Another of those words that sometimes gets people, that catches, like “God” or “Truth”. Understandable, because I don’t really deal in the term “God” anymore myself, I don’t believe in it in a personalized sense of a being – and lord knows I believe in all kinds of things, personages and entities. The big One though, I don’t engage with in that way, and the neopagan fudge of an imagined female gender making it any different gives me the feeling you used to get sitting on those tiny chairs that were actually a little (ok, a lot) too small for you at the one size fits all Sunday school. I’m glad if you enjoy it, I enjoy lots of things, but you may as well say that Superman made the world.
I do believe in spirituality though. I value reason but I’m not a rationalist. I value the body, desire, sexuality and pleasure, but I’m not a denier of there being anything else of value. In part I do get what people mean when they talk about “God”, at least I believe I do (at the risk of presumption), in terms of an experience. I associate it with the Oneness of Being, and a liberated, blissful state of consciousness which I have experienced at times (sometimes extended times), and with love and with a very profound, released peace. It is awesomely freeing, and calling it “God” proved quite counter-productive after a while, as well as landing me with some really whacked out but sincerely conventional company. But it’s amazing stuff, when you can get it out of the tin.
I don’t know what to call that. Free consciousness? Consciousness-Existence-Bliss (from Hindu traditions)? Spirit? that last I am probably plucking from my long gone Christian upbringing, with its “Holy Spirit” milky bar pigeons of light, or maybe little tongues of magic luminosity. The esoteric idea of “spirit” can actually be quite different to that, more like ether, akasha, or some astral, amorphous source matter. Culturally when we say “spirit” we don’t mean that stuff, and I don’t think I do either here. And we’ve often been lectured by our good counter-cultural pioneers about the sins of dividing spirit and matter. You know, body, sex, the world, stuff = bad; transcendence, denial, ghosty stuff = good. And how that doesn’t work, and indeed it doesn’t. But that’s not to say there isn’t a valid question there, arising out of an experience, which maybe got hijacked.
If it comes to a question of “what is matter?” and “what is spirit?”, I would probably say they are qualities of experience. The former is characterized by separation and a binding at the physical senses and brain consciousness. The latter has a unitary, continuous, re-united quality, and does not feel bound by the senses, nor by separative location in space and time, within bodies, and thus intuitively feels closer to a source of consciousness which is not sourced in the brain as such. I hear people talking about spirit and matter, and matter and energy, as if spirit and energy were the keys to each other, but that is not what I intuit here. That would be materialism by an extended back door.
Within popular Paganism, what I mainly see is materialism garnished with psychology. There is a level at which those things are valid, especially where there are things to untangle personally or culturally. But it’s only as relevant as say health food is. If your diet is screwed, it is a good idea to sort it out, but as someone once said (I think it was in a Reshad Feild book): “I’m sorry but no, you can’t eat your way to enlightenment”. Well, you can’t therapize or politicize your way there either.
Spirit (if we want to keep using that word) isn’t just a tool, or a method, or an optimization. It isn’t even just a healing process, it is a whole other world. And compared to here, it’s the real world. I don’t mean that we should blacken or demonize this world (come on now, it’s bad enough as it is), nor that we shouldn’t appreciate the overlap and interaction (the other world is the real source and cause as far as I am concerned in any case), and certainly not that we shouldn’t work to improve and heal life here. But if you’re going to try and find everything here, you’re going to have to fudge things to make the picture look anywhere near complete.
When that other world impinges on this world positively, that’s when we often feel “spirit”, because of the contrast, the release. And if “Spirit” is an experience, and a world, it is also an influence. It’s an influence which human beings generally need at some time or other, and collectively we need. We may seem to screw up the whole thing over and over again in the guise of “religion”, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a real thing there. I think mystics understand that and get on with it, trying to alleviate the suffering that springs from being apparently, separatively incarnated in these bodies, on this wildly, apparently travelling wheel, and who knows what else, in all the permutations of apparent being, material and otherwise. That is why spirit is associated with compassion and healing. It’s not a sentimental impetus arising from within a predicament. It is a radical act of seeing and responding I reckon.
What to do with it, or be able to do with it, in a “world” such as ours, that is the fool’s choice, but it is at least not a lonely choice, not any more.