Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘New Age’

Twelve Steps for the Recovering New Ager

Posted by spritzophrenia on October 28, 2010

I’ve been researching a popular New Age writer who, it seems to me, hasn’t been entirely honest about her past. More on that in the future. In the meantime, a New Age believer who’s ditched a lot of her former beliefs shared this on one of the forums I was reading.

Twelve Steps for the Recovering New Ager

Step One
“We admitted we were powerless over the New Age and that our Higher Selves had turned us into flakes.”

Step Two
“We came to believe that a powerful bullshit detector could restore us to sanity.”

Step Three
“We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our lower selves and a good psychiatrist.”

Astral Projection Kit

This is not a joke.

Step Four
“Made a searching and fearless disposal of our crystals, tarot decks, incense, angel cards, rising signs, wands, spells, medicine wheels, pendulums and lottery tickets.”

Step Five
“Admitted to God, our Guru and our seminar leader the exact nature of our delusion.”

Step Six
“Were entirely ready to take back our mind, body and spirit.”

Step Seven
“Humbly asked our Higher Power to f**k off.”

Step Eight
“Made a list of all the New Age assholes we’d been nice to and vowed to treat them all like sh#t.”

Step Nine
“Insulted the New Age wherever possible, especially when to do so made us look bad.”

Step Ten
“Continued to take personal inventory and, when we were wrong, promptly relished in it.”

Step Eleven
“Sought through television and newspapers to improve our conscious contact with humanity, concentrating only on our ability to understand what the hell was really happening in the world.”

Step Twelve
“Having avoided a paradigm shift as the result of these steps, we vowed to carry the NAA message to New Agers everywhere and to practice being ordinary in all our affairs.”

You can find lots more here.

By the way, that picture up there? I found it with a random search. The guy is serious!

What do you think?

Posted in humor, humour, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

What is “The Universe” Telling Me?

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 15, 2010

Cigarette smoke swirls in the air and teaspoons swirl patterns in the coffee cream. The waiter wanders past with someone’s bowl of fries. It’s Friday night and I’m hangin’ with a dozen friends at our usual café-cum-nightspot. Conversation rises and falls. Sometimes people say unexpected things: “The universe is telling me to let go”, says Carole. Carole is an atheist. Others nod and murmur in agreement, I look away and say nothing.

Have you heard someone say “The universe will provide”? “The Universe is trying to tell me something”? Or perhaps “Put your intentions out to the Universe”? Do you believe in “signs from the universe”? If these words simply mean something metaphorical, I can accept that. Just what IS this “Universe” Carole talks about? It’s obviously more than the stars, rocks, oceans and life that make up the physical Cosmos.

Is it energy?

I think most Universe-invokers conceive of the Universe as some kind of energy or force. A Universal Energy like electricity, or perhaps a force like gravity. If you put out positive energy, you get positive stuff back, and vice versa. Karma, if you like, it’s a kind of cause-effect thing. Flick the switch on the wall, the energy flows and the light bulb gives light. Forgive me, but aren’t we just talking about the consequences of actions in a blind universe? What does the “Universe” add?

The Universe

But Carole often goes further than this. She talks and behaves in ways that imply the universe cares about her. She seems to say that the universe has a purpose or plan for us.

A purely bricks-and-mortar Universe doesn’t care about us. An energy can’t speak, it can’t “tell us” anything. If the universe can give good things based on the “positiveness” of our energy, can communicate, can take notice of us, can be on our side— those are all things only a mind can do.

So Then, Is it Personal?

OK, so perhaps there is a powerful energy that is also personal. By personal, I mean something like a mind. Does Carole mean a “something” that has personality— has intelligence, consciousness and maybe purpose, ethics or desires? If this is what she means by the Universe, I think she’s talking about another word for g0d.

I don’t have a problem with her calling God “The Universe”. But let’s not kid ourselves when we’re doing it.

Is There a Middle Way?

Carole dips a cigarette into the ash-tray. She might suggest I’m closed to some other “middle way”. I’ve been trying to conceive of how that might work. Maybe a kind of “force” like gravity? Do a certain thing, and it reacts. Apparently, if I think negative thoughts then negative (unhelpful? bad?) results flow. The idea of “positive versus negative” thoughts reminds me of the warm energy of reason, a gift the Universe gives us.

[What “positive” energy actually means, is another good question. I think to be labelled “positive” implies something ethical, like “helpful” or “good”, which in turn could lead to a moral argument for God.]

