Monday, 12 January 2009

More things in heaven and earth

In her prologue in the Canterbury Tales, The Wife of Bath states:

1: Experience, though noon auctoritee
2: Were in this world, is right ynogh for me

and for those who are not familiar with Middle English:

Experience, though no authority
Were in this world, were good enough for me,

She then goes on to relate this statement to marriage in particular and it is clear that Chaucer's purpose here is anti-feminist, albeit very entertaining. I am, however, particularly interested in the claim she makes of the equivalent values of authority and experience, particularly as relating to my last post about academia and personal experience. In many of the posts I read, and there too many to link to, there appeared to be a disdain for certain elements of pagan practice and belief because of a perceived lack of "rigour". I confess that there have been many occasions, and may well in the future, when I have made similar disparaging remarks. I apologise to any I may have offended.

The thing is, I know nothing of spellcraft, for example - never having practised it. Nor, to be frank, have I ever really wanted to- it seems to much like hard work to get it all right. So I have nothing of real value to say about its efficacy. I have, however, a fairly wide experience of ceremony and that has convinced me that it works. Subjective and anecdotal? Yes. By its very nature it must be. I would find it very difficult to devise any meaningful ceremony that would meet laboratory conditions. Nor could I replicate it. Any ceremony is dependent on the conditions of the time - the season, the people present, phase of the moon, the weather, international and local events, personal mood - not to mention the will of the Goddess. Almost an infinity of variables. There is not, thank Goddess, any fixed liturgy yet that can be parroted and mumbled by rote.

I see the inadequacies of this but do not see any way to avoid them. In order to have the possibility of real meaning to all concerned, ceremonies must - as far as I can see - be fluid. A general direction and plan may well be essential but these must always be provisional, ready to be adapted or abandoned in response to need. Not all ceremonies will be equally successful - there are some that I have thought rather lacklustre both facilitated by myself and others. And yet, I have heard others speak of how moved they were by these same ceremonies and how they found hope, courage and comfort within them. Who am I to call them liars?

If this makes me sound hopelessly relativistic, so be it. I have no real problem with this label. In fact, in many ways I rather embrace it. I have found myself returning, over the last couple of days, to a subject with which I was struggling before I abandoned my MA course. It was concerning the pivotal cultural position of Hamlet and I cannot go into the details here because, on the one hand, they never became too clear, and on the other, they are not strictly relevant. But integral to them was the oft-quoted lines from Act 1 Sc 5:

There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy

Another quote has just come into my mind, this time from RD Laing, Politics of Experience, chapter 1

I cannot experience your experience. You cannot experience my experience. We are both invisible men. All men are invisible to one another. Experience used to be called The Soul.

I am not too sure why both these quotes came into my mind at the same time. I think it is because they both pertain to the invisibility of the Soul, of the individual human experience to the scrutiny of others. My beliefs are to a large extent a result of my own, unreplicatable experience. They cannot be measured and neither are they really accessible to reason. Reason can only be a tool in the process of forming belief but never can reason dictate belief because even the conviction that human reason can explain everything is, in itself, a belief.

Philosophy is a wonderful tool - but nowhere near a full answer to the woes of humanity. Most of us do not live in those elevated spheres- whether they be in the academia of today or of ancient Athens - in which the labour was done by others and philosophers had leisure and security to ply their trade. Most of the world does not have that luxury and has to live in a world of unrewarding and unstimulating labour with all the compromises with power that this entails. They live in the world of experience and the irrationality of emotion. And they are prone to be ruled by that emotion. We will never fully understand how it happened but we must never forget that a nation of high intellectual and philosophical calibre - Germany - fell prey to one of the most insane and irrational ideologies to ever hit this planet - with many of the intellectual elite scrambling on board the Nazi runaway train. Perhaps they thought they were immune and therefore rationalised their own irrationality.

It is folly to separate soul (for want of a better metaphor) and brain and then privilege one over the other. The only healthy option is to give each equal consideration. Some individuals, of course, will be naturally inclined to one sphere and some to the other. Both must be honoured. Experience without "authority" is formless, authority without experience, lifeless.

Then, of course, we have to include the body. A tricky factor in this civilisation. And one I will return to again and again


Reg said...

On the understanding that my ignorance precludes me from drawing any implications beyond my actual words, I'm struck by a parallel between the Pagan and the Quaker approach to spirituality, in the room there is for individual "experience" within these belief systems, communities, however their adherents choose to describe them.

So great are these variations, that the outsider is prompted to wonder what it is that unites all these people?
This is a genuine, not a rhetorical, question. Clearly there are commonly held beliefs. I simply wonder where each person's threshold of belonging is.
Where is the balance between our wish for individual expression and our strong human wish to belong to something. In its positive form, we like to feel the presence of other like minded individuals. For the newcomer, there is the feeling that, if others believe this, many of them smarter than I am, I can't be crazy. More important, community often shows humanity at its best. The mob shows humanity at its worst, but I'm being positive this morning. We can draw all kinds of support, emotional and tangible, from fellow members.

I wonder if "experience" represents the individual component, while "authority" represents our desire for community.

On another point, another question.
Concerning the individual's "experience", a friend describes Goddess Energy as "general female energy". Whereas you refer specifically to the "will of the Goddess", as of an individual divine entity, with a "voice", telling you to do certain things.
What are your thoughts on the divine as an individual, and the divine as general spiritual force?
If the individual divinity has real existence for you, is she one among many, or does each person who is aware of her or him have their own version of what is essentially the same thing?

This is almost certainly old ground for you, but not for me.

Thanks for provoking these questions. It's a start.


Brian Charles said...

Thanks Reg

There is a lot in what you have said here that has got me thinking - particularly about the desire for community. I had not thought of it in that way and need to do so for a while before I can respond.

As for your questions, if you don't mind, I will not answer them here but I will do so in a main posting.

Reg said...

Thank you Brian for your positive response. I look forward to future posts.


Dylan said...

You know nothing of spellcraft. I'm disappointed Brian. C'mon, it's never too late to start old man.
My tip is that you can't worry about getting it wrong, you can't get it all right because you don't know everything. This however, does not matter. The known rule is; don't used concentrated and energised will in order to try and harm others, or it shall come back at you threefold. Other than that it's all quite fun really. Like talking to God.
When trying spellcraft for the first time remember that compassion is the wish fulfilling jewel. Also you may wish to mull over the concept of living in a matrix of projected desire. There can be no "right" result. We live by projecting lines of desire onto an already existant mass in varying degrees of flux. The reality we later inhabit is composed of the sum of coinciding lines. Or something like that. I hope I get to the end of that Gauterri and Deleuze book one day.

Brian Charles said...

Thanks Dylan

I suppose I should clarify what I mean by spellcraft and that is the whole business of gathering herbs at the appointed times and mixing them in the appointed ways and then invoking the appropriate beings. I am far too lazy to do all that.

If, however, what it entails is focussing my will and desire and aligning them with the will and desire of Inanna, then,yes, I practise magic and have done so for a long time. And, I think, am getting far, far better at it as I practise.