…he is constantly being squeezed between the world and his idea of the world. Better to have a broken head – why surrender his corner on the truth? Better just to go crazy. – Stephen Dobyns
All things depend on each other. Everything breathes together. – Plotinus
When we encounter betrayal or disillusionment and refuse to see the opportunity for soul work, we can easily leap from devotion to disgust, as our love-hate relationship with celebrities reveals. But then we are likely to search for a new devotion. I’ve heard it said that there are no more virulent anti-communists than former leftists, or more vocal anti-Catholics than former Catholics. Michael Meade, among others, has referred to himself as a “recovering Catholic.” And if another ideology doesn’t fill the void, substance abuse can be an overwhelming attraction, as I wrote about here.
If we pay attention – if we can discriminate – we may see that life always presents the need and the opportunity to reframe our obsessions. How do we do that? By looking past the literal to the symbolic. If we survive the era of Trump, we may well discover a new meta-narrative. Perhaps it will have something to do with the return of the Goddess, or the Whole Earth as an object for our devotion.
But to do that, we need to accelerate the return from monotheistic back to pagan thinking. Rather than connecting the dots to justify our helplessness in a grand narrative of control, we may well need to pursue mini-narratives in the form of questions, such as: What have I been called to do? What gift must I manifest, without which the world would be less for? What god or goddess do I serve? What is my responsibility to the other world, and to those who come after me?
What if we were to cook the word “conspire” down to its essence – to breathe together – and then reframe it further, into the Hawaiian ritual of Ha? This is a mutual greeting that recognizes and welcomes the other into one’s personal space. Two persons press the bridges of their noses together and inhale, thus exchanging the breath of life. To ancient Hawaiians the breath was the key to good health and possessed mana (spiritual power). On their deathbed, elderly persons often passed down wisdom to their chosen successors with this ritual.
And we can also reframe the idea of gatekeeper, from one who figuratively stands at the entrance – the threshold – to the world of acceptable discourse, charged with the responsibility of maintaining its borders and deciding who is pure enough to be admitted.
By contrast, in the indigenous world there are often people who straddle two worlds and mediate between them. Such people, comfortable in liminality, serve the community by guiding those who are in transition from one state to another. Many Native Americans use the term “two-spirit” to describe persons of unconventional sexual or gender orientation, while in West Africa words describing them actually translate as “gatekeeper.” Sobonfu Some´ of the Dagara people explains:
Without gatekeepers, there is no access to other worlds…They are mediators between the two genders…There are many gates that link a village to other worlds. The only people who have access to all these gates are the gatekeepers…They have one foot in all the other worlds and other foot here…Without them, the gates to the other world would be shut. On the other side of these gates lies the spirit world or other dimensions. Gatekeepers are in constant communication with beings who live there, who have the ability to teach us how to deal with ritual. And gatekeepers have the capacity to take other people to those places…a person doesn’t become a gatekeeper out of a desire for power or even because of sexual orientation…Gatekeeping is part of one’s life purpose, announced before birth and developed through rigorous initiatory training to ensure that its power is not misused. A gatekeeper is responsible for a whole village, a whole tribe.
So let’s imagine a culture that invites a return to a ritual relationship with the Earth, with ancestors, with Spirit, with strangers. Imagine a culture that perceives the other not as a threat but as one who arrives bearing gifts. Imagine a culture than respects the hard-earned wisdom of the past but also understands that the young – and those on the margins – must be heard from. Imagine some people being called from birth – from before birth – to heal the divide between worlds so as to welcome the potential of each person, including the potential to re-imagine the world, rather than to exclude those who question inherited Truths.
Let’s imagine a world not dominated by the Western, monotheistic urge to enforce those Truths on others, but one that appreciates these Pagan insights from the far East:
Since everything is but an apparition,
Perfect in being what it is, having nothing
to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection,
One may well burst out in laughter. – Long Chen Pa
Since water flows, though we cut it with swords.
And sorrow returns, though we drown it with wine,
Since the world can in no way satisfy our cravings,
Let us loosen our hair tomorrow and go fishing. – Li-Po
If you love the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing on the ocean of delusion. – Lin-Chi
Leave your front door and your back door open.
Allow your thoughts to come and go.
Just don’t serve them tea. – Shunryu Suzuki