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World Machine Dream

David Priilaid hates descriptors, but 5 things that best describe him are:

  • He is an academic working at the University of Cape Town
  • He teaches entrepreneurship with a view that people have lost their voices and with insight can rediscover their “abilities to sing”
  • He is a post-anglican evangelical charismatic christian
  • Has experienced 10 years of Jungian psychotherapy and is a great fan of James Hollis
  • Loves Steely Dan, Bill Evans and a good glass of Cape Red at his right elbow

I had this dream in the early hours of Sunday 29 November.  The vivid and technicolor character of it made me feel that this was some kind of vision.  You as reader can be the judge.

Continue reading “World Machine Dream”

Pattern-based Worship: Sacred and Profane Time

This is a series of posts in which I hope to unpack thoughts and provoke practices around pattern-based worship. In so doing I want to examine  notions such as patterns: natures way, western music’s journey of civilisation, and postmodern liturgy.  And as an introduction, introduce the idea of sacred time.

At all times people have recognised that while we very often spend our waking hours struggling to survive, there are times when we transcend this and discover a deeper connection with the Divine. This connection may be experienced as God, as a oneness with all things, or simply a oneness with another. Certainly being or falling “in love” takes us away from our struggles or at least makes them bearable.

We all experience such times as inspiring, hopeful, and joyful, very often changing us (at least temporarily) from individuals trapped on a treadmill of obligations, to empowered humans. Many have called these transcendent times Sacred, in contrast to “normal” time which may be called Profane.

In this time of a heightened awareness of the dualisms of our western culture, we may reject the construct of the sacred and the profane as perpetuating unhealthy dichotomies. This suspicion is nowhere more evident than in our religious lives, which for many do not serve us by uniting the parts of our lives but rather create ever more entrenched categories, for example, the church vs. the world, religious vs. secular, or saint vs. sinner. These are by no means limited to the religious “sphere” either; we also experience the everyday divides of work vs. play, or us vs. them for example.

The Celts (who existed at the edges of the Roman Empire) saw this not so much in terms of time but place, calling locations which were steeped in the numinous (the unseen, mysterious presence of the ground of our being) the “thin places”. So we might say there are thin times, when the fabric of mundanity permits us to glimpse our ineffable underlying realities, which many of us call God.

Engaging the duality (as opposed to the dualism) of sacred vs. profane time can be helpful, if we bear in mind our tendency to compartmentalise. In fact, as far as questions of worship are concerned, it is vital that we grasp the distinction. Our confusion as to where the boundary between sacred vs. profane might lie leads to distortions and misunderstandings concerning what worship is or can become.

I write not as one with answers, but rather as one on a quest to explore, and driven by an intuition that there is more to worship than what is currently on offer. It is driven by a call to create new forms which honour the Creator and involve honest deconstructing of what is not working, reconnection with what has always worked, and an imaginative rebuilding of what lies ahead as we engage the unfolding future from a sacred perspective.

Interview: Brendan Smithers

Brendan Smithers is the prime mover and “Drill Sergeant” for the Upsetters, who created The Turbine for Africa Burns 2007 and The Wish for 2008, as well as being involved in the creation of the San Clan (Man) itself. As much as anyone else he has made his mark on the Festival, predominantly in his large scale work. So what thoughts lead to such powerful, iconic pieces?

Night
The Wish : Night

It started with The Turbine in 2007… Continue reading “Interview: Brendan Smithers”

Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place

“Which is more musical; a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”  John Cage

Welcome to Moop

One of the many delightful new ideas brought to us via Burner Culture is that of moop – “matter out of place”. Meaning predominantly litter and detritus, but also things inappropriately placed. One of the 10 Burner principles is “Leave no trace”, and is designed to make us wasteful westerners think twice about how we interact with the environment.

Afrika Burn (and far more so its parent Burning Man) is not a simple back-to-nature event, despite a strong stream of green awareness and survivalist minimalism. It is more than that, and incorporates at times almost impossibly complex structures bordering on madness, and requiring truckloads of materials and months of preparation. The central piece of Tankwa Town, The Wish by the Upsetters, for example, is an 8 M high spherical installation of hoops within hoops, meticulously designed, transported and assembled for the pleasure of all. Continue reading “Soop – Sound (Waves) Out Of Place”

The treasure in the field

Trifari India Maltese CrossThe Dream (“Kingdom”) of G-d is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. [Matthew 13:44 paraphrased]

The simplicity of this account is deceptive:

