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Elementals and the Ineffable: Gods Not in Our Image

Man created God in his image. Before he (and I do mean he) decided to do that, humans venerated the powers and beings of Nature just as they were. They honored life-altering forces and powers that defied explanation, from the radiant rays of the Sun to the mysterious waters of woman’s womb, and all the delights and dangers of Nature in between.

These Nature spirits were held in the highest esteem, and propitiatory offerings were made to them. Occasionally, as the result of atmospheric conditions or the peculiar sensitiveness of the devotee, they became visible. Many authors wrote concerning them in terms which signify that they had actually beheld these inhabitants of Nature’s finer realms. A number of authorities are of the opinion that many of the gods worshiped by the pagans were elementals, for some of these invisibles were believed to be of commanding stature and magnificent deportment.” - Manly P. Hall, The Secret Teachings of All Ages

Earlier humans were in awe of the thunderstorm. They saw all of creation in the glistening surface of the seemingly endless sea that supplied them with food, tools and decor. They listened to the lapping, splashing rivers and the tingling whispers and caresses of the winds. They knew that there was something moving them that moved in everything else, something they could not see, but rarely, that they could yet feel and see the result of.

There was once a greater sense of the ineffable – of that which is unknowable and unspeakable. Now humans are obsessed with themselves and with “knowing” and speaking, labeling, explaining, defining, compartmentalizing, and have been for ages.

They have also become obsessed with something that H.P. Blavatsky called blasphemous: anthropomorphism. She argued that if God is infinite and uncreated, then God is not a being but an incorporeal principle and therefore should not be anthropomorphized.

Despite the obsession with knowledge, humans don’t seem to understand how little they know, how little they are capable of knowing. Yet they have gone to war over what they think they know. Over what they believe.

Though these are impressions I’ve been having for a long time now, it was the recent encouragement I seemed to feel emanating from the fragments of a pre-Socratic philosopher named Xenophanes that got me finally writing this. He poignantly observed over 2,500 years ago that

Mortals suppose that gods are born, wear their own clothes and have a voice and body. Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black; Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired. But if horses or oxen or lions had hands or could draw with their hands and accomplish such works as men, horses would draw the figures of the gods as similar to horses, and the oxen as similar to oxen, and they would make the bodies of the sort which each of them had.

Xenophanes cautioned against misconceptions of the divine based on human tendencies and flaws, and supported a view of religion based more on rationality than on traditionally held beliefs. Yet he was not an atheist or humanist by any means. His almost mystical views and references to multiple gods, as well as the One God, “neither in form like unto mortals nor in thought”, confirm this.

I assume that most reading this might understand that “the gods” are metaphors and symbolic energies and that they have been (or should only be) anthropomorphized to make them more relatable and to serve as embodiments of certain forces and ideals to which we may aspire to emulate (let me here firmly exclude the contrarily wanton and immoral ancient Greek gods with whom Xenophanes was disgusted) or at least learn from. We have created them. It has become a circle, as our creations influence us and take on energies just as thought forms.

However, clearly many Pagans still heavily and pointedly anthropomorphize, dogmatize, name and strictly define and take the existence, forms and human characteristics of their gods every bit as literally as Christians do.

So many of us have crowed over the blatantly stolen and thinly veiled "paganisms " displayed in Catholic and other Christian rituals and practices. Yet I see an ironic amount of Christianity play out in many modern Pagan writings, practices and attitudes.

It is no secret that most Pagans today have come screaming from Christianity or some offshoot thereof. So, it should be no surprise that many still bring with them much of the same attitude, belief, modes of worship and ritual, methods of “literalizing” and general understandings of deity and apply them to a pagan pantheon established by other mortals long dead, rather than to the decidedly masculine Christian “Trinity”, also established by other mortals long dead. Old habits die hard, after all.

I don’t think we need religion. Yet we don’t need to abandon notorious organized world religions to instead simply leaf through a catalog of alternative, indigenous spiritualities, gods and witchcraft and pick the regional aesthetic and system we like most (or a hodgepodge of several) and slap on the corresponding nametag either. At least not if we’re going to take every single thing as literally as Christians take everything in that old bugaboo, the Bible.

There are so many different names for the same thing. The One Thing, in fact. But also, many other things by which we are surrounded. 

There is a difference between Elementals and the One Thing; the Source; the original incomprehensible Universal Mind that is always becoming and never is. Yet the elements and the beings that inhabit them are a part and manifestation of that One; of what we mere, precious, silly humans, with our human opinions that Heraclitus called “toys for children”, cannot and will not ever begin to know or understand.

For, as my man Xenophanes says,

There never was nor will be a man who has certain knowledge about the gods and about all the things I speak of. Even if he should chance to say the complete truth, yet he himself knows not that it is so. But all may have their fancy.”

Indeed, Xeno. Let us have our fancies and our opinions, so long as we know that that is what they are, and that Zeus, Mithras, Jesus, Morrigan, Loki, Marduk, Amaterasu, Yemaya, Quetzalcoatl and the rest are just names. They are the creations of mortals. As such, they are little more than those names. But at their cores, what they represent and teach us are much, much more. 

