Coffee & Wisdom 02.53: Dancing in the Chapel Perilous Part 4
David Breeden is speaking all week about the psychological images that become embedded in talking about how the mind works..
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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister, First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, and this is Coffee and Wisdom. This week we’ve been looking at a literary trope that has become kind of a spiritual journey trope, and that is the chapel perilous and I’m calling it this week, dancing in the chapel, perilous and tracing how this idea really has developed from something in French literature. Probably it probably originates in France and the romances. It comes into the English language and understanding with a trope from L’Amour Dorotka by Thomas Mallery and fourteen eighty five. He was very open about the fact that he was compiling old Autherine stories from both England and France, and he was translating many of those out of French at the time. How does that then go to a more shamanism? Getting into American movies, books, et cetera, et cetera, is a bit of a journey here. Little reminder that this is the round table from a 14th century painting. And here on the middle of the round table of the Austrian Knights is this glowing chalice. So this is part of this idea of search. It’s part of the idea of of spiritual journey. And that’s part of what’s going on here, is it’s kind of getting a little bit confused as to what we’re talking about. Are we talking about a story or are we talking about spirituality? What what are we talking about? And now it is a meme that’s tied to conspiracy theories, the occult and neo shamanism.
And that’s what we’ve been looking at. What is happening with that? And as you can see from this particular one. Yeah. Is the is are we now trapped in the idea of the chapel? Perilous in general? That’s the claim of Eric Davis, who is a cultural critic and does look at as sort of fringe religions across across the US culture, especially California. Yes. Well, part of the idea of how this gets into the popular imagination is through Joseph Campbell. And something from the nineteen forties and fifties called The Hero’s Journey. It becomes well known as a literary trope. Hero ventures forth from a world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. Fabulous forces are encountered in a decisive victory is one. The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. And from that comes all kinds of plot devices in American movies trying to be mythological in character. And also you do see a region of supernatural wonder. I mentioned that Joseph Campbell was hired for the original trilogy of Star Wars. And so this has become very much a part of Hollywood in developing these kinds of ideas as we go along. Also, then, from the Hero’s Journey, we go into Robert Anton Wilson, who says in researching occult conspiracies, one eventually faces a crossroad of mythic proportions called Chapel Perilous in the trade. There we have chapel perilous appearing in the occult. You come out the other side of this this interaction with this idea, either stoned, paranoid or an agnostic.
There is no third way, he said. And I came out and agnostic. So here we get the idea from the Illuminatus trilogy, which is very upfront about being science fiction. Or is it? It’s also talking about various American conspiracy theories based on a parody religion that I’ve talked about before called a discordant ism. You see how all of these things are getting a bit jumbled over time. So how are we working through this? Well, the hero’s journey is a description of plot, not human lives, which have no plot. Of course, if you start thinking your life should have a plot, you’re going to be in therapy relatively soon. The hero’s journey is as a description of a plot device to distinguish that from the vision quest, which is a rite of passage into adulthood in many human cultures. This goes across cultural norms all the way from South Africa to the US, Central America, etc.. And then the shamans quest is undertaken by a traditional shaman for the good of a group. So these are very different things Hero’s Journey, Vision, Quest, Shaman Quest. But they tend to get confused in the. Mind, the neo shamanic quest in the US uses Pann native elements rather than focusing on one tradition, and it focuses on self actualization of individuals rather than communal prosocial goals. And this is very important to remember as we go through these ideas of what the shaman is.
