Discussion post I submitted for my Atlantic University TP5020 Course – October 9, 2019
What place, if any, do you think earth-based spiritual paths have in today’s world? Are they still relevant and valuable, and if so, to whom and why?
As we move further and further into a post-Christian culture, the “earth-based” spiritualities are becoming increasingly prominent and they are experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Starting in the 60s, Americans and Western Europeans began experimenting with a number of “alternative” spiritual practices including those found in the East as well as more traditional earth-based spiritualities – along with a heavy dose of psychedelics. While some of the experimentation that went on in the 1960s has faded, the influx of these alternative spiritualities appears to be have found a home in our culture, at least among certain circles.
Some of the attractions to these “alternative spiritualities” can be attributed to what Ken Wilber, as quoted by Steven Taylor, says is a “‘Retro-romantic’ view, which holds that primal peoples were more ‘spiritual’ than modern human beings” (2003, p. 61). As some in our modern culture become disillusioned with the rat-race, which they see as soul-crushing and devoid of the sacred, they gravitate to more ‘primal’ cultures and their more expressive spiritualities. For example, I know a number of individuals who have adopted elements of Native American practices including two who have tribal leaders as their spirit guides.
Earth-based spiritual paths will have a home with those who are seeking alternative spiritualities for the foreseeable future. Meet-ups, the online resource for gatherings based around common interests, have a number of “Shamanic” oriented groups, and Wiccans and other more “ancient” spiritualities are well represented. While more of a niche experience, I have run across more and more people who have participated in Ayahuasca retreats, a very intense week-long experience that involves ingesting a special plant that aids in out-of-body cleansing experiences with the aid of a well-trained Shaman. With the advent of the Internet, people can search and find whatever spirituality and education that excites them, including studying transpersonal psychology from a college founded by Edgar Cayce!
What does transpersonal psychology lose by avoiding the kinds of dark magic traditionally representing about half, if not more, of earth-based paths?
First and foremost, transpersonal psychology literally loses the “magic” when it avoids dark magic or any other elements of a repeated experience brought to us by other cultures. The problem, as we discussed last week, isn’t just limited to dark magic. There is an inherent conflict with mainstream psychology and those experiences that are deemed esoteric and involve the non-material elements of our being. As Jenny Wade notes, “The APA has confused and pathologized bersekergang with comparisons to other poorly understood states from different cultures…An illustration given of the way the APA understands amok, similar to the way it regards ‘going berserk,’ was that of a Filipino man who, upon learning that his wife was having an affair, killed her parents, injured her and their son, and then set fire to the house of the wife’s lover’s brother, which killed two children living there” (2016, p. 32).
While we don’t want to encourage violence, it’s important to understand the context that these states arose, and more importantly, the types of trances or out-of-body experiences those participating experienced. It is in studying the process of Bersekergang where we can learn a great deal about altered transpersonal states which can be extremely helpful in our overall understanding. Simply labeling it “psychotic” isn’t going to help us understand these unique and clearly supernatural states.
Finally, as a former athlete, I immediately picked-up on some of the elements surrounding “war magic,” which are still a big part of our sports culture. Reading Wade’s definition immediately reminded me of college football on Saturday where the band engages in “war dancing” and “marching” and the team itself runs across the field screaming in a unified “battle cry.” As a former hockey player, I can also attest that a good deal of “taunting and other forms of verbal aggression” goes on before the teams “physically engage,” as Wade explains (2016, p. 22). Therefore, in avoiding dark or war magic, and not appreciating its context, we also lose a part of who we are even in today’s “sophisticated” culture.
Taylor, S. (2003). “Primal spirituality and the onto/phylo Fallacy: a critique of the claim that primal peoples were/are less spiritually and socially developed than modern humans,” The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 22, pp. 61-76.
Wade, J. (2016). “Going berserk: battle trance and ecstatic holy warriors in the European war magic tradition,” The International Journal of Transpersonal Studies, 35(1), pp. 21-38. Average of ratings: 4 (1)