Foundational polarities between paganism and monotheism
What is the difference between a universe and a cosmos? Is the world eternal where something cannot come out of nothing or does the world have a beginning? What is primary, stasis or change? What might the difference between verbs and nouns have to do high paganism and monotheism? How might the difference between a proverb, a riddle and a paradox be connected to high paganism and monotheism. Is conflict a constitutional part of the world or is it a sign of deficiency? Does the complexity of life on earth require a hierarchy? How might the presence or absence of writing determine whether a culture is animist, polytheist or monotheist? Monotheism and materialism are usually presented as opposites. Yet they have more in common with each other than they do with high paganism.
Paganism is often connected to pantheism. Yet the author who I will be citing, Kadmus, contends that there are significant differences between the two. Contrary to pantheists, high pagan culture does not suggest that everything has spirit or mind. It is possible for an entity to be aware without being conscious. Bodies precede minds but minds help to focus bodies. Minds do not have a disembodied existence. How important is obedience and faith to a sacred experience of pagans? Is there a place for rebellion in sacred experience?
Variety of paganisms
What does it mean to be pagan? Paganism means different things in cultures, depending on the level of social complexity. In his book True to the Earth, Kadmus divides paganism into three periods:
- High paganism
- Late paganism
High paganism was the time of oral tribal societies, including Norse and Celtic cultures, along with the Archaic Iron Age Greece and the Mycenean and Minoan civilizations. It also include pre-colonized native and African cultures. These societies were either animist or polytheist.
In Greece, late paganism corresponds to the period of Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus after writing was introduced. During this period tribal societies were forcibly changed by foreign invasions. Furthermore, late paganism was more intellectual (due to writing) and less oriented to the body and the senses. Within late paganism there are two types: hard polytheists and soft polytheists:
- Those who believe in the literal reality and independent existence of gods (hard polytheists).
- Those who claim the gods are archetypes of the collective unconscious (soft polytheists).
With the rise of monotheism, paganism led a marginal existence, being carried on underground and displayed through the arts. There are many examples of how Christianity built itself up from doing violence to pagan cultures or recuperating pagan texts. points to one example of scribes who added Christianity to Beowulf.
But the fact that all pagan cultures originate in oral cultures allows us to hypothesize that orality provides a foundation for key conceptual distinction between pagans and monotheists.
- All oral cultures are either animist or polytheist pagans.
- All writing cultures can be either late pagan or monotheistic.
- Monotheist cultures have never existed without writing.
Kadmus describes most of his book as focusing upon what we know of the high-pagan culture or oral Archaic Greece and the transitions that occurred during the late pagan, classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods. Though Kadmus identifies much more with pagan Celt culture, Greece has the most extensive and detailed record, not only of the transition from oral to literate tradition, but also of the movement from high paganism to late paganism. High paganism of tribal societies is the most radically pagan because the difference between oral and literate societies is the key to understanding how different high paganism was from monotheism. I first described these differences between high and late paganism in my book From Earthspirits to Skygods.
Pagan vs Monotheist Metaphysics
We normally think of metaphysics as having been consciously worked out by philosophers such as Spinoza, Kant or Hegel. But metaphysics exists whether there are philosophers to craft it or not. Kadmus gives the analogy with the lens of an eyeglass. If you wear the glasses all your life you become insensitive to the difference between what you see with the lens as opposed to what you see without them. He says our current metaphysics is a monotheist One, and it doesn’t matter whether we are agnostic or even atheists. In fact, one of his most interesting points is that science and atheism in their current formulation derive from a monotheist foundation.
Cosmos vs universe
The differences between high paganism and monotheism are far deeper than whether you believe in one god or many gods. They go all the way back to what we call the material world. Pagans call the material world a “cosmos”, and cosmos means parts without wholes. This implies that from the very beginning the material world is multiple. There is no totalizing hierarchy or unity. For pagans, parts without wholes grow without ever repeating themselves. As Heraclitus says, you can never step in the same river twice. The complexification adds to itself without ever reducing phenomenon to simplicity. For monotheists, however, the material world is a universe, meaning order. There is unification into a One and everything else is reduced into a hierarchy.
Is conflict primary or is it a derivative?
