Of Miracles & Natural Order

One of the great questions of philosophy is, can a miracle truly occur? For some, it depends on how the term is defined. If a miracle is merely an unlikely occurrence, then the answer is easy. Yes. We all witness rare occurrences from time to time. From a sports team coming from far behind to win a championship no one thought them capable of, to accidents where someone narrowly escapes death. We often call these “miracles”, when perhaps they are more closely identified with chance occurrences with low probability.

More often we associate a true miracle when the laws of nature are broken. For instance, Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, curing the sick, and his own resurrection from the dead. The Buddha was said to have the power of teleportation, the ability to duplicate himself, and manipulate the elements. The Prophet Muhammad was purported to manifest water, heal the sick and also had power over the elements. Today we also hear of modern day miracles which defy nature, such as shrines where people go to be healed or people claiming to see visions of God, saints or other types of entities.

So the question remains, do miracles really exist or are they just human projections on certain events? While we do have many reports of miracles, there are no proofs of miracles occurring to date. I think that’s a powerful statement in itself. There is no proof that has ever been recorded of a real, bonafide miracle.

Many theologians and theist philosophers, including Immanuel Kant, thought miracles didn’t matter. In fact, Kant though that miracles were actually a distraction from having faith. For Kant, miracles were the exception to the rule so it was better to not count on them in your life. Looking to the message of one’s faith was preferable to signs and wonders.

Philosophers such as J. L. Mackie and Michael Martin argue that interference with the natural order from God would prove that God wasn’t perfect. Why would God need to create miracles in the world if everything is going according to plan? Why would God play favorite and help some people and not others? Why would God let some people starve to death or be horribly injured, but save others from that fate through a miracle? Martin also suggests that somethings that appear as miracles to us, may not be God but anomalies that occur in nature that we simply cannot explain yet.

In Hermeticism, when one perfectly aligns themselves (the Below) to the Source Consciousness (the Above), they can achieve the Philosopher’s Stone.

I buy this. I think when we witness synchronicity, this has something to do with consciousness and quantum entanglement. It’s part of the natural order. I do not think a miracle has occurred. In fact, when I think of how magic, astrology and tarot work, I don’t think any of that is miraculous, but more of just how the world operates. I think our individual consciousness is connected to our higher-self or a higher state of consciousness, which may be thought of as our spirit. It’s the entity which keeps sending our soul on mission in the material world. Beyond that, I believe there is a collective consciousness that is societal which we all tap into on a planetary level, and a Source Consciousness which is singular, which all things in the universe share in as well. We share an archetypal bond and this is how things like astrology and tarot work and evolve over time. When we align with our higher-self and Universal Consciousness, we begin to notice synchronicities occurring in our lives. These may appear miraculous, but it’s merely part of the natural order unfolding.

Do miracles occur where the laws of nature are broken? I don’t think so, no. I think when they occur in sacred texts they are meant as metaphors to explain deeper truths. Does the death and resurrection of Jesus mean more if Christ was killed on our behalf as a sacrifice? Or does it mean more that Jesus was the perfect example to show us how to transform ourselves? The Christ story is the path we take to die to our old selves and be reborn as Divine spirits. It’s not about a physical miracle, but rather our spiritual reality if we choose that path.

The Mystery of Mind

Geometry of the Soul.

Where does consciousness come from? Why do we think the things we think? Why am I blogging and bothering with any of this stuff? Most of us would like to think we do the things we do because we will ourselves to do them. I want to blog because writing helps me to organize my thoughts. There! That’s why I do it! But why do I like to organize my thoughts? Well, it helps me to think more clearly and understand why I think what I think. But why do I want to do that? I can write a litany of reasons why I blog that will eventually take me back to some time long before I even knew that the internet and pens existed. I will never get to the first cause of why I do it. At some point the reality is that the necessary conditions arose for me to write this blog and post it on this WordPress website.

I came across an article today in The Conversation by David A. Oakley and Peter Halligan that examines the question, “What If Consciousness Is Not What Drives the Human Mind?” Fair question. No one knows were consciousness arises from, it just does. The thing that likes to take credit for everything I do in life is just ego. That’s the thing I, and most people who talk to me, call Stephanie.  She likes to think she wills stuff to occur. She doesn’t, she just thinks this. I promise this the extent of me talking of myself in third person.

