Sunday, December 1, 2013


Welcome to “The Woman in the Wilderness,” a blog about the future of contemporary spirituality.

How This Blog Came To Be

In July 2005 I wrote a three-part series entitled “The Coming Storm: Peak Oil and You.”  The articles appeared in VOXHERMES, the electronic newsletter of the Institute for Hermetic Studies. While concerned about the future of contemporary spirituality, I realized that addressing the topic directly would have little appeal, so I dressed it up in a topic that did—and still does—have wide-ranging appeal to many in the modern spiritual movements: environmental issues.  The purpose was, and still is, to demonstrate that contemporary spiritual movements such as Neo-Paganism, Shamanism, Wicca, general New Age, Yoga, Buddhism, and even more traditional movements such as Freemasonry, Martinism, Rosicrucianism, and alchemical practices of all sorts are all deeply affected by the time and place in which they are practiced.  One can make a very compelling argument that spirituality at times is more a product of its culture than a producer of it; for modern spirituality, no argument could be stronger.  

In “The Coming Storm,” I outlined how the presentation of spirituality has changed over time;  in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it was really little more than a branch of the entertainment industry.  New Age bookstores replaced temples, weekend seminars replaced committed training, and once-secret initiations and empowerments were given out for the tens of thousands in a single sitting.  To many in the West this represented the beginning of the Great Awakening of the Age of Aquarius: a time of peace, plenty, love, and understanding.  Unfortunately, those who embraced this idea never took the time to recognize that Aquarius is traditionally ruled by Saturn, or the Greater Malefic in classical astrology. It is a difficult taskmaster.  

Also, traditional schools of Hinduism, Yoga, Taoism, and others in the West that generally fall under the category of “Traditionalism” see the modern world as a world in spiritual decline.  Teachings are only written down when they are in danger of going extinct. The living word of the teacher is always preferred to the written word of a text.  Spirituality is about self-knowledge, or as the inscription above the portal to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in ancient Greece read, “Know thyself and you will know the gods.”  Most self-help material is about getting more, not being more; it is about feeling good, rather than being and doing good.  In short, it represents a total inversion of values—an inversion for some that can only take place in a world or culture that is in decline.  This time, for many Oriental schools, is known as the Kali Yuga, or the Age of Death, the Age of Iron (or sometimes “Lead”).  This time is characterized by coarse and painful human relationships (among other things) as well as a decline in spiritual practice—that is, practice aimed at self-awakening.  It is interesting that nearly every Tibetan empowerment or initiation and prayer states that we live in ‘the time of Dregs’—the Kali Yuga—yet how few individuals take the time to understand what this means.

Even if one is not concerned with Indo-Tibetan  and Indo-Iranian astrological prophecies, there is also the historically observable phenomena of the cycles of spirituality as they have appeared in Western history.  Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Russian seer and founder of the Theosophical Society in the late 19th century, hinted at this when she stated that spiritual movements appear generally in the last quarter of each century. These movements (regardless of when they appear) last for about one generation—or one Saturn cycle for those astrologers out there—and then, after about 30 years, fall apart.  Some survive, but not many. One need only look at the various movements that populated the European and American landscape in the later 19th century to see how this played out. The period from about 1875 to 1900 was active and the period between 1900 and 1930 was relatively quiet (some Rosicrucian groups excepted).  Even here, of those spending a vast amount of time, talent, and treasure in battling for control of the Rosicrucian banner, how many are left today, and what is their condition compared to 1935, 1970, or even 1995?  Anyone with an eye to the obvious can see that they have all declined; some exist in name only and others are but shadows of their former selves.   

The vast explosion of Neo-pagan and magical groups in the 1980s has fared no better. Born of publishing and media boom, motivated by pop culture, wherein an entire generation learned more about angels and demons from television than they did from Sunday School or verifiable and experientially practical tradition, we see many returning to the religion of their birth as the weight of age sets in upon them. Those not returning to their mostly Christian roots are either dropping out, rationalizing their beliefs in a form of ‘atheistic paganism’  (archetypal psychology by any other name), or entering the ranks of true believers as their numbers dwindle.

Finally there is the most obvious question I put forth to everyone of my university classes.  "Everything we do in life takes place against the backdrop of a situation posed as a question. For my grandparents it was the Great Depression and World War Two. For my parents it was the build-up in and ultimately the Vietnam War and the early Counter-Culture Movement. For me it was the Cold War, New Age Movement, and the impact of wide spread technology. For you it will be very simple, "What happens when the upward moving line of unlimited population growth crosses the downward moving line of limited natural resources?"  That is the question which defines the backdrop against which everything in your life will be happening.  Where do you fit in and what can and will you do as it unfolds?"

Sustainable spirituality is comprised of spiritual philosophies and practices that sustain us during very difficult times and in turn, it is also something that we sustain with our time, talent, and treasure because it is of value to us, and we desire to pass it on to others and future generations.  It is, as one Rabbi said in an article in Gnosis magazine several decades ago, and I paraphrase, "If I believe in reincarnation then tradition is the gift I give myself in the future." It is also the gift we give others now as well as in a future that has yet to arrive.   

