Ordinary Religion

What is Ordinary Religious practice?

This is not a question one would ever generally consider and perhaps the question comes off to someone as an affront to their own religious practice which they consider being extraordinary because of elements within it that they believe to be beyond the normal object of practice.

The exploration of the term ordinary religion comes from the book by Catherine Albanses, America Religions and Religion. In essence, the idea behind Ordinary Religion is the day to day practice of a particular faith tradition not encompassing a dynamic encounter with the divine, in other words an otherwise mystical or super-spiritual experience.

Examples of ordinary religion include attending church, participation in church activities that are not directly linked to mystical experience and social interactions from a religious context which again does not include some degree of ecstatic experience. Albanese describes Ordinary Religion as “the religion that is more or less synonymous with culture. Ordinary religion shoes people how to live well within boundaries.”

This has a tinge of hostility behind it as to suggest that a religion rests within a boundary suggests a clear demarcation of us and them. Albanese says, “Ordinary religion puts its premium on the things that are deeply present and (mostly) unconsciously revered within everyday culture,” in essence the everyday practice of that religion.

These boundaries exits within the spectrum of practice and, as artificial as they may be, are in fact a reality between different denominations and between different religions. This can be clearly seen in the disparate theologies that populate the landscape in the many churches that exist within most high density urban communities.

To understand this idea more fully, we can look back to Albanese when she says’

“ordinary religion can reveal itself in the many customs and folkways that are part of a culture: expected ways of greeting people; wedding etiquette concerning clothes, manners, and obligations; habits of diet; and holiday behavior.”

It is precisely these ideas that create the artificial boundaries between other faith traditions.

So, how can you tell if your religious practice is an ordinary one?

I don’t think the question is as relevant as it may seem. Nor do I think that it is something unique and wholly an element of religion. Any system of system of customs and practice can be an ordinary practice and create boundaries so long as it embraces elements unique to its conduct. Association with like minded sports fans, attendance to only similar performances of a genre of music, or even celebration of holidays that others may not have any inclination of, all of these are aspects of participatory ordinary practice. The creation of boundaries comes in the very practice or group association.

Ultimately, Ordinary Religion can be defined as living within your boundaries – doing what you think you should. It is your day by day routine that represents your values evident in communal celebrations and activities, essentially synonymous with culture.

The counter point to Ordinary Religion comes when we look at the practice Extraordinary Religion which exists beyond the “normal” culture, and transcends both boundaries and beliefs to explore more explanations of your culture or religion.  In essence, the encounter space between boundaries otherwise known as Extraordinary Religion.

This was originally published on Sacred Space Los Angeles in 2012.

Everything Vibrates

I feel, of late, as though I am in a spiritual black hole.

It is neither terrifying nor is it exhilarating, it just feels as though it is. To use another metaphor, this state of being feels as though I have been wrapped like a spindle in a bolt of cloth by the thickest black material that lets absolutely no light or sound through its weave.

I dont know what to make of it.

In some respects, from a Hermetic point of view, perhaps I am at the middle point between two vibrating poles caught somewhere in the transition. That take brings me some comfort.

Not being in that transit and just stuck in the void… horrifies me.


Welcome to my home away from home, my little slice of the universe where I plan to concentrate micro devotions under the banner of the Hermetic path.

Hermetic Hermit

hermit, hermetic, art, illustration, digital

I’ve neither written nor posted much in the last few months. I havent really wanted to becoming a bit of a Hermetic Hermit. So why start now?

Ive spent some time going through some old posts in another blog I wrote some time back, back before I made a go writing something more mainstream and less counter culture. That experiment didnt end up well as I feel as though I took myself far afield from where I really wanted to go.

Where did I want to go? Well, thats something to explore here.

This is about faith, meaning and parsing out what those things mean in a world where those two things are a constant test on the moral imagination.

Im a hermetic hermit. Its time I start acting like one.

The World Awaits

One thing thats struck me hard is the transition of the child into an adult. Ive read its comparable to the feeling of physically losing a child, though Im sure that pain is much more enduring. The transition of one’s own flesh and blood from a dependent appendage of your existence into its own recognized self-aware being is a slow birthing process that at its conclusion feels every bit the ending of one life and the beginning of another.

You would think this would give with it some measure of joy and it does, but at the point of transition it feels as though the contents of your soul have departed you leaving you wondering why.

