July 19, 2012 12 Comments
As most of you are aware, I’m a ceremonial magician. (If you weren’t aware, I question your powers of observation.) I was raised very loosely Jewish (more Jew-ish, really), and though I flirted with neopaganism in middle school and Buddhism in high school, I don’t particularly consider myself a follower of any one religion. If I had to pick a label, I’d probably go with panentheistic, which essentially means that the Divine is immanent in the world (within and a part of all things) as well as transcendent of the world (beyond and greater than all things). While pantheism is God-in-all, panentheism is both God-in-all and all-in-God; here, God is not equated with the cosmos, but is both part of and contains the cosmos.
That said, this kind of capital-G God is a big entity to handle. It’s Kether, it’s the Endless Light, it’s the Sphere of the Prime Mover, it’s the complete infinite sum of all things manifest and unmanifest and otherwise. It’s mindblowing, and threatens to be literally so if one tries to leap ahead of themselves to comprehend this. In this sense, God cannot be described except in terms of negatives, and the best term that comes to mind is infinite, “no end”.
For a little guy like me to try to work with divinity, going straight to the Source is like plugging my phone charger directly into the uranium core of a nuclear power plant. It doesn’t work that way; the power has to be transformed from raw heat and radiation into electricity, then into alternating electrical current, then throttled down into an appropriate voltage, then channeled through an appropriate socket, plug, and wire into my phone. There are a lot of steps inbetween, a lot of transformation from something raw and pure into something discrete and refined. In some ways, this describes how an Idea comes from the sphere of the Prime Mover, picks up weight and form and style on its descent through the planetary spheres, and ends up materialized on Earth. In other ways, though, it offers me a good reason to work with other gods and divinities besides the One. They do say that variety is the spice of life, after all.
Every Wednesday, I make offerings to the god Hermes and the planet Mercury. Being a Hermetic magician, geomancer, software engineer, calligrapher, linguist, and all-around awesome young guy, I rely on Mercury like whoa. He’s presided over a lot of the things I’ve done in my life wittingly or no, and I figure it’s nothing bad to get in the guy’s good graces by making prayers, offerings, and vows to the god. I’ve got plans to set up my own Hermaion, a dedicated altar space for Hermes himself and his emanations and forms, once I get the room for it, and I’ve even entertained ideas of becoming a priest of the dude in addition to my role as magician (he seemed to enjoy the idea, as well, for the record).
Do I see a contradiction between this and my ceremonial magic stuff? By no means! Of course a lot of the Solomonic literature relies on the One God of Judaic or Christian origin, and though he (and a good number of his followers) claims to be the only guy up there, the Bible and tradition give very strong hints that it’s just not so. Do I still keep him at the top of my list? Yes and no; the One, the Source, the First Father is bigger than any one god or divinity, stronger than any one religion or spirituality, longer and more manifold than any one path. I believe in God as One; I believe that the God of Israel is but one, just as Mercury is. God as One is too big for me to handle or interact with; depending on the need, I have to throttle the guy down into something I can actually work with without getting obliterated by his infinite grace.
A recent post at Thicket of a Witch gave me a new term to my lexicon: oligotheism. It’s a subset of polytheism (many gods), and refers to the primary worship of several gods while admitting the existence of many more. It’s different from henotheism in that henotheism refers to the exclusive worship of one god among others (extreme Vaishnavites or Shaivaites in Hinduism, Jews in some readings of the Bible, etc.). Oligotheism, while a new term to me, gives me a new term for a very old phenomenon that I’ve known about and has made sense to me ever since the idea of polytheism did. After all, once you have more than one god, you end up with an endless number of them; there’s no way to worship all of them, so you’re almost of necessity forced to pick and choose.
Consider an average citizen in Athens back in the day. They had a job, a family and clan, a local neighborhood, and the like. They knew all the myths, stories, and fables of the Olympians, the Trojans, the Ithacans, the Cretans, and the like. They would be involved in the worship of several gods, heroes, and the like that they deal with. They wouldn’t really care about Poseidon of the Horses if they had nothing to do with raising, using, or racing horses; they’d pay him respect if they passed by his temple, sure, but wouldn’t go out of their way to make offerings to him for nothing at all. They likewise wouldn’t get involved with Hephaistos of pottery if they weren’t a potter. If their profession involved cows and crops, though, they’d make the trips to the local fertility festivals, the shrines of the deities related to those, and the like.
In other words, they didn’t deal with infinite divinity. They didn’t deal with infinite divinities, either. They interacted with divinity according to what they needed, and this is alright. Is this complicated? Not really. Catholics often do something similar with their calendar of saints: they might call on the patron saint of their profession but not their cousin’s, only because they have nothing to do with their cousin’s profession. Ancient healers would rely on the deities of plants, healing, and spirit while probably keeping the divinities of war, plague, and poison at arm’s length.
Working with multiple powers is not just a good idea, but also a good practice. Even staunchly monotheistic Solomonic magicians call on various aspects of God through the use of his names, teasing out specific attributes on their own from a greater Whole. It’s seen all across the place, from syncretic pan-Hellenic worship, to eclectic neopaganism incorporating Sumerian, Egyptian, and Celtic divinities on the same altar, to Vaishnavites recalling the different powers and tales of different incarnations of Vishnu. Myself? I like working with angels, planets, the occaisonal saint, ancient Mediterranean Greco-Roman gods, and of course the One.