March 7, 2015 § 3 Comments
(This is my submission for Prompt #2 of the Non-Binary Mysteries. See the masterpost here.)
The sun rises, dawning color and warmth into the world, nurturing and burning, illuminating and changing. It visits any given area for longer and shorter times throughout the year, rising through the sky, falling through the season. Hours and seasons are set by its movements, heating and cooling, growing and harvesting.
The sun sets.
Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, a researcher found that people who fit solidly into the gender roles proscribed by society were far more likely to assign gender to words and objects than people who didn’t fit so cleanly into societal gender norms. Read up on Gender Schema Theory by Sandra Bem and the fascinating research and ideas within it. It’s a bit dated and incomplete, and yet it has usefulness within its limitations, like any model.
During a cognitive task study, people who were strongly gendered and gender-normative (“sex-typed” in Bem’s theory, meaning they process and integrate traits and information in line with their assigned gender, conforming to the cultural definition of what it means to be “male” or “female”) tended to remember more traits assigned with their gender role, and processed “sex-type congruent” information more efficiently… perpetually reinforcing their concept of gender normativity, a continual process of confirmation bias. When given a list of words to cluster either by semantic meaning or by gender, they were also more likely to cluster words by gender. They are “gender-schematic”.
In contrast, “cross-sex-typed” individuals (in Bem’s theory, people who processed and integrated information and traits in line with the opposite gender role from their assigned gender) had the lowest percentage of words clustered by gender, followed by “androgynous” individuals (people who process and integrate traits and information from both genders). They are “gender-aschematic”.
Strong gender-schemata provides a filter through which people process incoming stimuli… making it easier ability to assimilate information that matches the stereotypes, which further solidifies the existence of gender stereotypes. It is one model through which to approach reality, and a highly dominant one in a number of societies, enforced and reinforced throughout the culture. It is incredibly prevalent, too, in much of Neo-Paganism: Lord/Lady, God/Goddess, Male/Female, elements and correspondences all sorted into Masculine and Feminine. Sun God and Moon Goddess, in so much of mainstream Paganism.
The moon rises, lining the world in silver and shadow, the cool colors of night. The face of the moon waxes and wanes, cast in growing shadow, brightened in growing light. Months are measured by its cycles. Its pull sets the rhythms of the oceans, the tides and waves, and perhaps it even influences the rhythms of mind and heart.
What, then, for those of us who are gender-aschematic?
I am fortunate in that my tradition leans gender-aschematic, itself. Kemetic philosophy is non-dualistic and polyvalent, the One and the Many, both/and. Many seemingly contradictory things can be true all at once. There are deities with the title of “The Great He-She”. There are deities that are explicitly hermaphroditic, deities that are very male, deities that are very female, and deities that are downright sexless. There are deities that are more concept than person. There are deities that merge into one another, split into pieces, and those pieces join with pieces from other deities to make new ones, fission and fusion and fluidity.
The sun is a goddess and the sun is a god and the sun is a scarab. The moon is a child and the moon is a god and the moon is only rarely a goddess, but the gods of the moon are not strongly masculine. The sun and moon are not so much gendered as they are personified in many different ways.
The sun takes the form of scarab, cow and bull, lioness, falcon, cat and leopard, cobra, vulture, and heron. The sun is nurturer, warrior, queen, king, healer, lover, creator, avenger, guardian, mother, father, and son. The moon takes the form of ibis, baboon, and falcon. The moon is healer, defender, scribe, protector, creator, child, traveller, embracer, time-keeper, mathematician, magician, judge, mediator, arbitrator, counselor, and scientist. Both sun and moon are incredibly multi-dimensional, and go so far beyond gender.
Wepwawet is my Parent deity, and I associate Him with shadows and night – though not the moon itself. So often for me, He is gentle soothing darkness, and also an edge of mischief and unknown mystery. He is the moonlit crossroads where your shadow stretches black and long before you at the point of choice and possibility. He is a magician and something of a gambler, a warrior and a scout, the standard-bearer and guide. Yet He has never seemed strongly gendered to me, this wolf-wanderer of the ways between.
