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Thread: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

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    Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    I've compiled and revised this piece from a couple of different writings of mine. Some of it overlaps with my Pop Culture Pagan post in its reference to the Little Rabbit, but I thought this deserved its own post as it details my understanding of my religious practices in light of my agnosticism. Any thoughts? Thanks for reading!


    On Agnosticism, Religious Practice, & the Numinosity of the Gods
    Sometimes I hear the gods described as "not real." From what I can ascertain of Jungian thought, and admittedly I'm still wrapping my mind around that complicated topic, this is not how Jung would have viewed the archetypes -- as "not real." They still contain a numinous quality at least as far as the conscious mind is concerned. Experientially they are external. They can "happen to us." They can interact with us in transformative and significant ways.


    I acknowledge my agnosticism about many topics including the nature of the gods, miracles, the afterlife, and other matters. I am also agnostic as to some aspects of Jungian theory, though I strongly suspect there is some truth in it at least in part. Furthermore Jungian theories are ongoing in development which did not end with the death of Carl Jung: they can be tweaked.


    However, based on personal encounters I have little doubt about the numinosity of the gods or spirits at least as far as experience is concerned. By "numinous" I mean that there is an external and mysterious component to the gods, that we cannot fully uncover this mystery and that we can at times encounter the gods as if from without.


    In terms of justifying my religious practices the bottom line is that they make me happy, and I flourish through them. They give my life meaning. They embody the seeking aspect of my human psychology, and there is a principle I follow in deciding on to whom and how I express devotion: "Thou shalt have no other gods before thine own well being nor worship them in a manner that is not conducive to that well being."


    In terms of the intellect I arrive at certain conclusions through experience. One of the Powers I am devoted to is my Little Rabbit who has associations with Tu'er Shen, the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, and the rabbit from The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings, a book that made a powerful impression on me the first time it was read to me in childhood. There are other associations I have with Little Rabbit as well. Though I didn't know to whom I was reaching out to the creative process of compiling associations and symbolism that I needed in a spirit was a conscious effort. I derived that among other sources from those I previously listed.


    The rest of the process was unconscious -- dreams and dream-like waking encounters took over from there, and though the entity did embody the associations I consciously compiled, he also took on unexpected qualities and a life of his own. This is the numinous quality. I have had other encounters from external sources "happening" to me so far as experience is concerned.


    Therefore when Christians and neo-pagans and others describe having visions and other powerful encounters with the gods I tend to believe that at least some of these reported experiences are sincere and that they embody similar qualities as my own experiences.


    In some neo-pagan and other spaces in which these types of encounters might be reported by some as a daily or common event I get skeptical, but I have no reason to doubt that sometimes these things happen to people. They are reported across time and space, and I report them too, and of my own experiences I can be as certain as of anything.


    I can only speculate as to how much we can learn about the gods is humanly constructed and how much is of a numinous quality. I suspect that there are both components present within them and that both pantheons and even Yahweh are at least in part humanity "writ large," thus my arrival at the interpretation that "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," boils down to "Thou shalt have no other gods before thine own well being."


    So these are my thoughts on these matters and how I justify myself intellectually as a religious agnostic. There are two principles involved in deciding my religious practices: what is conducive to my flourishing and what I can ascertain about gods and/or spirits through both experience and reasoning.
    Last edited by Will; 06 Apr 2019 at 00:46.

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    Moderator Azvanna's Avatar
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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by Will View Post

    [/FONT]
    So these are my thoughts on these matters and how I justify myself intellectually as a religious agnostic. There are two principles involved in deciding my religious practices: what is conducive to my flourishing and what I can ascertain about gods and/or spirits through both experience and reasoning.
    This is exactly where I'm at. Corbin is our resident Alchemist and has his little experiments... in my thread 'subjective experience vs objective reality' he mentioned the intepretation must match the measure. My question is: What do you use to measure?

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by Azvanna View Post
    This is exactly where I'm at. Corbin is our resident Alchemist and has his little experiments... in my thread 'subjective experience vs objective reality' he mentioned the intepretation must match the measure. My question is: What do you use to measure?
    I was having trouble locating the thread for further context. Is that the exact title? I'll check around again in a moment.

    For clarification are you asking me how I measure my subjective experiences? I'm not sure that is possible or how I would go about it if it was, but there are some things I do to ensure some level of accuracy in evaluating them. Memory is very fallible and malleable. When I have a dream or vision I try to write it down immediately, title and number the page, and refer to it later.

    For example I wrote down a vision I had that was extremely numinous experientially. It was like a vivid powerful waking dream, but more vivid than even most dreams. I wrote that down immediately after it occurred. So that tells me that at that time I really believed I had a powerful experience only moments before when my memory of it was still fresh and therefore more reliable than had I waited a year or even several hours to record the experience.

    I ascertained from this that a "spirit" for lack of a better term that I had been praying to over the years was more powerful than I had realized and had the ability to take on a life of his own independent of my conscious expectations.

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by Will View Post
    I was having trouble locating the thread for further context. Is that the exact title? I'll check around again in a moment.

    For clarification are you asking me how I measure my subjective experiences? I'm not sure that is possible or how I would go about it if it was, but there are some things I do to ensure some level of accuracy in evaluating them. Memory is very fallible and malleable. When I have a dream or vision I try to write it down immediately, title and number the page, and refer to it later.

    For example I wrote down a vision I had that was extremely numinous experientially. It was like a vivid powerful waking dream, but more vivid than even most dreams. I wrote that down immediately after it occurred. So that tells me that at that time I really believed I had a powerful experience only moments before when my memory of it was still fresh and therefore more reliable than had I waited a year or even several hours to record the experience.

