The little bit I did about geomancy and spiritualism puts me in mind of an issue that is mighty important for a working spiritualist/magician/shaman/etc. There are many spiritual worlds and while many of them abut and overlap our own world, they are not precisely identical with it or each other. Yet, because there does seem to be some basic cosmic entanglement through their unity in God, there are many parallel patterns. That makes it easy for us to confuse one world with another, one spirit with another. We can hear them described and position them within the spiritual world or worlds with which we are familiar without actually knowing whether they belong there or belong to a world parallel to it.
The existence of multiple spiritual worlds shows up in many old traditions. You see this in accounts of contemporary Jinn workers (who describe different colors of Jinn kingdoms) as well as in accounts from Hinduism and Buddhism. I suspect we would see this in Mesoamerican traditions, if they hadn’t been so terribly ravaged by Spain. Spirits can see members of their own kind just fine, but may be entirely blind to the presence of a spirit of another sort. Not necessarily blind, mind you, but potentially blind.
This is fundamentally what is at issue in questions of syncretism. Syncretism can be tricky and manifests in at least four different forms.
(1) It can be entirely genuine, occurring when we discover that what initially seemed like two distinct spirits ends up being part of one larger and more complex one. We can call this the “Blind Men and Elephant Syncretism.”
(2) Syncretism can be a matter of adoption or usurpation, when one spiritual entity subsumes the cult of another, adopting all or some of its trappings. Generally, usurpation occurs between ‘parallel’ spirits who realizesimilar aspects of divinity in different worlds, though the example that comes most quickly to mind is nothing of the sort. There was a woman I saw once, preaching the Gospel, who had something very, very different than Christ in her heart; it was both unnerving and sad. We can call this the “Doppelganger Syncretism.”
(3) Syncretism can be a matter of tension, when two or more spirits share a set of symbols that are simpatico to both, even where they might not be amenable to each other. I find this a bit fascinating because I suspect there is some of that going on in the devil-angel / devil-saint pairings I was talking about last post. The shared trappings can become a medium for communication between spirits who would otherwise be too disparate from each other. We can call this the “Shared Wall Syncretism.”
(4) What you absolutely, positively, don’t want, though, is syncretism that is rooted entirely in human speculation. On occasion, it may provide a change in perspective that allows us to see a genuine syncretism, but it can also remain entirely abstract and speculative. We can call this “Imaginary Syncretism.”
Often enough, these forms are mingled. Imagination, lack of understanding, complicated relationships, and manipulative spirits can make for a minefield.
Divination can help here, but it needs to be applied with some caution. Systems like geomancy are, for the lack of a better word, ‘energetic.’ They describe a spiritual signature that integrates it into a wide web of possible signatures. Unfortunately, many worlds of spirits share a common structure and so may leave a similar signature in divination.
Divination needs to paired with more immediate experiential results–checking with the spirits that you do know and have situated to see if they are of the same sort or not, and if not if they can clarify the sort they are. This is where some talent as a medium comes in handy as a supplement to divination. Even there you must be careful. A medium is the vehicle for their spirits and if they do not have the right understanding, it can be difficult for their spirits to articulate the truth through them.
Finally, one should not overlook the value of tradition. While I am not the sort to encourage people to be traditional for tradition’s sake, traditions are developed models for understanding a spiritual world or two. Even where a tradition may not quite provide the right information, it does not necessarily get it simply wrong. The relationships modeled in spiritual traditions often have ties to actual spiritual dynamics and so provide us with maps and compasses with which we can examine our own experience. Here, of course, we need to be awfully careful that the experience described, the terrain described, is the same as that which we explore. Or, at the very least, is similar enough to be instructive.
Tradition’s value is one of the reasons that I tend to speculate freely but cultivate a comparably conservative ritual practice, where the spirits have the opportunity to engage or ignore my imaginary syncretisms as they see fit.