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Disciplining Discernment

Thracian Exodus

There is often a great deal of resistance in Pagan, Polytheist and (in general) “independent religious or spiritual tradition” discourse to the idea that religion or spirituality are disciplines which require discipline to perform. The word “discipline” carries with it an inherent meaning of submission to instruction and process. In the context of describing a field or topic (e.g. “divination by runes is a discipline”) it refers to branch of specialized knowledge and skills which were obtained generally through the submission to a disciplined approach of learning and training. This is why fields of medicine are referred to as “disciplines”, and why academic avenues of study which draw from different platforms or lenses of examination and intent are referred to as “interdisciplinary studies”. A “field of discipline”, or merely “a discipline” for short, is an area of pursuit covering a breadth of knowledge and performance-based skill which are…

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About Del

A shaman who writes about spiritual things, but not in that namby-pamby "everything is light and fluffy" sort of way.

One response to “Disciplining Discernment

  1. “An example I will give is a hypothetical that I have seen play out a dozen times. Some guy — we’ll call him Kelley di Dude — has an experience with something during his daily [meditation, journey, trance, mushroom trip, whiskey binge, office-chair-spinning-competition], which he is very [excited, or terrified, or aroused, or indifferent] about, so much so that he shows up at his local [Neo-Pagan, Heathen, Hellenic Reconstructionist, Celtic Revival, Omntheistic Pleromist Salon] to chat it up with others and gleefully tell them about his experiences. He sits down and at the earliest opportunity begins to speak in excited tones about his experience. He tells them all that [insert very popular or obscure deity here] contacted him for the first time, and that They were giving him [knowledge, downloads, messages, sexual advice, real estate tips] and as a result of this he was pretty sure he needed to [start a fight with the group he’s sharing with right now, buy into questionable real estate propositions, become a lion tamer] because the gods told him to. A valid question at this point in the telling should be, but rarely is, “How do you know that it was [deity] who was contacting you?” ”

    – This I do see happen, but I’ve also seen a reverse version of it too many times for comfort now. Where a person who is seen in the position of an elder/leader/educator will be approached with a more vague question (ex “This thing happened and I’m not sure what to make of it and if it’s a ‘thing’ or not?”) and the questioner will receive a response, probably well intended, going on much like Kelly di Dude does about specific details about a specific Deity with specific requests. And when the questioner asks how these conclusions were reached (assuming they had the presence of mind to do so, as so often I noticed when I was younger I did not always have the sense to ask how a perceived elder reached a conclusion because I wanted so badly for SOMEONE around me to have more of a clue than I did, and I’ve noticed the same in others), the question is brushed aside. This does not always happen, and I have noted that some such as yourself Del go very far out of your way to encourage those who seek you for advice to be active participants in the discernment process, but it does make me cringe whenever I do see it happening.

    The other end of it I’ve seen from several that claim the title elder, is exactly the sort of policing Thracian speaks against here: where if someone’s practice or idea, no mater how much personal discernment they may have gone through and even publicly disseminated on goes against some perceived norm or standard that they’ll be told directly they ‘obviously haven’t done enough discernment’, sometimes without invitation. Partially for that reason I’m less apt to share several experiences except with close friends, and am even less inclined to seek help discerning on an issue save perhaps in private conversations with my wife. I’m not sure if that’s connected to how long it may often take me to come to terms with if a particular piece of information results from within or without myself, but it may.

    There’s that… and there’s things that have been flying around for awhile, including from Thracian, that makes me question if the idea of discernment is accepted within certain circles of Polytheism at all. Ex: Galina at one point stating in a conversation elsewhere to a friend (well, former friend now) that “Spirit Workers don’t think about what it means to be a spirit worker, we have our orders and follow them” (paraphrased from memory so not an exact quote), and Thracian at one point wrote about “empirical mysticism (here: http://thracianexodus.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/227/) which he described as polytheistic religion “based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic” which looks to me as an out right objection of discernment within mystic practice. Mysticism can not be verified by observation and experience, because it can not be observed by an individual out side of the event. If it could, we wouldn’t need discernment because that would be replaced with something closer to the scientific method.

    Further… I have yet to see anyone using this word ‘standards’ explain precisely what those ought to be and how they ought to be established. Rather, like Thracian is doing here, the implication seems to be that they already exist and people ought to know what they are. Which from what I’ve seen is patently impossible, given that no matter how many times I’ve seen it implied otherwise modern polytheistic practice is not a direction continuation of ancient religious practices nor can it be given how much information has been lost in most cases, never mind discussion on if it should be given that the lives we live today are in a world very different from the lives of those who came before us. It would be nice to have some basic standards and understanding of what discernment is and how and individual ought to go about it, but I have yet to any promise of that coming to pass from within the current generation of those considered to be elder polytheists. Maybe it’s there, but it’s not coming from those who are making the most noise right now, where discernment seems to have become a practice to be dragged up or shoved down depending on how convenient it is at the moment.

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