Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Goddess of Being

I am grateful to laughing medusa for bringing back to my attention the following quotation from Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor's The Great Cosmic Mother:

To sin, within the patriarchal religious context of Christianity, is to risk being, I.e. within that context, true being can only occur in the renegade spaces outside the established religion, utterly outside and beyond its terms. The Christian dream has already been written, from beginning to end. It says that only one life was worth living, and it’s already been lived, and it was his. The best believers can hope for is an imitation of Christ. Christianity promises to save the human soul; but, in fact, Christianity exists by saving humans from the experience of our own souls. If we will forfeit our own mystical journeys through the world, if we will give up the dangerous adventure of discovering and creating our own consciousness-in-evolution, Christianity will give us, in return; a script about Jesus. And this is the only choice Christian ontology offers: One can spend one’s life risking the sin of being, or one can submit, and spend one’s life following the dead script. (page 343)

I find it hard to follow or expand on this. I have never read anything that so succinctly sums up the huge difference I see between Goddess centred spirituality and traditional patriarchal models. Script is dead as soon as it is written. I attempt here and elsewhere to describe what i have experienced and what I believe but the words cannot do other than approximate. What I can never do is to experience being any other than myself. Nothing I can write can be universally applicable - neither, if I am sane, would I want it to be. I am me and you are you and there is a gulf that cannot be bridged. RD Laing said in Politics of Experience that ( and I apologise for the heavily gendered language, but this was 40 years ago)

"I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another".

I remember reading this book shortly after it was published and being blown away by it. It seemed so clear and so obvious. There was no blueprint for experience- no little black book in which human experience can be classified and explained away. All experience is valid. A liberating thought.

But also a scarey one. As I moved outside the jurisdiction of the world of the dead script, I moved into a world of organic growth in which threat seemed to lurk at every corner. When I made mistakes - and some were huge - there was no place to run to safety - no Mother Church to soothe my fears and dispense forgiveness. I was on my own, Sitting with the sin - which grew and festered.

But this is because somewhere deep within I am still adhering to the script of death and therefore holding myself subject to its ineluctable laws. I am, in short, often afraid to be. To be, simply and wholly, who I am. To own my experience as valid. I am a human be-ing and as such am one aspect of all be-ing. Goddess calls, Inanna calls, me to be as I am and lose all my vestigial adherence to second hand, dead, scripts. Increasingly often, I am successful but then the shame returns and I retreat in fear. For shame still lurks, waiting to trip me up. And it is, I feel, shame that waits to ambush us as we move towards fuller being and send us scuttling back to the shelter of our cave and looking for a dead script to cover our nakedness.

For patriarchy does not wish us to be. It does not wish us to trust our own experience. This is clear as far back as the 14 Century

In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales the very first words of The Wife of Bath are that she holds experience as superior to authority.

"Experience, though noone auctoritee
Were in the world, is right ynogh for me
To speke of wo that is in marriage"

Chaucer was, of course, being ironic and satirical in this portrayal but for satire to exist there must be a target. It seems to me that Chaucer, as a good son of the Church, was here attacking a discourse that was very active in his society and that he saw as threatening to the church. There were indeed threats to the authority of the Church - the Lollards, for example - but Chaucer is not attacking them. His target is a sexually active , financially independent, woman. She is extolling the primacy of experience - the primacy of be-ing. This discourse is what I would now identify as the that of the Goddess- who has been here, although sometimes heavily disguised, all along.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

I'm back online..

..and it was very strange not to be. I didn't know what to do for a bit and then remembered a book I had intended to read for a long time - The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass - and i picked it up and read it and was transported to a very strange but recognisable world for a couple of days. That was good. But it is also good to be back.

I have continued to walk. For a while, the now unaccustomed exertion made me really stiff and it hurt a lot, But now, my body feels looser and more flexible.

I am also at the point when I have to make decisions - always something i hate. For the last year or so it has been becoming increasingly plain that the English teaching that I have been doing to survive is not tenable in the long term. For one thing, the hours - early mornings and late evenings with the time in between taken up either with preparation or sleep - left me with neither time nor energy to write or plan workshops. To put it plainly, I believed that I had come here to do some some specific work for Goddess and that I was simply not doing it.

