Some eye candy

Here is some of the most beautiful dance I have ever seen.

It’s extremely well-choreographed, beautifully danced, and super sexy. I most completely recommend watching it. If you only plan to watch one half, I think the second is a little better, but both are DEFINITELY worth it. The first one is mostly men with swords, and the second has the coolest dress dance in history and an extremely beautiful and sexy duet.

Petite Mort by Netherlands Dance Theater

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The Space for Bodies

So when I say that we are bodies and nothing but, as I did in my last post, there is a lot of room for me to be misunderstood. The cultural context in which I speak does little to help make my ideas clearer, due to the idea that we are more than bodies being so thoroughly ingrained.

Because of this, I have decided to write a little essay explaining my own particular cosmology in relation to the shape of the cosmos, the way that the physical and the extraphysical can interplay with one another, the way that we can be nothing but bodies who can speak with gods, and the fact that there even can be a place for gods in a thoroughly physical universe.

I would like to preface this essay by stating that I am throwing out some ideas I’ve been having, but that this is by no means my personal manifesto of the shape of the cosmos. But, as I’m arguing, discussing ideas is important, so I want to discuss them with you. I would appreciate any comments you guys might have in relation to what I say. It will help me to flesh out my ideas a little more, and to see where they have weaknesses.

The first thing that I think is important to do when exploring the place for the non-physical things in a physical world is to clarify and bring out how important ideas themselves are. When most people start to think of non-physical things with power in the universe, they jump straight to things like gods or spirits or ghosts or souls. But I think that the most important of these things is one we so take for granted that we forget that it is an extraphysical power: ideas themselves. The power of the human imagination. Entire civilizations have grown and collapsed simply because of ideas. Ideas like socialism, communism, and capitalism build societies. Ideas make inventions—everything that we have and interact with on a day-to-day basis, including the foods we eat, the parks we sit in, the clothes we wear, has been shaped by ideas.

The important thing to note about ideas is that they have a sort of power of their own. This power grows and changes completely outside of the purposes of the philosophers or scientists or inventors who originally thought them up. Each person who hears an idea adds or takes away his or her own little bits, and, like the game of telephone, the idea becomes something else. But the game of telephone is reductionist in terms of the power of ideas. The idea itself gains strength from more and more people hearing about it, pondering it. I read somewhere that some psychologists believe it is impossible to understand an argument unless, at least for a moment, you believe that argument. So we hear ideas and we briefly believe them. And then those ideas, these beings with no physical component whatsoever, worm their ways into people minds, their brains, their bodies. And then, all of a sudden, a small idea has become an entire social revolution.

Take convenience for example. Sure, people have always liked convenience. But it hasn’t always been the major seller that it is now. In World War II, people thought it was more important to help the country than to have conveniences, so they grew gardens and knit socks for soldiers and rationed their sugar intake. But after the war, in the fifties, all of this manufacturing no longer had a purpose, so advertisers had the idea to start selling conveniences, to sell disposables that could have an endless demand, all while suggesting that convenience will lead to a better life. People heard it, and they liked the idea. They wanted more time to spend with their families. They wanted to be able to throw away the dinner mess instead of spending time scraping plates. And so they started buying disposables and conveniences, and now look where we are. Nearly everything we consume is disposable. We use disposable dishes, silverware, shopping bags, contact lenses, cameras, cell phones, clothing, packaging. And all of the pollution that has come out of this came out of an idea—the idea that convenience would improve people’s lives.

Or take the Enlightenment. Or the Protestant Reformation. Or the Industrial Revolution. Or the Renaissance. Or the American Revolutionary War. Or the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement, feminism, the fight for gay marriage, the fight against abortion, the fights between the New Atheists and the New Evangelicals. Even the War on Terror and the War on Drugs.