Unfortunately I don’t think a force helps us any more than an energy. If the “something” is in any sense benevolent, if it in any sense “notices” us, then we are again left with some kind of g0d. We know that in our Universe only minds can speak, or love.

There is nothing we can conceive of as a mind in the middle, a “half mind”. We know of damaged minds, and of animals that don’t quite seem to have a mind in the sense we understand, but these are not half minds. These are minds that are not able to do the full range of mind-stuff. A half mind would be like saying I both have a brain in my skull, and at the very same moment, do not have a brain. (Quiet with those rude comments in the back seats 😉 )

I don’t want to be mean. I’ve really tried, but I can’t conceive of any other option. Either the Universe is impersonal (negative?)— and therefore useless in the way the concept is used. Or it is personal (positive?), a mind. And therefore a g0d. There seem no other options.

“The Universe” is Personal

For all Carole’s neurotic foibles as a fashion designer, I love her. Maybe one day we’ll discuss what she means about “the Universe”, but people don’t like having the bubbles of their personal beliefs pricked. I don’t know if she realises it, but she’s not an atheist.

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I love this track from King Crimson’s brilliant album, Discipline. Well, I love all of them, actually. “The more I look, the more I like it. I DO think it’s good.” It speaks to our obession around creating a thing (a philosophy?) which is good.

King Crimson | Indiscipline

Respond

? What do you think?

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Posted in agnostic, god, Mysticism, New Age, ontology, Philosophy, Sociology, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

Avatar: The Spiritual Story Continued

Posted by spritzophrenia on February 8, 2010

I saw Avatar for the second time recently. It didn’t have nearly the same effect as the first time where I raised the possibility that the movie could be treated as a spiritual experience. Others have written about the spiritual side of Avatar and I thought I’d revisit the idea. [listen to Science Fiction while reading, it’s today’s blog backing track.]

One writer characterises Avatar as more a “spiritual fiction” than science fiction. James Cameron was interviewed on Oprah and the ideas behind the movie were raised. Oprah asked Cameron if he’s a spiritual person, after all, the Na’vi greeting “I see you” is a phrase with a deeper meaning more akin to “I understand who you are.” “I guess I must be”, replied Cameron, “because this film represents a lot of ideas and feelings I have as an artist,” going on to highlight his movie’s “environmental message and the idea that we are all connected to each other as human beings.”

Emmanuel Reagan writes:

Let’s explore “I see you”. When Jake is being trained by scientist to understand the Navi world view, he tells him, “if someone tells you ‘I see you’, they actually mean, ‘I see (into) you’”. They don’t see just the person. They see ‘into’ the person’s connectedness with the spiritual realm. In other words, the spiritual realm is a part of what they can sense. The biology of the Navis and other organisms in the Pandora is capable of connecting with the spiritual. In fact, Jake survives only because of a spiritual intervention early on. Just as a Navi arrow is about to be shot at him, the shooter senses that the Spirit Mother does not want him dead.

Dominique Teng and Brian Hines note a pantheistic slant in the movie. Hines discusses whether it’s pantheism or panENtheism before concluding the distinction doesn’t matter. However, Avatar’s is not a pantheistic deity. Eywa is LIKE a pantheistic deity. But at best, she’s a deity of the moon Pandora only. Really, this god is a god with a small “g”, a creature or demigod albeit a very powerful one. A bigger “pan” or theistic deity is still possible, and arguably necessary if one finds the classic proofs for god such as the teleological argument compelling.

Certainly watching the movie can make one yearn for the type of simplicty and perfection the Na’avi live in. It’s fiction, after all. Teng says, “[The Na’vi] are warriors and ready to protect their habitat. They understand and respect their connection with nature”, which looks rather like an ad for an “Iron John” type New Age men’s retreat. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat list 15 spiritual lessons from the Na’vi. It’s interesting that a spiritual message is equated by many with environmentalism. I guess that’s Lovelock’s Gaia coming through. Teng has identified the non-materialistic and eco-friendly aspects of Avatar well. Towards the end she mentions in passing that Jake’s avatar is a “genetically modified hybrid”. I think many New Age people are afraid of or opposed to GE technology. An interesting point in a pro-enviromental movie?

Teng writes of “Profit seeking corporations ruthlessly destroying both environment and the indigenous cultures”, the “lack of respect for the habitats of other living creatures” and “controversial military expeditions to secure resources”. However, these are ethical issues, rather that spiritual as such and I think it’s important to distinguish this. An atheist could quite happily make the same points. Ethics and spirituality overlap, but ethics do not require a spiritual base to work from. (Actually, I think there’s a strong case that ethics do in fact require a spiritual foundation, but I’ll save that for another time.)