So, the language schools for whom I have been teaching want to know about my availability and I have to decide what to tell them. A large part of me craves for the security of guaranteed income. I have rent and other stuff to pay and no savings. But another part of me knows that if I do go back to it, then I am unlikely to do much else. This blog itself is a result of the enforced rest of the summer vacation and the creativity and confidence I am feeling is the result of having been able to rest and spend time in meditation and walking. And in writing and planning

What I am trying to find is the trust that Goddess will provide for me. Much of the time I feel it but then the doubts creep in and I am tempted to fill in those forms in order to get work and not become destitute. But if I do go back to that merry-go-round then the point of coming over here may get lost. I came for many reasons, but foremost among them was a belief that I had been called - that there was work I had to do here. But, on the other hand, there is a niggling, doubting voice that tells me that this is pure delusion. And tonight I am feeling insecure. But then again I have not been in the hills today.

Ah, well. I do not have to make the decision tonight. But I will have to very soon.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Computer problems

For some reason I am currently unable to access the internet from home. I am typing this in an internet cafe - not the best environment for thought, so I will not say anything more here.

Hope to be back online very soon

Friday, 22 August 2008

"There is no fool like an old fool"...

... it is said and today i felt that I had proved the truth of this. One of the many wonderful things about living here in Budapest is that within the city boundaries there are the many square kilometres of forested Buda hills. I took me well over a year to discover them- and i would often sit and lament the lack of fresh air, silence and solitude. And even now, i find that i am reluctant to take the effort to go there, as i live on the other side of the river, in Pest. It is not as if it would cost me anything - my monthly season ticket will get me there - but it means one tram two metro lines and a bus. A whole hour each way that i could otherwise spend playing solitaire!!

Thank Goddess that i have stopped listening to the voice of lethargy and started to explore. For 90 minutes i walked today without meeting another human being. And this was on a beautiful summer's day in a city of 0ver 2 million people. I walked and the only sounds I could here were flies and the occasional bird and also the rhythm of ny breath as i reconnected with my body as it sweated with the exertion.

And i realised how much I have been missing contact with the earth - the smells, sights and sounds of the world that I inhabit but know so little of. For example, i did not know the identity of the snake that was on my path. But I did not worry, for to me it was a sign that I was getting on the right path - getting back in contact both with the the land and with my body. At that moment I felt totally at one with all around me. Which did not prevent me, I might add, from ensuring that I presented absolutely no threat. And it moved slowly into the forest. And I continued my walk. And at times, I skipped - singing nonsense syllables as I did. I was in the middle of a 21st century capital city and also in the middle of a forest, with no human sound to be heard. And I felt at one - and knew Goddess was there with me - that She had never left me- for She is in me as I am in Her and there is no true separation

Thursday, 21 August 2008

27,999 people must be wrong - apparently

According to the BBC, the British supermarket chain ASDA, a subsiduary of Walmart, has withdrawn from sale a book for teens by Jacqueline Wilson because of a "four letter word" contained within it. According to the publisher, future editions will have the offending word replaced by the innocuous "twit".

Apparently, ASDA has sold 28000 copies and only received one complaint. Would they withdraw a brand of baked beans on this criterion? I think not. Which leaves me to wonder what the word could be. The BBC, delicately, refuses to tell us, but my guess is that it must be the most taboo word in English - which i am reluctant to even type because- being new to blogging, I fear that prudish minds might flag it. After all, it only took one complaint ot override 28000 satisfied customers.

the word of course is "cunt". Strange that the old english word denoting that organ that gave birth to all of us is considered so vile that teenagers must be protected from it. And of course, it is not as if they do not hear it and/or use it - as an insult, of course not as an anatomical term- everyday.

Life is strange

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

My Country tis of thy people you're dying - Buffy Ste-Marie

While exploring ths new world of blogs, i came across a posting by Cat Chapin-Bishop regarding a recent appeals court decision to allow wastewater to pollute a mountain considered sacred to Native American people. I can think of nothing more appropriate than this song:

The living goddess - until she bleeds

Athana at writes in her blog of her reservations about goddesses such as Kali and Nemesis. I share some of these but depart from her in many ways, which I will not go into here. I may blog in detail about them later for Kali has long been a goddess for whom I have felt a particular reverence.

Anyway, her post got me thinking. I was sent a link some time ago to a news report about the search in Nepal for a living goddess who will embody Kali/Bhavani. I felt very uneasy about this form many reasons. The first was the age of the girl sought. There is no way, I feel, that a girl that young can consent to the extraordinary life she will lead. These feelings are similar to my feelings about the institution of monarchy, particularly in this modern age of media and public prurience, and the lack of freedom that heirs to the throne have to make the normal mistakes of growing up. I do, i confess, have the same strong reservations about the institution of the Dalai Lama, notwithstanding the spiritual and intellectual greatness of the current incumbent.