Bast-Mut is my Beloved deity, and She is most definitely the sun. She is Bast on Her throne, Bast Who is Mut, the Devouring Lady, the hunting-cat goddess crowned with uraei. She is an Eye of Ra, a title given to a number of martial or protective solar deities. Fierce yet motherly, regal yet warm, and I see Her in the kind of sun-warmth that invites basking, the sun that warms me slowly and gently down to my bones. For me, She is the revitalizing warmth of the sun, and I feel Her most strongly in the dark of winter when the sun shines forth and brings me back to life. She is joy and care, protective nurturing.
The sun has many different faces to me. There is the harsh beating sun-in-summer, Ra as King and Sun, the Apis-bull, Sekhmet’s wrath. There is the warming sun-in-summer too, Mut and Heru and Wadjet. There is the cool distant sun-in-winter, hawk and scarab, watching, becoming. There is the warm revitalizing sun-in-spring, Hethert returning from Her travels, Bast crowned in glory. There is the fading sun-in-autumn, Hethert-Nut as the Wandering Eye in Her departure.
Sometimes the moon sings to my blood, intoxicating and invigorating. Sometimes the moon is a rabbit and sometimes the moon is an ibis as Djehuty or a falcon as Khonsu. Sometimes the moon is a mystery, magic, and the hunt. Sometimes the moon is madness, its fullness corresponding with a spate of crisis in the mental health centers I’ve worked in. Always, the moon is genderless. Never have I experienced it as feminine, and never have I identified with the menstrual cycles that so much of modern mainstream Paganism associates with lunar cycles. I love the moon and thrill to the sight of it, sparking dreams and visions in my mind.
The sun is a different thing entirely. I connect so strongly to the sun, and I am keenly aware of its seasonal increase and decrease. The seasonal rites of equinox and solstice resonate with my heart and biochemistry, not for their celebration of the cycles of agriculture but rather for the marking of the sun’s departure and return. My mood brightens with sun’s presence and suffers significantly in its absence, seasonal affective disorder weighting my body and mind. The hawk in me is a solar creature, thriving in the daytime, hunting in the sun’s light. The phoenix I identify with at the core of my soul is solar above all else.
The moon sets.
The sun rises.
May 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
I believe there are layers of reality, there is more than just the physical, and that the subtle (energetic, spiritual, etc) reality/realities affect the psychological and spiritual, just as much as the mind affects the subtle and the physical, and just as the body affects the mind and the subtle.
I believe there are multiple explanations for any experience, and all can be true simultaneously, for the reason stated above. Are you tired all the time because you are depressed, or are you depressed because you are tired all the time due to improper nutrition, or are you tired and depressed because of an energetic blockage, or do you have an energetic blockage because you are not eating right and you are depressed? I am more likely to believe you are tired because you are depressed and you have improper nutrition and you have an energetic blockage, and all these factors must be addressed for optimal health/improvement.
I believe that mythic truth is just as valid as factual truth, especially as memory and perception are unreliable: your brain lies to you. I don’t believe we can truly, completely be certain of anything, and one’s schema and experience and functionality is far more important than whether it is literally, factually true or not. Does it have meaning? Is it aiding or not affecting functionality? Is it adding to your life experience? Then it doesn’t matter quite so much.
That said, I believe it’s important to examine one’s beliefs regularly, and to consider multiple possibilities for one’s experience, and subject experience and belief to scrutiny and logic to see if they stand up to basic reasoning. This may seem like a contradiction to my earlier statement. It’s not. I have found that as someone who favors logic over feeling, it is easy for me to lose the experience in an endless cycle of scrutiny, skepticism, questioning, and considering possibilities, going in circles again and again without ever reaching a real conclusion about things that I cannot know for certain; and in doing so I lose the emotive and personal meaning of the experience, I become actually ungrounded by completely intellectualizing my reality. Yet I have known people who have done the reverse, have gone completely dysfunctional by not examining the use or meaning or validity of their experiences or their interpretation of their experience, and lose sight of physical reality as they dive into a fantasy land.
Thus: functionality, meaning, scrutiny, balance.
I believe in a variety of spirits: spirit of place, spirit of land, spirit of plant and animal and object. I believe in gods, and gods with distinct personalities and desires and motives that must be treated as individuals even as I believe They are connected to one another and sometimes blend in and out of each other and a greater essence. I believe some gods and some spirits are involved in the lives of people and some gods and spirits just don’t give a damn, and sometimes spirits don’t give you much of a choice in the matter and demand service, and some will take your service if you are foolish enough to offer but aren’t going to seek you out.
