Thou Art That

How sad is this? I honestly feel just awful. I seriously started this book review over 5 times. That’s right kids, OVER 5 TIMES! I was given a copy of “Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor” by Joseph Campbell. It’s collected from previously unpublished work. It does what Campbell does best, compares the Judeo-Christian faiths similarities and misrepresentations with scholarship that is authoritative, yet a dummy like me can understand.

What do I say about that besides I liked it? That I REALLY liked it! Here’s what I’d like to say, it comes from Eugene Kennedy, Ph.D., “Thou Art That’s” editor:

“Tat tvam asi” is a phrase that appears often in these collected spiritual reflections of the late Joseph Campbell. These words also inscribe a signature of celebration on his life and work. Translated from the Sanskrit as “thou art that,” this epigram captures Campbell’s generous spirit just as it does his scholarly focus. The great student of mythology not only understood the profound spiritual implications of the phrase but, quite unselfconsciously, lived by them as well.

Joseph Campbell was fond of asking Schopenhauer’s question, found in his essay “On the Foundation of Morality:” “How is it possible that suffering that is neither my own nor of my concern should immediately affect me as though it were my own, and with such force that it moves me to action?…This is something really mysterious, something for which Reason can provide no explanation, and for which no basis can be found in practical experience. It is not unknown even to the most hard-hearted and self-interested. Examples appear every day before our eyes of instant responses of the kind, without reflection, one person helping another, coming to his aid, even setting his own life in clear danger for someone whom he has seen for the first time, having nothing more in mind than that the other is in need and in peril of his life….”

Schopenhauer’s response, one Campbell delighted in making his own, was that the immediate reaction and response represented the breakthrough of a metaphysical realization best rendered as “thou art that.” This presupposes, as the German philosopher wrote, his identification with someone not himself, a penetration of the barrier between persons so that the other was no longer perceived as an indifferent stranger but as a person “in whom I suffer, in spite of the fact that his skin does not enfold my nerves.”

And I feel like that’s the real story this collection of previously unpublished works is trying to tell us. Christian, Jewish, whatever. You are a person that’s part of this crazy experiment called humanity. “Thou art that.”

10 Questions with John Mabry

1. What made you decide to write “Growing into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism”?

I’ve long been a student of Christian mysticism—and a practitioner, too, I might add! I was teaching a graduate course in Christian mysticism at a local university, when I realized that the only textbooks out there were either antiquated or hopelessly inept. I decided to write one myself. But because I’m me, it isn’t a textbook. I teach, but I don’t consider myself an academic. I’m a pastor—so I’m not writing for academics or even students necessarily, but for ordinary folks. My ideal reader is a Christian who wants to go deeper into her own tradition, or a non-Christian who wants to see what all the hoopla is about.

2. Readers know what I mean when I say Christianity, but what is Christian Mysticism? What is the difference?

In my mind there isn’t one. Mysticism is the very core of the Christian tradition, regardless of what denominational lens you’re viewing it through. The problem is, most Christians have either forgotten this, or they don’t recognize what they believe as being “mystical.” Mysticism is the pursuit of—or enjoyment of—union with the Divine. Since all Christians believe that they are united with God (or Christ or the Holy Spirit) in some fashion, all Christians are mystics. But unfortunately, we in the Christian tradition have done a pretty lousy job of communicating our tradition, even amongst ourselves. We’ve made it so sin-centric that we’ve sapped it of its joy—and that’s just not the way of Jesus at all. Christianity isn’t about sin or guilt or blame. It’s about life and transformation and making love to God. (There, that should get me on some Christian fuddy-duddy’s hit list.)

3. The path of the Christian Mystic has steps leading to Union. Could you describe each step to my readers

Sure. First, Evelyn Underhill describes a step zero, called “Awakening,” that kicks everything off. This is a mystical experience that just kind of comes out of nowhere and knocks you upside the head. You go, “WTF? What the hell was that?” This is kind of the “God as heroin dealer” model. The first taste is free, but you know you’ll want more, and soon you’re hooked. Which is good, because the next step is very hard. The mystics call it “Purgation” and it’s the first step in the classical model. Once you’ve had an Awakening experience, you see everything in a new light. You begin to sort through the things in your life, weighing them in light of the mystical revelation you received. You begin to let go of those things that are not congruent with your vision, and hold on to those that seem congruent. Basically, you’re sorting the illusory from the Real, based on the brief glimpse of the Real that you’ve received.

Once your done with this sorting, you can settle into a serious meditation practice, which the mystics call “Illumination.” In the Illuminated state, you see the Divine in all things. But as you go deeper, you realize that this is incomplete—that in fact, it is the other way around: all things are in God. I call this stage, “Enjoyment” because in it you really learn to enjoy the presence of God, and you sink deeper and deeper into an awareness of the Divine presence.

Finally, you sink so deep that the distance between you and the Divine disappears. The mystics often speak of this as “divine marriage” or “divinization,” but the result is the same—the illusory distinction between the Creator and the creation is dissolved, and the mystic enters into full and conscious union with the divine. But this is no sea of bliss. To be one with God means that what God wants, you want, and what God does, you do. And since God’s primary concern is to heal everything that is wounded or broken, mystics in full union are very busy people, spending most of their time with the poor and the oppressed.

(Question 4 was skipped because he pretty much answered it in question 3.)

5. In reading “Growing into God”, the path of the Christian Mystic doesn’t seem entirely safe. Could someone attempt this by themselves with just your book for guidance?

No form of mysticism is safe. People blow out their nervous systems doing Kundalini yoga all the time, when they try it out of a book. Christian mysticism isn’t as hard on the body’s electrical system, but you’re right—it’s not a safe endeavor, either. It’s best done within the context of a loving and supportive church community (there is no such thing as a “lone ranger” Christian, after all) and for best results, one should see a trained spiritual director once a month.

6. The Catholic Church features many mystics in their history, but I get the feeling if someone spoke to a bishop today and said, “I’m pursuing the path of the Christian Mystic,” the Bishop’s response would be to back away from you slowly. I guess my question is, what’s up with that?

Well, my guess would be such a reaction might have something to do with an overzealous ambition. It’s like the difference between saying “I’m thinking of going into politics” and announcing, “I’m going to be king of the world!” Going into politics is doable, being king of the world is less likely. And so it is with mysticism. The truth is that all Christians are called to be mystics, but few ever reach the “finish line” of full union in this lifetime, but the good news is, we don’t have to. As St. Therese of Lisieux of Liuseaux said, “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

On the other hand, if most Christians knew their own tradition better, we’d all own up to being “on the mystics’ path,” and there would be far fewer raised eyebrows. Still, your fictional bishop should know better. Instead of backing away, he should clap a hand to your shoulder and say, “That’s a wonderful thing. I’ll be praying for you.”