Consciousness studies had advanced so little in the past century that in 2012, famed philosopher of mind, Thomas Nagel, called for a new paradigm in the scientific study in his book Mind and Cosmos. He found that reductive materialism was failing to come up with anything that could explain how consciousness emerged, so something new should take its place. This was not well met by the scientific community back then. And to be fair, this would open up the scientific pursuit of understanding mind and consciousness to all sorts of nonsense. But that didn’t mean that Nagel wasn’t correct about materialism being hopelessly stuck. While I wouldn’t say the mainstream scientific community has come around now, there are more and more scientists taking this call seriously.

Oakley and Halligan haven’t quite thrown their hats in the ring, but they are questioning previous assumptions about consciousness, even if seemingly still in the materialist complex. They are asking us to consider that consciousness springs up from non-conscious things. Our environment, experiences, our body chemistry, genetics, produce certain reactions in the non-conscious part of our brain which are then relayed to the conscious part of the brain through our personal narratives (ego). The thoughts arise in us and we act on them or don’t based on our wiring. So long, free will!

I gave up on free will about 15 years ago. This was difficult, I am a hardcore existentialist. Radical freedom was my thing in my early college years. I was rabid for Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche! I’m happy to say I still am. I don’t think one needs to give up their contradictions, so long as they can resolve the paradox at the end of the day. But free will seems a fool’s quest to me now. I’ve bought into a soft determinism. There are so many variables that make each person who they are, that there remains the illusion of free will. Have you ever noticed how many things in our world turn out to be illusions?

As I was reading this study, I realized that what Oakley and Halligan were describing wasn’t new at all. It was actually proposed about two-thousand years ago by the Gnostics. Carl Jung saw the Gnostics as proto-psychologists. They certainly understood the power of symbols and metaphor! But Gnostics such as Plotinus and Monoimos clearly state that our thoughts and ideas do not come from ourselves, we don’t will them into existence. Monoimos gives direct credit to the Divine found within each of us. Plotinus argues that we are merely passive observers in this life. Our actual thoughts arise from outside of us. We’re basically just along for the ride – the very conclusion of Oakley and Halligan.  

Sophia-Achamoth

In the book Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy note in Ptolemy’s Gnostic tale of the Demiurge, that neither the Demiurge nor his mother Achamoth (Sophia) are responsible for their actions, both good and evil, in the end. Both are set on a path by the Creator and only think they are their own agents. Their thoughts and subsequent actions arise from a greater consciousness, that of the Creator. Freke and Gandy argue that like Achamoth and the Demiurge, our egos carry the belief that we create our own reality and drive our own destiny, but what we put in motion to design our world are actually the universal archetypes that are already in existence (the Gnostics would call them the Aeons) in Universal Consciousness (pp. 167, 285).

When we realize that we’re just along for the ride, suddenly we have found radical freedom to just fall into who and what we are without the constraints of cultural conditioning. We can allow ourselves to be the sensory units of the Universe, here to experience the wonders of life in all of its forms without fear. It’s all going to be okay, the Universe has our backs! This doesn’t mean we are free of pain and sorry and life will only be sunshine and roses. Pain and sorrow are a part of life, but how we perceive it matters in how we move through the experience.

If we can learn to observe our thoughts and actions, we can have better experiences through our perception.

While I do not believe we have free will in this life, I do believe that we choose our lives in each incarnation to either learn lessons or to have a particular experience. Our freedom exists in where we choose to reside in a particular lifetime in the material realm. But once we get here? We watch. We learn. We come to certain realizations as we encounter different experiences. That’s the point of being here. To be truly free in this life, we must accept and submit to it whatever it is until we leave the material world again.

Got Guilt?

I was prompted by a friend to read the book, The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism by Pascal Brunckner, which reflects on the problem the West finds itself in as it wallows in the sins of its past to the point of becoming ineffectual against the problems of the present and the future.  Bruckner argues that guilt has become a pathology, and indeed, it seems in many respects he is correct. As the West battles internally with its demons – one side refusing to acknowledge them at all and the other side consumed with guilt over it – out there lay other evils and challenges that are not going to wait for us to get our collective shit together.

