About Gods: Transcendence and Immanence

Living in a Monotheistic culture does not prepare people coming into Polytheism to understand Who the Gods are. The Gods of Monotheism (Note 1.) are transcendent Gods, Who are totally independent and separate from the physical universe. These Gods are so alien that They cannot be depicted by ordinary people.

To understand a Monotheistic God requires consulting an approved source. The authorities of each Monotheistic religion have delineated writings and teachings for informing their believers. This could be the Christian Bible which offers textual knowledge.

To be in the presence of One of the Monotheistic Gods is experience transcendence. This mystical experience often leaves a person overwhelmed and overcome. This is because the Monotheistic Gods are powerful and removed from the Cosmos.

In contrast, the Gods of Polytheism are immanent, since They are a part of the material universe. By fully participating in the ecosystem of the Cosmos, these Gods are accessible to humans. They can be encountered by humans in various ways. For example, I felt Neptune’s presence during a Roman ritual. Other methods of meeting Polytheistic Gods are through making offerings, doing magic or going to sacred places.

Polytheists live in a numinous world. Every tree, place, value and even an act such as traveling has their own numen (spirit). A regular person can experience the numen directly. I have had encounters with the numina of the basswood trees near my building. Since I am a devout Polytheist, I honor these numina by offering Them water.

An example of the difference between transcendence and immanence can be found in interpreting Moses and the Burning Bush. The transcendent God spoke to Moses by using a bush that burned but not consumed by fire. Since this God was separate from the Bush, the focus of the incident is the message to Moses.

For a Polytheist, the Bush would be holy since the immanent God was a part of the Bush. The message to Moses is important but so is the Bush as the residing place of the God. The Bush would receive also offerings for being holy.

Notes:
Note 1. I refer to the Monotheistic Gods as plural since the Gods of the Monotheistic religions –Allah, Yahweh, and Christ — differ greatly from each other.

The Calendar as a Catechism for Polytheism

The most popular posts, at my blog, are my monthly calendar listings for Roman and Babylonian Gods and their festivals. In following these calendars, a person can learn about the God that each festival honors. By focusing on celebrating the festival, people will come into the liminal spaces between humans and the Gods.

As “vertical time,” (Note 1.) festivals provide a gateway into the eternity that is the Gods (and the Ancestors). “Horizontal time” (Note 1.) is the daily life that is lived. Since vertical time pierces horizonal time, it acts as the axis mundus between the Worlds. Where vertical time touches horizontal time, liminal spaces are formed for the Holy Powers and the humans to meet. These are the thresholds that the festivals provide.

A particular festival holds communion with the Gods when They are the most active. For example, March and October are the traditional beginning and ending of the season of war. In the Roman calendar, festivals for Mars are held during these months. March is when Mars is at his most energetic. In October, the weapons are purified and soldiers return to being civilians. At this time, Mars is preparing to rest. During the various festivals for Mars, different aspects of His Being are experienced.

Neo-Pagans developed their festival calendar to mark the Turning of the Year in six-week intervals – the solstices, the equinoxes, and the cross-quarter days. Each festival marks a particular season. Unfortunately, the calendar is dependent on the climate of the Northern Temperate Zone. This presents problems for Neo-Pagans living elsewhere such as Australia, seasons and climates differ.

The various calendars of Polytheists do follow the seasons of the region of the original pantheons. However, the festivals focus on the Gods and their times of activity. For example, I follow the Babylonian Calendar although I do not live in Mesopotamia. I have noticed that although I am in a different climate, these Gods are stronger during the times delineated in the original calendar.

By celebrating festivals, people can experience the mysteries of the Gods (and Ancestors) in their spiritual realities. The festival recreates a myth of each God. Within each myth, the textures of time are experienced. The divine unfolding of things, and then the closing of these same mysteries are parts of the dance of living in the myth. These mysteries will be reexperienced again, at a different moment, in a different manner at another festival. To understand each myth is to become a witness to the creation when the threads of time are woven.

Each festival re-enacts a myth allowing all to enter with the God. For example, the Atiku of the Babylonians recreates Marduk’s battle with Tiamat, and his recreation of the world with her body. Therefore, a calendar becomes a catechism since it invites people into the myths of the Gods.

Notes:

Note 1. Horizontal time is experienced linearly in increments. People move from the past to the present to the future. In contrast, vertical time is mystical time. In vertical time, only the present moment exists, and everything occurs at once.

Suggested reading:
Christine Valters Paintner, “Sacred Time.”
Waverly Fitzgerald, “Slow Time.”