Yes, I did just made a big list of some of the most eventful moments in history. And each of these was a revolution caused by an idea that grew outside of the individual people who thought about it. The idea became a power in an of itself. And then that idea gave people the courage to fight. Or it killed them. Or it made them invent or paint or dance or learn to read or create jobs or oppress the poor or save the poor. All of them gave people an entirely new life—a life with new and different powers and opportunities that simply did not exist before.

Nothing is more important to history than ideas.

I see the cosmos as a massive version of the way that ideas have such an immense power over our lives. The gods and spirits come out of the land, the planets, the stars, and lay over top of the physical world and hold power over it in ways that cannot necessarily be measured the way that an idea cannot necessarily be measured. But they are there, infusing existence with their presence that grows with each being who meets them and ponders them.

by Wolfgang Sauber

Hugin and Munin fly over the Earth every day. I fear for Hugin lest he not return, but I fear even more for Munin.

Or:

Thought and Memory fly over the Earth every day. I fear for Thought lest he not return, but I fear even more for Memory.

Our thoughts and memories are spirits that fly over the Earth. What would we do if we lost them? Our entire civilizations would collapse. If we no longer had our ideas, we would no longer know what to live for because we wouldn’t have those ideas to tell us. If we forgot all that we knew, we would have nothing. That is why we fear more for Munin.

To me, the gods, like Odin’s beautiful ravens,are like ideas. And here is where I most fear that I will be misunderstood, for I was once before, and there is a fine line between the imaginary and the idea. When I was in 9th grade, I was required to write an essay on imagination, and I chose to write my essay on the way that imagination is instrumental in religion. What I didn’t know at the time was that my teacher was an evangelical Christian who had written a book on using the Gospels in your own life. So I got a bad grade because my teacher was offended, feeling as if I had said that his religion was imaginary. But that wasn’t what I meant at all. I do not believe that religion, religious expression, or religious experiences are imaginary. Let me explain.

I do not mean to say that the gods are imaginary. The gods are as real as the idea of Religion or of Meaning. They have immense power beyond the imagination of a single devotee or detractor. And yet, the experience of each devotee adds to the power of that god the way that the experience of each devotee of consumerism adds to the power of Consumerism. Ideas and gods fill in the negative space around our physicality, pressing against us with every movement we make.

by Anker Eli Petersen

The gods and goddesses are shaped by the relationships they have with their devotees the same way we are shaped by the relationships we have with our friends and lovers, all mixed up in the web of Wyrd tying everything in the cosmos together in a giant web of ideas, binding together the physical and the extraphysical.

In this world, where ideas create and destroy lives, where gods live and die and dance and love and learn and protect, there is the space for humans who are nothing but bodies. Bodies with neurons that shape their experiences. Bodies whose particular abilities and disabilities create and destory opportunities. These bodies, whose brains and minds can ponder the ideas of the cosmos, live in a solely physical cosmos filled entirely by Wyrd and the unavoidable power of ideas.

Bodies in Space

I was talking to my students in dance class yesterday, and I found myself going off on a tangent that I found extremely interesting, and which now has me pondering the nature of self.

I had them lay on the floor and close their eyes, and concentrate on their bodies, how symmetrical they were—if one leg opened farther than the other, if one shoulder tended to lift more than the other, if one hand clenched tighter than the other. To feel the weight of their backs on the floor, and how much of their backs didn’t touch the floor. An exploration of their own bodies. And then I found myself telling them that it’s good to occasionally step back and take stock in the fact that our bodies are life, to reground ourselves in that body, because, unlike the way we usually phrase it, we are bodies, we don’t have them.

Why do we call these "self-portraits" if we believe most of the self is something nonphysical that cannot be pictured?

The way that we say that, that you have a body, presupposes the belief in a soul. You can only own a body if you exist separate from it. And…I really don’t agree with idea of a soul.

I have noticed I use the term soul in my colloquialisms as a sort of synonym with heart. The dance class I take nourishes my soul. Worshiping the All makes my soul dance. Things like that. But I’m not sure that I exist outside my body. How can dancing nourish my soul, if dancing is an activity of the body?

