Over the past few days whilst reading and researching the chapter I am currently writing on mythology and ancestors and proof reading a friend’s deliciously challenging book, I have spent time in that (for want of a better term) marvelous ‘head-fuck’ space. It’s a wonderful place where everything seems to dissolve, leaving a new layer of meaning and understanding to be explored and exploded at a later date. It is at the same time extraordinary, requiring an openness and acceptance to have ones perspective so utterly dismantled and scary to feel the ground so uneven beneath the feet. It is humbling to find that our world is built so entirely upon our own reactionary perceptions, the reassurances we create in order to function; and to recreate that reality with just a little more consciousness and free will that that new understanding provides.
Over the past few years within paganism, even Druidry where the deeply philosophical is a defining tenet of our religion, there has seemed to be a worrying move away from the deeply philosophical and the need to think. To work out why we are buffered and carried by the currents that push and pull us all directions rather than helplessly surrendering to the flow, to think rationally about our motivations and ethics, to wonder at the nature of the universe and our gods, is for me absolutely central to my Craft. I am not talking about the simple exploration of new age texts and guided meditation that abounds within modern pagan culture, but the real need and drive to devour the old texts of writers and thinkers, scientists and philosophers, learn, pull apart and rip open our souls to go ever deeper, using those past writings, human reason and our own meanderings to open the doors to our own deeper religious understanding. For just as every new discovery about the innermost working of lover or friend can bring us deeper into relationship with that person, where we share more, love more deeply; the same is true within our wider relationships with the world. When we explore, led outside the comfort zone, and often we do need help, the writings or guidance of others, to shift our perspective sufficiently in order to do it, we are challenged to expand our own horizons and perspectives and are led into deeper and more extraordinary relationship with our gods.
Sadly, all too often the terms ‘navel gazing’ and ‘semantics’ are levelled at thinkers in a world where it is easier to find affirmation and ease in cake and television, than be challenged. Within the new age movement which sadly permeates a good deal of paganism, the focus on is the self-satisfaction and false reassurance of learning to love oneself, to deny the blocks and darker parts of our nature in favour of love and light rather than focus on devotion to our gods and the places that the dysfunctional parts of ourselves can take us in the quest to explore and resolve them. For me, there has never been a sense of ease within my spirituality there is an itch that must be scratched, a driving need to go deeper. The relationships that I value the most in my life, are the ones where I am challenged, deeply and uncomfortably provoked with the why’s and wherefore’s. I crave to know who I am, who my gods are, what they are made of, how do they taste and smell? Within a religion focused on relationship, I am constantly looking for how I can do it better, more honourably and sustainably, to be of less impact and to be of more use to my gods and community. To be always searching is to ensure that we stay constantly humble and awake to the fact that we know nothing, there is always more to learn.
This week’s head-fuck came from reading C.G Jung of all people, the often misunderstood and misquoted Swiss psychiatrist so loved by Wicca and other manifestations of pagan old hat. I had previously discounted his theory of the collective unconscious, archetypes and treatise on myth as the attempt to de-spiritualise the human mind into it’s nuts and bolts and cardboard cutouts of the gods, so loved by the psychotherapy movement. But as I read I understood, in a way that only going back to the original texts would allow, the essential religious nature of his words, his utter wonder at the divine forces of nature we find buried deep within our human soul. The vast ocean of memory that is our shared (to borrow Emma Restall Orr’s term, for there is no better) Human Song, a well of conscious memory that has life. He may well have been bound by ‘the spirit of the times’ (his words) which was undoubtably a prevailing Christian, dualist culture, but his words, beautifully express my own understanding as an animist and held that door open for me to dive in. I highly recommend him if you’ve never actually read his words.
The concept of a vast shared human soul and it’s comparison to water is an old one. Jung himself says that over and over we find the Archetype of a water container or a well as an allegory for that shared human soul, that which contains all of the memories of human ancestry. In the Poetic Edda we find Mimir’s Well (Mimir literally means ‘The Rememberer’ in Old Norse’). Mimir, a Giant known for his knowledge and wisdom was beheaded by the Vanir (the gods of nature) in a feud with the Aesir (the gods of human nature and civillisation). The head was returned to the Aesir and Odin who embalmed the head with herbs to preserve it’s knowledge, threw it into a well where Mimir became an oracle, consulted often by the gods, but always demanding a sacrifice. Like the path of the questor, philosopher and thinker, the attainment of knowledge can be painful and is never easy. Odin sacrified his eye for it.
For me, Mimir himself is the water within the well, the power of memory itself and in particular, human memory. Within his body of water are my grandmothers, and grandfathers, the fragments of their lives bound up within that great water. He is the stuff that holds the coherency of the collective human song. He holds the stories, the writings, the kennings of the ancestors, all that has ever been written and imagined and lived. Mimir’s water is often a place I go to journey, for clarity, help or the comfort of knowing that this particular crisis or joy I am living has been lived before by another woman in another time and place. Through the magic of the human soul, it is possible to reach out to her and remember a story which is bigger than me, flowing like a current through our shared humanity. To share it makes it tolerable, we can cope with the pain and the crisis when we have company; in Mimir’s well we are never alone. The mouth of his well is a way into the churning waters of my ancestral soul. I don’t have to travel elsewhere to find that well for it is deep within me and the ocean of my blood.
To sacrifice comfort and the certainty of sure ground is to follow in the footsteps of our ancestors who had the courage to do the same. To think, learn, crave knowledge and understanding with all of the philosophy and reason that we have been gifted with as humans is not to ‘navel gaze’ but to journey deep into the waters of the well, deeper in and further out adding our own experience and understanding to our collective Human Song.