On the One

A theology colleague (Greek Orthodox) asked me recently if as a polytheist, I believed in some ultimate single force behind all the Gods and creation. My answer surprised him and I’ve been thinking about it and parsing it out ever since. No. I don’t. I think at best, any idea of “the One” is a philosophical concept, perhaps a place holder for the activities of the individual Gods in individual instances governing creation and being. (1)

The Gods maybe yoked together in purpose: collaborating in the act of creation (all creation stories being true μύθους) but that is a different thing from there being a single unity overseeing it all (2). I think that once the collective act of creation was set into being, once materiality and temporality were created and thus wyrd activated, the process itself took on an unfolding life of its own.

In talking about this with my housemates, one of them brought up Wyrd as perhaps that force beyond the Gods but I had to disagree. Wyrd is inherently yoked to temporality and materiality. It is inter-generational by its very construction (we can inherit wyrd –ancestral debt –from our ancestors and even in the best of situations are not separate from the wyrd of our family lines). I posited that the Gods are yoked to wyrd only insofar as they choose to remain yoked to temporality, to our world, to the world that They Themselves created. Do They need to be bound in this manner? No, I don’t think so. Yet we have in Greek, the story of Zeus sacrificing His son Sarpedon, Whom He loved on the field of battle because if He did not, it would be a breach of the very divine order He created. We have Baldr being forced to Helheim, so that part of the generative order of Asgard would remain protected and safe in the haven of the dead should Ragnarok occur, in other words, should any external breach of that order spiral out of control. I don’t think They need to remain connected to our material and temporal world. I think They choose to do so. (3)

All creation stories are true if we accept that in collaborating to create, the Gods tied Themselves to specific languages, peoples, lands through which They could express Themselves most clearly. No, I am not saying that Mercury is Odin or Thor Herakles or any such thing. (4) I’m saying that specific Gods chose to order a specific piece of the cosmic tapestry They All collectively chose to create. (5) A more intriguing question than that of an a priori “One” is how the Holy chasm, Holy nothingness that is full of all potentiality, Ginnungagap is related to the Gods prior to creation. That, however is beyond the scope of this particular piece. The collaboration of creation is itself a powerful Mystery, to know that the tapestry of the order of the worlds is sustained and support by so many individual Gods working together, each in Their own sphere of Power. Perhaps if we must speak of a “one” it is the result of that collaboration: the process being born of that collective will, a thing that comes from our Gods rather that precedes Them and which has no independent being or consciousness or capacity to act without Them. (6)

Notes:

  1. There are instances that point to the Gods praying, or at least making offerings. Freya for instance, is called the Blótere– sacrificial priest – of the Gods. To Whom are They offering? I think that perhaps They are sustaining individually and collectively each other in maintaining right and holy order, sustaining the process itself and directing Their collective maegen toward its continued unfolding.
  2. I use the Greek word μύθους because it is far richer and more inclusively complex than its English equivalent. It may refer to something worth retelling or recalling. It implies sacred stories that are true in the way that sacred things can be, outside of temporal reality or rationality.
  3. I reject categorically any notion that the Gods are dependent in some way on us. That is a violation of natural order. The Gods as living immortals may choose – and what a grace that They do – to have contact with us, relationships, etc., but that is different from being dependent. It is our privilege to honor Them and participate in cultusand we are bettered by it. They too may receive something from it, but I don’t think it is something without which They are unable to function. To say that They require us is the same as saying that we are equal to Them, or that They are dependent on us and such a thing with Gods cannot be. It elevates us far beyond our natural and wholesome station.
  4. I would also argue that this isn’t want interpretatio romanaor graeca was doing either.
  5. As an artist, I know that there is a satisfaction, a deep joy in creating, in architecture, Art, bringing Beauty to life. I often wonder if that sense of wonder and delight was experienced by the Gods at the moment They not only created materiality and temporality, but also crafted humanity, the Idea taking shape in Their collective minds before being shaped into reality and seeing that reality coming to life — and what grief there must be when we betray Them and our divine patrimony through the destruction of Beauty and our world. I’m not talking about war, which I think is also an expression of parts of Their power, but conscious, degenerate destruction of that which ennobles and elevates, conscious turning away from the creation of the Beautiful. I sometimes wonder if the Gods regret Their choice to breathe life into two chunks of driftwood…
  6. I do think there is an inherent reciprocity between us and the Gods. They have given this to us and it is for us to maintain. That is what I often refer to as one of the most ancient of covenants, using that word to imply the sacred nature of this compact. Again, however, it does not imply in any way that They are dependent upon us. Quite the opposite, actually. 
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Posted on April 20, 2019, in Heathenry, Polytheism, theology, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. This is a really interesting read based upon something I have thought on for years. I have a background in the Gurdjieff work before I came to the Runes and the Norns; Gurdjieff talks about an Absolute that is beyond any kind of human knowing. I can see that possibility and it does not limit the Gods. Perhaps there is a greater Consciousness beyond which we all partake and have our Being… For me the depth of feeling comes to Fimbultyr… Odin.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      i think we’re too primed to assume some a priori one. we’ve lived a monotheized culture for a thousand years. also, I think the simplification is enticing but to say that there is a One is to say that we’re ultimately monotheists. and i simply don’t believe it holds theologically. (it’s also to say our Gods arenot enough)

