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Roman household altar to Ianus, Vesta, Venus, Bacchus, Apollo, Saturnus, Fortuna, Minerva, Sol Invictus, Diana, Iuppiter, Mercurius, Dis Pater, and Iuno



Shinto household altar to Tenjin-sama and Amaterasu Omikami



Kemetic household altar and shrine to Bastet, Ma'at, Heru, Djehuti, Anpu, and Amun, as well as Ptah, Sekhmet, and Nefertem (The Memphite Triad)



Germanic household altar to Woden, Thunor, Ingwine-Frea, and Freo (custom woodburned god poles)

Miasma

Aug. 7th, 2017 08:08 am
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When I was around twenty six years old, I used to live on my own in a very small studio apartment just outside my hometown. It was a rather dark period of my life, and was just before I had to leave my place of employment to go on public assistance for my psychiatric conditions. Due to the compounded stress of both work, family, relationships, and social networking, my physical health and well-being began to decline. My living space became very disorganized, and as I started to isolate myself from friends and family, my sleep began to suffer.

I am a member of the Pagan community, and have practiced various forms of traditional polytheism for more than ten years of my life. Though I was and still am a deeply spiritual person, and have had amazingly powerful positive experiences, at this period of my life, my previous commitments to devotional polytheistic practice had began to fall away, and were replaced by feelings of complete despair and confusion.

Initially, my experiences started as a feeling of great uneasiness that would not only keep me tossing and turning in bed at night, but began to wake me up from a dead sleep, and I would try desperately to fall back sleep. Days and weeks would go by, and each time I had an experience, it would become even worse than before. As the feeling of uneasiness would increase, I began to notice strange noises and sensations. Initially I wrote them off as being the sounds of my cheap air conditioning unit above my apartment window, and the poor insulation in the walls around me, but eventually it became too intense to ignore. Like clockwork, I would wake up in the middle of the night, and would feel an ominous presence in my apartment, with a faint rumbling noise that I couldn't make out.

As these experiences became more frequent, and the feeling more intense, I began to have disturbing nightmares before I awoke from deep sleep. It would always be in dark and desolate places, and it always involved me dying in freak accidents or traumatic events. One night, I had an intense dream of driving around in a desolated city in the middle of the night, and I lost control of my vehicle. After I crashed into a large tree, and my vision within the dream started to fade, I heard what sounded like small children laughing at me. I woke up completely startled, and barely got even a few hours of sleep that night.

A few nights later, I remember waking up from a dead sleep, and had the immediate awareness that I was still asleep. I had complete awareness of my bedroom, but could sense that I was still in bed. Around the corner from the wall bed I was sleeping on was my kitchen, which is tucked away in a little alcove. During this experience, I could sense that there was something moving around, so I attempted to leave my bed. All I could manage was pushing myself with all my might directly onto the floor between my bed and the kitchen. A few moments later, small feet tall black figures ran past me towards the front door, and the last one stopped right in front of me while I was on the floor. I heard the sound of devilish cackling and I immediately woke up back on my bed.

Several weeks went by without incident, so I cleaned up my apartment, and tried my best to repair my poor sleep and hygiene habits. My life continued to be stressful however, and I always had the fear of what else might happen lingering in the back of my mind. For several more days, I would wake up in complete sleep paralysis, and what was once a subtle ominous presence with barely audible noises, soon became a dominant malevolent presence, with a hellish sounding growl. Eventually, this presence began to manifest, and I would be stuck in a sleep paralysis with the silhouette of a tall and featureless figure hanging out at the edge of my bed. Each night if would get closer and closer, to the point that I had several nights in a single week where this figure would be lying next to me in bed while I was experiencing my sleep paralysis.

At this point, I began to become more proactive, and in addition to meditating regularly, I started to engage more with my existing spiritual practices, however modestly. Things began to die down for a while, but I knew that until I was able to fix this issue, that things would continue. I started to research related sleep paralysis phenomenon, and what particularly stuck out to me was the common experience throughout most ancient cultures of a malevolent spirit that would latch itself onto a vulnerable victim and try to drain them of their health and happiness. It became clear to me that, in a similar manner to the Ancient Greek concept of miasma, I had drawn this negative spirit to myself because of my poor physical and emotional health.