She writes “In the Hindu tradition, avatars are the reincarnations of deities sent to save the mankind in times of great peril.” Perhaps this is where some of the accusations of racism have come from: Whitey has come to save the savages. It’s been pointed out that the main settler characters are white (but what about the Hispanics?) and the actors playing Na’avi are Black or Native American. I wonder what would be said if Jake had been black? “Jake Sully is our avatar and here to save us, the viewers. He is here to open our eyes and save us as a race, a species, on the brink of self-destruction.” Hello Christianity? The god come to inhabit a human form and save us is also a christian idea.

Some Christians have also found resonance with other messages in Avatar, with one writer praising its vision of interdependence.

The Na’vi (per Indigenous tradition) are incredibly spiritual, sharing a connectedness hard to describe. The sehalo bonds they establish with the creatures and the environment on Pandora prove this connectedness–a connectedness that implies interdependence i.e. the rejection of the cup running over due to sinful pride.

It’s interdependence that defines our togetherness, our teamwork; our collective contributions to the whole, which is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

On the other hand, some other Christians have denounced it. Notably, the vatican has criticised the movie for its “spiritualism linked to the worship of nature.”

My friend Martin Pribble notes that Joseph Campbell’s monomyth can be seen in the story. While I enjoy Campbell’s writing, I don’t find his ideas compelling. According to one commenter

I think the problem with Campbell is also the virtue: namely that the framework of myth he proposes is so malleable it can be adapted to almost any protagonistic narrative. It is a sort of Turing Machine of narrative, in the sense that almost any narrative can be shoehorned into a Campbellian form if it has a beginning, middle and end, and a protagonist. See here for more Campbell criticism and this Christian-based critique of Campbell.

This warm fluffy vagueness perhaps explains why people from quite different perspectives have seen both spiritual truth and damnation in the same movie. This neglect of nuance and detail is the fundamental error of all-religions-are-the-same thinking. On a surface level much in common can be found. Many religions have very similar ethics. However it’s insulting to their teachings and adherents to say all religions are therefore the same or are based on the same ultimate truth. Those who say this simply don’t have a deep enough understanding of the religions (cultures) they exploit by misunderstanding.

It appears the message of Avatar is broad enough to be compelling to many while the details my be quite vague. Can spirituality be vague, or does it have to have a definite content? I’m not sure definition-wise, but for me I want to follow something where the content is clear.

What are your thoughts? Comment below.
Edit: More on Avatar and Pantheism.

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listening to Haujobb | The Noise Institute
tful Clever animation

Posted in Christianity, New Age, pagan | Tagged: , , | 10 Comments »

My Avatar Spiritual Experience

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 3, 2010

Susan suggested I write about personal stuff. She thought you’d like to hear about practical experiences, ways to connect with g0d. Well… there’s movies?

I’m sure a billion other bloggers are writing about Avatar as we speak. There’s good reason for this: It’s a great film. By “great”, I am not so much talking about plot, acting, dialogue, direction – though I don’t think it’s too shabby here either. I say Avatar is great because it’s rejuvenated the movie experience. It’s the first of the next gen cinema experience, imo [1].

Avatar, rated SAO (Spoiler Alert OK: Only contains minor spoilers). I took my 11 year-old son to Avatar, it’s a great age for this movie and I wanted to share the experience with him. It’s been quite some time since I walked into a movie theatre. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing film on the big screen. It’s a function of my recent poverty that has restricted me. It wasn’t unusual for me to see two films in the theatre per week at one point. I still watch around 4 films per week at home. (Thankyou BitTorrent.)

I knew very little about Avatar aside from the basic premise, I wanted to surprise myself. And surprised I was. Tears fell freely down my face at some points. Tears can be a sign of a spiritual experience I think. At this point my fellow agnostics and hardened atheists will be rolling their eyes. Yes I know we can put this down to emotionalism, and psychology. But this raises a very important question:

Just what IS a spiritual experience anyway? How would I know if I had one?

You’ve probably read of the recent studies of brains having religious experiences, specifically under deep meditation or prayer. At the very least, a spiritual experience would be something that activates that part of the brain. If spiritual experiences are merely a particular kind of brain experience akin to an emotion, then atheists can sleep easily at night. But this doesn’t cover all religious experiences. For example, a miraculous healing might affect my body but not activate that part of my brain. This would be because the external ‘spirit’ would be acting on my body, rather than me experiencing the numinous through prayer. I think we’ll have to return to this question in future posts, would you agree?

