A Situation

 

I got around to reading “Here, There, and Anywhere” by Jonathan Z. Smith, an essayist and scholar who contributed this very essay to Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World.

Smith’s essay made an interesting distinction between what he classified as Here, There, and Anywhere religions, the precedent set by the character of Sam I Am from Dr. Seuss’ children’s picture book, Green Eggs and Ham.

The Religions of Here are characterized by a sanctification of domestic space rather than a recognition of sacred space as a thing to which someone travels to as with pilgrimage, and “immediate and symmetrical reciprocities.” The family essentially becomes a religion, with mythology of generational saga, and observing rites of passage, births, funerals, and marriages. There would also be “complex codes of hospitality” such as sit-down dinners that gauge levels of initiation or expulsion.

The Religions of There are characterized by essentially being the State religion. They relate to power and hierarchy, whether that be through a deified royal whose sovereignty is associated with the land, or specialized information reserved for the clergy. The mythology would usually be characterized by a transition from one world order to another.

The Religions of Anywhere are, Smith repeatedly emphasizes, never to be named Religions of Everywhere. The “Here” Faiths meet the challenge of not having a location anymore by transforming into an Anywhere Faith. The “There” Faiths similarly adapt to their particular challenges by becoming performative, communal, cosmological categories become systems (or spherical rather than layered, whatever that means), ranks become more anarchic, and essentially the sacred space becomes less grounded and more conceptual.

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In reading about the adaptation of deities from essentially foreign cultures: How would a pagan religion that reflects an observation of temperate climates, for example, translate to members of that religion who live in a city out in a desert climate somewhere? The answer didn’t (or shouldn’t) lie in premeditated correspondents, but simply being open to the presence of the divine in the world that one knows firsthand.

I then realized that I actually don’t know the world firsthand, and even live in it as little as possible. I might be haunted and hassled by experiences, but when I consciously open myself to daily life with the vague idea of seeing the divine associated with the mundane, I only sense tatters.

What I feel is missing has been articulated quite well, however, so I feel that I can better enrich those philosophical and experiential voids over the next year. This might still be a lot in my head, because I haven’t gotten even a fraction of my psyche’s symbols sorted out and they keep moving, so of course I’ll keep exploring them…but I also want to be more grounded, now that I feel like I can be.

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