Original post here. Yeah, I’m blog trolling again. Dwib.
First, Teo? You’re a good guy. If you’re reading this, I apologize, dude, but you asked for it. *points* Right there. End of your blog post.
Teo brings up some interesting ideas in his post: Embodied Theology, Reciprocity vs. Grace Theology, whether the Gods and Spirits actually need what we give to them, and so forth. He’s asked for thoughts and opinions on these ideas. Read, then, what I have to say on the subjects, under each heading.
I’m a strong proponent of conflicting theologies not necessarily being mutually exclusive. Transcendent and immanent deity is possible both at the same time. A deity that is within you can also be outside of you, and vice versa. From what I’m reading of this embodied theology that Teo talks about, the arguments are that a) transcendent deity forms lead to eventual Fundamentalism, and b) despite many Pagans believing that deity comes as much from within their world (if not themselves) as anywhere else, we use language that makes it sound that they are nowhere near us.
One, transcendent deity forms leading to Fundamentalism? What about immanent deity forms leading to a sort of self-delusion, a different idea of fundamentalism even? As I’ve stated before, I play old Mage, and one of the primary problems that these characters in this game face is the “My God can beat up Your God” routine. Immanent deity, deity that is a part of the local flora and fauna, including human beings, can be as devastating a prospect as deity being apart from everything, transcending everything. The idea that your local Gods somehow transcend fundamentalism by being immanent is, in my way of thinking, fundamentally flawed. Fundamentalism is not a problem of the religious viewpoint, it is the problem of the social viewpoint. Fundamentalism can be as simple and as local as its adherents wish it to be.
Case in point: let’s assume the “deity within you” standpoint for a moment. Since deity within you usually leads to deity being able to speak with you personally, one’s UPG can be written and accepted by any number of individuals, from one to many to a whole “tribe”. Those that disagree might be accepted, or they might be singled out as being somehow wrong. Everything from misinterpretation to misunderstanding to simply being wrong can come as accusations, and yet this is still (from what I understand) an “embodied theology”, where these folks still believe deity is immanent in themselves. My point is, regardless of the theology, those who subscribe to this idea of deity can still devise a sort of “my way is better than your way, even if deity is in you, too” philosophy about it. Fundamentalism is the problem of the individuals seeking a stable or even static base from which to view their theology and practice, not from the theology itself.
Two, I believe that yes, they’re already here. They’re also bigger than that, they can stretch themselves halfway across the world or several places across the world at once. I also believe that they are beyond here, in the world of spirit, in the world of their own making, in the center of the world. Deity is fluid, Hel, spirit is fluid, and thus it spreads and fills space and can be multiple places or times at once (still talking my own theology here, not anyone else’s). Establishing that deity is beyond is not to deny that deity is also here. Again: transcendent deity can still also be immanent deity, the two are not mutually exclusive. Spirits inhabit every living thing, and most (if not all) non-living things. Since deity and spirit is fluid, they flow into one another and the separation of what is and is not can sometimes be painfully, annoyingly difficult to suss out.
The calling of the Gods to ritual, such as in ADF or in Neopagan Animism, is the acceptance that deity is bigger than one area, and yet can be in one area. Spirit is fluid, and can take up a spread of space or can be condensed in a smaller area but with more volume. Honestly, I don’t really know if the volume argument is even valid, as spirits can and have made themselves bigger or smaller as needed. Calling the spirits to ritual is akin to acknowledgement of their presence as much as it is to bring them to the ritual in the first place. They are already there, but we are saying, “You are welcome, pay attention to here, please!” The language used of calling them in is the invitation for the spirits called to fill the space with their presence, rather than simply being present. It is an acknowledgement that the spirits that are already there are also not completely there, because they are broad in scope, size, and purpose. They are more than our local area, yet they are part of that local area. We see deity called throughout the world on our holy days: Eostre or Freyja being called to dozens if not hundreds of Spring Equinox rites across the world. I work very closely with Freyja, she’s here daily, but I still invite her in, for the purpose of respect to her, for attention from her, and for acknowledgement that she is more than my one place and one time. She is both immanent to this local area, filling me with her presence and power daily, and beyond me, doing the same with others she has called to her service or worship or whatever you want to call it. We are not denying the immanent by acknowledging the transcendent, is what I am saying.
I agree with Teo in the idea of a balance between reciprocity and grace. We often receive things from the Gods we don’t earn; they’re gifts. This is a good thing. We also give things to the Gods even though they may not have pleased us that day, week, month, year. We appreciate them; it’s a gift, not done for any other reason than they are a part of our lives. This is also good. This is a part of what *ghosti is about: the giving of gifts to maintain a friendship is not for the value of the gift, but for the respect of the giver and receiver.