Why was I feeling this way in the cinema? Some feelings were romantic feelings – I’ve recently broken up with someone I love. She was special to me, and I was a fool. It made me yearn for something I’ve lost, something I hope for. Yeah, I’ll confess I’m hoping the alien sex scene is included in the DVD. Incidentally, having only seen Zoe Saldana as her N’avi character I didn’t realise – she’s hawt! I suspect the loss of something important and profound is a theme in many religions. Certainly this is so in the churchianity I grew up in: The loss of innocence, the breaking of the world, the loss of connection with a creator. More mystical churchians could also point to the divine romance between g0d and ourselves.

I had feelings of hope, of inspiration, feelings of injustice and pleasure at seeing justice restored. Can you “feel” spiritual experiences in a different way to emotions?

Avatar also hints at the possibility that some kind of “god” is real. Any human being with a heart not too bruised by cynicism would surely weep at that? The interesting thing in Avatar is there’s a non-supernatural explanation for the goddess. It evolves out of a kind of natural neural net covering the surface of the planet via tree roots. Once again, a ‘supernatural’ being that atheists could see as a pal. In a way it was kinda like Jung’s theory of the universal unconscious, but with a practical mechanism.

Another test: If it was a true spiritual experience, should it motivate me to social justice? This is indicated in the Christian New Testament

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

and by the Buddhist Monk I quote here

The ‘insights’ claimed by some who [allege spiritual experiences] should be tested against the difference which these experiences make to the forces of greed, aversion and delusion in their hearts and conduct.

I think Avatar reinforced my ideas around justice for minorities and native peoples, although I haven’t had that tested yet. Intriguingly, this is an area where there’s been criticism of Avatar. A New Zealand Maori academic says Avatar repeats “negative stereotypes” about indigenous people:

The head of the School of Maori and Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury, Rawiri Taonui, said Avatar addressed the impact of colonisation on indigenous people in an entertaining way, but relied on stereotypes.

“It was a great movie and had some progressive themes, but did it in a way that still repeated some stereotypes,” he said.

Taonui said the “rhythmic body swaying” of the indigenous people during a ceremony only appeared in “B-grade movies” and “just doesn’t happen in any indigenous population”.

There’s more at Stuff

Feminists with Disabilities makes some good points, and links to other criticisms of racism:

This is a movie which is not only racist as all getout, but also centers around a Miracle Cure! Which, of course, means that the disabled character will be played by an actor in crip drag. And, of course, this story automatically assumes that having paraplegia and being a wheelchair user is a tragedy which would make one bitter and furious at the world, and that, of course, everyone would want a cure.

Contra this, in their comments Anna says “I’m a wheelchair user and not only did I not find it offensive, I thought it was a much more accurate, positive portrayal of disability than any other film in recent times.”

I don’t think all spiritual experiences would necessarily drive one directly towards justice; I can conceive of valid experiences that are only internal. If you’re seeking a spiritual experience; perhaps a movie could be a gateway for you? I’ve already blogged a list of movies you can try. Completely off topic, but I can’t resist throwing in the very funny making of Avatar the bootleg. Anyone seen a bad, 2D version with camera shake yet?

It’s not just the liberals hating on Avatar either – Patrick Goldstein in The LA Times asks “Why do conservatives hate the most popular movie in years?”

As a host of critics have noted, the film offers a blatantly pro-environmental message; it portrays U.S. military contractors in a decidedly negative light; and it clearly evokes the can’t-we-all-get along vibe of the 1960s counterculture. These are all messages guaranteed to alienate everyday moviegoers, so say the right-wing pundits — and yet the film has been wholeheartedly embraced by audiences everywhere, from Mississippi to Manhattan.

To say that the film has evoked a storm of ire on the right would be an understatement. Big Hollywood’s John Nolte, one of my favorite outspoken right-wing film essayists, blasted the film, calling it “a sanctimonious thud of a movie so infested with one-dimensional characters and PC cliches that not a single plot turn, large or small, surprises…. Think of ‘Avatar’ as ‘Death Wish’ for leftists, a simplistic, revisionist revenge fantasy where if you freakin’ hate the bad guys (America) you’re able to forgive the by-the-numbers predictability of it all.”

There you go people, have at it. Meanwhile, I’m gonna be over here with the popcorn enjoying the movie, and possibly finding g0d.

