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.

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.

Hero Cultus and Deified Humans in Polytheism

In Polytheistic traditions, various humans have been honored as Heroes, while others are raised to be Gods. Heroes are more than human but less a God. Meanwhile, “Deified Humans” (Note 1), having shed their humanity, are Gods.

Heroes are the Extraordinary Dead, regarded by others for their greatness. Since they are the examples of ideals such as courage or virtue, Heroes can be asked to help the living. A person would make offerings and ask for strength from Hercules or piety from Aeneas.

A notable Roman Hero is Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519 -430 BCE), farmer, general, and statesman. He was plowing his fields when the Senate appointed him dictator to defend Rome against the Aequi. Leaving his farm, Cincinnatus called together the Roman men and led them to victory. Afterwards, he gave up his dictatorship and returned to his farm. Cincinnatus is the model for public service.

Also, Heroes can be part human and God. Gilgamesh, King of Uruk (Sumer) is described as being one third human and two-thirds God. Romulus and his twin Remus of Rome have Mars as their father and Rhea Silvia, a Vestal Virgin. Hercules’ father is Zeus, while his mother is the human Alcmene.

Deified Humans are people who have been raised to be Gods (apotheosis) (Note 2). For example, the Egyptians raised the physician and architect Imhotep to be the God of Medicine and Healing. First, He was a chancellor to the Pharoah Djoser about 2600 BCE. In early Egypt, Imhotep was noted for his advances in medicine. Shortly after his death, He became a demi-god. Over time, people raised Imhotep to Godhood, calling Him “the Son of Ptah.” By 525 BCE, He was the Divine Healer.

The Romans raised Romulus to Godhood. After ruling Rome as its first king, He was taken up in a whirlwind by his father Mars. Then Romulus became known as Quirinus, the God of the Romans (who were referred as “Quirites.” (Note 3)). Being Quirinus, He guided the Roman people and the State.

Even today, people still deify humans and revere new Heroes. Modern Polytheists believe the musician Jim Morrison to be the incarnation of Dionysus. After his death, various Neo-Pagans deified David Bowie as a God. In the U.S. Capitol Building, at the Rotunda is the “Apotheosis of Washington.” This painting depicts George Washington rising to the heavens with Liberty and Victory.

Note 1. In contrast, “Divine Humans” is a New Age theory that humans are essentially Divine beings.
Note 2. One academic theory is that the Gods are originally humans, who achieved divine status over time. However, early Polytheists in their practices did differentiate between the Eternal Gods and Deified Heroes.
Note 3. Romans in their civil capacity are “Quirites”, and “Romani” in their military one.

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.

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.

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.

Entering the Mythic Mind

As a part of Polytheistic devotions, the myths need to be read and pondered. Since they are taught as simply stories, myths have lost their sacredness for the everyday person. To counter that, a reader can recall William Butler Yeats placing the poet at the meeting point between heaven and earth. To Yeats, a poet’s calling was to be the oracle connecting two realms. Therefore, a myth can be regarded in this manner.

Myths shape the meaning of human existence within the cosmos. They connect the ordinary with the numinous, by offering symbols to ponder. Understanding them is critical in developing the right way of living. By sharing a gnosis of the various Gods, a myth unlocks the sacred.

Entering the myth means leaving behind the concept of Materialism. This philosophy insists that physical matter is the fundamental reality. It can be regarded by the religious as the denial of the Spirit in all things. Materialism is reflected in the belief that the Gods are only figments of the imagination. The corollary to this is the dogma of Mechanism. That says that everything that happens is the result of predictable cause and effect. In contrast, mythic words are magic, for they weave the world into being.

The mythic mind perceives the world not as an object of thought but as a subject of feeling. While the intellectual tradition of the West emphasizes logic and rationality, the mythic mind moves through perceptions. That means polygenesis is expected and welcomed. Multiple creation stories, which contradict each other, fit together as a whole. For example, in Egyptian mythology, Hathor showed that the fruitfulness of the world is sacred. Meanwhile, Ptah spoke the world, and wisdom was recognized. The world became a living being who “involved a simultaneity of opposite states.”

In “A Secret History of Consciousness,” Gary Lachman writes “The mythic structure existed in a kind of sacred circle (temenos) a self-enclosed sphere containing the polarities of Heaven and Earth, a kind of Cosmic Egg whose protective shell housed human consciousness.” Things are neither this nor that, but before or beyond or both. Time is not linear moving from a past to a present to a future. Past and future are meaningless because time holds all at once. The past is in the present, the future in the past, since events move from a beginning and return.

Reading a myth entails many levels of “seeing.” Myths both make the world and redefine it. To understand a myth deeply is to be transformed by the sacred. It presents the truth that illuminates the reality that everyone is a part of.

(I am planning to blog further on reading myths.)

Levels of reading a myth:
What is the temporal relation between the teller and listener? Between the various relationships within the myth?

What is the chronotope (how time relates to space)? What is the structure of the cosmos? What is featured in the myth as landscape?

Quantity (Number):
What numbers have special associations?

Quality (Kind):
What is being described and how? Are there genealogies or a unity of opposites?

The entities in the myth are linked in multiple ways. How do they interact and influence the world? Are things created out of nothing?