We have monumental mistakes in our past; slavery, the holocaust, genocide, economic injustices, wars, subjugation of women, homophobia. The list goes on and much of it is still going on in our times. There’s lots to feel guilty about if we’re so inclined to it. Bruckner makes the case that this is counterproductive. Guilt makes us silent and less likely to step in when we see other cultures making the same mistakes we did. We call it moral relativism (not to be confused with cultural relativism), but really, it’s our own guilt over these past sins that keeps us from interfering.  When I taught Ethics, I would have students ardently defending the practice of female genital mutilation because it was the practice of a particular culture and “who am I to judge?” My response was often, “You are a rational, thinking, human being, tell me what you think of this practice.” They had a hard time with it. They found it abhorrent and knew it harmed girls and women, but they couldn’t bring themselves to say it was wrong for another culture. “Let’s try this again,” I would say. “Would it have been okay for the Nazis in Germany to only kills the German Jews? Did it only become a problem when they invaded other nations and killed those Jews too?” Sometimes the light would go on then that there was a problem in their relativism. Sometimes not.

I am finding more and more that there is a cultural guilt in Western society that keeps it from acting on great problems. “Who are we to make those decisions?” seems to be the motif among a growing contingent. And as a backlash in the opposite direction, we have the growing shadow of those refusing to even acknowledge the past. The “I’m not responsible for what happened a century ago!” crowd.  On the other side of guilt breeds the Shadow. These are those people disgusted by the acquiescence and silence of those who have succumb to the guilt. In their plight not to be associated with the weak ineffectiveness of their counterparts, they cause all sorts of chaos.  These are the two sides of the malignant guilt coin.

According to John Lamb Nash in Not in His Image, the Gnostics saw embracing the redemptive aspect of suffering as a sign of madness in early Christianity (p. 20)

Perhaps we are witnessing the legacy of a culture built on the redemptive aspect of suffering. Christianity as it is practiced today, is built on the idea that suffering is good for us. We find in our suffering that there is salvation at the end of the tunnel. In this sense, there is a self-serving aspect of it. We can cleanse ourselves of our sins – not by correcting our mistakes and growing from them – but rather through suffering in-and-of-itself. Atonement via flagellation.

Guilt, then, is inherently selfish. I don’t know many groups who have suffered under White European oppression that want our guilt in response to their own suffering. Our guilt leads to worse things, like our projections of what we think oppressed groups want us to do to fix the world rather than actually doing anything to fix the world. Say for instance, by truly inviting these oppressed people to the table to make changes together, rather than us making the changes we think they want on their behalf. No matter how much we say we want to help Black people and indigenous cultures, people of color, and women, a ridiculous disproportionate amount of all political power and commerce is still controlled by White men of European descent.

Our precious guilt redirects the suffering back onto ourselves, rather than the harmed Other. It is the roundabout racism of liberalism found in white European culture that we don’t want to address. Freedom for all! But not in our backyard! Let us lament the struggle and our failures, and all the work ahead of us! This is our great burden! This is the proverbial black mirror that is all too terrible to look into. Suffering for the greater glory, even in a secular context, is a special kind of narcissistic evil.

If we want to build a better world, it’s time to exorcise the guilt and integrate that shadow before we consign ourselves to a worse fate. How do we do that? We face our past mistakes, not with guilt but with action. We stop tolerating those behaviors that are wrong in ourselves and in others. We stop hemming and hawing and get on with it. We dare to grow from the past and stop wallowing in it. We stop making the victims of our atrocities and mistakes, the victims of our guilt also. We opt for true diversity of opinions on how to move forward in our world by embracing what helps us all, rather than the disingenuous apology after the plundering of resources.

There are other evils out there and wallowing in guilt will not allow us to defeat those. The West is not the only problematic culture and there’s plenty of shitty behavior to go around. We are facing monumental problems in our future, not the least of those is climate change which is bound to change the political, social and spiritual landscape radically. To meet the challenges, we will need to grow up, face reality and meet it head on.

The Empire Never Ended

I was considering today what the world would be like if the literalist Christians, who so missed the message of personal transformation and awakened consciousness, hadn’t become the the dominant religion in our world today. Would we still be a pagan society? Would an eclectic spiritual practice be the norm? Would some other type of monotheistic religion have risen up to fill the void? How would that have shaped our political, social and technological landscape?

