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ADF was useful in several ways, but never so useful as to introduce me to the Proto-Indo-European word *ghosti. *Ghosti can be interpreted loosely as hospitality, but more correctly indicates an equitable exchange between parties. One can have *ghosti in one’s relationship with others, with a business partner, with other business associates, and even with strangers.

*Ghosti is very tightly bound with the concept of community, but assumes a wider definition of community than one might normally be familiar with. As I said in the previous post, community includes the spirits involved, which may include Gods, one’s own Ancestors, the Ancestors of close friends, and the spirits that commonly inhabit the area, as well as other spirits that a given adherent might work with. In addition to this possibly long list, community in relation to *ghosti also includes visitors to one’s home, traders, those bearing news or messages, and so forth. *Ghosti can even be applied to enemies, such as the idea of an eye for an eye, but it can equally be applied to the idea of repaying evil with kindness – much depends on the situation.

To have *ghosti is to treat someone with respect, but it is also to foster good relations of friendship and partnership with your equals, to keep your word when you give it, to respect the role of those in a position of authority, and to show generosity freely to those less fortunate than yourself.  The relationship between crime and punishment is also part of the idea of *ghosti, though the actual perpetration of crime and punishment is still a function of society, not necessarily religion. Part of the whole point is to foster community ties. To show *ghosti is not always reciprocated, but to have *ghosti means that the relationship works in a way that is more or less equitable to all involved. It can be seen easily in the phrases, “Pay it forward,” and, “It all comes out in the wash.”

In the Pagan community, especially among Reconstructionists, this concept (regardless of what we actually call it) is one we are desperately trying to recapture and hold in our lives. We look at the process of government and see corruption and misrepresentation. We look at the process of business and see hundreds of hard workers fired because labor is cheaper overseas, or because they are getting older and accruing raises and hiring younger specialists out of college is cheaper. We see neighbors no longer speaking, prices getting disproportionately higher for the same services, and dinners getting disproportionately smaller for the same price. All of these things have bothered Pagans since Neopaganism started. None of these are examples of *ghosti. The unfortunate side effect is, there isn’t much that can be done about most of it. As we believe the practice of hospitality and fairness begins in our own lives, we start with treating the members of our community as we believe it should be, answering kindness with kindness, and hurt with firmness. We keep our word when we give it, as best as we possibly can (as in, if we can’t, we’re likely in the hospital, or dead). We deal honestly with others that keep their words, and for those that don’t, we don’t deal with them at all. For now, the scope of community is fairly limited on the whole, though there are those of us who include our neighbors, business associates, and others, as well.

Obviously, as one can have *ghosti with other physical beings, one should also have *ghosti with the spirits. This is especially so with the Gods; if your attempts at *ghosti aren’t reciprocated with a God, then it is not very likely you should be working with him or her. In the same manner, if the Gods are keeping you alive and safe and lucky happenstances are occurring often, it seems to me to be a good idea to throw in a little extra during offering, or to at the very least acknowledge and appreciate the help. In *ghosti, it’s not what you’re giving, or how much, it’s that you’re giving something that is equitable to what you’re receiving. If you’ve been blessed with abundance, and your gifts to them are very stingy or given in a miserly way, then that’s not reaching for *ghosti with your Gods, that’s throwing a token gesture, lip service. If on the other hand you give cheerfully and from that which you yourself treasure, then it is likely to be a more acceptable gift. (We’ll get into specifics on offerings in a later post.)

*Ghosti is the act and practice of an exchange of energies between the parties involved. One’s efforts, one’s offerings, one’s attempts at fairness with another, and even one’s respect for another all play an important role in the practice of this concept. Ultimately, the energy given is of the gift given, or of how one is treated. This facilitates the simplest of interactions in our communities and with our Gods, that of respect and responsible action. In many ways, most of the virtues that Pagans espouse (discussion to come) stem from this central concept.

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I’m a sucker for religious and philosophical discussion. I have my own opinions, but I love hearing the opinions of others on these two topics, except in one case: where the person believes that he or she is right beyond any argument and no rational discussion is possible. I have known Wiccans whose final arguments were, “That’s just the way it is,” or, “You’re just wrong about that.” Why? Have your experiences been counter to the argument? Is there something in the collected lore that backs you and doesn’t back me? No, they’ve decided that their opinion is the way it is, and that’s that. Or they read it on Z Budapest’s website, which has no links or references to corresponding lore or anything. I can accept the, “That doesn’t fit with my experiences,” argument, but the point is, if you have an actual reason for the opinion you have, that’s great! Go with it. If not, maybe you should be questioning that opinion.

