A Fellowship of Devotion, Ritual and Learning.
Brotherhoods, sisterhoods, churches, schools, monasteries, temples, lodges, academies, yeshivas, madrassa, ashrams, sangha and dozens of other terms have always existed, to describe communities of individuals who’s purpose of association is to further the study, practice and experience of living with the Sacred.
It is not a simple matter to find a word that allows us to describe the lineages that weave together the values and aspirations of this broader community. Conscious Community is probably the most useful general description. However, it does have the problem of sometimes being too generic to indicate the particular flavours of our teachings and practices.
James Hillman defines his sense of conscious community as ‘a kinship with independent people who love and share ideas’, ‘an erotic connection through ideas’. A community, he says, doesn’t need to live in the same place and it is better to keep the community ‘semi-imaginal’.
One term that is sometimes useful, for us, is Thiasos (θίασος), an ancient Greek name for a community, school or group of dedicated individuals who celebrate and attend to matters of the body and soul.
Our purpose in borrowing the term Thiasos, is not to put on cothurni and jump about with a thyrsus, but rather to allow for an unfamiliar word to be used in a more relevant contemporary sense.1 This also aligns us with aspects of ancient ritual and mystery schools, and so links us with kabballah, shamanic practice, alchemy and tantra, as well as with theatre, poetry and art, whilst also connecting us, by way of Dionysian mythology, to contemporary archetypal psychology and philosophy. As was always the intention, a thiasos indicates associations whose raison d’être was the furtherance of conscious ritual, learning, teaching, prayer, celebration and reflection, alongside and together with other practitioners and devotees.
Typically, if you are part of a conscious community, you would usually not speak much about it.2 Nor is there any need to promote the teachings nor convert anyone. Living consciously is way too valuable for that. For a person unconnected and looking from the outside, that same community is usually called a ‘cult’, or worse. Then all the anxiety and fear that has accompanied the perception of every unfamiliar development in religious awareness, or the expression of personal experience of the gods, gets projected onto such a group.3
1. Clasically, a thiasos was a congregation of women. However the definitions are fluid between theasoi, maenadic groups, bacchanal gatherings and all the four annual Dionysian festivals, which certainly included men. We describe the community as the Tamboo Academy, following Plato’s centre of learning , and use terms such as The Women’s Dream Circle and The Men’s Table to describe particular aspects of study, amongst others names. See further on theasoi and maenads,
2. “The whole sense that there was something special and discrete going on was not spoken about openly. There are aspects of spiritual development that are private work, and that need to remain private. When a person stands revealed in order to cleanse his soul, it is simply appropriate that his privacy be preserved.” Reb Kalonymus Shapira, the Piaseczner Rebbe. From: Andrea Cohen-Kiener, ‘Conscious Community: A Guide to Inner Work’, Rowman & Littlefield Pub, USA, (1996) 2004, p6.
3. Towards Christanity in the ancient Mediterranean, then Christian anti-semitism and anti-paganism after 337 CE; reaction of traditional Hinduism toward the development of Tantra; the rejection of the Buddha in India; Confucianists against Taoists; the Inquisition against Wicca, Alchemists and new science; fear of Shamans by communities; Catholics vs Protestants, Shia vs Sunni, Hassidim vs Mitnagdim; denouncing Yoga by all monotheistic teachings; rejection of the Dalai Lama and outlawing Falun Gong by China, and hundreds of other examples.