Teachers: (Part 8) - Neo-Pagans and Self Actualization - Part II
Article ID: 2901
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: July 16th. 2000
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The Road To Self Actualization Is Not A Free Ride!
A.H. Maslow began his work entitled, "Religions, Values and Peak Experiences," with-of all things-his thoughts on the Supreme Court ruling that eliminated mandatory prayers in the public schools. His was not a treatise on the Constitution nor specifically on the idea of the separation of church and state. Maslow, as a psychologist, was more interested in the reactions of people and how they viewed this particular event. Vocal opponents of the school prayer decision decried the 'removal' of God from the classrooms and what they saw as the beginning of the second fall of Mankind into some sort of 'anything goes' immorality or 'valueless' society.
Maslow's alternative view-and one that I agree with-is that spirituality resides within the person, is not restricted by time or location, and hence goes wherever the person goes. Mandatory prayers-recited by rote-do nothing to instill spiritual values in a person who does not already experience some spiritual connection. Instead, they often alienate those who may pray to a different divine presence or to no deity at all.
Much Ado About Religion:
The furor that surrounded the Supreme Court case on required school prayers still rages on. What fuels this almost hysterical battle to bring "God" back into classrooms?
The wood in this fire is 'organized religion'. I will go on to say that I believe that organized religion has almost nothing to do with spirituality anymore-if indeed it ever did. Maslow points out that organized religions have co-opted words like 'sacred', 'holy', 'divine', 'worship' and 'reverence' in a way that has linked these concepts with organized churches, temples and other established institutions of the same ilk. These, as Maslow labels them, "intellectual primitives" have "captured a good word and put their peculiar meaning to it." Maslow then declares his intention to "take them back" because these words belong to all of Man/Womankind and are not the exclusive property of the organized religions. Way to go, Abe!
How dangerous does organized religion view the idea that they may not have an exclusive right to define spirituality?? Very dangerous indeed, it would seem. Every day some organized religious figure-and of late, some politician courting the organized religious vote-chimes in with the rhetoric that without organized religion in the classroom, in the halls of law, in the government, America is lost. However, it is probably more true that without organized religion managing to gain the legal upper hand in government, organized religions themselves will soon be on the way out.
Spirituality belongs to all of Man/Womankind, as do the words that describe the experience. To infer that a person who is 'unchurched', does not belong to an organized religion or does not choose to pray a particular type of prayer (usually chosen by an organized religionist) in the classroom is less than holy, less than moral or less of a spiritual person is an insult to all of humankind. Yet, this is indeed the label that the organized religionist pins upon the backs of all those who do not follow the acceptable religious venues of the day.
As we read before in part one of the self-actualization series, the people who Maslow described as 'peakers' (those who have had 'peak experiences') often do not join churches or organized religions because these peak transformational experiences produce a different way, a holistic way, of viewing the Universe and their place in it.
So if not the peakers, then just who is steering the organized religions?
The Roots of Organized Religions:
Most of the religions that we recognize as being 'organized' today were started by a lone prophet 'crying in the wilderness.' His/her personal revelation was almost undoubtedly a 'peak experience.' When this prophet began to try to explain his/her vision to others, to share the message and revelation, some of the listeners would interpret the message one way and some another. Soon they were all off gathering up other 'believers' of their particular school of thought.
Unfortunately, these new 'ministers' were merely retelling the original revelation as they had interpreted it. In other words, we now had what can be termed as 'non-peakers' telling other people about someone else's peak experiences. Loyalty to that organizational doctrine soon began to replace the initial peak experience and eventually any new peak experiences, further mystical revelations and personal communications with the divine by individuals became enemies of the established dogma of the organization. The only good saint becomes the dead (and thankfully no longer embarrassing ) saint. The agreed upon ceremonies and rituals take the place of direct revelation and in fact establish an idolatry of 'doing' rather than a celebration of 'being.' And so it went --and so it goes. Peakers need not apply.
As Maslow states, "The evidence from the peak-experiences, permits us to talk about the essential, the intrinsic, the basic, the most fundamental religious or transcendent experience as a totally private and personal one which can hardly be shared (except with other peakers). As a consequence, all the paraphernalia of organized religion-buildings and specialized personnel, rituals, dogmas, ceremonials, and the like-are to the peaker secondary, peripheral and of doubtful value in relation to the intrinsic and essential religious or transcendent experience. Each person has his/her own private religion, which he/she develops out of his/her own private revelations in which are revealed to him/her his/her own private myths and symbols, rituals and ceremonials.."