Its in this way that the lessons of the Hermetica strike me. While left without that piece, I imagine how the divine essence feels in its long night awaiting the return of its children. Perhaps this is the same in other faiths of patrimony, the divine estate of father to son transferring title across generations. In this instance, though, as the divine source releasing its creation, I find as the joy in being the source of the good, the giver of life, wisdom, and nourishment.

It feels as though if it were a rite of release, the letting go of that essential element that was never mine to begin with.

Go, fly, my beautiful creations become what were always in your nature to be.

The world awaits you.

Hollywood Forever

If you’re looking for the glitz and glamour of the Golden Age of Hollywood, you need only to look in the rolling green acres that are its sepulcher set in the middle of the city its inhabitants talents once illuminated.

The Hollywood Forever Cemetery sign.

Hollywood Forever is the final resting place of many Hollywood celebrities and nearly lost to the obscurity of all forgotten cemeteries were it not for the restoration and rebirthing befitting such a repository of past fame and glory. 

Founded in 1899 on 100 acres of land, Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery has had an almost Hollywood-esque history of mismanagement, character owners, and movie lot neighbors – all to reopen in 1998 with major reinvestment makeovers and new tools to draw new users even before their ready to join the ranks in residence. Hollywood Forever is a bit of a redemption story right out of a movie made just next door on the Paramount movie lot. 

Nestled in a near culturally barren strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles, the cemetery, now parceled down to 62 acres, is almost hard to spot amidst the auto shops, strip malls, and warehouses that line the street both east and west of the entrance.  Between the dingy industrial buildings stands a sign proclaiming its presence flanked by a tall iron fence and small plot of grass.

A quick turn in and subtle nod to the security guard, instantly you leave the bustle of the city space and enter into a sacred space that seems to be almost completely devoid of the noise from the outside world.

Once inside, there are ample driving paths to follow or, as I did that day, pick a place to park and begin to walk picking your way through the stones and fauna.  The gift shop sells a map of where the famous sleep (a fair $5.00 for the guide) without which one could lose more than several days time trying to find the more than 170 resident celebrities.

Sadly, looking at the list even now, few names conjure memories and of those that do their remembrance come from films I watched as a child on Saturday and Sunday afternoons in one of the thousand re-runs that television in the 70’s relied upon.  And of those remembered, there are even fewer that stand out in vivid memory. 

The monument reads: In memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States
Army who have died or may die on the Pacific coast, Erected by the
Confederate Monument Association.  
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet. Lest we forget – lest we forget.
On old image of the Civil War veterans and women at the unveiling of the Confederate monument at Hollywood cemetery in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1920.
Civil War veterans and women at the unveiling of the
Confederate monument at Hollywood cemetery
in Los Angeles, Calif., circa 1920.
from the UCLA Image Archive

Some notables that will forever be remembered in Hollywood’s History buried there include: Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Senior, Griffith Jenkins Griffith, Jayne Mansfield’ Tyrone Power’ Cecil B. DeMille, Peter Lorre, Charlie Chaplin, Fay Wray, and G. Mel Blanc.  One of the more recent celebrities interred in Hollywood Forever is Ramones guitarist Johnny Ramone, memorialized in a bold bronze statue with his axe forever in hand.  Among the famous I found a Real Daughter of the American Revolution and a memorial stone in memory of the soldiers of the Confederate States Army who perished on the Pacific Coast, erected by the Confederate Monument Association.  An interesting consideration given the Confederate monument as Hollywood Forever’s second owner prohibited actress Hattie McDaniel from being buried there as it was a segregated cemetery that did not accept the bodies of black people.

Johnny Ramone grave site at Hollywood Forever
Johnny Ramone in Hollywood forever

You can find an extensive list of those celebrities in residence at Seeing-Stars.com.

As sacred spaces go, Hollywood Forever is an interesting one.  While it has the quiet attributes of a place devoted to memory and reverence, it’s hard to not be struck by its proximity to Hollywood(Paramount Studios abuts the property with sets clearly visible) but also for the inhabitants which draw a steady stream of devotes.  In the time of my visit, there were several groups who passed through stopping here and there to snap a photo touch a memorial.  Yet, still it evokes a sentimental sanctity that draws the Poe like writes who sit beneath its trees and stones looking for inspiration.

All faiths are represented on the grounds too.  From the Buddhist shrine (a quick right from the entrance) to the many Star of David’s, Crosses, Squares and Compasses, and many other motifs of belief.  The site bears a remarkable amount of faiths throughout.  I was especially fond of the use of Egyptian themes in the mausoleums and the many tall obelisks that memorialize the deceased.

