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.

Moderns and Myths: “Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics”

“Genesis, Zen and Quantum Physics: A Fresh Look at the Theology and Science of Creation,” Jeff A. Benner and Michael Calpino, 2011. Virtualbookworm.com Publishing

Benner and Calpino desired to present their version of Genesis as it was originally written. To do this, hey used a computer to translate the pictographs of ancient Hebrew. Based on their conception of the culture of the ancient Hebrews, the two authors then determined how accurate their translation was. (Note 1)

According to the authors, since the Hebrews were nomads, they received divine revelation from God regularly. Benner and Calpino explained that the experiential aspects of the nomadic culture allowed for this. In contrast, modern people received their world view (and theology) from the Greek and Romans. (Note 2) The settled lifestyle of these urban peoples prevented modern people from fully understanding Genesis. Moreover, the authors stressed that in most translations that the text usually reflects the current theology. Therefore, what people read in translation is not what the nomadic Hebrews meant.

In their appendix, the authors explain why only nomads receive regular visions and encounters of God. (The inverse is that urban people do not know the Gods. (Note 3)) They write that “the nomadic lifestyle is key to the success as a person of God.” Benner and Calpino conclude that the lifestyle creates the spiritual and world view of the people. (Note 4)

Benner and Calpino write that nomadism “is a lifestyle that develops godly character and puts us in touch with that which is beyond us.” The authors cite the following elements of this lifestyle that creates such spirituality. 1. Nomads are removed from the dominant cultures of their time. 2. Nomads need to be self-reliant. 3. Nomads are always immigrant and outsiders. 4. Nomads are pastoral. 5. Nomads demonstrate strong decisive leadership. 6. Among nomads, the overriding legal responsibility is hospitality.

Reading deeper, I found the authors contradicting themselves. They write, “in fact, while the outward expressions of the religious traditions of the world may be very different, the mystical subsets of each bear striking similarities in both theology and practice… the truly striking thing is that these ‘mystical’ practices gave rise to similarities in theology that are difficult to explain given the divergent history and geography of the traditions from which they have risen… and irregardless of the forms and rituals of religion, there is singular ‘method’ of making that connection. It is the journey that results in that connection that will reveal the truth about the world, God, and ourselves.”

Edward Butler in his essay, “The Polemic Against Polytheism,” expresses what I found troubling in Benner and Calpino’s book. He writes, “translating the most important concepts in a civilization’s philosophical tradition into another, alien set of terms can never be regarded as a simple, nor a transparent process. This is all the more true when a clash of civilizations, and a veritable war of religions, has been in progress for centuries.” Further, he writes, “The idea of a so-called ‘natural theology,’ a primordial monotheistic revelation granted to all peoples was crucial in this effort.” He is referring to the sense of monotheism being the natural order of things. “The notion of a pure and original monotheism, an idea state of spirituality which existed naturally in the distant past and would be reestablished through human action in the future, was and remains perhaps the single most powerful tool of the colonial project.”

I think Butler has stated what I thought of this book. The authors have colonialized the Hebrew past as being monotheistic instead of polytheistic. They assume a mythic past of “ a pure and original monotheism.”

The subtitle “a fresh look at the theology and science of creation” gives the authors’ actual world-view. Benner and Calpino are modern people with modern monotheistic ideas. They fail to understand the actual polytheism of the ancient Hebrews. As modern people often do, Benner and Calpino assume that the ancients really think the same as they do.

The two authors do make one important point. The theology should not come from the lifestyle or culture. The theology should come from the myths themselves. The myths lead people into deeper connection with the Gods.

Notes:
Note 1. Benner and Calpino referred to what they did as “mechanical translation.” In his article, “About the Mechanical Translation,” Benner explained “each word would be translated faithful according to its original linguistic and cultural perspective.”

Note 2. What the authors are alluding to is “written” versus “oral” cultures. Written cultures allow for abstractions, while oral cultures reference ideas through the speaker and listener.