For high paganism, conflicts among the parts are fundamental and they never cease. On page 30 Kadmas points out that in order for Zeus to overthrow his father Kronos, he had to make allies among the Titans who were willing to provide him with a powerful lightning bolt. Olympians divide the world into thirds: Zeus in the sky, Poseidon in the seas and Hades in the underworld. The Olympian regime is a compromise and one which is always in danger of breaking out into new conflict. Olympus may have a king, but his throne rests on a multitude of complex and changeable political maneuvers. There is no divine right of kings in pagan cosmology.
A similar point can be made concerning Odin. His rule involves deals he has struck between two different families of the gods, Vanir and Aesir. Zeus and Odin are both frequently protecting and enforcing promises and oaths in their roles, because it is upon this foundation of tentative agreement and alliance that their own power rests. Power in pagan cosmology is collective and not based on a One or Ultimate.
For monotheists, conflicts are seen as indicators that something is wrong, whether it is the work of the devil, due to human short-sightedness or evil. Most of the great Western philosophers from Plato to Hegel imagined conflict as something to be gotten rid of.
Are there dualities or polarities?
Those cultures most influenced by writing are more likely to understand opposites as dualisms such as nature vs the supernatural; worldly vs unworldly; living vs non-living. This is also shown in the beliefs of other gods. We are accustomed to members of one religion assuming almost by default that all other religions are wrong or that pagan gods don’t exist. This is foreign to pagan culture generally. High paganism is characterized by religious curiosity and even hunger for new practices, new gods, new rituals and new wisdom. A collector’s spirit exudes paganism more than anything else and this is passed down from one generation to the next.
Monotheistic substance ontology
Kadmus tells us that monotheistic metaphysics was first clearly developed and articulated in the West by Plato and Aristotle. The invention of substance ontology is one of the most basic breaks with pagan metaphysics. The simple idea of substance is that for change to occur there must be something that stays the same throughout the changes and owes its existence to it. Change is derived from the unchanging.
Aristotle’s idea of God is the unmoved mover. God creates the universe and provides the energy. Being that then leads to all the further changes. The Unmoved Mover provides the goal to perfection to all things. The meaning of perfection is singular.
Stasis vs change
In Plato and Aristotle’s thinking, whether we start from the ground up or the top down, change always depends on the One. There is no true multiplicity, only the illusion of multiplicity. For monotheistic metaphysics sameness and unity are foundation and primary; differences are derivative and ultimately bad. Plato argues that any change that occurs moves towards perfection of the One. The One is not changed or improved with contact from below. In Genesis it is stated that in the beginning is the One and the void. For monotheists, the world has a beginning and something can come out of nothing. What is orderly is still. Change, as far back as Plato’s time, is derivative, inferior and sometimes an illusion. In the politics of purity, the emphasis is on reduction, totalizing and oneness. It focuses on perfection, purity and the one narrow path, a general ethics which consistent demand is to be integrated, unified and ruled by the One. The monotheistic universe is like a noun. Pagan cosmos is like a verb. More of this below.
One vs many definitions
Both Socrates and Aristotle want to reduce definition to a single one. For example, Socrates seeks a general abstract definition. Aristotle wants to reduce things to their essential nature. But the problem is there are multiple definitions, some of which overlap with others. Others conflict with each other while others are incommensurable. After all, there are etymological definitions, operative definitions ostensive definitions and dictionary definitions, all of which are useful or not depending on the situation. For high paganism, wisdom is the ability to appreciate and see as many of these truths as possible without allowing any of them to dominate. The gods have many names but not one true name. The same can be true of people. It is very common in most pagan cultures for people to take on and leave behind names as they pass through important developmental events.
Against the gods: the One in Plato and Socrates
Written cultures can afford to ascend from the particular to the general because writing frees language from the burden of remembering and all the theatricality that must accompany it. These cultures can afford to hypothesize that the nature of things is one ultimate and general reductive meaning, For example, in writing we have paradoxes and riddles which become clear later. Kadmus says Socrates insists that if we are going to arrive at a unified understanding of the good, we are going to have to reject the multiplicity of the gods. Plato is also agitating in his dialogues for a rejection of the gods of archaic poetry and myth in favor of the eternal, the perfect and the transhuman.
