Continuing the Conversation “Odin and His Masks”
I’m not sure why comments are closed on my article “Odin and His Masks.” I didn’t close them. At any rate, Edward Butler sent me this comment, not being able to post it there, so I decided with his ok to post it as a separate piece, so that people could continue the conversation here.
“This is a very fine post. To me the core of it is when you say that “in order to act upon that which They have created without transmuting it into something wholly other, there had to be a process of becoming.”
Proclus states in his Elements of Theology (prop. 131) that “Every God begins his characteristic activity with himself.” And so when, as you say, devotion gives the Gods “a point of focus upon which to solidify a Self for engagement,” we can say that in order to relate to us, They must create a vehicle for that relation which will in turn be implicated in it, a changeable vehicle in order to exert change on the plane of Becoming, because the divine power to exert change will begin from changing the God Himself. Hence there will be “masks”, because there has to be a separation of some kind between the God as unchanging and as changeable.
On account of this separation, we can see how these masks can be available for more than one God to use, as you suggest. But beyond that, we may say that we, as worshipers, are ourselves masks of the God, too. There is a notion in bhakti theory, bimbapratibimbabhāva, the relationship of a reflected image to its original, which is the idea that in devotion we become the reflection of the God, or rather discover that we always were. This sort of relationship is often used in Western religious discourses to emphasize our limited capacity to perceive the God, the attendant “distortions” in it or the “perspectival” quality of our experience of the God, but there is another side to it altogether, which has to do with what the God becomes in us. This is what, I would say, makes our peculiar experience valuable, and also enables us to talk about the Gods “changing” without getting confused about Their own status: we are the vehicle for the change. And this ties in with something you say later on, about aspects of the God that we could not possibly engage with. Some activities of a God are too universal in scope for me to be a vehicle of those processes, at least as “me”.
Profound indeed is this remark of yours, that “those Who carry the blessings of creation, Who choose for whatever reason to remain engaged with Their creations are mad, mad Gods.” For every property of the Gods there is, I would say, some effect in the cosmos, because the Gods are creative in every aspect of Themselves. I think that the madness of Gods, much like Their wrath, is immediately connected with Their creative dimension. Divine wrath would be no petty anger, but has to do with creating an order of beings, mortals, whose birth dooms them to death, and hence their very creation is an act of wrath. Something similar can be said about Their sorrow and Their laughter. Egyptian theology says that humans come into being from the Gods’ tears, while other theologians speak of the Gods’ sport or play in creating our world. In the same way, the madness of Gods is no mere breakdown, but creates something. Platonists see the dismemberment of Dionysos, for example, as that by which souls have diverse faculties within them, this differentiation being also a fragmentation and hence a kind of original madness, the dismemberment of Dionysos and the madness He causes being one and the same, the operation of His activity first upon Himself, and thence upon the rest of Being.” (E. Butler)