Saturday, 7 June 2008

What Use The Body?

I've been reading more of Dion Fortune's book 'The Training And Work Of An Initiate' today and have been presented, once again, with her charge to be free of the 'desires of the flesh' and to rise above the senses. She calls for us to see the body simply as a vehicle for our Higher Self to use and that really is the only purpose it serves. When she calls for us to do these things she quotes biblical scripture, and I am really confused by this, seeing as my past is steeped in biblical charismatic Christianity. I am free of that now, but breaking free wasn't easy. It was a very long time before I felt able to continue my spiritual quest, and it is that quest that has bought me to where I am today. She talks about 'Christ Energy' and 'Christ Rays', and this is something that I really can't enter into. I am not a Christian, of any kind!

However, I'm wondering how others see the body and the desires of the flesh?

I can see where she is coming from in part. If we allow the desires of our body to rule us, then we become tied into the mundane world. If we are rooted in the mundane world, then we cannot travel to other planes, we cannot explore the higher and lower worlds. However, it is here, in the mundane world, that our present body lives, and it is this body that enables our Spirit to make sense of this world, and we have lives in this mundane world, and we want to be of use in this mundane world, so we cannot lose our place in it altogether. Where is the balance, and is there a balance to be had? Do we accept that this world is an illusion? A shadow cast by a greater reality, and should we long to shake off this mortal existence for the promise of a greater reality?

Yet as a Pagan I know that all I see is the Divine manifest, Nature is my scripture, it's where the Lord and Lady write their holy writ, and it is with the mystery of Nature that I connect. So I struggle to see it as illusion, but I can see it as a mirror, showing me something of what lies beyond, showing me the mystery of life, death and rebirth and the fact that I do not only have to observe Nature, but I am part of it, I too am part of the mystery. Yet I experience nature through my own human senses, and it is these very senses that Dion calls for us to break free from.

Is there balance to be had here? Is it a matter of experiencing this world through this body, and this world presents as a microcosm of what can be and what truly is? As I learn to travel beyond the limitations and restrictions of this body, of this vehicle, it is then I begin to experience the macrocosm of what really is - the other realms and planes that exist beyond this one. If this is so, then there is still a level of freedom that needs to be found, and it's probably here where I need to move forward, into a greater degree of freedom that relies less on this world and that responds less to the demands and desires of my body. Is this about bringing the body under Will? I don't think the desires of the body are wrong, surely sex, food, love, nature, all the rest of it are to be enjoyed, but are not to enslave? Is that the balance?

I think Dion would probably label me a Mystic and not an Occultist. There are many pages that I need to go back and re-read, and although I am not reading this book as one that will totally inform my path, I have been reading it as I recognise her as a leading Occultist and know that I can learn from her. It's just a matter of what I need to take with me that's confusing me at the moment, I think!


Anonymous said...

Dion Fortune! Great books, but (as I'm sure you are aware) she consciously tried to unite her Christian leanings with occult spirituality. Most people would call her a fool for trying, but I think it was a brave attempt that succeeds in some ways and fails in others.
Her view of the body is a very Christian one. Christianity's own image of the body was a creation of the teachings of St. Paul who as a Hellenic Jew was extremely influenced by the Greek philosophy of his time. He would have been educated in the dualistic thinking of Plato and Aristotle: body opposed to spirit, physical opposed to spiritual, male opposed to female. This is where the original associations of women as fleshly sources of sin really concretised. In my opinion St. Paul was the worst thing that could have happened to Christianity. If the early Christians had stuck with St. Peter on the more Jewish end of the spectrum, admittedly this new religion may not have lasted, but it would have been truer to its roots. Non-Hellenic Judaism fully embraces our physical life as a gift from God, something to be enjoyed, which is why Hassidic Jews are known for ecstatic dancing, and why Orthodox Jews rock while they pray, so their entire body is united in prayer.
Fortune was influenced and coloured by this complex history. In fact, we all are to a certain extent, by virtue of having been brought up Christian or merely by dint of living in a (nominally) Christian society.
I would say take these sections of her book with a pinch of salt, and just as much of an anachronism as her comments on the "Yoga of the East" being potentially harmful to our Western minds! She is very much of her time, which is one of the reasons why I like her books. But with all books you have to screen it through the biases of the author.

Andy said...

Thanks for your comments, starofseshat.

I recognized a number of direct quotes from Paul as I was reading Dion's book, and I have noted in the past that she never really let go of her Christian roots. Indeed, The Society Of Inner Light claims that it's aims are Christian, to this very day. I agree with you about the influences to which Paul would have been subjected. And, as you say, growing up in nominally Christian country, we cannot fully avoid these influences. I was raised in a Charismatic Christian family and even attended Bible College, so I've been subjected, rather heavily, to these same influences. I've shaken most of them now, thankfully, but am also aware of how they may raise their heads from time to time.

However, I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Most initiatory paths have as part of their initiation, a dying to the past and a raising to the new life in the new path. Certainly I have been through similar in the past myself. So there is something about 'rebirth' even if it isn't loaded with a loathing of the flesh, as Dion Fortune seems to subscribe.

I think there is something of a balance to be found here. I don't think the body should be loathed, I do agree that it should be celebrated. I don't think carnal desires of the body are wrong, and I do think that this incarnation is to be fully enjoyed. However, I do think there is something about knowing ourselves and releasing our reliance upon the body and it's limited senses. I do think we have to let go of the petty fears and concerns of the body and move into a deeper experience of spirit. So, although I think Dion went way too far, and this, without doubt, comes from her Christian influences, I do think there is a truth to be found within all this, and it's about not relying too heavily on the body or of this world. We cannot lose ourselves in materialism any more than we can limit ourselves to the human senses, it's about the 'little deaths' letting go of those things which no longer serve and embracing the higher good.

Thanks for your comments, they really were very helpful. I hope I've made some sense also!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you that we shouldn't through the baby out with the bath water. This is something I find quite frustrating in the pagan community. As you'll see in my Spellwork I posting, I think that Christian-bashing often has a very hypocritical twist amongst pagans. The whole rebirth myth is an ancient archtype stretching over many cultures (the Egyptian myth of Osiris being one expression of this), and is very, very useful. I still think that an awful lot that came after St. Paul was balderdash and that we need to look at the early Christians and the mystics like Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila to find the pearls, because they are very definitely there.
Have you read Prayers of the Cosmos? Details are on my books page, I think you might enjoy that book. Beautiful meditations on retranslations of the Lords Prayer and Beatitudes.
You definitely make sense on the suggestion for balance. Something I am still very much struggling with! :-)

Andy said...

I must admit that as an ex-Christian I don't look too deeply into Christian myth and legend. In fact, it's taken a very long time for me to be able to consider anything remotely Christian - I've been too badly burned by the Christian faith.

I'm at a far more comfortable place, these days. I am happy for those people who walk a Christian path, and support their right to do so, just as I would want my right to walk my path accepted and celebrated. I agree that there are things we can learn from the Christian mystics and Gnostics, but I cannot embrace the heart of the Christian faith - for example, I don't believe that I or anyone else needs 'saving'.

So, I tend to draw from influences other than those of a Christian nature - but, as you say, I don't think 'Christian bashing' is either necessary or helpful.