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...

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