After spending a few more days improving my situation as best I could, I still felt uneasy in my own apartment, so I decided to spend the night with some close friends. They were renting a home together, and had offered me a couch to sleep on over the weekend. After having a long discussion about my experiences, and hearing their own personal interpretations, I ended up falling sleep. Not too long after, I remember waking up in a sleep paralysis, seeing the very dark inside of their strange living room. What I saw, heard, and felt next is something that I will never forget as long as I live. Standing in the middle of the living room in front of the couch I was sleeping on was an elongated figure. It was about seven feet tall, with long arms and spindly dagger-like fingers. Though its shoulders were wide, its frame was gaunt, and its entire body was covered with grayish brown skin, that looked like decaying flesh. Its eyes were deep black caverns, and it's mouth was a gaping maw of pure darkness.

After a few moments, it rushed over to where I was laying, and crouched itself directly over me, making the loudest and most intense guttural growl I have ever heard. As I was being pinned to the couch, a feeling of complete disgust and anger washed over me. I was tired of being afraid and confused, and I knew that it was time for me to rid myself of this spirit that I attracted through my miasma. My mind immediately went to the gods and goddesses that were most sacred to me at the time, and I thought of them as a combined force of power and authority. I gathered all the strength that I could, and finally managed to speak what I wanted to say to this creature. I looked at the malevolent spirit in it's face, and in a strong voice I said, "In the name of the highest gods, leave!"

In an instant, I awoke from my final sleep paralysis. The presence was completely banished from my life, as if it had never existed in the first place. It felt as if fifty pounds had been lifted from my chest, and I was finally able to breathe again after nearly six months of horrific nightmares and sleep paralysis. I have never had this issue again, and have become even more devoted to my spiritual practices. Though my positive spiritual experiences have helped give me focus and meaning, this experience helped me to understand the value of emotional and physical health to one's spiritual well-being.

On several occasions since then, I have had opportunities to not only share this experience with those who are willing to listen, but to even help others through their sleep paralysis experiences. If there is any piece of wisdom that I can give you, it is to not only take care of yourself, but to realize that when necessary, the most powerful forces against these negative forces are the things that are most meaningful and sacred to you. Genuine faith and trust are anathema to the malevolent spirits which may seek to harm you.
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Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to expand my horizons with many online and offline social groups. I've not only networked through pagan and traditional polytheist circles - making and maintaining friends and acquaintances through those avenues, but have also spent a lot of time forming connections through music, art, gaming, and geek culture communities.

Though many of the people I've interacted with through these contemporary cultures usually come from either a Christian or Secularist background (especially the latter), there is most certainly considerable overlap between ostensibly pagan groups and heavily nerdy pursuits. That being said, save for a few recent exceptions, I've seldomly seen the interaction examined in any sort of detail, which I find rather disappointing and ultimately limiting.

For those of us who ended up coming to a pagan, polytheist, occult, or otherwise alternative spiritual path or tradition, what I'm about to say is already pretty familiar....

Many of us, at least in the west, were raised in some sort of Christian tradition, and the reasons that we came to alternative spirituality, at least as I experienced it, were informed by animistic and/or polytheistic spiritual experiences which were not addressed or recognized, and often either ignored or forcefully discouraged. Though we would eventually find source materials and contemporary literature which examined these other spiritual ideas, there was not much in the way of material that would satisfy our pagan yearnings when were were all children.

But what we did find, presented our first taste of mythological and folkloric ideas, through media that was not only accessible to us, but created in a format that appealed to the creative, exuberant, and explorative qualities that children most often embody. What I'm speaking to of course, are the staples of fantasy and science fiction: art, literature, music, and gaming.

When I was growing up, some of my first experiences of mythology were from the ideas I found in fantasy books, fantasy movies, and video games. I still have fond memories of watching movies like The Labrynth, and later movies like Conan The Barbarian. I also remembering having a sense of wonder from being to explore a fantasy setting in a video game, and I would later explore this further in tabletop RPGs when I was older. But when I was in grade school and middle school, a lot of the material from games I would play found their way into games of pretend, in art and personal stories I created, or in adaptations of those ideas to my first attempt to form pagan philosophies about the world around me.

With all this in mind, I think that in a way, these sources of medium can sort of serve as approachable introduction to folklore, and can help to inspire future generations to examine ideas they would not otherwise find in Christian religions, at least in the west. It is worth noting that many of the video games we've played come out of Japan, where there is still a polytheistic culture through Shintoism - or at least a pluralistic approach to divinity through Japanese forms of Buddhism (though the two are often blended together). There is a certain sense of irony that their culture would help to inspire these ideas in western cultures, and though I don't think it is always intentional, I think it is ultimately a blessing.

Some of what I've said here has already been addressed... in a negative sense. Many Fundamentalist Christian groups have decried the "Satanic content" of video games, art, and literature, and that likely will always be there in some form or another. To me, that is something that we can't entirely avoid, but I think a little controversy is good, ultimately.

