When I try to tease apart my own cultural bias, my very Western bias, about many topics, religion not the least of these, I find myself on an unmarked path in a dense forest. My understanding of what deity is, even knowing the word “deity”, is part of the clearly defined Western path through this forest of knowing. I try to imagine a different world view, my own had I been born before the rise of Rome and the enlightenment. I look around and attempt to experience my world with older eyes. David Abram writes eloquently and thoroughly on the experience of our sensual world in his phenomenal work, Spell of the Sensuous. In this book, as opposed to his second work, he presents for the hungry reader an intelligent discussion of how literacy impacts the human animal, how indigenous populations that remain pre-or-illiterate engage with their living environments, and how oral culture shapes and shifts our perceptions of non-human persons.
When I open myself to this way of Being, what I experience is immediacy and consciousness. Suddenly every object around me is a power, a pair of eyes observing me. It ceases to be ‘only’ other mammals; or birds; or amphibians. Instead, I am now greeted by the sensation of observance from the mighty trees, the unyielding brambles, the luminous Moon, the flowing Milky Way, and the Great Winds. The Waters that fall from the sky, wondrously alive, interact with my being. The planet, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe….suddenly have consciousness.
In the light of all this intelligence, all this consciousness…. what is a *god*? The concept loses shape and meaning. All of the seen and unseen is imbued to my perceptual field with a breath previously unknown by me. |f my understanding of deity is of a being more powerful or knowledgeable than myself, well…. my white blood cells are clearly god, as is the moss that covers the rock in my garden. These powers have strength and knowing so different from my own, so vast in their understanding and ability, that I rarely come close in my struggle for meaning. Do I, a human person, alone define ‘power’? Do I alone define knowledge? I find myself back in the forest, tempted to walk on the clear path of Western bias in a human centric knowing.
But I resist, as I hope most pagans do who desire to return to a different way of knowing and being in the living world. Our western constructs are failing us as a species. Part of knowing myself, in all my parts, is understanding how my neural pathways are shaped by culture; how the marvelous universe of my brain organizes and categorizes information sent to it from my limited sensory organs. To deconstruct, and rebuild with intention, is a mighty work. It is a worthy work, and necessary to walking a truly pagan path through the forest, as opposed to the same Western path decorated with pagan paraphernalia. I do not wish to be seen as a Witch because I wear Stevie Nicks skirts (which I don’t), or strand upon strand of silver jewelry (which I don’t), or because I have pentagrams tattooed on my skin (which I don’t). Likewise, I do not want to be a pagan who interacts with the world around me using the same lenses my culture and wider society gave me, with nothing more than a pagan film overlaid: western religion wearing pagan clothing. I have to ask myself…. am I interacting with and viewing the Morrigan the same way I was taught to interact with and view Jesus?
Of course, that line of thought is only religious and doesn’t begin to delve into the subtle human centric discourse of the wider Western culture, let alone secular concepts that are restricted to western societies, such as human rights, individualism, freedom of expression, etc. For myself, this rabbit hole has led to a fairly straight forward non-theistic animism, and to re-examine cultural mythologies and folklore (namely Irish mythology) in this light.