The importance of vision in monotheistic thought
Rationality derived from writing and reading relies on a cognitive and epistemological distance and based on visual models of knowledge. Visual metaphors for truth prioritize singularity. Visual unity rests entirely on spatiality. We must have a certain ideal distance from things to see them. This is the basis of objectivity. Kadmus describes writing as creating an unavoidable distance between the reader, the writer, thinker and the object. Not surprisingly, in oral cultures hearing is more important than seeing. The work of Eric Havelock covers the immediacy of the senses in oral cultures in his wonderful Preface to Plato.
Materialism is closer to spiritual monotheism than to paganism
Typically when we think of monotheism we think of a belief in a single god. What is implied in this is that monotheism has something to do with spirituality. But a deeper understanding of monotheism can include secular traditions such as atheism or Marxism. Dialectical materialism is, after all, a holistic monist philosophy. Kadmus points out there are two very common modes of thought applied to bodies in monotheistic metaphysics, neither of which captures the high pagan view of bodies:
- Reductive materialism of Anaximenes Empedocles or Democritus with their search for the basic element, whether it be water or air or atoms; and
- An abstract and often spiritual non-material organizing principle that makes a body a body, such as Plato and Aristotle, a form.
In each there is an abstract principle of order and organization. For Plato and the Neoplatonists this principle is non-material and transcendental and plays a totalizing and reductive role. On the other hand, thinking in terms of base elements is the earliest form of materialism. Writing allowed for the conception of an abstract materialism as well as spiritualism. Monotheistic thinking would either totalize things from above (abstract spiritual monotheism) or reduce things to their basic constituents (reductive materialism).
Pagan Process Ontology
In the beginning was the verb
Kadmus tells us that in all language there is historical tendency for centrally important nouns to derive first from active verbs that predate abstract nouns. The most important words in any language are originally words for actions. A good image for pagan processes is a horse moving with a flowing mane, forever in motion.
Growth comes before there is something. There is “doing” before we can speak of “doers”. There are actions before we can talk of actors or the objects of actions. Eros is the unending drive of time and change which rests at the base of the cosmos.
Pagan animism argues that If all things are living, and death is only a relative term involving change in a type of life, singularity and individuality are all relative terms, only temporary and relative. “I am” statements are replaced with claims to having been or become. For example, “I have been in many shapes before I assumed constant forms”. 115 pagan cultures are always in the middle of the story still being developed and unstoppable and unpredictable. The entire subject-object mode of thought is a product of monotheism and derived from a more basic element, which between actor and acted upon are separated.
The absence of the inanimate in paganism
Kadmus says the ancient Greek concept of nature derives from the process of growing. In Homer, there is no noun for nature but in English it would be naturing. The Romans also had a process orientation, where nature is born and bears future generations. Anything like a non-living nature would be literally unthinkable. In Hesiod, the various aspects of the world around us are each understood as the living children of previous gods. This includes what we frequently call inanimate, from streams and mountains to oceans and the misty vapors of the skies. The paradox is how do we understand death in a cosmos where everything is understood as living?
In interpreting Heraclitus, what is death for one thing, for example earth, is life for another, in this case fire. Fire therefore lives in the death of the earth. The same spectrum is captured in the movement from one element to another. For example, the movement from a living body to a corpse consists of a loss of element of fire and air in the earthly and watery body. Originally, the term psyche was derived from terms of “breath”. The air, as psyche escapes when the fire of the warmth of the body, dies and turns into the cold water of a decaying corpse.
Multiplicity is primacy
For a pagan metaphysics, change and multiplicity are primary. Eros or desire in Hesiod represents the force of change itself, as one of the first things to exist. This is a multiplicity without an existing hierarchy midst of diversity, and an associative, relational logic. An event ontology is pluralistic cosmos of relationally understood active bodies with agency (but not necessarily consciousness. See below). What we take into ourselves becomes part of us. This is knowledge of union, not necessarily consciousness. This is participatory knowledge. Pagan process ontology rejects the fundamental nature and even the existence of substance, whether that substance, is understood to be matter (or energy) or spirit (mind, consciousness).
The Permeability Between Divinity and Humanity
The permeability between divinity and humanity is crucial in high paganism. Heroes may be made into gods. Kadmus gives us the example of the immortal sea nymph Calypso who offers Odysseus ambrosia (the food of the gods) which would make him immortal if he ate it. What we are really dealing with is a spectrum – plants, animals, humans, part divine. Heroes, monsters, nymphs and gods all display as a spectrum in terms of what life and death means to them. Another example is Euripides in the Bacchae in which Dionysus comes as a foreigner to Thebes and inspires the women to run off to the mountains to practice his sacred rites. There the women cross over the line between genders and between human and animal.