  • What is the Dream/Kingdom of G-d like, the treasure, the field, or the story of the treasure in the field?
  • Why didn’t he buy the field with the proceeds from the treasure, rather than the proceeds of his possessions?
  • Is the treasure made more valuable by being under the ground rather than mined or extracted?
  • What does the man want to do with the field?
  • Who having found something of great worth, willingly and immediately looses it again?
  • Surely we are taught by many religions that the good is to be held on to, as we struggle against the bad?
  • How is it that his joy leads not towards publication (making public), but away from it and towards increased circumspection?
  • What is the difference between the treasure and the field in which it is hidden?
  • Does true ownership comprise of securing, or relinquishing?
  • Is the story more than good re-investment advice?
  • Is it making a distinction between commodities (precious metals/minerals) and real estate (the field) as types of value?

I wonder.

Psychedelic Apocalypse – Terence McKenna’s Re:Evolution revisited

[Note : This is transcribed verbatim from The Shamen’s “Boss Drum” album (1994), and does not necessarily reflect my actual beliefs. However, it contains significant alternative prophetic content and is well worth noting. Emphases mine.]

Terence McKenna by Robert Venosa (www.venosa.com/terence_mckenna.jpg)If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed. Human history represents such a radical break with the natural systems of biological organization that preceded it, that it must be the response to a kind of attractor, or dwell point that lies ahead in the temporal dimension. Persistently, western religions have integrated into their theologies the notion of a kind of end of the world, and I think that a lot of psychedelic experimentation sort of confirms this intuition, I mean, it isn’t going to happen according to any of the scenarios of orthodox religion,

but the basic intuition, that the universe seeks closure in a kind of omega point of transcendence, is confirmed, it’s almost as though this object in hyperspace, glittering in hyperspace, throws off reflections of itself, which actually ricochet into the past, illuminating this mystic, inspiring that saint or visionary,

and that out of these fragmentary glimpses of eternity we can build a kind of map, of not only the past of the universe, and the evolutionary progression into novelty, but a kind of map of the future, this is what shamanism is always been about, a shaman is someone who has been to the end, it’s someone who knows how the world really works,

and knowing how the world really works means to have risen outside, above, beyond the dimensions of ordinary space, time, and [sic] causality, and actually seen the wiring under the board, stepped outside the confines of learned culture and learned and embedded language, into the domain of what Wittgenstein called “the unspeakable”,

the transcendental presence of the other, which can be absanctioned, in various ways, to yield systems of knowledge which can be brought back into ordinary social space for the good of the community, so in the context of ninety percent of human culture, the shaman has been the agent of evolution, because the shaman learns the techniques to go between ordinary reality and the domain of the ideas,

this higher dimensional continuum that is somehow parallel to us, available to us, and yet ordinarily occluded by cultural convention out of fear of the mystery I believe, and what shamans are, are people who have been able to de-condition themselves from the community’s instinctual distrust of the mystery,

and to go into it, to go into this bewildering higher dimension, and gain knowledge, recover the jewel lost at the beginning of time, to save souls, cure, commune with the ancestors and so forth and so on.

Shamanism is not a religion, it’s a set of techniques, and the principal technique is the use of psychedelic plants. What psychedelics do is they dissolve boundaries, and in the presence of dissolved boundaries, one cannot continue to close one’s eyes to the ruination of the earth, the poisoning of the seas, and the consequences of two thousand years of unchallenged dominator culture, based on monotheism, hatred of nature, suppression of the female, and so forth and so on.

So, what shamans have to do is act as exemplars, by … making this cosmic journey to the domain of the Gaian ideas, and then bringing them back in the form of art to the struggle to save the world. The planet has a kind of intelligence, that it can actually open a channel of communication with an individual human being.

The message that nature sends is, transform your language through a synergy between electronic culture and the psychedelic imagination, a synergy between dance and idea, a synergy between understanding and intuition, and dissolve the boundaries that your culture has sanctioned between you, to become part of this Gaian supermind, I mean I think

it’s fairly profound, it’s fairly apocalyptic. History is ending. I mean, we are to be the generation that witnesses the revelation of the purpose of the cosmos. History is the shock wave of the eschaton. History is the shock wave of eschatology, and what this means for those of us who will live through this transition into hyperspace, is that we will be privileged to see the greatest release of compressed change probably since the birth of the universe.

The twentieth century is the shudder that announces the approaching cataracts of time over which our species and the destiny of this planet is about to be swept.

If the truth can be told so as to be understood, it will be believed.