The Judean People’s Front, or is this The People’s Front of Judea?

In his book, Caeser’s Messiah, Joseph Atwill makes the argument that Christianity in it’s literal interpretation, was invented by the Romans with the help of the Jewish scholar turned Roman citizen, Josephus. In Atwill’s argument, the Romans, under the auspices of the Flavian emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, did this as a means to control the Jewish population so that they would be more easily ruled. Jewish zealots were a major pain in the ass to the Roman Empire, so a religion that tells them to love each other, turn the other cheek, there is a better life waiting for them after they die, and so on, makes some amount of sense. Josephus, according to the theory, is there to make sure that they can encode the beliefs and morals of the new religion with Jewish culture and tradition. Atwill makes an interesting case and I do think that his theory is worth thinking about, even if I question some of his scholarship and conclusions.

For instance, early Christian-Jews did a really shitty job of converting Jews over to it. The main Jewish community wanted little to do with them. I imagine they were pretty over messiahs by then. They were super successful at converting the very people they really didn’t want to convert; gentiles. They were so successful at converting gentiles, that pretty soon there were more gentile Christians than Christian-Jews and eventually the Christian-Jews were kicked out of Christianity.

If this was a Roman plot, it had a lot of problems. Though that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. All sorts of bad ideas backfire in spectacular ways.

Romans Go Home! –Life of Brian

It’s been a few years since I read the book, but I’ve been reading more on the Gnostics and it occurred to me while doing my research that Atwill may still be on to something. It’s long been held that the Gnostic Christians were a branch of Christianity that came after the emergence of Christianity. While Gnosticism as a Pagan branch existed before either of them, the Christian version arose in response and criticism of mainstream Christianity. But I’m starting to think, based on more research, that isn’t true. It doesn’t even make sense to me. I think it’s quite possible that Christian Gnosticism came before Christian literalism as perhaps just a local Jewish version of Gnosticism (Timothy Freke and John Lamb Lush make this point in their books). The Romans may have then used some of the Gnostic stories to create the life and death of Jesus Christ into a single coherent narrative. In doing so, they systematically cut out a lot of the bits that empowered people like women, the poor and slaves. They wove a theology that treated the story as a literal truth rather than a more powerful symbolic truth that taught people how to tap into their own consciousness and divine power.

Why would the Romans do that? The same reason public education is pretty shitty today. They want drones to build empires, they don’t want free-thinkers. A few here and there is okay, they are needed to invent things and move technology forward. But masses of them? No way! There’s a reason psychedelic drugs are outlawed today and it’s not to protect us. The Romans were trying to control a vast empire and Gnosticism in it’s various forms was all over Alexandria and spreading out.

Constantine contemplating greatness

Late antiquity scholar, Candida Moss, did a good job in her book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, showing how systematic persecution of the early Christians just never happened. There are records of Roman procurators and centurions sending would-be martyrs home, confused by the offer they made to die for their god. Though I guess it was nice to know that should there be a war, some people were ready to just give up and die. By the time Flavius Valerius Constantinus came around, Christianity spread so far and wide that he had the one thing that would surely unite the Roman Empire for him – a single religion that didn’t rely on one’s ethnicity. Anyone could be a Christian regardless of where they were born. This was new in the world, and he used it to breath new live into the empire that had grown too big for it’s own good. He became Constantine, legalized the practice of Christianity in 313, and within the same century it became the state religion of Rome. By 325 the Council of Nicaea codified Christianity and soon any Christian branch outside of that pack is labelled heretical and systematically eradicated.

So, I have been wondering of late if Rome may have actually played a stronger hand than we’ve been aware of in the shape of the world today. It makes me think of the words of Phillip K. Dick, “THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.”

Perhaps not.

Sophia, Gnosticsim & Ecology

Sophia, Goddess of Wisdom

I’ve been pondering writing a book that centers on a gnostic ecology and the Goddess Sophia. At face value this seems paradoxical because the Gnostics were a fringe group that sought to transcend this material world, which they saw as a grand illusion made in error by a being known as the Demiurge. This being was at best confused and misunderstood, and at worst just down right evil, intent on deceiving the beings that occupy the realm of the material. So, the Gnostics had good reason to want to get the hell out of this world of deception and become one with the infinite Mystery through a process called gnosis.