One of the main characteristics of many, but not all, divine bodies is their ability to change from one form to another in almost every imaginable variation; the earth on which we walk that gives birth to plants around us is the fertile body of Gaia according to Hesiod. Her children are among the divinities like Kronos and Rhea) and include mountains, hills and rivers. In the case of Zeus, he doesn’t simply become animals of various sorts, but he even becomes a lightning bolt or a golden rain. the spectrum-like orientation of nature became one of the main aspects of high paganism that Plato dedicated himself to attacking. In pagan cultures when a person embodies particularly striking characteristics that falls within the domain a given god, they were frequently understood to have become that god. We are inter-bodied and flow in and out of each other.
Importance of the Ancestors
This theme of the well-being of the dead depending on the attentions and actions of the living is particularly important when we consider the practices of ancestor veneration cross culturally. These practices prove durable throughout millennia of monotheistic dominance, even when the dependence of the dead upon the living disappears. After all, the dead remember what it is to have been human and they more than the divinities are able to be understood by us and more fully and successfully communicated with.
The Tension Between Earth, Sky and Sea Gods
It would be naïve to think that all was well within the spectrum of paganism before the rise of monotheism, for there was tension. The roots of this tension was between the celestial and chthonic forces between the sky (Olympus), the earth the sea and the underworld. In early generations of the gods of the Greeks, including Gaia and her children, the Titans were associated with the Earth and the underworld. As I said earlier the rule of Odin and his fellow gods was largely predicated on the outcome of an early war between two different families of gods: Aesir and Vanir. Yet the ability of the gods to work magic, compose poetry, partake in prophecy and experience power all derive from the relatively peaceful intermixing of the Norse gods with giants and elves. Odin himself is the child of a giant. Contrary to those who associate Viking gods with white supremacy, Kadmus tells us we would be hard-pressed to find a less racially and culturally pure community than that of the Norse gods.
Monstrous Sacred Presences
Paganism has not dealt just with anthropomorphic gods. There are monstrous gods, and gods that embody characteristics of animals. There is monstrous Typhon, the last child of Gaia, whose head was said to be a hundred snakes. There was the Babylonian Tiamat, a monstrous goddess, who was both the fertile source of all life and terrifying serpent or dragon. It would be a very serious mistake to assume the huge spectrum of divine and semi-divine within the pagan cosmos are primarily human at all.
The Primacy of Bodies in Pagan Metaphysics
To speak of the body is not to speak of matter, but of ongoing patterns of change
When bodies are understood as patterns of activities, patterns within larger patterns. They are the penetrated and penetrating. Kadmus writes on page 70 the psyche is an aerial body, the part of the body that looks out for the rest, the breath of life within our body. Death at any given stage of this process is a change within bodies as transformations of one type of body into another. Calling something “dead” is premature. Many of the cells of bodies still live as it decomposes. The body becomes in some way even more alive with various types of life than it was before it died. Nobody is ever dead. The same will be true for the difference between mortal and immortal bodies. Without a body, it is unclear to an oral pagan culture what it would mean for something to exist.
For the ancient Greeks, there are gods of the river and there are gods that are rivers. There are both gods of the sea such as Poseidon and the god that is an ocean. There are goddesses of the earth, Demeter, and also the goddess earth, Gaia. There is the god of the sky Zeus and the god that is heaven Ouranos. The bodies of these gods are the world, and put together they are the cosmos. Pagan animism understands everything that exists in terms of living bodies (not consciousness.) The more common distinction between the living and dead are actually distinctions between types of bodies. Nothing is ever dead in an absolute sense but only dead to certain type of life.
Bodies are Wholes, not Parts
A body is not an arrangement constituted out of parts, but rather a whole that alone constitutes the parts of which it is made. A hand cannot be a hand without a body. It is not possible to put together a collection of pre-existing body parts to create a total body. One can’t have a river without the land through which it passes or a tree without the earth it grips and the sky it upholds. These relations, however, are not constituent parts but rather larger patterns and webs. Bodies are aways interpenetrating and interpenetrated. Bodies are incompatible with the reductionist approaches of the monotheists.
