Published on behalf of Senan. We are thankful for his contribution.
I appreciate each of you for joining me as I share what tradition and originality mean to me.
Just what is it that makes something a tradition? In human terms, tradition helps to structure our understanding and provides a basis for interpreting and evaluating what we encounter and experience in our world. It is our mythology, it is our language, it is our spirituality, it is our ceremonies. It is how we identify who we are and where we fit in the world. In short, it is how we make sense of things, and then pass on that knowledge and wisdom.
Perhaps a story can demonstrate this better…
"When the volcano begins to rumble, we must toss a poor soul into it to appease the mountain god and prevent an eruption. This tradition is how I came to understand why there is a fire breathing mountain in my world, and the reason it occasionally spews hot lava all over my village. Perhaps the poor soul tossed into the volcano was not worthy."
Like it or not, tradition is part of our culture, even as we turn against it or accept it with reservation.
"I don’t want my sister tossed into the volcano, but it is rumbling again, and that is what we do when the mountain rumbles. It is our tradition. So, how can I prevent the death of my sister, but still appease the angry mountain god? I must be creative…"
Creativity does not come out of a void. There is a motivation for change.
"Last time our volcano was angry, the fire mountain on the island next to ours was angry shortly before. And the volcano on the island next to them was angry just before that. The mountains spew lava in the same order every time, whether we toss a poor soul into them or not."
A discovery has been made that makes the tradition of tossing poor souls into the volcano out of date.
"If I share this with the chief, he can move our tribe to the other side of the island when we know the mountain will be angry soon. We will not need to toss poor souls into the volcano anymore. Instead, we will celebrate our mountain god by preparing a great feast of pig and dancing with fire sticks."
Originality involves learning from what has been done in the past and taking from it what can be used in the present, which thereby changes it.
It is in the nature of traditions that they change, are revised and enhanced, if they are to remain effective and relevant to a changing present. As we make discoveries and learn from them, the tradition must reflect these changes in order to remain alive.
"We know how volcanoes work now and we have no need for a mountain god any longer, but the tourists visiting our island seem to like our pig feast and dancing, so we will call it a ‘Luau’ and charge them lots of money to participate."
This reboot of tradition is crucial to the tradition remaining relevant over time. Our old friend Joseph Campbell says “the moral order has to catch up with the moral necessities of actual life in time, here and now.”
Sometimes what is considered traditional today is far from the original tradition it came from. What, then, makes something truly original?
Originality can only be recognized in relation to what has come before it. The newest version of anything is always immediately compared to the version that came before it. If something was to be completely and entirely original, it would be unrecognizable to us, unintelligible, and thus useless.
Imagine this conversation, if you will:
Man - "Hey, look! A flibberdygibbet!"
Woman – "Where did it come from? What is it for? What does it do?"
Man – "I don’t know."
Woman – "It’s of no use to us. Put it down and get back to hunting that wooly mammoth."
Consider this conversation instead:
Woman – "Hey, look! A fork!"
Man - "Where did it come from? What is it for? What does it do?"
Woman – "It’s like the spoon we use to eat soup, but I made it pointy so we can eat mammoth with it instead!"
Man – "From now on we will eat mammoth with forks. I guess I should go hunt one now."
Surely these examples are over simplified, but the idea is easily extrapolated to complex cultural traditions including religion. We must look back in order to recognize the tradition and then understand what has changed to bring about something original. Then we look forward to the next necessary change to keep the tradition relevant to the changing times.
Joseph Campbell explained it this way. “The old-time religion belongs to another age, another people, another set of human values, another universe. By going back you throw yourself out of sync with history.”
When we look at tradition this way, it becomes the context in which we measure originality. We often place so much importance on originality that we fail to recognize the importance of tradition in driving this original thinking. After all, nothing can be truly original or we would not be able to recognize it.
We who choose to call ourselves Jedi recognize an original version of existing tradition. Jediism borrows traditions from Christianity, that borrowed them from Judaism, and so on. We borrow from Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Paganism, Toaism, Bushido and countless other traditions. We borrow from the fictional mythology of Star Wars that borrowed from many of these same sources. It is recognizing how Jediism has adjusted these traditions to fit our modern culture in the here and now that makes Jediism original. To quote our very own Pastor and Master Knight Alexandre Orion, “the Jedi are here, now, symbols for our proper time. Influenced by Star Wars as we may be, the archetypes are the same and will be characterized differently too by future generations.”
Tradition, yet Originality. One does not exist without the other. An original take on an existing tradition is what ties us all together over time. It is our connection to our past lives and to each other. It is hope for the future with a reverence for the past. And that, my fellow Jedi, is the balance. It is the harmony of past, present and future interacting in the now, and it is by the Force that we are guided to it.
Thank you for sharing a moment of your time with me, and May the Force Be With You!