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  2. Edward P. Butler

    I agree with this, as you can imagine. The Platonic concept of the One is certainly the most willfully distorted in the history of thought; it is the principle of individuation, nothing more and nothing less. The monotheizing notions to which people have assimilated it—whether of the transcendent or the immanent variety—are all reverting to a cruder form of thought than that achieved by the Platonists.

    To leave philosophy in the academic sense aside for the moment, however, I think that your example of depictions of the Gods making offerings is very much to the point. These images clearly show the Gods worshiping each other, and this is something monotheists simply cannot grasp, the reciprocal recognition between the Gods in a polytheistic system, which requires no transcendent principle to accomplish. Indeed, such intersubjective recognition is incompatible with imposition by some transcendent agency, because then it would not be free, and hence would not be “recognition” in the proper sense. There is no recognition without difference.

    This reciprocal recognition is also the ground of Hellenic notions of necessity, destiny, and the like, which are usually analyzable into concepts of distribution (see, especially, nemesis or heimarmenê in this respect). The “distribution” in question is not coming from some transcendent authority, however, but from the necessity the Gods feel to respect one another’s actions and prerogatives, a necessity which is not imposed upon Them but is rather Their will. I rather suspect that wyrd works similarly, given the “weaving” metaphor also common to Hellenic thought about the basic nature of Being, which is “woven” out of many living agencies, many wills.

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  3. I think there is a fundamental human tendency to seek some kind of oneness, which is why so much philosophy is based on that assumption. It is a tendency I do not share, and I appreciate this post for helping me clarify and explain my own thinking. You speak for me in this matter.

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  4. Quite an eloquent and logical explanation here. “I think at best, any idea of “the One” is a philosophical concept, perhaps a place holder for the activities of the individual Gods in individual instances governing creation and being…The Gods maybe yoked together in purpose: collaborating in the act of creation (all creation stories being true μύθους) but that is a different thing from there being a single unity overseeing it all”. I find the term wholeness preferable to oneness in this context for the reasons you mention. There is collective (inter)action and separate spheres within which pantheons operate. Perhaps “onenesses” in a plural sense is useful in explaining the practical side of this pluralistic process, as opposed to the monotheistic idea of a hierarchically linear monism which stands above all things and from which everything emanates. Oneness is a consequence and process rather than a cause or a procedure.

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    • I had meant to insert this recent study within my comment. It is about the relation between oneness and happiness. I think the term as it is used has monotheistic undertones, otherwise animists (rather than Muslims) would be happiest in the study. The Muslims pride themselves in attributing all good to one supreme being, but it doesn’t matter whether they can feel very happy about it so long as they oppose every other part of that apparent “oneness” that disagrees with their overarching conception!

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    • Concepts of the One as a type of emanationist monism, I have never really been able to consider the same as monotheism. Particularly not monotheism of the Abrahamic type. The One in Platonism is not a deity, not personal, not appealed to, never changes, and is not even a being. Despite attempts by some churchmen to reconcile the One with Christianity, it just does not fit.

