Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ancient Minds and The Flowing Power

I was discussing the nature of the Gods with a close friend today, while reading some books together. She's learning a lot these days about the Old Ways, and is a very bright, curious person. I'm pleased to have an opportunity to talk to her about these topics; talking to others about our beliefs and the many things we've learned about the past is a good way of re-establishing these things in ourselves, re-affirming them and coming to understand them in new ways ourselves.

Our discussions together are always laced with "perspective" talk- the needful talk of epistemology. Being a modern Pagan means embracing an epistemology which is at odds in very fundamental ways with the dominant paradigms of our day- but there is something else hidden beneath the fact of having a different perspective: it is one thing to have a different worldview, but something else to truly see the world differently. It sounds as though I'm being redundant, but there is something subtle here that language can't capture easily.

The Old Way of Seeing

Over the years, I've become painfully aware of one of the hardest issues to overcome when we study the Old Religions of pre-Christian Europe: the fact that primal peoples of the world had a different psychology- or should I say, a different psychic orientation, which we in the modern day cannot begin to enter or comprehend because the assumptions of our dominant epistemologies and modern contexts have changed us psychically and fundamentally.

We can study the Old Religions of the Indo-European past, but even the Pagans had their own "ancient past"- the past in which we find the megalith-raisers and the henge-builders that long preceded them. How much did the Pagans of the last 2000 years really understand the primal peoples that were 8000 years before them? Were the Pagans psychically different from their own distant ancestors, as we are so psychically different from ours? Did the ancient Pagans look at the old megalithic sites and wonder, as we do, at the ancients who raised them, and for what reasons they did?

When we stare at the cave paintings of primal peoples- such as the famous Sorcerer in the Trois Frères cave in Ariège, France, or any of that type, we are seeing ancient images cast upon these cave walls by men and women whose minds did not perceive the world at all the way ours do. Their assumptions about the world were not at all like ours. What was the real meaning of these paintings? We can't know for many reasons, but chiefly because we cannot re-create those ranges of consciousness in ourselves, or those deep, primal epistemologies.

Perhaps I should say, we cannot re-create them easily- for any range of consciousness is still possible to us. We all are, as I like to say, "shape shifters"- capable of reaching out to all forms and ways of being that are, or ever have been, and perhaps ever will be. But the hidden, green and dark paths in the mind that lead to those old reaches of awareness are well overgrown now with obfuscating leaves and branches and cobwebbed up. They are ancient inner roads that are now very hard to find.

At any rate, I was discussing the nature of the Gods with my friend. She was confused- confused in the way that only a modern westerner can be- about "what" the Gods specifically "were". We were discussing the Goddess Danu, and her connection with rivers. This friend was confused about whether or not I- and the ancients- believed that Danu was the same as the river, or different from it, like the spirit of a river or rivers. She didn't understand if a God or a Goddess was "literally" the same as the various phenomenon associated with them, or not.

My perspective- which I shared with her- was that a river was a river, and the Goddess Danu is the Goddess Danu. You can never separate the flowing, watery, living power of rivers from Danu's great power, and still, Danu is not merely a river. And yet- on the occasion that you invoke her or worship her on the banks of a river or a body of flowing water, at that time, in that moment, Danu is the river.

That's confusing to most! But it all makes sense, if you practice seeing the world in a different way, such that you finally come to accept a new epistemology on a pre-conscious level. Can this be done? Yes. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary? Perhaps. It depends on how far down the rabbit hole you really want to go, towards understanding the real meanings of the mythical messages that the ancestral lore has bequeathed to us.

Danu and The Flowing Power

The reconstructed lexis of the Proto-Celtic language as collated by the University of Wales suggests that the name "Danu" is likely to be ultimately derived from the Proto-Celtic *Danoā. This Proto-Celtic word connotes the semantics of ‘Giving,’ ‘Bountiful’ and ‘Flow.’ Others say that her name may mean "Great Mother", and others still associate her with the Vedic Danu, a goddess of the waters of heaven, the great waters of life. It all goes to the same place- a poetic seed is planted here when you integrate the meanings of her name with an open mind. It's all perspective, of course, but perspectives are valuable, seeing as we must use the sorcery of language.

I always try to go to the possible meanings of names when trying to understand the mystery of the Gods and Goddesses- and Danu, for me, is the primordial "flowing" of life, the first mother-flow from which all things come. Thus, when I see a river flowing, or feel a flow of creativity, or see the flowing of sap, or of anything, I suddenly sense a connection between the essence of this Motherly mystery and what I am experiencing at that moment.

This is why I said "A river is a river, and Danu is Danu"- they aren't the same, from one perspective, and yet, from another, they can't be seen as truly separate. Nor can the flowing of blood or fluids or creativity in this body and mind be seen as truly separate from Danu. This is because one of the supreme truths that I know is the truth of wholeness- all is part of a single whole, and the true "self" of human beings- or any being- is the "extended self", that is, "self" and "nature" undivided.

