Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pagan Blog Project: C is for Cosmology (Part 1 - The Triple World Model)

Disclaimer: This post is not scholarly-minded. This is my personal system's cosmology and as such it is not found in any particular book or source (although it is obviously inspired and influenced by many different things).

NeoHellenic Witchcraft has a specific religious cosmology that acts as a theological foundation upon which the spiritual meaning and drive of its ritual and liturgy rest.
This religious cosmology is manifold in its aspects and not thoroughly explored or defined. In other words, I have not – yet – recorded all of my theories and beliefs even though I do make use of rituals that hinge, spiritually, even on some of the unexplored parts.

Currently, I recognise two main aspects of this cosmology: the Triple World model and the Hierarchy of Beings. The former deals with “physical religious cosmology”, i.e. the division of the layers of existence (the various worlds and realms), although it is symbolic rather than literal or even mythical. The latter deals with the “cosmology of being”, i.e. the division of the various entities and beings of existence (ranks, groupings etc). This, too, is more symbolic than literal. Both, however, have practical applications in ritual and spirit-work.

Before I define the Triple World model, I need to provide a bit of context and introductory information on my philosophical theories regarding existence, the world and the universe. This will mostly take the guise of brief definitions (which will be added, in the future, to my blog’s glossary). Note that certain terms might be used differently in here compared to common vernacular or scientific terminology.

Existence: The entirety of All-That-Is. Everything that ever was, is and will be, including time itself. Every concept, object, being or idea, physical, spiritual or mental.

The One: The state of existence prior to the Big Bang. The Great Monad, the First-And-Only, the amalgamation of All-That-Is in complete, homogenous and perfect union. The Cradle of Potential and the eternal, underlying state of Being (here meaning “existing” as in the verb “to be”).

The Great Division: The multi-dimensional and multi-layered process that is known as the Big Bang in scientific cosmology. The process of transformation of the One, the changing of the Great Monad into the Many, the Great Crowd – Singularity becoming Plurality.

The Many: The current state of existence (post-Big Bang). The Great Crowd or Great Plurality, the Ever-changing and Ever-progressing Cosmos in infinite, coherent and co-dependent unity.  A Sum rather than a Monad. The realisation of potentials and the eternal, experiential state of Being.

Universe: the entirety of the physical realm – all of space and time, from the tiniest subatomic particle to the greatest galactic supercluster.

Cosmos: all realms, physical and spiritual. All worlds and layers of existence, including the universe.

Realms: The various dimensions or layers of existence such as the physical realm, astral realm, specific dimensions like the realm of Hades, Olympus etc.

World: A synonym for realms, although sometimes taken to mean more fully developed and independent dimensions. Often also means clusters or groups of realms.

Now that the main cosmological terms have been defined, the Triple World model can be presented.

In the Triple World model, the entire Cosmos is divided, as the term suggests, in three types of groups of realms. These are called the Upper World (or Upper Regions), the Middle World (or Middle Regions) and the Lower World (or Lower Regions). The spatial modifiers are allegoric. An important thing to remember is that the Triple World model is a form of categorisation for the sake of philosophical simplicity and organisation, not an attempt at a cosmological and religious “theory of everything”. It intends to simplify the exploration of cosmological subjects so that others can understand how I perceive such matters. Therefore, it is not theologically applicable or (mis-)appropriative of any religion’s cosmology neither an attempt at homogenising – superficially – the cosmological tenets and realms of any religious system.

The Upper World is an allegoric grouping of all realms that share characteristics of being “heavenly” or “celestial”, “godly” and “transcendent”. Realms such as Olympus, the place of residence of many Hellenic deities, the Christian Heaven and the Platonic “world of ideas” are all of the “Upper World” type.

The Middle World is an allegoric grouping of all realms that are connected to or associated with the physical realm (in other words, the physical universe where we reside in). Realms such as the astral realm, the Otherworld(s) of folk belief systems, the spiritual concept of the “Veil (between/of) the Worlds” or the pocket realms of regional spirits and minor deities of places are all examples of “Middle World” types of realms.

The Lower World is an allegoric grouping of all realms that deal with the dead, fallen entities or rest and liminal transformation (such as many types of initiations, deep trance spirit-work, the process or “afterlife” between incarnations etc). Realms such as Hades, Tartaros, Hell or the kabbalistic Abyss are all examples of “Lower World” types of realms.

