Sunday, 10 April 2011

Deep thoughts on mysticism...an' stuff...

Reconstructionism has a bit of an image problem.

On the one hand, some might say that it's the path of choice for Those With A Big Stick Up Their Butt™; and so as such, inevitably much of our time is spent in bickering about just who has the biggest stick. On the other hand, some might say that reconstructionism is too backward-looking (and I actually saw this said on a druid forum, no less. I found that kind of ironic) - and perhaps what's really meant is that the study of the past is over-empasised at the expense of actually experiencing any sort of meaningful practice in the present. I suppose this moves us on to the gripping hand - that reconstructionists are far more interested in reading books, and the resulting intellectual wankery, for their own ego rather than anything else. Thinking about it, I suppose that ends up taking us back round to the first hand of bickering about whose stick is biggest.

Have I just made a gigantic circle-jerk analogy? Oh dear...

But let's not forget the snobbery. As a reconstructionist, not only is my stick bigger, and shinier than yours, my books are better and more obscure, and I have more qualifications/years of experience/better teachers than you do, and by the way, you can't be a reconstructionist because UR DOIN' IT RONG.

It's unfortunate, but sometimes - maybe more often than anyone's willing to admit - these problems can dominate what anyone of us are actually trying to do. In some places, reconstructionism is a dirty word, simply because of our reputation, and there is a sort of Us and Them view of reconstructionism, from those outside of the community insofar as they view reconstructionists, but also within the community insofar as they view non-reconstructionists, and even whether one is seen as having a big enough stick to qualify as actually reconstructionist or just a poseur.

With Celtic Reconstructionism, truth - Truth - is something that is held to be a core value. It is something that is strived for, but something that is ultimately subjective. Therein lies the problem, to a certain extent, especially in terms of the recent discussions I've seen going on about Mystic Reconstructionism, which have been both illuminating (in terms of what's been said on the matter) and unfortunate (in terms of the almost inevitable side-helping of bickering). I'm coming to the debate a little late, I guess, so maybe I'm not one to judge on that front, because I didn't see how it all unfolded at the time.

I've written before about my struggle with mysticism. Mysticism, to me, is something that's essential to any path, but as someone who likes the books, the research, the extrapolating from sources that I can cite, I've had a hard time getting comfortable with something that is less concrete, even as someone who's previously been inititated into a mystery tradition, and experienced such mystical revelations as the initiations I was subject to.

In the end, though, as much as it's been something I've wrestled with at times, it's something I've found to be freeing as well. My experiences are my own, and sometimes they don't make sense; mysticism itself isn't a logical process, first and foremost, because it comes from somewhere unseen. Because I'm a reconstructionist, while I see that mysticism is a key element of how I experience my spirituality, how I approach my spirituality is one that is primarily informed by what can be known (or perhaps, more accurately, extrapolated) from the sources. But that's not the be all and end all of it, because as a Celtic Reconstructionist the sources that help to inform us aren't all that explicit, or transparently pre-Christian in origin.

The first stop, then, is what can be known. What we can't know, we have to rely on UPG to help guide us, and for Celtic Reconstructionists we have to rely on a healthy dose sometimes. In this respect, not everyone is going to agree with how one approaches and extrapolates from the sources, and forms into actual practice. I'm well aware that I'm not the strongest ritualist, for example, and in part this is perhaps because I'm weaker on the (perhaps being as comfortable with the) mysticism element of practice than others within the CR community are.

A lot of the disagreements, though, seems to be centred upon the degree of which UPG is emphasised, and the way in which it is applied personally, or shared with others. In the debates, 'mysticism' seems to be seen as synonymous with UPG, and that's something I can get on board with in some ways, because in my own practices, any mystical revelations I may experience are just that - extremely personal. That's why it's difficult for me to see the problem in terms of these things being shared - or not being shared as I've often seen it lamented. I may share them with a few people who I know and trust; I may share them with a wider audience if I feel the need. But ultimately, they're not something that generally has any meaning or value except to myself, and this in itself is perhaps why it's been so difficult for the CR community as a whole, or (perhaps more relevantly) CRs within specific cultural contexts, to agree on commonalities of practice.