7. Can Union be compared to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment? Is this path just for Christians?

The stages of the mystical journey are roughly the same in most religious traditions. If you conceive of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold path as a linear model of spiritual development, and compare that to the model laid out in the Hindu Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, and compare that with the Christian model of Purgation, Illumination, and Union, you’ll find amazing similarities. The Hindu and Christian models are the closest. The Buddhist model does things in a slightly different order, but all the pieces are there. Of course, each tradition uses a different vocabulary, different metaphors and symbols to describe this journey, but the journey is basically the same. In my book I’m describing the journey as Christians have experienced and spoken about it. But when you strip away the symbols and language and cultural baggage what you find is the same journey of the soul—a human journey.

8. Can you tell us about one of your favorite mystics and why they’re a favorite?

I have so many favorites! I especially love Julian of Norwich, though, because her visions are so rich, so emotional and loving, and they also challenge the theological notions of her time, albeit in a cannily diplomatic way. But I also love the practical mysticism of Charles Williams. His “occult thriller” novels are masterpieces of both horror and theology. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today if not for his influence.

9. What’s next for you? Any more books?

Yes, there are always more books! I have a new one coming out from Morehouse/Church Publishing titled Faithful Generations: Effective Ministry Across Generational Lines. I’m also polishing a Christmas novel, and hope to soon start work on a sequel to my horror/comedy/adventure novel, The Kingdom. Meanwhile, my progressive rock band, Mind Furniture, just did our first gig and we were blown away by the positive response we get, so we’ll probably put some energy into more live shows, even as we continue working on our next CD. Our last CD is called Hoop of Flame, and it’s on iTunes, so I hope you’ll check it out. It’s got a great hymn to Shiva, and a rock opera where we put God on trial for his crimes against humanity. It’s a kick!

10. Part shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Have you done any articles on Christo-pagan/Christo-Wiccan rituals or communities? I’d love to read that, if so.

I haven’t, but I’d love to. There are so many topics out there, so little time it seems. A great place that has discussed it from time to time along with a ton of other fascinating topics is The Wild Hunt website.

About John R. Mabry, PhD:
John R. Mabry is a United Church of Christ minister and pastors Grace North Church (Congregational) in Berkeley, CA. He teaches spiritual guidance and world religions at the Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministry in Berkeley and at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto. Among his books are “The Way of Thomas”, “Faith Styles”, and “Noticing the Divine”.

Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Journey

“Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Journey” by James Conlon is a memoir of sorts. Conlon tells the story of his life as it unfolded during pivotal events like the Vietnam war and Vatican II but he also discusses his emerging love affair with creation spirituality. As the book progresses the memoir comes to the present day where Conlon talks about the Sophia Center where he is Director.

However, that truthful, but remarkably bland, descriptive paragraph does not do “Invisible Excursions” justice. It tells the story of a questing, compassionate Christianity that I wish we heard more about these days. One that knows matters of taking care of our planet and social justice are equal to, and work with, matters of theology.

Conlon doesn’t just share his personal journey, he tries to inspire you to look at your own journey and make the most of it. He shares a few of the journeys of those who came to the Sophia Center. Ultimately I feel that “Invisible Excursions” is meant to give us hope in a time when despair is pretty easy to find, and more importantly, Conlon wants you to take that hope and pass it along.

Old Sir Christmas

By John Matthews and Caitlin Matthews from their book The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas (used here with the Quest Books permission)

The Birth of Santa Claus

His story is a complex one. Many will know that Santa means saint, and is of modern usage. Others will tell us that the nearest point of origin for Santa Claus – in time, anyway – is St. Nicholas of Patara, a third-century Bishop of Myra, near the present-day village of Demre in Asia Minor. Born in Turkey to a wealthy family around A.D. 270 he became well known for his anonymous gifts to the poor. Tradition has it that he left these offerings in the houses of selected recipients, sneaking in during the night to leave money or food in the shoes or stockings of children – though it is doubtful whether they would have worn either in that hot land, assuming they could afford such luxuries anyway. However, such is the tradition, and it is from this that we derive the custom of hanging stockings by the fireplace, while in various countries such as Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, and Holland, December 6th, St. Nicholas’s official day, is also Children’s Day, and is considered just as important as Christmas Day itself. In fact, it is only in comparatively recent times that we have conflated the two dates – the 6th and the 25th – making the latter a general festival for the exchanging of gifts.

Good Old Saint Nick

If we go back to the Middle Ages, about 1,200 years after St. Nicholas actually lived, we can see how this might have begun. In the words of Naogeorgus, the author of the Latin Vita Sant Nicolai (Life of St. Nicholas):

The mothers all their children
on the eve do cause to fast,
And when they every one
at night in sense sleep are cast,
Both apples, nuts,
and prayers they bring,
and other things beside,
As caps, and shoes, and petticoats,
with kirtles they hide,
And in the morning found,
they say: “St. Nicholas
this brought.”

This has most of the ideas that we associate with the figure of Santa Claus, but there is another, stranger story told of St. Nicholas, which actually points the way to his true origin far more clearly:

An Asiatic gentleman, sending his two sons to Athens for education, ordered them to wait on the bishop for his benediction. On arriving at Myra with their baggage, theytook up their lodgings at an inn, proposing to defer their visit till the morrow; but, in the meantime, the innkeeper, to secure their effects to himself killed the young gentlemen, cut them into pieces, salted them, and intended to sell them for pickled pork. St. Nicholas, being favoured with a sight of their proceedings in a vision, went to the inn, and reproached the landlord with the crime, who, immediately confessing it, entreated the saint to pray to heaven for his pardon. The bishop, moved by his confession and contrition, besought forgiveness for him, and supplicated restoration of life to the children. Scarcely had he finished, when the pieces reunited, and the resuscitated youths threw themselves from the brine tub at the feet of the bishop; he raised them up, blessed them, and sent them to Athens, with great joy to prosecute their studies.

A.T. Hampson: Popular Customs and Superstitions of the Middle Ages

On one level this story may be regarded as nothing more than a pious anecdote illustrating the sanctity and goodness of the saint. But there is more to it than that. The notion of a person being dismembered and put back together, as portrayed in this tale, again derives from a far older time, and when it is placed in conjunction with certain other factors, a surprising new image begins to appear that has all the characteristics of the traditional Santa without any of its later overtones of bishops and Christianity.

The Gift Givers

In comes I, Old Father Christmas.
Welcome – or welcome not,
I hope Old Father Christmas
Will never be forgot.

The Longparish Mummers’ Play

Santa Claus is really only the latest of many figures which have come to be associated with bringing gifts on the night of December 25th. In France presents are given on New Year’s Day and called entrennes, a name that can be traced back to the strenae, green branches, exchanged between people at the Roman feast of the goddess Strenia. In Sicily it is an old woman named Strina who brings gifts at Christmas, continuing a tradition that began in the days of the Roman Empire.