Someone else took his 11 year-old son to the movies and came out with a Buddhist perspective on Avatar. “My 11 year old son … watched the movie with me and we both talked and talked about the movie. ‘Little Anthony’ said, “Dad this movie was just like Buddhism”. Not surprising, considering Mr Elmore is Buddhist. Everyone wants a piece of Avatar. (It seems appropriate to plug my article on the dark side of Buddhism here.)

Avatar also raises the question of the consciousness surviving death, and of soul transfer. The same day I saw Avatar I found out a high-school friend is dying of leukaemia. Coincidentally, he’s my own age, a born-again christian and a pastor. I visited him the day after, I hope to report back soon.

What do you think? Criticisms? Has there ever been a movie that spiritually moved you?

Here’s my follow up post.
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listening to The Electric Six | Antisocial Sex Boy Hit Machine, Pitch Black (The New Zealand One!) | Ape to Angel (Blutech remix), Apoptygma Bezerk | Soultaker, Arch Enemy | God Dethroned
tful [2] A fun and funny way to help the planet
reading Appignanesi & Garratt | Introducing Postmodernism

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[1] Yeah yeah, I know we can all point to similar films plot and genre-wise, and earlier 3D efforts. It’s because Avatar has done it so well, that I suggest it’s the first of the new generation cinema experience. The archetype, perhaps.

[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, New Age, personal development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments »

I Believe In Pain, Cruelty and Infidelity

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 31, 2009

That was a more interesting title than “Why Spritzophrenia?”, wasn’t it? As evidenced by this comment, it’s probably about time I clarified the theme of this blog.

Yes, it’s a bastardisation of schizophrenic. I was going to call it SpiritoPhrenic, but that just sounded like a stupid CCM title. So spritzophrenic kinda evolved from there. After all, if I’m an open agnostic there might not even be any spiritual world to connect with. But I’m sure having fun exploring unreality.

I don’t fit. I don’t like boxes. As you know, I’m an ex-evangelical. I’m probably beyond post-evangelical in that I’m totally uninterested in churchianity at all. At least from the point of view of practicing it; observation, c’est très amusant. I suspect this is a frequent outcome of post-evangelicalism. By way of boast, I bought and read The Post-Evangelical when it came out in 1995 and was relatively unknown outside of the UK. I’m that cool.

Sometimes in my mind I go beyond mere atheism and become a nihilist or a satanist. In my conception, reading and practice, there’s not a lot of difference. That’s where the title quote came from [1]. If I become a nihilist, I’m not a nice guy. At all.

Rarely I’m a fluffy all-is-one new age buddhisto-hindu. It goes really well with many types of trance music, which is fantastic for getting me to a worship-state. But it’s just so damn hippy, and has all the intellectual credibility of a limp paper tissue. Yes, I know about Fritjov Capra and the new physics.

I love ideas, I love intellectualism, I love novelty. I’m probably a rationalist, ‘tho I find most card-carrying rationalists crashing bores. Edit: See Am I A Rationalist?. I read Dawkins and the rest of that pack of miserable gripes. As a philosopher, Dawkins is a great biologist. If you take my meaning. Would he rate a plumber’s book on evolution? – I think not. But I digress.

I have a friend who is multiple personality disorder, or “multiple” as they prefer. She/he/they are sane. Sane by many definitions, anyway. Likewise it depends on who’s “fronting” for me today as to which hat I wear. But they’re all me. I hope to integrate – a dirty word for multiple people – one day. I may be closer than I think.

Oh, I nearly forgot: 21st Century Schizoid Man is a song by progressive rock outfit King Crimson.

I apologise to schizophrenics for perpetuating the “split personality” idea. But hey, we lost that battle a long time ago. Language changes because it’s appropriated by the ignorant masses. eg, “evangelical” used to mean “of the Bible message” when it was used by certain christians to self-define. Now in popular culture it means “ill-educated right-wing fundie bigot”. Or have you noticed how people under 30 now use “gay” to mean “stupid, effeminate, bad taste”, much like the word “homo” was used when I was a teenager? That battle is over too, my dear queer friends.

I have schitzo aquaintances; my cousin is a loony too. I do understand, support, and sympathise with you. I’m thinking of making a paypal donation link from this blog to support mental illness awareness.

By spiritually schizophrenic, I mean that I am really not sure of my final resting ground. But it’s all me. Really me. This is not to say I don’t have opinions or beliefs; with a surety I do. It just means that I’m still exploring. I hate to quote saint Bono, but “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”. Or maybe I have, and I’m just taking an extended holiday.

