Monday, August 18, 2008

Eternity and Eternals, continued...

So, picturing an eternal being is not easy. We humans have mathematical and linguistic concepts of eternity, but we do not really have an actual physical experience of it. We can conceptualize it, imagine it in many ways, but we can never truly know it, so, what is my conception of an eternal being and how it interacts with the cosmos?

Choosing an image for this is not so easy as it may seem, as I want to relate it to the mundane world in which all of our experiences are based, so I have to find an image that we can all relate to. For us, the idea of nationhood, culture, and language are ubiquitous, so I will go with the paradigm of civilization.

A civilization is like a God. It encompasses a great many languages, cultures, even religions, while its tendrils find their way into every aspect of life for the people. A civilization encompasses things like linguistic relation, moral uniqueness, mindset, political forms, religious forms (Christianity is an offshoot of Hellenism, for example) and, and this one is important, a philosophical mindset. All of these things tend to run as a kind of commonality within a civilization, even when there are differences in religion and language in that civilization.

A God is like a civilization. It’s power and influence run throughout the cosmic sphere, from the highest order of magnitude to the lowest, and in so doing he binds things together. In its totality, a God is like Chinese or European civilization, each of which is composed of many languages that are related in some way, and yet there is commonality between these languages and cultures that make up the whole. A God and its many different aspects all make up a whole, but like the cultures within a civilization, each of the aspects has its own contextual uniqueness with which the people connect.

Does that make any sense?

Think of it this way. The French are part of European civilization, a civilization that can be said to have been sparked by the Hellenic influence. The French are unique, and they relate to each other within a French context, a context that makes up their culture and linguistic uniqueness. Yet a French man can travel to Germany or America or Portugal and find that while he is uniquely different from that general culture, he is also bound to that culture by the similarities, the threads of civilization, that run through all of the European cultures.

Some ascribe this to the common religious thread that is Christianity, but that is a false assumption because even before Christianity, the philosophical and religious context of the Hellenes, Romans, Germanics, and Celts was tied together by commonalities that the Romans often saw in the ritual and beliefs of the people they encountered in Europe, commonalities that were not as evident to them with regard to the Egyptians or Semites of the Levant.

When we see a God this way, we begin to see that religious contexts are very important to the understanding of a God, because within each religion, the power of a God is made felt in the ways that that culture interprets it and allows it to flourish. This means that if you try to understand Poseidon by studying some of his Hellenic aspects in conjunction with his Egyptian, Celtic, and Chinese aspects, you may end up with a jumble that does not properly represent him.

This is not to say that you should ignore other religions and their history, this would be a mistake, it is that when contemplating an aspect of a deity it is important to try to understand not only that aspect, but how that aspect interacts with the rest of the religion in which it exists.

I mean, what if you read the story of the battle between Athena and Poseidon for control of the Athenian Acropolis and left out Athena? Would the story make as much sense?

So, an eternal being is a force that encompasses all of the many aspects representing it which we are capable of experiencing, but which different cultures see, yet interpret, in different ways, ways that are relevant only within the context that spawns them. Poseidon becomes irrelevant to Shinto, where Susano-O no Mikoto behaves in different ways, yet ways that we might find familiar at times because it is still the same essential spirit, the same eternal being.

To be continued...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Eternity and the Eternals

What is an eternal? How does one make a distinction between immortal and eternal? Why?

Well, the answers are essentially simple, but at the same time difficult because we humans have always had trouble with the concept of eternity and the eternals. So much so that even in religions where the concept of an eternal being has come into common acceptance, that same eternal being is surrounded by beings who are not essentially eternal, and it is these beings who actually receive most of the worship. Islam and Judaism appear to be exceptions to this, but even in those religions there are angels, demons, etc. which by virtue of being created by “God” are not themselves eternal.

Eternity is boundless time. It has no beginning, no boundaries, no means of origin or end. An eternal being, then, is one that has no origin and no end. It exists, plain and simple, and has always done so. Infinity, by contrast, is boundless space. Something that has no end to its area or quantity. The Gods, by my definition, are eternal, but their aspects are not.

Myth gives us these aspects. From Athena of the Greeks to YHWH of the Jews and Zoroaster of the Persians, these aspects of divine beings all have origins in our myth and they change and alter in number and story over time. The Hindu concept of The Brahmin, in my opinion, is more a kin to a representation of a place than a being. Like the Greek conception of Chaos as a “gap” or the Ginnungagap of the Northern people.

So, the aspects of the Gods, like their avatars, are mortal in that they have an origin in our cultural myths, often as titles or epithets that serve as descriptions of an action taken by a deity. And while these aspects all represent a deity, or sometimes multiple deities, they are not, technically, the deity itself. Therefore, Athena, as a name and title, represents the deity we call Wisdom, movement, a structural creative force that the Jewish and Coptic texts describe as moving over the waters.

The eternal nature of the Gods means that they have had an infinite number of aspects, with infinite being an exaggeration. But when dealing with such beings, it is necessary that we human beings divide them into a multitude of titles because it allows us to understand them by bits. We simply do not have the capacity to understand them, each of them, in their entirety.

But if the Gods are such, why does it matter which religion we follow? Why does it matter what form of them we choose to honor? My answer to that is context, because it is within these contexts, cultural and religious, that the aspects come into being and within which they can be understood.

These contexts also allow us to understand divine interaction. Catholics I have known used to say, “Pray hard to God, but throw a prayer to St Anthony (or whoever) for good measure” and this is because within Catholicism there is an entire hierarchy, which comes from Biblical and other mythological sources, that give them an understanding of divine interactions that they, because of the strictures of their religion, cannot acknowledge as being Gods. But call them what you like, the Gods make themselves felt in all religious contexts.

