The other day, I was wandering through a parking lot, meditating on the question of, “Is this a god or not?” A complex aspect of this issue, I mused, was that there are so many valid manifestations of any given deity. At that moment, I heard the cawing of a single crow.
“Oh, hello Apollon.”
Two crows called back in unison, and I heard a small, still voice say, one god, many voices.
I thought to myself, what a great idea for an article!
DOZENS of crows begin to caw together, excitedly and loudly. I wondered where, exactly, they had come from, or where they had been hiding up until now.
“Would you like me to interview you on that topic, Apollon?”
Just a bit louder, a bashful voice said, “Yes, please.”
As I began to channel this conversation, however, it went in directions that I didn’t expect. Represented herein are opinions which Apollon holds that are very different from my own.
I want to stress this, because it’s really important: I don’t agree with everything Apollon says in this conversation. In fact, there is a great deal that I vehemently disagree with.
I believe that all religions are equally valid. Indeed, I believe that monotheistic traditions are good, henotheistic traditions are good, panentheistic traditions are good, and polytheistic traditions are good. The most important thing is that multiple viewpoints exist. I’m also not sure that I agree with the definition of Monism used here.
If anything you reads offend you, call Apollon and tell him.
Read this and burn some frankincense. Then, tell him why you don’t agree with him. Actually? The best thing about Apollon is that he’ll actually be delighted that you took the time to organize your philosophical thoughts on the subject, and won’t be mad that you are questioning. The fact that Apollon doesn’t need his followers to agree with him is his greatness.
In the words of Aristotle: It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. If you are the sort of person who freaks out and spits fire when you see something on the internet that you don’t agree with, please don’t read on.
So, Apollon, what interests you in this topic?
Apollon: So, many have asked, or wondered about, or, maybe I should say worried about, the fact that different gods are seen differently by different people at different times. You said, Thenea, and I agree, that the defining characteristic which makes it the same being is the consciousness — that is, (if I may rephrase) the recipient of the deity’s experiences, in total, and thus their wisdom. Any being, no matter how unlike the deity’s self it may look, which nonetheless contains the same locus of consciousness, is the same deity. A certain brother of mine, for example, loves very much to dress up in costumes. He might look like a man, a woman, or a wookie (yes, I went there) but he’s still the same god. I know so because, when I speak to him, he remembers every interaction we’ve had, despite the girdle and mascara.
Thenea: Sure, that makes sense. I’m thinking particularly of the Hymn to Demeter, where she disguises herself as an old woman (line 110). Or when Zeus dressed up as a poor man to test the hospitality of Lycaon. The whole point was that they didn’t look like themselves. I think the purpose of those myths is actually to show that any random person you meet could be a deity in disguise (so don’t be a dick), but it certainly also backs up your point as well — the appearance of the deity, and how much power they are allowing you to see, is not the prime thing you should judge a manifestation by.
Apollon: No, and indeed, while gods are powerful, power is not the prime quality of a deity. This irksome misunderstanding causes much harm, for humans are not known to us as weaklings — rather, the teeth of humanity have stripped bare the forests, and laid to waste many species of creature that fly, crawl and swim. Wisdom, rather, is what separates men from gods. Wisdom, and experience — the voice of the gods may become quiet if not heeded, the power of gods may drift away from the living world if that power is not called upon, but wisdom and virtue are imperishable, and it is because of this that the gods are called Athanatoi, the Undying Ones.
Thenea: Therefore, if a being does not possess the requisite wisdom, it is not a deity.
Apollon: I would say not. Furthermore, if a being is wise, you should heed its voice, even if it isn’t a deity. All of the ills of humanity find their source in a lack of wisdom — specifically, in having power that exceeds wisdom, and using power in a way that is not wise. Gods are often irritable with mortals who practice magick, or try, not because magick is inherently blasphemous, or impious, or impure, or arrogant. Rather, we sincerely wish that you would spend more of your time developing the ability to wisely use the power you already have (because, believe me, you don’t), rather than looking for power, and even more power. (You are welcome, Sparky.)
Thenea: Obviously, I have a different perspective. If we consider who, in the history of magic, was most likely to believe and
practice, you will note that those who feel disempowered often feel attracted to it. There are those in our society that are mistreated, and minimized. They are the target of micro and macro aggressions, and find doors unfairly closed to them. There are people who are starving, not because of a lack of food in the country, but rather, on account of greed. These people often turn to magick (of some form or another), out of a desperate hope of evening the odds. Properly managed, magick could be an equalizer.
Apollon: You and Hekate should talk. But let us return to metaphysics, shall we?
Of the Whole, and the Parts
Apollon: Aspects of a deity are contiguous.
