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Influential German Christian scholar of religion who held a position at the University of Chicago from 1945 to 1955.
Wach asked important questions about the study of religion.
- Are researchers able to understand the essence of a belief system that they, themselves, don’t believe nor participate in?
- Do researchers simply articulate some kind of marketable fiction that has little bearing on the intricacies of what really happens in the religious lives of so many unique individuals?
- Conversely, are researchers able to discern a common thread among apparent differences in religious phenomena?
For Wach that common thread among humanity is the tendency toward religion, itself.
Theodore M. Ludwig further notes that
Wach repeatedly takes up the question of the “objectivity” of the interpreter, whether one who is not a committed believer can understand a religion, whether historical distance helps or hinders understanding, and the like. His position is argued at length: the scholar can by “bracketing” his or her own views enter into understanding of another religion, sometimes presenting it even more completely and accurately than believers can. But there must be, Wach argues, an empathy or sensitivity for religion on the part of the scholar, otherwise there can be no understanding.
Theodore M. Ludwig, “Review: Joachim Wach’s Voice Speaks Again” in History of Religions, Vol. 29, No. 3, Feb., 1990: 289-291, p. 291.
Wach is extremely interested in religious experience. As such he defines the term Ultimate Reality in terms of a personal experience, an approach not unlike that found in Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy.
Although it wouldn’t be politically correct to do so today, Wach differentiates religious from magical experience.
Religious experience is a continuous (with intermittences) response to a “powerful, comprehensive, shattering, and profound” experience of Ultimate Reality that must simultaneously involve the hierarchical elements of intellect, affect and volition, and which leads to definite and imperative action.
By way of contrast, Wach says that magical experience is a mere series of “unconnected thrills,” this perhaps paralleling Sri Aurobindo’s notion of ‘vitalistic’ energy which, for Aurobindo, stands definitely lower on the ‘quality scale,’ if you will, of interior experience.
Wach’s definition of action seems quite forward thinking in that it includes acts of contemplation, a perspective that we’re just getting glimmerings of today in our so-called enlightened age.
In differentiating contemplation from slothful indifference, Wach notes William James’ Christian pragmatism: “Our practice is the only sure evidence even to ourselves, that we are genuinely Christians” (Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, Joseph M. Kitagawa ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1958: 31-35).
One must ask, however, if even the so-called indifferent sloth is, in fact, doing some form of spiritual labor, if perhaps unwittingly.
This notion of different types of work, visible and invisible, echoes the Greek pre-Socratic Heraclitus’ conviction that
Even sleepers and dreamers are workers and collaborators in what goes on in the universe.
Heraclitus in Philip Wheelwright ed., The Presocratics, Indianapolis: Odyssey Press, 1982, p. 79.
» Energy, Holy, Magic
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The German Lutheran scholar Rudolf Otto (1869–1937) describes The Holy in terms of a personal experience.
In The Idea of the Holy (1917) he borrows from the Latin word numen when introducing the term numinous, which refers to ”deeply felt religious experience.”
Experience of the numinous may derive from a monotheistic God or from many pagan gods. When originating from God, Otto says the numinous is endowed with “rationality, purpose, personality and morality.” Pagan numinosity, he suggests, is somehow inferior.
Otto makes a similar distinction between magic and religion. Not trying to be non-judgmental or politically correct, he says magic manifests a “dimmed” numinous, in contrast to the experience of God, which he describes as an awe-filled encounter, a mysterium tremendum and a majestus.
For Otto, the experience of God is the highest type of numinosity. It’s a personal experience of an omnipotent, omniscient power that’s worthy of utmost respect and which inspires not just awe, but also a healthy kind of fear.
The individual is urgently attracted to this power, but the experience of the Godhead may also frighten, humble and purify.
In addition, Otto notes that one would experience a sense of creaturely unworthiness and perhaps wretchedness, standing naked, as it were, in the face of such a great, powerful and “wholly other” Godhead.
- An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy (epages.wordpress.com)
- Philosophy Word of the Day – Religious Experience (greatcloud.wordpress.com)
- Review – Strange is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson (DVD) (epages.wordpress.com)
- The archetypes are gods: Re-godding the archetypes, by John H. Halstead (humanisticpaganism.wordpress.com)
- Parapraxes, Accidents and Necessary Mistakes (epages.wordpress.com)
John Hick (1922-) is a British philosopher of religion who notes that the monotheistic belief in a wholly other godhead runs throughout the history of the Jewish and Christian traditions.
According to Hick, the idea of a wholly other godhead is characterized by the following attributes:
- Infinite and self existent
- The sole creator of all creation
- Regarded as a personal being
- Loving and good
Recently, Hick’s work advocates religious pluralism. Hick is probably right in saying that cultural influences have an effect on religious truth claims. But it would be entirely unwarranted to assume an equivalence of religious experience among different religions or, for that matter, among individuals within a given religion.
Moreover, some individuals encounter not just one type but several different types of religious experience within their lifetime.
