Religion and re-enchantment

One of the first steps in re-enchantment is to become religious. This is something of a controversial view, so I better define exactly what I mean.

When I refer to religion, I don’t mean belief in some gaseous invertebrate floating in space that will smite you if you don’t believe in Him. I’m also not referring to the practice of turning up at a steepled church every Sunday to mouth a few empty paeans to this same invertebrate, from fear that you might end up somewhere hot and reeking of brimstone for eternity when you die. That’s not religion, it’s just attempting to connect with something bigger than yourself so you don’t get swamped whenever you contemplate your own insignificance in the universe.  You don’t even need a church for that; that sense of belonging is obtainable from your football club, your political affiliation or through your subculture. My homeboy, Carl Jung, dubbed this participation mystique.

17990693_1621802967847099_1409529557685773108_n

It’s not God’s fault. He’s just been going through a lot lately.

At the other end of the spectrum, I’m also not talking about some anaemic new age Source of Light/Love/Unity that can’t be defined or pinned down but gives you a warm uplifting feeling like it’s lab-grade spiritual prozac.

I’m using the word in a very literal sense. The word itself, ‘religion’ comes from the same Latin root as ligature: ligare. Re-ligare: to bind again. Interestingly, the word religion is also cognate with the words rely and liable and is antonymous with negligent. Read into that what you will.

By religion, I mean a personal relationship with the world that is expressed through symbol. In practise, religion is a symbol system built through myth, prayer, ritual and archetype. In this definition, religion represents an individual’s relationship with their own universe. There cannot be one True Religion: in fact there are 7.5 billion true religions! I’m also not saying that there shouldn’t be Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or any other common belief system, but rather that your Christianity should look different from mine and from everybody else’s. It’s natural that there will be some overlap as we inhabit a world where we share common symbols and mythologies. However, my religion is pertinent to me and me only. As is yours.

Religion is:

17904044_1621643011196428_405993460700175037_n

World-creation

Think about it: the universe is vast beyond comprehension. It makes no inherent sense to the rational mind because it cannot be apprehended rationally. I’m not saying that there isn’t an appearance of order; that is different to rationality. Rationality is a human construct and the universe we inhabit is beyond rationality. Therefore we need to apprehend it in an irrational way through symbols like myth, prayer and archetype, which are all manifestations of our irrational unconscious. Religion is a rational response to living in an irrational universe

To make sense of this senselessness, to survive without massive ego loss, one needs to create a symbol system that is personally relevant and meaningful. You could piggy back onto someone else’s, but as I’ve described above that’s not religion. The truly religious person is drawing upon their own experience, their own relationship with the world and their own understanding of it to construct something that is a unique and personal expression. It doesn’t have to be coherent or consistent, just so long as it makes sense and gives meaning to them. Religion empowers you to make your own meaning of the world and not be suckered into someone else’s.

Quotefancy-11025-3840x2160

Poetic Terrorism

In an age of mass-produced culture, eschewing participation mystique and creating your own individual religion is an act of subversion. Participation mystique is a complete abdication of your responsibility to create your own meaning in the world. It’s much more convenient for those with control that you adhere to the religions you’ve been culturally conditioned to, rather than forge your own way. By using their symbol structures you open yourself more readily to control and manipulation.

With your own personal religion, institutional dogma and hierarchies cannot control your belief systems as easily as they can when they’re telling you what to believe and how. In an indiviualistic culture that emphasises shallow cultural role models as a means of dumbing down the population this is almost an imperative. Make your own religion, be your own god!

Finally, it’s poetic because religion is much an aesthetic position as it is a meaning-making one. Religion is ultimately a creative expression of your worldview.

Ecology

Binding yourself to the universe, becoming more attenuated to the world in which you live draws you into a closer relationship with it. Cause and effect become more clear, as does systemic awareness. Environmental awareness begins with knowledge of your place in the ecosystem and a religous practice turbocharges this. That is ecology.

15672800_1495559283804802_2133755280032426149_n

My religion

It’s taken me many years to get to this frame of thinking. I’ve been fascinated by religion since I was young, but grew up an atheist and deep down consider myself agnostic. I have conversed with a god but definitely don’t believe in “God” as a hoary dude or any other thing, although I find some of the gnostic belief systems quite appealing. I’ve long been taken with Grant Morrison’s take on our own divinity, which is essentially a form of gnosticism.

