Divination: The Objective, the Personal, and the Intuitive

Where is the objectivity in astrology? Is there an interesting sense in which astrology is “more objective,” or “more impersonal,” than other divinatory arts?

While it’s certainly true that at any given moment, the stars are where they are, in a way that does not depend upon us in any way, the astrological houses have quite a few personal and subjective elements about them. And even the significations of the planets leave quite a bit of room for intuition and inspiration in their interpretation.

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Approaching Poetry

Over the weekend, one of my friends mentioned that she’s interested in the creative work of writing poetry, and asked me for a few guidelines, that could help get her going. I’m sharing some of my thoughts here, in hopes that they might be useful to others, too.

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Anam Cara

The gifts of true friends:
Sharing both joy and burdens,
Making light heavy loads, with
Hands, heart, speech, shared silence.
To see, to be seen
In a clear, polished mirror –
Not as we might seem,
But truly, in the depths.
Rest, comfort, safe and secure,
Side by side, in peace.

(May 2019)

Buddhism, dependent arising, and the erasure of polytheism

(No, we are not all trying to be atheists.)

In my last post, I discussed how a noxious mix of philosophical misunderstanding, hegemonic monotheism, and respectability politics have given rise to the false claim that “Advaita Vedānta is monotheism.” In the present post, I’d like to examine another, quite similar erasure of polytheism; namely, the false claim that “Buddhism is atheistic,” which arises from a noxious mix of philosophical misunderstanding, hegemonic atheism,1 and respectability politics.

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No, we are not all trying to be monotheists.

(Vedānta, monism, and the erasure of polytheism)

All too often, it’s claimed that “Advaita Vedānta is a form of monotheism.” Or even that Advaita Vedānta is a better, more pure, more refined form of monotheism than its Middle Eastern competitors, Christianity and Islam.

No, Advaita is not monotheism. It is monism,* the view that “there is only one thing.” But if there is only one thing, there is no more reason to call that thing “God” that to call it “cosmos” or “human being” or “chair” or “river.” I mean no disrespect or impiety here, but simply an entry into the core Advaita notion of “neti, neti”, “not this, not this.” Any label, any category, always functions by distinguishing X from what is not-X or what is other-than-X; in other words, by splitting things into different groups based on their defining features. No predicates, no labels whatsoever can possibly apply to Brahman, the one reality, since there is nothing other than itself from which it can be distinguished. Even calling it Brahman is ultimately problematic, for the very same reasons: ‘Brahman’ is a predicate/label, too.

Rather, the plethora of Gods and Goddesses, just like the plethora of humans, chairs, rivers, and other things that seem to populate the world, are all of them ultimately unreal to the monist/Advaitin.

But this is monism, not monotheism.

Continue reading “No, we are not all trying to be monotheists.”

Evening Song

In the darkness, twin candles
burn brightly at your shrine,
illumine you Nine Holy Muses,
who illumine me in turn.

You breathe in the incense –
breathe into me, I pray;
inspire me by your presence.

You for whom honeyed tapers
burn down – lay upon me
gifts from your sacred beehives.

(May 2020)

Apotropaic Offerings?

I recently encountered the practice of making so-called “apotropaic offerings”: offerings made, at some distance from the site of one’s primary ritual practice, to placate potentially disruptive beings.

Such offerings as described above are not a part of my own religious or spiritual practice. And looking in from the outside, something very quickly seemed “off” or not-quite-right about this. Hence this blog post, which I present in the spirit of (a) working out a bit more precisely my own understanding of why we make religious offerings, and how such offerings work; (b) clarifying exactly what my concerns are with the “apotropaic” practices described above; and (c) opening a space for conversation, where others might help me refine this understanding and/or resolve some of these concerns.

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A Diviner’s Prayer

Apollon who see all things, 
From the highest summits to the lowest valleys, 
In the sea and the depths beneath the earth, 

Apollon who know all things, 
Each step in the dance of the stars, 
The wisdom upwelling from the heart of the Earth, 

Apollon who harmonize all things, 
Through the gifts of the Muses 
and your care for the winds, 

Apollon who guide those who call to you, 
Inspire me with your voice of truth, 
Bringing wisdom, guidance, and clarity, 

Apollon whose gift and treasure is the mantic art, 
Be with me in this reading, I pray.
Help me to honor you through this work.

To See and Be Seen

To see and be seen:
Gift of gifts, dearest treasure.
To gaze beyond the body,
Past the surface, plumb depths
So rich, yet rarely beheld.
Eye a window on spirit,
A tiny, mirrored reflection of
The truth of one’s heart.
To recognize, in that encounter,
A kindred soul gazing back.

(May 2019)