Magic of Mesopotamia

Ronald Hutton (1953-, U.K.) in his essay, “Framework for the Study of European Magic,” observed that the materials from Mesopotamia showed “no sign that human beings were believed to be capable of coercing deities… without divine help.” He continues that the peoples of Mesopotamia “made a practice of timing important actions in harmony with heavenly bodies.” Moreover, they had an acute fear of witchcraft (i.e. “magic employed secretly and maliciously by other human beings.”) A few years later, writing in “The Witch” in 2017, Hutton noted that magic was a part of official religion in Mesopotamia. Since the peoples of that region made no distinction between religion and magic, both were a part of their daily lives.

Hutton’s later perception agrees with the various experts of Mesopotamia – Thorkild Jacobsen (1904-1993, Demark), Jeremy Black (1951-2004, U.K.) and Anthony Green (1956-2012, U.K.). Knowledgeable about the cultures of this region, these three Assyriologists stated that the various cultures believed that the world to be numinous and immanent for the Spirits were indwelling. For example, a Babylonian would have regarded the Burning Bush differently from Moses. They would have recognized as Moses did that the God, who was separate from the Bush. However, they would also have worshipped the Bush as a place where the God resided at one time. For a Babylonian, a God could reside in an object without their power diminishing elsewhere. In the mind of a Babylonian, a statue (or bush) could be a repository of the God but not be the God. Therefore, in Mesopotamia, the capture of the statue of a city’s God would be a calamity.

Within the cultures of Mesopotamia, magic consisted of asking for intercession with the Gods (and other Beings). Rituals could involve redirecting a potentially bad event or bringing comfort and healing. Before doing any ritual, divination was used for learning what the person was dealing with. (Divination was also considered to be magic.)

If the signs from the divination were ominous, the ritual of Namburbu (“the undoing of potential evil”) was conducted. In this ritual, people would apologize to the various Gods (known and unknown). Since people could disrupt the order of the universe accidentally, the Surpu (“burning”) would be conducted. This ritual was for the “undoing of unknown ‘sins.’” (Note 1.) During this ritual, a person would peel and onion while reciting their actions, and then feed the fire with the peelings. Once the onion was burnt, the person became “right with the universe.” In the case of illness, a medical magician (Asipu) would divine the problem and address the demons of the illness in the name of the Gods.

My definition of magic is that it how a person participates in the Cosmos with the Holy Powers. For me, magic and religion are the same, since they both entail participation in the ecology of the Cosmos. Therefore, I feel aligned with the Mesopotamian sense of magic. As they did, I believe that we all live under the same universal laws (Gods, Humans, spirits). Sometimes we inadvertently disrupt the order and things happen. One way of setting things right is through offerings and prayers.

For example, when I sustained my brain injury, I did make offerings for healing. Since the injury was a random event, I could have, earlier, disrupted the ecology of the Cosmos, quite by accident. My usual practice is to do divination before deciding what action to take. By conducting rituals and prayers, I have recovered from the trauma of what happened to me. I still have the injury but I now feel “right with the Universe.” Thus, my sense of magic fits well into the cultures of Mesopotamia.

Notes:
Note 1. In Mesopotamian cultures, a “sin” is an “act or omission of offending the Gods and disturbing the world order.” Prayer can undo “sin.”

Works Used:
Bairgent, Michael, “Astrology in Ancient Mesopotamia.” Bear and Co.: Rochester (VT). 1994.

Black, Jeremy and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.” University of Texas: Austin. 1992.

Black, J.A., Cunningham, G., Ebeling, J., Flückiger-Hawker, E., Robson, E., Taylor, J., and Zólyomi, G., “The Electronic Text Corpus of Sumerian Literature,” Oxford University. 2006. http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/,

Davis, Owen, ed. “The Oxford Illustrated History of Witchcraft & Magic.” Oxford University Press: Oxford. 2017.

Hutton, Ronald, “The Witch.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 2017.
—, “A Framework for the Study of European Magic.” Grey School of Wizardry Class Materials. Dell.Urgano, Ombra, “The Development of European Magic.”

Jacobsen, Thorkild, “The Treasures of Darkness.” Yale University Press: New Haven. 1976.

Koutrafouri, Vasiliki G. and Jeff Sanders, eds. “Ritual Failure: Archaelogical Perspectives.” Sidestone Press: Leiden. 2013.

Moro, Pamela, “Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Magic.” International Library of Anthropology. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea1915, .