My personal religion is very much a work in progress: a hodgepodge of Thelema, animism, pop Buddhism & Hinduism, Jungian psychology and shamanistic practice. I love mythology, I pray, I’m a massive fan of Liber Resh as a daily practise, I like talking to inaminate things, I carry several of my ancestors as personal allies and I have several other ritual tricks in my kit bag.

Sometimes my religious system is completely contradictory based upon my mood or my desire to avoid falling into fundamentalism. One thing I like about Thelema is that it is left up to the individual to interpret it in anyway that he sees fit without recourse to the ideas of anyone else, which is kind of what I’ve argued here. However, I find that this often feels undercut but the slavish adherence and adoration of Crowley that I’ve witnessed among some of his followers. Participation mystique again. It’s an easy trap to fall into; we all do it in countless ways. Waking up is bloody hard to do!

To wrap up, the point of this essay is that it isn’t what you believe or which entity you believe in or even how you go about doing it. It’s just that you believe in something, no matter how ridiculous, nonsensical or illogical. It’s that you have some kind of symbolic practise and framework that binds you to this world and that you take steps to maintain it.  Finally and most importantly, whatever you  believe please don’t force it upon anyone else. Religion is a private conversation between you and your universe. Enjoy it: it’s for you only!

17952944_1621627584531304_873656158056701155_n

The Re-Enchantment Project

Why re-enchantment?

If you hadn’t noticed, the world is in a pretty messed up state right now. Sea levels are rising, coral reefs are bleaching, species are dying out at unprecedented rates, global temperatures are getting warmer and once in a century weather events are becoming more and more commonplace. Societally, the Western middle class has been hollowed out as the gap between rich and poor widens. The years of peace and prosperity enjoyed by most of the world, and the small gains made by the rest, seem to be evaporating as countries recede into pre-World War One models of isolation and nationalism. For the first time in many years there is a distinct and palpable sense of war in the offing. There are rising tides of xenophobia, intolerance and retreat towards insular, monocultural values.

Capitalism has run its course and people are waking up to the fact that unfettered neo-liberalism has reduced everything in the world, including its inhabitants, into a commodity that can be exploited for the benefit of a few. Our democratic institutions have been hijacked by these self-same neoliberal captains, an elite oligarchy who have gamed the system for their own benefit, who put forward their pet two-bob populists to distract from the real issues affecting the world, while the world’s major religions have been reduced to dogmatic and superstitious slumbers. It feels intractable and as a society, it seems like we lack any relevant or nuanced answers to resolve it.

If all this sounds like a pretty bleak picture, that’s because it is. However, there are also some pretty incredible things happening. Change is happening, but from the ground up.

Communities have realised that solutions will not come from above and are attempting to resolve the world’s problems at a horizontal rather than hierarchical level. Renewable power and storage is taking off at unprecedented rates. Kids riffing from the high-calibre worlds of extreme sports, martial arts and deep meditation are hacking the body and the nervous system to uncover a richness of latent power and ability that humans have only ever dreamt about. We are becoming smarter, stronger and more globally consciousness. AI may be just around the corner. Humanity is on the verge of a massive step in its evolution.

They say that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. I’m not sure that we’ve hit that point yet and have a feeling that things will get a lot worse before they get better. But dawn is there, not far away. It will come.

What is re-enchantment?

The blog’s title comes from Morris Berman’s book The Re-enchantment of the World. It’s an awesome book and highly recommended, one of the forerunners of the Deep Ecology movement. The basic premise is that the Age of Reason and the analytic mind have destroyed our integration with our environment. In the past we considered ourselves part of the world we live in, but with the rise of the scientific mindset we have detached ourselves and rendered the world ‘other’. The animist and spiritualist traditions have been discarded and tarred as superstitions. The lingering magic of existence has been replaced by barren logic, precipitating much of the ecological and societal collapses of the last hundred years. Berman calls for a revival of embedded holistic thinking, to re-enchant the world again.