So, the Gods being eternal, and the names we use to define them being of human origin, who are the Gods themselves, and within the context of the current conversation, who is Poseidon?

The Gods are essentially unknowable in their totality. We do not, cannot, know their names, or if they even have names. But if we were to try to name them in the tradition of mankind, meaning by titles, we would come up with names like Father Sky (Father God), Mother Earth (Mother Goddess), Sea God(dess), God(dess) of Light, Moon God(dess), etc. But these are forms that are nebulous, perhaps indicating the inability of man to grasp them, and as such tend to be rather unsatisfying.

Thus, the Sea God becomes Poseidon to the Greeks, and it is their experience of his power that then colors how they title him. And it is their experience of his interaction with the other deities that give him his place in their cosmology and theogony. Thus Poseidon is their Earth Shaker, their Sea King, their giver of life, a punisher of “sins”, and so forth.

To me, however, Poseidon is also a lord of the fluid nature of life, of nature itself, and as such he is a God who is everywhere, from the fluid nature of our cultures and languages to the fluid nature of sexuality, an aspect of the God that is not very much explored by people who see the Sea God and nothing more.

Poseidon is also a “father Deity” and myth gives us tales of him fathering many multitudes of children, from sea nymphs to the life of the sea itself. In this aspect, he is also a stern deity who demands respect, like fathers do in their homes, and who also demands a certain conservative streak from those who follow him closely. Not, perhaps, the kind of prudish conservatism of America, but a kind of almost humorless nature, that does not allow him to laugh at the inappropriate behavior of Aphrodite and Ares, preferring instead to seek a solution to the embarrassing situation.

To Be Continued...

Monday, August 11, 2008

The boundless sea...

Our Lord Poseidon, King of the Wine-dark Sea, is the lord of the boundless sea. To the Greeks, the sea they knew was the Mediterranean, of which the Aegean and Ionian are part, and it is with this sea that they associated his power and temper.

The sea, as they knew it, was frightening. It was tamable, of course, but it was to be feared and respected, first and foremost. To the sea they offered prayers, sacrifice, and to it they also entrusted their very lives, holding on to dear life on their boats as they sought to bring in the bounty it offered to a land that was often too barren to farm.

The great Lord of the Boundless Sea was a figure much respected throughout the coast of Greece, and a land with so many islands, this was almost everywhere.

There is another interpretation to this, for me, and that is that in this aspect as Lord of the Boundless Sea we are also meant to see the God as eternal. Boundless.

I want to try to explore this aspect of divinity the next few posts.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fluidity and Change

Life is a big fluid mess. It is always in motion, in flux, and all things, from the waves of the sea to the minglings of cultures share this very real, and scientifically observed, behavior. All things, it seems, are fluid in their natures, even if they are stuck for long periods in particular forms.

I often refer to Poseidon as the God of Fluidity, but that does that mean, really?

In the last couple of weeks I have been giving bits of thought here and there to Poseidon and what he means. To the idea of a “Sea God” and what that means. To the idea of fluidity, or chaotic change, as a natural force under his dominion, and what that might mean.

A recent post on one of the Hellenic lists made me think about it in a clearer way, because as with so much else, I do try to think of the Gods as cosmic, and as a result I often tend to forget that while we may see the cosmos, our experience of it is at a terrestrial level and on a human level of consciousness and understanding.

I won’t repost the post here, as it is essentially irrelevant to Poseidon himself, but my response to a post about the enormous levels to which people, religions, cultures, etc. are all influenced by each other was to say that all such things are fantastically fluid, and how awesome that is.

It was like, at that moment, when that idea burst into my head, that Poseidon was there and he reminded me that he is the fluidity I was referring to.

You see, when you think about Poseidon, and by extension his epiphany on earth, the sea, you have to take into account some of the more basic functions of the sea, and these are as a means of sustenance, communication through travel, and as an erosive force on the land.

The sea, like rivers, rain, wind, etc, causes a great deal of change in the very shape of the land man occupies. It forces the land itself to alter, to be fluid in its shape and, in many ways, in granting man access to its shores. Through man’s ability to access the sea for sustenance, it caused a great change in man, allowing him to grow as a species, making survival easier. It was transformative. As a means of communication and influence between peoples, the sea was also instrumental in making the ideas of cultures, for good and ill, travel from one culture to another. It allowed the Greeks to learn writing from the Minoans and Phoenicians. It allowed religious and cultic ideas to travel back and forth between the Greeks and the peoples of the lands around them.

In the Hellenic world, the level of religious variance was enormous. From Eastern forms of religious expression entering Greece through the cults of Dionysos and Aphrodite to older forms of religious expression from the Minoan and forms of religious belief that made their way into Greece from Egypt and Italy, the sea always allowed man to share ideas. And the ideas did not just flow in to Greece, but from Greece they made their way all over the Mediterranean. Phoenician art and architecture were, for example, influenced by Hellenic forms, and the Romans fell so in love with the achievements of Hellenic culture that they almost became Hellenes themselves.

The God of Fluidity, who makes all things change, often in unexpected ways, works in all aspects of the universe. From the smallest particle to the largest of galactic super clusters, fluidity and change are universal. Is Poseidon the god of change? Not really, change is an effect of his power, however, and as a result of this, he is also a God who often is forced into the periphery in our polytheistic system because other deities, like Athena, enforce a kind of order on the cosmos that attempts to stem the forces of change.

Interestingly enough, Poseidon is often presented in myth as an almost conservative figure. He demands respect like an elder demands it of children, because the way of society demands children respect their elders, but in doing so, he betrays his very nature as a deity who is fluid and powerful and who, even as he seems to advocate for the old guard, is slowly disarming it and replacing it with the new, because if there is one thng about the sea that is and always will be true, that is that it is always in motion. Always changing. Never exactly the same way twice.