Tuesday, October 7, 2008
While at the library last week, I happened upon a perfect book for myself:
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, by Barbara Ehrenreich. The author has written 14 books and is a frequent contributer for Harper's and The Nation; she's also been a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine. All of these facts were heartening to me, as are the copious footnotes and bibliography.
The book is all about the history of ecstatic joy/worship/ritual among European folks and how the church, capitalism and other forces eventually squashed these experiences, leading us to a twisted relationship with deep joy.
I started experiencing the necessity of ecstatic joy most intensely in Tuscany this past summer, and over the last year or so, I found that dance was a great way for me (and others) to access these heights of mystical experience.
Not surprisingly, there are damned good reasons for that, including a long and rich history that stretches back to prehistoric times.
I think that many of our modern spiritual traditions, at least here in America, tend to shy away from the ecstatic, and this is certainly true in pagan traditions, where we hope for something different than the standard Judeo-Christian scripted experience.
Concomitantly, there's often a focus on misery and the mea culpa complex. At times when I've brought this up among pagan people, I get a dismissive attitude about not wanting to be "white-lighters" or "fluffy bunnies." Since when did committing to deep joy in a world suffused with pain mean that we're not working hard enough? And, honestly, isn't what we're all working for a world where bliss is part of the every day and not just something experienced in all-too-rare flashes of insight?
Anyone who's interested in this topic might want to check this book out - I'm only half-way through but I'm spellbound for sure.
(The image above is a painting by Leon Brazile Perrault titled "La Tarantella.")