Ancient goddess of Syria

Ancient goddess of Syria

Watching with horror day after day as the equalising Arab Spring turns into a whole range of unforseen results, I think a lot about religion v. spirituality and religion v. secularism. Occupation of public space in a peaceful way can be seen as a kind of spiritual act in itself, especially when dedicated to ending inequality. In the early days of Egypt’s Tahir Sq. the Muslims protected the Christians when they prayed and vice versa. There was a strong intention to accept people of all religions and none. But the Muslim Brotherhood was better organised, as are most hierarchical institutions.  They took over.

The Occupy movement holds the same inclusive intentions and has had a massive impact on raising the general issue of inequality with it’s slogan of 99% v 1%.  But does it’s inherent spirituality have enough strength to combat the religion of capitalism, endless growth, the God of the market and the institutions that uphold them? It seemed deeply significant that Occupy London ended up outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in 2011. I was there when it happened.

The Cathedral is believed to have been built over a Roman temple to Diana/Artemis goddess of the wild. It was probably a sacred area for millenia before that. I went down there with friends and a statue of Artemis, to evoke her transformative energies  at the first protest. Some activists were a little bemused at our ‘prayers’ and water sprinkling, others delighted in us. The intended site of the camp was actually round the corner in front of the Stock Exchange. They had just begun to move towards it. But at that moment the police stopped everyone, literally on the steps of the Cathedral, and blocked their way forward. From then on the camp was not only about ‘another world is possible’ but also making a statement to the church and all it has come to represent. In fact the conflicts within the church establishment over whether to evict the camp or not was one of the important side effects of the action. There were banners outside saying things like WHAT WOULD JESUS DO.

But what of the spirituality within the camp. There was a meditation tent and mass meditations on the steps that made powerful photos for the media.  There was also an enormous amount of love and care, healing and listening. Many people living on the ‘borderlands ‘ came to stay there. Like the canaries kept in the mines to sense the poisonous gas before it killed humans, these people are especially sensitive to the insanity of society.  They didn’t really need professionals though we would hover around supportively. One Sunday morning I gave a talk in the University tent about the impact of external and internal hierarchies on mental health and how an equalising paradigm as practised in the camp is itself healing. But I always remember a young man saying almost despairingly, ‘but it’s those with the hierarchies that have the power to win.’ And these are often groups on the right and/or religious groups. We may need more than equalising values and statistics…a radical spirituality

My vision for a radical spirituality would be based on the ‘think global, act local’ . All religions have a mystical element that is not about rules and hierarchies. All lands are both sacred in themselves and many also have ancient stories and images that go back long before patriarchal religions took hold. We took Artemis to Occupy not to impose yet another religion onto anyone but to honour that particular piece of land in relation to the global need for more equality and  balance.

I just finished a painting of the ancient sea goddess of love and protection, Atagatis,  as a kind of prayer for Syria. In around 500BC her temple was just north of Aleppo. But the idea of the sea as mother, as healing, as sacred is common across many cultures.