Thursday, July 22, 2010

Heresies, issue 5: The Great Goddess

Cruise on over to the Heresies PDF Archive to download the Great Goddess issue, and more.

The old-school [that's a compliment] feminist journal Heresies is online as part of a film project that "uncovers the inside story of the Second Wave of feminism" from the point of view of a member of the Heresies Collective, a group of hundreds of women who were (and are) "artists, writers, architects, painters, filmmakers, designers, editors, curators, and teachers."

Heresies #5 contains a fascinating article by Grace Shinell that, among its newage lunacies, discloses some deep secrets of the Divine Mother, complete with an amazing Shakta diagram of creation.

There's also Carol Christ's classic "Why Women Need the Goddess;" a guide to goddess temples, including one of my personal favorites, Chartres Cathedral; the poem "Isis at the Supermarket"; some lovely home altars; a cool article on spirituality and the body by Deborah Haynes; more classic articles: "The Reemergence of the Archetype of the Great Goddess in Art by Contemporary Women" by Gloria Orenstein and "Finding the Goddess: Finding Myself" by Martha Alsup; an article on the Goddess and menstruation... and mucho más amazing, mind-blowing stuff, and nary a word about "essentialism" or how we're all "implicated."

These women were implicated, alright-- in kicking ass!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Guardian Angels on the Mountains

Everyone's familiar with stories of mysterious "presences" that appear to people in extreme circumstances. You might remember, for example, The Waste Land's evocation of that shadowy "third who always walks beside you" sensed by Ernest Shackleton in his Antarctic expedition, and bent by T. S. Eliot into an analogue for the Holy Spirit. On the low-brow end of things, there's an entire magazine (subscrib'd to by Yours Truly) devoted to first-person tales of angelic intervention, published, of course, by Guideposts ("Inspiring Stories, Inspiring People, Inspiring You").

Now there's a book about the phenomenon, John Geiger's The Third Man Factor, reviewed admirably by James Allen Cheyne over at eSkeptic. Though Cheyne is provoked into a kind of agnostic Jesuitry by the "vivid and real" nature of "companion experiences" -- he invents an unnecessary and untenable distinction between "hallucination" and "delusion"-- his review lays out the experience in enough detail to satisfy both angelophiles and atheists.

A very common feature of companion experiences is a voice that guides or reassures the experiencer and that sometimes tells him how to extricate himself from the maelstrom at hand. I've experienced this voice and have written about it ad infinitum on WiHW. Who or what is this voice?

Geiger speculates about the bicameral mind, Cheyne speculates that the "voices" are merely the subconscious, telling people things they already know, I speculate about Angels. What's important is getting in touch with your deep self, maintaining a relationship with your own ass, as a character in Apocalypse Now said. You can call it whatever you want, and you don't need a spell of sugar-starved hypoxia in a snowstorm to get there. It is funny, however, how The Third Man Factor's list of physical and emotional triggers (experienced relatively often in the extremes of mountaineering) resembles a list of shamanic deprivations and kick-ass initiation techniques: fear, isolation, hunger (think Lakota vision quest--or Lent), sleep deprivation, long stretches of monotony punctuated by sudden panic, physical trauma (think bamboo staves in Zen, ritual scarification, the cilice in Opus Dei), etc.

Let's say for practical purposes that it doesn't matter whether we alone, no God needed, can jump-start ourselves (or be jump-started) into higher awareness, or whether She has guided evolution to turn certain experiences into doorways to Her starry realm. The important thing is, some states of consciousness are preferable to others, and there are reliable (if sometimes scary) ways of getting to and staying in higher consciousness. Do it! as Jerry Rubin said. Don't dream it, be it, as Dr. Frank N. Furter said; get out there and climb a mountain or do some pranayama or do something nice for someone you despise, or go on a carrots and spirulina diet for four or five days. I dare you, as Bauhaus sang... to go inside your head and turn it inside out.

Predictably, Kali twits me for my snide remark about C. S. Lewis a couple of posts ago... She directed me quite "randomly" to a book called Desiring God in which the author, John Piper, a "Christian hedonist," argues that the highest Christian calling is to enjoy God and delight in the deity, to intoxicate ourselves with praise--praise being for us as much as it is for God. Piper cites a passage from Lewis in which the Narnian disapprovingly notes that today's number-one virtue is "Unselfishness," whereas for "the great Christians of old" it was "Love."

"You see what has happened?" Lewis asks. "A negative term has been substituted for a positive," yet nowhere in the teachings of Christ do we find adverts for "self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order to follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire....infinite joy is offered us" (emphasis mine). The numerology surrounding the Lewis quote was unmistakable, so that even I would notice I was being chided. I stand chastened, but I'm staying on this side of the wardrobe. And I still think Lewis was a bit of a prat.

But his heart seems to have been in the right place. Dammit. Let's add "wildly and passionately praising God" to our list of consciousness alteration techniques above, for it surely is a powerful one and beats dodging avalanches any day. Here is your homework: make a playlist of the sappiest, most moving, most powerful, catchiest love songs you know, and listen to it daily and send love through your heart chakra to God; sing the songs to Her, or Him, or Them, or Whoever you think is up there minding the store. Belt the songs out, feel them, let them melt your heart like an 8th grade crush.

Do it.

The Lady Twilight

Killing the Buddha has published a five-part excerpt from William Dalrymple's new book Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India. The focus of the excerpt is tantra in Bengal! Dalrymple tells the heart-breaking, inspiring story of Manisha, a devotee of Tara whose life has been a long, strange trip through "the burning grounds of Bengal, an open-air lunatic asylum for the divinely mad."

Normally I'd greet that kind of purple prose with an eye-roll and a waspish dig about orientalism, but where the Mother is concerned no prose can be purple enough. The truth of tantra is stranger than any fiction. Dalrymple is an excellent observer of people as well as places, and he communicates very well the sense of danger involved in the worship of Tara/Kali.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Heather King Is a Wonderful Writer

I found this essay in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2008, and on re-reading it for the third time I checked out her web site. But look! She's been in other volumes of the series, too! (I love the web. I love it. I listened to The Leaving Trains yesterday for the first time in 25 years, courtesy of some dude's blog. Anyway--)

True or not, there's an image out there of spiritual writers as, uhh, disembodied, preferring to live in our heads, or on the front porch of Heaven (if there's a difference). One of the best things about Heather King is that she lives right here on Earth. She'll tell you all about her little corner of Earth, L.A., and tell you in loving microdetail. She's not just one of them there embodied spiritual writers, she's emplaced, in a Thoreauian sense, and her love for God seems to sprout heavenward like a palm tree on Wilshire Boulevard, one with the soil where her Lord has planted her.

Amy Welborn, no slouch herself, has a good post on King. I know Kali has sent me King, and Welborn, because they're so admirably struggling with abandonment to divine providence and because they're so nauseatingly Catholic and pro-life. I know Kali wants me to forget theo-political differences and focus on what matters, and She wants me to see that people with whom I disagree can be my Teachers and that I might not have the monopoly on truth I sometimes think I have. She's brought this lesson home in some pretty in-my-face ways over the years, so I'm going to play what Peter Elbow calls "the believing game" with King's and Welborn's writing and leave the sarc to someone else for once.

If you're reading this as what we might call an "aggressive nonchristian," I should warn you that the Gospel makes more sense and finds a more compelling voice in King's writing than in almost any place I can think of. She's what the schlock legions think C. S. Lewis is. If you don't want to be slapping your forehead and saying "I GET IT NOW!" then leave Heather King alone. You might find your beliefs compromised, you might wake up with a rosary in your hands and the taste of wine on your lips.