Thenea: Do you mean contiguous like the various cat-robots that make up Voltron, or to you mean that in the sense of continuous, like the parts of my body?
Apollon: I think that’s a philosophical question, Thenea. Really, the truth is, the cells in your body aren’t really touching. In fact, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in a water molecule don’t really touch, either. They interact through electrical interchanges.
Thenea: Do the parts of a deity come apart, and act separately, ever?
Apollon: No, absolutely not. They are, in all functional senses, an indivisible whole. Just as you can wiggle your toes while patting your head, and not be two separate people, I can cary out two (or dozens of) conversations at once, and not be more than one god. Consequently, you see separate manifestations of me in different places, doing different things, acting in different ways — but just as the various parts of your body are being governed by your brain, the various machinations of my aspects are governed by my singular intelligence, which I share with no other being.
Of Monists and a Cow Named Fido
Thenea: I guess what a lot of people find troubling, or at least what I find troubling, is the experience of going to a ritual where a deity you work very intimately with is called, and the manifestation at the ritual behaves as though it has never met you before.
Apollon: There are two general explanations for this, but both of them amount to “it’s not the same deity that you were working with.” Hermes, I believe, may have talked about the doubles.
Thenea: He talked about a concept that he referred to as ditheikonisma (double imagery).
Apollon: He sees the problem as being caused by human-made thought forms perambulating around and causing shenanigans — more specifically acting out the desires or expectations of the miscreants who crafted them. I have a different perspective. Rather, I say that the problem is the preponderance of deific mega-corporations.
Apollon: Yes, I understand that the metaphor is a bit confusing. So, in your country, you have this peculiar legal trend of recognizing corporations (which are effectively incredibly large conglomerations of smaller organizations under a single umbrella) as being legally equivalent to individual people. At least, that is what I hear. I’m no politician, nor am I any legal expert. Ask Hermes, maybe. Be that as it may, the metaphor is apt — There are humans that want to worship conglomerations of deities as a single entity.
Thenea: Yes, I’m certainly familiar with that sort of practice. The word they use is a “complex” of deities. I’m not completely certain that they understand them as a single entity. Exactly how is it related to the issue where a deity who answers to a certain name shows up, but isn’t them?
Apollon: It is related to only one of the two possibilities which I’d like to enumerate. That is, a situation where a human tries to call something bigger than a deity into their ritual. Now… how shall I put this politely? I shan’t, I think. We’re all friends here. Your itty bitty little rituals are not even big enough for all of my aspects. Something smaller than me, Apollon, the culturally Greek deity, is going to fit into your circle. My hand, maybe. Or my face. Metaphorically speaking. An aspect. Or three aspects, at most. If you expect to fit something larger than me in there, you are kidding yourself. Rather, what you are doing is using my name and face to call a smaller part of that larger subset, do you follow?
Thenea: I think so. It sounds a lot like the classic example about Fido the cow. Cows have four legs, Fido has four legs, therefore Fido is a cow. The Monist assumption, you are contending, is that since cows have four legs, that they ultimately derive from the greater spiritual being which is, in fact, all four-legged things. Thus, when they wish to call a cow, they say, “Come, oh four legged-ness!”
Apollon: Yes, and because the presumption is that you are capable of calling the whole thing, you don’t bother to specify which part — So, since you are not calling a particular subset, you are calling any subset.
Those magi in your example who are invoking four-leggedness may have in mind that they want a female cow so that they can milk her and make ice-cream, but they call the entire platonic ideal of four-leggedness, and then some entirely random, smaller part will land in their circle. In our example case, Fido. For the sake of completeness, let us clarify that Fido is a male dog.
Thenea: But if they had cow in mind, are the words so important?
Apollon: Consider speech as a step in the ladder to manifestation. If thought alone could manifest spiritual energy, why ever would anyone speak invocations? Certainly someone has noticed that invocations, the spoken words, are an important aspect of causing things to manifest. Why then would you ever assume that the words you choose for that invocation don’t matter? From a consciousness point of view, concepts actually exist in a different part of the brain from the thing that you are ready to say, but have not yet spoken. Having heard your own words, the meanings of those words are digested by your conscious and unconscious minds. Spoken word propagates through more areas of the mind that the unspoken word, and ultimately, the words you chose will change how the unconscious mind interprets your intent.
But moreover, my personal experience is that even the intent is not correct. What is literally in their minds is, “I will call this larger archetype, which will be inclusive of deity X.” Or, in other cases, deities X, Y and Z. Who are, of course, all really the same deity, because they all happen to like the color yellow, or eat chocolate-covered fruit bats, or whatever staggeringly irrelevant quality they’ve chosen.
Thenea: Is the fact that you are a god of truth really so irrelevant?