The ways in which these mythological ideas are often quite subtle, and usually presented in a neutral manner - through the creation of fantasy world that is more loosely associated with historical cultures or beliefs. I don't think that these media need to necessarily inspire pagan or occult conversion, and many if not most of the people that create them don't hold to views that resemble them, but at the very least I think they can help to instill a sense of wonder, and appreciation for the folkloric history of human cultures throughout history.

But for those future generations who find themselves gravitating towards alternatives, it can grant a sense of comfort and inclusion to otherwise isolated children and adolescents, and help form positive memories for more mature explorations in the future. That being said, I think it is important to make a clear distinction between these fantasy worlds and historically consistent cultural traditions, in the formation of intellectually honest beliefs. I'm a polytheistic reconstructionist, and though I have a clear bias against loosely defined and overly romanticized spirituality, I think that having solid foundational definitions are valuable to people practicing any kind of spiritual path. But to me, that is ultimately the strength of these sources of media, in that by presenting folklore in an entertaining manner, like the many plays and casual fairy tales of old, we can open the door to so much more.

I think that the popularity of these sources of media have been heralding the return of at least an appreciation of folklore by modern culture, and have the potential to include many more people in what we do through alternative spirituality. With that in mind, I think it is our responsibility to lead and assist future generations as they come to the fold.

I look forward to what the future brings...
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Imagine for a moment that you're a young child or a teenager, and after finding that the religion you were raised with wasn't working for you, you took your first steps into other religious beliefs. You looked into other sects of your own faith, and half a dozen World Religions, but you eventually concluded that none of them were right for you. Over a few months or even years, you find yourself in the realm of alternative spirituality. The first thing you would probably notice is the sheer mass of books, resources, websites, and groups - all of them declaring their uniqueness, but many of them with much of the same basic beliefs and themes. And being a teenager, you are drawn to all this variety, because as a young person, you are exploring all of the different experiences you can, in an attempt to find what means the most to you.

Over time, you'll find yourself going through several different paths, eventually finding one that suits you, and though you'll still be involved in the larger community, you'll gradually gravitate closer an closer to a more select group of people with a similar spirituality. In time, you'll eventually discover that the community at large full of "special" people, who despite their motivations to the contrary, are labelled by society as pretty much the same thing: Pagan/New Age/Occult. You'll find that though some people are proud and devoted to their chosen paths, that many will drift into a vague classification - likely Eclectic Neopaganism, New Age, or Occultist - without any specific group affiliation or the maintenance of in-depth discussion.

For most of us into alternative spirituality, this is a strongly repeated scenario. So much in fact that those who do eventually pick a solid path, whether it is Alexandrian Wicca or Hellenismos or Rosicrucianism, are in the strong minority. Most of the people in our community are so vague in their path, that even the terms Neopagan or Occultist are too much of a label for them - sometimes offensively so. Now, you could certainly argue that this attitude is fostered through isolation and prolonged frustration, and though you wouldn't be wrong in thinking that, it's not the whole story. This attitude extends far further into the substratum of our culture than it ever does our psychology or metaphysics. This has to do with the history of those beliefs, and what shaped them.

If you look at most modern alternative belief systems, you'll find that there are two main branches:

1. Traditional
2. Romanticist

The first branch includes Polytheistic Reconstructionist traditions such as Asatru, Hellenismos, Kemetic Polytheism, Religio Romana, Natib Qadish, Mesopotamian Polytheism, Rodnovery, and the like. It also is thought to include African Diasporic Traditions such as Voodoo and Santeria, as well as Traditional Witchcraft, which despite it's modern appeal, is rooted in oral tradition in Europe extending back to the Middle Ages.

The second branch includes Wicca, Druidism, Golden Dawn, Thelema, New Age, and every other modern occult tradition or modern mystical tradition you can think of. Though these paths have several important historical antecedents, they are clearly modern reinterpretations of ideas, and most of them do not make reservations to the contrary.

The important feature of both branches is their European bias. Alternative forms of spirituality as we know them, are a product of European culture and society - most notably in Britain, but extending into most if not all of Western Europe. Though things like Wicca and Druidism have a decidedly polytheistic flavor in comparison to ceremonial magick traditions like the Golden Dawn, they all invariably share their roots in the same early occult traditions of the late 19th century, which were themselves inspired by the Renaissance. The second, and most vital quality that connects all these paths together, is their emphasis on magical practice - often in tandem with or in replace of traditional religious or devotional practice. Bearing this in mind, you start to realize that most all of Neopagan and Occult paths are essentially following a line back to the core of what has been dubbed The Western Esoteric Tradition. This has been used to describe everything from Qabalah to Egyptian Magic, but what that effectively translates to, at least in the minds of those who practice it, is Hermeticism.