Bodies are matrices of relational actions. Kadmus writes:
One specific example of a body of a goddess makes this clear. Consider Gaia. She is the Earth. She is not the avatar of the earth, not the archetype of the spirit or intelligence of the Earth, but the Earth itself. She is (to quote Hesiod) the broad-bosomed earth. The pushing of pressure and flow of volcanic forces; the seep of water, the holding of roots, the cracking of rocks by ice, the weight of the ice caps bearing down; the weak and strong forces of the atomic level; at the largest level the centrifugal force lies with gravity and the movement of the seas. Gaia is one of the broadest of the gods and of the most concretely bodied. (98)
Our concept of private property under capitalism makes no sense in the scale of nature (no society). When I grow a tree it is as much the case that my body becomes part of the tree, part of its process of self-expression. The tree “owns” me just as much as I own it. The tree is also in partnership with things other than me, belying any claim to an exclusive relationship with it. The right to relationships replaces rights to property. It can’t be said that I own my own body. I am my body. It is not property.
The gods are late arrivals
As can be seen in Hesiod in his poem Works and Days, in the beginning there are natural processes, while the gods are late arrivals. As Kadmus points out, in Hesiod’s Theogony, in the beginning is chaos and the abyss, then Gaia and the earth come into being. Earth’s first child Ouranos is starry heaven, haunted by the nymphs who live in the deep mountain depths. Ouranos bore the Ocean with its deep currents. Kronos is the youngest of the Titans, the children of Gaia. The gods are late comers. For example, Kronos or Zeus are not first born and a ruling order. The same is true in Norse mythology – Odin is late developing.
Lying and conniving are foundational among pagan gods and goddesses
Unlike the unmoving truth of the monotheists in pagan mythology the gods lie, steal and deceive. This behavior often enough drove early monotheistic thinkers away from their pagan roots. But don’t these gods speak the truth of our experience in the world now? The Gorgons were known as the Furies, or Erinyes, and their job was to torment those who kill their own blood relatives. The furies are of the same generation as the children of Gaia, who was the first goddess to possess Delphi. Flattering these sacred presences requires rhetoric or the magic of knowing which gods require which types of flattery (magick) when the flattery should be used.
Kadmus tells us that it is through theft and lies that Hermes will work his way into becoming accepted to Olympus. But the conflict cannot be a direct clash of powers, for such a confrontation would threaten to stability of the Olympus itself. Instead, it will be a competition of wits and deception. The newly born Hermes leaves the place of his birth and immediately invents the musical instrument, the lyre. We can see in these examples how deception persuasion, or flattery is a strategy to negotiate power.
Pagan myths throughout the world often reveal divine power to be as much about successful deception and transformation as it is about raw might.
Please see table A for a summary of this article so far.
|High Paganism||Category of Comparison||Monotheism|
|Cosmos. Parts without wholes||What do we call the material world||Universe. Wholes before parts
|Verbs||Important part of speech||Nouns|
|Concrete particulars||General names|
|The flowing manes of horses||Images||Plotinus’ One|
|Accumulating Growth||Direction of movement||Unification and reduction|
|Complexity vs simplicity||Simplicity|
Natural processes come first
Gods come later
|Foundation text||Genesis—in the beginning is the One. One and the void.
|Cosmos is eternal
Something cannot come from nothing
|Eternal vs origin in time||Universe has a beginning
Creates everything out of nothing
|Conflict is basic in play or war||Place of conflict||A sign that something is wrong
|Expanding horizontalism||Place or misplace of hierarchy||Hierarchy is important Timaeus
|Bodies are wholes
Wholes within wholes
|What are bodies?||Constituent parts
Organized by spirit, mind or consciousness
|Lying and conniving are foundational for gods and goddesses||Lying and truth||God would never lie
Lying is always a vice whether it be the devil or humanity
Language as remembrance in oral culture
When we think of language, its most obvious use seems to be primarily personal communication between individuals. But oral and written culture face different problems. For oral cultures, the main problem is how to keep from forgetting. For them an additional function of language is to remember and preserve without the prospect of writing anything down. As Eric Havelock has pointed out in his many books, oral transmission must include much more than stories. They trot out all the arts to keep them memorable including rhythm, meter, rhyme and changes in pitch. Abstract concepts are too thin and dry to be remembered. Concrete particulars are much easier to remember.
