It isn’t always easy to tell the two apart. Spirituality and philosophical psychology often overlap, each speaking and contributing to one another in ways that vary from person to person. This weekend I entered a conversation with an Evangelical friend and, of course, I’m no Evangelical. We discussed a Bible study she had entered in with a nephew of hers who emphasized the unity aspects of the Godhead to the exclusion of the plurality to which a Trinitarian may be accustomed, almost in the manner of an Arian but in such a manner that their study had entered a shouting match culminating in a full scale family crisis. I offered something a bit of the beaten track of legalism, examining how spiritualities happen, to show that even within Evangelical communities, they often develop quite differently, each with their own advantages and liabilities. This appears to be true in all spiritualities including those asserted within the trans community.
What it comes down to is a question: “Why does a belief system cause some to find fulfillment and goodness while others find constant conflict and frustration?”
The Evangelical answer usually takes the form of: “The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.” An answer like that clearly abdicates responsibility of finding solutions, dismissing the one who struggles as one whose heart has hardened against God, being a reprobate sinner and hypocrite who cannot be helped by anyone. It implies, “Because you may have problems I don’t understand and you can’t seem to snap out of it with a prayer, God doesn’t like you, I don’t like you, and you’re basically an evil person. I’m spiritual and you’re not.”
A largely forgotten Seventh Day Adventist speaker from decades past described such an appeal this way but who leaves no written record today:
“I go into the shower to wash and be clean. As I enjoy the warmth and cleansing of the water I reach for the soap and start to suds up, but in the process I drop the soap. Every time I do that some idiot outside yells, ‘You dropped the soap. Get out of the shower. You dropped the soap. Get out of the shower. Put on your filthy rags and go down the street because you dropped the soap; and when you drop the soap there is no hope. No soap no hope… no soap no hope… no soap no hope.”
While that Adventist referred to this as “the voice of the devil,” a lot of times it’s the religious who articulate it to those with any kind of internal struggle. Of course, no person who seriously commits to a spiritual discipline finds a life without struggle and, to use the aforementioned analogy, drops the soap, not once but over and over again. That struggle shouldn’t be dismissed with an underhanded pronouncement that the struggler is hardening like clay in the sun. These are actually more like the pains of labor which, if allowed to be taken to their conclusion, bring about a rebirth in truth that shallow people won’t understand because they love making pronouncements against others so much.
So if the judgmental and dismissive don’t get it, how do we discuss the development of spirituality, what might be described as “pneumatopoiesis”?
In the 1800’s a Jewish philosopher, Edmund Husserl, considered that question in a somewhat different way in terms of systems of thought. He viewed thought as a living entity, a network that grows and develops, ordering the mind like a tree orders the ground around it. He called such a network a noema (plural = noemata).1 But Husserl didn’t stop there. He also referred to those aspects of mind beyond the noematic faculties, reaching into a collective consciousness and superconsciousness as noesis, establishing faculties of values and higher aspirations. One might say that noetic aspects pertain to the nous or “universal mind,” such that some would identify with the divine.2 Today we even have a scientific-spirituality community dedicated to the “Noetic Sciences.”
Of course, this doesn’t by itself describe how spirituality begins. The narrative nature of humanity does. Let me tell you a bit what that means.
Decades ago I read an article from a journal titled, “The Stories We Live By” that has since been published in book form and caused me to look at people in a completely new way. Think, if you can, the earliest nursery rhyme your mother might have sung or the earliest story you can remember. Think, if you can, the earliest examples of behavior manifest in how your mother and father may have loved each other, or how your elder siblings may have fought and protested while seeking the sternness of judgment from a parent. These impressions form a narrative of tapes that make us tick throughout our lifetimes. These stories form a corpus of a personal mythos that make you “you” and me “me”.3
The noemata spoken of by Husserl is really the same as that personal mythos developed from narratives. Clearly, we’re narrative creatures led by personal myths that subliminally affect us without our realizing it most of the time. Sometimes personal myths facilitate growth, even reaching beyond phenomenal “things as they appear” toward the noumenal “things that are.” Sometimes they become entangled in their own complexities, becoming hindrances instead of the facilitators they’re meant to be.
But here’s the rub. A noema, once started, never really disappears. It’s permanent. But another noema may overtake it.
So what begins a noema? Simply stated, a noematic network begins with some kind of resonance that impacts the organism from within and possibly without like a flash of light.
It could begin with a dream. It could begin with a flash of insight from a sacred text, a philosophic maxim, or the expanse suggested in an abstract mathematical equation. It could begin with the sweetness of an aroma. But that resonance forms a kind of seed of thought that sprouts into a noematic network of thought.
It’s the resonance that one may find in synchronous events we encounter through our lifetimes, as if the divine were speaking to our souls directly. As such it’s like insemination out of nowhere physical, verily an initiator I speak of with the Greek equivalent: muein (plural = muousi). The actions of noemata may be compared to programs that run strings of computations while the muein acts like an executable file that facilitates the setup, originally planted by noesis. One may also attempt to introduce a muein but can never guarantee that it would resonate with a given individual. It must resonate with the noetic faculties to do so. It’s like trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks on a drippy day.