Apollon: No. Obviously not. Not in the grand sense of things. But for the purpose of targeting a deity, it will not help them. If the spirit of the invocation is, “Hello, could any vaguely Apollon-like thing that happens to be nearby please come into my circle? I will give you cookies!” then itt could be any Apollon-like thing small enough to fit into their circle. A discarded telesma (god form), for example, or a dead guy who used to be a Christian proselytizer. Not necessarily me, not necessarily wise, and not necessarily good. All will be concerned with truth, in some broader sense, and yes, they will come and eat the cookies. Who wouldn’t?
As bad as that is, the matter grows worse in linear proportion to how much bigger the thing you are trying to call is with respect to your circle.
The people, the text of whose invocation reads as, “Come any male thing which happens to be nearby…”
Please include a lacuna to indicate where I face-palm so hard that I lose contact with the material world.
“God,” and Other Words Used to Death.
Thenea: Does specifying “god” not help?
Apollon: What does the word mean? I once observed an Orthodox Jewish woman carrying around a coffee mug that was emblazoned with the epithet “Shoe Goddess.” The meaning wasn’t that she was actually a deity, but rather than she owned a lot of shoes. What about “Goddess Sizing”? Are all plus-sized people spiritual authorities now? The word is overused and meaningless. Much like, “love,” which could mean anything from your sentiments toward a particular brand of smoked salmon, to your undying ardor for a person you’d be willing to give your life for, the word “god” is too general, too vague, and no longer powerful. It’s become the stuff of hyperbole and flippancy. If I say that someone is a “god,” or “goddess,” we have to do some careful thinking about whether we mean a deity, a human who is really interested in a subject, a very competent person, or, actually, the reverse — whether we mean it sarcastically. I assure you, leaving intense vagueness and room for confusion is not what we want to do when constructing the verbal and conceptual aspect of a ritual. It will, not always, but often, result in incorrect entity targeting.
So, that is the first of two possibilities. Simply put, it is not the deity you work intimately with, but rather some vaguely similar being that your ritualist called. This, of course, is a pain in our sides. Once the thing in question contacts a human, and the human accepts it as being an aspect of that god, it is incredibly irritating to rectify the situation.
Consequently, I feel very confident in stating that people trying to call the entire universe into their circle, or everything masculine, or everything feminine, should really not be inviting polytheists looking for a relationship with a specific deity into their circle. Not without immense, bold, neon signs issuing a disclaimer.
Thenea: I understand what you are saying. There are, of course, those who worship a very specific God and Goddess of the witches, whom they identify with various male and female deities from world religions. I think that most people attending a Wiccan circle under-
Apollon: No. No they don’t. They don’t because Wicca believes it is the final word on Paganism. They don’t because those names that they “identify” with their god and goddess aren’t borrowed, they are stolen. They are stolen and used without proper explanation of the way in which they are being used. Understand why: no one wants to stand up in front of a group of people and say, “Today I will be using the name Dionysos, not to refer to a Greek deity, but to refer to a deity of the British Isles. No, I didn’t ask Dionysos, and neither did my deity. But since my deity is a deity of the whole world and owns everything that is male, it’s cool. Plus, John Keats was British. And so were the Elgin marbles. Also, Christians suck for saying that their deity owns the whole world. The Tyrant. Now, onto our invocation.”
How we form relationships with deities.
Thenea: So, what is the second possibility?
Apollon: The second possibility is that you never actually encountered the true deity before. I am not saying, to be clear, that it would actually be possible for a mortal to venerate a god or goddess and for that deity to be unaware of them. The entire matter is one comprised of reflections.
In the first place, the deity that the person seeks exists within. A person, a mortal, I mean, is composed of aspects, though of a different kind. To contact the god or goddess, the person must first find the part of him or herself which is as a reflection of the deity in question. The inner god and the outer god are like lock and key. They must be fitted together to form an open gateway which connects Heaven and Earth.
The more perfectly the image of the deity which exists within reflects the true god or goddess, the more perfectly they commune. I’m going to ask you to restate this, as I am aware that I’m prone to being obtuse.
Thenea: So… what you are saying… I think… is that a human being must connect to a deity by making themselves a reflection of that deity.
Apollon: Something like that. I think what I’m discussing is actually what some might call “Jungian Archetypes” — A human soul is comprised of these. The machinations of their mind take on a likeness of a particular mythos. The mythos in question will often dictate which religion the person will choose for themselves. In order to connect to the outer deity, the inner mythos has to contain a reflection of that deity.
Thenea: And step one of connecting to, for example, Aphrodite, is to find your inner Aphrodite.