The dynamic in Mage: The Ascension is all about these kinds of arguments. Magic works because its practitioners believe it to work, and thus you have a very rational argument: “I’m floating ten feet off the ground. Therefore, your argument that I can’t is pretty much invalid.” The game is almost completely about competing world views, which don’t quite cancel each other out because Awakened Mages have a strong will and a desire to use it. Of course, they do get with Paradox, but that’s another matter entirely.

Mage: The Awakening got rid of a lot of what made Mage… well, Mage. Now you can play Mage without all that nasty, philosophical paradigm stuff getting in the way! Except, that’s exactly what made Mage: The Ascension so worth playing in the first place. I ran a Mage LARP back in Cleveland for about a year before I turned it over to a friend. In that time, by far the most intriguing aspect of the game was listening to two Tradition mages bicker bitterly about the nature of reality, how it really worked and how their magic was made possible. This, this is what made Mage work: several world views all working to change reality despite contradicting each other. Several philosophies of the world, all making sense together because they’re all wrong, yet they are the very fuel that makes the underlying reality work!

Old Mage ran on a concept called consensual reality, basically, that the collective beliefs of all creatures in the world determines the nature of the experience. This is an old concept, stretching back to pre-Christian times. Several philosophies have considered the possibility of consensual reality, or described the world as the illusion (maya or samsara) constructed by perception. The theory goes that gravity works because we agree that it works: if we toss an apple up, it falls down towards the ground. We believe the lie of our perceptions, and we perpetuate that perception to the next generation. Perceptions change based on someone convincing the masses that something else can work, and thus we have modern medicine, airplanes, and other marvels. In the dark ages, a group called the Order of Hermes held sway over the minds of man, and such things as alchemy and lengthy rituals held sway, changing reality through wonder and miracle, which reinforced commoners’ beliefs in the supernatural and superstition. In the game, creatures such as vampires and werewolves exist partially because the inhabitants of the world believe it to be so, and because this includes more than just the human population, but also Gods and Spirits (called Bygones in the game because in the modern era they’re more or less banished from the earth), these supernatural entities run off of rules that the masses didn’t necessarily create. At the same time, modern medicine, airplanes, cars, trains, nuclear power, x-rays, the Internet, and so forth: they all work because the masses were convinced that they worked, and how. Since the masses are also convinced that magic doesn’t exist, those that work magic are also working against the collective beliefs of everyone else in reality. Hence, in the dark ages, airplanes might or might not work, and in the modern era, saying a chant and creating fire causes a severe backlash. The Awakened are those that can use their will to fight against the consensus and make the impossible happen… at a cost to themselves (called Paradox because technically, you are doing something against the rules of reality). Most often, they are the ones doing the convincing mentioned above.

One’s perception of the illusion of realtiy in old Mage was called a paradigm. It is paradigm that White Wolf has removed from their new Mage line, and yet all of the other trappings remain. There’s still Disbelief, Paradox, and the Spheres (sorry, ARCANA now) more or less work similarly to the way they used to. The primary difference is that all mages more or less work their magic the same way. Granted, some are still technomancers or whatnot, but there really is only one paradigm these mages are working from. There’s no more inspiration from ancient culture or mythology, or it’s so sterilized that it’s hardly recognizable. The main baddies aren’t mages with competing paradigms anymore (the ones who created the rules to nuclear fission and aerodynamics in the old game), they’re strange disembodied entities working the same magic in the same paradigm through intermediaries on earth. To me, it makes less sense. The only improvement is that they got rid of that damned Avatar Storm that damaged you whenever you crossed into the Spirit World. Hel, Changeling: the Lost was an improvement, why couldn’t new Mage have been?

So, when I run a Mage game again, it’s going to be old Mage. Paradigm will be emphasized. And while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony.

Quote of the Day

"The Lord tells me He can get me out of this mess, but he's pretty sure you're f***ed".
-Stephen, Braveheart
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