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Respond

? What do you think?

tful [2] Hahaha, Ricky Gervais sings a lullaby to Elmo
reading Appignanesi & Garratt | Introducing Postmodernism

Front Line Assembly | Bio-Mechanic

[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, humor, humour, meta, music, New Age, personal development | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

10 Must-See Spiritual Movies

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 25, 2009

Given the holiday season, you’ll probably want something to do. Given I’m a movie buff I’m going to see Avatar [see my Avatar experience], and will probably watch a few others on my laptop when I can. If you’re hiring a DVD, here are my ten must-see movies to kick-start your spiritual journey [1], or provide sustenance along the way. Regardless of their spiritual subject matter (or not) these are good films in their own right. Note that some contain violence or sex; these aren’t the kind of films Pastor Bob shows to the youth group – no tacky evangelistic flicks here. Some films will inspire you, some will revolt you. All of them will make you think, and perhaps grow. In no particular order:

1. The Exorcist (1973, re-released 2000)
Evil. Some perspectives – Buddhist, atheist, Hindu – have no concept of it. Usually Hollywood portrays evil as somehow “cool”. Hell is a place where the fun people get to party for all eternity. Heaven is a boring place for wimps. Devils even have a sense of humour, a trait that C.S. Lewis rightly pointed out a devil could not have – humour is a good, not an evil. The Exorcist portrays hard, uncompromising, callous, hate-filled evil. Think of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.

What’s truly scary about The Exorcist is the possibility that there could be malevolent entities as well as benign. I first encountered what may have been a demon when I was 16. Pentecostal christians like to talk a lot about demons, but this was the only encounter in 20 years I had where I truly believed it could be real. Comment if you’d like me to talk about this some time.

The New Age tends to ignore the dark side of spirituality. It’s perfectly possible if there are spirits that some could be the equivalent of the shark; hidden, unfeeling predators who will take opportunities to attack humans if given the chance. If this is so, it would pay us to find allies among the good spirits.

2. Breaking the Waves (1996)
This film blew me away. A ‘simple’ young woman from a strict christian group marries an oil rig worker who then suffers an accident. She believes g0d tells her to prostitute herself in order to heal her husband. Is she insane? Is God cruel? Why don’t her conservative church help her? Filmed by Lars von Trier, this is not an easy watch by any means, but is deeply thought-provoking and for me, ultimately rewarding.

Breaking The Waves is a movie about the protestant christian concept of grace – un-earned kindness. It’s about trust in g0d against impossible odds. Make sure you watch the final minute of the movie. It changes everything.

3. The Mission (1986)
Set in 18th Century South America, a warrior priest and a pacifist both try to save the people they love and care for. Who will succeed – just war priest, or tree-hugger priest? Another major plot concerns the conversion of a hard-living slaver to a devout Catholic. But can he truly give up his past? A provocative and powerful film.

4. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (2003)

The dramatic portrayal of Buddhist lifestyles and spiritual truths is perhaps more difficult to accomplish in an exciting way than depictions of Western religious practices and stories, because the Dharma is geared to inner transformation. And while enlightenment may be one of the most profound experiences a human being can undergo, it doesn’t exactly translate easily into compelling cinema.

From greencin

While that may be true, this Korean film is a moving and powerful portrayal of a Buddhist “redepmtion”. The movie is slow and lyrical – meditative, which is surely intentional on the director’s part. An old monk educates a young man, who subsequently leaves the monastery and commits atrocious crimes. The subsequent story is well worth an evening’s viewing.

5. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)
Koyaanisqatsi is not an explicitly religious movie and in that respect one could call it an atheist meditation on life, technology and our interactions with them. Perhaps one could call this a humanist movie, the first of a trilogy. It’s more a documentary or a work of art yet has no spoken narrative, only a mesmerising soundtrack by Phillip Glass. For me, the film portrays a deep sense of the wonder and tragedy of human acheivement. Watching it is a meditation in itself.

6. Jesus of Montreal (1989)
This Canadian production is probably the best modern re-imaging of what Christians call the ‘gospels’ – the biographies of Jesus. Yet it’s a totally atheistic Jesus, one that could be believed without reference to a g0d. As one would expect from a movie that captures the ‘feel’ of Jesus, it’s brilliant and compassionate.

7. The Apostle (1997)
Robert Duvall portrays a Pentecostal preacher going through hard times. Exploring hypocrisy, belief and wrenching humanity this is one of the more challenging looks at the underbelly of US christianity.