Note 3. As a Roman Polytheist, I disagree with the authors’ assertion about urban peoples. Romans experienced the Gods, daily in various ways. Also, I believe that the authors’ own version of monotheism prevents them from understanding polytheistic thinking.

Note 4. Benner and Calpino both live settled lives. However, Benner writes in his various essays how a settled person can have a “migratory journey on God’s road.”

Further Reading:
Edward Butler, “The Polemic Against Polytheism.” https://www.indica.today/long-reads/the-polemic-against-polytheism/
Jeff A. Benner, Ancient Hebrew Research Center, https://ancient-hebrew.org/

“True to the Earth” By Kadmus

“True to the Earth: Pagan Political Theology.” Gods & Radicals Press. 2018

Kadmus, a professor of philosophy, expounds on the difference between Polytheistic (Pagan) and Monotheistic metaphysics. After explaining the differences, he applies Polytheistic theology to modern Western politics. He concludes that capitalism came from Monotheism, which he considers to be nihilistic. To combat that, people need to embrace Polytheism, which is life-sustaining.

The major value of this book for me was how to think as a Polytheist. According to Kadmus, the invention of writing fundamentally changed how people think. Writing objectified words, which now exist without any anchor to reality. Therefore, abstract concepts such as “goodness” could come into being. Since writing detaches words from time and space, it allowed Monotheism to come into being.

In contrast, oral cultures are concrete and additive. They force the listener to be present with the speaker. Oral thought cements words to a particular time and place. Like verbs, oral thought follows “and also” to encourage things to accumulate more parts.

Kadmus writes, “This objectifying nature of the thought of a literate society shows up in many of our very worst modern characteristics. It also runs deeply throughout Monotheistic metaphysics. The Monotheistic God is most often an abstract goodness or perfection, a strange monster impossible to grasp in an active, concrete associative logic.” He continues, “If the One God were good, we could have this world; if it were evil, we could have this same world; if it didn’t exist at all, we could have this same world again. Thus, ‘goodness’ here is clearly a word without concrete content.”

Meanwhile, Polytheist metaphysics is committed to a complex plurality. This can be seen in the many names for the various Gods. For example, Marduk of Babylon has fifty names; each as important as the others. He is the Commander of the Legions of Wind Demons, Wielder of the Flaming Sword, Knower of the Secrets of the Earth, the Bringer of Rain, and more. Marduk can be all of these parts without being a totality

Monotheist thinking is reductive while Polytheistic thinking is productive. Monotheism reduces everything to One, while Polytheism promotes an abundant plurality. Kadmus writes “Reality within Pagan metaphysics is defined in terms of multiplicity and complexity, while Monotheism instead posits an ultimate oneness arrived at through reduction and simplification. For most versions of Monotheism, the oneness of the universe will derive from the power and oneness of its creator. If God is One, then so too are Truth and Reality. On the other hand, if the Gods are many, then so too are the truths of reality.”

Kadmus continues “When your metaphysics is based upon unity, reduction, totalizing, and Oneness, your approach to the world be shaped by it. Your approach to the world will focus on perfection, purity (Note 1), and the one narrow path to the only acceptable goal. In such a view, each thing has an essence that it either fulfills or betrays. Likewise, each thing has a purpose that it either serves or neglects. Oneness is purity, multiplicity is sin.”

As we try to re-establish Polytheistic metaphysics, these ideas are worth pondering. There is no One Truth but as many truths as there are Divine Beings. Polytheistic thinking celebrates fertility in all its forms, multiplying instead of reducing.

Notes:
Note 1. Purity in Polytheism can be seen in context such as dirty dishes that need to be washed. Christian purity involves purpose and order. In Monotheism, to be pure means to consist of only one thing.

Polytheism: Views on Good and Evil

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Pazuzu from the Louvre

One belief in Christianity is that the material world is inherently evil. People live in a “fallen world.” Therefore, the cosmos is a battleground between the forces of good and evil. The Devil tempts people to sin to separate them from God. A Christian’s only hope is through the Blood of Christ.