I believe that there are many humans who contain within themselves the essence of something non-human. I don’t know what the nature of that essence is, but I have seen it, again and again, in ways I can’t deny. It may be part of being human, and some people are just more affected by that otherly-essence than others. But it is vital and it is fascinating and it is beautiful.
I believe that there is an explanation and cause for all of human behavior, but sometimes it is so layered and complex that the behavior seems inexplicable or random.
I believe in reincarnation. I believe in an afterlife of some sort, though I don’t know if it’s just continual reincarnation or if it’s a return to some cosmic all or if it’s rest in the dead-lands of one’s culture/beliefs or if it’s a combination of all of the above.
I believe that belief affects reality, and so does will because will is often just an active outward believing, and perception shapes our reality. Dragons exist. Is it because our monkey-brains remembered ancient terrible lizards and fabricated dragons out of that inkling of memory, and that mythic telling shaped spirit-stuff into dragons; or is it because dragons existed, and we experienced them on some level, and told stories about them in our myth? I bet it’s a bit of both: that there were spirits that were like dragons, and we experienced them even as we remembered a bit of giant lizards long extinct, and our perceptions did not quite match the reality of those dragon-like spirits, and they shaped themselves to our perceptions or our perceptions shaped them or both, and now there are dragons.
I believe the stories we tell ourselves and the myths we create and live are as real and important as any age-old religion.
I believe that there is truth in every myth, every faith, of some sort: personal truth, emotional truth, spiritual truth, mythic truth – something to be gleaned from every culture and every person’s story. The human experience is fascinating and wonderful even when it is terrible.
November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written in July 2008.
When I was a Christian, there were many issues in the church that bothered me. One of the most aggravating, though, began with some variant of the following phrase:
“The Lord gave me a message for you…”
This was followed with some holier-than-thou, well-meaning, and usually very misplaced directive on how the subject should change or otherwise live his or her life. My bad, a pastor, often gets these “messages” from people—typically elderly women with a history of meddling and judgment.
What do you say to that? “Sorry, I think you heard wrong”? That never goes over well. “But the Lord told me! Are you denying God’s authority?” Saying their meddling comes from on high (and they might even believe it does) gives their words extra weight, because after all, God is never wrong!
My father generally says, “Thank you, I’ll ask Him further about that,” then asks his God just in case it is a valid perception, essentially checks it with his own experience.
One might think that occultists and pagans wouldn’t have such issues—but in reality, it’s worse.
The problem is that there are so many avenues for this perceptual projection in a pagan worldview. In Protestant Christianity, there are 1. messages from God, 2. perception of demonic forces, and… that’s all I can think of.
In Paganism, there are the following:
- Channeling and/or aspecting deities or spirits
- Messages from deity or spirits
- Divination (tarot, ouija board, etc)
- Psychic attack
- Dreamwalking and astral projection
- Extrasensory perception
- Auras and energy
- Past lives
…and I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
Let’s go over some of the ways these can be abused.
1. Messages from Deity
This is no different than in Christianity. Usually the meddler will get a “message” from the subject’s patron, which the subject should of course pay attention to.
I think the best way to respond to this is with a “Thank you for your concern, I’ll think on that,” and then check with your gods yourself. If you’re getting a wildly different message, the “messenger” is probably wrong.
2. Channeling or Aspecting
I have known people to channel or aspect a deity in ritual (or pretend to) and then, while still “wearing” the deity, give someone in circle the channeler’s thoughts or judgments. Sometimes the channeler will later “not remember” the “message” (because of course it wasn’t them) but say, “it must have been important, you should heed it”.
When I’m giving the person the benefit of the doubt, I’ll believe that they believe it was genuine—but unless I can get a confirmation from the deity later, on my own, in private communion, I’ll be very skeptical as to the veracity of the message. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to eliminate the contamination and distortion inherent in the vessel, no matter how well a channeler trances out. That’s if they’re not being downright consciously manipulative.
Getting a divination from friends who know your issues is always risky. Oracles such as tarot are subjective, and I’ve known readers to insert their own opinions of your situation into the reading, weighing it with the authority of the cards.
