Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Thursday, May 31, 2012

My humanistic and naturalistic interpretation of the Pentacle/Pentagram

I thought I'd just do a short post about what the pentagram means to me. As even a cursory Google search will reveal, the Pentacle, or a Pentagram (i.e. 5-pointed star often in a circle) is a symbol that has been used by many cultures, religions and magical systems for many purposes and in many forms. So it is interesting that in modern North America (and to some extent in Europe) it is mostly associated with Satanism (if inverted) and Wicca (when turned right-side-up), in that order. Wiccans rightfully point out that it was never historically associated with Satanism and consider this association to be a perversion of their symbol of faith.

File:Pentacle 2.svgI'm not a Wiccan. I may have taken a great deal of inspiration from Wicca, but I have my own practice. Nevertheless, I have a pentacle on my altar and I wear a silver pentacle necklace around my neck. Why have I kept this symbol which is likely to be interpreted ostentatiously as a symbol of faith? According to the most common Wiccan correspondences, the pentacle is the tool representing the element of earth and the five points represent Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Spirit (at the very top). Another take is that the position of the pentacle facing up would represent spirit over matter, whereas the upside-down pentacle would represent the more controversial matter over spirit. In some traditional covens, an upside-down pentacle is simply the representation of second-degree initiation.

File:Pentagram and human body (Agrippa).jpg
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa's De occulta philosophia libri tres.
While I was deciding whether to keep the Pentacle, I remembered I had seen a picture of a Pentacle that had inspired me once. When I found it again on Wikipedia, it hit me. The Pentacle is a perfect symbol for naturalistic humanism.

The Pentacle is round like the planet and continuous like the universe. It is in that universe and on that planet that humanity makes its home. Humanity has the innate desire to make its special identity known to the universe and tends to place itself at the center. But human existence without the universe is impossible. Humanity cannot thrive by attempting to superimpose itself upon the universe or disconnect from it entirely. It is only through harmony with that universe, determined through knowledge and acceptance of its basic parameters that humanity can affirm its existence with any sense of fulfillment, dignity and purpose. The lines of the pentacle star are usually the same width and style as the circle used to connect the five points. Similarly, humanity is made of the same building blocks of all matter in the universe. When humanity realizes this, humanity realizes that not only is the universe humanity, but humanity is the universe.  Affirming the universe is affirming the self and viceversa.  To me, this is the essence of both positive spirituality and naturalistic magic.

So that's why I'm keeping it. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Book Review: Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth by John Michael Greer

Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology

Here is the first in a series of reviews that I hope to include in the blog.

Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth by
John Michael Green
Published by Weiser Books an imprint of www.redwheelweiser.com
It is an extremely rare treat to find a book that talks about the dynamics of current times, naturalism, ecology and magic in a way that is lucid, credible, cohesive and inspired.  Mystery Teachings is one of them.

We all know what "mystery teachings" are; the supposedly secret and sometimes esoteric ways to improve our lot in life and our mental and physical well-being.  So common are these schools that Green assumes that his audience knows them and doesn't really bother naming names.  Rather, he focuses on the common denominators. His assertion is that many of these teachings have been either distorted or misunderstood by their adherents who have taken the belief in concepts such as positive thinking and the Law of Attraction to its untenable and illogical extreme.  Namely, he refers to the belief that it is enough to simply "want" enough for the universe to give us something and it will do so, for an unspecified amount of time and in unlimited quantities.  However, events such as the burst of the housing bubble and the economic crisis clearly destroyed that illusion for many who, no pun intended, placed their stock in it.  The effect of positive thinking is part of those mystery teachings, and indeed part of the truth of the human experience.  But only a part of it.  To understand the full nature of ourselves, Greer says that we need to understand the nature of our universe--we need to understand the nature of nature itself.

Greer summarizes the mystery teachings in a list of seven laws that govern nature:
The Law of Wholeness
The Law of Flow

The Law of Balance
The Law of Limits
The Law of Cause and Effect
The Law of the Planes
The Law of Evolution

He explains each and every law with concrete examples from nature and then applies them to human affairs.  One of my favorite examples, in my opinion, was the explanation of the Law of Flow.   He states:
Everything that exits is created and sustained by flows of matter, energy, and information that come from the whole system to which it belongs and that return to that whole system.  Participating in these flows, without interfering with them, brings health and wholeness; blocking them, in an attempt to turn flows into accumulations, causes suffering and disruption to the whole system and all its parts.
If predators in an ecosystem accumulate, eventually the prey will become extinct.  This leads to not just the eventual extinction of the predators as well, but also the breakdown of the entire ecosystem. Likewise, the accumulation of money is toxic in human societies.

These laws are similarly applied to a chapter on magic, which is explained in terms which are very naturalistic and poetic.

Magic works, in other words, because it speaks the symbolic language of the deep self.  Every action done in a magical working--be it the speaking of a word, the movement of a hand, the drawing of a breath, or the construction of the image in a mage's imagination--is a symbolic action.  It means something-and something specific.  In a well-designed ritual, the meanings of these symbolic acts resonate together like the notes of a musical cord, expressing a single pattern of meaning in a complete and balanced form.  Seen in this light, magic is a way of unifying the self on all its levels and directing it toward a single end.  This combination of unity and direction makes ritual the mage's principal tool for action on any level of experience.
 This chapter is rich with thought-provoking morsels.  He addresses the limits and ethics of magic, not in the preachy, simplistic way that many authors have, but by once again linking the discussion to his aforementioned Seven Laws and explaining them in a logical, straightforward, comprehensive fashion.  In his last two chapters, he refers to The Spiritual Ecologies of Initiation [to mysteries] and [the human perception of] History to once again give a nuanced and, in my view, accurate vision of these two subjects. 

In summary, I cannot recommend this book more highly.  Despite its relatively short length (I read it in a day), I believe it is a rare pearl of wisdom, useful for anyone trying to follow a spiritual path of enlightenment in a way that is consistent with reality.   Both the e-book (Kindle) and the papercopy versions are available at  Amazon.com