As I mentioned earlier, the Triple World model has practical (i.e. liturgical) applications as well as philosophical ones. Philosophically, it allows for an organisation of cosmology (the categorisation of realms into types or groupings for simplicity). Liturgically, it echoes the mystical symbolism and power of the number 3, especially in the way that number is expressed in Hekate’s triple form and nature as a liminal Goddess of the Crossroads. The Triple World model mirrors the three domains of Hekate, the Triad of Hekate’s Seal, the three faces of Hekate, the three Crafts of NeoHellenic Witchcraft, the three milestones of a human soul’s journey (birth, death, rebirth), the three main rites of passage (birth, initiation*, death) and countless other things.

The archetypal qualities and attributes of the Three Worlds can be accessed and utilised in ritual, especially in initiatory and other mystery rites as well as rites of journeying and trans-dimensional spirit-work (i.e. spirit-work that deals with multiple realms).

In ritual symbolism, the Triple World model is represented by the Sigillum Axis Mundi, the Seal of the World Axis. The Axis Mundi, also known as the World Tree – another significant and multicultural symbol –, is central to the Triple World model, symbolising the embodied authority of Hekate, the Anima Mundi (World Soul), over the Three World as well as the allegorical ladder or gateway that Hekate’s followers can utilise for their spiritual and mystical work in the many realms.

Just like the Three Worlds correspond to many things, including three of the main ritual tools of NeoHellenic Witchcraft (the Triad of Hekate’s Seal), the Axis Mundi also corresponds to a great many things, some symbolic, other mythical and yet other practical. Ritually, it is connected to the Minor Anima Mundi, the Torch of Hekate, which is one of the main tools of NeoHellenic Witchcraft and lies in the centre of Hekate’s Seal. It also corresponds to the Hermetic Rod, a wand-type tool associated with Hermes, his kerykeion and Wind (both the classical element of Wind and the Wind Gods [Theoi Anemoi]). The Hermetic Rod is heavily connected to the spiritual and liturgical concepts of movement, travel and progress, reflecting the World Tree’s role (among others) as a gateway and road between the many worlds.

The World Tree’s three levels of “branches”, “trunk” and “roots” also correspond to the Upper, Middle and Lower Worlds respectively. In the physical renderings of the Sigillum Axis Mundi, the symbolic markings of the Three Worlds are drawn on these respective levels.

Next time, we will explore the “Hierarchy of Beings”.

*Initiation: Including but not limited to spiritual and ritual/religious initiations as well as any other major transformative events and progresses in one’s life (such as marriage) excluding physical birth and death. Rituals and events that are also called rites of passage (such as cultural observances of the progression into adulthood) fall under “initiation” in this case.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Update: Pagan Blog Project and more!

As you may have noticed, I haven't posted anything, not even for the PBP, for quite a while. I had a multitude of problems that stopped me from posting (from writer's block to a lot of stress and pressure with life shenanigans) but I am slowly catching up.

Here's what's up:

I chose to write and publish the post for the letter E, so I could stay within the PBP schedule (it's currently Week 2 for the letter E) before I started to post the letters I've missed. I already have drafts for the missed letters (namely B, C and D). The problem is they're rather complex and require quite a bit of effort before I can complete them (including research). Therefore, I can't promise you when I'll have them ready. In any case, I do believe it will be sooner rather than later.

In other news, I'm studying for my upcoming university exam period, I'm working on a new, academic-only, bilingual blog (it will have posts in both English and Greek), I'm taking Comic Art seminary courses (I just finished a four-month long cycle and will begin a second, more advanced, four-month cycle of weekly lessons), I'm working on a small webcomic I have on hiatus, and I'm trying to catch up on my personal research as well as practice my sketching and drawing.

As you can see, I'm rather busy so I really can't promise when I'll be able to write and publish the missed posts for the PBP. Worry not, though: I fully intend to publish them, even if it takes a while. I also want to write a number of other articles I want to post here which will be unrelated to the PBP.

Now time for a little self-promotion:

You can always support me by donating (you can find the Paypal Donate! button on the right side of the screen) or by hiring me for the spiritual services I offer via this blog. As you might already know, I'm an unemployed university student so every little bit helps me alleviate some of my family's burden as well as improve my daily life. :) Of course, even "just" sharing my blog and increasing my readers is a tremendous help!

If you're interested in my art-related work (still kind of amateur-ish), you can check my deviantART profile or my art-only Facebook page.

A note to any of my readers that want to request a service or even an art commission: regardless of my schedule and how busy I might be, the commisions and service requests I accept are my top priority both in terms of time as well as quality. You need not worry - I won't delay your request simply because of any schedule issues. :)

Finally, I want to close this post by thanking all of you, my readers, regular or not, for your support, whether that support is monetary or just reading my writings. Thank you!