Yet, despite this somewhat grim analysis, modern spiritual movements, at least some of them, can survive into the future and prepare something—a working, viable path—for those who will come after them...if they want to. 

What This Blog Can Help You Accomplish

It would be all too easy to post as an epigraph to this blog the line from Dante's Inferno, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” But this blog is not about abandoning hope, but in finding it, and not only finding it, but acting upon it.  You see, we are discussing difficult topics here—topics that really hit both directly and indirectly at our hidden fears, most importantly the two Existential Crises of Fear of Death and Fear of Responsibility, but also the Fear of Meaninglessness.

While spirituality is in theory supposed to either give meaning to, or help us discover meaning in, our lives, all too often contemporary spirituality has really guided us away from it. We have become drifters in the landscape of our own minds, and are not even aware of it—until now, until someone says, “Wake up!” But we say, “I am awake. Or at least not completely asleep…” While this is true, upon closer inspection we find that, in fact, we are very much in a dream world of our own fabrication—one that prevents us from addressing the hard realities of death, responsibility, and the meaning that we have given our brief time on this planet.  Have courage, read on, and be assured that your life does have meaning, and can have even more if you desire it, but that it is up to you to provide the courage to make it so.  Here we will provide insights, guidance, and maybe even a friend or two for the work ahead.  Together, we can all make a meaningful difference on this planet before we die, and in doing so leave something of lasting meaning and cultural value to our friends, family, strangers, and maybe even ourselves, if you believe in reincarnation. Tradition, culture, spiritual lineage—these are the gifts we give to others, and to ourselves, as we progress through the Wheel of Life.  

What You Will Find Here

Here you will find some very straightforward writing. There will be little time spent on long theory, proving the point, or engaging in debate.  Either you understand the situation as it has been detailed, or you do not. If not, that is fine; however, this blog is a gift from my family and myself to you. It is the culmination of over three decades of experience in spiritual movements across the United States of America, as well as some of their European counterparts, and the time it takes in the present to convey it to you. Please understand and appreciate this. For this reason we cannot take time to answer every question or respond to every counter-point raised.  Take what this blog has to offer, pass it on, or leave it if it is unpalatable.  We are very much concerned about problem solving and solutions rather than rehashing of old arguments or wishful thinking.  Practicality is the word of the day.  As such, we look forward to sharing your stories of success with others, so that you as readers may learn from one another and shorten the learning curve, as time, as you will see, is running out. We have no time to waste. Work needs to be done if spirituality is to survive in a meaningful and potent form for future generations.

This is a critical point:  this blog is not an open-ended project. It will not go on forever. It came into existence to convey important information, bring people together to unite their resources, and to give practical advice on what needs to be done and how to do it.  For this reason, articles will include but not be limited to the following topics in no particular order:

* What constitutes an authentic spiritual tradition?
* How to know if you are serious about having a future.
* How movements live, die, and how they adapt.
* The lie of the Internet age and self-initiation.
* Leadership and responsibility: if a twelve year old can do it, so can you.
* No pain, no gain—and why this is going to cost you time, talent, and treasure.
* Resources you will need, and what it is you will be passing on to your grandchildren.
* The power of leadership, and avoiding its pitfalls (most of the time) when being a friend and guide to others.
* Why it is all up to you, or, incarnating the practice.

To help you get a handle on what we are discussing here, take some time to review the following questions and discuss them with your fellow travelers on the Path. They need not be in the same group, if there is one (let this inspire you to start one); if your group does not want to discuss them, I encourage you to apply some pressure and find out why.  These are very dangerous and threatening questions.  Pay attention to your emotional responses—you will find it very revealing, I may dare say initiatic, in its own way.  You may also feel free to send your written replies and experiences to me at:

1. In your opinion, what is the future of spirituality in general, and your practice or tradition in particular, and how does this differ from past and/or current conditions?

2. What is the current size of your group and has this increased, decreased, or stayed the same over the last 5 - 10 years?

3. Does your group actively train leaders?  If so, please give a description of how and in what manner.

4. What are the top three issues facing your tradition in general, and your group in particular, that are having a negative impact on activities?

5. What are the top three strengths that your tradition in general and group in particular have in its favor?

6. Does your organized body and/or local group have a long-term plan for the continuation of its existence beyond the current generation?  Is there a long-term (10 or more years) or multi-generation vision?

7. Is there a place for children (with parental involvement) in your organization? If not, how do you plan on surviving multi-generationally?  

8. Would you be willing to answer a more specific survey regarding group philosophy, practices, and demographics?  

Thank you for your patience in this our first article.  Please be sure to subscribe by e-mail to be alerted to future posts when they become available, as no more than two posts a month are expected until this blog gains some momentum.


Mark Stavish 

1 comment:

  1. This is the time of the fifth cycle, mankind will be tested and either pass through the darkness and come out on the other side, or become lost. There are many paths, but only two doors at the end. This is a good blog for it has the power to open minds to what is important for the survival of mankind. The fourth cycle saw many become lost in the insignificant desires of humankind.