Strange faces in the window when no one is there, odd sounds on the wind when nothing seems to be stirring; I’ve come to expect these kinds of things at the new moon. There is something about the darkness of the new moon that is more than simple lack of light. I remember reading Kathryn Robin’s Spiritual Housecleaning and carrying away two major lessons:
- the outer, mundane world is a reflection of the inner, spiritual world, and because of this
- our houses are inextricably linked with the world of the gods and our own inner reality.
It is easy to think that at the full moon, the new moon, the solstices, dawn, dusk, midnight etc. etc. the ‘veil between worlds’ becomes thin and inner and outer blur, but really the ‘veil’ is not so veil-y as we might think. I could spend the entirety of my time here talking about how false is the modern paradigm of the inner life and the outer experience, but I’d like to go further than that. I’m going to talk about omens.
I’m not going to talk about tarot (though I could), and I am not going to talk about dream interpretation (though I could). Instead I am going to talk about the theory behind omens and precognition. See, no one thinks that science is fundamentally flawed if weathermen are wrong or political journalists fail to predict who the next leader will be. It is understood that the principles behind their system of knowing may not successfully tell the future, but if a traditionally pagan oracle is vague in its prediction or misunderstood so it seems to be false then scientific atheists cry hokum and superstition. The difference is that traditional oracles do not hold to scientific ways of knowing, but no one to my knowledge has ever tried to investigate sympathetically the epistemology of traditional oracles — the key word there being sympathetically.
It could be argued that science is in fact a system of determining what can be foreknown since proven experiments should always be replicable. In other words, once a theory or hypothesis is proven the outcome of any experiments based on it will be predictable. The difference between the scientific viewpoint and the pagan is that science insists that the only real knowledge is knowledge of the physically real. Of course there are huge grey areas: psychology is perhaps the largest of them, but even the word has its roots in traditional Greek paganism. Thus the predictions of science should only hold to the physical world, yet the modern, popular way of (pseudo-)scientific thinking insists “there are no such things as ghosts” and “it is impossible to tell the future.”
Nevertheless we tell the future all the time. We predict the sun will set and we will go to sleep. We can predict the time when we will go to sleep and when we will get off work. We can tell when a relationship or a business deal is going to fall apart even though there may be no overt indication that there is a problem. We can predict how movies will end even if we have never seen them. We can tell what sorts of decisions people will make given certain conditions, and we can predict changes in the weather from the behaviours of clouds or even insects.
Of course, all of this can be easily explained based on scientific reasoning, but I’m not trying to prove science is wrong. It’s not wrong. It’s just incomplete, and because it is incomplete its usefulness is severely limited. Every example above is based on making predictions by reading the right circumstances based on certain principles. Omens are no different. If you know what to look for based on what is happening behind physical reality then you can see how circumstances will go. It’s just a matter of being clever enough to make the connections.
This is where we come back to the idea of inner and outer reality. Everyone reading this post is subject to the cosmological idea that we have an inner life to which we alone are party but which we can connect to others in the outer world of phenomenal reality. The terms subjective and objective have been applied to our inner and outer experiences respectively, objective reality being privileged over subjective experience. In other words, what we think and feel is an ephemeral miasma compared to the hard truth of the world.
This idea has been so thoroughly ingested by the popular imagination that it thoroughly informs certain contemporary pagans. Celtic Reconstructionists in particular wrestle with it and have even devised a term based on the seeming discrepancy between the subjective and the objective: UPG — Unverified (else unique) Personal Gnosis. Simply put, UPG is a category in which any claim may be placed when it seems at odds with objective knowledge as determined by experiment or textual research. Some find creative ways to contextualize and therefore accept UPG while others simply dismiss it. The term itself is founded on the presumption that knowledge is only truly knowledge when it has been authenticated in the objective world…
…but what if there is no objective world?
Ok, I’ll admit the question is not entirely helpful. It seems to suggest that only the subjective world exists, so you may have felt that shock of horror at the prospect of being utterly alone in your experience. Really though, the question above points to a much weirder answer: objectivity and subjectivity are merely mental constructs that help us make sense of the world. In other words, your sense of having an inner or private, mental life is just a construct to help you survive. It’s like a defense mechanism not unlike the soul names of the elves in Elfquest..
Perhaps this question will be more profitable: what if the subjective world were just as permanent and predictable as the objective?
Actually it is. We all know what sadness, joy, fear, exuberance and all the other emotions are. We may think of them as fleeting, unreal things because our experience moves from one to another, but that is why movies like Inside Out are so much fun: they ‘pretend’ that unreal things have a real existence. The problem is that emotions genuinely do have a real existence, almost as if there were a landscape of emotion and we travel it into valley s of depression and oceans of happiness. If they weren’t real they would not find manifestation in the physical world through our actions…
… and this is where we take the Traditional Paganism bus into the world of the truly weird (or maybe I should say Wyrd).
Not only must we consider our emotions real if intangible things, just as we consider the act of hitting a ball a real action, but there are real things that are so intangible that they enter into our phenomenal reality in the most unobtrusive ways. The moon may seem like a rock circling the Earth, but there is a reality behind it that must not be underestimated. Sometimes it’s like they’re not there at all until they impinge on our awareness in ways that cannot be contextualized. At those times they will appear as faces in the windows and strange sounds in the night.
What we mean by ‘the thinning of the veil’ is more like being able to see the stars when the sun is down. The stars are always there, but we can’t see them because of the light of the sun. Traditions constitute a corpus of knowledge that our ancestors acquired after thousands of generations of experience, and we really shouldn’t ignore it simply because the most recent cosmological fad (viz. science) gives us a new angle to look at it from.