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Journal archives: August

January 13, 2005

...may that tusk direct us

Maria & I began the new year with a Ganesa Puja. Thinking back, that makes almost sixteen years for me as a devotee of Ganapati, so perhaps some reflections on the elephant-headed god are in order. After the puja, I felt calm, placid, light, open - all qualities I associate with Ganesha - and qualities which I find I too easily lose touch with in the hurly-burly of daily living. Ganesha is famed for his appetite, but though he digests everything that happens, he is not weighed down with it. He is attentive to the Universe, but not bound up by events. His Shaktis are Siddhi (achievement) and Buddhi (intelligence) - two powers that are intertwined.
Sometimes within a puja, I'll make a specific request, but this is probably the exception rather than the rule. More often than not, the attitude of mind I try and cultivate is one of unconditional devotion, based on the premise that Ganapati bestows boons according to needs rather than immediate desires. Now sometimes, when I'm out 'n' about talking to people about my practice, my use of the term "devotion" seems to raise some hackles, particularly when I'm talking about being a devotee of Ganapati or Kali. It seems that professing a 'temporary devotion' to a deity is fine for a single ritual or short period, but over the course of several years? This, to me, indicates a limited perspective when it comes to deities. I found some wise words on a thread on Barbelith opening a discussion on deities & cultural contexts:

"...one thing that always bothered me is the common "plug'n'play" cross-cultural deity-selection that goes on, where some people will flip through a list of Gods and Goddesses of the World and pick whatever looks good to them, without any consideration for the deity's home culture, their traditions of worship (it's all just calling the quarters, with different names, it seems), and their own backgrounds. The role of the deity (as summarized in the list: "Fertility," "War," "Nature") takes precedence over their individual identities (two different war gods can be very different), and they become interchangeable, with details added for aesthetic flavor."

A related argument here is that the "old gods" are outmoded or at least no longer directly relevant to postmodern industrial society and that they can be replaced with characters drawn from popular culture. So for example, instead of invoking Diana the huntress, one might choose a character from a popular tv show such as Buffy or Xena Warrior Priestess. This argument seems to be entirely based on the premise that deities have specific functions and as such, are more or less interchangable. But a god or goddess is, generally, much more than a specific function. For me, the core of an encounter with a god is the experience of mystery, the feeling that I have engaged with something beautiful, sometimes something terrible, something worthy of awe, respect, adoration, love. Something other. There's a beautiful piece of writing in John Grimes' book Ganapati: Song of the Self which expresses the sheer diversity of ways in which one might engage with Ganesa much better than I can:

"...one's song is Ganapati and Ganapati is oneself and Ganapati is the Absolute. God, Ganesa, Ganapati, Guru, Self - not a hair's breadth of difference. Ganapati is abundance overflowing and good fortune manifest. ...Ganapati is Agni, fire, sacred and mundane, priest of the sacrifice as well as that into which the sacrifice is poured. Ganapati is the antaryamin (the divine spark within). Ganapati is the Atman, the indwelling immortal self. ...Ganapati is Varada, the boon giver. Ganapati is Brahmanaspati, the creator, evoker of the worlds, who by his cry, creates. Ganapati is a child of Parvati, the Divine Mother. ...Ganapati is everywhere. Ganapati is the gatekeeper. Ganapati is the Guru. Ganapati is immanent. Ganapati is the kundalini sakti..."

Ganesa is all these and more, and what's more, he can be all these things simultaneously. All of which leaves me reflecting on the difference between, say, the protean myths around Ganapati and the fixed narratives (i.e. scripts) which set the limitations of a character such as Buffy. For example, there are several versions on the 'myth' of Ganesa's origin - how he was born, how he came to have the head of an elephant. As far as I know (from watching the series) there is a single 'origin' for Buffy, as devised by Joss Whedon. Another thought that crossed my mind is that I often meditate upon the mighty words of the Ganesa Upanisad:

"You are Speech. You are Consciousness. You are Bliss. You are Brahma. You are Being-Consciousness-Bliss. You are the Non-Dual. You are plainly Brahma. You are Knowledge. You are Intelligence. You create this world. You maintain this world. All this world is seen in you. You are Earth, water, Fire, Air, Aethyr. You are beyond the four measures of speech. You are beyond the Three Gunas. You are beyond the three bodies. You are beyond the three times. You are always situated in the Muladhara. You are the being of the three Shaktis. You are always meditated upon by Yogins. You are Brahma, you are Vishnu, you are Rudra, You are Agni, You are Vayu, You are the Moon, You are the Sun, You are Brahma, Bhur-Bhuvah-Svar."

but somehow, when I try and meditate on Buffy in these terms, it doesn't quite work.

A further problem is that often, when I see the pop-culture v. 'traditional' deities argument blowing up on magical web-boards, it quickly gets framed into an oppositional structure, where the Buffyites are the "innovators" and those who prefer to engage with non "pop-culture" characters are the "old guard" - the people "holding back progress". And as ever, there is much talk of energies and archetypes. But to my mind, it's not about who's right and who's wrong, or who's being "new" and who's a "traditionalist" but about acknowledging that there are often hidden complexities and differences in any magical experience, and sometimes a bit of critical interchange can yield new understandings. So rest assured, at some point I will return to this theme with a more considered look at "pop-culture" characters such as Buffy & Xena.

January 09, 2005

Be careful what you wish for...

A few months ago I moaned on about my company's sudden decision to upgrade the phone system. Arriving back to work last week, I found this had magically occurred in my absence, and like everyone else there, I was faced with a brand-new digital phone with loads of cool features (voicemail, speed-dialing, conference calls) - none of which I'm quite sure how to work properly. My hopes for a nice relaxing first couple of days back in the office were pretty much dashed. Employees moving office (with attendent computer hassles), a two-hour meeting with Gyrus from Tengai whom I've scored a job with us doing the company website makeover; then finalising the IT upgrade budget so I can order an shiny new Apple Mac G5 and all the software crayons I need for producing magazines (my 'primary' job when I'm not running around with an armful of CAT5 cables). And finally, almost as an afterthought, one of the Ad sales guys calls me up: "remember those 8 foot high banners you did a couple years ago?" Uh huh (insert deep sense of foreboding here) "Well they'll need re-doing. Soon as you can, please."