Apollon: Exactly. Then, by connecting to the deity, you polish the mirror. Invocation becomes the polishing stone. Lastly, when the door is open, the deity and mortal connect face-to-face.
However, the psyche is very often loathe to part with the inner deity. In the early stages, skillful gods and goddesses can puppeteer the inner deity. The deity and the unconscious mind must vie for puppeteering rights. Sometimes, the inner deity will speak the words in the deity’s heart, and other times, what the mortal hears will be more indicative of what is in his or her own heart.
In this early stage of a mortal-deity relationship, a person encounters a manifestation of the god or goddess called in truth, an awareness of the fact that the inner deity that one is accustomed to talking to, and the outer deity, present in the rite, are non-identical, may take hold. A feeling of strangeness may occur, the words “I do not know you” may become reflexive — that is to say, the mortal’s heart is speaking them, but they appear, from the mortal’s perspective, to be coming from the deity.
Thenea: Ok. Just to make certain that I understand you… You are saying that a relationship between a mortal and a deity progresses in the following way:
- An image of the deity is created in the imagination of the human in question.
- A person may or may not discover that image. They must next discover the inner deity, before they can develop it and refine it.
- That image is refined over time, as the human digests more hymns, mythology in whatever form, and sacred imagery.
- When the image in the mind of the human becomes similar enough to the deity, the deity can animate that imagined construct within the mind of the human. However, because that image of the deity is made up of parts of that particular human’s psyche (indeed, being imaginary, there isn’t anything else it can be made up of), it is also animated by the unconscious mind of the person.
- With work, the image within the mind of the human becomes more and more similar to the deity. At some critical point, the two fit together like a lock and key, and some sort of mystic union is achieved. This is, metaphorically, like unlocking a door.
Have I understood what you are saying so far, Apollon?
Apollon: That seems accurate. I might add that it is entirely possible, during what you identified as stage two, in your schema, for people to call the deity from inside their head into a ritual. Likewise, they can begin to polish a mirror according to non-traditional mythology, at which point, they may be connecting to a deity who is not actually one of the original Greek deities. It is also entirely possible that the mirror that they polish fits perfectly with no extant deity, and true communion is never achieved.
Thenea: I can see where that would be frustrating to you.
Apollon: What is more frustrating is the absolute allergy that most of the Pagan community seems to have to the idea that you can succeed or fail to do something correctly. An individual deity is so diverse, and a pantheon contains so many deities, and there are so many pantheons. Isn’t it enough? Are we really hampering your creativity by asking you to read and understand things? Why is “Truth,” a dirty word? I feel like everything I stand for is disregarded…
Thenea: Yeah… well… people are coming from a culture where they have to face down a lot of abuse and a lot of evil coming from people whose “truth” tells them to commit all kinds of evils. There are wars going on in the Middle East, and the Near East, and real live people are dying out there because they believe so hard in their “truth” that they are willing to kill for it.
Apollon: It might occur to someone to ask whether a spiritual Truth could ever lead to evil.
Thenea: For sure it could. If the wrong person hears their god saying that certain mystical practices are wrong and harmful to a deity’s ability to interact with the world, they might just decide to go thermo-nuclear on people doing those practices. In the modern day, we have people causing flame wars, bitching each other out, destroying community and generally hating on each other, because they believe that everyone else in the pagan community is “doing it wrong.”
Apollon: I’d wager that they don’t truly believe that, though. Most of it is motivated by territorialism, and a desire for social power. Religion is just an excuse. It makes them feel like the wrong things they want to do are actually right things that they have no choice about doing. There is nothing spiritual about it. It is delusion.
Thenea: So, more interesting to me is this whole mystic union, or mystic gate idea you are talking about.
Apollon: Of course. How could I have guessed? 🙂
Thenea: What does it mean? What does it functionally do?
Apollon: It opens the mind to the objective mystical reality that so many people don’t actually believe in. I don’t blame them. It is monstrously difficult to achieve. There is no outside measure of the authenticity of this experience, and every asshole with notions of world domination is apt to claim it.
Thenea: And you are saying that the objective mystical reality is a polytheistic one?
Apollon: … That’s a complex question. I will say… the geographical level of objective metaphysical reality that will not explode your brain to look at will contain discrete objects that you might be apt to call deities. Human beings, as I know you are aware, have a special connection to the physical world. Once in true contact with a deity, by practice, by design, or by an unrepeatable fluke, physical manifestation is possible.
Thenea: And so what do you recommend, in order to achieve that?
Apollon: I wish I could recommend some short cut. Sadly, I know of none. The traditional hymns, the ancient stories, the many names, and the sacred places of each god are the prime way to fix an understanding of them in your mind. Apply yourself to this ceaselessly, and you will find clarity.
A specialist in what area, exactly?