Sunday, 29 August 2010

Henotheism anyone?

According to some folk the term 'Henotheism' refers to the exclusive worship of one god while accepting the existence of other gods. What then is the worship of many gods conceived of as the manifestations of Spirit, The One, or the All? A belief found in Hinduism, in Neo-Platonism and Hermeticism. Some suggest this view should also be called henotheism, and I would also use the word that way. Its always important to define terms of course.....
Now I like the word Henotheism - it is more impressive and academic sounding than the slightly mocking appellation of what some might think I believe in, namely, 'soft polytheism'. (and we all know that Hard Polytheists are hard, in the sense of tough minded, serious, and straight. They think they are the only 'proper' polytheists. Maybe so.

However my spirituality is currently (because everything is provisional) a variety of henotheism that can be characterised as somewhere between 'soft polytheism' where the One is the central focus and the gods 'mere' aspects or even illusory misconceptions of the devotees (the well worn story of the blindmen and the elephant ...) and a 'hard polytheism' where the gods are super powerful individuals with their own lives, distinct personalities, agendas. The problem for me with the latter belief system is that it does not appear to answer any deep philosphical questions about the nature of reality. To my mind, Hard Polytheism is simply declaring there is another class of beings, after animals, men and perhaps mere spirits. It is very difficult to see how the gods of hard polytheism can philosophically carry any high and sublime theology. For example, hard polytheism insists that the highest and greatest reality is not a unity but plurality. But a true multiplicity requires that we can 'count'. Therefore one being must be distinguishable from another being; and what is that distinction? - obviously I am here and not there because my nature has a boundary in terms of time and space. Multiple separate gods like multiple humans, and animals, implies limited beings - finititude. The infinite can contain and encompass multiplicity, but we cannot I think have multiple infinite or multiple omnipotents or omniscients.

But then my current viewpoint hovers between soft and hard polytheism, and the reason is that I don't consider the highest or supreme reality, The 'One' as something worshippable. It is there, but by nature it is the ineffable and unconceptualisable, not a being, but the ground of being or absolute being, the beingness, the is-ness, of every being. To our perception it is the 'unmanifest'. I might even consider it to be a pure potentiality while the cosmos is its actuality.

Sometimes though I admit that I may also imagine The One as if it is manifest and then I conceive of it as a kind of great shining spiritual sun from who's multiple rays and unfolding pleroma of light is the cosmos made.
What I am sure about is that The One is not a theos, a god at all; it is not even the most excellent or supreme of gods. It is not 'a being' and an entirely different category of reality to gods, indeed it is above and beyond categories really. The One is both transcendent and immanent. As immanent it is Spirit, which infinite is in all. Also it is Consciousness and encompasses all minds, it is the root principle of intellect and it is a knower, knowing and the knowledge of all simultaneously.

This means that the 'gods' or 'higher beings', as I also call them, actually manifest the Spirit as Spirit which flows from The One. The spiritual manifestation of The One is the gods, plural. They are not though 'aspects', even less 'pieces' or 'fragments' of the One, anymore or less than anything in nature is. Everything can be conceived as an aspect of the pleroma and outflowing of the One pantheistically.

The gods in my system have a nature that is being, living power and consciousnesses, functionally they are distinct ordering principles and metastructures of reality. As the manifestations of Spirit by which Spirit is seen 'in nature', they are windows upon and means of conceptualising the One as immanent in nature.

Metaphor helps as usual, and I think the following metaphors, though none of them entirely satisfactory, provide the least misunderstanding and aid us glimpsing the truth.
Metaphor #1 The absolute, The One or rather what streams or emanates eternally from the One can be likened to 'pure white light'. As such light is split by the prism into a spectrum or rainbow of colours (frequencies) and also the colours are then mixed and pixellated in nature, also in every hue and tone, so the 'gods' represent as the colours from the pure light before they are put into the picture of nature. The prism of this theology is the 'cosmos' itself, though sometimes I wonder if distinctions are made by the subjective mind. Curently i accept the objective nature of the distinctions - a real pluralism - so that the 'pure colours' - the gods - and the mixed colour picture - nature - are not an imposition of our normal consciousness or delusion (a belief found in Advaita Vedanta of course).
Metaphor #2 The One is like 'Sound' that has a number of 'notes' which are our 'gods'. And our pantheon of gods is a like 'scale' of such notes. The cosmos as a whole is a great symphony of music.
Metaphor #3 behind almost every written language is a system of signs or alphabet, which communicates in combination. The communicator is our One, the gods the system of 'signs' and the cosmos is the language, what is communicated.

Now I tend to move between thinking that the gods are wholly immanent in particular forces or parts of nature, rather as 'forms' have no reality except in the actual instances of things in this word, rather as the 'forms' of things exist always instantised as in Aristotle's system or something like the truly Platonic view of forms, that sees the gods as really 'transcendent' and 'out there' in some heavenly sphere.

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