Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Holy S**t, or Finding the Divine in Unlikely Places

In the comments to my earlier post on Imperial Deities and Familiar Spirits, Mad Fishmonger (who earlier wrote a very thoughtful response to my post on Heresies and Preconceptions) noted:
The condescension towards Judeo-Christian humility in the face of the spiritual dimension is only partially justified: one cannot help but feel awed by the greatness of things if one is the least bit spiritually evolved. We are all tiny humans, and yet we all have greatness within us potentially; with such knowledge one need not feel "special-er" than anyone else. Petitioners of Apollo came to his Temples with great reverence and respectfulness; Dionysians may have been more liberal, but even in their celebration there was often a prevailing and sobering tone of solemnity. Sometimes all of us feel very much more like creatures of flesh and blood, or clay and water so to speak, than spirit and soul. 
I have no objection to approaching the Gods with humility and reverence.  In fact, I've often complained about how we've lost the "holy terror" which often accompanies a visit from the Divine.  (I blame that on the Monotheists too: more on this momentarily).  There are many Beings which are wiser, mightier and more important than us. It is fitting that we should respond to Them with worship and awe.  But they are not the only, nor even the most common, denizens of the Spirit World.  And the Judeo-Christian approach generally ignores them or treats them as inherently evil.

(This is a comparatively recent event.  The early Christians transformed many local genii and ancestral heroes into "saints" working for God and His Holy Church.  Only those who could not be co-opted were condemned as "idols" and "devils."  With the Protestant Reformation, even the saints and intercessors were cast to the outer darkness).

In a polythestic culture it's easy to find the Divine everywhere.  This narrative from Dr. Gabi Greve, a longtime resident of Japan, gives an example from Shintoism:
When we remodeled our old Japanese farmhouse, we had to do something about the old toilet. It was just a small pond in the ground, with two beams over it where you had to balance real hard while performing your job. Below you was the open sewer. The local carpenter decided to drain the sewage water, fill the hole up with earth, and level it with the rest of the ground. But before doing anything, we were informed, we had to pacify the Suijin-sama living in the bog. With rice wine (Japanese sake) and purifying salt and a lot of mumbling prayers, the deity was informed that s/he was to be relocated to the wet rice paddies further down the hill. After the water was drained, a pipe was stuck in the hole before it was filled up, so that Suijin-sama, who might have been trapped inside, could find a way out." Gabi-san also discovered a web site (no long online) claiming that this toilet-water Suijin takes the form of good bacteria -- bacteria that cleanses the water for reuse in the soil.
And while we're on the topic of feces, here's P. Sufenas Virius Lupus describing his experiences with a less-known but still helpful Roman deity - Sterculinus, god of manure-based fertilizer:
Sterculinus has been instrumental for me in finding the most useful and productive ways to deal with the most trying and difficult situations in my life since he came into it. When something can't be transformed by proper placement into a force that will contribute to one's overall garden health (i.e., one person's shit is another's fertilizer, as long as it you put it in the right place!), sometimes it is just better to "flush," wash your hands, and go about with your day. The discernment to know which situation is which is also a part of Sterculinus' influence in my experience.
The polytheistic world features a plethora of Gods and spirits struggling with and against each other: there is no place where we cannot find spirit  Within a Monotheistic world, there is only the One.  That which He declares holy is holy: all else is cast to the winds like chaff.  If He is not to be found in bejeweled idols or verdant sacred groves, He certainly won't deign to be found in a septic tank, a whorehouse or a rotting pile of trash. And as the Creator grows ever more distant from His creation, those who grew up hearing there was only One God find it just as easy to believe there is none at all.

This is the place in which many modern Pagans find themselves.  They have rejected their God and the most inconvenient and stupid of His purported commandments.  They have replaced YHVH the Abusive Gym Teacher with kinder, gentler parental models.  But they have not yet questioned the prejudices and preconceptions which come with His teachings.  Their gods are still distant and remote.  Sometimes they are even non-existent: many who reject God & Son have filled the void with "archetypes" and "symbols."  Others accept their reality, but believe They speak only through ancient legends and stories from long-ago Golden Ages.

Perhaps the greatest lie of the Monotheistic Conquest is this: the Gods no longer speak with us.  If we are to honor Them again as they once were honored, we must not be deceived.  We must know that the stories from the past are important, but so too are the stories which They write with us here and now.  And one of the best ways of doing this is to recognize the Gods of our time and our place.   Research is important: there are many good reasons for studying the cultures in which our Gods were first worshipped.  But if we are to make our religion a vital faith instead of an academic exercise, sooner or later we have to stop looking in libraries and start exploring the shithouse.