Sacred Magic and Finding the Divine

I’m writing this to work a few things out. I’ve changed tremendously over the past few years. What’s amazing is that with all that change, my relationship with Maria has only gotten deeper, more wonderful, and showers me with gratitude our lives are linked on this journey.

For some reason, religion has been coming up a lot in conversation lately, so it’s prompted me to pull a few mental programs out and re-examine them. I’m comfortably settling in to my post-Catholic belief in some form of the divine even at the same time Maria attends church and our children are being raised in the faith we both grew up in. At the time I wrote this post, my position was still relatively new. If you’re a newer reader, most of what I wrote there is relevant to the beliefs I have two years later but I’m not going to rehash the same points. I’d read that and then come back here.

Humanity’s knowledge of the world has progressed very far since the founding of the major world religions. Dismissing religion as something needed only to explain what has not yet been explained is not something I see as correct. If anything, as science has progressed from early reductionism, we’ve discovered more mystery. Soil-food webs, ecology, the microbiome, epigenetics and more are fields that are revealing incredibly complex networks. The interconnectedness of all life is mind-boggling. I’m okay if they never get explained. Mysteries, to my mind, provoke more respect than positive knowledge.

I diverged from the Catholic tradition in a lot of small ways over time. Looking back with the perspective of a few years’ distance, the division was forced by two wedges.

Wedge #1. The sacred is absolutely a thing. The author of Meditations on the Tarot is absolutely correct when he refers to the sacraments of the Church as sacred magic. While I’ve experienced mystical peace in several settings, my two most powerful experiences were in churches. The sacred energy in the shrine of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and, even more so, in the crypt churches of the National Basilica practically bowled me over. When I was a believer, the sacred energy in the Eucharist was incredibly powerful, nor do I look back on it all and see it as a figment of imagination.

The Church, and in truth probably all faiths that have not twisted themselves to the dominion of others (e.g. fundamentalist currents or other perverted currents like the prosperity gospel), possess conduits of immense power. This is going to sound relativistic, but if those religions work for their believers, all power to them. The divine is like pure white light, and each religion a prism that breaks the infinite oneness into slightly different discrete, but understandable, spectrums comprehendable by our finite minds. Humans tune in to the energy around them.

But despite my respect for the sacred magic in the possession of the Catholic Church, I had to leave. My experience of the sacred power in the Basilica’s crypts was 2 years after leaving the Church. I know the sacred energy is there, but I can’t tap into it in the form its active believers do. There are just too many differences between me and the stated teachings of the Church. The principle three are as follows.

I’m bi-sexual. I believe this is the first time I’ve “come out” to many of the readers here, so it may shock some. I realized my dual sexuality only somewhat recently and in fact I used to be an outspoken anti-gay person in my youth. Looking back with new clarity, in hindsight a variety of small experiences growing up make a lot more sense. I’m obviously happily married straight, so this really doesn’t change my life, but it is who I am. Moreover, I don’t see anything wrong with homosexuality. Embracing it creates a lot of good. Oppressing it through legal force, stigma or by ‘curing’ people creates a lot of tortured souls.

I think the Catholic position on reproduction is wrong, or at least is not universally workable. If science could develop a 100% effective birth control method that wasn’t permanent, I think it would be a major coup to human well-being. Sex is an incredibly important bonding experience. Having been through three surprise pregnancies, even though we did want to keep them, was a trying emotional experience for me – and I can only barely comprehend what they were like for Maria. Seeing the intense emotion of a partner is a shadow of experiencing it for yourself.

Life has a way of surprising us, it’s true, and I don’t think perfect control is necessarily the ultimate good but no one should have to go through that if they do not want to. Unwanted and unloved children live miserable lives. Yes, there’s adoption, but first the massive social stigma associated with carrying pregnancies to term and then giving them up needs to be fixed. The clusterfuck that is the family court system also needs to be fixed. Seriously, talk to any foster parent.

Abortion is not a good thing in my mind. Like many not-very-good things, however, it’s been with us for nearly all of human history. Wise women of many cultures found and secretly passed the knowledge of natural medicines to terminate pregnancies down. Until unwanted pregnancies can be prevented, abortion is going to be a thing, and taking away access to it before solving the rest of the issues is folly.

It’s a mess no matter how you look at it but the more I compared my inclinations versus the teachings of the Church, it drove me away.

The third issue is my distaste for the intensely hierarchical nature but a lot of this feeds into the second full wedge.

Wedge #2. Jesus said “Wherever two or more are gathering in my name, I am with them.” The central ritual – and most potent sacred magic – co-opted the Jewish blessing before every meal, the breaking of the bread. The central prayer asks God to “give us our daily bread”. The sacred magic is in the gathering, in the food, in the home.

The sacred magic was quickly co-opted by an elite priesthood. The ritual was taken out of the home and put back into temples where believers face the invisible God instead of facing each other and finding God in the connections between us all.

Think of how much wealth and life energy has been tied up in religious structures over time! Monuments to the sacred have their role, something my own experiences can’t deny, but still I wonder what the human landscape would look like if the major religions devoted their energy and money to neighborliness instead of capital-intensive structures. Plain communities, for all their human flaws, give us a glimpse at what might have been and could be.

