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.”

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/

Modernity and Myths: Introduction

I am planning to write a series of posts over the year on myths and how modern people regard them.

In the 4th Century, Sallustius wrote one of the oldest known treatises on the Gods – called “On the Gods and the World.” According to Sallustius, myths were divine since they represent the Gods (Themselves) and their activities. He wrote “That myths are divine can be seen from those who have used them… But Why the myths are divine is the duty of philosophy to inquire.”

Sallustius asserts that the meaning of myths may not be apparent to everyone. Although the Gods do give commonsense to everyone, not all use it. “To teach the whole truth about the Gods to all produces contempt in the foolish and the lack of zeal in the good.” He explains that hiding the truth compels people to ponder it. Therefore, myths have revealed (clear) and unrevealed (hidden) aspects of the Gods. Sallustius does assure everyone that “the soul may immediately feel that words are veils to the truth which is a mystery.”

In his treatise, Sallustius divided myths into five categories. Theological myths speculate on the essences of the Gods. (These myths interest only philosophers.) Psychic ones discuss the Soul, while physical myths tell of the activities of the Gods in the world. (Both psychic and physical myths are for poets.) Material myths concern the archetypes of the Gods such as Apollo as the Sun (however the Gods are never archetypes). Mixed myths, the most common, aim at unifying the humans with the Cosmos and the Gods.

In contrast, people raised in industrial societies of the modern age have different ideas. They have many problematic assumptions of myths in general. For example, traditional myths today are regarded as stories to entertain. In contrast, history, which supposes what did happen, is the truth. Actually, history is selective in remembering certain events and deliberately forgetting others. In the minds of modern people, myths and histories have become fused to create a particular vision of reality. One example of this is the myth of progress, which is regarded by many people to be fact.

Moreover, time and memory are regarded differently. The Ancient Greeks viewed time as a block – past is future and future is past. Therefore, divination is prescience since it dips into the time stream. Modern people, in contrast, see time as an upward arrow – past is past, and future is future. Oral tradition is faulty, whereas the written word is true. The Greeks believed that the written word was suspect since the writer could change the myth. For them, oral tradition what was faithful to the truth.

Read a version here: https://hermetic.com/texts/on_the_gods-1

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:
Time:
What is the temporal relation between the teller and listener? Between the various relationships within the myth?

Space:
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?

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