    I ascertained from this that a "spirit" for lack of a better term that I had been praying to over the years was more powerful than I had realized and had the ability to take on a life of his own independent of my conscious expectations.
    My apologies, of course I should have linked to the thread mentioned: http://www.paganforum.com/showthread...-your-religion

    I'll come back to this thread later today. I would like to take more time to respond to you than I have right now.

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by Will View Post

    For clarification are you asking me how I measure my subjective experiences?
    Yes, how do you measure a subjective experience. How do you dicepher what it means? So you had your vivid dream, but how do you know that all the events and symbols in the dream mean what you believe they do?

    I suppose itís a bit of a circular question isnít it? Symbolism is one of those genres that overlaps. It can be very personal but can also unite. For example, I see a picture of my countryís flag and know this is a symbol that identifies where Iím from and a shared space and place of origin with many other people. If I were in another country and saw someone with an Australian badge, I would identify that person as a possibly friend because we share common ground. Indigenous people might see our countryís flag and feel grief when remembering the loss of culture through the process of colonisation. For one person, the symbol is uniting. For another, itís a reminder of subjugation.

    Maybe the answer is in self-awareness.

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    There is a distiction that can be made between two similar things - a "sign," and a "symbol."

    A sign is a graphic that always means the same thing - it has a culturally agreed on meaning. For example, in the U.S., an octagonal simbol, red, with the word "stop" in the center always means "stop." The three green arrows forming a soft edged triangle means "can be recycled."

    Signs are used to give quick, precise, visual information.

    A symbol, however, is different. A symbol has a vague, fuzzy base meaning, and from the context in which it is found; but it's most useful meaning comes from the interaction between the base meaning and the individual who sees it (an example would be one of the major arcana in a tarot deck).

    The value in a symbol doesn't come from it's meaning. The value comes from the introspection of the observer, as he/she tries to make sense of the symbol, the context in which the symbol occurs, and the mental affect it has on the observer.

    There are things that straddle both categories (a country's flag might be an example because it represents the country, but also symbolizes the values of the governing body - think Nazi or Confederate, for example).

    And commonly a thing that begins as a useful symbol will become calcinated (turned to stone), becoming a sign, if enough people decide that it has a fixed meaning (think of the difference between a tarot reading that is "fuzzy" as opposed to one that is "by the book"). This happens because dealing with symbols is more of a feeling, introspection, fuzzy thinking thing, but to understand a sign one has to simply match the picture to the definition.

    Anywho...

    The upshot of all this is that only the individual can determine the flexible, fuzzy, sifting meaning of a symbol.
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    There is a distiction that can be made between two similar things - a "sign," and a "symbol."

    A sign is a graphic that always means the same thing - it has a culturally agreed on meaning. For example, in the U.S., an octagonal simbol, red, with the word "stop" in the center always means "stop." The three green arrows forming a soft edged triangle means "can be recycled."

    Signs are used to give quick, precise, visual information.

    A symbol, however, is different. A symbol has a vague, fuzzy base meaning, and from the context in which it is found; but it's most useful meaning comes from the interaction between the base meaning and the individual who sees it (an example would be one of the major arcana in a tarot deck).

    The value in a symbol doesn't come from it's meaning. The value comes from the introspection of the observer, as he/she tries to make sense of the symbol, the context in which the symbol occurs, and the mental affect it has on the observer.

    There are things that straddle both categories (a country's flag might be an example because it represents the country, but also symbolizes the values of the governing body - think Nazi or Confederate, for example).

    And commonly a thing that begins as a useful symbol will become calcinated (turned to stone), becoming a sign, if enough people decide that it has a fixed meaning (think of the difference between a tarot reading that is "fuzzy" as opposed to one that is "by the book"). This happens because dealing with symbols is more of a feeling, introspection, fuzzy thinking thing, but to understand a sign one has to simply match the picture to the definition.

    Anywho...

    The upshot of all this is that only the individual can determine the flexible, fuzzy, sifting meaning of a symbol.
    This would basically be my answer to the inquiry. While I recently had a dream that seemed to have an obvious meaning there is no objective measurement of symbols occurring from the unconscious. According to a book I'm reading, The Neurobiology of the Gods, by Erik D. Goodwyn, since these symbols are possibly produced by more primitive layers of the brain and deal with mysterious concepts the only way we can understand some of them is by means of other metaphors.

    The book explains this better than I can.

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Think about the measure like this:

    If you learn something from your dream, and you apply that knowlege, the measure becomes "what is the affect of the application?"

    If, with carefully self-honest analysis (which is extraordinarily difficult because we lie to ourselves in the form of self justification with amazing fluidity) you detremine the effect is positive, then it ultimately doesn't even matter where the knowlege came from. But if the effect is negative...it also doen't matter where it came from.
    Last edited by B. de Corbin; 18 Apr 2019 at 01:02.
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

    I can't do everything, but I can do something.

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    Re: Agnosticism, Religious Practice, and the Numinosity of the Gods

    Quote Originally Posted by B. de Corbin View Post
    Think about the measure like this:

    If you learn something from your dream, and you apply that knowlege, the measure becomes "what is the affect of the application?"

    If, with carefully self-honest analysis (which is extraordinarily difficult because we lie to ourselves in the form of self justification with amazing fluidity) you detremine the effect is positive, then it ultimately doesn't even matter where the knowlege came from. But if the effect is negative...it also doen't matter where it came from.
    Exactly! The symbols give us novel ways to conceptualize and even reinterpret our experiences so that we can gain a new perspective on them. This is how I approach certain dreams and the occasional tarot reading.

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