In my last post, I proposed that a portion of what we might call spiritual technology is a good deal like other sorts of technology, i.e. it results from human experimentation rather than direct divine inspiration or straightforward exploration. From this perspective, spiritual traditions are a mish-mash of spiritual guidance, spiritual accident, and human cleverness.
While we might be capable of assigning this or that aspect of a tradition to guidance, accident, and cleverness, I am betting most falls into a blurry middle zone where they are too tightly intertwined to disentangle. In large part, that is because action shapes perception, whether that is our perception or the perception of spirits. Add to that that both spirits seem to take an active interest in each other in cruder ways, too, giving each other a jiggle and seeing what happens. Given time and interest, we and these spirits are likely to get pretty good at working each other, like dogs and ourselves.
When you consider how useful dogs have been to helping humans expand their range, do you wonder if we might have evolved in part to better read and signal to dogs just as they have evolved to respond to us? When you start to think of evolution dialogically like this, as creative ferment between species, it becomes a great tool for thinking about spirit-human histories/prehistories, too (thank you Gregory Bateson, Gilles Deleuze, and Felix Guattari for helping me see this).
First off, do you think either dogs or people had a clear sense of where that relationship would go? I bet a lot of spirit relationships have developed similarly. While spirits have a better temporal perspective, they aren’t omniscient or omnipresent. They interact with us seeing more clearly than we do on some things, but less clearly in others. Taken together, our trajectory is unpredictable for us both.
Consider Volosinov’s (Bakhtin’s?) take on the origin of linguistics (don’t be scared by the Marxism in the title; they were in Soviet Russia and name-checking Marxism was an essential survival skill):
The first philologists and the first linguists were always and everywhere priests…. It is an astonishing feature: from the remotest antiquity to the present day, the philosophy of word…[has] been built upon specific sensibility to the alien, foreign-language word and upon those tasks which precisely that kind of word presents to the mind–deciphering and teaching what has been deciphered. (Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, 74)
He goes on:
This grandiose organizing role of the alien word, which always either entered upon the scene with alien force of arms or was found on the scene by the young conqueror-nation of an old and once mighty culture and captivated, from its grave, so to speak, the ideological consciousness of the newcomer-nation…led to its coalescence in the depths of the historical consciousness of nations with the idea of authority, the idea of power, the idea of holiness, the idea of truth, and dictated that notions about the word be preeminently oriented toward the alien word. (75)
Obviously, he tends toward a sociological basis for that. I would suggest otherwise,
If the experience of the divine is powerful, it is likely to become something that shapes their imagination. Imagination shapes perception and perception shapes action. Rather than treating the sacred as a side-effect of imperial authority, consider how imperial authority might derive from an experience of the spirits. Might they have led people to re-imagine their social relationships with each other?
The neat thing about that is we don’t have to posit that spirits attached to imperial regimes are in themselves inherently imperial. They might be along for the ride, sure, but not committed to supporting and nourishing an imperial structure if other options become available.
This perspective places us on a more even keel with the spirits, capable not only of responding to them, but also of changing their own behavior and experience.