Then I looked at the text a bit more closely and saw that she can only remain a "goddess" as long as she does not menstruate. And my mind went into overdrive at the implications of this. Kali is anything but prepubescent and is often covered in blood. Around her neck is necklace of severed male heads. To a modern western eye, she seems almost to be the apotheasis of a caricature of a woman with PMT/PMS.

And yet, she is, and must be, embodied in a child. She must be tamed and made safe. She must certainly not bleed - not demonstrate those aspects of femaleness that so terrify men. A client of mine once said, " How can you trust something that bleeds for a week and doesn't die?" It seemed to me that he had articulated something very profound about the male condition - a feeling of powerlessness in the presence of a mystery.

And it is this feeling of powerlessness, I think, that is operating in this tradition. This act of embodying the Goddess in this way is an attempt to neutralise her power. To render her safe and unthreatening

Friday, 15 August 2008

the wonderful leonard cohen

The personal remains political - and vice-versa

For the last few days I have been considering starting another blog, This is because I have felt the need to rant about major political issues. And in these rants, I feared that I would be wandering very far from the “spiritual”. The use of inverted commas is deliberate, simply because I cannot differentiate between spiritual and secular realms. When people are starving, or dying through preventable disease or when armies kill, rape, torture and loot their way through terrorised populations, then it is impossible for me to differentiate between the secular and the sacred. Maybe this is a fault. Certainly I have been told so many times that I should not focus on the negatives but should look at flowers and birds. For it is there where Goddess is,

And they are right. It is, partly through contact with flowers and birds that I have stayed alive to the age of 61 and not succumbed to despair. Even more importantly however, there are those who have loved me, far more than my deserving. They know who they are – as I do – and I cannot name them here. But, however, I am aware that my survival thus far is not solely the result of my actions or virtues but has chiefly depended on the deep love and support that I have received. And was often incapable of returning in the unconditional way it was given.

And the uncomfortable truth is that some of those who offered that love in the past are now dead. And their deaths are directly due to the actions and decisions of others who decided to declare an absurd and unwinnable war on drugs. So, can I withdraw into some pink fluffy la-la land with the reassurance that their deaths are their own responsibility and part of their karmic journey and those people who made the decisions that led to the circumstances in which they died bear no responsibility? I am responsible for the consequences of my own decisions only insofar as I am conscious that I have any choice. As a member of a global elite - a western educated, middle class male – I have considerably more free will than the huge bulk of the population of the planet. To that extent, I bear considerably more responsibility for the way my life has developed – for good or ill – than they do.

What responsibility, however, does the orphaned African child who has inherited her mother’s HIV bear? Or the parents in Georgia over the last few days who have tried to shelter their children from Russian bombs? Or Iraqis? Afghans? Or the people of New Orleans who waited for basic food and water for well over a week in the superdome in a major city in the most powerful and richest nation on the planet? How do they bear responsibility for their plight? The short answer is, they don’t. The hell they inhabit has been inflicted by others in pursuit of the extension of their power and wealth.

I have often been accused of being too angry. I do not know how it is possible not to feel anger at what happens in the world. Anger is the only appropriate response, I would have thought. Human beings are beautiful and sacred and the planet that we inhabit is wonderful and sacred. That is the basis of my belief. All that is, is Goddess. And yet, we are divided and out of harmony and are thus – as a species – pathologically destructive. This state of mind is called, for want of a better word, patriarchy. How, why and when this disease was born, I am not qualified to say although I have a few ideas. This does not matter, however. It is like spending time with a patient with lung cancer trying to determine whether it was through her smoking as a younger woman, her partner’s smoking, car exhausts, faulty genes, some unidentified virus or plain bad luck. In the end, the patient will die unless some intervention is made fairly quickly.

What we are seeing in the world today is the progress of a potentially fatal disease the major symptom of which is that entire categories of human beings are considered dispensable. It is also a world in which, overwhelmingly, divinity is envisioned as male. Absurdly, the birthing of the universe is seen as the function of a male in some sort of cosmic and narcissistic masturbation. The very notion is fundamentally insane. It is therefore unsurprising that the systems of thought that it has spawned are equally insane.