In short, Maslow decides that there are really only two religions in all of the world-that of the peakers-who have private, personal and transcendent core religious experiences regularly- and that of the non-peakers-who have never had a peak experience or who repress them or supress them, and in fact, who also distrust those who do happen to have them.
Paganism Teetering On The Fence:
With the tremendous growth of interest in the various pagan religions today, we have come to a crossroads of sorts. On one hand, we face a crowd of people who are in need of training and support as they begin their journey into earth-based religious territory and on the other hand, we have a serious shortage of 'peak' teachers available to guide them.
As a result, many people have turned to books and seminars and workshops from which to learn the basics of the Craft. As good as some of these resources may be (and as bad as some of them are), there is only so much that they can impart of the real essence of what it is to be pagan. Spells and rituals and 'tools' are not what make up a pagan religion. It is the peak experience of being with and of the gods that most people seek. If they do not find it within books or rituals or workshops, they will not only be disappointed, they will feel cheated.
Indeed, there is growing number of people who have read the books and done the workshops and are now venturing forth teaching what they have learned from them. The skills may be there, the rituals may be perfected and the spells may be flowery, but if the experience behind it is merely academic and not based upon their own peak experience, then they are dangerously close to preaching just another 'organized religion."
The authors that write for pagans and the teachers of the old ways do everyone a great disservice if they do not make their platform clear from the outset. If they are teaching witchcraft as a 'craft' without religious tenets, then they should say so and omit all references to Gods and Goddesses and the rituals dedicated to Them.
If they are instructing budding earth-religionists in religious rites, rituals and ceremonies or promoting Witchcraft as a religion, then they should also make clear that these same 'tools' are secondary to the spiritual 'peak experience' that the individual should seek for him/herself. Handing someone a book of spells and incantations and letting them infer that this is all that makes the religion is much the same as handing someone a hymnal and saying that this is all there is to being a Lutheran.
Do We Get To Choose Which Side Of The Fence?
I believe that the pagan communities are made up by a very large number of peakers. Some were peakers already who, dissatisfied with their organized religion's premises, found paganism to be a venue in which continuing revelation and experience were valued and welcomed. Others come into paganism looking for such experiences. Hopefully both will find what they seek. Hopefully pagan religions can strike a balance between ongoing revelation and established practice. Hopefully new prophets will be welcomed and spiritual individuality will continue to find acceptance.
Pagan religions will continue to be alive and vibrant only if we remain vigilant against the encroachment of dogmatism. Transcendent spiritual experiences are personal and cannot be evoked by formulas. They cannot be taught. They can however be encouraged. Simply knowing that peak experiences are natural, desirable and available to humankind can stimulate others to be open to the possibility and to seek their own peak experiences.
Pagan religions will either continue to be systems where peakers are free to experience their personal revelations, where new forms are welcomed and individual spiritual freedom is encouraged or they will eventually become just another in a long line of dead or dying organized religions. The balance between establishing common ground and retaining individuality must be found or we will inevitably come tumbling off the fence onto one side or the other.
We can recall again from part one of this series some of the benefits of peak experiences- a love for truth and beauty, a feeling of wholeness and health, uniqueness, and completion, a feel for justice and a love of simplicity, a richness and savor for all of Life, playfulness and self-sufficiency, a tolerance for others and the knowledge that each individual is sacred, holy and divine. It is an on-going experience unique to each person.
And yet as Maslow says in one of his footnotes, some sort of organizational structure is required to keep the systems up and running even while facing the danger that the organization will stifle further growth. He adds hopefully that 'while we cannot do without organizations, perhaps one day we shall invent organizations that do not 'freeze'."
That is indeed something to think upon and I hope that this is the Path that we will choose.
Walk in Light and Love,
January 10th, 2000
The Witches' Voice
Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences-A.H. Maslow, Penguin Books (1970, 1994) On The Web:
Counseling and Psychotherapy of Religious Clients-Vicky Genia, Praeger Publishers (1995)
Toward A Psychology of Being-A.H. Maslow, John Wiley and Sons (1968, Third Edition 1999)
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