His first short essay:
THE AVANT GOD PROGRESSIVE FELLOWSHIP OF INFINITE DIVINITY
“Mythology is not a lie. Mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.”
This passage from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth sums up the method and purpose of the AG Fellowship. The goal is to tap our capacity for mythopoetic creativity and pitch the individual and collective mind closer to the ultimate truth within us all the underlying Unity that grounds our topical diversity.
The name comes from a featured article on my website (www.hereticasylum.org) called “AvantGod: the Crafters of New Wineskins.” I describe the AvantGod as “those who venture into the eccentricity of original thought on the ageless questions, and cause our answers to pivot forward, giving our faiths and philosophies new territory in which to explore and expand.”
The problem is that AvantGod pioneers are often so novel to their cultures that the task of telling their stories in an intelligible form falls upon a next generation of followers and information collectors. Being wired more like historians than storytellers themselves, the stories of the AvantGod are recorded and read like history by these subsequent generations, and the new wineskins quickly age and show the wear of burdens they were not meant to carry, such as authority and literalism.
The AG Fellowship resolves this problem in two key ways: 1) It rewrites its core mythology (called the “guidepost”) every seven years (the “septenary cycle”), preserving the mythopoetic quality of its teachings, while making them both timeless and relevant to the present, and 2) It democratizes the mythmaking process, encouraging its members to create their own interpretations of the guidepost in writing, music, performance, or visual arts.
A bedrock axiom of the AG Fellowship is that “our stories are written in the head, and told by the heart.” The Head, therefore, is the name given to twelve senior storytellers (“Wordsmiths”) who are chosen to compose the guidepost myth. Each Wordsmith serves for only one septenary cycle to ensure no one ever becomes entrenched in the position. At the start of the sixth year of each cycle, the process to determine the next Head commences. Wordsmiths are chosen for writing ability and mythopoetic flair, but just as importantly, for leadership qualities, and breadth and depth of knowledge of both pantheism/monism and the world’s wisdom traditions. Special attention is given to ensure that the Head is always diverse in every way possible: geographically, culturally, genderwise etc. The new Wordsmiths are named by the beginning of the seventh year, at which point their work on the new guidepost begins. Wordsmiths are given a bluecollar title on purpose though the greatest honor that can be bestowed in the AG Fellowship, being a Wordsmith is pure service to others. The rest of the sevenyear tenure is spent working handson with members of each Wordsmith’s jurisdiction to see that each metaphorical nuance of the guidepost is being explored, settling any disputes etc. Like Paul of Tarsus, but without the spotlight of future canonization.
The communities that make up the AG Fellowship are collectively known as the Heart. Every sentient being is a member of the Heart, so the Fellowship excludes no one. But the most significant rite of passage comes when a member attends a monthly Gathering and contributes an interpretation of the current guidepost. That member is thenceforth called a Teller. Even if s/he never contributes again, a Teller is honored for having shared a voice and being part of the collective story. Organization of each community within the Heart is loose and decentralized (perhaps only Hinduism is more so), but generally retains a “round table” structure so that all Tellers’ voices are considered equal; there are never any “authoritative” versions of the guidepost, and the Fellowship is seen as mutual aid society rather than a teaching institution.
There is no institutional hierarchy within the Fellowship, but each septenary cycle that Tellers complete gives them an incremental notch to their official title. For example, a neophyte is called a 1st Story Teller, and when a new cycle begins she will become a 2nd Story Teller etc. This is an informal acknowledgment of respect for elders and appreciation of the wisdom that each storytelling is supposed to promote.
AG Fellowship follows a lunisolar calendar. Official Gatherings occur every new moon, while annual events pertaining to the septenary cycle fall on the spring equinox. Gatherings occur in communityowned coffeehouses which all follow the highest food and social ethics standards (organic & fair trade coffee, composting of all food waste, living wage to employees etc) and display the visual art interpretations of the current guidepost. Gatherings follow the structure of unprogrammed Quaker meetings, in which members assemble in silence and then speak as they feel moved to speak. The purpose here is to share experiences evoked by the Tellers’ work on the guidepost, such as challenges that came up, revelations, new metaphorical angles discovered etc. Tellers may choose to present their latest versions as they see fit, so Gatherings also end up with an open mic music/poetry slam element as well. These are always noncompetitive, with the goal being for the community to uplift all its members and help them elevate their contribution in their chosen mode of expression. (Unofficial Gatherings are also encouraged for those who are especially driven to perfect their craft.) When a Teller is deemed by the community to have reached his/her own standard of perfection with a current story, they are said to have “gone full Dickinson,” in honor of Emily Dickinson, who wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” The Teller’s name is entered into the Book of Life, a mysterious document of which no one, not even the Head, knows the exact whereabouts.
The final Gathering in each septenary cycle is a weeklong festival, culminating on the new moon, in which all Tellers share the final version of their stories and there is much rejoicing. On the penultimate day of the festival, any Tellers in the community who left their body during the cycle are honored with entry into the Book of Life, followed by a seven hour ritual silence, ending at dusk with a ceremonial Viking funeral on the nearest large body of water (in lieu of actual bodies, families of the deceased may contribute any artifacts to be burned). The final day, known as “Carpe Diem,” is a Mardi Graslike bacchanalian celebration of life where anything goes (between consenting adults).
There are few centralized holidays throughout the Fellowship, as every day is thought to be holy. There are some days associated with the septenary cycle, such as Revelation Day (when the new guidepost is unveiled), Carpe Diem (mentioned above), Seventh Chakra Ascension Day (when the new Head is announced) etc. Beyond that, each community is allowed to create its own annual holidays, such as birthdays of favorite artists and whatnot. A calendar containing all such local holidays is kept online so that communities can learn about each other’s proclivities.
One unique feature of the AG Fellowship (aside from its universal membership) is that not only does it not require active participants to abandon other faiths, but it encourages them to color their own stories with the flavor of those faiths. The word “faith” is taken in its context as the courage and confidence to live boldly without need for certainty or security, and it is recognized that faith can come from any source, including beliefs. Tellers are therefore welcome to incorporate their beliefs into their stories, for we are grateful for anything that gives them the courage to be the crafters of their own wineskins rather than depending upon others to do it for them. Belief in the literal truth of any guidepost or version thereof is the only formal sin in the AG Fellowship, but Tellers are free to adopt or retain any other beliefs that suit them. The assumption is that exclusivist, Manichean structures will be harder to maintain with each story told.
In summary, the AG Fellowship gives the world two things it desperately needs: a cohesive and comprehensive channel of expression for spiritual experience that magnifies both unity and diversity, and subconsciousmining exercise for the imagination that doesn’t involve corporate franchising and wanton consumption. I believe both Dr. Jung and Joseph Campbell would be very pleased.
by Jay Pierre Reville