On Childish Religion

I tend to think of the range of human traits as being something akin to levels on a graphic equaliser. When we are born the mix of genetic, epigenetic and other factors mean that we arrive into the world with certain levels or ‘settings’. If I think about my own children for example, both are highly intelligent, loving and creative people (naturally) but I can clearly see that some of their inherent style (their settings) are quite different. Number One Son, for instance, is less physically demonstrative than his brother. The difference in their style, their settings, being rather like the difference between a cat and dog (a cat eventually sidles up beside you for petting, whereas a dog comes bounding over, tail furiously wagging). While I’m aware of the process whereby parents’ expectations influence the way they behave towards to their children, these ‘nature’ rather than ‘nurture’ differences do seem to be inherent.

Another setting in which my own children differ is in what we might call their religious sensibility. Number One Son, while acknowledging the significance of religion in culture and the possible limits of science as a means of exploring the world, is himself a rationalist. He can see the significance of archetypal motifs and metaphors but currently likes mathematics and logic as his  preferred approach to understanding reality.

Number Two Son is somewhat different. In a world where arts are contrasted with sciences (yes I know that’s a false, even dangerous dichotomy) he would be described as ‘the arty one’. His setting for ‘religious sensibility’ is quite different (at least at age 10) from that of his older brother. As an example, when one of our chickens died Number One Son wanted to dissect it (he was 13 at the time and considering a career as a surgeon, in the light of my parents’ medical backgrounds). Number Two Son instead wanted to bury said chicken, say prayers and lay flowers on its grave.

The Art and Science

The Art and Science

In my own childhood I also had a strongly developed desire to engage with spiritual or religious things. I’ve written before about my early experiments in creating my own god and developing a liturgy that I found inspirational, so it has been great to observe my younger son creating his own religious ideas. (See The Rite to Roam, in Deep Magic Begins Here….)

Recently Number Two Son has evolved his own religious system. This is centred on a figure he calls ‘Jimaon’ (pronounced ‘jum-own’).  Jimaon represents, according to my son, ‘the best that anything can be’. Thus Jimone exemplifies a sort of perfected or ideal state of being (or doing). A person, for instance, is part of Jimaon when they are being true to themselves and their ‘inner nature’ (as Taoists might express it, or perhaps ‘doing their Will’ in Thelemic language).

Within our summer house Number Two Son built an altar to his conception of the sacred. We gathered sap from a resinous tree in the local park to burn as incense, lit candles and Number Two Son led us both in prayer and song in praise of Jimoan. If you want to join in with this new religion all you need to do is pray to Jimoan each Tuesday, asking for help in being the best that you can be. (Interestingly we had the word Jimoan inscribed on paper on our altar since it was impossible, though not necessarily forbidden, to represent Jimoan graphically.)

The First Prophet of Jimoanism

The First Prophet of Jimoanism

Number Two Son (who plays guitar) and I also composed a song in praise of St.Nectan’s Glen, a magical spot in North Cornwall (where we sometimes go to attend public Pagan ceremonies marking the turning of the Wheel of the Year). I’d written the words (having been inspired following a ritual there) but it was Number Two Son who wanted to figure out the musical notation for the piece and worked diligently with me (I’ve not yet learnt to play an instrument and so was unable to write the tune) until the song was completed.

Being in a family context in which belief is something to be explored rather than to didactically defined (which, in their own way, was how my parents raised me), is a very valuable thing. My feeling is that this fits the needs of children, and indeed people, much better than a situation in which ‘the answer’ (to life, the universe and everything) is already (supposedly) known (by adults) for certain.

For some people maintaining an open minded attitude means throwing the baby of religion out with the bathwater of belief. But while the emerging forms of radical atheism certainly have their place in culture the idea that religiosity is somehow inherently stupid just doesn’t address the human need for meaning or the sacred. Our own settings can be such that the spiritual quest is important, so simply denying this isn’t realistic or helpful to adults or to children. But the issue here, as ever, is how this spiritual unfolding is permitted to happen. Philosopher and chaos magician Christopher Zzenn Loren writes in his book Unspirituality: Permission to Be Human:

“Children are defenseless to the ‘virus of dualism’ in whatever form it comes in – which is why [religious ideas] should not be introduced until [children reach] a cognitive age. Religious indoctrination is not required to raise healthy children. Their imagination should be nourished… but not invalidated or shamed. [The result can] be a neurosis, which I believe, is why [people] go to religion and metaphysics when they get older… In the best scenario, children would grow through their imagination into creative adults in an environment that is based on current psychology and a science-based education.”

The key word here is ‘indoctrination’. For while it’s impossible for parents and carers not to allow their own beliefs to inform their parenting style, and therefore their kids’ experience of the world, there are better or worse ways of doing this.

Indoctrination implies a style of teaching that aims at convincing a person to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions, and beliefs. An inevitable effect of indoctrination is that it erodes our empathy for other people. The ‘other’ is reduced to a series of simplistic narratives out of which arise prejudice and, more often that not, hatred.

Those who have been indoctrinated have reduced capacity to see nuance and complexity. They seek instead to maintain their cognitive make-up (beliefs) by imagining the ‘other’ as just as monolithic in structure as their own worldview. The fear of ‘Islam’, of ‘The European Union’, or whatever, prosper in such environments of indoctrination and these inflexible beliefs in turn thrive in situations that promote binary separations into  them/us (or ‘Leave’ versus ‘Remain’). It’s a truly vicious circle.


