So, I asked Kit about lunar celebrations and whether I should talk to Charlie about it. I suppose I should have asked Charlie directly, but Kit is better at discussing ideas and she's easier to talk to. Charlie is my teacher, but Kit and I are kind of friends.
Or, more particularly, I am Charlie's friend, I'm just not sure if he's mine. He's kind of intimidating.
Anyway, so I asked Kit about celebrating the full moon and so forth, and she told me there were plenty of books in the library on the subject and that I could go to more of her ritual design workshops if I wanted to.
"But that's not really what you're asking, is it?"
"No, I guess not."
"Well, I know how to look into being Wiccan, but...Charlie's my spirit master and I don't know if Wicca would...match." Kit opened her mouth as though she were about to say something but quite deliberately refrained. I kept going. "Anyway, I'm Christian, or, at least I'm supposed to be. And I'm pretty sure that doesn't match." I think I blushed a bit. As far as know, the two main things Kit doesn't like in the world are Charlie and Christianity. I was thinking I was stupid to ask her about anything related, but I really wanted to know what she had to say.
"Well, why do you want to honor the moon to begin with?" she asked me. If she wanted to talk me out of my loyalty to either my teacher or my Savior she didn't let it show. That was good of her.
"Because it's there?" I shrugged. "Because everybody else is doing it? I don't know, it just feels right." I hoped I didn't sound flippant. She smiled at me, reassuringly.
"Rituals provide form, structure." she explained. "You don't actually need them, they're just helpful. Now, because they're not necessary, there's no actual way to do them wrong. Once you learn the basic vocabulary of ritual design you can use it to put together whatever ritual you find works for you. If it doesn't work for you, you can try something else."
"But...can I just mix anything together? I worry that it won't match. But I don't even know what I mean by that." I've learned that I have good instincts, that I usually notice things that are true, but I don't notice what I notice, if that makes sense.
"Well, it's true some of your other teachers might object. Christian priests and ministers don't hold with any mixing, unless it's on their terms for their ends. And Charlie...doesn't always like other people's ideas, either."
I frowned. I don't think she's right about Christians, not about all Christians, anyway. Charlie's entitled to not like every idea that comes his way. That wasn't what I wanted to know, anyway.
"Ok, can I mix everything together? Never mind who might be upset by it." Kit smiled at me a bit when I said it.
"Strictly speaking, no, you can't. You can't mix ideas freely, but you can have any group of ideas in your head that you want to."
"You know what a meme is?" she asked me.
"Yeah. It's a unit of culture. Like a gene for ideas."*
"Exactly. But genes don't function in a vacuum. Not even organisms function wholly by themselves. Organisms belong to ecosystems and function together right?"
"Well, memes are the same. A cultural system, a system of ideas--a psychosystem, if you will--has its own wholeness, it's own integrity. Each meme, each idea, has a role in that larger system. You know what happens if you take an organism out of its ecosystem, if you isolate it or if you extirpate it?"
Extirpate means to eliminate locally, to make locally extinct. It's always strange to hear Kit talk about ecology, because she normally doesn't, but of course she knows all this stuff.
"Yeah," I told her. "The organism could die, or its species could become invasive, or without it there could be a...trophic cascade." A trophic cascade is where one species goes extinct so the species that are dependent on it go extinct, and then the species dependent on them...it's a domino effect or a ripple effect. I'd just been reading about them. The idea is if you change one thing, changes spread through the ecosystem and you can't always tell what's going to end up being effected.
"Exactly," Kit said. "Ideas work the same way. A given symbol--a fairy, a dragon, a value system, the practice of using tobacco, or caffeine, or wine in ritual--taken out of context, it loses meaning. Put in a different context, it takes on a different meaning and you can't predict what that meaning will be. It might be wholly different."
"But different people can share ideas?"
"Oh, yes. There's a cross-fertilization process that happens. There are syncretic religions, idea migrations, and you can always maintain multiple psychosystems in your head at the same time--they don't occupy any literal space, you know, so they aren't mutually exclusive. But ecosystems blend and meet, too...the only thing you have to be careful of is deliberate blending. If you set out to deliberately incorporate ideas from a lot of different religions, you run the risk of badly misunderstanding the ideas you're trying to learn. The concept of psychosystem is a good way to guard yourself against thinking you know more about an idea than you really do."
"Ok, so what does that mean for me? What do I do?"
"If you think something doesn't match maybe it doesn't. You can still work in multiple psychosystems, you know."
"What if he doesn't tell me what his psychostystem is?"
"But he already did tell you. Otherwise, how would you have known that mine is different?"
* These days, most people use "meme" to mean those images that get passed around on Facebook. This conversation pre-dated that usage. Personally, I think the older meaning was more useful.
[Next Post: Monday, March 3rd: In the Woods with Rick.]