I’ve been reading essays, lately by the 19th Century philosopher William James. W. J. believed the best path to a healthy happy existence passed through religious belief, which, he writes, involved embracing the best, ‘more eternal’ things in life. He poses his argument at a time when many were coming to grips with the revelations science had uncovered about the natural world. Mysteries previously attributed to the supernatural became understandable; an Enlightenment world view undermined religious belief for those who thought about such things. W. J. argues philosophical pursuit of ‘objective truth’ will only yield, in the end, a deadly dogmatism, an intellectual dead end unable to accommodate experiential re-discovery. Such a pursuit lacks grasp of the realization that scientific knowledge is but a drop in the sea of the unknown.
Our philosopher maintains all of us, everyone, has an ‘inner voice’, an intuitive sense beyond our rational, logical minds that we sometimes suppress, but, when acknowledged can contribute to a superior life experience. One must, he suggests, exercise intellectual bravery, seeking answers to Life’s Big Questions, to not fear being wrong, to conjure the faith to believe. Skepticism he writes delays man’s emotional, intellectual development, is no more than a delaying tactic for those afraid to be wrong. A foray into the metaphysical, the supernatural world is an enlightening prospect, a means of realizing possibilities of eternal entities which will convey a sense of optimism to those religiously embracing that which is beyond the confines of science.
On the face of it, to my 21st century mind, W. J. seems a bit too optimistic. Was the late 19th century a simpler more naïve time? Well, certainly not. It’s just that we’ve put the front and center LBQ’s on the back burner these days.
Although the scientific method, empirical observation, was painstakingly pursued by the best minds of the 19th century, the theistic conceptions through which the empirical data was filtered produced some pretty bizarre conclusions.
Careful observation of fetal development revealed God’s hand in the progression of the fish-like embryo through resemblances of primitive animal life to ape-like higher animals including non-white species until reaching the perfection produced by a Euro-American mother.
The Genesis creation story of mankind originating from an original pair led to the notion of polygenism which determined separate creations occurred for the lesser animals and non-white races, a belief that accommodated a moral acceptance of slave ownership.
I suppose one of the difficulties with establishing any sort of factual truth is no matter where one starts the information gathering, pre-existing ideas must begin the process. Keeping those premises flexible is the key, I guess.
I’ve been reading that, in centuries past, some very bright and talented men held that within human nature an ‘inborn knowledge’ existed. But, what exactly this inner faculty was, wasn’t so easy to explain or necessarily easy for folks to recognize being housed as it was (and still is, I guess) within the subconscious. This innate psychic potential could, it was believed, foretell future events to those awakened to the ability, and numerous examples of just such occurrences were collected by the true believers, among whom was Johannes Kepler (the renowned 16th century mathematician) who also believed, along with numerous others, that each of us is under the influence of astrological movements that form our characters and behaviors and feed our psychic awareness.
So, before science gained the firm grasp on our sense of reality that it has today, explanations of why we feel, behave and act the way we do had firm bases in the occult. And, lest we dismiss these ideas too quickly we must admit that we do have déjà vu moments now and again and there are times when I’m hard pressed to explain the nature of my sudden psychic discomforts.
I have this nagging feeling I’ve traveled these same roads somehow, somewhere before.
In my quest to realize a deeper consciousness I spent time recently in the expanding power of a spiritual vortex. After a fairly strenuous hike I arrived atop a large rock surface that I had been directed to by a group of pilgrims who appeared to have benefited greatly from the visit judging by their peaceful countenances and welcoming gazes.
I sat in the encompassing beauty of Bell Rock, the complementary reds of rock and greens of pinon pine and juniper playing against the blue sky, the light breeze adding to the intoxication of place. After a time I began feeling an upward pull of energy, lifting my being, my spirit soaring, self-dissolving. Pure consciousness revealed the unity of past, present and future, the sense of commonality all of mankind shares flooded over me, love for my fellows and humankind as well, love for our life sustaining mother earth…………………… I know what you’re thinking. Being the skeptic I am I must be playing games, putting you on, acting in a disgracefully flippant manner. Well, maybe a little. But, the combination of fresh air, exercise and beautiful surroundings did lift my spirits.
I’m still meditating and I do feel greater compassion for humankind in light of the many travails it faces; my demons, angers, pridefulness and petty self-interests appear to be dissolving; I suddenly feel serenity coming on; maybe this is a glimpse of what enlightenment is.