- Religion, Pseudo-Religion, and Charlie Brown (jeffsdeepthoughts.wordpress.com)
- John Hick, Strato is right! (thestratonician.wordpress.com)
- More sophisticated theology: what do Christians do with all those troublesome other faiths? (whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com)
- Dawkins vs. Craig: No Debate on Genocide Claims (blogcritics.org)
- If God is All Powerful and all Merciful Why is There Evil in The World (davidebooks.wordpress.com)
William James (1842-1910) was an American pragmatist philosopher/psychologist and the brother of the famous novelist Henry James.
James suffered poor health and frequent bouts of psychological exhaustion but this did not adversely affect his work. His Principles of Psychology (1890) became a popular textbook for psychologists, influencing Carl G. Jung among others.
His collected lectures on religion, published as The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), remains a classic in religious studies.
James was raised in an affluent and literary Presbyterian family in New York City, later moving to various European cities, Boston and eventually Cambridge Massachusetts. Prominent guests frequented his New England residence, to include statesmen and intellectuals.
This diversity of blue chip characters and opinions likely influenced his outlook. Jung says that he was struck by James’ curiosity and fresh approach to psychology, calling him one of the few open-minded psychological researchers of his era.
James’ theory differentiates the personal and social dimensions of religion. He advocates a religious plurality to accommodate the specific needs of diverse individuals.
In describing direct, unmediated religious experience (i.e. mysticism), James, like Rudolf Otto, says the Godhead possesses a mysterious, non-discursive authority. His ‘Four Marks’ of mysticism have become standard fare in university religion courses.
James says these four marks of mysticism are
- Ineffability: Mysticism must be experienced first-hand, it cannot be adequately described to others through language
- Noetic Quality: The experience is accompanied with an increase in knowledge that cannot be obtained through discursive reasoning
- Transciency: Mystical experiences do not last very long (nuns, monks, yogis and some religious persons would likely disagree on this point)
- Passivity: While bodily exercises or meditation may prepare, facilitate or, perhaps, generate an experience of mysticism, the experience itself is overwhelming, rendering one a passive receptor
James also makes a distinction between “healthy-minded” – i.e. positive – approaches to religion and the morbidly pessimistic “sick soul.”
His comments about the value of saintliness reveal a materialistic bias, especially in his discussion of St. Teresa of Ávila. In keeping with this bias, James’ Principles of Psychology outlines a functionalist approach.
- On This Day In Psychology History – April 22 (psychology.about.com)
- Death Followed by Life (psychologytoday.com)
- Stob, “‘Terministic Screens,’ Social Constructionism, and the Language of Experience” (631rhetoric.wordpress.com)
- Those Fabulous James Boys (psychologytoday.com)
- Poppy Field (bethparkerart.wordpress.com)
- Research linking booze and cancer won’t put us off drinking, because alcohol gives us a religious experience (blogs.telegraph.co.uk)
- Bibliography: History of Functionalism (ahp.apps01.yorku.ca)
- Wisdom (Week 2 – Day 1) (celestialpsychology.com)
- Sunday Devotional: Authentic Mystical Experience by Richard Rohr (zoecarnate.wordpress.com)
- Study of Vision Tackles a Philosophy Riddle (thehandiestone.typepad.com)
The Matrix is a 1999 science fiction film written by Andy and Larry Wachowski, starring Keanu Reeves as Neo.
The Matrix is part of a trilogy. The first film gained the attention of pop culture theorists through its depiction of the world as a deceptive computer program (called ‘the matrix’ by those in the know) designed to enslave human beings.
The majority of humanity exists in a state of comatose slavery, plugged into a master computer which, through cyber connectivity, creates the illusion of everyday life. Essentially, people are nothing more than dreaming ‘batteries’ for the matrix, living in a horrendous vault and living on a liquid that itself is the product of the dead.
Neo apparently is “The One” destined to free humanity from this mass cybernetic deception. His mentor Morpheus (and other awakened liberators) believes in his special status and liberates him. As it turns out, Morpheus is right. Neo really is the one.
However, Neo wouldn’t have made it if not for the love of Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), who at one point literally brings him back to life with a kiss.
Search Think Free » Hero, Soul Loss, Talbot (Michael), Virtual Reality
- SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE MATRIX – Viral Movie (kokasexton.com)
- The Matrix Trilogy Mash Up with Inception (screenhead.com)
- It Really Tied The Movies Together: Morpheus Explains The Matrix To The Big Lebowski (geekologie.com)
- Scott Pilgrim Enters The Matrix (cinemablend.com)
- The best of last night’s Matrix Reloaded Commentary Twack [The Matrix Reloaded] (io9.com)
- Magic music documentary from a Congolese social club (search.japantimes.co.jp)
- The Death Of Ted Theodore Logan And Cowboy Bebop (theotakuologist.com)
- Inception Enters The Matrix (cinemablend.com)
- The Matrix and consciousness (sciencehouse.wordpress.com)
- 40 Days of Screenplays, Day 9: “The Matrix” (gointothestory.com)
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Broadly speaking, magic is the use of supernatural power to cause an effect on or gain knowledge of people, souls, animals, vegetation, objects, the elements and events. Magical procedures may involve elaborate ritual and are variously directed towards the past, present, future and afterlife or some combination thereof.