However, there is also an understanding in the process of offering to the Gods that there is a point when the friendship is not enough in and of itself. A friend who continually abuses you or your trust or resources is eventually unwelcome. A friend who doesn’t come to help when you need it is often known not as a friend at all. “Being there” for a friend is an expectation, even in this day and age. This is where offering becomes a sort of understanding: I do for you, and you do for me in return. Capitalist theology? How about just plain and simple respect? I believe the Gods and spirits are real beings; if I believe this, I should be expected to do for them, as they have done for me. I offer beverages, objects, and service, and they perform services for me in return.
It is not the nature of offering that needs changed at this point, it is the attitude of offering that requires a change. I don’t often need the gifts I receive from friends, but they are always appreciated. When someone pays me back for gas money I lend them, it is not a requirement, but it is appreciated. When someone helps me move, I’m not keeping score, but if I’ve helped them move in the past, or something equally big or effort-full, I appreciate the help all the more. If they’re not available to help me move, as has been the case several times, I understand. Again, I’m not keeping score, but too many times of it, I will start to question the nature of the respect they say they have for me, as opposed to the respect I receive.
This has nothing to do with capitalism. Do the Gods and Spirits need our things, our offerings or praise or love? I don’t know for sure. I think they appreciate it, regardless. It is the showing of our respect for them; to distill this to the name of Capitalist Theology is a very different concept, perhaps even insulting. I want to be in good favor with my friends and family; does this mean that the gifts I give them are a Capitalist concept? I don’t think so! This is simply part of the respect that are due to them for being my friends and family! I care about what they think and feel, and the same is true of the Gods and Spirits I deal with. I want their favor, certainly. More than that, I want their respect and a relationship with them. The respect I give them, whether that be a shot of rum and Coke or a poem or song in their honor, or simply thanks for the things they have provided, is a natural extension of that desire. If I did not respect them, the rest would be moot: offerings would be as ash in their mouths, thanks would be hollow and empty. It has very little to do with need, and everything to do with the respect I have for them.
The thing is, and I’m moving now to the
portion of the discussion, is that while Teo and I may agree that we are both acknowledging something that is already happening, I believe that it can also not happen for a person, or for a Spirit. Respect, reverence, and such are not spiritual constants, in my opinion, they are conscious choices. I choose to respect the Gods and Spirits for what they do. If I do not respect them, they can withdraw their respect, aid, and even presence from me, leaving me empty and alone. The divine spark that is immanent within me does not guarantee that presence, that respect or aid. It gives me relation to them so that the dialogue of respect can occur. That divine spark, the part of deity that is immanent in me, is the universal translator, not the individual spirits. They are a part of me, they flow through me and my locality, but they can also flow elsewhere.
Some would ask how one could recognize the spark of divinity within everything and not respect it; to that, I say it happens all the time. I see people who claim to be Wiccan High Priests or Priestesses ignoring their own professed beliefs out of convenience, or ignorance, or even spite, in a few cases. I don’t care what they believe, or if it’s different than how I believe (that is, I accept their difference of belief as valid for them), but I do care if they profess something then act completely opposite to it. Christians have one thing right, if nothing else: “[Deity] is spirit, and those that worship [the Gods and Spirits] must do so in spirit and in truth.” Key word made bold for emphasis. Respect is that truth that is spoken of here, and it is something I don’t see in many expressions of belief, from denominations of Christianity to various forms of Paganism to even atheistic philosophies (replacing Deity with Philosophy, of course). The lack of respect in my opinion enforces an expulsion of deity from self, and from the world around that person.
Now, the Gods can fight back, which is something a lot of people don’t acknowledge. A God who really wants a relationship with someone can make their lives a dream, or a nightmare, despite the lack of respect on the other side. Why do Gods or Spirits do this? Well, why do humans? Why do some animals? And in my opinion, the Gods and Spirits can often be much more patient than we.
All of these musings for me come to one vector, one point. Respect. This is not a grace theology, this is not a capitalist theology. In my view, this is a theology instead of relationship, plain, pure, and simple. Without respect, everything else in our beliefs is lacking, especially for Paganism. This is where fundamentalism can creep in, not in what kind of beliefs we have. Respect for the Gods and Spirits provides the balance between reciprocity and grace that we spoke of earlier. Respect for others allows us to remove much of the obstacle of fundamentalist thinking which seems to have plagued Christianity again and again. Respect for oneself keeps one on the path. This isn’t simple theology to me, this is central to any system of dealing with and honoring deity.