The figure who stands behind the jolly old man of Christmas is older even than this, however. In fact, his story takes us back to the beginning of recorded history, when some other characters climbed up trees of a different kind, and returned with gifts for everyone. These were not toys or perfume or watches, but messages concerning the year to come, or the turning of the seasons, or the fate of the world. These people were the shamans, who performed the functions of priest, historian and record keeper, scientist, and magician. Of course there were shamans all over the world, and in most cases they performed the same or similar functions, but, for obvious reasons, it is those who originated in the far North – anywhere from Lapland to Siberia– that interest us most in this context. It is these people who often wore bells on their ritual costumes, who shinned up the central polesof their skin tents, and who returned with the gigts of prophecy and wonder from the Otherworlds. Its is to these people that we have to look for the first appearance of the figure who, thousands of years later, evolved into the jolly old man of Christmas himself, Santa Claus.

If we look for a moment at some of those similarities we can catch a glimpse of the evolution of one into the other. If we dip our hands into Santa’s sack – so like the shaman’s bag of tricks – the first thing we find are the bells that jingle on the harness of the eight magical reindeer. Contemporary accounts of northern shamans, including those of the Altaic and Buryat regions of Siberia and those of the Finns and Laplanders, again and again emphasize the importance of bells in their traditional costumes. These form a double function; as noise-makers to announce the presence of the shaman as he enters the spirit world, and to frighten off any unfriendly spirits who might be lying in wait for him. In addition, iron disks representing the sun or curved in the shape of the moon represent the importance solar and lunar rites among these Northern people– and important point in our consideration of the Solstice itself.

Red Robes and Firelight

Reaching into the sack again we find a red robe or cloak, trimmed with white. Many authorities on shamanic tradition have commented on the importance of the color red in the shaman’s costume. This is, on one level, significant of the sacred blood that links all human beings and that is also perceived as a link between humans and animals, and between the shaman and the earth. It is also, of course, a symbol of fire, that most powerful of magical weapons, as well as the gift of warmth and life to all, especially significant in such cold lands as those we are considering here.

Next in the sack we find a burning brand that signifies the eternal light and the warmth without which all life would perish. The shamans possessed this gift of fire, which initially perhaps they alone had the power to kindle (the number of flint fire-lighters found among shamans’ bundles alone is enough to suggest this) and which was a gift they brought to the tribal people they served. It was believed that these gifts were entrusted to them for the people by the gods and spirits of the land. Here, the symbolism of red fire in the white desert of Winter is a vital image. Is it stretching the point too far to see an echo of this in the red and white costume and white beard of a certain other figure? Certainly the importance of these colors throughout the northern world is beyond question.

Dipping into the sack again we find reindeer with bells on their harnesses, who can fly through the sky and cover vast distances in no time at all. This is yet another echo of the shaman’s journey into and through the heavens, in search of the gifts of fire and prophecy. In addition, there is the obvious importance of reindeer to the people of Lapland and Siberia is obvious. To these people the reindeer not only provided a source of food but also skins for clothing and tents, sinews for thread, bones for needles, and, when rendered down, fat for rush lights and
glue to mend pots and fix spearheads in place.

So Santa is an old man dressed in red who comes out of the dark forest of the North on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. It is significant then that the shamans hunted the reindeer, ran with them in spirit Corm, drew their shapes on rocks with red ochre as a means of capturing them, even saw them as a symbol of the newly born sun of Midwinter. A wonderful modern poem speaks of the hunting of spirit deer, who, impervious to the hunter’s arrows, were a symbolic reference point for hunting the real creatures:

A red deer comes over the hill,
Shoot your arrows as you will,
The deer will stand there still!

Alison Mcleay: Solstice

The Shaman in the Tree

Consider the image of the shaman climbing down through the smoke hole of a skin tent with bells jingling, bearing in his hands a red painted wooden reindeer. The shamans saw to it that the sun returned from that point when, at the very edge of the horizon, it dipped and, for a moment, was gone. Then, summoned by the ancient language of the elements, it returned. Sun images were hung on a tree, that also formed the central pole of the tent and represented the axis of the world, the connection which leads to the heavens the final destination of the shaman who was, indeed, the midwife of the sun.

Imagine some of the questions asked of the shaman. As Alison Mcleay put it in her wonderful evocation of the Solstice in a radio broadcast she made in 1985:

Shaman, will the sun be reborn?
Will we have a good harvest?
Will we catch enough fish, will
there be enough meat to eat,
will the reindeer drop enough
offspring to keep us through another year?
What will the new year
bring for us, for me?
Tell us, shaman, make your
journey and bring us the
gifts of your seeing?
You are the bringer of gifts,
the protector, the magician,
the future is yours to see, the
gifts of the future and the past
—tell, us shaman, tell us.

Sacrifices were hung on the living tree: animals, birds, perhaps once even humans, such as Odin hanging on the windy tree of Yggdrasil to bring back the gifts of the runes. Odin’s eight-legged horse Sleipnyr may also be linked with Santa’s sleigh and its eight reindeer. And that song – next out of the sack:

0 the rising of the sun, and the running of
the deer, The playing of the merry organ,
sweet singing in the choir

The Holly and The Ivy

These are old images, stolen by a later time, and reflect two aspects married under the Solstice tree: the running deer who were the totem creatures of many different Northern tribal groups, and the singing of carols in the stone forests of the Christian world. The old ways were not wholly forgotten, not even after the coming of the Christ child, who brought the gifts of light and eternal life to the world, and who received gifts from the wandering wise men – the Magi of biblical and pre-biblical tradition. They too contribute to the image of Santa the gift bringer, and, as we have seen, there is more to them than meets the eye.

About John Matthews:
John Matthews is an international authority on Celtic folklore, the Western mystery tradition, and the Grail legends, and is one of the great culture-bearers of our times. He has written over forty books on the Arthurian legends, esoteric wisdom, and the Grail. His Quest Book “The Winter Solstice” won the Benjamin Franklin Award in 1998. With his wife and frequent coauthor Caitlin, John established the Foundation of Inspirational and Oracular Studies. To visit the author’s website, www.hallowquest.org.uk

10 Questions with Megan Don

1. For readers who aren’t familiar with her, can you tell my readers a little bit about Teresa of Avila?

Teresa of Avila was a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, who was renowned for her astute insight into the workings of the human soul and who came into her realized self after many years of following her spiritual path. Do not be fooled by her outer nun role, she was a powerful woman who spoke her mind, and who engaged in the fullness of her passionate heart. She was guided to a vocation of reform, that is, reforming the Carmelite Order, for both women and men, returning it to the original intention of “tending to the garden of the soul.” She established seventeen new monasteries along the length and breadth of Spain, which included buying and selling real estate, fundraising to pay for the properties, and ensuring that each monastery had an income so they were self supporting. She was a dynamic powerhouse of energy and manifestation, and at the same time nurtured a deeply spiritual connection with her Inner Beloved. She says, that the only way she achieved so much was through the absolute reliance upon the divine. She is the perfect example for us today as we align ourselves with both our inner and outer world and all that needs to be tended to in order to live upon this earth in a wholesome way.