A distinction is usually made between white and black magic. White magic is allegedly intended to help people. Black magic is revengeful with the intent to harm others and thus more clearly evil.
Sympathetic magic is the belief that one event causes another, so the magician imitates a desired outcome. A positive example would be painting animals on a cave wall in the belief that this will enrich the hunt. A negative example would be believing that a barren woman is the cause of a blighted crop.
Contagious magic is based on the belief that things once in physical contact or proximity continue to have a magical connection after they’re separated.
The most familiar example of Contagious Magic is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair or nails may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut. This superstition is world-wide.¹
Another distinction is made between magic and religion. As Joachim Wach (1898-1955) suggests:
Religion differs from magic in that it is not concerned with control or manipulation of the powers confronted. Rather it means submission to, trust in, and adoration of, what is apprehended as the divine nature of ultimate reality.²
However S. G. F. Brandon says this is a biased perspective:
…such attempts generally rest on a priori definitions of the two entities concerned.³
Sociologists also point out similarities between magical and religious rituals. However, structural similarities do not necessarily entail equivalence.
We could, for instance, say that Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) and New York are both big cities. Each has roads, buildings, people, movie halls and markets. But anyone visiting these two locales will be struck by their differences.
While an outsider may think that religious and magical rituals look the same and bring about similar results, to believers (on both sides) the numinous results differ dramatically. Modern magicians often say (or imply) that religious ritual is just an empty shell, cut off from any spiritual meaning it may have once had. Meanwhile, many contemporary religious persons shun magical rituals, often saying that the result brings about a kind of dark, gloomy, heavy and obscuring spirituality that is the work of evil.
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¹ Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). The Golden Bough. 1922. http://bartelby.org/196/7.html
² Joachim Wach, The Comparative Study of Religions, ch. 2, Columbia University Press (1958), cited in The Columbia World of Quotations, 1996.
³ Dictionary of Comparative Religion, ed. S. G. F. Brandon, New York: Charles Scribners & Sons, 1970, p. 418.
- What is Magic, Really? (teachstreet.com)
- In your blog yesterday, you wrote that you used to “talk smack about Chaos Magick”. I hope you won’t be offended, but a lot of what you write seems a lot like Chaos Magic. What are the things that you don’t like about Chaos Magic? (strategicsorcery.blogspot.com)
- Most cultures have strong ideas about what kind of magic is “women’s magic” and what kind is only for men. Is there any basis for any of these distinctions, outside of cultural mores? Anything an aspiring sorceress should do differently from a sorcerer? (strategicsorcery.blogspot.com)
- My Chaos Magic Re-look (strategicsorcery.blogspot.com)
- 4E Ritual- Empower Magic Item from Big Ball of No Fun (bigballofnofun.blogspot.com)
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One definition of the word spirit points to an incorporeal being which may not be seen, as compared to a ‘ghost’ which allegedly is seen by a living person.
Spirit has several other meanings, such as an animating or vital force within life, the soul or some some kind of invisible force or presence that permeates the created universe.
Spirit arguably becomes an ambiguous concept if assessed merely from a conceptual level of analysis.
Many New Age thinkers, for instance, equate the notion of spirit with that of matter/energy. This is a dubious analog when we consider Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung‘s treatment of the term numinosity and, moreover, the Christian understanding of The Holy Spirit.
It almost seems as if those who haven’t experienced any difference between the perception of matter/energy and spirit tend to automatically equate the two, just as one might equate any seemingly similar variables without having had a significantly direct experience of them.
By way of analogy, if one had never drunk white wine they might look at its color, recognize it as a liquid and say white wine is equivalent to apple juice or perhaps urine. And so it is, many mystics content, with the experience of spirit. Those who know, they claim, realize that spirit’s character may vary significantly, not only because spirit is passing through psychological and cultural filters, but also because of the differences inherent to spirit itself.
Since the experience of ‘the spirit’ may be associated with a ‘particular spirit,’ as in the opening definition, we have the notion of ‘pure and impure,’ ‘holy and unholy,’ ‘good and evil’ spirits, along with their respective abilities to influence human beings for good or ill.
This tremendous diversity as to the meaning of spirit is not just found in Christianity but in most world religions. But again, some well-meaning but arguably unknowing individuals tend to simplify this diversity by making unsupportable claims, as did Sri Ramakrishna, that all paths involve the same type of spirit, lead to the same place, and so on.
This may have been Ramakrishna’s belief when dabbling in different religions from his master perspective of Hinduism but it certainly isn’t everyone’s.
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Otto, Rudolf (1869-1937) German Lutheran theologian who wrote an influential book called Das Heilige: Über das Irrationale in der Idee des Göttlichen und sein Verhältnis zum Rationalen (1917) [English translation: The Idea of the Holy (1923)] which, as the title suggests, developed notions of the Holy and the numinous. » “An Outline of Rudolf Otto’s The Idea of the Holy,” Jainism, Religion, Spirit, Wach (Joachim), Comparative Religion, James (William), Numen
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