The elements became “gods”. The sky above you is a god. The rains and rivers and oceans are gods. The flowers and the ladybugs that adorn them are gods. The mountain peaks and echoing caverns are gods. The trees, the animals, the flash of lightning and the howling winds are gods. All these things were so ages before any human deigned to give them - even the One - his own form and start naming them and saying what is so and what is not. None can say. None can know. We are surrounded by and composed of the magic of the ineffable and what we call God is not in our image.


© 2018 Meredith Everwhite – All Rights Reserved


Featured image: “Epiphany” 1940 by Max Ernst

References:
Insights into the Invisible World of Elemental Forces by H.P. Blavatsky
www.philaletheians.co.uk

The Secret Teachings of All Ages by Manly P. Hall

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
www.iep.utm.edu/xenoph/

Xenophanes of Colophon: Selected Fragments
people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/302/302xenof.htm

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  • Meredith Everwhite
    Meredith Everwhite says #
    It only creates an obstacle if it is taken too far or too literally. The Ineffable, by its very definition, obviously cannot be ex
  • Steve
    Steve says #
    Who can explain the ineffable? This seems to be a difficult concept for many to grasp, particularly those Christians you mentioned

Over at the blog Son of Hel, Lucius Svartwulf Helsen has written a 3-part response to my post, "The Disenchantment of Hard Polytheism".  Helsen's series is entitled "Let's Disenchant the World".  Here I will respond to Part 3 of Helsen's series.

We'll just skip over the stupid memes and the monkey poo flinging and get the substance of a Helsen's post.  He implies that I am exceptional in in that I need to be "forced to care" about something that I don't feel a connection to.  But I think this is the nature of modern humanity.  Genocide, war, rape, racism, sexism, environmental desecration, etc. etc. -- all of these are evidence that we human beings need to be forced to treat others well, unless we first feel a connection to them.  (In fact, the sheer nastiness of Helsen's post is also evidence of this.)

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  • Jön Upsal's Gardener
    Jön Upsal's Gardener says #
    "the stupid memes and the mud slinging" "the sheer nastiness of Helsen's post" ""I am a special little snowflake and how dare you
Druidry, Animism and The Meaning of Life

For many people, myself included, Druidry and Animism go hand in hand. Since the Age of Enlightenment and perhaps even further back in history (perhaps with coming of Christianity) Animism has gotten the reputation of being somehow backward, a superstitious and childish view of the world wherein everything is “alive”.  This belief is completely biased in that it is totally from a human-centric point of view;  those who believe it to be silly would say that believing a stone has a soul is absolutely ridiculous.  This point of view is a projection of our human perspective,  of what is alive and what isn’t, what is ensouled and what isn’t.  It doesn’t take into consideration differences in the metaphysical.  This perspective is often derogatory of Animism, yet it fails to actually understand just what Animism actually means, and what living with an Animistic perspective can bring to human consciousness.

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  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Excellent dissertation, Joanna. I think it was Swami Kriyananda who helped me to understand Animism with his statement, "God didn'

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  • Thesseli
    Thesseli says #
    This is one of the reasons I'm interested in Feri -- gender and gender roles are fluid, and you're not restricted by yours to any

Posted by on in Studies Blogs

Four years ago, when I first started my Pagan Music Project, I got asked "What's the difference between Witchcraft and Paganism?"  That was difficult for me to answer. I struggled with it for a while, and then forgot about it.  Now, I think I've got it.

Witchcraft is about energies and powers that be.  Witchcraft spells and Witch magick are about working with the energetic machine that the world and universe are part of.  It's almost more of a job than it is a religion. Witches around the world are people that "do." Whether good or bad, Witches "do" things.

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  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    @lizann: Even though I myself find it hard to believe in Christian religion and tradition, I am so glad you've found a balance.
  • Amarfa
    Amarfa says #
    Thank you. It was a random 3am type of writing. Sometimes, those are the best!
  • Lizann Bassham
    Lizann Bassham says #
    Lovely and nuanced wisdom, thank you for sparking my continued processing of those concepts as a witch whose deities tend to be in
  • Terence P Ward
    Terence P Ward says #
    I very much appreciate how you've presented this viewpoint as your own insight, rather than as an established fact. That makes it
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Nice insight, Candi. I like how you've teased out the differences between the two.

Recent experiences have shown me that more and more relationships are being described in terms of customer and vendor, even when that application of the commercial metaphor is terribly inappropriate. Where this problem disturbs me the most is in misunderstandings of magical and religious relationships.

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  • Stifyn Emrys
    Stifyn Emrys says #
    Thank you for an interesting article. I think people often fall prey to treating things (and people) as commodities because the re

Posted by on in Studies Blogs
Perspectives on Deity

 

Perhaps central to Neo Pagan practices is the petition of Deity. The crudest of formulas for Neo Pagan ritual would be: create a sacred space, invoke deity, pay homage and/or petition, and dismiss. Though some petitions might be spontaneous and overlook some elements of space or decorum ( i.e. Penczack’s “instant magic”), the desires and force of will are almost always necessarily in conjunction with some form of request to a higher power. Linguistically, one could simply put it as; “to petition”, a subject must have an object to call upon.  Even in the instance of petitioning the self, drawing forth some sort of believed, hidden energy from the depths of the practitioners psyche, the petitioner is calling upon an “other” to change or work with the “self”.

 

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