2. What made you decide to focus your research on her?

I did not decide. I think she or the Beloved did, or both. One evening being awoken from sleep, I was given a vision of Teresa’s life. I knew it was her, I knew the stones of the monastery walls I was seeing, and in the morning I knew I had to visit Avila, Spain and also to study her writings. Within six months I was in Avila, and while there I was making some notes about my experiences. It was then I realized that I would be writing a book on her. Not being a writer, this was a little perplexing, so I said if a book was to be written then the Spirit needed to write it, as I had no idea what to do. I therefore, see this book as a gift I was given and which I gift onwards and outwards to the world. It has been an extraordinary journey, for which I am very grateful.

3. Your book “Meditations with Teresa of Avila: A Journey into the Sacred” contains hundreds of quotes attributed to Teresa of Avila. Do you have a particular favorite?

I think I will need to extend this to two favorites:

I can find nothing to compare with the great beauty of a soul and its infinite capacity…the soul is nothing but a paradise in which the Beloved takes delight.

We have not been taught self-love in our culture, and here Teresa is pointing to an inner beauty so profound and so infinite that I think there are very few who can touch this or believe it. While meditating at her birthplace in Avila, I was given the experience of this quote, of knowing how infinitely we are loved, and that is, the whole of our being. There is no distinction between ego and the divine self, we are loved completely exactly as we are. After many years, it still touches my soul deeply when I revisit this experience, and it is something that I wish every soul on earth could know and experience.

Outside this castle neither security nor peace will be found…[the soul] should avoid going about to strange houses since its own is so filled with blessings.

Teresa described the soul as being like a luminous crystal castle, and here she reiterates the need for us all to draw deep within our own beings. It is within that we will find we have everything and more than what we need. We are so filled with blessings and yet we still seek to be blessed and loved from the outside of ourselves. It is interesting that our true source of happiness lies within and yet we prefer to experience unhappiness through a constant seeking without.

4. What do you hope readers take away from your book?

The book has been written so that it can be experienced, that is, there are quotes from Teresa’s work, then a short exposition relating her wisdom to our contemporary living, and then a meditation in order that we can experience and embody the teachings given. My hope is that the book will provide a transformational experience for the readers, that it will relate to, and open their lives to the greater reality that they are, and most of all, that they will come to know the Inner Beloved and the love of self.

5. In your book you discuss how it can be read for group study. Have you heard from readers who have done this? What were their experiences?

Yes, the response has been wonderful. Groups (and individuals) have been most grateful for the accessibility to Teresa’s teachings. Her original writings can be a little laborious at times, and they are also ensconced in 16th century terminology that is not so appealing to the modern mind. People were aware that Teresa held a key for their spiritual path but were previously unable to access her, so being able to enter her wisdom in a very practical way, relating it to their everyday living has been appreciated.

There has also been a lot of appreciation to know of Teresa’s struggles in her life, as these struggles are still ones we face today. Teresa fought her way through a quagmire of fear and self-doubt (for many years), and she struggled with belief in her self and her spiritual experiences. She had to release old friends who no longer supported her life and she had to stand up in the face of much criticism by colleagues and fellow spirit travelers. Many of us have also experienced these same challenges and to read of her story and her overcoming these things brings hope to us all. Teresa was a woman of great courage, though she is quick to say, it was the Spirit who gave her the courage. And this is what the readers have relayed, that they were given a newfound courage to step out on their pathway and to follow their inner guidance.

6. “Meditations with Teresa of Avila” is divided into seven “dwellings”. What is the significance of the “seven dwelling places”?

The seven dwellings are places in which the soul travels as it makes its journey back to the Beloved. As said above, Teresa saw the soul as a luminous crystal castle, and within this castle there are the seven dwellings and within the dwellings there are rooms upon rooms. As we enter each dwelling we come closer and closer to the Inner Beloved and the center of the soul. These dwellings are pathways or a spiritual map, if you like, taking you through different stages upon your journey. We enter the dwelling of Awakening, The Return, Self Knowledge, Interior Recollection, Surrender, Betrothal, and finally The Sacred Marriage. Though it is important to note that the journey is not linear. We enter different dwellings at different times according to the needs of our soul. For instance, the Awakening is not a one-time visit, but something that happens over and over again, and as our journey continues the experiences become more subtle and more refined. So it is more like a circular journey into the infinity of our being, a journey that never ends. As Teresa said, I think God too is on a journey.

7. On your website, www.mysticpeace.com, I see you have pilgrimages planned for Assisi, Italy in May, Ireland in June, Ireland again in July, and Avila, Spain in September! What kind of work goes into putting together all these trips?

A lot of work, and I love it. Of course, there are the very practical details to work out, such as schedules, where and when we will stay, eat, and take ferry rides and so on. Plus tending to everyone’s practical needs and questions before and during the pilgrimage. And then there is the very spiritual nature of the journey to attend to; being led to the places that are spiritually powerful and have a resonance that is alive and living; and opening to the wisdom contained therein and how it may relate to our own souls and journeys. There are also themes for every pilgrimage, for instance, the upcoming pilgrimage to Assisi, Italy, is “Remembering Your Sacred Work,” and one of the pilgrimages to Ireland is “Living as an Elder,” so I also do much preparation around these themes and recommend reading prior to journeying so everyone can have a full experience. Fortunately, I have been granted the gifts of administrator and the ability to tend to details, as well as the ability to open to the mystic wisdoms.

Something so magically potent occurs when on a pilgrimage. For me, it is the body connecting with the body of the land you are walking on, praying with, and listening to. I have many people return and participate in different pilgrimages with me each year. We form an inner bond that is very sacred. These same people are also often in Spiritual Direction with me, so the experiences together are exquisitely rich. There are no words to describe the deep transformations that people experience – it is deeply humbling to be a sacred witness.

8. You have another book called “Sacred Companions, Sacred Community: Reflections with Clare of Assisi”. Who was Clare of Assisi, and what can we learn from her?

Clare of Assisi was Francis of Assisi’s spiritual companion. Perhaps the most understated enlightened woman of our Christian heritage. As Richard Rohr speaks in the foreword of my book (and I paraphrase here), it is a travesty that she has been so overshadowed by Francis and the male order of Franciscans, and he calls for a return to the feminine wisdom of Clare and her sisters as a way to bring back a fragment of sanity and calm to our world.

Clare was extremely masterful at creating community, and if she had had her way, the Franciscan community would have been one of both women and men, and not segregated. Francis unfortunately bailed on this idea, as I believe, his attraction to Clare was so great that he didn’t know what to do with all his passion and feelings, and therefore, best to separate and be safe. Clare was not at all happy about this, but Francis was a stubborn and willful man and so a different history was created.

I speak of Clare as being the first propagator of Non-Violent Communication. For her, kindness of speech was imperative in creating a harmonious community, and also compassion of the heart. Her writings give great wisdom into community harmony and living. She also writes profoundly about her mystical world and her relationship with the divine love. She writes, Place your mind before the mirror of eternity, place your soul in the brilliance of glory, place your heart in the figure of the divine substance, and through contemplation, transform your entire being into the image of the Godhead itself. Her own commitment to her contemplative and prayer time raised her consciousness and image into the light body of love. This divine love affair and her great love for Francis I cannot separate – they were one and the same – yet she had a pathway of needing to release attachment to Francis over and over again, even to the point of his death.