Pagan Blog Project: E is for Entitlement

Entitlement is one of the more aggravating and widespread problems of the (overall) Pagan community*. It has a multitude of facets and tends to crop up repeatedly. In my experience, it appears the most among the Eclectic (Neo)Pagan scene, probably due to the scene's emphasis in individualisation, the lack of organisation and the - seemingly - large percentage of younger practitioners.

What is entitlement, though, and why is it so much of a problem?

Entitlement is having a right to something. It's not always a bad thing, although the term is used mostly negatively in the common vernacular. Feeling entitled means you believe you deserve a certain thing or result. In the way the word is used in this post, feeling entitled is believing you deserve a number of things whether you fulfill the requirements for said things or not.

There are many types of entitlement present in the Pagan community. Personally, I have observed entitlement in regards to knowledge, availability, recognition, training, gratification and others.

In the - nearly - 9 years I've been part of the Pagan community, I've come across people who demand that others hand out painstakingly acquired (or even secret!) knowledge "just because". The justifications range from "we're all Pagans so we should help each other" to "you're elitist snobs if you withheld knowledge". I've noticed similar behaviour from people who demand training or help while committing fallacies (such as appeal to emotion) as well as from people who want everyone to cater to their sensitivities and desires.

Entitlement in the Pagan community is a problem because there is very little anyone is entitled to within our religions. If one takes into account the fact that the Pagan community is actually a misnomer and an imaginary case (see note) and there are many, many different religions under Paganism, with their own limits, requirements and standards, then it becomes obvious that no one has a right to anything - at least not by virtue of association or "specialness".

No one has to cater to your sensitivities. You're not entitled to training, help, knowledge, acceptance or association simply because you want any of those things. Those things have to be earned (and for valid reasons - not mere desire or envy). Entitlement in the Pagan community is poisonous and problematic because it attacks the notions of hard work, effort, responsibility and progress.

Entitled people don't want to work to achieve their goals. They don't want to make an effort towards improvement. They don't want to build their spiritual and/or religious lives. They don't want to go through trial and error or to fight for their ideals.

Entitled people want to be handed everything for free. They want instant gratification. They want to be pampered and cared for regardless of their own worth. They want to be given everything without contributing anything. They want to have their pie and eat it too.

Unfortunately, entitlement stems from the flaws of our Western society, in many ways. It stems from bad education, from the issues of the demographic generations (such as the baby boomers and the millennials) and, last but not least, from social privilege. I don't want to go into the thorny subject of social privilege (not to mention, I don't have the qualifications to discuss it) but we can't deny that entitlement is rooted in it.

There are, thankfully, ways to battle entitlement. As Pagans we can strive to improve our respective communities; to choose and support our representatives carefully; to educate and improve ourselves where we fall short; to learn how to debate and discuss controversial issues without resorting to fallacies and fights; to reinforce the notions of hard work, valiant effort and co-operation.

These are neither easy nor quick solutions. However, few true and valid solutions are quick or easy.



*Pagan community: In truth there is no single, unified Pagan community. Rather, there is Paganism, which is a religious category, and countless communities within the belief systems that belong to Paganism. While those that identify as Pagans may feel a sense of connection to one another, even if their actual religious identities differ (e.g. Wiccans, Hellenists, Eclectics etc), the fact remains that "Pagan community" is an intentional misnomer utilised solely for simplicity's sake (instead of saying "the various religious and spiritual communities under the umbrella of Paganism").

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Pagan Blog Project: A is for Adiós

I'm changing my second "A" post to reflect a sudden tragedy. A friend, whom I sadly only knew over the Internet, passed away. We weren't very close but I admired his power, his mind, his eloquence, the passion and joy he had in his life and his greatness as a Santero, priest and man of magic and wonder.

His unexpected passing at the extremely early age of 38 years, sparked a lot of thoughts in my mind. Even though this was someone I knew only online, it is the first death of someone I know that I've experienced in years.

I work with Gods of the dead. I am devoted to Hekate, psychopomp Goddess and Lady of the Dead (especially the Restless Ones). I honour many chthonic divinities and, in addition to that, as a Witch I am fairly familiar with the Lower Regions.

It doesn't prepare you from the sudden coming of death. It can prepare you for a lot of things but not the moment, the instance and event of death itself. I guess that's part of the ways things are: perhaps death always ought to shock us for us to truly experience it. I don't know.

All of this is making me think a lot about Ancestors, the Dead and working with them. I'm not going to say much more here, I'm still a bit shocked and not very capable of articulating my thoughts right now. Let's just say that such tragedies have immense impact when they strike someone you know personally; even if over the Internet. So, let us tell our friends, family and beloved that we love them, let us embrace them and let us remember to LIVE because death's finality and unknowable time is ever-looming.

