I suspect this is some combination of it being Shark Week (oh internet how would I know these things without you) and having seen Prometheus recently, along with friggasmuse being, in my lj-view, the epitome of the Mother archetype a la pagany type connotations. Either that or there's something she's not telling us about her birthing story.
I don't really identify as pagan. It's kind of arbitrary, this, and related to the issues I have with any form of organised religion, also to my subscription to a constructivist viewpoint in which we have constructed 'pagan' to mean certain things, things which don't ring true with me. I don't subscribe, for example, to the wiccan wheel of the year. The cross-quarters mean nothing to me, partly because they are arbitrary and don't match the actual times when the things they mark happen in my country, and partly because they aren't an astronomically-marked, measurable thing. I do mark the solstices and equinoxes. They make sense to me.
Having said that, I was born on Beltane so hey.
If I were to try and describe my spirituality I think the closest I could come would be shamanism, but even that isn't right. Again, partly because we've constructed shamanism to mean certain things (how many of you thought of Native American shamanism when I said that?), and partly because I believe that one doesn't label oneself shaman, it's a title bestowed by the community one serves. And that's not how I roll. However, in terms of the 'walking in both worlds' aspect of shamanism, that kind of fits. I don't hold any truck with the wiccan concept of the Veil. I'm all "Veil, what veil?" There is no bloody veil, it's all here, now, with us in this world/universe, there is no Other Side, and concepts like 'crossing the veil' or 'the veil is thin' make no sense to me, instead serve IMO to obfuscate the nature of reality. A reality in which everything exists already, nothing is veiled or separated by mystical forces, and magic is accessible to everyone.
Yeah, magic. Not the pulling-rabbits-out-of-hats prestidigitation type magic, nor the fantastically-beautiful and dramatic fireball-shooting that Sparrow does in DA2 (so pretty!). When I talk about magic I mean, for want of better labels, focused intent. And when I talk about doing magic, it doesn't include spells or rituals or any of that stuff that I see as trappings*, but it does include practical and mundane things. So for example if you want more money, you could buy a Silver Ravenwolf book and burn a candle and chant some bad poetry. Whatever floats your boat. That might even be magic. It is after all, focused intent. But there are other things you can do, like consolidate your debt, make a budget, cut your spending, work at increasing your income, and live your life as a complete expression of your desire to be better off. In my opinion this is where the real magic happens. By actually doing something you are putting your energy into making tangible progress towards your goals, and there is no better focus for your intent than getting on with it. In my paradigm, the way you interact with the world dictates how the world interacts with you, so putting it out there that you are focusing on this goal will make you the focus of the goal in the universal dynamic. Got it?
It's not as if I've never done a spell. I have one buried up in Ngaio Gorge that's been there since 2004 and is still going strong, thank you very much. I made that when I was first learning about this stuff. I a) wanted to try it, and b) was struggling to separate my emotional state at the time from the intent I was trying to focus. It served as a receptacle for my intent, which I could then (literally and figuratively) put away from view and go about my business without allowing my immediate feelings to affect it. Since then I've got better at disengaging my emotions from my purpose.
Anyway.. what about stuff like trance and journeying, where you are altering your mental state in order to achieve 'visions' or do magic or whatever? In my opinion they are not really any different from other forms of magic, because I don't think you are actually travelling to another world when you do it. The Veil doesn't exist, it's a construct that we invented to separate our consciousness from our fear of death (since the dead are supposedly beyond this Veil) and the unknown. So journeying isn't going anywhere that doesn't exist in this world IMO. In fact, I don't think it's even travelling outside one's own head. I do think the mind is capable of things that we don't understand yet, and some of the insights and changes that can come from this sort of mind-travelling definitely fit in the realms of magic.
