I’m afraid that it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything about Path Forging (only a year to the day!). For those of you who aren’t familiar with concept or what I’m trying to do with it, I give an explanation in my first post related to the topic. My plan is to resume these posts as time permits, probably about one per month… two if I’m feeling really inspired. Now without further ado…
Before we can look at how the concepts of the sacred, profane, and mundane relate to path forging, I thought it might be a good idea to give a basic definition of each of the terms:
sacred: entitled to veneration or religious respect by association with divinity or divine things; holy
profane: characterized by irreverence or contempt for sacred principles or things
mundane: of the earthly world rather than the heavenly or spiritual one
- Does your path distinguish between that which is sacred, profane, and mundane?
- What features or characteristics distinguish between these three descriptions?
- Can an item, person, or event change from one to another of these things? Can it then return to its original state?
- Do this distinction determine how some thing is treated or viewed? For example, is something that has been deemed sacred treated with additional reverence or attention?
- Who determines or how is it determined that something falls under one or another of these categories?
I have to admit that I struggle with these concepts as they apply to my own path. and that I joke about all things being simultaneously sacred, profane, and mundane. As an animist, I believe that everything has a sacred soul or spirit residing within it. And yet, I think that we are capable of living in ways that are very much mundane and occasionally profane. I definitely have a long way to go before I will feel comfortable in applying these ideas to my own path with any certainty. A part of me also wonders if they’re even relevant at all or worth questioning. Perhaps it’s just one of those things that are to remain a mystery.
The previous Path Forging post posed the question of what taboos and restrictions our paths place upon us. While there may be things that we aren’t supposed to do, many paths also require that we do certain things or take certain actions. These may be small gestures or lifelong commitments.
- Are there certain actions that must be performed within your path?
- What form do these actions take? Gifts of offerings? The maintenance of a shrine or altar? Regular ritualized worship? Formal declarations of one’s path? Something else entirely?
- What is the purpose of these actions? What is the reason that they are required and not simply optional?
- Are these actions to be repeated regularly or isolated events?
- Who determines what actions are required on your path? Is it dictated by religious writings, a religious authority, or a deity?
- What happens if the required actions are not taken? Is there any form of retribution? If so, whose job is it to enforce this retribution?
As in the past, I still maintain a solitary practice. Regular worship or offerings to my deities, while appreciated, have never been a set in stone requirement. They will on occasion demand that I take some form of action and in most instances, my cooperation is negotiable. When it’s not, the deity making the demand usually will make the consequences of non-compliance very clear. Beyond these isolated instances, any actions that I take along my path tend to be dictated by my own needs at the time.
Defining the core tenets of one’s path is vital to forging a cohesive, workable belief system. The examination of one’s beliefs should not stop there, however. In looking at our spiritual lives, we often find that there are ideas that we hold near and dear that fall beyond the pale of those central beliefs. These ancillary beliefs can shape our religious and spiritual selves as much as, if not more than, the tenets that form the foundations of our beliefs.
- Aside from your core tenets, are there beliefs that you hold in your spiritual practice or path?
- How do these ancillary beliefs affect your path?
- How much importance do you assign to these beliefs?
- Are your ancillary beliefs fixed or have they changed over time?
- Do these beliefs ever clash with your core tenets?
My core tenets are simple and have changed little with the passage of time: the Divine exists and that Divinity expresses itself uniquely to each individual. While these ideas act as my spiritual compass in all things, they leave quite a lot of undiscovered spiritual territory. They say much, yet speak little, about my spiritual practice or being.
My ancillary beliefs give my path its shape, defining its landmarks and pitfalls. For example, I believe that acts of charity and hospitality are beneficial to my spiritual self. It’s not a central tenet of my spiritual path, nothing in my core tenets say that charity or hospitality are required. Yet, through these acts, I allow myself to connect with other people, their needs, hopes, and fears. By giving of myself, it provides opportunities for spiritual growth. My path would not disappear if I stopped holding this belief, but the landscape would certain look much different.
The last Path Forging post looked a bit at the spiritual codes of conduct assigned by our various paths. I realized upon looking back at that post, I missed some key points on that post. So, here are a few more things to ponder on the question of violating codes of conduct.
- If conduct violations are punishable in your path, when does retribution occur? Is it immediate or delayed until a set time?