8. The Rapture (1991)
Rapture (rap’chur) 1. ecstatic joy or delight. 2. a state of extreme sexual ecstasy. 3. the feeling of being transported to another sphere of existence. 4. the experience of being spirited away to Heaven just before the Apocalypse. You’ve possibly heard the fundies talking about being ‘raptured’ As far as I know the writer and director are not Christians, but chose to explore what it might be like if this really is true. A telephone operator living an empty, amoral life finds God and loses him again. What would it be like for a non-religious person addicted to sex to be ‘born again’?

9. The Message (1976)
I hesitated to include this in my list, but I think all non-Muslim Westerners would do well to acquaint themselves with the story of Muhummad. The film itself is well produced and acted, it won several awards. Bonus: It was announced just a couple of months ago that Oscar-winning producer Barrie M. Osborne, of ‘Matrix’ And ‘Lord of the Rings’ fame will make a movie about the founder of Islam. I will watch with great interest. Neo and Gandalf meet the last prophet?

10. Natural Born Killers (1994)
You’re probably wondering why I include this as a ‘religious’ movie. You’re right, it’s not – and that’s the whole point. To me it’s a movie about nihilism, one extreme form of atheism: Nothing means anything, there’s no right or wrong, only pleasure. If we want to kill, who cares? Other people have no value except as we choose to use them. Yet the love the two main characters share perhaps belies this point of view. Is this a redeeming factor? Or does it show that nihilism can’t be lived?

So there we are. It was hard culling down a large list to just ten. Perhaps we’ll have to do this again sometime. I hope you gain insight and connection through watching them. I’ve written part two of my pagan experience, I aim to get that online soon. In the meantime, have you seen any of the above films? What other movies did you find spiritually – or atheistically – enlightening?

Happy holidays

listening to Terra Nine and Aviatrix | Wonder, T9 + Aviatrix | Whisper (Pete Ardon and Helix drum n bass remix)
tful[2] Karen jokes about Santa Claus

[1] Again, I am including atheism as a spiritual journey for want of a better description. I mean no offence by this.
[2] Today’s Fun Unrelated Link

Posted in agnostic, atheism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, New Age, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

The Earth is Magick. And Bloody Cold.

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 22, 2009

For those who have an interest in paganism/wicca. I originally wrote this in 2007.

It’s been a few years since I did a little reading around modern paganism (also called neo-paganism), notably Margot Adlers’ sympathetic overview Drawing Down the Moon.

For those who are unfamiliar, the wikipedia article is a useful place to start, bearing in mind the dangers of relying on Wikipedia too much. (There are Wikipedia articles on other topics I’ve read which have, if not error, a misleading use of language.)
I’m not a pagan but I went to a pagan camp/festival near Levin over the Easter weekend to hang out with some friends. I’ve been thinking about the experience, partly in relation to other participants’ responses. I will divide my response in two, namely 1. my experience and 2. my reflection on the long weekend.

My experience and feelings while there
Disclaimer: I’m well aware that a non-adherent of a religion usually makes mistakes in emphasis, nuance and understanding when writing about it. My apologies for any factual errors.

There were about 70 people or so there for the whole weekend, and i imagine with visitors the numbers would have been over 100. The whole thing reminded me of a slightly tacky christian church camp of the kind I used to go to. Note, i do not identify as a christian any more, although even that simplifies things too much.

Most people camped; it was nice to be out under the stars drinking wine or cider and chatting. There was lots of free time to socialise, communal breakfast and evening meals, seminars and workshops and a sort of market where people were selling items like herbs, candles, jewelery and old-style “witchy” brooms (seriously). This was derided as Pagan ‘bling’ or ‘tack’ by one or two I was at the festival with. Pentacles abounded. (Star-like symbols, they can be six sided but the 5 sided pentagram type was more common. Not upside down tho’ – only naughty people wear those.) I went to 3 seminars that were focused on the academic or theoretical end of things which I really enjoyed. It was clearly stated several times by one seminar leader: “Modern Paganism/Witchcraft was invented by Gerald Gardner in 1954”.

Each night there was a ritual, followed by drumming and dancing around a fire. The rituals were not well received by a minority. Some had issues with the ritual elements themselves (eg, “I didn’t like it ‘cos they used four watchtowers which is from Freemasonry and they had a priest and a priestess leading it”). To be fair, the organisers were trying to do their best to make the rituals inclusive of the diversity that is neopaganism (see below.) Some people simply found the rituals tacky, contrived, unconvincing, fake or couldn’t respect those leading them. I was in this second group. Whatever its failings, one thing Episcopalian christianity has learned is how to do robed-up liturgical rituals well. The second night’s ritual was very late, and long. Fortunately I missed that as the second two nights a small number including myself chose not to go to the rituals because of our dissatisfaction.