I cannot emphasize enough the quiet power of this woman. It is my joy to bring her wisdom forward and to lead people to her home in Assisi – there she is readily felt and known, as is her companion and love, Francis.

9. What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects my readers can look forward to?

Ah yes, it is indeed a wonderful journey. I have been studying the Gnostic Gospels and other related Gnostic texts, unveiling the great wisdom of the early Christian communities, along with the mysteries of Mary Magdalene and the feminine teachings. Joining with this, my Celtic heritage has re-emerged and my childhood gifts of working with the animal and tree spirits and elemental beings. I am finding these traditions so effortlessly join together, and when we remember Mary Magdalene’s many years of teaching and living in Southern France and the great Celtic and Druid presence throughout France, it makes sense for this re-emergence and re-union if you will. So I envision another book revealing this work and my experiences, and pilgrimages to these areas also.

I also have a great interest in community, and opening the way as a house of hospitality for people to come and enter into their sacred self even more deeply, for varying lengths of time, and drawing on the work and themes as reiterated above. So readers may watch for something of this nature being created in the future.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Buffet any one question.

The first question that came to me was, “Can we create a special Magical Buffet Pilgrimage, where readers can come and journey together into these sacred wisdoms?”

Just a thought. Can you imagine the logistics of that – even first off deciding the place? Next year I head to Glastonbury in May/June and then Chartres Cathedral and Mont St. Michel in France in September. Perhaps a Magical Buffet contingent can descend and then ascend together?

By the way, love what you are doing at Magical Buffet – brava!

See, I think you give me too much credit. I see The Magical Buffet Pilgrimage going to Puerto Rico for the religious for me experience of the Taste of Rum Festival, or maybe going across town to a friend’s house for an action movie marathon. I’m not a very exciting lady!

About Megan Don:
Megan Don is the author of “Meditations with Teresa of Avila”. She is a spiritual counselor and teacher of “The Pathway of the Mystic.” She leads pilgrimages to Avila, Spain and other sacred sites in Europe. Megan devotes herself to awakening the mystic within humanity and teaches an embodied spirituality that honors all traditions. She divides her time between the United States and Europe. Visit her online at www.mysticpeace.com.

The Mystical Pathway to Peace

By Megan Don

“It is in your power to live and to die with this peace.” – Teresa of Avila

Our society is fraught with conflict, be it political, religious or personal. It might even be said that we, as a human race, thrive on conflict, as it seems to be a precursor to our growth and change. It provides a stimulus for disintegration of old thoughts and ways of being and regeneration for new modalities and paradigms. From the rebel teenager, to the warring couple, to international peacekeeping efforts or the political terrorist, their aim is the same – to overthrow, or keep at bay, what they perceive as a hindering force to their right to freedom (whatever that may be). But what is the real freedom we all seek? And can we not find another more peaceful method of change? First, we need to look at the nature of conflict and to see how and where it arises.

Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Spanish mystic and Carmelite nun, was very familiar with conflict. From a young age Teresa experienced a dichotomous inner relationship with herself. She developed a deep respect for the spiritual life through her father’s influence, but she also cultivated a great taste for the materialistic life through the nobility of her mother. She was ultimately split into two different modes of being and was unable to reconcile these two influences until late in her life, even while living in the monastery.

Conflict became as a personal paradigm for Teresa. She was incredibly strong-willed and began the battle with her own ego, which she clearly perceived as constantly rallying against the greater will of God. This caused her much internal pain and a sense of division, as she was unable to surrender her own thoughts and will. In her resistance, she felt the ego struggling to remain in control, and yet, she distinctly felt the pull of her inner spirit. This spirit was inviting her to another place – the place of freedom and peace. Separation from God was the cause of Teresa’s conflict, and only when she was able to join her soul with the divine spirit did she find peace. It was through surrendering the ego, not annihilating it, that enabled this to occur. It was not an immediate release however, but a gradual remembering and relearning by her soul.

As with Teresa, I believe that the paradigm of conflict is paramount in our society. The ego has been living a life of separation from the spirit, causing conflict to occur. On a personal developmental level change frequently occurs after a great inner tension and conflict has been felt and lived. On a political level that same tension and conflict causes a change in leadership and power, but unfortunately is often manifested and affected through violence and war. This framework and partnership of change and conflict now needs to be dismantled.

This regenerative process of change can be affected in a loving way. The great beauty about Jesus was that he brought the message of truth and love. Truth without love is harsh. Love without truth can become sentimental. The two together can bring about long-lasting and effective change, both in a personal and societal context. The truth can revolutionize the way we love and the way we love can revolutionize the way we live.

Acting in a loving and compassionate way was very important to Teresa and became the foundation for the success of her communal monasteries. Let us take this same concern into our workplace, into our homes, and into any situation that requires a breaking down of the old ways. Above all, let us be kind to one another and our selves. If we can affect a gentle process of change internally, then we can also manifest this in our external environment.

Teresa’s lifelong quest, though lived over four centuries ago, is still an example and inspiration for us to follow today. We can carry placards in the street demanding peace not war, but of what use is that if we are still warring within our own selves. We each have the responsibility to look deeply within and to be honest about the state of our own being. We each need to see how we are in conflict with the natural state of our soul. We need to look and see where we are split in our lives. Where we find conflict in our lives let us look deeply for the origin, and surrender it to God. Where we find places of unrest and lack of peace, let us surrender this too. In turning to our interior life we can lovingly heal any splits that may have occurred throughout our lifetime. We can release ourselves from the dichotomous relationship that so many of us have become accustomed to.

The definition then, of real freedom is inner peace, known through acceptance and surrender. And the way of truth and love is the way of change. Like Teresa, we can become examples of what it means to live a wholesome life, surrendered to the divine will, and living in peace on this planet.

Megan Don is the author of Meditations with Saint Teresa of Avila: A Journey into the Sacred.
Based on the book Meditations with Teresa of Avila © 2011 by Megan Don. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com

Liked what you saw? Then stay tuned! On Thursday May 12th we’ll be back with 10 Questions with Megan Don! We’ll talk about her book, Teresa of Avila, and her other work!

10 Questions with Miguel Conner: The Other Nine Questions

Hey! Wondering why there are only nine questions instead of ten? Did you miss question one? Click here to get caught up!

2. What made you decide to start a radio show devoted to discussing Gnosticism?

Ironically, I had just been excommunicated from a Gnostic church for something I hadn’t done (I’m not a 30th level magician…only in the World of Warcraft!). At the same time, I had started listening to an Internet station called Freethoughtmedia.com, mainly an avenue for New Atheism and Humanistic issues. I was feeling isolated so I sent the owner of the station a proposal to produce a handful of shows on Gnosticism—a series of interviews that would educate as well as dispel many misunderstandings on the ancient heretics. He accepted, assuming that the enemy of his enemy was his friend. Before I knew it, I was falling down a deep rabbit hole with Alice and Sophia. And I’m still falling after four years!