But that begs the question: What is Hermeticism?

Hermeticism itself is used as a buzzword to describe Hellenistic views during the late Roman empire leading into the Christian era - also called the Hellenistic Period. Hermeticism is used so frequently because of it's ubiquity in modern thinking, and because of the proliferation of Post-Renaissance occult interpretations, which rely (at least in some part) in Hermetic teachings. But Hellenistic, as the more appropriate term here, includes not only Hermeticism, but Greek Mysteries such as Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, and Orphic Tradition, but also the cult of Mithras, Christian and Persian Gnosticism, Judaism, and Egyptian Mysticism.

So what people are really getting at with all of this vague labeling, whether they want to admit it or not, is that they are basically practicing Greek Magic. Though that may seem a bit broad of a generalization, it's important to realize that all of these mystical traditions, all of the ceremony, the tools, the hierarchies, the orders and covens, etc... they all are rooted in Greek or at least Greco-Roman cultural ideas about spirituality and especially mysticism - the very word mysticism is Greek. Despite all the ways people try to make their paths appear differently, they all come back to this older time and older way of dealing with things.

All that being said however, it's important to realize that the Hellenistic Period played host to a myriad of different traditions - as was evidenced by my above statements. It was a time in the late Roman Period, where lots of different faiths and traditions were in contact, and despite how much the Greeks and Romans "hellenized" these ideas, they were pretty diverse. As it happens though, from both a technical and mythological perspective, Hermeticism is probably the most syncretic as well as distinct form of magico-religious belief system that came out of the Hellenistic Period. It is not only well-suited for magical practice, but is designed for it - so much in fact, that it created a religion around it.

And there in lies the essential point of what I'm getting at here:

Hermeticism is a religion - albeit one that has evolved considerably over time, but one that still exists to this day. It exists in modern occult traditions like the Golden Dawn and Thelema, in lineaged and even solitary forms of Wicca and Contemporary Witchcraft, in New Age philosophy, and even some forms of Druidism. Hermeticism is not only a religion centered around magic, but is a wholly syncretic tradition that preaches universalism over cultural consistency, and uses a metaparadigm as an over-arching framework to contextualize all of the different mythologies it incorporates.

The problem is that many people in both the Pagan and Occult community are in denial. Neopagans get upset with Reconstructionists because they are too traditional and less universal, and freeform Occultists get mad at the initiated because they follow a structured code, and respect the gods and spirits, instead of being morally ambiguous and apathetic. What little Hermetic philosophy still exists in these traditions is largely discarded in favor of ego. Instead of following a Wiccan Rede or the Hermetic Quaternary, so many fluffy-bunnies and stagnating neophytes have no rules, and broadcast their once secret magical traditions to all those who pay attention. The amount of those who claim to have power, but accept no code of conduct or responsibility, despite how close their paths are to Hermetic concepts, greatly outweigh those who do.

Though I am personally a devotional Polytheist, and I don't ascribe to Hermetic philosophies, I do practice mysticism and magic when needed - much of which is inspired by the Greco-Roman world. I read books, do lots of research, and use my creativity and intuition to design rituals suited for the often difficult task of creating effective spiritual change - when mysticism and magic presents itself as the ideal solution to a task or problem. I have my own religious beliefs, and they help ground my mystical practices, but so many modern Neopagans and Occultists do everything they can to deny religion in favor of magical practice. What they fail to realize is, the Hermetic ideals that link them to Greco-Roman culture also link them to Greek and Roman Religion, where things like philosophy and mysticism were other layers or aspects of Religion, but they were largely separate from public religion. It is this kind of practical separation that is lacking in alternative spirituality - that kind of discretion and propriety is lost on many of those we associate in our community, and it needs to be welcomed back into the fold.

Some final thoughts:

It is my opinion that Hermeticism, as a philosophy of belief, conduct, and magical practice, are needed for the newer generation. Not just for Contemporary Witches and Occultists, but for all those who are interested in studying reliable concepts of mysticism. It's influence on modern society is immense, and should not be taken for granted - now more than ever. It is my belief that all of the hyper-sensitivity among Pagans and Occultists is largely due to their inability to find a balance between their desire to be unique and their desire to be together. So much of their core philosophy is rooted in the universalism of mankind, but the distrust and fear many of them have harbored has displaced those noble virtues from their hearts. The best way to heal that kind of resentment is to learn and grown. Accept that things are much bigger than us, and realize that our path to understanding is not just about our own wants and desires, but about connection - between ourselves, our families, our friends, and our gods.

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