Also, the cemetery is still an active one with an increasingly dense growth of new grave sites arranged in copses of family plots or closely associated cultural markers.  In some parts of the space these new marble memorials crowd out the older markers in some places surrounding a lone antique plaque of a forgotten family member.

One last emblem of sacredness that I would be remiss to mention is the old Masonic Lodge on the northern perimeter of the grounds.  Today, the temple is a cultural venue with any and all past Masonic emblems and motifs all stripped away on the outside but in name (and purpose) alone.  The city blog posted a photo from 2009 with an Order of the Eastern Star light fixture hanging from the rafters.  Formed out of the Bankers Masonic Club in 1924 Los Angeles, the lodge received a charter from the Grand Lodge of California in 1925 as Southland Lodge No. 617 when they moved into the Spanish Renaissance Revival building in 1931.  The building, now part of the main gate of Hollywood Forever, hosts concerts, plays, and other intimate events.  Outside of the lodge, the cemetery holds a variety of cultural activities on the grounds from movies in the park to annual Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

With the presence of the Masonic Lodge, the site is sufficient to solidify its sacredness of space as sacred with all the trappings that come with that distinction.

Hollywood Forever is definitely worth the visit if you are a native of the Southland or a visiting lover of all things sacred.  Plan to spend an hour or more roaming the many stones and memorials and be sure to pick up a map from the gift shop to guide your steps.  While you visit, be sure to take some time to soak in the quiet nostalgia of the site and listen to the echoes of the past as they carry on the winds from the traffic of breezing by on Santa Monica Boulevard. 

LDS Temple Los Angeles

LDS, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon, temple
LDS Temple, Los Angeles.
LDS Temple, Los Angeles

I spent some time recently up at the visitor center for the Los Angeles Church of the Latter Day Saints located on the grounds of the Mormon Temple. Without a doubt, the site is a sacred LA precinct capable of communicating the austerity that the faith embodies as the religion of the Americas.

Located in the heart of the west side of LA, the temple and grounds stand out distinctly from the steel and glass skyscrapers that ring this sacred space.  Pulling in and parking I was surprised when stepping out of the car to be immediately overwhelmed in the sereneness of the grounds.

What struck me first was the immaculate grooming of the grounds and the sense of silence that the hillside temple had upon it, especially with Santa Monica Boulevard right below full of cars at rush hour. 

From the street, the Temple looks large but not so massive that it overwhelms the onlooker.  It’s not until you get next to the temple and away from the concrete and steel buildings that you can feel the austerity of the structure in the surrounding open space.  Standing next to the temple, it soars out of the sea of green into the blue sky above which holds aloft the golden angel Moroni.

Immediately behind the temple is the Visitor Center.  Renovated and re-opened in 2010, the Visitor Center contains numerous exhibits and interactive displays about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including exhibits on the history of Jesus Christ, the charitable works of the church, and the history of the temple.  Also in the facility is an area for genealogical research as it houses the popular Los Angeles Family History Library.  

Jesus, LDS temple, visitor center

Probably one of the most impressive elements of the visitor center is the reproduction of Danish-Icelandic sculptor Berel Thorvaldsen’s Christusstatue (the original being in the Church of Our Lady in Copenhagen, the National Cathedral of Denmark).

Standing in a serene room with a pastel sunrise, the statue is the focal point of an audio component that serves as an introduction to the center, the Temple, and the LDS style of Christianity given the context of the setting.  The cost for the presentation, our gracious and kind host advised, was the acceptance of a post paid interest card to learn more about the LDS church.

The temple itself is locked up tight and not accessible to visitors, at least without invitation.  From the displays, the understanding I took away was that the interior of the temple hasn’t been open to the public since its construction at which time it was opened to Angelenos to see the craftsmanship and to get an idea of the LDS practice. 

Overall, the site communicates well the sanctity of the temple and the sacred space around it.  Even as a non Mormon, I could feel the solemnity of the religion and after visiting it gave me a new perspective on the tradition and the reverence it commands, even in the silence of the pastoral grounds. 

I would definitely recommend spending some time to visit the LDS Temple in Los Angeles.  When you do, plan to spend at least a hour in the visitors center and grounds to take in the sacred space in totality.  

LDS church, Los Angeles,
LDS church, Los Angeles