3. Your book “Voices of Gnosticism” is a collection of transcripts of interviews from your show, and does a fantastic job of introducing all facets of Gnosticism to the reader. When did you realize, or what made you decide, there would be value in collecting these interviews into a book?

The idea surfaced in the vast expanse of my head and was proposed by several listeners throughout the years. A few stenographers even offered to transcribe the interviews. I never paid much attention, falling into the cynical yet neo-utopian view that less people were reading and cyberspace was the new and true Library of Alexandria. I finally took a small Red Pill when Andrew Phillip Smith approached me with a sound and lucid vision of an Aeon Byte book based my most prolific guests. Since Andrew had been a guest many times, author of several books that had influenced me, editor of The Gnostic Journal who I had written for, and owner of a publishing company, I knew he couldn’t be an Archon and was onto something. The rest is heresy.

4. As an old school music fan, who would sit and write down lyrics to songs by playing second after second on a tape player, starting and stopping, starting and stopping, I know that transcribing from audio to text can take an insanely long time. How long did it take for you to transcribe all these interviews?

It was agonizing! I hated having to think of poor Andrew spending hours transcribing each interview! I know he started with a voice recognition software, but then he got the usual ‘too’s’ instead of ‘to’s’ and so forth, while Greek words came out all Greek to him; so he eventually did it the hard way, but he did an august job. Even then, it took months of us working together to match the vocals of the interviews to the transcripts. It’s not easy getting 60+ thousand words from audio to print, let me inform you! And I would advise for anyone undertaking such a venture to make sure the publisher and author agree on whether to use UK or American English…it will save you a lot of time and headaches and bad jokes based what is considered dirty in each culture.

5. Your interviews contain a wealth of information and you do an excellent job of really getting to the heart of your interviewee’s research. How much independent research did you need to do for these interviews?

I invest large sums of time and effort with each guest, regardless of their status or how much I agree with their premises. For one, I am passionate about all subjects dealing with the occult and comparative religion. I want to learn along with my guests. Furthermore, I understand how much hard work each guest puts into their books, movies or doctrines, so why shouldn’t they get the same respect? Not only do I read their respective work for the interview, I study all of their other efforts and everything I can about the subject at hand (even if I’m comfortably familiar with it). By the time of the interview, I want to be their virtual stalker or single white female.

6. Out of all the interviews you’ve done, do you have a favorite? If so, why does it stand out for you?

Why, this is my favorite interview! Me…me…me!

7. Is it odd for you to now be interviewed? How is the transition from interviewer to interviewee working out for you?

Okay, I admit it! You’re killing me softly with your song! The hunter has become the hunted! I’ve always envisioned myself as a cyber-Socrates, except a million times dumber, midwifing truths from my guests and handing those babies to my listeners. It is my greatest hope that they can nurture these truths into viable spiritual systems that will induce higher states of consciousness.

Besides, what can I say that could ever surpass any of my astral guests who emanate themselves from their Pleromas down into Aeon Byte every week? Uh, I like Pina Coladas and getting caught in the rain?

8. If my readers want to learn more about Gnosticism, where do you suggest they start? I’d recommend your book “Voices of Gnosticism” and certainly the “Dictionary of Gnosticism” by Andrew Phillip Smith, who was kind enough to contribute to my website as well as write a wonderful forward for your book.

Good choice for books, I say, I say! That’s another difficult question, since ultimately Gnosticism is a very personal faith even when you do find those with the same Etch A Sketch mysticism as yours. Gnostics are always the perennial strangers in an estranged land. J. Krishnamurti once said truth is a pathless land. I like to say gnosis is a pathless labyrinth. You just don’t know exactly how the song of Sophia will strike you or what teaching of an Aeon wearing mammal skins will stimulate your Divine Spark. I certainly would suggest that if a person is interested in Gnosticism, they approach it for what it is and not for what it isn’t. Many people enter the Esoterica because they are rebelling against a former religion. They end up roleplaying instead of fully participating in the mystery, their hearts still so filled with negativity that it cannot be filled with light.

Having babbled that sermon, it goes without saying that one should either own Bentley Layton’s The Gnostic Scriptures or Marvin Meyer’s The Nag Hammadi Scriptures. Since modern Gnostics have their usual suspects they propose, I’m going to go ahead and throw a few curveballs: Elements of Gnosticism by Stuart Holroyd because it’s a concise and approachable history of the Gnostics in a little over a hundred pages; The Gnostics: Myth, Ritual & Diversity in Early Christianity by David Brakke because he takes one of the best snapshots of the rise and fall of the Gnostics; The Gnostic Religion by Hans Jonas because he reveals that the socio-political world of the Roman Empire that early Christians and Gnostics struggled in eerily parallels our modern times, and thus why the Gnostic spirit is very important today; Valis by Philip K. Dick because he captured the essence of Gnosticism and translated it into a modern context; and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll because the story of Alice is the story of Sophia is the story of each one of us.

And definitely watch The Matrix, The Truman Show, Inception, Total Recall, all at the same time and several times, while reading out loud the poetry of William Blake with a Jungian analyst sitting next to you on the couch.

Like I always say on Aeon Byte, you know you have taken the Red Pill when you start writing your own Gospel and living your own myth, as the Gnostics did throughout history even if history erased much of their wonders.

9. What’s next? Do you have any upcoming projects my readers should be aware of?

I have just released the second edition of my futuristic yet very Gnostic-themed vampire saga, Stargazer (available at Amazon!). I’m working on releasing the sequel sometime late this year or early next year. I have a couple of embryonic projects for a scholarly book on the Gnostics, and there is a good possibility Aeon Byte might go completely live soon with callers and 1-800 numbers commercials for Cialis (but I haven’t bitten completely yet). If you include the actual show, writing articles for different periodicals, and making battle plans with Sophia, I don’t even have time to look for where I put those $#%@ Red Pills.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Ah…that feels good! I can ask questions! How come you don’t have a “Gnosticism” category at the Magical Buffet? Is this some sort of prejudice? Hating on the Gnostics feels good but Yaldabaoth forbid we ruffle the feathers of Wiccans so we give them two categories, eh? Don’t think for a second that this sense of persecution is inflating my sense of self-importance! I’m pulling off my microphone and walking off the set! You’re out of order! This court is out of order! Wiccans are out of order! This whole buffet is outta order!

Alas you have caught me Miguel! The Magical Buffet has partnered up with the Wiccans in an effort to suppress information about Gnosticism ever reaching the public at large. Smart ass! You know what? I don’t feel like a jerk anymore for question number one! That’s right? I said it!

About Miguel Conner:
Miguel Conner is host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism and its brethren in mystical heresy, ancient and modern. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, popular, and Philip K. Dick-ish vampire epic, “The Queen of Darkness” (re-released as “Stargazer” in 2011). His articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in such publication as “The Stygian Vortex”, “The Gnostic Journal”, “Houston Public News”, “The Extreme”, “The Cimmerian Journal”, “Examiner” and many others. He lives in the lawful dystopia of Chicago with his family, patiently waiting for the beginning of the world.