The emphasis in house music and rave culture on physiologically compatible rhythms and this sort of thing is really the rediscovery of the art of natural magic with sound, that sound, properly understood, especially percussive sound, can actually change neurological states, and

large groups of people getting together in the presence of this kind of music are creating a telepathic community of bonding that hopefully will be strong enough that it can carry the vision out into the mainstream of society. I think that the youth culture that is emerging in the nineties is an end of the millennium culture that is actually summing up Western civilization and pointing us in an entirely different direction, that

we’re going to arrive in the third millennium, in the middle of an archaic revival, which will mean a revival of these physiologically empowering rhythm signatures, a new art, a new social vision, a new relationship to nature, to feminism, to ego.

All of these things are taking hold, and not a moment too soon.

making space for Halloween

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot
” [Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi]

Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders…” [Heb 12:1]

(Part of the Samhain Synchroblog “A Christian response to Halloween“.)

“Halloween”, hmm … that rings a bell or three:
dong: Isn’t it a commercial American kiddy candyfest?
Dong: Isn’t that when they show horror movies on TV?
DONG: Doesn’t it have its roots in satanism and witchcraft?

I am writing from Cape Town, South Africa. While relishing the opportunity to address questions once off limits, like the taboo of Halloween, it has to be said that I am in rather a quandary. I have been told by our local neopagans that we are actually celebrating Beltane (start of summer), not Samhain (end of summer, or Halloween), as the southern calendar is 6 months out of phase to the northern.

Anyway, I have already been wondering about calendars for the sacred  and paganism in general so this is a continuation of the thoughts presented there. As the theme here is to do with a Christian response, I would like to create some mental space in which we can consider the question of a festival all but owned by Paganism.

I pointed out in the second post Julie Clawson’s useful framework for interfacing with other faiths – Reject, Redeem or Root. The first 2 are common Christian  responses:

  • Reject Halloween as pagan and therefore evil … simple, or in South African parlance, “finish and klaar”.
  • Redeem Halloween (31 Oct), as we see in the adjacent traditional celebrations All Saints day (1 Nov) and All Souls Day (2 Nov). In this sense then “Hallow” means holy and “een”, the evening before. As to the question of which came first – the pagan or the christian, see Steve Hayes’ contribution.

But I’d like to consider the third way here – Rooting. Is it possible for a Christian to find a cultural rooting in what is seen as a pagan celebration? But to do so, we will need to take a step back and reconsider the role of nature in the christian tradition, and start to answer some of the questions raised by what is for many a real conceptual disjunct: can we serve and worship Christ via the tools and traditions of the “pagan”?

A big problem

By now most people in the west are aware that we have a very big problem, the size of Planet Earth, on our hands. Al Gore, president elect of Gaia, might be a chief proponent of political action on global warming, but the problem in my view goes deeper than this one specific issue.

For me, this is an issue of “righteousness”. To be righteous is not so much to do with being religious, pious or even sanctified. It is to do with right relationship. This includes relationship with our past, with one another, with our Maker, and with the Earth.

Now, the triune god Progress-Profit-Technology has blessed us with

  • the illusion of being better evolved than ever before such that we are losing our sense of where we come from, with the tacit assumption that latest = greatest.
  • an affluence which has removed us from the process of production, paying for the services required for survival and losing touch with the flow of life itself.
  • an abstraction from each other and the world via technology – houses, cars, urbanisation, privatisation, celebrity, entertainment and the ubiquitous distractions of commodification.

We are in what I call an advanced state of “Artifice”. Our lives are artificial, abstract and anesthetized. We need to eat, but we pay someone else to harvest, kill or manufacture our food. Fewer and fewer people use their hands; those that do are often in production lines doing mind numbingly repetitive tasks.

Our feet are perpetually shod, out of contact with the good earth. Our imaginations no longer see constellations in the sky, we have lost the subtle meanings of the world and all that it contains. We have been made to fear that which is wild and untamed. And our theology merely reinforces this prejudice, fear and chauvinism.

The dual to the death

The Paved over Paradise of the Artifice not only weakens our survival skills dramatically, but weakens our spirits even more. The Incarnational G-d as demonstrated in Jesus has chosen that we know and serve Him via the creation, not despite it. Of course, being G-d means you can circumnavigate natural law in the miraculous, but it is very clear that he who is G-d formed himself into matter, placed himself amongst people in a specific time and place, and communed deeply with the natural world. This is (for me) the core message of Christ. To respond to anything from “Christian” point of view, needs to have this Incarnational G-d at its centre.

Neo-Platonic and Hellenistic thought was very present in the writings of many over the ages but it was Augustine, arguably the most influential post-Pauline theologian of the Church, who embedded its dualism into this inherited culture we know as Christendom.

