza, beer, and effusive thanks rather than just giving them a check.
The author Dan Ariely wrote about this with actual psychology studies in his book, “Predictably Irrational.” Definitely worth reading if you are interested in this subject.
To me, the Gods are actual people. They are individual personalities with their own desires, motivations, and preferences. If I want their help in something, then yes, absolutely I’m going to offer them something. Why wouldn’t I?
I don’t subscribe to the theory that God/Gods want us to be happy and prosperous, and all we have to do is make room for us to receive those blessings and perceive the Divine acting in our lives. That’s tremendously similar to the prosperity gospel of Evangelical Christianity, and I’ve already had enough of that 😛
As far as ritual space goes, I agree with your husband. When I go to do ritual, I don’t go into “my” ritual space–I go to an area I have that is set aside for the Gods. I’m going into “Their” space (the area around my altar I consider temple-space, and as such, it’s not my ground, it’s Theirs). I believe that the Gods also manifest in nature, and I can find Them out in the world, but regarding the altar, I’m specifically approaching Them on Their turf.
A small point of a terminological nature, Teo. You said you have an altar, and that you call your gods into the space. If that is the case, then they’re not there to begin with–our gods are not omnipresent, nor do they need to be to be effective or truly divine; they can respond pretty darn quickly, though, when called upon, as you recently discovered with Manannán! There’s nothing wrong with having an altar and to the practice of calling particular gods into your ritual space.
If you have a shrine, on the other hand, in which the gods (or, rather, particular gods–as I have yet to encounter an “all-gods” space that really was or that really worked…) inhabit the space at all times, then there’s no need to call them in, there’s only need to commune with them in that space which you have made for them as their (semi-) permanent home.
And, giving them that shrine space and enshrining them in particular images, icons, objects, etc. would go a long way to giving you a proper embodied theological situation.
As for the matter of “grace” and offerings: the do ut des/kharis and reciprocity model certainly makes a lot of sense; but, I do question whether the gods really do need certain things, like food offerings, for example. Yes, it shows that you have abundance, and you are extending them hospitality as you would do to any human for whom you did likewise; however, how often do you give the gods a full plate of food as if they were humans, and do so several times a day? I’m guessing rarely, if ever. So, that suggests that, at least for modern pagans, food offerings are not quite as important as they may have been in the past, other than as tokens of the ability to share abundance–or, what we would call in many situations “conspicuous consumption,” and it doesn’t have to be a lavish feast to be conspicuous consumption. If you were hurting financially, you probably wouldn’t be able to spare them as much food, etc. Again, nothing wrong with doing that (and there’s always the option of consuming the food afterward yourself, which has been the norm in Egyptian culture, as well as Hinduism and Shinto, both of which have been doing polytheism uninterrupted for thousands of years), but what do the gods really get from being “fed” in that way? If you give them a more permanent shrine space, however, that is a physical thing that remains and that will always be theirs, rather than food (in whatever amount) or alcohol that may get offered, but is then thrown out, or consumed by someone/something else (down the foodchain, perhaps).
There’s a text from the Osychynchus Papyri, that is part of an aretalogy (I can’t remember for which deity), that says that an offering of food or incense is temporary and fleeting, but an offering of words, for example, is a permanent gift that renews itself in memory every time it is recited. Being that in the last few years, I’ve often not been able to afford food (or candles or incense, etc.), but I can write poetry at any point, I’ve found that the gods are pretty happy with that–and, in fact, have recently said “You need to ask for more from us! You do so much for us, we’d like to help you more…” That’s nice to know, certainly! 😉