Miguel’s website is: http://www.thegodabovegod.com

Where Aeon Byte broadcasts and blog: http://www.aeonbytegnosticradio.com

Voices of Gnosticism Homepage: http://voicesofgnosticism.blogspot.com

Stargazer Novel homepage: http://stargazervampirenovel.blogspot.com

10 Questions with Miguel Conner: Question One

Indeed you’ve read the title correct my friends, this post is only question one of The Magical Buffet’s patent pending ten question interview. Why only one question today? To put it bluntly, because I’m a jerk. Here’s why….

I got an email from Miguel Conner, host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism. He asked if I had any interest in his new book ” Voices of Gnosticism”, to which I responded, “Hecks yeah” (or perhaps something a bit more professional). After reading the book (So good! Buy it now!), I asked if he would be willing to do a 10 questions interview for The Magical Buffet, to which he responded, “Awwwww yeah” (or perhaps something a bit more professional).

So, how does that make me a jerk? It seems like a mutually beneficial arrangement, what jerk-like qualities are there to this? Well, the very first question I asked in the interview was, “Can you define for my readers what Gnosticism is? I’ll admit that I have a difficult time trying to come up with a brief definition that makes sense to someone who has never encountered it before.”

Miguel knew it wasn’t an easy request, and I knew it too….and it’s why I asked. See? Jerk.

However, my jerk-ish question yielded a wonderful, insightful, and entertaining response….that was two pages long. Thus far I’ve never edited down an interview, and I have no intention of ever doing that, especially to such an important answer. Consider this the background for the rest of the interview. And stay tuned because the other nine answers are not to be missed!

1. Can you define for my readers what Gnosticism is? I’ll admit that I have a difficult time trying to come up with a brief definition that makes sense to someone who has never encountered it before.

Gnosticism is probably harder to define than most religions because it’s still an academic field with vast uncharted territory; and then there is the problem of wading through the oceans of romantic misinformation that both mainstream and occult faiths have drowned the Gnostic ideology in. The Gnostics also loved to push the boundaries of both theology and philosophy–even creating parodies sometimes for their amusement—to the point they shrouded themselves in a cloud of mystery (even if they were actually very open about their belief systems). One thing you can be sure of—if the ink on a scripture was barely dry, the Gnostics would rewrite it; if a mythology or religious narrative was just spoken of, the Gnostics would deconstruct and reconstruct the plot; and if a dogma was conceived, the Gnostics would immediately reinterpret it. And often all three at once!

Stevan Davies, on our interview in Voices of Gnosticism, perhaps gives the best short answer:

“Gnosticism is about discovering the way that God has turned into you, and then realizing that if you can describe how it is that God turned into you, you can reverse the process.”

In his excellent book, The Secret Book of John: Annotated & Explained, Davies further describes Gnosticism as “developmental psychology, a descriptive Middle Platonic philosophy, and a cosmic mythology all rolled into one.”

To wit, unlike most faiths that urge one to find transcendence in the now or salvation in the future, the Gnostics contended that one had to voyage deep into inner and outer origins to either correct certain spiritual traumas or find missed doorways into the timeless dimensions. They believed the greatest origin was, of course, the Godhead. I think the Gnostics would agree with Tom Robbins who wrote “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Although ancient heretics would call it being resurrected into a Christ while still in the flesh, as the Gospel of Philip states. The Gospel of Thomas also puts the Gnostic ethos in good perspective:

The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
Jesus said, “Have you discovered the beginning, then, so that you are seeking the end? For where the beginning is the end will be. Blessed is he who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.”

Now the longer answer will be more complicated, and one has to bear in mind that there were many Gnostic schools of thought in history whose doctrines varied. Yet there is a framework that takes time to discern for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, as Jesus often declares in Gnostic scriptures.

So put on your theological seat belts, here we go:

The Gnostics posited that there was an ultimate existence beyond Heaven and Earth, a primal consciousness that detonated in awareness and rippled out in self-understanding. This Big Bang of supernal imagination and creativity is usually referred to as the Pleroma, the Eternal Realm or the Treasury of Light. The biology of the Pleroma (“fullness” in Greek) consists of Aeons, which although anthropomorphized in their mythos are better understood as modes of thought, firing synapses, or the circuitry of a transmundane motherboard. The Aeons owned such titles as Truth, Love, Forethought, Incorruptibility, etc.

At some point, there is a glitch in the divine mind, a sort of pre-Creation Creation. The severity can fall between something cute, like the Aeon Reason falling in love with and literally bungee divine into the lower realms, to an outright cosmic cataclysm, like universe imploding during God’s first attempt as portrayed in some Kabbalistic traditions. The most prominent cosmology is the fall of the Aeon Sophia (“wisdom” in Greek). The exact details vary depending on the scripture; but she commits the sin of desire, breaking from the harmony of the divine mind and thus plunging into the Void or Chaos. Sophia either becomes pregnant with or tries to hide her negative emotions. The end result is an abortion known as Yaldabaoth or the Demiurge, which the Gnostics commonly equated with the God of the Old Testament. Sophia’s unruly spawn doesn’t waste much time after inventing time, manufacturing his own Bizarro Aeons known as Archons (Greek for “rulers”, but more akin to godlike TSA-agents with very bad dispositions). Then they cut a lot of corners and take long union breaks in order to fashion this wonderful universe The true God has lost his wisdom and wisdom is lost somewhere in a galactic Kennedy airport…who you gonna call?

Whether by the effects of the celestial mind-fart in the Pleroma or by a rescue operation hatched by Sophia to redeem herself, slivers of her essence are mingled into the material world. These Divine Spark, as they are often referred to, generally are housed in humans; although some Gnostic sects believed every living and even unliving thing contained the Divine Spark. The problem is that because of the good cop/bad cop routine of Yaldabaoth and his Archons we have forgotten our ambrosial heritage. Instead of igniting our Divine Spark in order to overcome the powers of darkness and too many astral travel regulations, we have come to believe we’re just overdeveloped apes. In Gnosticism, ignorance in all its forms is considered the greatest of sins and conditions.

From an ethereal borderland, Sophia sings to our Divine Sparks to kindle bright so that we may remember where our true home lies and how to defeat Yaldabaoth. At the same time, the Pleroma sends Aeons clothed in mammal skins–Jesus Christ and Hermes Trismegistus being two of the most exalted ones–who descend into matter to remove the shackles of ignorance with their teachings. This is gnosis, which in Greek means “knowledge”, yet is more akin to a slow-burn acquaintance with the divine mind. Gnosis is taking the Red Pill. Gnosis is discovering you’re in The Truman Show and it’s time to find a more authentic reality. Gnosis is realizing you’ve been incepted and you better get out of the dream within the dream, and into complete wakefulness.

The battle lines are drawn—Sophia, the Aeons wearing mammal skins, and awoken humans on one side; the Demiurge, the archons, and ignorant humans on the other. It doesn’t get more exciting than this!