Importance of Parataxis and Proverbs in Oral Culture
Kadmus describes the most basic nature of oral thought and language as parataxis. This is additive and follows the associative logic, “and also”. In parataxis there are no structures of subordination. Oral concepts are based on irreducible complexity which echoes and resonates related to each other without any point in the web being able to be absolutely prioritized. It is the logic of pluralism rather than monism or holism which wants to gathers processes to a point and freezes processes into things.
As we saw before. a central aspect of meaning in oral societies is its irreducibility to one meaning, and we see this web of echoing resonances clearest in the attitudes of most oral societies to proverbs and forms of divination like Tarot and oracles. Proverbs have multiple meanings, not always consistent with each other. They are an ever-growing web of contradictory messages. Heraclitus is a thinker who made the art of multiple meanings his expertise. Proverbs are not principles because principles have one reductive meaning that can be applied consistently to different cases.
High Paganism is not Panpsychicism
There is no independent psyche
Kadmus writes that in archaic Greece the psyche was not the ultimate organizing principle of the body. The psyche and the body are engaged in a complex partnership rather than a division between chaotic matter on the one hand and order on the other. The psyche should best be understood as a body within a body. This does not mean:
- we can weigh the soul to show there has been a substantial material soul that leaves the body at death; and
- evidence of the presence of a body does not mean it is tied to a specific type of material energy.
Hylozoism vs Panpsychism
One of the most common arguments found in contemporary animism is the urge to understand what it means to say all things that are living have minds or spirit. But for high paganism there is no distinction between minds, spirts and bodies. All bodies live but saying they live does not mean all bodies and minds are spirits, unless we are talking about the very specific types of body combinations such as our own. To focus on the mind and the soul as the foundation of life or human existence is to engage in a specific kind of anthropomorphic projection. This is like treating the body as just a specific suit of clothes, a prison or an abstract object that the soul puts into motion. Panpsychism means that everything has psyche. This is a mistake since the breath part of life is rather unique to only certain types of life. Some living bodies do not have a psyche. However, Aristotle will attempt to break down different parts, aspects or types of soul that capture these differences. Yet Kadmus says his thinking in terms of reductive soul and soul types is not a true pagan view.
Focusing psyche does not mean being conscious
Oral societies don’t think of consciousness the way we do. Being aware is something we and our bodies do something that we have or are. The action of paying attention only gets turned into an abstract entity or a property with the development of writing which pushes us to turn to turn verbs and action words into timeless nouns. To say that something is alive can mean that everything has agency, but not necessarily that everything has consciousness. Having agency does mean that everything is capable of response or of some form of communication but being conscious of the process t’aint necessarily so. We act, speak and think only in moments of breakdown. Then we reflect in such a way to become conscious of these things when there is a problem. To capture the high pagan view of the cosmos, we must resist the urge to turn the action of focusing on something into having awareness. Anytime contemporary animism or panpsychism tries to bring in consciousness we have fallen into anthropomorphism.
Consciousness as a product of writing and a visual model
Kadmus claims that consciousness is the lynchpin of a view of human nature which isolates us from the world in which we exist. It is founded on a visual model and artifacts of writing. We think of consciousness as a reflection that separates the thing looked at and the thing looking. The modern idea of consciousness is distributed among all things, rather than among interconnected events. But we don’t need to appeal to the collective mind or spirit to understand the basis of this claim. None of these living events need to have awareness in the same form that we do. The “something is like” is often over-interpreted in terms of atomistic mind, consciousness or soul.
What is really going on in nature the transformation of bodies, rather than the transmigration of souls. The transformation from one thing to another, including into grains of wheat or waves on the sea, is taken by pagan cultures as real bodily potentiality. It undermines any idea of essence or purity. Pagan poetry is not symbolic, but rather aims as concrete literal descriptions
- There is no independent psyche. Psyches are focusing points of bodies.
- High pagan animism does not mean all pieces of matter have minds or psyche.
- Most of high pagan animism does not have consciousness.
Pantheism is a product of late paganism when as a result of writing psyches, minds, spirits and consciousness have already been separated from the hylozoic high paganism. I think it is an attempt to reinvigorate late paganism after monotheism has destroyed high paganism.