Joel Salatin and I would disagree over the social issues I highlighted above, but a thing in his Christian faith I absolutely respect is his commitment to ‘home church’. They worship in the house, as I think it was always intended by Jesus himself. They have an intensely personal relationship with God, and the families who share the journey with them. This faith energy is bound up in the home, in the meal, in each other – not an impersonal structure separated from the home. It’s powerful stuff.

In his most recent book, he talks about Jesus’ parable of the wheat, that only if the seed dies can it give life. All life requires death. Every meal, every breath we take is the result of a sacrifice. Our fundamental relationship with creation is drawn to a head around our table. Do we worship with our food? Do we worship with those we share a meal? Do we worship in the home? Food, life energy, is so important. Disconnecting the central ritual of Christianity from this basic truth is a mistake.

I’m not sure how to go about finding partners on this journey. I’m not arrogant enough to say I have truth. I’m no prophet or priest. My beliefs are so different from the norm. They’re also nebulous, wisps of wordless thought I can barely grab onto long enough to force into words. I’m frankly surprised this piece has come out as coherent as it has.

If you have one, what is your faith journey like?

Do you search for the divine outside of a conventional religion? What is your ‘worship’ like?  Have you found others to share it with?

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7 Comments on “Sacred Magic and Finding the Divine”

  1. robmunich says:

    As a Christian (non catholic) I too grew disillusioned with the church! I evenually sought and found understanding of the human spirit via psychology. I love listening to podcasts and TED talks about human nature. Yes some call it psychobabble but it’s greatly helped my wife and I. Oh and yes for a variety of reasons I’m still involved in church.

    • robmunich says:

      Hope this makes sense, did it on my ipad, harder to thpe

    • David says:

      Pure psychology, at least the schools I’ve studied, never quite did it for me but it does offer some fascinating insights. Evolutionary psychology, in particular, can be really mind-blowing when you realize how driven we are by either reptilian or primate level instincts.

  2. Moonwaves says:

    I’ve written bits and pieces about my journey (from fairly devout Catholic to atheist) but I really should sit down sometime and try to gather it all up into one coherent piece. When I grew increasingly worried about the lack of connection I was feeling for my faith (in my twenties), after ignoring it for a few years, I started to think I should maybe see if a move to a different religiion was what I needed and started doing some research. Read a few books from the library, and stuff online. I even bought a book on paganism because I felt that something nature-based would be “right” for me. And I discovered that I am intensely uncomfortable with the idea of worshipping anyone or anything. Which led me to another couple of years of head in the sand/processing in my subconscious before I felt comfortable realising that at the very least I was agnostic. After that I read a few of the well-known atheist books (I had actually bought one when it came out but decided not to read it after a few pages becaues I wanted to make up my own mind first, not just let Richard Dawkins tell me what to think), The God Delusion, and god is not great, for example, And everything I read resonated so much more with me. It was quite a journey away from the indocdrination of the Catholic church for me and a couple of years of feeling somewhat lost but I definitely feel that my life is the better for it now and my happiness feels much more authentic.

    I agree with your reasons for having difficulties with the Catholic church although I’d add the horrific child abuse that went on (and realistically probably still goes on in places) to that list. Being Irish, that’s perhaps been more present for me. As is the question of abortion (still illegal in Ireland and it doesn’t stop it, it just forces thousands to go to England or other countries!).

    I don’t know that you’ve explicitly mentioned being bisexual before but I’m not terribly surprised by it. Maybe because you’ve mentioned things that led me to believe that you’re just not necessarily terribly conventional? At any rate, because I think these things ought to be acknowledged, well done for writing it. That’s not always an easy thing to do. Personally, I think I subscribe to the theory that everone’s at least a bit bi – there’s a spectrum and everyone lands somewhere on it, it’s not just as easy as being a, b, or c. I’m fairly far along the hetero side of things but maybe that’s just because I haven’t ever met the right woman. I like to think that I’d be open to any possibilities that presented themselves because the person is so much more important than the body that person happens to find themselves in.

    • David says:

      Thanks for the response Moonwaves. To be honest, somehow I’d forgotten about the child abuse stuff. Sadly, judged against the historical norm of the Church, that was relatively mild corruption/abuse of power.

  3. I have come to grips with my atheism. I think I was sad about it for a while, but now I am not. I can value life without needing to believe that it continues after death or that it was designed in any way. I am not of a philosophical bent, so I do not generally spend time pondering what I think life means in the absence of a God, but I have a sense that it means SOMETHING.

    A Facebook friend of mine is a very devout Catholic and has really been struggling with the current political climate. It is fascinating to me to watch his thought process–and then the other Catholics who comment. My acquaintance, though staunchly pro-life, has tentatively decided to vote for HC partly because he believes that Donald Trump’s policies will result in more abortions, despite his lip service to the pro-life cause. I would say I agree with you–abortion is tragic, but coercive measures would just spawn misery. How is that pro-life?

    • David says:

      On the election, my personal response has become “I refuse to participate in choosing my oppressors.”

      The conservative religious folks in my family that I’ve talked to will either just not vote for the president (but will vote for other races), vote third party, or vote a write-in candidate.


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