Monday, July 18, 2016

[Guest Article] Amy: Cartesian Dualism in my Craft

A note from Witchy Words:  At the beginning of the year, I asked the circle I coordinate, Circle of Fountains, if they'd each like to do a guest article based on a topic that I might not be able to cover.  This is a great effort by my amazing circle to give you information that you might not otherwise encounter here at Witchy Words.  The following article is written not by me but another member of Circle of Fountains, with credit and notes about its author below.  Enjoy!


Once upon a time (17th century), there was a philosopher named René Descartes. He was determined to study the world around him, and find the explanations for how it all worked. (In that pursuit, he also did some alchemy, but that’s a post for another day.) The Catholic Church had, historically, been against such things. It might make people question their absolute authority, so any answers not received from the Bible were seen as a threat. (Ask Galileo how well questioning went for him. Spoiler: It did not go well.)

René Descartes, famous smart guy
Descartes came up with a very diplomatic solution*, called Cartesian Dualism: There were two realms of reality, the spiritual and the physical. The church would rule the realm of the soul, and science could explore that of the body, and nobody would have to get their toes stepped on, or excommunicated, or anything. This freed society up for science, paving the way for the modern world. Hooray!

Once upon a more recent time (20th century), a young pagan named Amy was attending college in Springfield, MO. (It was  me.) I was at a pow wow, and a friend of mine had just finished dancing. He came over to where some friends and I were sitting, and asked me to hold his fan while he ran off for a pee and a smoke. As a newly-minted Wiccan, I examined the object reverently, holding a friend’s ceremonial tool. I admired the craftsmanship, especially the strange symbols on the handle. What could they mean? Was this an elemental object? I waited with bated breath for my friend to return.

Not this fan, but one like it.

“What does it mean?” I asked, agog.
“...It’s a fan. It’s hot out there.”

I felt a bit silly. He explained what the various symbols meant, but the important bit was its ability to move air around. These “sacred” symbols did not need to be separated from the “vulgar” day-to-day, and the dance was a combination of both.

I’m carrying around this Cartesian Dualism, this idea that I am two separate beings, body and soul. We have a word: “Supernatural.”

You might have heard it.
Photo by Kristin Dos Santos.
You could literally translate that as “above the natural,” outside of and transcending the world as we know it. That’s a bit silly, don’t you think? A thing either happens, or it does not. If we cannot explain how it happens, that does not excuse it from happening. We don’t need to appease the Pope anymore, do we? As useful as Cartesian Dualism was in its time, maybe we have outgrown it. Maybe it now holds us back.

It’s something I’m working on, rejoining these halves. It’s lovely to have a ceremony, with fancy words and designated tools. But maybe sometimes I can sweep with a regular ol’ broom and think about cleansing the space as well. Sometimes when I cook, I remember that I am literally putting energy into strengthening myself and my family. I am my whole self, and my actions take place in a whole universe, which does not care if I can explain it or not. Pretty cool, right?

*History is not a solid. We don’t know that was his motivation, but some people think it was, and I like it.

René Descartes (Constance Perry, PhD)


Amy, an eclectic Wiccan, is the Circle Publicist for Circle of Fountains. In the last few years, she has focused her nerdiness on a wellness career path, achieving her massage therapy license and currently pursuing a personal trainer certification. 

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