Originally published in Immrama magazine, December 2005
It would appear that the age of Aquarius is ushering in a new era of spiritual awareness and a redefinition of our relationship with spirit, something that is long overdue. This may well be the case but one must wonder have we really progressed in our attitudes? Or have most of us really just swapped one set of outdated dogma for a facile, self-serving sense of spirituality that fits perfectly into the ‘me’ culture that is so widespread in western society?
To see examples of this all one has to do is visit any book shop or health store to see the plethora of self-help and self development books which are mainly geared towards the unfulfilled yet self-obsessed individual. These usually offer a quick road to happiness, a kind of cure-all, in much the same way that carpet-baggers in the wild west of America flogged snake-oil to the gullible a century or more ago. What seems to be lacking is any real substance and in particular, what people most need – the cold hard truth. The answers to the problems that trouble the human soul are not to be found in a sound bite or a quick fix guide. The solutions are not to be found in a book, some pointers, signs and assistance perhaps, but the core hard work of spiritual growth takes place on an internal level on your own personal quest.
Modern spiritual movements mainly veer towards quick methods of obtaining our goals without the proper respect paid to why, how or the journey of achieving those goals. Unfortunately modern paganism also seems to have been infected with this “quick fix” attitude, largely due to the rash of frothy and populist book published in recent years.
Many writers seem to be cherry picking information to present without giving the underpinning of basic knowledge and groundwork for the acolyte to work their way through. The Angel and Fairy genres seem to me to be particularly guilty of irresponsible attitudes and some writers who have reached guru status seem to be jumping on every new spiritual bandwagon. Unfortunately many inexperienced pagans do not have the wit to know when they are being fleeced and will tend to stick with authors that they know and buy every book and accessory available.
I have no problem with writers or practitioners achieving success, what I do find upsetting though is the blatant exploitation of their exalted position to increase sales and workshop attendances. Of course as paganism is not structured in the same way as a conventional religion there is no authority to endorse or police unethical or exploitative behaviour. With the inevitable thirst for new fads the publishing and conference industries are hardly going to take the high moral ground when unscrupulous writing occurs; in fact they are generally so lacking in understanding of the subject matter that they are not in a position to pass judgment on the quality of their writers’ works. Their main concern is usually profit, hence the book-shelves are crammed with accessible but insubstantial works which often have a short lifespan.
The fundamental problem lies with us though, the consumer; if we are not so gullible as to believe or demand a pile of rubbish it would not be so widely available. It really is up to individuals to develop a sense of proportion and discern for ourselves what is genuine and what is insincere. This brings to mind the Monty Python sketch from “Life of Brian” – Brian standing naked at his window addresses the crowd “You’re all individuals, don’t let anybody tell you what to do. You’ve all got to work it out for yourselves!” To which the crowd cheer followed by cries of “Tell us more oh master!”. It is a strange paradox that in learning to see our own spiritual path we more than likely need the help or instruction of others before we can become able to stand on our own two feet, but this does not mean that we should accept all that is put before us without question.
I do believe that no matter how inexperienced or unconfident an individual is, all one needs to do is consult the inner voice or intuition to know if this ‘help’ is appropriate and of spiritual benefit. Here again lies another problem – this inbuilt ‘bullsh*t detector’ is of variable strength from one person to another, hence the startling array of fools stumbling around in a spiritual wilderness, willing to sign up for almost anything. I would suggest that the most crucial thing to remember is the old adage “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. It really does seem that in the current social and spiritual landscape the one eyed are the one’s wearing the crowns.