Everything is Full of Gods

It appears I’ve offended the Tetrad++, if only by offending their most ardent and devoted priest. This clarification is for Them: Panpsyche, Panhyle, Paneros, Pancrates, Paneris, Panprosdexia. May they be as eternal as they are novel and necessary.

Here goes: I hate irony. It gives people the illusion of objective distance.

Unless I am greatly mistaken, there are no self-consciously fictional works of literature in the ancient word. Fabulized, sure. Cleaned up into a neater narrative, sure. But stories that weren’t about the places and people at hand were grounded in family history, or the eternal realm of myth. Story was meant to be emotionally/spiritually/ontologically relevant, to urge changes in behavior, to deepen people’s relationships with the more-than-human world. It was all real.

Today, we still tell stories. Most of them are expected to be ‘dead’ by the great mass of people paying attention. And yet, people still find the stories relevant, stories urge changes in behavior, stories deepen people’s relationships with the more-than-human world. They are all real.

I believe that inspiration, insight, uncommon skill all come from outside the individual. From spirits and gods. From the other people. That when a person is moved to worship, that impulse comes from outside the individual. From the pull of a spirit or god. The target of worship is always something genuine. Acts of worship are always genuine. I want my foot-stamping to come through in text somehow: Always, always, always!

Imagine the world we would have if suddenly there could be no ironic distance, no form without substance. If everything people did could only be fully earnest, and everything those acts implicitly say must be recognized.

Imagine how suddenly grounded people would be if they recognized the soul in their deep and ardent regional loyalties: Seahawks, Badgers, Yankees, Red Wings. If people saw with their eyes that magical thinking was behind wearing their favorite’s numbers, that that impulse was real and genuine, and it meant that symbol and reality were entangled.

Imagine how our civic buildings would ring out if people looked up at the neoclassical mosaics and granite sculptures and saw Justice, Liberty, Progress, Legislation not as allegories but as names. How things might proceed if people stopped denying that their work went on under those holy eyes.

Imagine how much larger the world would be if we could acknowledge all of our works and stories, rather than leaving some bastard children out of the inheritance. If we could say that we, inspired, made these artifacts of our inspiration. We let them speak themselves through us, from wherever they came. They share our reality with us, and we look at each other as at mirrors. There are other worlds! How else could we imagine them if they could not exist? How could we love the people there if they were not real?

Yes, Virginia, there is a fucking Santa Claus. We made these things – they are real, we made them: real. Even with their fingers crossed behind their backs and believing only in the dead shape of them writers and actors bring them before our eyes. The evidence is here on the page and on the screen and stage, in stone and glass and fiber. We have such allies in these other people, and we already know them so well.

The problems are real as well. Any story that resonates poorly with this or that group deprived of power, any story that shores up damaging habits of belief is identical with that literal sickness, that literal demon in our culture. Change the stories and change the culture, change the culture and change the stories: magic.

There is a lot of chaff. Not every story can be Eye of the Heron. The “body” of sacred stories has been dead – has been seen as only allegory, only fiction for a very long time. Not everyone will see the same amount of spark in the same parts, sometimes writers or editors will smother that spark. But please, nobody give me that thoughtform crap: even between one genuine text and one genuine author there is more other reality there than can ever fit into the words.

I don’t know if the practices of pagans engaging with spirits-as-they-are-presented-in-Deep-Space-9, or gods-of-a-civilization-in-Morrowind will outlast those pagans or the accessibility of those stories, but so long as they exist they are genuine. Call it the emergence of old spirits under new names and guises, if you must, but acts of worship are always genuine. I think the beings who demand recognition from the first, whose unvarnished purpose is myth and the cycle of blessing and worship are the strongest and their cultus the most potentially long-lived, (and here is the Tetrad’s story, for those not in the know) but the existence of great gods is not an argument against the existence of small gods, the existence of gods is not an argument against the existence of spirits, the existence of spirits is not an argument against the existence of other people.

Always, always, always real. No difference between invented and discovered. Real.

4 thoughts on “Everything is Full of Gods

  1. A thousand times thanks to you, and a thousand times blessings of the Tetrad++ to you as well!

  2. henadology says:

    Unless I am greatly mistaken, there are no self-consciously fictional works of literature in the ancient word.

    I’m afraid you are mistaken. There are purely secular, fictional novels and plays from antiquity, from Egypt and Rome, in particular, as well as from polytheistic societies outside the Mediterranean basin, such as India and China.

    • Iðasfóstri says:

      Hi, thanks for clarifying! And I’d love to get those works onto my eternal infinite reading list one day.

      When I said “ancient” I meant more ancient than anyone seems to have assumed: I mean not simply prechristian but pre-literate. It’s the advent of writing that opens cultures up to tell stories that aren’t tied directly to people and places.

      When it comes to worldview, I’ve been (and this is as much “impossible task” as any other part of reconstruction) looking to triangulate my way to understanding the minds of xyz preliterate culture by looking at living oral cultures and hunting-gathering cultures – their similarities and uniquenesses. The anthropology might still be imperfect, since western-academia generally is still learning how to talk to those sort of people with minimal bias, but it seems important to the kind of reconstruction I’m doing.

      And this post is clearly a feeling, rather than an argument. 🙂

      • henadology says:

        Regarding ancient novels, one can start by doing a search in Google Books for the term “ancient novels”, and find a burgeoning scholarly literature on that subject. This doesn’t take into account plays, or the traditions outside the Mediterranean basin. Regarding preliterate cultures, I would say that an argument could at least be made that the genre of the folktale is a literary composition that is ancestral to the later—ancient and modern—concept of fiction.

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