Jonathan Z. Smith writes in Imagining Religion:
“...while there is a staggering amount of data, phenomena, of human experiences and expressions that might be characterized in one culture or another, by one criterion or another, as religion — there is no data for religion. Religion is solely the creation of the scholar’s study. It is created for the scholar’s analytic purposes by his imaginative acts of comparison and generalization. Religion has no existence apart from the academy.”
I am not a fan of religion. Of course, when the offerings topic made the blogosphere, I promised to eventually write something on it. Most of the people commenting on offerings with spirits raised spiritual, and mostly religious, points supporting their position followed by antecedent personal evidence. Let me be perfectly honest and blunt from my opinion: If you are combining hoodoo techniques with ceremonial magic, you are a chaos magician (or at least proving the point that chaos magicians are trying to make). It is the reason, that I say, there's no point in calling myself a chaos magician… and don’t. The arguments were already made and seemingly won.
The reliance of religion is a call to authority, again in my opinion. It is the moral equivalent of do this because I said so; and unfortunately that appeals to many a reader and consumer. No I am not picking on any one person, or don’t think I am. Really, the reliance on that is intellectually weak and at best historical romanticism, since history and source materials are at best the propaganda of the winners of wars cultural and physical. I know people are producing more books on tying magic to religion; and to that I say, bullshit. They are still good people, and I enjoy their company, but that is the product of a cultural age before ours, it is not inherent to the age we are spawning from. That DOES not mean that respect, and respect while working with the spiritual forces, is not critical.
For me religions, even in the pagan circles, are systems of social control with political beliefs embedded into the underlying current of the religion itself. I do not see this as the same thing as spirituality. For those who think that that this definition is not true, look at your average Wiccan coven, druid meeting, or even pagan gathering. It is group dynamics around ethical codes and enforced social dynamics. While this is part of interacting with “spirit”, religion is only part of the culture which creates it. Statistically, LOTS of people are separating religion and magic, as magic has a tendency to function differently as an emergent properties of the age magic is operating in. Guess what, there is whole lot of people getting a lot of results working in a non-religious fashion. The continual, and often historical, romanticism backed up by intellectual rigidity, is pretty annoying, and why I just don’t get into these debates too often - but I am feeling feisty and I have thought about offerings a great deal.
I am in the offering camp, but why, given that diatribe. No we don’t have to rely on two notions that fall under the religious, it just works better with no mechanism suggested, and the "I said so", or "because the spirits want this". These are all religious claims, and that is perfectly ok, but the claims limit some expressions of magic, as I will get into.
I have to state some huge assumptions for the rest of this blog post. I am stating the assumptions up front, if you disagree with the assumptions, well the end conclusions and ideas also will not follow.
- The Spiritual Forces exist in some capacity outside of the individual mind. The religious magicians cry out, praise Jesus, but I am not finished yet.
- The Spiritual Forces are not real, in the sense that they do not share the spatial, temporal, nor physical characteristics which define physical reality. While my assumption is that they exist, they cannot exist in any way comparable to our existence, meaning calling them “real” falsely implies anthropological traits that we ourselves apply.
- Spiritual forces require some tie-in to the material plane to function and work in the material world. Usually this is a human magician, but certain classes of spirits may work independent of people by being tied to certain places, plants, etc. The religious will take open offense to this assumption, but in test after test after test, this is how in practice I have seen it work 99.9999999999999% of the time. That’s a hell of a lot of 9’s and when you take the romanticism out of the equation, I have kinda found this to be the case with everyone I have ever trained. BTW, that does not mean, we might not start aka at birth with some ties to certain spirits at birth. So maybe there is room for spirituality after all! :)
- Spirits probably do not have an intelligence that looks or functions in a way similar to a human intelligence (although the dead might, but even then Time is an issue).
AKA I am not saying this is The Way, I am saying this is one model for understanding that does not involve historical romanticism and calls to authority claims.
Part of the Model 1: The Biology of ExchangeThe first real hurdle is unless you show very sociopathic tendencies, which most people up until the modern age did not (and those people would be weeded out), we have an innate sense of exchange. Of course, in the modern age the sociopath can work the people, to play off this notion. It is so critical to how our human cultures work, and now our understanding of how primate culture works. Functionally, this is a biological imperative and most mammals show some sort of exchange logic (even rats).
Exchange is really the connection point of mammalian consciousness. A dearly departed friend, Dave, used to say it was the Eros initiative (love for other sentient things). Mammals actually tend to bond in this way, and these connection points form the basis of, well, everything. Guess what does not do this: insects and reptiles. So we are talking about an evolutionary bonding process, not very early. This manifests itself in the concept of exchange, or if you like, in the Runic studies department Gebo. Simply put, if there is a biological imperative to connect, there also must be a mechanism to make it worthwhile. So we trade favors for what we need, and share what we have a surplus of with people less fortunate. Culturally, the notion of trading probably goes back to chimps - where they will trade sex for meat. It's what we do.
We cannot, in the slightest, expect something that runs so deep in us not be reflected in our dealings with the spiritual world. In fact, most cultures DO have offerings (higher level magicians aside, which I might get to in part 2 or 3). The religious would say, yep that proves the point, but what it really demonstrates is how culture (of which religion is part) is dictated by our own biological leanings. Of course we trade with the spiritual world, it's what we do.
A counter to this is, of course, physical offerings and not just service offerings. Service offerings, or real devotion, would in fact meet this biological criteria. In this, I am just getting warmed up.
This marks about 1400 words, so tune in NEXT week for Part 2:
Which will include such fine topics as:
- The Space Time Quandary of Different Existence
- Symbiotic Intelligence versus Atomic Intelligence
- The Secret of those Daoist and Hindu Crazy Sorcerers
- How all this relates to Fae Magic (you knew that was going to be in there right).
The Full Offerings series