An example: A very opinionated friend had read tarot for me several times before, but we’d fallen out of touch for several months. We got back in contact, updated each other on our lives, and I asked for a reading. I did not tell her my question; this was her preferred style, and it provides less perceptual contamination. I asked about something she had no way of knowing about.
The reading was spot-on. I know tarot, so I was able to “read over her shoulder”, and her interpretation was solid—until halfway through, when she very clearly felt she knew what I was asking about. She started smugly inserting her own opinions on what I should do about my education in the guise of “The cards say you should…”, when my question had to do with nothing of the sort.
Not telling your topic of inquiry to the reader is one way to circumvent this, as seen above. People who know what’s going on in your life, though, can often guess; I’ve suspected my subconscious of contaminating my interpretation when I’ve read for others and figured out what they’re asking about. Getting divinations from people who don’t know you well is better.
4. Psychic Attack
This one is obnoxious and irritatingly common. Accusations of “psychic attack”, often unwarranted, have begun witch wars or made them worse. Had a bad day and you’re mad at another pagan? “They must have cursed me!” Tell all your friends! Found out that a long-time member of your circle identifies as a psychic vampire? Well, you were tired after working overtime last week… they must have fed from you against your will! Confront them in a hostile way (or, alternatively, under the guise of “I care about you, but you need to learn to control yourself”). Can’t let them get away with that, after all!
I honestly have no clue how to deal with this one. Denying it or suggesting alternative reasons for their tiredness, bad day, or other issue doesn’t always work. I’ve even heard people respond to denial with, “Well, maybe you didn’t mean to and didn’t know you did it, but you did!” If they insist on perpetuating that sort of drama, and nothing you say or do will change their mind—maybe they’re not the healthiest people to spend time with. Unless you enjoy the drama of witch wars and fractured magickal groups—in which case, please stay away from me. 😉
Sometimes all you can do is ignore the drama monger or break ties with the person entirely. Witnesses might help—someone who is energetically sensitive and can attest as to whether or not a phenomenon came from you, though that could just as easily slip into accusations of people “taking sides”. Seeking the guidance or mediation of a balanced, well-grounded elder may also help. Stay calm; if you react, the drama monger will take it as more fuel for his or her fires.
5. Dreamwalking and Astral Projection
A friend of mine who is a member of a small occult group of some note once had a stalker. This stalker learned about her membership, read up on the group, joined its forums, and started claiming that my friend had dreamwalked to him and was trying to seduce him, psychically feed on him, and other such things. He said he dreamed about her, so she must have dreamwalked to him. My friend remembered doing no such thing, and his description of her supposed astral appearance was very different from past descriptions of such by people she’d dreamwalked to on purpose. Arguments to the contrary, in private, proved useless.
This is similar to the psychic attack issue, and there’s about as much you can do—which is to say, dismiss and ignore. Alternatively, someone might claim to have dreamwalked or projected to you or to an area of interest and claim to have pertinent information. If the person shares private, personal information of yours with you, that’s a little creepy, in that stalker sort of way. Either they’re telling the truth and have been astrally spying on you, which is invasive, or they’re trying to impress you with their l337 powarz and have actually hacked your email, spied on you physically, or some other unpleasantly stalker-ish and illegal activity. In either case, you might want to report the person to the police, because one way or another, they got private information that they shouldn’t have had access to.
If the person instead shares information about a nonpersonal area of interest, check the info as best you can. Newspapers, internet, and television news channels are all potential resources. Don’t take it at face value; there are a lot of factors that influence perception, and the reports could easily be colored, distorted, or just plain fabricated.
Oh boy. This one’s complex, large, and not often discussed. It’s also the one I’ve run into the most, and even been guilty of before. A sample scenario:
“Are you doing okay?” asks Super Sensitive Empath, concern etched on her face.
“Huh?” Odd question. You’re feeling kind of neutral, content, laid back. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
She gets that knowing look. “You don’t have to be polite with me. What’s wrong?”
“Um… really, I’m fine. Doing pretty well, actually.”
A patient sigh from S.S.E. “You’re angry about something. You’re trying to hide it, but I can feel it.”