But there is way more to the story. While the world of matter is problematic to the Gnostic for all of its sticky, clingy being-ness, it’s also necessary for any soul on the road to gnosis.

So, what is this gnosis? I will warn you now, I can’t answer that in a short definition. So, this is a very bad answer to that question. Gnosis is to know the divine mystery through direct participation with It. It is mystical knowledge of the Divine that one arrives at through an interactive process.  There are many Gnostic writings that survive today that give some insight to that process. But gnosis is an ongoing thing that one engages in throughout their life. It is in the experience.

The Demiurge was a latchkey kid

The gist of the Gnostic cosmology is this (and this is greatly simplified for the point of this post), the great divine Mystery, who existed before all else, wished to know Itself. To know Itself it divided into two and thus created duality; Consciousness (male) and Soul (female). There were others and they subdivide and carry on some. Soul or Psyche, now in the form of Sophia, descended into the material world thinking she caught a glimpse of her Parent in a flash of light. This was a mistake (or was it?). Through the power of metaphor she ends up reproducing in error. One of those reproductions was the Demiurge who then really went to work creating all sorts of things. But the Demiurge thought he was the only deal around. He didn’t know about Consciousness, Soul or the Great Mystery. He had no idea that his mother even existed. He wanted to be worshiped as the creator of all things and in his defense, he had no reason to believe there were bigger fish out there. Sophia sees that he’s a dick and doesn’t get involved with him directly, but realizes she needs to correct things because he’s making a mess of creation. When she sees Demiurge’s creation of Adam, she implants consciousness in him and then brings it into the world through Eve. As a result of this trickery, we are all souls with the spark of consciousness buried in us caught up in a cycle of reincarnation. We are asleep in the underworld, the material world, until that day the spark of consciousness is ignited and we begin the journey of true awakening through reaching gnosis.

According to the Gnostics, we are all on that journey and at various stages of it.

Anyone else get the feeling that the Great Mystery pulled a fast one on us? It divides itself, and then divides again and again and on and on in order to get to know itself. It creates the world of duality and the material world so that our little sparks of consciousness can do shit. All sorts of shit; the good, the bad and the ugly! And by doing all of this shit, It grows in knowledge. Each living thing, at whatever level of consciousness is has, contributes to the knowledge of the Great Mystery. This is in line with a branch of philosophy developed by Alfred North Whitehead in the early to mid-20th century known as Process Philosophy, for which Process Theology emerged.

Fluffy Spirits – ayakashi fox from Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi

But the point here is that this makes the material world entirely necessary to the Divine experience. To know Itself the material world must exist. Each thing goes through its life collecting knowledge. For us to awaken and achieve an understanding of our own consciousness by witnessing the reality that our souls’ experience, we must be born to this material world. It is not superfluous and merely something to be transcended.  In the end, we are all part of the Great Mystery. We’re all One. So there is no actual distinction between spirit and matter – duality is illusion. To look at it from the perspective of polarity, matter is the denser end of the lighter, fluffier spirit side.

I’m attempting to formulate an argument of how Sophia, the Goddess of Wisdom on Earth, the World’s Soul, the Anima Mundi, can be the Goddess of our time and a rally cry for an ecological spirituality based in Gnosticism.  

Thus far I have read – or – have on my reading list:

Jesus and the Lost Goddess, by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy

Sophia: Goddess of Wisdom, Bride of God, by Caitlin Matthews

Not in His Image: Gnostic Vision, Sacred Ecology, and the Future of Belief, by John Lamb Lash.

Images of the Feminine in Gnosticism, by Karen King

The Myth of the Goddess: Evolution of an Image, by Anne Baring and Jules Cashford

The Gnostics, by Jacques Lacarriere

In the Shadow of Ancient Ruins: Hellenism and Gnosticism in Contenporary Environmental Ethics, by Jim Cheney (article, 1991)

Primary Sources:

The Nag Hammadi Library

Pistis Sophia (annotated version)

Corpus Hermeticum (not Gnostic, but of an age)

If anyone reading this has some thoughts on sources that you think may be helpful, please drop a line in the comments or send me an email to awakeningthewitch@gmail.com. I appreciate the information!