When combined with the Enlightenment’s emphasis in the mind (individualism), its belief in a rationally defined framework for understanding the cosmos (scientism), and an attitude of conquest and dominion (colonialism and capitalism) we end up almost totally losing touch with and respect for the Earth and by strong implication, G-d.

There are but faint echoes of the sort of wisdom required for this righteousness in non-westernized cultures, but their voice has been so brutally and systematically marginalized, mostly in the name of Christendom and its “civilization”, (although not forgetting communism, and other destructive fundamentalisms as well), it is no wonder we cannot hear the wisdom of Australian Aboriginals, Kalahari Bushmen, North American Natives, European Pagans, or Shamanic voices from around the world.

To be fair, however, I don’t want to idealize these minorities, and nor do I want to exclude many other peoples whose respect for their/our world puts us westerners to utter shame.

But once we acknowledge this shame, we need to find a way of redeeming ourselves. This will involve questioning many if not most of our deep held cultural assumptions; it will involve hard work, pain and humbling. I for one think it is worth it. Wisdom University’s Paul Ray has presented a fascinating case for this type of integrated spirituality in his presentation “Creating a Wisdom Culture“.

Any spirituality that hopes to find a true and appreciable union with its creator needs to hold nature in high regard. Christendom has failed almost completely to do so. The church has too often sided with and bought into individualism, colonialism, capitalism and colluded with progress, profit and technology. The dualisms of Spirit-Matter and Secular-Sacred have rendered the mission of Christ to “Love the world” almost powerless.

Prophetically pagan

If we are to serve G-d truly and fully, we need another way. One such way is hinted at via many of the teachings of the so-called pagans or neo-pagans. Note that in considering this, I am not suggesting taking on a philosophy wholesale or unquestioningly – I do not include the “ism”, only the “pagan”. The Wheel of the Year, based as it is on the seasons, makes a start at reconciling us with the world in which we live, with its seasons and its honoring of the importance of the Sun and Moon.

In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

All praise be yours, my Lord, through all that you have made, And first my lord Brother Sun, Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness. All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; In the heavens you have made them, bright And precious and fair. [The Canticle of Brother Sun]

And Teilhard de Chardin:

For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe … I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth through all that surrounds us. [The mass on the world]

I imagine that some people will now be asking question such as these:

  • Is this not “syncretism”, did Christ not say “I have chosen you out of the world”, are you not diluting the Faith, you heretic?
  • Is it not pantheism, the worship of the earth, you idolater?
  • Are you not walking directly into satan’s trap by flirting with witchcraft, you heathen, you wolf in sheep’s clothing?
  • Shouldn’t you be celebrating Beltane not Samhain in the Southern Hemisphere, you poor confused downunder fool?

These are all good questions, and I am prepared to answer them. But for now, I have just wanted to lay a foundation, create a mental space, for approaching the issue of Samhain/Halloween.

Praxis, anyone?

Further to all this mental wrestling, I am involved with a small local group who will be exploring “Halloween – All Saints – All Souls” on Friday 2nd November.

Here, we will be exploring what is in common between Halloween, All Saints and All Souls. We will examine the Celtic idea of the “Thin place” where the world of the dead comes close to the world of the living, the litany of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11, and a few words on African Ancestral traditions from a Xhosa perspective.

I am asking participants to

  • Remember a person who has influenced you. To re-member is to “gather” ones thoughts and memories. This person might be alive, but a dearly departed would more in keeping with the theme. They may be a family member, a writer, a spiritual mentor, a friend, an artist, or any iconic person whose life has passed into yours.
  • How do you hope to be remembered? Here you can express both your actual achievements and your vision for you as-yet-unlived life.

So from me, and in the name of Jesus, Happy Samhain!

Other synchrobloggers are :

  • The Christians and the Pagans Meet for Samhain at Phil Wyman’s Square No More
  • Our Own Private Zombie: Death and the Spirit of Fear by Lainie Petersen
  • Julie Clawson at One Hand Clapping
  • John Morehead at John Morehead’s Musings
  • Vampire Protection by Sonja Andrews
  • What’s So Bad About Halloween? at Igneous Quill
  • H-A-double-L-O-double-U-double-E-N Erin Word
  • Halloween….why all the madness? by Reba Baskett
  • Steve Hayes at Who stole Halloween
  • KW Leslie at The Evening of Kent
  • Hallmark Halloween by John Smulo
  • Mike Bursell at Mike’s Musings
  • Sam Norton at Elizaphanian
  • Removing Christendom from Halloween at On Earth as in Heaven
  • Vampires or Leeches: A conversation about making the Day of the Dead meaningful by David Fisher
  • Encountering hallow-tide creatively by Sally Coleman
  • Kay at Chaotic Spirit
  • Apples and Razorblades at Johnny Beloved
  • Fall Festivals and Scary Masks at The Assembling of the Church
  • Why Christians don’t like Zombies at Hollow Again
  • Peering through the negatives of mission Paul Walker
  • Sea Raven at Gaia Rising
  • Timothy Victor at Tim Victor’s Musings
  • Halloween: My experiences by Lew A
  • in search of a calendar