Oookay. You do a cursory check on your mental state, just to humor her. All clear. “I’m pretty sure I’m not at all angry. I’m afraid you’re wrong.”
Oops. Now Super Sensitive Empath’s oh-so-wonderful and ever-reliable senses are called into question. Now she’s got something to prove. “I can feel strong anger in you. You just really don’t want to talk about it. Tell me what’s wrong. I’m worried about you.”
Exasperation shows in your voice now, and you really just want her to leave it alone. “Nothing’s wrong!”
“You’re yelling,” S.S.E. says triumphiantly. “How can you tell me nothing’s wrong when it’s obvious you’re mad?” She reels a little bit. “Your anger is painful…” She’s just sooo sensitive.
There are infinite variations of this scenario, and they’re all frustrating. I’ve found no good way to handle it when the “S.S.E.” won’t accept your description of your emotional state. One can only really address the empath, and I’ll do that in a separate article, because such an address gets lengthy.
7. Extrasensory Perception
This covers a wide range of phenomena and claims, most of which are similar enough to empathy, dreamwalking/astral projection, and channeling/aspecting to not require specific elaboration. One, however, has come up often enough in my personal social circles to merit some mention: precognition.
Telling the future is a chancy business. Your mileage may vary, but my experience leads me to believe that nothing is set in stone; the future is mutable. Divination and precognition, in my opinion, perceives only the likeliest pattern. When reading the “outcome” cards in tarot, I state it as “If this pattern continues…” because a significant change in the pattern of events or pertinent individual’s behavior will generally change the outcome.
Like channeling/aspecting, supposed precognition can be used to try to influence others towards the precog’s desires. Let’s say you want to pursuer a particular romantic relationship, and a friend is jealous or thinks such a relationship will negatively impact him in some way. He has a “bad feeling about it” that you should really heed because, after all, he’s precognitive! If you don’t believe him, it’s a personal insult! Or he “has a dream that feels like it’s about the future,” and it depicted disaster if you go forward with this relationship.
Of course, since most relationships have problems from time to time, and since more relationships fail than succeed, it’s very likely that something will go wrong in the relationship at some point. If you pursue the relationship despite the jealous friend’s dire warnings, he’ll jump on the chance to say “I told you so” and “See, I really am a precog!”, ignoring the fact that all relationships have problems. If you agree with him, then he has more weight on his side for future manipulations. Walk carefully if you have a friend like this! It is even possible that the person doesn’t mean to be manipulative, and sincerely believes he’s predicting the future, but that doesn’t make it any less manipulative.
Sometimes a person might have a legitimate precognition, but it’s cloaked in symbolism and easily misinterpreted. I know one person who had a vision of a mutual friend shooting fire from his hands at a particular event, in conflict with a young man, and a girl was involved. The visionary took this literally; he believed that magic would become more powerful by the time of that event and his friend really would throw fire around. The event came, reality remained the same, but the “fire-flinger” and the young man had a bitter, heated conflict over a girl for the entirety of the event. The vision came true—but not the way the visionary thought it would.
If someone has a supposed precognition that concerns you, take it with a hefty dose of salt. Take it as an opinion, a warning from the messenger if you wish, and weigh the potential risk. It never hurts to take a more careful look at a situation, but don’t let the precognition (which may or may not be valid) make your decision for you.
8. Auras and Energy
This has much the same issues as empathy. I have known people to say that someone they dislike has “bad energy”; I have known people to be scathing towards visitors because “their energy was off that day”. Now, I will admit to feeling wary of people I’ve just met for no reason I can perceive other than energetic, but I try to give them a chance to prove me wrong. Sometimes one’s mood can influence either one’s energy or one’s perception of others’ energy. Using such perception to belittle or manipulate is, in my opinion, distasteful and poor manners. If energy bothers you, then shield. Maintain healthy boundaries.
One abuse of perception is giving someone too much information (real or distorted) about herself, thus warping or robbing her of the identity seeking/development process and contaminating her perceptions with your own. The ethics of this require individual contemplation; what I find ethically reprehensible might be no big deal to another person. If someone shares with you information he sees “in your aura”, take it as opinion and perception, but not hard fact. If he insists that you are insulting him by expressing doubt, he’s got control issues or some serious insecurities that are his responsibility to deal with.
