"What might we see, how might we act, if we saw with a webbed vision? The world seen through a web of relationships…as delicate as spider’s silk, yet strong enough to hang a bridge on.”
Catherine Keller, "From a Broken Web"
I wanted to write about the theology of community for the 7th Annual Conference on Pagan Studies at Claremont School of Theology (this coming weekend in Los Angeles, California) - to write about our need to sanctify community, human and planetary.
Having been witness to the tragedy in my home town of Tucson, I' ve been almost unable to think in terms that are too abstract. When confronted with the horror of violence, and the heavy pall of grief, the need to experience inter-dependence, with-in our bodies and with-in the refuge of our imaginations - is very real and immanent. We want to know we are not alone, we want to support each other.
I was struck by the way "Together We Thrive" became a theme echoed throughout Tucson, and headed healing activities, from the President's call for unity, to spontaneous Shrines created at Gabrielle's Head Quarters and elsewhere that called for peace.
We urgently need pragmatic ways to create community in today's world. Could a strong community have prevented what happened? Unbalanced individuals will always abound, and lethal weapons are readily available - the American gun culture will ensure this is not the last such event. Yet even so, the failure of community speaks to this tragedy.
If we weren't in so many ways a culture of "rugged individualism" where "good fences make good neighbors", and our technology increasingly allows us to insulate ourselves from the so-called "outside world" ... would this young man have received the attention, even healing, he needed before he erupted in catastrophic violence?
"The Rugged Individualist" writes sociologist Philip Slater, "cheers when needy people are deprived of food, battered women are deprived of protection from brutal husbands, children are deprived of education, etc., because this is "getting government off our backs. "
This kind of thinking fails in every way to communicate that we live within a vast web of human and environmental inter-dependency, a web that is also very intimate. A successful adult is so because of parents, teachers, community resources, and distant ancestors that enabled him or her to mature. And without a sense of belonging and contributing to that continuum as it reaches into future generations, human beings end up feeling alienated and ultimately without a sense of purpose. They feel disposable, and perceive others as equally disposible.
Which is what an unsustainable consumer system, as a placebo for the pain of spiritual and communal isolation, feeds on.
In tribal societies, survival depended utterly on cooperation, as well as the collective ability to adapt continually to new environmental challenges, be it drought, invaders, or the exhaustion of resources. The mythic foundation of any tribe (or civilization) is the template upon which they stand; a culture with a rigid mythos that cannot adapt and change is doomed to collapse.
"We live in a world today in which the problems we face are all planetary..........." Philip Slater comments in his new book The Chrysalis Effect, "the polarization and chaos we see in the world are the effect of a global cultural metamorphosis".
We need a new mythology for the global tribe. Renunciate theologies that teach us to renounce the world, the body, and relationships, either in service of some abstract "better place" (be it heaven, paradise, enlightenment or nirvana) or in reaction to teachings that degrade earthly life as "impure" or "unreality"..............will not help us, or those who must come after us. If we're going to speak of "oneness", we need myths that include tremendous, creative diversity within that "oneness", that can include many gods and goddesses, many voices and languages, and many ways to the truth instead of simply eliminating the competition. Further, our world myth can no longer be simply a human world myth - it must include many evolutions, many other beings within the intimacy of ecosystems. If we're to survive into sustainability.
"The culture that is holistic is holistic because its reasoning structure is holistic." wrote artist Rafael Montanez Ortiz. "The problem we have with holism is that our reasoning is fragmentary, dissectionist, it removes us from relating things, it structures things in separate compartments in order to "have control". Ortiz maintains that if the logic of one's society is relational, you are in relation to all things, and thus, empathic to all things. In earlier societies, the entire world was alive, entangled, conscious, animistic and full of Anima. It's no coincidence that this "primitive" worldview is very close to what science, from Gaia Theory to Quantum Entanglement, is discovering.
Last, myths, as in all tribal societies, become meaningful through embodiment, through actual experience - through ritual. And that's an endeavor the Pagan community is really good at, a skill we can offer that's tremendously needed.
Our brains aren't just in our skulls, but the entire body, which includes the aura and the etheric networks that exist between us and the rest of life. Whether we're talking about a forest, or another person, abstractions can remove us from the experience of communion, the immanent ability to sense what is going on. Abstractions become what is going on.
I know there are many here who have experienced, and helped to create, rituals that were profoundly transformative. My experiences of the Spiral Dance with Reclaiming, or with the Earth Spirit Community's Twilight Covening, or the Lighting of the Labyrinth at Sirius Rising......will always energize me when I remember them, no matter what. Within those magical circles, I entered mythic time and mythic space, experienced, as Joseph Campbell put it, the "Thou" realm of existence. That does not end when you leave the circle.
In 2004, I directed "Restoring the Balance", a non-denominational event devoted to cross-cultural stories of the Great Mother. Our cast wished to dramatize the need for healing the Earth Mother. We chose as our centerpiece the Inuit legend of Sedna, and the rituals of atonement and reciprocity the Inuit perform with their shaman when they believe they have fallen from balance with the life giving Ocean Mother. Artist Katherine Josten (founder of the Global Art Project) danced the role of Sedna, and observed that:
"The work of our group is not to re-enact the ancient goddess myths, but to take those myths to their next level of evolutionary unfolding. The integration of male and female must occur in order to bring balance to the earth and holism to human consciousness. A dialogue needs to occur so the pain of both may be brought to light and transmuted."
In my own rituals, I've felt that Grandmother Spider Woman has given me the compulsion to weave webs, from simple rituals in which we tied threads, naming what we were re-connecting with in our intentions, to dancer Morgana Canady weaving a web as "Spider Woman" in a theatrical performance with 300 people. In this instance, biodegradable cords from “Spider Woman’s Web” were later distributed among cast members, and scattered throughout the desert, symbolically extending our web. As part of the Global Art Project as well, an exchange was made with the AFEG-NEH-MABANG Traditional Dance Company, in Cameroon, a part of the weaving.