The rich mythology of the Northwest Pacific coast cultures identifies a number of characters that seem likely to have god-like potential. One of these, among the Haida, is Master Carpenter who taught the people how to carve and paint the meaningful imagery that appears on the clan houses.
The story goes that before the people knew very much about art Master Carpenter appeared in a halo of light. He told the Haida to go inside their houses and no matter what they might hear during the night, not to rise from their beds. Even though much pounding and scraping and other noises were heard the people did as they were told. In the morning they found their houses decorated with magnificent carved corner poles and the walls painted with beautiful clan totem designs. Then Master Carpenter told the people he would return each day to teach them the arts of carving and painting.
So, I’m wondering if the Haida people saw Master Carpenter as God. You’ve got the halo and the unreal amount of art produced in a very short time which is pretty potent if not omnipotent. It seems to pretty clearly place him into the realm of the supernatural at least.
I would think that, for the carvers and painters, he should carry a lot of weight-someone to appeal to for inspiration, thank for well-received work and blame for poor performance. I’m just not sure, after he did his initial teaching, how much he continues to hang around.
There’s no doubt he could be useful but I’m not sure he belongs on the short list.
Free-thinking Frank was telling me the other day about this group-a movement really-of skeptics dedicated to the task of debunking all things paranormal like ESP, UFO sightings, conversing with the deceased, telekinesis, and anything else they see as magical thinking. They’re a conscientious bunch, Frank says, avoiding generalization and attending to the particular, which means they pretty much take all claims seriously.
Employing the scientific method these skeptics seek out verifiable data and eye-witnesses with consistent, non-contradictory accounts but for the most part are seeking normal and natural explanations for the anomalous phenomena thought of as paranormal. Frank said these skeptics find religious claims dubious as well but aren’t inclined to consider them for analysis since they rely so heavily on non-falsifiable premises.
All in all, Frank said he thought the skeptics are on the right track attempting as they are to clear the air of the fog of magical thinking, you know, putting people on the path of verifiable truth.
As I thought about it, I wasn’t so sure; I found myself skeptical of the skeptics. It seems to me science has relinquished its claim to the ground of truth these days. The space-time continuum among other things has really messed with our intuitive sense of the cosmos. Do our processes of thought even correspond to the structure of nature?
So, for me, it’s time to re-examine the paranormal. The first thing I’m going to do is dig out my birth chart and see what the stars have in store for me.
The demons are after me these days. They’re insinuating themselves into my consciousness relentlessly and in ever more devious ways. They invade my psyche with unhelpful thoughts. They seek and find my psychic weaknesses-poke at them to bring them to the surface.
They manifest themselves in the most unlikely places, turning friends into evil antagonists, pleasant situations into depressing occurrences. I must be on my toes constantly to identify their presence-separate them from normalcy. They come by so frequently lately I’m beginning to be able to identify each individually:
There’s Andros the sewer of discord, Alastor the personification of curses and the host of Hindu Rakshasas poking and pestering but perhaps the greatest distress emanates from Kali who is constantly inciting me to violent action.
I’m consolidating my energies. Soon I’ll call them together and give them each a sound thrashing. It may have to wait until spring.
Have you ever thought about or had the desire to escape the mundane and sometimes harsh realities of everyday existence? I don’t mean simply taking a road trip to Disneyworld but to actually transcend existence, leave the physical world behind and enter the realm of the numinous and ineffable.
Of course one problem might be that even if one could figure out how to get there this extra-physical place might not be all that pleasant, it being numinous and ineffable and all, but I was thinking, if I could go there it certainly would help put things into perspective. I could view problems that seem to be so important and urgent in the here and now in a detached manner that, it seems to me, might be beneficial to my well-being as well as to finding solutions to those problems.
I was reading that certain shamans can make such a journey; they enter into an ecstatic state and actually leave their bodies to journey with their spirit helpers to the land of the dead where they can find answers to important questions that only the dead can answer.
Apparently in order to get to this point a shaman has to undergo some fairly extreme procedures. Among the Buryat people of Siberia the future shaman must die and have his flesh scraped from his bones and his organs removed and then be reconstructed and reanimated by the spirit forces in order to gain the power to make his passage to the numinous and ineffable land of the dead.
I’m just not sure, as much as I’d like to see what the numinous and ineffable looks like, that I’m prepared to accept such a sacrifice even though my bodily transformation would probably have more to do with melted plastic than bone scraping.
I guess, for me, the numinous and ineffable will have to remain numinous and ineffable.