We draw "lines" between ourselves and nature, to make the "simple self", but the true "self" is found when we realize that the "line drawing" capacity of the mind is only perspective; when we drop the effort we unconsciously make to see ourselves as absolutely separate from the world, we realize that the sense of separation is only relative. We are one with all- entities that extend into every place and world and possibility- but entities that entertain many strange notions of "separation".

The "hows and whys" behind how and why we learn to mentally and perceptually separate ourselves from everyone and everything else, and how our concepts of "self" come into being, are all part and parcel of a very important discussion that we should all be having.

We often fail to recognize how our "western education" and our meaning-generating modernistic perspectives interfere with deeper spiritual realizations and the acquisition of wisdom. We fail to take into account how our everyday "self concepts" are not the only way that we can live or exist or perceive- people have certainly existed in different ways, seeing the world in different ways for countless millenia- and we often don't see the vital role that language and cultural assumption plays in constructing "self" for us, in the particular way we construct it.

We fail to see the great extent to which the epistemologies that we internalize from early on (and unconsciously live "within") alter our ability to grasp the layers of message and meaning in the ancestral myths and stories. We don't often see how they change our ability to celebrate with the living primal peoples of the world today their most precious gifts to us- their sacred stories and life-ways, which could regenerate so much in us, if only we could suspend our typical "way of seeing" and see in new ways. As we see now, we can only scratch our heads at the strange and "primitive" ways of other peoples, and of the ancients.

Participation Mystique and the Extended Self

The concept of "extended self" is the gateway back to an older way of seeing, an older way of psychically relating to the world and understanding the Gods. What happens when the walls between the simple self and the rest of sacred nature are allowed to collapse?

What we experience as "inside" us (in such a situation of collapse) is now something very much outside, and vice versa- the distinction is lost. It may sound chaotic, but the mind and the human being can absolutely live while perceiving in this manner. And when we consider the implications of it, some ancient myths and stories begin to make more sense to us, whereas they make little sense to the hyper-logical and rational western mind that begins with a sense of absolute separation between the "subjective" person and the "objective" world.

As Jung pointed out in his brilliant work "The Structure of the Psyche", primal peoples regularly live in a state called "participation mystique" with the world- lacking strong, ultimate distinctions between the "insides" of themselves and the so-called "outside" world. They dwell, in other worlds, in wholeness- and thus, the mythical dimensions of their lives transcend the western understanding. We are in a hurry to classify off Gods and Goddesses as "this symbol" or "this inner archetype" or "this mind-state" or "this idea personified" and a dozen other ridiculous notions. But when nature and the "individual" are allowed to merge, a new situation emerges for mythical understanding.

Jung accounts a story in "The Structure of the Psyche" regarding a primal people called the Elgonyi, in Eastern Africa. He writes:

"If you can put yourself in the mind of the primitive, you will at once understand why this is so. He lives in such "participation mystique" with his world, as Levy-Bruhl calls it, that there is nothing like that absolute distinction between subject and object that exists in our minds. What happens outside also happens inside him, and what happens inside also happens outside. I witnessed a very fine example of this when I was with the Elgonyi, a primitive tribe living on Mount Elgon, in East Africa. At sunrise, they spit on their hands and then hold the palms towards the sun as it comes over the horizon. "We are happy that the night is past" they say. Since the word for sun, adhista, also means "God", I asked: "Is this sun God?" They said "no" to this and laughed, as if I had said something especially stupid. As the sun was just then high in the heavens, I pointed to it and asked "When the sun is there you say it is not God, but when it is in the east, you say it is God. How is that?"

There was an embarrassed silence till an old chief began to explain "It is so," he said. "When the sun is up there it is not God, but when it rises, that is God (or: then it is God)." To the primitive mind, it is immaterial which of these two versions is correct. Sunrise and his own feeling of deliverance are for him the same divine experience, just as night and his fear are the same thing. Naturally, his emotions are more important to him than physics... For him, night means snakes and the cold breath of spirits, whereas morning means the birth of a beautiful God."

(From Jung, The Structure of the Psyche.)

This powerful passage lets us back into a rare and ancient way of seeing and way of being- a perfect "participation mystique" with the natural world which is a reflection of the ultimate truth about each one of us- that we are all parts of the wholeness of things. We in the west have become malnourished by drawing such extreme divisions between our flesh and blood and the "rest of the world"- we are now just (from our limited perspective) buds or leaves on the Tree of the extended self, whose roots, branches, and great trunk are one with all things.

Peace and Chaos

When I walk outside at night, and my mind is chaotic and angry or sad, the night seems disturbed- but when I am at peace, and can hear the lazy chirp of crickets and insects and night-birds, and feel the coolness of the night, I am further at peace- because truly, my internal chaos is also "out there", a part of the world, but on the other hand, the great peace of night is also "in me"- it is my great peace. The more the walls between "me" and "other" fall, the more the great power of the world, including the peace of the night, becomes what I am. There is a secret seed of poetic inspiration here, waiting to burst forth as a great fire in the head.