What comforts me and will continue to comfort me throughout all deaths of people I know that I will experience in my life is that, even though we do lose those people, we can still reach out and interact with them in another capacity. I consider myself lucky to practice a religion that values the dead, that contacts and interacts with them in a deeper and more active way than most other systems. It most certainly can never replace the truly living person, but it helps. It helps so that it's not a complete loss.

Adiós, Eddy. I admired your passion, your tenacity, your knowledge, eloquence and strength, your beauty and love for life, your joyous character, always eager to laugh and joke around, your impressive skills as a writer, conjure doctor and priest and your very presence and spirit. For the relatively short time I knew you, I admired and looked up to you as a role-model. You were and are someone I want to be like. May the Gods guide you safely, may they grant you peace, may they bring comfort and solace to your loved ones. I bid farewell to you and honour you as one of the Mighty Dead, one of the blessed Ancestors. You will be missed.

In memory of Eddy Gutiérrez, a fantastic man.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Pagan Blog Project: A is for Academic Approach

To begin, let's see how the word is defined in general:

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, academic means:
  1. relating to education and scholarship.
  2. not of practical relevance; of only theoretical interest.
As an academic myself, I half-agree with the first and almost entirely disagree with the second. In my opinion, this is a bright example why even dictionaries need to be taken with a grain of salt. Someone recently told me "dictionaries reflect word usage - not the opposite". In other words, we don't use a word a certain way because the dictionary tells us so; rather, the dictionary includes a definition because that's how people use the word.

"Academic" can refer to the level of higher education: books written for professors and/or university students are academic books, for example. It can also refer to scholarly knowledge, research and informational approach. An academic study of religion - what interests us in this case - is the properly organised, properly sourced study that reflects the research methodology most oft-employed in higher education. Using the word as a noun we can refer to someone who's a member of an educational institution (like a college or university professor) or field (usually researchers in any field).

My disagreement with the second definition of "academic" - and the main focus of this post - is that it's reflective of the misconceptions of the general public (and, thus, a great portion of the wider Pagan community/ies): that the academic approach is useless.

It really isn't. An academic approach (in our case, to religion) can enrich us with much knowledge and help us separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, it does wonders to disillusion us, to dispel half-truths and superficial nonsense as well as sharpen our minds and critical thinking skills. Our practices become better and more well-informed, our knowledge broadens and we become more thorough and focused in our pursuits. By utilising the tools of the academic approach, we can refine our own religious study and make it much more efficacious.
Although the academic approach is, indeed, theoretical, it doesn't mean it has no practical use or relevance. I doubt anyone would say that the theses and papers on medicine, electronic engineering or environmental sciences are not practically relevant or useful. The academic approach informs the practical - you rarely have advanced practice or complex practical application of any concept without academic study preceding it.

What does this have to do with Paganism specifically though?

The various Pagan religions have a host of issues that can be addressed and dealt with the academic approach. From faulty history to a lack of theology and from confusing ethics to half-baked philosophy (not to mention things like plagiarism, bad writing etc), there are countless problems that could be mitigated, if not outright solved, if more people were aware of and used the academic approach, at least to an extent.

There's another important reason as well. Most of the various Pagan religions are, to a certain degree, reconstructionist or revivalist systems. They depend on the past and the ancient religions, one way or the other, to shape their present. It is nigh impossible to study the ancient religions non-academically. This is a necessary sacrifice that we must make, at least in our generation, so those that come after us can find a more complete system. Of course, any active religion that lives, grows and evolves, will never really stop requiring further study and analysis, so the need for the academic approach will never truly die out. However, it will be much less needed in the future if we do the work today.

The Hellenic religion, for instance, does not have reputable non-academic sources a prospective follower can study in order to learn the religion. All of us are forced, in varying degrees, to study academic sources and attain a scholarly level of involvement with the religion. Failure to do so usually results in faulty understanding of the lore, misrepresentation of the deities and spirits, mistaken (and even offensive) practices and a system that can considerably deviate from a Hellenic character.

In any case, there's no need to get overly academic in our religions (unless we want to, of course!). However, it is imperative that we become more organised and well-informed. Pagan religions are still very new and if they're left to get (or remain, as the case might be) flooded with the mud of misinformation and nonsense, they will never have a proper position amongst world religions nor provide a fullfilling and valid experience to their followers.

My friend, Sarduríur, has an excellent guide for those unversed in the academic method; it can be found here.

My advice is: ask questions, maintain a critical POV (instead of simply an open mind), cross-reference and study. No one's perfect and no one knows everything but proper study can give you a pretty good idea of what and how much you (do and don't) know.

Next week, we'll discuss some specific uses of the academic approach in relation to some of the problems of Paganism we already mentioned.