Sometimes, hearing other people talking about their bodies, or seeing other people dealing with unpleasant parts of their bodies, I feel as if I have a special connection to my body that other people don’t have because they aren’t dancers, they don’t spend as much time engaging actively with their bodies. I especially feel this way about highly intellectual types who seem to think that their bodies are merely a vehicle for the mind, a sort of nuisance they are required to feed and keep warm and rested. They are not their bodies, they are their minds. But as I have said before, the mind is a function of the body. It lives in the brain. I know, though, that my relationship with my body is not different, I just approach that relationship in a radically different way—I treat my body as if it is me, and as if it is the most important part.

I have no frame of reference for an experience that occurs outside my body. I believe other people when they say that they go astral journeying into other spiritual realms, and I absolutely do not disbelieve in spiritual realms. If I didn’t, I couldn’t have conversations with goddesses.

But how can I own something I literally would not exist without?

The Great Tininess posits an embodied spirituality utterly divorced from the soul, in which nothing can occur or exist outside the body. It takes out ancestor worship, especially in terms of having conversations with the dead. And it would, seemingly, disallows for the body hatred so endemic to our society. I think this might be the direction for me to follow.

If you have not noticed, my reverence for my ancestors stems entirely from bodily experiences. I revere them because of the impact they have had on my own body (there’s that turn of phrase again), that I can see generations in the long fingers at the end of my hands and the color of my eyes. I have never met a ghost. I want to believe in them, but I just don’t. I have long considered the afterlife to be irrelevant, and the one moving experience I ever had regarding the afterlife was entirely predicated on recognizing the physical circle of life—the ways that bodies feed bodies.

But I am also a little bit nervous that my assertion that we are bodies and nothing but will be misunderstood by my readers. For one thing, there are body parts that I consider to be essential parts of the body that most people think of more as soul parts. The mind, as an example. Also the imagination. I exist as much in my senses as in my imagination and my mind. The senses, the imagination, the mind, these are all equally functions of the body to me, just as much as my flailing limbs in a dance are a function of my body, just as love and emotion and joy and spirituality are body parts to me.

But if we don’t own our bodies, and everything else about us is inside the body, then what, exactly, is our relationship to them? How do we talk about a body that is the overall sum of the parts of our minds, our senses, our imaginations? Can we use words like “our”? I honestly think that such a language does not exist. Our culture so fully believes in either the soul or the mind/body disconnect, in the idea of possession itself, even (see how I just took ownership of the culture?). There is no way I can find to linguistically discuss bodies that we are, to talk about the mind or the imagination as a physical thing, not an amorphous, disembodied spirit of sorts floating above our heads.

I believe that existence is a dance of bodies in space. That’s how we tend to define dance in the modern dance philosophy—choreography is the arrangement of bodies in space and time. The entirety of the All is bodies in space—solar systems in galaxies, planets in solar systems, land masses in oceans, deoxyribonucleic acids in cell nuclei, food in stomachs, people in bedrooms. You get the idea. And I do, ultimately, agree with the old adage “as above, so below.” And so I believe that the body is a microcosm of existence. And if I believe that there is a spiritual aspect of the universe, that gods exist and that landwights can say hello to me, then I must believe there is also a spiritual aspect of the body. But the primary difference between how I see the spiritual world and how it is usually discussed is that I see the spiritual world as fundamentally rooted in this physical one. The spiritual world is like the imagination or the love of the cosmos—a body part that is usually classified as a soul part, and that provides superphysical connection and superphysical experience to the wholly physical universe.

I believe that I am a body, and nothing but. I do not own my body. If anything, it owns me.

Image is Self-Portrait 15 by Vincent Van Gogh

Walpurgisnacht and Creations

My week off the internet for Walpurgisnacht was nice. I did a whole lot of dancing and thinking about the direction of my dancing career. And I spent a lot of time praying and making and finishing projects.