When the Church was assimilating Pagans (Note 1), they cast the various Gods as spawns of Satan to discourage belief in Them. However, because of their popularity, some Gods became saints such as Bridgit. Eventually, the Polytheist pantheons were divided into “good” and “evil” Gods. (Note 2)

In contrast, Polytheism regards the universe (including the material world) to be whole. Humans, Gods, Spirits and Others live together in a cosmic ecosystem. What each one does effects the others and their respective worlds. The web of the cosmos has each thread crossing another one or several. It is a tapestry of wholeness. Gods, Spirits, Others and humans meet at the nodes, the liminal places.

An example of this rich complexity is Pazuzu, the demon featured in “The Exorcist” (1973). This Mesopotamian demon (Note 3) is the son of Hanbi, the King of the Evil Wind Demons. Although Pazuzu brings the Wind of Famine, He protects against the West Wind of Pestilence. Meanwhile, newborns and pregnant women are protected by Pazuzu as well. (In Babylon, women wore amulets of his head for protection.)

As I noted, Christians saw demons as evil. Demons like Pazuzu, who have a connection with the Underworld, became agents of Satan, God’s Adversary. Thus the Pagan Underworld was transformed into the Christian Hell, with the Gods and demons as tormentors.

Gaius Florius Aetius, Priest of Apollo, writes in his essays on good and evil (Note 4) that the Gods can be thought in terms of order or chaos. He notes that Plato wrote about destructive forces that oppose the ordering known as Logos. In the Roman Polytheistic sense, order creates civilization, chaos the wilderness.

Aetius writes, “Paganism (Note 5) always revolves around the idea of change. For a Pagan perspective, creation exists always, it merely changes its status and herein lies a hint to the Pagan concept of Evil. There are two different kinds of order, or chaos versus order…The world before the Gods is the original state of the cosmos as a place hostile to life and to civilization…the Gods now come into being and make a new space inside the chaotic cosmos, as a place of order and harmony, wherein life and culture can develop.” (Note 6)

Aetius grapples with the role of the Gods of Chaos. He writes “Seth (Set, Egyptian God) symbolizes the other, the alien, the enemy and the disturbance of harmony, that which is anti-natural. His very existence is contrary to the natural order.” He continues, “Seth sheds some light on the Pagan idea of Evil, as He is the non-defined animal, like one who would not want to be one thing or another, not decide, while culture and personal development requires decision.” (Note 7)

In my reading, Set (Seth) is not evil in the Christian sense. What this Egyptian God does is to ensure that order does not stagnate or overwhelm the cosmos. Raven Kaldera, Northern Tradition shaman, expands on this by explaining that the “troublemaking” Gods have a sacred duty to battle complacency and extreme order.

Because everything is a combination of order and chaos, balance between the two is essential for life. Balance is harmony of the two, for within chaos is order, and vise versa. The excess of order is oppression, the excess of chaos is anarchy.

Notes:
Note 1. The Church coerced the conversion of many European Pagans.

Note 2. This is reflected in how modern Pagans regard Underworld or Trickster Gods. Loki of the Norse is viewed as “evil.” Therefore, when approaching various Pantheons of Gods, be mindful of the unconscious bias of “good” or “evil” Gods.

Note 3. In Mesopotamian nomenclature, “demons” are human-hybrids. “Monsters” are the combinations of animals. Pazuzu, a demon, has a human body with scales, a penis of a snake, the talons and wings of a bird.

Note 4. His essays are “Demons, Spirits and Miasma,” “The Roles of Evil in Paganism,” The Gods of Madness – Danger of the Logo-Centric Western Culture,” and “Concept of Evil.”

Note 5. He refers to Polytheism as Paganism.

Note 6. Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.” P. 126.

Note 7. Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.” P. 127.

Works Used:
Gaius Florius Aetius, “Schola Aetii – Reformed Roman Paganism.”
Jeremy Black and Anthony Green, “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia.”
Tess Dawson, “The Horned Altar”
Thorkild Jacobsen, “The Treasures of Darkness.”
Raven Kaldera, “Dealing with Deities.”