9. Past Lives
It amuses me that an apparent pick-up line among Pagans and New Agers is “We were lovers in a past life” (or knew each other, or were related, etc). I have watched myth-making in process, where one person shares a few details of a past life, and the second person uses those as a springboard for more details, until two people (or an entire group) have woven an extensive, oft-exciting, and dramatic story that they’re emotionally and psychologically invested in.
I have also watched attempts at mythmaking, where two people admitted feelings of recognition and connection, and the younger person kept throwing out hooks and prompts for the elder to build on. “I know I knew you! Don’t you remember this vague event…?” The older person recognized what was going on and didn’t take the bait, instead asking her for details or denying remembrance (or both). The younger person floundered in response, saying such things as “I don’t remember details; don’t you remember more about this?” or making noncommittal, vague, general responses and trying more probing questions.
Just because you were with someone in a past life doesn’t mean you should be with them in this one. Some people, wanting to belong or fit in, might come up with memories (however distorted or fabricated) of friendships or other relationships with another person or group. Some might have memories of a disliked person (or object of jealousy) as an enemy in a past life and use that as justification for their dislike.
One occult group that places a good deal of emphasis on reincarnation has, I think, a healthier view. They say that they have been lovers, friends, and bitterest enemies, but they are not the people now that they once were, and those issues are then, not now.
There are unhealthily manipulative people in any group, and that includes Pagans. Many people want their opinions heard and heeded, and will (consciously or subconsciously) seek ways to give their opinions extra weight. Perception is easily distorted and contaminable, even if the experience is honest and the communication of such is well-intentioned. Be careful, question, and check others’ perceptions against your own experiences.
November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment
Written in December 2007.
Everyone has personal criteria for what is possible, probable, and impossible, but most people make flash decisions on such things using their own cognitive shortcuts. People who follow paths less traveled have to be more aware of their personal criteria, lest they stumble off the sometimes difficult-to-see path and into delusion and nonfunctioning.
Why do you believe what you believe? When you have an unusual experience, how do you figure out whether or not it’s valid or true, or where it comes from? When someone tells you about their own identity or odd experiences, what controls your “bullshit meter”? How do you check your perceptions?
I encourage you to develop your own criteria if you haven’t already. It may differ from mine, and that’s fine; my outlook on the world is my own, not yours, and my approach to gnosis is my own as well. The following is my personal criteria for determining whether something is true or not, valid or invalid, distorted or relatively sound. Please keep in mind that this is a very general list; it’s modified for different experiences, but listing individual procedures for evaluating everything from dreams to memories to encounters with deity is beyond the scope of this article.
Step 1: External Consistency
- …with science:Is the phenomenon consistent with established science, or does it outright contradict known science? For instance, mental shapeshifting does not contradict well-supported scientific findings (and could possibly be explained or re-interpreted through some mechanisms of psychology), but full physical shapeshifting from a human into a wolf contradicts known biological possibility.Now, just because something isn’t consistent with known science does not mean I discard it outright – what is scientifically “known” has been known to change, after all (we once “knew” the sun revolved around the Earth), and could be inaccurate or misleading – but it does mean I am more skeptical and will subject the phenomenon to a harsher scrutiny.
- …with lore: Is the phenomenon or experience consistent with established lore or wide cultural experience, or does it outright contradict such? If someone experiences Hethert/Hathor as being partial to beer, that’s not hard to believe; it’s well-supported by extant lore and texts. If someone experiences Yinepu/Anubis as enjoying chocolate – well, there’s no textual or cultural evidence to support it, since chocolate wasn’t exactly a highly available commodity in ancient Egypt, but there’s also nothing to contradict it. My response might be something along the lines of, “That could be possible; I’ll have to try offering Him chocolate and see if my experience is that He likes it or doesn’t like it”. If someone experiences Sekhmet as being an evil servant of Apep/Apophis, however, I would feel very doubtful, because that outright contradicts established lore and cultural experience in a very big way. This does not mean that every time an experience contradicts lore that it is wrong, however – simply that, like with scientific contradictions, I will be more skeptical and subject the claim to a more intense scrutiny.
