These images [of the gods] were first revealed to humanity by the gods themselves.

 

In his Letter to a Priest, the Emperor Julian (299?-323), arguably the world's first New Pagan, lays out a case for maintaining the traditional religion “of our ancestors.”

Images of the gods make-present the gods on earth, he writes. We know that their use is legitimate because they “were first revealed to humanity by the gods themselves.”

So the question is: Did the gods first reveal images to us?

And the answer: Of course they did.

Humans are social animals. As a result, we look for human features in the world around us, and often enough we find them. You've seen them yourself. (You don't have to look at leaves for very long before you start seeing Green Man faces.) In Hindu thought, these are what are referred to as “self-revealed images.”

On my first encounter with the Pacific Ocean, I picked up a pebble as a reminder. It's glossy from wave-wear, the size, maybe, of a Brazil nut. What's striking about it is the striations. They quite clearly outline the head, breasts, and thighs of a tiny little goddess, tucked comfortably into one little brown pebble.

I carry it with me to this day.

Julian was right. The gods approve of images.

That's why they give them to us themselves.

 

Above: The "Sleeping Goddess" of Carningli