Van Buylaere, Greta, Daniel Schwemer, et. al. “Sources of Evil: Studies in Mesopotamian Exorcistic Lore.” Koninklijke Brill NV: Leiden. 2018.

Babylonian Month of May/June

In the Standard Mesopotamian Calendar, the month starting from the new moon of May is called Simanu (“Month of the Brick Gods”). The King would lay the first brick in the brick mold. Then brickmaking and construction could begin in earnest. The Gods of Bricks and Building were honored in eight rituals that centered on the brick kilns.

For modern people, this can be the time to celebrate masonry and other aspects of building. Think of how bricks provide for safe and snug homes. The beginnings of civilization could be said to be represented by bricks and mortar.

The Gods of Bricks and Building are:
Girra: The God of Fire. The God of Kilns
Kabta: God of Pickaxes, Construction and Bricks
Kulla: The God of Building.
Musdama: The God of Foundations. The God of Architects
Arazu: The God of Completed Construction
Nuska: The God of Fire. The God of Civilization.

Note: In Sumer, the time of the inundations of the fields began at the new moon of May. The month of May-June is known as Sig-ga.

The Many Gods of Mercury

Mercury (Mercurius) was not originally a Roman God. However, He was assimilated so early that He became one of the Di Consentes (The Twelve Great Gods). Mercury came to Rome via the grain trade with Sicily, which was then a part of the Magna Graecae (Greater Greece). The Romans first considered Hermes, the Greek God, to be the God of the Grain Trade. Later as Mercurius, He became the God of Trade and Merchants. However, Cicero wrote that one of Hermes’ aspects – the Messenger of the Gods – was carried over from the Greeks.

In 495 BCE, Mercury’s temple was built outside the Pomerium (Sacred Boundary of Rome). The Mercuralia, his major festival, held on the Ides of May, the day when his temple was dedicated. Since his temple is located halfway between the temples of the Capitoline Triad of the patricians and the Aventine Triad of the plebeians, Mercury also became the Mediator Between Social Classes.

Mercury was often syncretized with the local Gods of various Celtic and Germanic tribes. (Note 1.) Julius Caesar said that Mercury was the most popular God in Britain and Gaul. Meanwhile, Romans in these areas often regarded the Germanic and Celtic Gods to be aspects of their Roman ones (“interpretatio Romana” (Note 2.)). The Gauls and Germans identified Mercury as their Inventor of the Arts. To them, Mercury was also the God of Magic, Good-Luck and Fertility. For this attribute, the Gauls displayed Mercury with either three heads or faces or phalli. (Note 3.)

The syncretic forms of Mercury would appear in different ways. One is the Latin name with a Celtic place name. These are local Gods who were incorporated with Mercury to become a major God of the tribe. Another form is the hybrid (Note 4.) who becomes a unique God – neither Celtic or Roman, but both. A common form is Mercury with epithets that reflected an attribute of his. These epithets are based on the perceptions of the Gauls and Germans.

As a God, Mercury is extremely “fluid.” He has no final definition such being only the God of Merchants. Since They draw on many cultures (such as Carthage), the many Gods of Mercury are ambiguous. From each culture, Mercury gains different attributes.

Mercury in some of his many forms: (Note 5.)

Mercurius Artaios, the God of Hunting. Protector of Bears and Bear Hunting.
Mercurius Arvernus, the Main God of the Arverni tribe.
Mercurius Cimbrianus, a hybrid of Mercury with a God of the Cimbri. (He was sometimes thought to be Woden in another form.)
Mercurius Cissonius, the God of the Chariots.
Mercurius Esibraeus, a hybrid of the Iberian Esibraeus with the Roman Mercury.
Mercurius Gebrinius, a hybrid of Mercury with Gebrinius.
Mercurius Moccus, the Protector of Boars and Boar Hunters.
Mercurius Visucius, a hybrid of the Celtic Visucius with the Roman Mercury. (Worshipped in the frontier areas of the Roman empire in Gaul and Germany.)

Notes:
Note 1. Apollo and Mars were also popular among the Gauls and Germans.

Note 2.Interpretatio Romana” is from Tacitus’ Germania – “according to the Roman interpretation.” In the Roman sense, these Gods were aspects of the original Roman Ones.

Note 3. The phalli were a good luck charm.

Note 4. Syncretism can be the fusing of two or more Gods. It may create a new entity who exists with the Original Gods.

Note 5. The Gods found with the most inscriptions in Gaul and Germany was Cissonius, Gebrinius, and Visucius.