- …with my experience: Is the phenomenon or experience consistent with my own experiences and perceptions? This is the least weighty of all the consistencies, because my own perceptions could be skewed or inaccurate, but they’re still true for me to at least a moderate degree. If I normally experience Bast as a bright warmth, and then suddenly one day some entity pokes at me saying that it’s Bast but feels like prickling saltwater, I’m going to be suspicious, because it doesn’t fit my past experiences of Bast. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an alternate explanation (i.e, a different spirit, or one of Her messengers), or that it’s not Bast, but I’m nonetheless going to be very careful in my interaction with said entity.
Step 2: Internal Consistency
- …with itself: Does the explanation of the phenomenon contradict itself in any way? For instance, if someone tells me in detail about an experience they have, and partway through the story new information crops up that conflicts with information earlier in their storytelling, then they’re contradicting themselves. Alternatively, if the spirit masquerading as Bast in the External Consistency example gets aggravated and changes demeanor suddenly before schooling its behavior back to the masquerade, that’s also an inconsistency and makes it less believable.
- …and synchronicity: Is there any synchronistic evidence, either in corroborating stories that the person relaying the experience can tell about, or in my own experience, or in another person’s experience?
Step 3: Alternatives
- Mundane explanations: What are possible mundane explanations for the phenomenon? Depending on what the experience is, this is often the first thing I check. If, for instance, I’m experiencing a strange feeling in my stomach that I suspect might be mostly or wholly energetic, I don’t automatically assume that it isn’t mundane. I run down a checklist of mundane possibilities first: When did I last eat? What did I last eat? Could I have picked up a stomach bug from somewhere? Where in my abdomen area is it – could it be related to menstrual cramps, and if so, when is my period due? Have I been stressed out lately? Of course, stress can tie in easily to energetic complications, but I don’t believe there is much that doesn’t have at least some sort of mundane counterpart. I just believe that the mundane part can be added to, complicated by, caused by, or itself cause energetic/subtle reality/Unseen world effects or phenomena.
- Lore/science-consistent explanations: What are possible alternative explanations for the phenomenon that are consistent with lore and/or science? In the example used with External Consistency, let’s say someone is experiencing Sekhmet as an evil servant of Apep. I’d first get more details: What exactly is She doing, how is She behaving, what are the details of the experience? Could it simply be explained as Sekhmet being particularly harsh or intolerant of isfet on the part of the person having the experience? That would fit with the lore. Alternatively, could it be that they are not experiencing Sekhmet at all, but rather a different entity or energy? Or, in the other example of someone claiming to physically shapeshift… If we do not outright assume that they’re bullshitting and lying, and accept that they actually believe they physically shifted, then there are more questions to ask. “Were they under any mind-altering influences at the time (drugs, alcohol, blood sugar crashes, beta state…)?” is probably the biggest one, and the likeliest possibility as far as science-consistent explanations go.
Step 4: Consider the Source
- History of reliability? Is the source (my own mind; another person; an instrument like an EMF detector or other paranormal investigation tools) reliable, and has it shown itself to be reliable multiple times in the past? If my significant other described an experience, I’d be reasonably likely to accept it as strong possibility, even if it didn’t meet everything in the checklist (though I’d bring up the possible contradictions to him, certainly), because I know him to be fairly solid in his perceptions. If a very paranoid friend described an experience, I’d be highly skeptical and more prone to outright disbelieve him or come up with a very scaled-down alternative version of his story, as he’s shown himself to be the sort who blows things way out of proportion and sees danger where there is none. If I was detecting something with some sort of mechanical instrument and it gave me unusual findings, I’d check all the settings on it to make sure something wasn’t out of whack or distorting the findings, especially if the instrument had a history of being touchy and easily going out of balance.