And I do not believe that any are immune from this insanity. Patriarchal thinking has infected all discourse. Any healing however, will not come from some New Age wishful thinking but from a realisation that perhaps the patriarch resides within us all and manifests each time we presume to know what is right for another.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

some thoughts on masculinity

When we were setting up the Goddess Temple in Glastonbury there were numerous occasions when men would stop me in the street and ask me questions – or rather make demands. These would invariably boil down to “Why aren’t you including the god?” To which there was only one answer, which was, “Because it’s a Goddess Tempe. If you want a temple that includes the god, set it up yourself. Nobody is stopping you.” They would talk of balance – that goddess and god reflect the forces of the universe – yin and yang, Siva/Sakti etc. Or it would become Jungian and anima/animus would enter the conversation. However it developed, the conversation would seem to have a sub-text that the exclusion of the male god was a direct insult to them as men. It was as if they felt that I, as a man, was some sort of traitor to my sex. I had gone over to the enemy.

I was reminded of this in a one of the comments to a recent AlterNet article on the de-criminalisation of prostitution. The writer was writing in response to a previous comment in which he felt the woman writer had been disparaging to men by putting quotation marks around such phrases as “male needs”. He then went on to speak about the failure of feminism to address such issues as the unhealthiness of our society’s attitude to sexuality – seeming to imply that there was too much focus on “male-bashing”. While I agreed with many of the other points he raised, I could not agree with him here. In my experience, the desire for a healthy sexuality has been a major focus of feminism from my first exposure to in the late 60s. Of course, what that healthy sexuality might look like has been a question of much, and often heated, dispute.

The protagonists in this debate have been overwhelmingly female and as such were only able to look at male sexuality, particularly heterosexuality, from the outside. And from, literally, the receiving end. All they could see was how men behaved. And they then described this. They described the effects of men’s behaviour on their lives and the lives of other women. They asked that that these things changed. Men, sensing attack, closed ranks in order to resist this. This defensive reaction took various forms. First, there was an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle and turn the clock back to the 1950s. Then, there was what in Britain is called “laddism” – a sort of permanent infantilism built around sport, beer and “men behaving badly” and indulged in this by feisty, but ultimately supportive women. Finally, there was the “Iron John” phenomenon – which gave a sort of intellectual and “spiritual” gloss to laddism. This latter was particularly insidious because while posing as a new way to masculinity it was reaffirming and re-inscribing the gender division of patriarchy. When I first looked at this phenomenon, I was reminded forcibly of what I had seen of my father and his friends in their Rugby Club. Male bonding rituals were nothing new – I had witnessed them as a young child. And I saw then, although of course it seemed natural at the time, how such bonding depended on having a woman to stand and watch them, provide the sandwiches, then , at 8 or 9 o’clock to take the children home to a chorus of “Goodnight Ladies”. Then the serious business of drinking – and, well, sometimes, I’ve heard, there might have been a stripper - began.

I was therefore never tempted to bond in the woods. Although I love being there with others and I like both drumming and hugging. I did not want to look for a new masculinity in the mythology, which had served patriarchy for millennia. It is the fruit of the poison tree.
I am very reluctant, therefore, to enshrine any “god” before we have seriously investigated whether this god merely re-inscribes, in of course appropriately non-sexist language, the old gender stereotypes. Why would I want to? The vast bulk of human experience is, I believe, non-gender specific. We are all born, we all eat, excrete, sleep, we all want comfort, intimacy, shelter, security. We all face death and disease, bereavement and loss. We have, it is to be hoped, our moments of triumph and joy. There is, however, the one unbridgeable gap – reproduction. There is nothing important that I can do that a woman can’t. This cannot be said in reverse and here is the taproot of male insecurity. All we can do is watch as the woman’s belly swells, stand by as the new life emerges and then gaze as the child suckles. Here, my only response can be wonder and awe. Sometimes there is a element of fear and resentment there as well – a sense of exclusion from the really important business of life. The only male blood mystery is combat – I remember my father’s best friend, who was also our GP, saying that a particular rugby match had been very bad because “there was no blood”.

The new masculinity must, therefore, take account of this one major difference and look honestly at our own feelings about it. To the extent that we can never feel a child growing within us, can never give birth and never suckle – although there has been some research, I believe, into the latter – biology is destiny. Freud had it the wrong way round – men’s womb envy is biologically determined whereas the privilege given to the penis is cultural. However we define masculinity, it will not help to insist that a male god is honoured in a goddess temple or that feminism takes account of our sensitivities and women censor what they say from their own experience