I'm good at journeying, I've done it a lot. I've done it for other people as well, and I usually get results. I'm not that flash at no-mind meditation (I did it once, got to a state of no-mind, and the first thing that happened was that my brain went "Hey look I'm doing it!" and that was the end of that). I don't even find it that hard. I've heard that some people find it almost impossible to journey, and I wonder if that's related to a belief that the 'world of spirits' is separate from the corporeal world. I think it's all the same world, so my mind has no trouble moving from one to the other. It is a noticeable mental shift though - journeying is not the same as free-association creative visualisation, or daydreaming, or even lucid dreaming. It's its own thing and feels like its own world, populated with characters who have their own agenda, backstory, self-actualisation - or so it seems. Like the Fade. Heh. But yeah, my brain enters this state relatively easily. Coming back is a bit harder.
Enter drugs. Some people swear by entheogens - substances which supposedly allow you to see Spirit. Many many cultures have used them over milennia to achieve the altered states in which vision magic might happen. Psilocybin mushrooms are considered an entheogen in quite a few cultures. Peyote, ayahuasca, cannabis for some, iboga - all substances used within cultures for the express purpose of communicating with other worlds.
I'm not going to tell you which of these I've used. I will say that drugs, IMO, don't achieve anything you can't do without sufficient training to alter your mind. They can, and do, take you interesting places. They cause your mind to travel roads it might not go on its own. Do they let you see god? Not in my experience. But nor have any of the other alteration techniques I've learned. Mostly because I don't think there is a god, or, to quote some dude in sandals from a while ago, god is everywhere, around us, all the time. You're not going to see god because god is inside you, and if you travel inside you on an inner world journey, you'll see that god is the same in there as outside. If you do a higher world journey, well gosh. Same god, looks just like this world. Because the concept of god is in our cells and everything that exists is already part of this world and not separate from our existing reality. You can't look on the face of god because god doesn't have a face. God is not a self-aware entity that gives a crap about me and makes judgements on my behaviour. God is all of us, everything, right here and right now, the good and the bad. Like, you know, magic. Isn't good or evil, just is. Duh. All that aside, if you work at it, using entheogens can help with directed vision-seeking and making changes in your life. And using drugs is relatively easy because they'll have some effect whether you retain your focus or not.
Anyway, the difference between using drugs for this sort of magic and using mental techniques, IMO is that with drugs you are creating a specific type of experience. You take X amount of Y thing, you know it'll start affecting you in Z minutes, and ABC things are likely to happen. And after QED time, you'll come back. If you eat DEF vitamins and have some rest, you'll be back to normal in N days. With mental techniques, the boundaries are a lot more blurred, and as I said above, coming back is sometimes harder. When I first learned to do it, it would affect me for days afterwards and I'd have trouble avoiding slipping back into that mental state**. Sometimes it wouldn't work. Sometimes I couldn't make sense of what I'd seen anyway. With practice, I got better at it and now it's not a lot different from an entheogenic experience, except I control when it starts, what happens and when it finishes. I prefer it that way.
So using drugs or using trance techniques achieve more or less the same purpose (at least if your purpose is a spiritual one), but IMO if you're trying to do magic then I reckon drugs are better saved for having fun with. Just saying.
* I try not to be derogatory about the trappings. I understand that trappings are a tool for focus and that if you subscribe to the viewpoint that magic is separate from the mundane, then using tools to focus when trying to do magic makes sense. But I get frustrated with what I see as unnecessary stuff and when I'm in a circle I become impatient with it and want to just get on with it and so I tend to avoid group ritual because I understand this attitude probably doesn't help, eh?
** Not all that different from the trouble I have reintegrating after playing a really immersive game. Huh.
Hey Tats, why the sudden esoteric ramblings about visions?
Well I've been thinking about magic and drugs, right? So I needed to clarify in my mind about the use of drugs for magic and whether there's a strong relationship between them in my own experience. The answer is yes and no. Drugs can be used in magic but they are not necessary. They don't 'go together like a horse and carriage' so to speak. Gee Tats, I'm glad you had to write so many words to clarify that in your head.
Next up, so if drugs and magic aren't necessarily bedfellows, why is magic used as a metaphor for drugs, and specifically, how does the treatment of drug users relate to the treatment of mages in Thedas?
Because you care so much, right?