My first project was a set of prayer beads. The overall structure for the beads was somewhat inspired by the prayer beads Elizabeth made and discusses on her blog, Twilight and Fire.

The beads are as follows, beginning from the equal-armed cross pendant: Sigrdrifa’s prayer, Sunna, the Norns, Odin, Frigga, Thor, Sif, Idunna, Heimdall, the Norns, Freyja, Sjofn, Njord, Nerthus, Holda, Frey, the Norns, female ancestors, male ancestors, intellectual ancestors, landwights, the All, Yggdrasil, the Norns, Mani, and back to Sigrdrifa’s prayer.

I spent all day last Saturday choosing the beads, working on the prayers, and stringing them. While I was picking out the spacer beads, a Nun walked up to me and gave me a 20% off my purchase coupon, which I thought was awesome. The equal-armed cross pendant was also an interesting find–it was in a set of pirate-themed pendants. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a doubloon, but nonetheless, I appreciate having actually culturally relevant symbolism, unlike the flowers and trees I was looking at otherwise.

I’ve been wanting prayer beads for a year or two now, and I LOVE them. I’ve been saying them each morning and evening, and it has really worked as a way to ground me in the mythology, to keep the gods I don’t normally worship in my mind, and to remind me that they are around and influencing my life.

The other thing I made was finishing up my string skirt, inspired by the Egtved girl and the bronze age dancing girl statues. I’ve been (kind of) working on it for months. It hasn’t been a primary project, though, so progress has been slow.

I hand-spun all of the yarn using a drop spindle. My skirt is purple because I happened to have a whole lot of purple fiber to spin up. The spinning isn’t all that even because I basically used this project to learn how to use a drop spindle. And I knit the skirt rather than weaving it like the original skirts were made. But I know how to knit and not how to weave. I rather like how it turned out, even though it ended up a bit too long. It’s supposed to wrap twice around the hips, and mine wraps about 2 3/4 ways around. But I think it’s lovely, and it’s really cool to have a skirt that’s in the style of what the old dancing priestesses would have worn.

I also put bells into the skirt, as I (and others) associate bells with the Vanir, due to Saxo’s reference to the “unmanly clatter of bells” in reference to Frey’s temple. But I also did it because there are little brass beads on the Egtved girl’s skirt, so I used the bells as a replacement for the beads. Plus, it’s really fun to dance in a sexy skirt that jingles when I dance. It makes dancing take on still another sense–not only does it feel kinesthetically wonderful, but the sounds of the movements are really nice. I really love watching belly dancing with their coin belts, or step with their smacking body parts and stomping, or tap or clogging.

I loved making this project. It really made me feel in touch with my ancestors. Women used to spin all the time, as evidenced by all of the references to spindles all over the place in the lore. So learning to use a drop spindle was kind of magical–something that we don’t do anymore, but that was a central part of life for so long. I also really appreciated making a historically inspired garment for similar reasons. I take spiritual inspiration from the Egtved girl, and now I have an outfit like she had.

Perhaps some would say that mine isn’t the same because it’s purple and knit rather than brown and woven. But our ancestors were practical people. If they had purple wool and knew how to knit and not weave, I’m sure their skirt would have looked like mine.

Anyway, that’s my little summation of the things I made this week. I also did an overnight vigil with Freyja that was really wonderful. I have been feeling quite disconnected with her since moving, but I went out and spent a lot of time in the park, and at her altar, and taking walks. I feel much closer to her than I have in a while.

On another note entirely, A Pagan’s Blog put up a post on Modern Pagans and Indigenous Religion that addresses many of the same issues as my last post, but more fully. He explores the various meanings of the word “indigenous”–cultural, religious, and political. And he comes up with a really great conclusion that is not far off from the conclusion I came to–that paganism as a whole is a religion indigenous to modernity. It’s a great post, you guys should go check it out.

Images of bronze figures from the National Museum of Denmark