    For most adherents of organised religion, certain days or periods are seen as more important that others. A liturgical calendar of some sort gives structure to the worshipping community. Obvious examples are Christmas, Diwali, Pasach or Ramadan.

    For others, calendars are something of an oddity. They may even stand in opposition to core beliefs (such as in evangelical tradition, and possibly Buddhism) because of an emphasis on the spiritual and de-emphasis on rituals of time and space.

    But if you are interested in liturgy and worship, eventually you come around to the question of special days and calendars. There are many calendars; many saints, many causes, too much to take in. I have had a quick look at several calendars, Catholic, Anglican, Coptic, Orthodox and African, to see what days or causes resonated with me.

    At this stage, only two seem to have any meaning. Firstly, the Jewish; many Christians like to celebrate Pasach and the like, and I can see the appeal of this, especially when approaching the festival from a fresh, new testament angle.

    But even more relevant it seems, especially from a Creation Spirituality point of view, is the pre-christian, Celtic Wheel of the Year. It is used by pagans, Wiccans and Celtic-oriented systems. The strength of this approach is it’s honoring of Nature; and for me by close implication, the Creator.

    Many Christians are skeptical or hostile towards such an approach, seeing it as representing anti-Christian religion. “Pagan” is a word used by orthodoxy to describe non-Christians, hedonists, or savages. However, its meaning is most accurately understood as “of the country”, (from the Latin paganus, “an old country dweller, rustic”). This is distinct from “Of the City”.

    I think it is fair to say that although Jesus spent much of his time with simple folks, country people, that Christianity itself has become a very urban religion. It has deep misgivings about those close to nature, and it can be argued that much of its most distasteful legacy – witch hunts, crusades and the like, were efforts to destroy what it perceived as wild, untamed and uncivilized.

    If we look at modern Christendom, it comes down fairly strongly on the side of industry, with its attendant disregard for the creation. George Bush style “Christianity” typifies the duplicitous approach whereby an appeal to “Fighting for God” hides a deeply invested interest in oil and a flagrant disregard for the effects of consumerism on the planet.

    Traditional Christianity can be seen as urban chauvinism, and most of its legacy in western culture demonstrates alienation, estrangement, suspicion and incompetence when it comes to knowing our place in the cosmos.

    So it seems like this is a good time to reconnect with our aboriginal roots. In a case like mine, that is complex, descendant as I am of colonials. Am I African, or European? I have asked this question hard and as of now, I understand myself as a European in Africa. Whatever, I look to a pre-modern source of connection with nature, as a milieu for the sacred.

    Here is a summary of the 8 sabats of the Wheel of the year, with their “Christianized” equivalent, with thanks to the liturgist Sea Raven, in her thesis “The Wheel of the Year“. I think there is great potential to rethink a calendar for worship based more closely on world as created by G-d.

    Northern Southern Pre-Christian Celtic Festival “Christian” Liturgical Parallel
    1-Aug 1-Feb First Fruits: Lammas/Lughnasadh Abundance; First Fruits of the Spirit
    22-Sep 22-Mar The Fall Equinox: Mabon Harvest
    1-Nov 6-May Samhain (Halloween) Honoring the Ancestors Feast of All Saints
    22-Dec 22-Jun Winter Solstice / Yule Christmas
    2-Feb 1-Aug Imbolc Candlemas; the return of the light; Epiphany
    20-Mar Sep-20 Celebration of Spring Equinox: Ostara Easter; Resurrection; Life, Death, Rebirth
    1-May 1-Nov Now is the Month of Maying: Beltane Communion as a Feast of Love; Pentecost
    22-Jun 22-Dec Summer Solstice Midsummer; Growth, Commitment

    If we take a nature-first approach to the question of calendar, we might use Southern dates. But 3 of them might not shift very easily (Christmas, Easter and Halloween), without considerable weirdness. (Christmas in June anyone?) because of the association of the natural festival with a Christian tradition.

    Still, it’s a start.

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