26 October 2010

Stuck between Pantheons

Warning: philosophical musings and boring autobiography ahead.

'The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind.' (Alan Moore)

This is a principle I've more or less built my spiritual views around. Deep down I may be an agnostic, even lean towards scepticism, but I still recognise the potential value of religious/spiritual symbolism, even if it is 'all in the mind'. I might call it a Jungian approach to spirituality, if I actually knew enough of Jung's views to confidently use such a term, which I don't pretend I do, though at least my layman's understanding of the concept of archetypes is an important element of my personal philosophy.

Acceptance of religion as a primarily psychological phenomenon is a two-edged sword, though. On the one hand it is quite liberating. Deities and other concepts in themselves are meaningless, it is what we get out of them that matters. This means we are free to pick our own symbols, even make up entirely new ones, if this is something that inspires us, helps our development as human beings. But on the other hand, this very freedom may lead to an inability to connect with and commit to these symbols on a level required for them to make a real difference in our lives, the problems of too much choice, even an information overload of sorts.

Personally, I seem to be on a never-ending quest to find a form of spirituality that satisfies me. A little history: Like most Finns, I was raised in a Christian family, and went through Confirmation at 15. I'm not sure my heart was ever really quite in it, and certainly by adulthood I was certain it was not my path. Years of fairly nondescript, passive agnosticism followed, occasionally reading about such topics as Buddhism and Shinto but never really being drawn in, until I stumbled upon books about Wicca in my later 20's. I'd read a little about neopaganism as a teenager and found it intriguing, but that was the extent of it. Now I found a new desire to actually practise a spiritual system, and Wicca appeared to be one of the most interesting around.

Even then I had trouble deciding on a particular set of deities/symbols. Wicca (today) is a fairly splintered, eclectic religion. Though some traditions have certain deities they usually call upon, Wicca is not directly based on a specific mythology, but allows the incorporation of almost any deity, or the use of a more generalised God and Goddess. I used Odin and Freya for a bit, then adopted a perhaps more traditional figure of Cernunnos, accompanied by Hecate. No specific pantheon as such seemed to appeal to me, so I picked pleasing deities haphazardly.

Through Wicca I learned more about the history of Western occultism, particularly Qabalah and the hermetic tradition as practised by the Golden Dawn (an occult fraternity founded in the late 19th century) and its offshoots, such as the works of Aleister Crowley. I gradually came to feel that no one spiritual system, be it Wicca, hermetic ceremonial magic or Crowley's Thelema, was really quite right for me, even if they all had elements that interested me. The answer? I'd have to create my own system, of course, inspired by all the above. Around this time I was also reading a little about Egyptian mythology, and realised the incarnation of the the Egyptian pantheon known as the Ennead of Heliopolis was pretty interesting, probably the first pantheon that more or less seemed to work as a single whole that I'd so far encountered. So it became the basis of my new 'system', a sort of one-man occult lodge, if you will.

Now, a little while back a seemingly innocent little thought popped into my head: what if I'd invented my own gods completely from scratch? I was reading Alan Moore's Promethea at the time, which had gotten me thinking about occult topics again more earnestly after a little break, and also emphasised the importance of imagination in spirituality. This would be a pantheon based directly on Qabalistic and other occult symbolism, not adapted to it, forced into a suitable shape, like any historical pantheon would be. Though at first I didn't entertain the idea very seriously, it began to nag at me, and as I speculated on the potential forms the gods could take, I began to see apparent flaws in my current system. Not flaws really, merely alternate interpretations, but enough to weaken the foundations of that system. On the other hand I'd invested a lot of mental effort in the creation of that system, and it did contain many interesting insights, in my mind, so I was reluctant to leave it behind.

So I was left in a kind of limbo, torn by conflicting emotions, almost an apathy and disillusionment with religion altogether, and I'm not sure I'm quite out of it yet. I'm playing around with a potential original pantheon, a mix of some fairly archetypal figures and more imaginative ones, more simplistic perhaps than my Egyptian-inspired system (not necessarily a bad thing), taking influence mainly from Qabalistic symbolism, and perhaps a little from Thelema. We'll have to see if anything practical comes out of it, although at this stage I'm not sure a return to the previous system is any longer possible.

All in all, I've probably spent much more time thinking about the structure and philosophy of spiritual systems than actually practising them, which is certainly not what I set out to do. Whether I'll ever find that perfect system, I'm unsure. Maybe before long I'll find myself utterly fed up with spirituality. I hope not, as I still do believe it can have much to offer. It's pretty much like anything in my life: gaming, music etc. There are so many things I'm interested in, but in the end I'm just not very good at.

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