Danu is the river, or should I say, all flowing, donating powers cannot be separated from Danu, including things that seem to flow in our perceptions- like rivers and streams, and even the waters of heaven, the falling rains, but also the flow of blood, passion, or creativity.

The two "flowing powers" are poetically parallel, and (from one perspective, at certain times) one and the same. Danu is not merely a blind natural force of flowing power, bereft of mind or personhood; she is a Goddess, a being of immense wisdom and depth of mind. How this can be so is not easy for people who associate the possibility of a "mind" only with the presence of a brain-organ. This is another failing of our modern epistemologies: mind can and does exist in ways far beyond what most of us dream.
The Gods are truly beyond simple belief or explanation.

At this point, I feel the need to point out how absurd it is for us to attempt to pigeonhole the Gods and Goddesses into neat categories- we hear of the names of Gods and Goddesses from the ancestral past and immediately begin to pursue another Western habit: that of categorizing everything and everyone. "Who is the war God?" we'll ask- "and who is the Goddess of love?"

I have never experienced anything in my visions or spiritual experiences that has led me to believe that such categorizations hold any water at all. Danu is not merely a "river" Goddess, nor merely a "great mother" Goddess. She transcends neat pigeonholes, just as Lugus transcends this or that category, or any of the Divine beings transcend such simple nets of words. We have to get out of that habit, and back into experiencing these living powers with more open, flexible minds. The Gods are shape-shifters; they can be anything or anyone that they desire- or should I say- they can appear to our minds as nearly anything. Such is part of their nature. They are as malleable and flowing and flexible as the things we call "forces of nature."

Belenos, Sun of Healing

In my song of praise to the God Belenos, which I gave in my last post here, I refer to him many times as the "radiance" or the "radiant light" or the "therapeutic radiance", and even the "godly light of healing"- I call him "fair and wholesome", "warm" and "clear-minded". I place him in the sky, on the trees as golden light, and call him "the sun", once. Why I did this is clear and easy to understand if you follow what I have been writing in this letter.

Belenos is not the "sun God", though many scholars and people addicted to categorizations have wanted to pigeonhole him in that way. I said to Belenos, in my song "To those in the cold grip of unhealth, you are the saving sun"- not to indicate that he was the physical sun in the sky, but that he is the experience of warm salvation from cold sickness, in much the same manner that a freezing cold person might experience the morning sun as a "saving" power. The poetry here is drawing upon human experience, and trying to capture the experience of therapeutic power, of healing.

Having said this, it is important to mention that for a person who experiences Belenos' power, he may in fact be the Sun- when we allow the boundaries between "ourselves" and "the world" fall away, for one poetic and sacred moment, the feeling of healing, of warmth, of salvation from cold, from sickness, the breaking of the power of illness, the breaking of night by sunlight- all these experiences become one in the great wholeness of things. Belenos indeed becomes the warming, saving sun, in that experience.

But until you've had that experience, or unless you are ready to let yourself enter consciously into participation mystique with the wholeness of sacred nature, as a part indivisible, you won't be able to understand how Belenos is not merely a "sun God", and yet, certainly seems to be described in that way or thought of in that manner.

The Gods are so intimately a part of us, a part of the wholeness, and "we" of "them" and "it"- so intimate, so full and complete, that the same ease of "knowing" some feeling in ourselves, or knowing some thought or seeing some dream is the same ease we can have of knowing or feeling them- for those who understand, the reality of the Gods is apparent, simple and easy to see, totally without doubt.

The river is a Goddess; the sun a God, the Earth a mother, the Raven or the Deer or the Hare also Gods and Goddesses themselves, or the spiritual messengers of Gods- at that moment, in that full experience. There is no separation or division. And yet, from another perspective, they are also rivers, the sun, the earth, beasts of the earth and sky. These animals and phenomena can be experienced so many ways- there is a mysticism and an emotion here, and so many possibilities of consciousness!

But to attempt to explain these things to western people who have absolute divisions between themselves and "everything else", and who seek rationalizations based on those boundaries, is very difficult if not impossible. In their world, the Gods are easily up for doubt, or for banishment to a place of "primitive superstition".

May the ancient roads of the older ways of seeing open for all of us who seek to know the Gods, and ourselves in new ways.

1 comment:

  1. This recalled in my mind Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle. Light is both a particle and a wave, but it cannot be seen as both at the same time, when an experiment is designed upon it's particle nature, that is what the scientists see, when on it's wave nature, that is what they see. This is how I view the Gods. There are many ways of experiencing them, a web of meaning and myth. Like Har says in the Havamal: words gave way unto words, deeds gave way unto deeds. It is the constant and mutual mystery of Self, the Gyfu principle. When we grant ourselves the Gift of viewing the Gods in a new way, the Self grants the Self a gift in return and opens newer and more magnicificent vistas for our eyes. A sacrifice, my Self to mine own Self given.