I made this painting at a silent retreat in Wales. The Tymawr Convent is in the background, in front of the primeval Trelech ridge above the Wye valley. In the middle is the path we walked each day past fields of grass to join the nuns. On the left is the goddess Demeter and on the right is the sacred bread and a mysterious figure who could be the goddess Elen. Despite my very serious problems with organised Christian religion, I found a spiritual essence here that suprised and even transformed me. It was probably the most peaceful place I have even been to. If spirituality is about other dimensions whatever names we give them, then ‘they’ were very close in that landscape. For at least 6,000 yrs humans have been attuning to the spiritual there. No doubt they were also attuning to the natural seasons. They still are.
Lammas (1st.Aug. first harvest) was observed in the Convent chapel, with a loaf of bread on the alter. As they are an Anglican community female priests are now ‘allowed’, and while I was there all those who led services were women. It almost made up for the patriarchal words everywhere. It was also heart warming celebrating Lammas in an actual agricultural community, where the recent sunshine mattered practically. This was referred to by the priest as a contrast to the wet summer last year. My pagan side was fed in this place more than in many a city ritual.
It set me thinking about the natural spirituality so many of us, from all religions and none, have in common. Its usually the hierarchical structures and beliefs that are so problematic. My God is better than yours or men are superior to women etc. Yet for some modern appologists for religions these can be kept more or less intact so long as the spirituality bit is cut out. In Buddhism, for example, people like Stephen Batchelor want to keep the philosophy but totally reject anything spiritual or other dimensional. Techniques like mindfulness are taken and used as therapy to help people stay calm, something we all need. Yet it’s Buddhist roots can almost be seen as an embarassment and are often ignored. Anything that can’t be proven by present day science isn’t seen as valid. Good scientists are usually more humble about the limits of our present understanding. I put my bet on String theory, but who knows. Maybe we will never get our heads around the mysteries of the other dimensions.
99% of humnas throughout history and prehistory have attuned to spiritual forces in one form or another. Isn’t it insulting to those people to dismiss it all as backward or superstitious? Many on the left want to respect other cultures but draw the line at belief in other dimensions. Modern secular Westerners can enjoy the cultural symbolism, the music and the stories. Statues of the Buddha are becoming ubiquitous in fashionable shops and living rooms everywhere. Gospel music is much loved. But talk about contact with the spirits of dead ancestors and people will become uncomfortable and mumble something patronising about such beliefs bringing comfort to the bereaved.
Since the Enlightenment, educated middle class people have become more and more sceptical about anything spiritual. Indeed in many countries it is a mark of being of a superior class to look down on the attunement practices of people perceived as lesser. Formal, organised, hierarchical religion might be acceptable for social status but not having a premonition of a future event. On the left, religion is still seen as the opium of the people. Isn’t it time we developed our own spirituality with a trust in the dialectic, equalising forces of nature? Can we develop a spirituality without hierarchies or sacred books or dogmatic beliefs? It could be a 21st century way of attuning directly from the heart, from our deepest intuition from our shared humanity.