This all comes back to certain problems emerging - accusations of snobbery, intellectual wankery, and so on. Sometimes - maybe more often than anyone's really willing to admit - these accusations are justified (and to be fair, pretty much all of these problems aren't unique to reconstructionist groups, it's just the kind of sticks, books and qualifications are slightly different if you go elsewhere. You like Scott Cunningham?! You're self-initiated? What's your lineage? Who's your High Priestess? You can't possibly be Wiccan...In this respect, I've had the exact same sort of arguments as a Wiccan as I've seen in the reconstructionist community).

The unfortunate side-effect of all this is that when bickering flairs up within the various reconstructionist communities, points can get lost in discussions because people start taking it personally, and/or start arguing from ego, and the discussion turns from actual debate to defensive back and forths or (worse) simply point-scoring. That's the difficulty of online discussions - it's difficult to interpret tone, and that can make things seem more blunt and snarky than they might have been intended.

So where does that leave anyone? Community can be - and should be - a wonderful thing. There is something deeply wrong with a community when civil discussions can't be had without accusations flying, due to ego, paranoia, past experiences and hurts, or whatever. We as a community are never going to grow up, mature, evolve in healthy way if that's all these discussions end up as.

3 comments:

Erynn said...

You've certainly nailed a lot of what's happening out there. I would agree with a great deal of what you've said. Yet, even though mystic insights are, for the most part personal, it's also important to share some of it with community. How else are we ever going to know what insights are actually shared between a number of people working in different places? How will we know when people on opposite ends of the worlds come up with the same answers to a particular issue?

It's easy to feel alone when we don't talk to other people doing Otherworlds work. "It's not important. Nobody else is going to understand. Nobody else is doing anything like this." But perhaps somebody else is? Perhaps, when they talk to Oengus or Brid or Manannán, they're getting similar instructions on what to do in ritual or what to leave for an offering or particular things to emphasize in ritual. We can't know if nobody is saying anything.

It doesn't have to be all in public blog posts, but talking with people outside the immediate local community in email or through limited-membership email lists can certainly be helpful. I don't care for the wank, though yeah, I know sometimes I end up contributing just because I'm crotchety and I've been around for a while. It's inevitable, I suppose. I do try to share what I do, though, which leaves me open to a lot of pot-shots from here and there.

Thanks for talking about mysticism at all.

mama p said...

On the one hand, I often wondered how ironic would it be if this kind of "my book is better/more obscure than your book" communal arguing was actually part-and-parcel of Celtic spiritual life "back in the day"? I mean, the Irish ~love~ a good argument, or at least it struck me as such during my time there ;) But that's just one example. I mean, what if this painful type of infighting and bickering were actually the most properlyhistoricallyaccurate reconstructionist thing you could possibly do in community? LOL. Anyhoo, that's how I've often reconciled the bitterness into something less abrasive. Humor!

On the other hand, it's that way in every community I experience online: spiritual (the Buddhists can get particularly nasty, whoo boy.), political, "green living". Oy. Which begs the question: what are we all doing in the first place, that it could so quickly devolve into this bitterness whenever we disagree?

I've not kept up much with the various CR communities because, well, I happen to think that especially as a beginner, one has to learn to trust one's own instinct, without having to hear all the time that they are not up to par. It's slower going, sure, but easier on us who possess a "delicate ego" ;) And it is much more affirming, having friends such as yerself, ma'am.

Saigh said...

I've been working on a blog post about such practices that keeps morphing into a post on why I can't seem to write about them. This has been going on for at least two months now, with me starting over and it turning right back into what is basically an avoidance of doing what I say I'm trying to do. This exercise was due to that section of Teh Project being a total blank at this point while a good bit of the rest is stewing well. I do it, I just can't write about it...so many think I don't do it. I also seem to avoid talking about it too.

It's not that I don't want to share. It's not that I feel uncomfortable with UPG, after all, I can just say "this is UPG" ... it's that this stuff and words do not seem to connect for me. At all. I am continuing to try to find ways to connect them, but it remains to be seen how it goes.