The nature of that muein will color how a noematic network may develop, and consequently the organism. I uncovered many muousi by questioning concerning the origins of people’s thinking. Here are a few examples:
- A familial muein appears to begin with the warmth of family relations themselves. Such a familial muein has the strength of tenacity but also fosters a danger of superficiality because while carrying on the traditions of the family circle it carries no urgency to dig deeper into areas of faith unless a family demands constant study.
- A phileic muein appears to begin with the resonance one encounters through a friend. It has the strength of exploration for new ideas but also fosters a danger of volatility because friends so often must dissolve their associations in their pursuits.
- A dogmatic muein appears to begin with the stirrings one feels hearing a perceived preacher of righteousness. It has the strength of resoluteness but also fosters a danger of fanaticism.
- An oneiric muein appears to begin in a person’s dreams. It has the strength of looking beyond rigidity of belief systems but also fosters a danger of sorcery when infected by selfish ambition.
- A philosophic muein appears to begin in a profound insight. It has the strength of deep thought but also fosters a danger of judgmentalism.
- A factorial muein appears to begin in a person’s works. It has the strength of industry but also fosters a danger of eschewing necessary repose, wearing out the person and those around him.
I think you get the picture. Noematic networks developing from singular muousi too often leave a person unbalanced. The person whose muein may be familial would do well to enter upon his own voyage of discovery in philosophic works to balance the superficiality inherent in the first muein. The person with an oneiric muein would do well to balance the noematic network developed that way with the industry of a factorial muein.
Entering these ventures of discovery isn’t inherently perfect. Dangers always lurk. But doing so rounds out the person to a more complete organism; providing much more in the way of internal checks and balances upon one’s own thinking and behavior. At the same time, it enriches the individual corpus of personal myth as more narratives unfold. It’s like pairing off Aphrodite with Hephaestus instead of the Ares she desires because the flightiness of affection is helped by industry though may be pleased with the manipulations of warfare or with the hunt represented in Adonis. Dionysius would have done well to spend more time with Athena and vice versa even though one would naturally eschew the other.
In the case of transpeople, the issues of gender often awaken through a dream, an oneiric muein that may grow into a noematic network that leads in the direction of Wicca if no intervening muein has first taken hold to lead into a different spirituality. A transperson faces more challenges than societal threats. The same faces the challenges of internal integrity. That integrity begins with acceptance of one’s own gender identity but also the ethical considerations that come with it. For too many of us, when ethics have not yet been developed we can fall prey to exploitation by others who feign love but seek their own gain through us. If anyone needs to build new noematic networks to balance one’s own life it’s a transperson.
Because, after all, transpeople don’t just have myths; we’re mythical creatures. The Amazons very likely had their origins in the Scythian transpeople spoken of by Herodotus. Mt. Ida, the home of Cybele of the Gallae and Ganymede was also the place where Aprhrodite, Athena, and Hera challenged Paris.5 It overlooked Lesbos in the south and Troy in the north. The Corybantes danced with the transgender Gallae who also had a part in the rites of the Pelasgian Kabeiri and the Eleusinians.6 The narratives of our people in a heroic age still course through modern veins whether trans or cis-gender.
The headiness of personal myth often challenges belief systems whether internally or externally when encountering the belief systems of others. One can expect an immense diversity thereof, and when in times of exasperation, one can take a deep breath and hear out the other; for many of the things that seem to conflict either find their own resolution or call for an awakening to something else to balance the noemata of a singular muein. Of course, growing a noematic network takes time and patience. Nobody has ever written a whole corpus of narratives overnight.
Awareness of the initiators can go a long way toward smoothing out human differences, especially in places like the trans community in which differences lead to backstabbing and fragmentation of a sort that works against attempts to organize for service. The strengths and weaknesses thereof become part of the mosaic of strengths and weaknesses of the community as a whole, and if used intelligently, can combine the spectrum of narratives into one… a oneness we have sought for a long time and now we need more than ever.
1. Large, William. The Noesis and Noema (n.d.) Web:Arasite: http://www.arasite.org/noesis.html. Retrieved January 19, 2017
3. McAdams, Dan P. The Stories We Live By (1997) Guilford Press. ISBN-13: 978-1572301887. Summary of thesis.
4. posttraumaticspacelesbian. People of Color in European Art History (2014?) Web: Medieval People of Color: http://medievalpoc.tumblr.com/post/70796722866/bbrreeaaddffiisshh-unobject. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
5. (n.a.) Mt. Ida (n.d.) Web: Mlanhas: http://www.mlahanas.de/Greeks/Mythology/MountIda.html. Retrieved January 19, 2017,
6. Britannica Editorial Staff. Great Mother of the Gods (November 8, 2007) Web: Britannica Online: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Great-Mother-of-the-Gods. Retrieved January 19, 2017.