Posted by Achilles on May 21, 2002 at 23:44:51:
Polytheism and Morphism
by Todd Jackson
We are moderns, and though we have arrived upon the remarkable situation of worshiping ancient Gods, we generally do not have the luxury of believing that Apollo is a 100 foot tall blonde who lives on a mountain. Further, we live in an Abrahamized culture, and are likely to have grown up comfortable with the idea of a God who is a spirit, beyond all form. In fact, in the early, somewhat defensive days of my own faith, more than once I found myself reassuring some friend or family member that "Of course, by Apollo I certainly don't mean..." and by this I meant the embodied God.
At the same time, one of the most attractive features of this faith had always been polytheism itself. As my correligionist Sannion aptly puts it, the universe proceeds as if guided by a multiplicity of Gods-each a distinct individuality, who at no point ever resolve into a single Being. One of the joys of worshiping Apollo is His specificity—the fact that He is not every God, or just any God.
Amorphousness, that tribute paid to modernity and to sophistication, detracts from this specificity; it detracts, I posit, from polytheism itself.
The bodies of the Gods, rendered in art and presumed in poetry, might be thought of as representations of the Gods' distinction from each other. Morphism is native to polytheism; it represents the human mind bringing the God into better focus. By contrast, to morphologize the Abrahamic God would be absurd. Abrahamic religion, monotheist, wants to teach the omnipresence, the boundlessness of His Being. What better, what more natural way to express this than through His having no shape?
My own experience with Apollo informs me that the Gods' conventional morphological features probably derived from the graphic interpretation of Their characters. The manner of Apollo's influence in the world has often seemed to me very much the action of a divine archer. His actions, in my experience, have a sudden, decisive quality; nor is the God averse to inflicting short-term pain. I suspect that one could learn the nature of the Gods simply by contemplating Their morphized forms.
I suggest an acceptance of morphism might aid the spiritual development of polytheists generally. Hekate may not carry a lamp, but something about Her as the Goddess who walks the night, carrying a lamp, teaches us something about Hekate, and pulls us closer to Her.
It doesn't matter whether this is actually true, but whether it is symbolically so. The vision of the Gods as embodied should be considered not as an ancient primitivism, but as a state of perception (or comprehension) native to polytheism, which contemporary polytheists would do well to recover from an age of less corrupted faith.
collected by: Achilles
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