      I expected that Hindus and Buddhists would score higher than Muslims. The interdependence of all things is a core idea for them. But the study was in Germany, and there are probably not that many Hindus or Buddhists there. The numbers for each religion were definitely not balanced, more than 25% were atheists.

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      • I can see “The One” as an idea put forward by Plato and his followers to explain an ultimate principle of all existence. It was an alternative to Hesiod’s “Chaos” in that it was an attempt to reach a universalistic explanation of the basic component or framework of reality itself. I like to think of it as an intellectual, transcendent version of what the Polynesians would call “mana”. In any case, the Christians and Hellenistic Jews as well as the later Muslims (to be precise- you know I take exception to the term “Abrahamism”) were able, by adopting this universalizing idea, to make monotheism a universal rather than an ethno-tribal force in the same way that they presented their beliefs as complex theological philosophy rather than provincial cultural “superstitio”. If you ask me which is a worse idea, universalism or fanaticism, I’ll have a difficult time to answer, because they both result from some form of imperialism, but combine them both, and you get the ultimate imperialism: a bloodthirsty sword that is driven by a supposedly cultured mind.

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  5. When I was preparing to write about my feelings of the Gods being fiction, I did some research. One thing I discovered is the “monotheistic gaze.” This is expecting order in the universe, and that there is a guiding single force behind it. That is “God’s Grand Plan,” which explains why things happen to people. Oh a wall fell on you and you have a TBI. God has a plan for you, and your TBI is a part of that plan….. What I realized is that the “polytheistic gaze” welcomes chaos and anarchy. There is no single order to the universe. Various Gods have plans and do them, however, They may or may not work with each other. Or They may take advantage of something that has happened.

    As for me, I restored my faith in the Gods by watching the squirrels. No one knows why they chase each other, they just do. Squirrels go about their affairs, with and without human interaction. They had adapted to humans but remain wild. Yes, I know comparing Gods to squirrels is a bit squirrely, but it works for me.

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    • ganglerisgrove

      the “monotheistic gaze”…that is brilliant. I had never thought of it in those terms.

      and squrrels. squirrels are insane. lol hyper little crazy fuzzy rats. they are awesome. 🙂

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    • Hello, I loved your squirrels comparison!! I sometimes relate my relationship with the Gods to the wild geese and their chickens. The geese watch over the chickens and the little ones are really dumb – and well… I am the worst behaved of all dumb chickens in all the parks in the world!

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  6. Monotheists are always trying to wheedle their poison into our traditions, trying to frame our traditions in relation to their beliefs. That incessant drive to find “the Highest God of Gods” in Polytheistic religions is nothing but a veiled attempt to reduce our Gods and Goddesses into subordinate beings to their God. Monotheism truly does behave like a virus, and that drive to infect is present even in the most open minded and benign of Monotheists. Cancer is still cancer, even if it wears a smile and wants to be your friend.

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  7. ganglerisgrove

    TP, no plato was not a monotheist.

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    • Edward P. Butler

      People just don’t get it, do they? The One isn’t a God, it’s the principle of individuation. There are units, ones, so there is the One. It’s really bloody simple.

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    • I would like to clarify that I was referring to your colleague and other seemingly benign Monotheists who attempt to find “the God of Gods” in Polytheistic religions. Plato was certainly no Monotheist.

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  8. Hello Galina, in one of your notes you comment: “There are instances that point to the Gods praying, or at least making offerings. Freya for instance, is called the Blótere– sacrificial priest – of the Gods. To Whom are They offering? I think that perhaps They are sustaining individually and collectively each other in maintaining right and holy order, sustaining the process itself and directing Their collective maegen toward its continued unfolding.”

    There is a story about Hermes making offerings to the Gods (including Himself!) with the cattle He stole from Apollo.

    I am developing a closer devotion to Hermes and He has shown me this scene of His story several times. I have come to personally believe Hermes makes offerings to the Gods and the Goddesses to the day and that the Gods worship each other. I had never read about this concept anywhere else, and I found your writing very, very interesting. Thank you.

    Kind Regards

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