Neo shamanism in the US is very specific, very new age, although that term is so overused that it’s difficult to know exactly what that means. You can find books that are seriously looking at this idea. The description of this book, Neo Shamanism and mental health goes like this. This book explores a contemporary practice of neo shamanism and its relationship to mental health chapters cover the practice of neo shamanism, how it differs from traditional shamanism, the technology of the shamanic journey, the life worlds of some of its practitioners, as well as its benefits and its pitfalls. So the scholarship is out there, the distinctions are out there. But you’re not going to find that if you sign up for a neo shamanism course online. Again, an important distinction to remember here. European neo shamanism tends to focus on reclaiming pre-Christian religious practices of particular regions. So the Norwegians, the Swedes, the Finns, et cetera, are rediscovering pre-Christian ideas that existed within those cultural and geographical boundaries. U.S. neo shamanism tends to focus on Native American practices that are not related to the euro. Americans practicing that very important distinction in the US. We don’t have a shamanistic tradition to reactivate except for Native American traditions that are not the background for most euro Americans. And you see a perfect example of this. Here is the yin yang symbol co-opted from China to be made into a kind of odd native neo Native American something or other. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
And that’s kind of where neo shamanism is in the US today. If you go looking around on the Internet, you’ll find the notion organisms that are going on in Europe, the Finnish magic, there you go, Finland, the Viking way, magic in mind in late Iron Age, Scandinavia. And you can read the Journal of Religion in Europe. As people talk about as Europe is secularizing, how do we rediscover a former kind of spirituality before Christianity came along and stamped it out now? We talked a little bit yesterday about how conspiracy theories that do embed into neo shamanism. Of course, our most famous shaman at the moment is that you, Anon’s Shaman from the invasion of the capital. This is from Religion Dispatches. If you don’t know that particular website, it’s very, very good at covering American religion from a Christian viewpoint, but it grapples with how religion is entering into the American consciousness. And I’m looking at an article here that you can read called Q Shaman’s New Age Radical Right. Blende hints at the blurring of seemingly disparate categories. And there he is in all of his glory. Well, from religion dispatches, they go through a few of his various tattoos and symbols. One is the interlocked three triangles. This is an ancient Germanic symbol co-opted by white supremacist groups. It was a symbol that was used on graves to mark those warriors who had died in battle and therefore had gone to Valhalla. Not a not about white supremacy at all, but there you have it to the right.
Here we have Molner, which is the hammer of Thor. You notice that you can turn it upside down and it looks a lot like a Christian cross. Thor’s hammer really, again, doesn’t have very much to do with shamanism in the US at all. It is a Scandinavian religious tradition. Also the sun and ride the black sun. This was a symbol that did occur in ancient runic writings and carvings in Germanic countries. But and it was co-opted by the SS during the Second World War, the Nazi period, and is used a lot in tattoos for white supremacy groups. And Crisil, which is the world tree. You can see this fine gentleman with Ignacio on his back. This is the world tree, that is where we are on the on the the map of reality. This has nothing to do with shamanism, by the way. It was a way of talking about how the world was situated. We have an upper world up here. That’s the heavens. And there is Oden’s Raven. And here are Rupnik symbols from what’s known as the fouth arc, a Germanic Rupnik language that was considered magical all at right angles because of the carving. Then you had midden yard, the middle earth where we live, and then you had the lower earth where the great snake of reality was living and he who would come back at the end of the Earth and destroy Thor. So there you have it.
But it has nothing to do with this next thing, which is the shaman street. The shamans tree does describe a shamanic journey from the underworld to our world to some kind of of expanded consciousness world. But again, that has nothing to do with Germanic typology. It’s it’s an idea that comes from basically Central American shamanic practice. And it’s jumbled up with these other ideas to the right. Here we have a complete confusion. We have the chakras that are marked out from Sanskrit and from Hindu understanding with someone meditating and Buddhist style and the world tree growing out of them. That’s very, very confused and has nothing to do with anything except an American understanding of neo shamanism. So there you go. So the tattoo on his shoulder appears to be Greek inspired, says the article. While there seem to be runes on his hand, that would be the food thought that is Germanic and bricks on his arms. That could be an homage to the border wall. So very various symbols, but very, very little to do with actual religious or spiritual practices. The horns are the most noticeable thing going on here. His own explanation, it’s symbolic. He says the horns represent the buffalo, as in you mess with the bull, you get the horns, not Native American. In other words, while the skin is coyote, which he links to Native American mythology about the coyote as a trickster, why that would have anything to do with the horns as mysterious.
His face paint also links to Native American traditions. He calls it war paint. I would really suggest that he doesn’t talk to a Native American about calling it that, so that symbolism is necessary, he says, as he’s fighting on the side of the angels in a spiritual war. So you see the jumble that is going on here. Actually, probably the headdress comes from red, red, dead redemption to a video game in which you get to choose your own mask as a character in your video game. And again, a lot of those tattoos do appear in various video games that don’t, again, have a lot to do with actual religious practice. So there we have kind of an overview of how American neo shamanism is a very confused and confusing bit and a trip down some various confused conspiracy theories and jumbled religions. Thanks for listening. We’ll sum that’s all up tomorrow. Yeah, there’s a lot going on with this idea of the chapel. Perilous Sunday at 10 30 AM, we will be looking at seed corn and tomorrow it will be our spring equinox celebration. We have lots of things on tap. We have poetry from some of our children in the congregation read by. We have some special music by our house band, The Eclectica. So tune in and we’ll be talking about ecology, the Anthropocene and those kinds of things on Sunday. Thanks for listening and I’ll see you tomorrow. To sum up dancing in the chapel. Perilous.