blog

Chaos always finds its way in

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not anti-reason or scientific progress. The Age of Reason was a very good and necessary thing for humanity to get us out of the Middle Ages and initiate the centuries of accelerating development and prosperity we’ve enjoyed since the Enlightenment and Industrial Ages and up until now. But in promulgating the Age of Reason we threw out the baby with the bathwater. We discarded many old practises as ‘superstitious’ or ‘primitive’. Think of things like the demotion of the midwife in childbirth, the importance of crop rotation, biodiversity and fallow ground in our farming, initiatory practises for young boys and girls and the importance of community in mental health. I’m not trying to suggest that the Middle Ages and prior were idyllic times when humanity lived in perfect harmony with the planet. They weren’t. They were dirty, violent, ignorant and full of disease. However, in discarding the ‘old ways’ in pursuit of progress we haven’t stopped to consider those practises and ideas that might still retain some value for our communities and ourselves.

Rationality is the dominant mindset of our age and has been since Descartes. The mind is hailed as supreme above all else and our bodies are viewed as vehicles to get our brains from point-A to point-B. But there are other ways of thinking, beyond the rational. Magical thinking (or sympathetic magic) is another way of thinking that says thing X can influence thing Y even if there is no apparent connection. If I burn a pyre to the goddess of fertility at the spring equinox then I will have a good harvest this year. Magical thinking sees that if Saturn happens to be travelling through the star sign I was born under then I might be in for a very hard time soon. Magical thinking does not say that my pyre will propitiate the goddess of fertility, but it acknowledges a connection. It looks at correlations rather than causes. It’s not a substitute for rational thinking, it’s just a different way of looking at the world. I wouldn’t use a scientific and rational mindset to understand the meaning behind Picasso’s Guernica, for example, nor would I use art theory to try and determine the molecular weight of a hydrogen atom. Everything has its place and use, magical thinking included. It’s not concerned with truth conditions but whether a thing works or not in practise. It’s all about the result. If it works, despite all logic and evidence to the contrary, then it works.

The funny thing about magical thinking though, the more you use it the higher those correlations stack up. And the more correlations the more connected everything seems. And the more connected everything seems the more you notice the synchronicities between things. And the more you notice the synchronicities…well shit just starts getting weird. The world is magic, enchanted. Voila!

Incidentally, the whole ‘I think therefore I am thing’, has been fundamentally swept into the garbage bin of the Western philosophical canon. Bodies are not vehicles for the minds. The Phenomenologists, led by such thinkers as Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, have shown how we experience the world first in our bodies before information is even conveyed to the mind. So you might almost say that ‘I feel therefore I am’.

b2

So what then?

The point of this blog is to document my experiments in re-enchantment; in myself (body, mind and any non-corporeal bits) and the world I inhabit, through movement, meditation, magical practise, art, story and whatever else I get up to. It’s a work in progress; I come from a strongly rational upbringing and changing my worldview (weltanschuung in German, such an awesome word!) has been a process of unlearning and re-learning. But that also makes it fun. It’s a game! Incidentally, if you’re interested in re-enchantment, watch The Game. Great movie and details a different but equally valid approach to re-enchantment.

With my rational mindset, I also like to see if I can find a logical or science-based explanation that supports what I’m doing and if I can back anything up with data, I will.

As I go along, I may include interviews with fellow re-enchanters, videos and other pieces. Nobody has a monopoly on re-enchantment; it’s an individual process, but hopefully it might inspire others to join the journey.

What makes me qualified?

Nothing, except for being human.

I do have a little experience in the area, however. I’ve been a practising magician for nearly twenty years (although a bit of hedge wizard, to be honest); it’s only in the last few years I’ve really started delving deeper. I’m also a shiatsu therapist, personal counsellor with an interest in family and ancestral ecologies, armchair philosopher, avid fan of dystopian cyberpunk, a tormented football fan and currently engaged to the one of the most wonderful and gorgeous individuals on the planet. I love being in nature and have a large and convoluted family tree, of which I am the oldest sibling in my generation. I can deadlift my own body weight and have a yearning desire to hop into an MMA ring, even though I haven’t thrown a punch in anger in nearly 30 years. Coffee is my last remaining addiction of any substance (pardon the pun) and I am always amenable to gifts of brunch.