- Does punishment for misconduct extend beyond this life? Is it part of the afterlife? If you embrace the idea of reincarnation, can punishment extend through multiple lifetimes?
- Is there are a way to “work off” the misconduct – some set of prayers, actions, or other means to put oneself in the good graces of those who enforce the spiritual rules?
- Can clergy or other members of your path “forgive” instances of rule violations?
Established religions often present their followers with a code of conduct in some form or another. By doing so, they create an ethical frame-work which the practitioner can use to guide her/his own day-to-day behavior.
- Does your path have a prescribed code of conduct?
- If so, which aspects of behavior does the code address?
- How does this code of conduct relate to the basic tenets of your path?
- What happens if you violate one of the rules of conduct?
- Who enforces this code? Is it deity? Clergy? Other practitioners?
- Are code violations punishable? If so how?
- Is the code subject to revision or change? Who can change it?
Codes of conduct can be tricky for eclectic practitioners, myself included. I strive to live my spirituality, to break down any barriers that I can between my mundane life and my spiritual one. My religious codes of conduct are no different from those that guide me otherwise. My deities may take an interest in my misdeeds, but ultimately, it is to my own self that I am accountable.
In the course of blogging elsewhere about how to create a life’s to do list, I wrote the following words:
Failure is always an option. Your list may include goals that you never actually accomplish. Circumstance may dictate that your life takes you along a path other than the one you’ve mapped out for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over it, don’t fret over what might have been. Instead, take a time-out to think about what you might do instead and add a new idea or two to your list.
I wanted to share those sentiments here in the context of how we think of our spiritual paths. So often, I run across people who are stuck in the mud and spinning their wheels because something, usually described as “terrible” or “catastrophic”, has happened to them. Perhaps a crisis has tested someone’s beliefs or perhaps a deity did not answer a desperate heart-felt prayer. The person becomes the epitome of the 8 of Swords in most tarot decks – seemingly trapped in their own bonds, fearful of the pain it would cost them to break free. So they remain stock still and no longer walking their path.
What we so often forget as we strive for spiritual growth is that it is not a question of if we will fail, but of when we will do so. More importantly, it is a question of how we will cope with these failures. We can fret over them, wring our hands, and stay still in hopes that no one will notice our failures. We can live in fear of retribution by our deities for our mistakes. We can throw ourselves to the ground, wailing and kicking at the injustice of it all, like a two-year old who has just lost a favorite toy. We can become so terrified of making another error that we abandon our paths altogether.
Or we can acknowledge our failures and glean what we can from them. We can take a spiritual time-out to catch our breath and decide what we need to do in order to again move forward. We can accept, no matter how unbelievable it may seem, that failure is part of healthy spiritual growth and that the path we find ourselves on is exactly the one we should be following.
In the end, it is only our choices about how to handle missteps and failure that we can control. What is it that you choose for yourself?
The most recent Path Forging post centered on defining core beliefs within our individual paths. The last question in that particular series had to do with changes to our beliefs. Since that post, several related questions have come to mind, so perhaps it is worthy of a little deeper consideration.
- How flexible is your belief system? Is it set in stone or written in dust?
- If you find your beliefs challenged, does your path prescribe a course of action to meet those challenges?
- Is there “wiggle” room within your core spiritual tenets that allows you to modify your ideas as a result of new information or experiences?
- How do these changes happen in our paths? Are they sudden, cataclysmic events or a slow evolution over time?
- If you follow an established tradition or path, how much change can occur without requiring a change in that path?
- What consequences, good or bad, result if your beliefs change?
- Are changes or challenges to our spiritual paths desirable? Are these events a source of spiritual growth or atrophy?
Following an eclectic spiritual path requires a certain amount of flexibility and adaptability of beliefs. Experience and time challenge and shape my own beliefs and I will be the first to say that my path looks very different than it appeared five, ten, or twenty years ago. Always, there is a belief in the Divine and that Divinity expresses itself differently to each individual. Aside from that basic tenet, my path demands a certain level of change and challenge to remain a vital, living belief. Spiritual growth, on my own path, requires challenge and opposition to occur. For me, spiritual atrophy happens when we get too firmly locked into our beliefs, when there is no longer room for new pathways to open.