Official UKIP Poster

Unpicking indoctrinated beliefs is tricky but not impossible. One way to do this, which is commonplace in more liberal forms of education, is to challenge the idea of the monolithic other by encountering things that don’t fit our fixed stereotypes. Discovering, through direct experience, that ‘all <name of outsider group> do not believe in or behave in ways that  <whatever our prejudices predict>’ is one way this process can happen. The difficulty is that these experiences are ideally at a lived interpersonal level rather than in the abstract. Hearing (in the context of the recent referendum in the UK for example) that ‘not all people who voted ‘leave’ are racists’ is much less powerful than having a friend (who isn’t racist) explain their reasons for voting the way they did.

Many such attempts to broker lived encounters with ‘the other’ have happened across time and cultures. Examples range from student exchange programmes, town twinning and comparative religious studies (especially where young people from different religious backgrounds get to talk to each other in mutually respectful contexts). Extremism, be it of the little-Englander variety or Wahhabism can be challenged through these and other processes. These methods rely on playing the long-game. But, even in face of apparently hardening attitudes and divisions in our societies, this is a game worth playing.

To make deep transformations at a cultural, generational level what matters is how we enable our young people to see beyond the comforting certainties of simplistic narrative. To support them in a way that nurtures the skills and courage necessary to make their way in the world without seeking safety in simplistic dualisms and enacting the prejudices that flow from those beliefs.

This is a Great Work that would make us Ancestors our children could be proud of.



Smells like Queer Spirit

Being the parent of two teenage humans can often prove to be quite thought provoking in terms of trying to articulate what I actually “believe” in terms of my own metaphysics. My eldest helpful summarised my spiritual path as being “some sort of weird druid, meditation thing”. Credit where credit is due, that’s probably not far off!

While I have had some past attempts at spiritual brand loyalty, they have often ended in consumer dissatisfaction. My path has always been a blurry one, a fuzzy inexact ramble along a path that is much more about exploration and the privilege of travelling with some rather excellent companions. I can understand why others like certainty, and given the current scary state of the UK, I can appreciate why such apparently vague, postmodern and Queer perspectives don’t appear to be muscular enough to confront our current difficulties. But hey! It’s not my fault, I blame Magic.

Queerness and Magic are a bit of a chicken and egg thing. It’s hard to know whether Magic’s strange ways are innately attractive to the fey, liminal shape-shifters within a culture or whether it makes the curious even Queerer; as a lover of strange loops and circularities I’ll take both ☺

rainbow loop

Queer loop

To engage with Magic is to engage with the whole of life. It is art and it is science, it is both acceptance and change. It is many things, but I’m pretty sure that it demands a heroic pursuit of curiosity and a willingness to question almost everything we thought was true of our lives and selves, as I have said elsewhere:

Whatever else Magic may or may not accomplish it aims to transform our own awareness so that we become more effective. By self-willed mimetic infection, the change that we seek becomes more likely as we sensitize our perception to themes and opportunities.” (Deep Chaos part deux)

To enter the circle or to cast a spell means to lift anchor on what we thought we knew about ourselves. Whatever scripts and stories that we may have inherited about what our lives should look like, are called into question as we are sailing more uncertain seas

Many find the descriptor “Queer” problematic because of its historic associations as a homophobic slur or because it is viewed as attempting to summarize the complex terrain of “non-straight” identity (LGBT+) with a single (albeit complex) word. I certainly don’t wish to imply any form of flat-land homogenization of people’s lives and politics. Language and self-identification are important markers and means for both self-understanding and collective response. Part of why I view my own magic as Queer (as well as being that of a Kinky, Bisexual and gender fluid person), is the way in which Queerness for me embodies the role that we as magicians have as edge-dwellers who question oppressive catergorisation and help pull our cultures forward.

Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.” David Halperin  Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography


Queer discourse

While some may  view the conscious deconstruction of category as being overly hip or laboured, for those of us who find liberty within Queer’s punk rock attitude, Queerness challenges us to experience relationship and uncertainty in new ways. Rule books that rely on clear categorisation and the safe assertion that problems are located in “the other” can longer be as true. While the urge for individual emancipation and freedom seem innate to the human project, a Queer awakening might also attend to the complex tendrils of connectivity between self and other. Indeed our liberty may ultimately be within context as much as it about liberation away from it.

Part of my own current context is as a human who lives in the United Kingdom. Recent weeks have been a bewildering and deeply saddening time for many of us who (despite its many imperfections) view remaining in a larger Europe as being an important factor in seeking to reduce ignorance, hatred and less effective communication. Whatever economic arguments that “exit” advocates might have been able to proffer, for me my identity as a magician and Queer limit my ability to embrace the lax, childish worldview that Britain’s current difficulties can be located in those other people over-there.

Whichever framework one employs in trying to understand how Magic works, most magicians seem to rely on concepts of connection, alliance and symbiosis. Over 20 years of frontline social work may well and truly kicked most naivety out of my system, but I still know that my own Magic seems to be maximised when I have the possibility of exploring creativity from a position of flexibility and relative fearlessness. For me it’s hard to reconcile such freedom and connection with a siege mentality that imagines safety behind a balsa-wood drawbridge.

In recent times I have been working with the Goddess Sophia and the way she is made manifest in Gaia. In offering devotional practice to Gaia-Sophia, my coven-mates and I have been seeking to promote greater connectivity and Wisdom. This prayer is still on my lips:

“Praise to the Wise one,

The Connected One,

The Whole one,

The Holy One!


Sublime Strange Attractor-

Illuminate our intuition and give us neither-neither genius!

Help us to spin our webs of connection with silver and gold

Help us to seek Wisdom and apply its insights with kindness.

We give thanks to you and to each other

For this time of nurture and deep listening!”