Monotheistic vs High Pagan Politics
Monotheistic dictates: obedience and faith
Some pagans argue that paganism should not be political. Others say this is not possible. But understanding the earth as a living goddess has immediate implications for how we view laws concerning capitalism and ownership. Some Neopagans such as Mark Green (of Atheopaganism) are liberals who say that pagans should get behind the Democratic Party. Radical women like Starhawk and Z Budapest say there is a natural relationship between paganism and socialism.
However, what is not accounted for in any of this, is that there already is a theological politics in both monotheism and high paganism. The monotheistic God is a god of order. In Catholicism the angels and saints line up in a hierarchy to do what they are told. The stories of the Bible are based on the importance of the human population being obedient and what happens to you when you are not obedient. If the world doesn’t make sense, we are told to have faith. I am the “Lord Thy God thou shalt not have strange gods before me” is one of the clearest, anti-pagan statements ever made. Faith is about something other than belief. It is about obedience.
Polytheistic dictates: plot, scheme and rebel
On the contrary, high paganism does not involve the dutiful following of orders. As we saw earlier the gods plot, scheme and fight with each other, as well as with humanity. Kadmus writes that rebellion against the gods, playing one god off against another, leveling threats against deities and taking stands in godly conflicts are well-attested to in pagan magical practices. Rebellion against the gods was common. No pagan god ever told the human population to have faith. The concept of a test of faith is exceptionally foreign to the pagan mindset.
For example, Kadmus says in the Eleusinian mysteries the power of rebellion against the Olympian order is prominent. Following the disruption of her plan to provide mortals with immortality, the rageful Demeter demands a temple be built for her at Eleusis in repayment for the way in which she had been doubted by Demophon’s mother. Against that division of power put in place by Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, Demeter stands alone. Demeter’s rebellion results in the Eleusinian Mysteries with its benefits for humanity. It is the central insight of paganism that this fracture, this inevitable contradictions in the pluralistic nature of the reality can be implemented for the benefit of empowerment of humanity among the powers of the cosmos. We also see rebellion in the case of Heracles, who frequently works against the will of Zeus. We see rebellion in the Titan Prometheus, who rebelled against Zeus in ways that resulted in humanity’s benefit.
Further, the Roman poet Lucan describes a witch launching into dramatic threats against the underworld gods unless they send her the specific spirit she desires to speak to: “Upon you, Hades, worst of the world’s rulers, shall send Titan the sun bursting your caverns open, and you will be blasted by the instantaneous light of day”. Siding with any gods will ultimately consist of rebelling against others. If a god refused to show its existence and power, refused to contribute to human life, refused to grant its insight to its worshipers, refused to have any intimate relationship with its people, then this god is hardly worth bothering with.
See Table B for a summary of this last section.
|Oral or Written Culture||Literal Cultures
Late Paganism, Monotheism
|Memorability||What is most important in language?||Clarity|
|Concrete particulars||Particular vs general||Concepts in general
One ultimate and reductive meaning
|Many definitions||Definitions||Socrates seeks a general, abstract definition
Aristotle wants to reduce things to their essential nature
performer and participants
|Relationship between speaker and participants||Writing creates an unavoidable distance between the reader, the writer, the thinker and the object
Immediate mixing of all the senses
We must have a certain ideal distance from things to see them
|Auditory unity depends on time||Type of sensual unity||Visual unity rests entirely on space|
|Auditory plurality||Visual metaphors prioritize singularity
Visual model of unity, space and distance
|The most basic nature of oral thought and language is parataxis, proverbs
|Structure of sayings||Riddles and paradoxes
whose meaning becomes clear later
|Interdependent echoes||Relationships in nature||Things|
|Hylozoic life everywhere
Beings are in a spectrum and change form
Permeability of boundaries
|Levels in nature||Inanimate, animate
Levels have strict boundaries
Bodies precede psyche, spirits, consciousness
|Panpsychism (late pagan)
Psyche independent of bodies
Spirits independent of bodies
Minds independent of bodies
Consciousness independent of bodies
Demeter vs Zeus
Hercules vs Zeus
Prometheus vs Zeus
|Place or misplace of authority||Obedience, faith|
The post High Pagan Radicalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.
This content originally appeared on Dissident Voice and was authored by Bruce Lerro.