Spiritual Growth – or A is for Thanks a bunch Uncle Al

I’m attempting to blog with The Pagan Experience again this year – we’ll see how I manage.

The theme this month is Spiritual Growth and I have to admit to being, certainly initially, less than inspired. Spiritual Growth either reminds me of various assemblies in primary school being alternately led by the local Methodist Minister and the Anglican Vicar or of too much of my early adolescence being spent looking at New Age books in shops apparently air-conditioned with Nag Champa.

My earliest introductions to spirituality were mostly, unsurprisingly for the UK in the 1980s, Christian in various flavours. Try as I might I can’t find the Girl Guide idea that human development could be divided into groups which included spiritual. I have no idea which badges came under that heading but it was the first time that I’d been explicitly told that as with your body and mind so could your spirit grow. I’m pretty sure that soon after that I had a Methodist minister inform me that spiritual growth involved trying to become more like Jesus. Then later a Buddhist friend of my sister’s telling me it meant trying to become more like the Buddha. Whilst both men were doubtless impressive role-models the idea of trying specifically to mimic them never really seemed much cop to me.

After an adolescence spent devouring every neo-pagan author I could get my hands on I discovered, at university, that one man I had very specifically avoided very much spoke to me. Aleister Crowley has something of a reputation and good girls thinking about their spiritual development (and wondering along the way why trying to become more like Jesus or Buddha was so unappealing) try to avoid the Great Beast. Of course he’s one of the people to have seriously shaped modern paganism so he snuck in via the back door (a fact I’m sure he would have loved). 

Sometime before I had become aware of the magician’s quest to find his Holy Guardian Angel and though this did appeal somewhat it seemed very external to my own understanding of my spiritual self. Crowley of course, loved it and of the random worldwide organisations I’ve come across in my travels across the globe (Girl Guides, Scientology, British Council) Thelemites are a weirdly unified bunch. I say weirdly because they never seem to be unified on the surface; once they get talking they’re suddenly reading from the same book.

Spiritual growth, is a growth of the self and I don’t think it’s possible not to sound pretentious when you’re talking (or writing) about it. Whether or not I have a streak of pretention Uncle Al certainly did. It’s how he talks about pashu that has always struck a chord inside me. I think it was a Hindu term originally, meaning animal. Of course Uncle Al uses it to mean the human animal, those of the herd he was so grateful to be apart from, those who Gwynneth Paltrow I’m sure felt herself to be apart from when she ‘consciously uncoupled from’ rather than ‘broke up with’.

The pashu are the grey, the once-born (a telling term because does it mean they are perfected or unworthy?), the sheeple, the herd. Thelema and the gentleman who started it are unapologetically elitist. I find it quite telling when I explain the term what my listeners assume I mean, the successful capitalists assume I mean the people they understand as scroungers; the unsuccessful capitalists who worry that they might be perceived as scroungers assume I’m attacking them; the hippies think I mean those working for the corporate man; the unsuccessful hippies who got into jobs they can’t seem to shake think I’m attacking them and, the punks and anarchists assume I mean anyone but them. 

The thing is I don’t know who I mean, I might mean any of the above, I might mean myself for all my efforts to fully inhabit myself and become all I can. I incorporate Uncle Al with Max Ehrman, the Pashu with Desiderata;

“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”

To be pashu is to unthinkingly exist from birth to death unquestioning and accepting like cattle, I’ve met people who seem happy to do that. I couldn’t. I’ve met people who can’t either and they come in all guises from all walks of life, from ivory towers and council estates as hippies, graduates working for the man and anarchists just as do the pashu and who knows if they are blessed or cursed. All I know is I wish not to be so.
There you have it, thanks to Uncle Al my understanding of spiritual growth is as an advanced form of navel gazing incorporating the unseen elements of the world.

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