Not All War Gods Are the Same

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Modern Pagans tend to regard the Gods as an aspect of a singular entity. For example, the Goddess religions treat the Goddesses of various pantheons as traits of the Great Goddess. Meanwhile, Nigel Pennick in “Pagan Book of Days” writes “The month of March is sacred to the Roman God Mars, whose equivalents are the Greek Ares and the old sky God of central and northern Europe, Tiu or Tiwaz. In northern and western Europe, this deity is known as the Celtic God Teutates and as the Norse God Tyr.” Pennick considers these disparate Gods to be the same “God of War.”

Lumping different Gods together is a long ingrained habit of modern thought. Living in today’s monotheistic culture indoctrinates people into thinking that only one God has ever existed.

Also, people have separated from the natural world through first Christianity and then by science. They now live in their minds, which is a monoculture in itself.

By divorcing people from their Ancestors (and later the natural world), Christianity forced Pagans to give up everything in order to be dependent on the church. It was a concerted effort by the early Church Fathers to flip the perception of how the natural order of life should be. They established arbitrary structures of how humans and the universe should be.

Eventually, the forced perception of nature being dependent on humans created cracks within Christianity. With the Protestant Reformation came the rigid dependence on the written “Word of God.” This was first formulated by Martin Luther as the sola scriptura (by scripture alone). Religious authority should come only from the Bible, which is God’s Word. Now among many Pagans, the written word is now the final arbitrator of truth.

Since the only thing that mattered became the written word, oral traditions were neglected,. This further extracted people from their world, with the Dead becoming figments of the imagination. This resulted in absolute reliance on the “lore” being evident among today’s Pagans. However, religion grows and changes through interaction with the natural world.

Meanwhile, Gnostic Christianity introduced the idea that humans with their own divine spark are trapped in physical bodies. Once gnosis (personal knowledge) is awakened, the divine spark will go free. Gnostics uphold that the material world is suspect and polluted. This theology evolved into the modern belief of the New Age religions: “We are spiritual beings in human bodies.” This detaches the person from the material world completely.

However, the idea that all “War Gods are the same” runs counter to nature. Consider English, which is used as a world-wide language. There are differences in dialects among native English speakers. For example, in the United States, “soda” and “pop” can mean the same thing – i.e. a “soft drink.” But “soda” can also mean “tonic water.” Asking for a “soda” could either get one a “soft” or a “hard” drink, depending on the region.

In my experience, the less people know or want to know, the more they tend to lump things together. Take snakes for example. There are nineteen families of these reptiles. However, most people think that all snakes are the same i.e. “a snake is a snake is a snake.” Not knowing the differences between snakes can kill you. The king and coral snakes resemble each other with yellow, black, and red stripes. The bands of the two species are in a different order. One is a venomous snake, while the other is a constrictor. Expounding on that further, it is critical to be able to identify the species of venomous snakes. The anti-venom serum (venom antiserum) used to treat snake bites is unique to each species. A cobra’s venom differs from a coral snake’s venom. Since time is critical in stopping the spread of the venom, a prompt identification is crucial.

Returning to the notion that “War Gods are the same,” it now makes little sense to think that. Even within a particular pantheon, the War Gods are all different. For example, the Babylonians have Inanna, the Goddess of Love, riding into battle leading the armies. Ningirsu (Ninurta), Lord Plough, is a God of War and also a God of Farmers. Nergal, whose symbol is the fly, brings death, pestilence and war.

The modern world has rendered humans from nature. Once people expected to encounter dragons and fairies when they went out their front door. Now divorced from nature, humans have forgotten their place in the web of life. The ecosystem of the cosmos includes humans as well as Ancestors, Gods, and Others. To reenter the ecosystem is to see the Gods as disparate Beings.

Further Reading:
Claude Lecouteux, “The Return of the Dead”
Nigel Pennick, “The Pagan Book of Days”
Lynn Picknett & Clive Prince, “When God Had a Wife”