The second and third nights were used to celebrate Samhein (pronounced “Sow-win”) two weeks early, the organisers acknowledged. The third night, the ritual was led by someone else and appeared to be much more satisfying. I liked the sitting around the fire talking, drumming and dancing and joined in that afterwards, tho’ it was much more restrained than i would have liked. For Samhein in remembrance of my Irish Celtic ancestors I painted my face and arms with woad. OK, it was acrylic paint and mud. Needs must. I thought it was cool, but no-one else did it. I must be a freak. No-one was nude (“skyclad”) at the fest by the way.

At Magick Earth I was trying to understand paganism, participate where I felt comfortable and simply experience, not to criticise. Sometimes that was hard as some of it seemed rather silly to me. But then much human behaviour is silly, and certainly other religions do silly stuff. What matters, is whether it is true. “True” is a loaded word, for some. More on that another time.

Robes were the fashion du jour, although mainly at night. At first I thought the robes were a bit laughable, but they’re very practical when your religion involves standing outside in the Autumnal cold for hours. Some robes were in crushed velvet. I saw one woman in a native South American traditional costume. I should also add the couple of women who were into belly dancing and dressed er… pseudo Persian at night. (There was a seminar on belly dancing too.)

It’s fascinating, i am at a unique point in history where i can watch a religion birthed and develop. Neo-paganism is a young spirituality, with the concomitant challenges baby religions face. Or rather, it’s a family of religions as Paganism is not a single unified entity.

Paganism is fairly diverse, although the Wikipedia article above does mention common threads. There are wiccans, who are pagan, but not all pagans are wiccans, and druids who can be pagan, but also can be christian or buddhist or other. Most people seemed to believe in a goddess. The goddess is often paired with a god. The exact cosmology, and how the world got here I can’t comment on. I got the impression some believe the goddess/god are like Jungian archetypes “made real” somehow. Some seem content to acknowledge their beliefs are “made up”, but it’s obviously still valid to them. I’d like to hear more of their opinion on that.

Some happily derive their beliefs and practices from a mixture of sources. Others are “reconstructionists” following mainly one type of spirituality, eg Celtic reconstructionists who are trying to reconstruct what we know of ancient Celtic religion. A small number were Christopagans and/or Christian Wiccans, trying to syncretise Christianity and Pagan beliefs. I learned New Age beliefs are not necessarily pagan, but many practices of New Age followers are also used by some Pagans, eg the tarot, astrology and the belief in the beneficial powers of crystals. No pagans are practicing satanists as such; nor do most believe in satan as they don’t believe in the christian worldview. These were generally what might be called ‘humanitarian’ pagans, although I’m interested in how a “dark” or “shadow” side might fit with this, and why it is not also practiced. There was the occasional belittling and discussion of christianity, with varying degrees of accuracy. Which might be expected if christianity is considered the dominant religious influence in New Zealand – a thesis which is arguable in my opinion.

And then there’s the sociocultural blends which are not explicitly pagan – or are they? Many festivalgoers seemed to be into tie dye or medieval clothing – 1 or 2 there were part of medieval reenactment groups. A few were in jeans and heavy metalish clothing. Plenty of tattoos and piercings, so i fit right in 😉 A few dressed pretty plainly. I couldn’t help thinking Paganism’s dress sense is remarkably similar to Boganism. Or hippiedom. Oh, and many of the pagans there at least had a sense of humour about all this.

I did think, if Magick Earth is representative of modern paganism, the people who write scaremongering books have nothing to fear.

Another thing I came away with was a renewed conviction that religion, spirituality and belief is something that should be discussed in the public domain. There is something in Kiwi culture that says it should be private in the same way most people don’t discuss their sex lives. I think open, respectful and frank discussion is vitally important both for society and to enrich/critique those who hold spiritual beliefs. Which, let’s face it, is the vast majority of people, much to many atheists’ disgust.

So much for this limited account of my experience. Overall I enjoyed myself, especially the chance to socialise and relax, and learn something new. Something I want to explore further is the concept of integrity and how it relates to pagan ethics. And perhaps a few other things.

I will save that for next time. Come back for Part Two. What’s your experience of modern paganism? Did I get it wrong?

today’s fun unrelated link Adam Sandler’s funny Channukah song (Judaism)
listening to After The Fire | Der Kommissar, DNA | Stereo Flip

Posted in agnostic, New Age, pagan, personal development, wicca | Tagged: , , , | 15 Comments »