Religion is nothing but institutionalized mysticism. The catch is, mysticism does not lend itself to institutionalization. The moment we attempt to organize mysticism, we destroy its essence. Religion, then, is mysticism in which the mystical has been killed.”
― Tom Robbins, Skinny Legs and All
I don’t know how it is that I have six siblings but most of my memories of school don’t include any of them. I remember waiting alone for the bus at the end of the driveway. I remember walking home alone from school after being kicked off the bus for something or other. I remember a period when my school had “split sessions” with some kids attending morning classes and others attending afternoon classes. I was an afternoon kid and I remember making Kraft macaroni and cheese for myself and watching Perry Mason before school (alone). My memory is probably not correct.
We were of different ages so, of course, we were in different grades and even different schools. But it seems unlikely we wouldn’t have been together waiting for, or riding on, the school bus. Maybe it’s just the nature of memory. Maybe the memories in which I am alone stand out more because, with five siblings and two parents, none of us ever had any privacy. Or maybe I’ve edited out my siblings as if they were insignificant film extras. Who knows? Memories are weird and almost certainly inaccurate but they’re all I have from that time.
I was born and raised Roman Catholic. We attended St. Mary’s Church on Sundays. We attended catechism on weekdays after school. I remember communion and confession. My middle name is Stephen, after our priest, Father Stephen MacKenzie. I remember him fondly, tousling my hair on the sidewalk after church. I liked him but I didn’t like any of the other stuff.
The catechism nuns were stereotypically angry, and harsh. Rulers against knuckles harsh. Their stories and lessons were bizarrely unrealistic and unbelievable. The priest’s Sunday sermons were in half-Latin and half-English and all gibberish. Communion wafers stuck to the roof of my mouth like wet cardboard. Confession was creepy. Everything about the Catholic experience was oppressive and confounding.
My parents had different backgrounds and beliefs. My father was an avowed atheist but my mother was fervently and strictly Catholic. I’ve written about this before because it was the cause of a lot of tension and conflict between the two of them. I don’t know the backstory of whatever negotiating they may have done but whatever the agreement was, it changed in an instant.
One morning, while waiting alone for the school bus, Woodcock came out of the house to tell me I didn’t have to go to catechism or church anymore if I didn’t want to. He didn’t tell me I shouldn’t or couldn’t. He made it clear that it was to be my choice. This was while I was in Third Grade.
I entered my homeroom that day with some kind of fanfare or announcement. I don’t remember exactly what I said but I wanted everyone’s attention as I dropped my catechism books in the trash can by the teacher’s desk. I remember feeling a combination of happiness and pride. It may be the first time I felt anything like exhilaration.
I was not a natural young rebel. Prior to this act of bravado, I was a quiet and timid student who was always well-behaved. I was always desperate for approval from my teachers, who were mostly female, so I politely did everything that was asked of me. I was a pet to some of them.
One time, in Second Grade, I was so fearful of breaking the “rules” that I peed my pants. The teacher was out of the room and since we weren’t allowed to get out of our seats without permission, I stayed in my chair—with my hand raised!—until my need to pee was unstoppable. After the flood, I lowered my hand but I sat obediently in my pee until the teacher came back.
Quitting the church was great but what stands out as remarkable is my father giving me permission to do that. To make the decision myself. I believe this event was a turning point for me.
I have to insert here that I have no certainty at what age my sexual assaults occurred. I can deduce that my mother’s (primary) assault on me was around five or six-ish. The chicken coop incident, as I like to call it, probably happened around age nine or ten, which means it could have happened close to the time of this story. I mention it because sexual assaults typically result in mood and/or personality changes.
A movement away from timidity and seeking approval towards rebellion and seeking a different kind of attention might have been expressions of anger, pain, and loss.
By Fourth Grade I was full-out uncooperative with teachers. I refused to recite, or stand for, the pledge of allegiance. While in my first three years of school I loved my textbooks to the point of using carefully hand-made paper covers for them, in Fourth, I was censured many times for defiling or destroying them. I became disruptive in class, shouting sarcastic comments and profanity from the back of the room.
In one class I did something odd—another memory that stands out as having some significance, albeit mysteriously so. The teacher used a seating chart and she passed out little yellow tabs for them and instructed us to write our names on them, “as you would like to be called.” I wrote, “Jennings” instead of “Eric.” I probably thought I was being funny but in retrospect, I wonder if I was expressing something else.
I told you earlier that the only possession I have from my childhood is a tarot deck and a book about the mystic, Gurdjieff. I lied. I also have a bible.
It’s not so weird. As a teen, I became interested in mysticism, and reading was my favorite way to hide from the world, so I read a lot of books about religion and spirituality. Eastern spiritual practices were of the most interest—it being the 1970’s—but I saw christianity as a mystery worth exploring. I acquired the bible with the intention of reading it front to back. And didn’t make it through Genesis. The first few chapters were interesting but after a few thousand begets begetting even more begetting I gave up.
But I kept the book and used it as a reference for some of my writing. I’ve always been fascinated by the many ways contemporary christians live, believe, and preach, from a book they must so miserably despise, based on their complete disregard for its teachings.
Another aspect of coming of age in the 70’s is that I have always felt like a cultural and spiritual nomad. Orphan?