About Miguel Conner:
Miguel Conner is host of “Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio”, the only topical and guest radio show on Gnosticism and its brethren in mystical heresy, ancient and modern. He is the author of the critically acclaimed, popular, and Philip K. Dick-ish vampire epic, “The Queen of Darkness” (re-released as “Stargazer” in 2011). His articles, fiction, and reviews have appeared in such publication as “The Stygian Vortex”, “The Gnostic Journal”, “Houston Public News”, “The Extreme”, “The Cimmerian Journal”, “Examiner” and many others. He lives in the lawful dystopia of Chicago with his family, patiently waiting for the beginning of the world.

Miguel’s website is: http://www.thegodabovegod.com

Where Aeon Byte broadcasts and blog: http://www.aeonbytegnosticradio.com

Voices of Gnosticism Homepage: http://voicesofgnosticism.blogspot.com

Stargazer Novel homepage: http://stargazervampirenovel.blogspot.com

Learning about Christian Mystics

The folks over at New World Library were nice enough to send me a copy of “Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations” by Matthew Fox. Now to show you how out of touch I am with authors of spiritual texts, let me share this with you. “Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed theologian who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He holds a doctorate, summa cum laude, in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris. Matthew Fox is author of 29 books that have been translated into 42 languages,” from www.matthewfox.org. In other words, this guy has game. However, to an under informed pop culture junkie like myself, I saw the author was Matthew Fox and immediately thought, isn’t he that actor from the television show “Lost”? I continue to bring nothing but honor to my clan. Sigh…..

So now that we’ve established that I’m a dunce, what does Fox have to say with “Christian Mystics”? Quite a bit it seems. Much the way I interpreted Julie Loar’s “Goddesses for Every Day: Exploring the Wisdom & Power of the Divine Feminine Around the World” as having a rebellious spirit, with Loar being on a mission to not let another girl grow up without knowing the power and importance of the sacred feminine, (Another book published by New World Library I might add.), Matthew Fox’s “Christian Mystics” also strikes a rebellious chord with me.

“In the West the modern age – meaning the sixteenth to mid-twentieth century – was not only ignorant of but actually hostile to mysticism. As Theodore Roszak has put it, ‘The Enlightenment held mysticism up for ridicule as the worst offense against science and reason.’ Still today, both education and religion are often hostile to mysticism. Fundamentalism by definition is antimystical or distorts mysticism, and much of liberal theology and religion is so academic and left-brain that it numbs and ignores the right brain, which is our mystical brain. Seminaries teach few practices to access our mysticism. This is why so many find religion so boring – it lacks the adventure and inner exploration that our souls yearn for.”, from the introduction to “Christian Mystics”.

Fox is on a mission to shake religious thought free of “Western religious dogma, guilt trips, and institutional churchiness” by attempting to feed the soul words of 25 different individuals he feels are some of Christianity’s greatest mystics from the last two thousand years. Readers will find quotes from Thomas Aquinas, Marcus Borg, M.D. Chenu, Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothee Soelle, Nana Veary, Martin Luther King Jr., and more. 18 more to precise. Each day is a new quote along with some of the Fox’s thoughts about it. Again, like the before mentioned “Goddesses for Every Day”, this book is meant to be a daily tool for thought and reflection. But as we already established in that review, I’m an asshole, and so just like with that book I immediately looked at day 149 which is May 29th, my birthday (again, send gifts!).

Readers today think exclusively of Jesus when they hear the words the “Son of God”. But the phrase had a life of its own before it was applied to Jesus…referring to angels (Genesis 6:2), the whole people called Israel (Hosea 11:1), and the king in David’s line (Psalm 2:7). Direct revelation extends God’s favor to people and angels; each is “the Son,” the beloved,” as Jesus became in his vision at his baptism (Mark 1:11).

Baptism, in fact, was when, according to Paul, God sends the Spirit of his Son into every believer, who cries to God, “Abba, Father” (Galatians 4:6). The believer becomes a Son, just as Jesus called upon his father; as Paul says in the same sentence, God sends his Spirit “because you are Sons.” The moment of baptism; the supreme moment of faith, was when one discovered oneself as a Son of God, because Jesus as God’s Son was disclosed in one’s heart.

– Bruce Chilton

Fox goes on to share this note following the quote:

I once met a Rabbi who said to me, “In my tradition, anyone who truly lives a life of wisdom can be called a ‘Son of God.’ For that reason I have no problem calling Jesus a Son of God.” When Christians, often in the name of proselytizing or building up empires, emphasize too much the divinity of Jesus, much is lost. We are all God’s sons and daughters, and this was the teaching of Jesus and even of Paul. But often we have missed that basic message in the Christian faith. Mystics call us back to the truth.

I feel “Christian Mystics” has much to offer a follower of the Christian faith, but also to those of us who are looking to learn more about the actual spirituality of Christianity, not just the political and academic arms of the faith that seem to dominate the mainstream conversation. Matthew Fox has offered up an interesting and engaging way to find a new perspective on Christianity.

Magical Buffet Mythology: Santa Muerte

By Rebecca
Illustration by Will Hobbs

I stumbled across Santa Muerte on the internet, in a beautiful photo journalistic piece on the Global Post website. Santa Muerte, as most of you can guess translates to Saint Death. I wanted to learn more and found out there had been a documentary in 2007 about this very topic.

Who is Santa Muerte? In Eva S. Aridjis’ film “La Santa Muerte” she lays out the closest thing to a known origin of this saint. A statue was discovered in a church that was associated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a medieval French saint. Since the Saint was portrayed as a skeleton, the Mexican people viewed it as an image of death. They began to venerate it as a female instead of a male saint, since the pre-Columbian goddesses of death, Mictecacihuatl and Coatlicue, were feminine figures. When the priests realized that the people were worshipping the image as Saint Death, the image was moved to a private dwelling. The Catholic Church does not recognize Santa Muerte as a saint, so people must worship her at home or at public altars.

Santa Muerte is always portrayed as a skeleton, often times looking like the grim reaper, complete with scythe and scales. However, just a quick poke around the internet and you learn that she can take on many looks. Santa Muerte is always a skeleton, but sometimes she is dressed like a queen, or in robes, or as a bride, and just about any other thing you can imagine.

Who worships Santa Muerte? Anyone obviously, but primarily she is worshipped in Mexican communities, with Her stronghold being the most violent parts of Mexico and prisons. Places where people feel death pressing down on them take comfort in knowing that Saint Death is there for them. By showing devotion, in a ritual mix of Catholic worship and what I’m surmising is a throwback to ancient sacrificial offerings (it looked a lot like Voodoo to me), Santa Muerte protects them, provides for them, and when the worshipper’s time is over, She comes for them. Her followers bring Her gifts, such as cigarettes and tequila, burn candles, and say prayers to Her. In the documentary, some had conversations with Her, like you would a mother or confidant. Others would perform a mass.

The Catholic church may not like Her, and the Mexican government may call her followers a “cult”, but I like Santa Muerte. She’s an everyman’s kind of deity. Rich or poor, man or woman, good or evil, we all die. And if Santa Muerte brings comfort to people, especially those living closer to death than myself, more power to Her.