- Possible perceptual bias/contamination/distortion?What are the possible perceptual distortions? Every person has an intricate set of perceptual filters, a set of preconceived beliefs and ideas about the world, themselves, and the interactions thereof that color their perceptions and interpretations of phenomena (both physical and otherwise). This includes (but isn’t limited to): personal symbology, the person’s favorite heuristics (cognitive shortcuts), mood and temperament, and learning style.These filters color everything. It’s the reason five different witnesses of an event (such as a crime or accident) will give five somewhat different (and sometimes wildly different) depictions of what happened. By comparing and contrasting the different stories, you can come to a closer idea of the truth – but even then, your ownperceptual filters will color your conclusions.If I perceive that there’s some sort of malevolent entity in a room, for instance, what could be interfering with these perceptions? I’d ask myself the following questions:
Is the room dimly lit or cluttered with stuff that could be unsettling my mind? Did I have a heightened state of arousal before entering the room – for instance, was I already stressed, or have I just seen a horror film or been told a scary story? How is the room typically used, or who typically uses it – could there just be unpleasant energetic residue built up over time that I’m misperceiving as an entity? Is anyone else sensing anything similar, and could they be suffering from the same sort of perceptual distortion? Did someone suggest to me that there was a malevolent entity here, and I’m only sensing what I expect to sense as a result?
Step 5: Intuition
- Does it feel right/wrong? Sometimes, after running all of the above checks with inconclusive results, it comes down to gut instinct. Does the phenomenon or the story of the phenomenon “feel” right? Does it ring true? Or does it just feel as if there’s something off with the whole idea, interpretation, or situation? Obviously this is not something to base my belief on completely, but it is a factor. If something doesn’t quite feel right, or a conclusion seems a bit off, then I will give the subject a closer scrutiny, even if it checks out all right with the other criteria I demand of any paranormal or nonphysical phenomenon.
- Does it feel as if there is a grain of truth? Maybe the phenomenon fails some of the big checks on my list, and doesn’t feel right, but still there’s that niggling little sense in the back of my mind that there’s something to what I’ve experienced or what another person is relating as hir experience. It feels like there’s a grain of truth to the matter, buried somewhere deep under fluff and misperception and paranoid extrapolation. If I feel there is worthwhile truth buried deep within layers of distortion and dross, I may dig until I find it.
Conclusion & Assimilation
- Believe it? Partial belief? Disbelief? Finally we come to the conclusion. Does the phenomenon pass all or enough of my checks? If so, I’ll probably accept it as true, or valid, or at least as a good possibility. Does it just pass some of the checks but fail others, or is it inconclusive? Perhaps I accept it as a possibility, but am still a bit skeptical; or accept it as possibility with a few revisions in the explanation of its cause, source, or nature. Or, if the phenomenon fails too many of the checks, I’ll reject its validity or veracity outright. Alternatively, I may choose a differing explanation for the phenomenon from the one originally suggested (by my own mind, or by a book, or by someone telling me about their strange experience and what he believes it to be, etc).
- How to incorporate into personal paradigm? If I think the phenomenon, theory, experience, or story is true, then it gets incorporated into my personal outlook on the world; how I think the world works, my personal schema or paradigm. I have to figure out how to incorporate it into said paradigm, of course. Most things fit fairly easily, without any need for adjustment to phenomenon or paradigm, but sometimes something requires me to stretch or alter my paradigm. A truly life-changing, perception-shattering experience will require an entire rewriting of said paradigm – but those are rare, and I believe such experiences require the utmost scrutiny before being accepted as true.
- Personal explanation/interpretation? Validity and usefulness?How do I, personally, explain or interpret the phenomenon? can say “I believe this phenomenon occurred” or “this experience happened”, but not agree on the nature of, cause of, or reason behind the phenomenon with another person who experienced the same thing. I have my own interpretations.Secondly, is the experience valid or useful? Just because something has a distinctly mundane cause or counterpart doesn’t mean it’s not valid as a mystic experience; and just because a belief or perception may be entirely psychological and entirely within one’s head doesn’t mean it’s not useful for one’s identity or personal growth. For example, I believe that on some level, I am hawk. This could be all in my head and have no spiritual or energetic reality whatsoever, and I freely admit such possibilities. However, it’s a useful identity construct for me, and it’s something I experience and is thus valid as experiential reality and personal mythology.Essentially, I ask myself: If this experience is entirely mundane, or if this thing I might believe turned out not to be true, would it harm me to believe it or use it in my identity/paradigm? If not, would it be helpful, useful, or add to my life experience in some positive way? If it’s useful and valid, then I just may incorporate it into my paradigm anyway, regardless of how I interpret it and regardless of whether or not it’s factually true (as opposed to archetypally, mythically, or emotionally true). I just won’t incorporate it blindly, not considering the alternatives.