Just the other day I learned that I’m not a boomer. I’m actually an exemplary representative of The Generation Jones. Who knew?
I thought growing up without a solid connection to any clearly defined culture meant I was missing something. All y’all in the 60’s blew shit up so well, my mind was blown by the time I was born. I regretted being too young to be a hippie and too old to be a punk. I never went so far as to act on them but I had plenty of Wannabe fantasies.
I only realized a few months ago that my lack wasn’t a lack at all. It was an advantage. By feeling disconnected from any of the cultural and religious norms of my youth I was ready to be liberated in Third Grade!
What does patamystic mean, and why have I created that word for my social media presence? Because my spiritual name, that was given to me in a dream by a dead friend, is pumiquat, which I reject. Sounds like kumquat, right? Nope. Because it’s pronounced pum-uh-quit. What the fuck is a pumiquat?
I told you I do lucid dreaming. That doesn’t sound correct but it is. I’m using the verb, ‘do’ in the sense of, “wanna do lunch,” which is literally what I asked Pam when I met her in 1987. She didn’t tell me until years later that she thought that was weird. I didn’t realize at the time how very California it was of me.
I have lucid dreams. Usually, I go with the flow of whatever my subconscious throws at me, but sometimes I direct. Before I went to sleep one night I asked for a visit with a close friend who had died not long before. His name was Danny. I regret that I wasn’t more specific because, while I did get a visit from Danny that night, it was very brief and he said one thing, “pumiquat.” Then, poof, he was gone.
I tried it out for a while. I was ‘pumiquat’ on twitter briefly. I registered the domain name pumiquat.com for a short-lived blog. I’ve self-published two collections of poetry, both with the title, ‘pumiquat.’ It’s not pwatt but it might as well be.
(That was a long in-joke for just a few of you, who I know would like to call me a pwatt. Well, I’m not the pwatt, you are.)
So patamystic is a word I made up. I do that sometimes, just for fun. Jenerico. Ebenjen. Pentabulous. Rommerbum. Ferimeat. Harmlist. Conundripity. Sympackerism. Photografart.
I didn’t exactly make it up, though. I was inspired by a similar word that was coined in 1898 by Alfred Jarry: pataphysics. Some people, including me, consider Jarry to be the godfather of Dadaism and Surrealism. He’s most known for writing the play, Ubu Roi, but he also wrote other plays, novels, and essays. The common definition of pataphysics is, “a branch of philosophy or science that examines imaginary phenomena that exist in a world beyond metaphysics; it is the science of imaginary solutions.” (Jarry has offered different definitions throughout his writing.)
[ learn more about Alfred Jarry ]
So, I see Alfred Jarry, and I raise him. Ergo, patamysticism is a branch of philosophy or magick that examines illusory phenomena that exist in a world beyond pataphysics; it is a form of spiritual anarchism.
What I like about the phrase, “spiritual anarchism,” is that it is at once laughably inane, and a not bad description of my spiritual outlook. I’m interested in spiritual traditions, mythology, the occult, and esoterica but I’m not a follower. I’m just curious about such things from the perspective of a poet, writer, and (beginner) artist.
Most of the original source texts for worldwide religions are beautifully written literature or poetry. I draw on many of them for my poetry and invocations. I’m what you could call an appropriationist. A cultural borrower. (Not a thief, because I don’t take ownership of anything and I never pretend to be something I’m not.) A single invocation of mine might include concepts, ideas, and imagery from Alchemy, Buddhism, christianity, Gnosticism, Jainism, Judaism, Native American Tradition, Neopaganism, Tantra, Taoism, Theosophy, and even Zoroastrianism.
I am inspired by the mythology of Africa (especially Egypt), the Ancient Far East, Greece, Rome, Native America, South America, and Russia. Oddly, I have minimal interest in the traditions of my ancestors. I’m 50/50 Irish/English and I know very little about Celtic history, culture, and mythology (as yet). Same for Norse.
[ a preferred source for research is the Internet Sacred Text Archive ]
In yoga and zen traditions, the concept of detachment is integral. I think what happened to me as a young boy is that I was innately detached from American culture (because it was always a lie), and I became detached from religion through my experiences with catholicism. The sense of not belonging that I missed and craved growing up wasn’t so much about these things as it was about family. Neglect and abuse can also push us towards detachment. What we call dissociation with regard to sexual assault and rape is a form of detachment—of the mind from our body, or, perhaps, of mind and body from spirit. In the moment of an assault, it is about survival. But to those who are able to fully recover and heal, it can teach us so much more about who, and what, we are,
Have you heard about the Hero’s Journey? Surviving and healing from sexual abuse can be a form of initiation. Humans are creatures of violence and war. We hurt everything we touch, intentionally or not. It’s no mystery that we look for signs of a world apart. We seek comfort, even wisdom, in stories, music, and art, and yes, religion, because it separates us from the trauma and pain of our flesh.
We are also creatures of grace, beauty, and transcendence. Evil can only exist in the presence of its opposite. The sacred can only exist in the presence of the profane. All art, including, religious and mythological expression, however imperfect, are attempts at shifting our attention (awareness) beyond the profane which is constantly beating at our door, towards the sacred, which I define as the mystery, wonder, and potential of being alive.