Pagan Book Club
So here's what I brought.
Breaking Open the Head - Daniel Pinchbeck
My Stroke of Insight - Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D.
The Serpent and the Rainbow - Wade Davis
When God Talks Back - T.M Luhrmann
Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love - Will Roscoe
God is Not One - Stephen Prothero
Pagan Theology - Michael York
I've talked about a lot of these books online before. And this was just an opportunity for me to share them with some new people in a new way. But I realized that I had brought items that spoke to particular facets of my relationship with religion in the context of science, sociology, historical narratives, and theology. They explore things like how the brain understands the world around it, and how chemical reactions in the brain alter your perceptions of the world around you (physically and spiritually). They talk about the cultures that are intertwined in religious traditions, and how culture and religion build and feed and loop back into each other. They talk about the philosophical issues at the heart of religions, and the justifications for contemporary Paganism as a world religion. They talk about the experiences one has when they immerse themselves in these paradigms and worldviews and how that changes people.
None of these books would be the kind of thing that you would expect to see in the typical metaphysical bookshop. Maybe Pagan Theology, though as an academic text it's not usually on the first order list. And The Serpent and The Rainbow, possibly again, but it's an older title and less likely to be on a mandatory purchase list for most metaphysical stores.
And yet, with all the science and the sociology, I think back on the things I revealed to other people in this book talk. Half the reason I'm fascinated with Luhrmann's book "When God Talks Back" is that I see the similarities between the evangelical relationship with God, and the Pagan relationship with Gods. We go through much the same process of developing that internal/external dialogue with unseen forces, and I myself as an intellectual person have on many occasions had conversations with my Gods.
I come back to the brain, and wonder is this a product of my mind, of chemical process, of spirit, of external beings, or all of this? And so books like Breaking Open the Head and My Stroke of Insight bring me further along to answering that question. I still don't have an answer, but the body of understanding is growing. During the course of the book talk I also talked about "DMT: The Spirit Molecule," "The Tibetan Book of the Dead" and Gaspar Noe's film "Enter the Void" expanding the conversation about the confluence of chemical processes and spiritual processes, particularly around death and dying; contrasting that with Pinchbeck's book which looks at the blend of entheogens and spirit communications in a somewhat simplistic fashion.
And then I turn to society. And how my personal beliefs have grown through the karma of the social environment in which I live. We spoke of cultural experimentation, and appropriation. How we grew in and out of spiritual cultures and how they are and are not integrated in our society. I think back to Mircea Eliade's "The Sacred and the Profane" and wonder if magic makes any sense outside of a world view where body and soul and society are constitutionally and socially separate. In Haiti of "The Serpent and the Rainbow" all of these things are so integrated to each other that magic is more potent both for the magician and the victims to whom it is directed. The mind and the soul are inextricably linked in society and thus magic can kill and raise the dead, because belief increases the power.
I also turn inward, and reflective. The books on comparative religions and the questions that they pose to themselves and to their followers have always been something that I had to ask. As someone who was not raised in any particular religious faith I have to always come at religions as if they need to be explained from their roots. So something like "God is not One" or "Pagan Theology" help me muddle through understanding where different religions are coming from, and the internal narratives of those traditions. Without having those introductory texts I'm lost. I couldn't begin to tell you the difference between many of the different Christian denominations, I have no idea what distinguishes a Presbyterian from a Methodist, or if they're even the same thing. But being able to find those fundamental differences spelled out in a clear and informative way has been something that I find myself gravitating toward. For those things that I care to delve deeper, like Pagan Theology, I turn to the longer philosophical and theological works. I'm just at that place that I want to explore the depths, and not just skim along the surface.
So that's where I'm at. Understanding the interplay between mind, body, and spirit; looking at the social context of religion; and comparison/contrast between different faiths while learning how best to integrate the finer facets of my own. I see myself questioning how my brain and its chemical processes both inform and are informed by my spiritual practices, and how I integrate that into the world and integrate the world into myself.
No small task.