Sacred Texts  Index  Previous  Next 

sacred-texts |  Web | Powered by Google

Internet Book of Shadows, (Various Authors), [1999], at

 By: Deborah Kest
 To: Rose Dawn
 RD> OK, having some more thoughts about this. If there is/are one/two
 RD> original 'creators,' the system would still be polytheistic if the
 RD> original(s) created a bunch of gods/demi-gods and cut 'em loose so
 RD> to speak--not assigning them roles in the grand scheme of the
 RD> original(s)? If so, what would be a counter-example--something like
 RD> Yahweh & Son and the angelic hosts? I think I'm following you, it's
 RD> just a bitch to put into words, LOL!
  It's hard to imagine an original creator with a grand scheme who would
  "cut 'em loose."
  "Well, yes, I have this plan, you see.  And things are going pretty
  well according to plan.  But this demi-god was supposed to be in charge
  of the dinosaurs, and he really doesn't do his job very well.  So I'm
  afraid I'm going to have to fire him, and let him shift for himself."
  Just an extra force in the universe, which doesn't really play any role
  at all in the "grand scheme?"  This would be rather contradictory if
  the Grand Poo-Ba were omnipotent and omniscient, for if he wanted
  things to work according to plan, he would always have the power to
  make them work.
  But, much to my distress, I taught Neoplatonism in my sections this
  week.  One of my students, (the only one who has displayed a mystical
  bent), has been to section every single time, and I was relying on him
  to defend the Neoplatonists.  Figures this would be the only time he
  The reason the Neoplatonists bother me so much is that they do have the
  different levels of reality schtick, with The One, aka "The Good" at
  the top of the ladder.  Because the cause is greater than the effect,
  (the first premise which I don't accept), The One emanates from itself
  the next level of reality, Intellect.  (I still don't understand how
  something which is in no way differentiated, entirely uniform, could
  cause anything.  After all, isn't causation a process involving some
  sort of differentiation?)  But, anyway, like the sun emanates the
  halos around it without diminishing itself, or without being anything
  other than what it is, so too does The One have great fecundity and
  emanates Intellect.  Intellect is still unified, as a mind thinking
  upon itself.  But insofar as it can have thoughts, it has
  differentiation within its unity.  Intellect is the act of unifying.
  All of the things it thinks on are Platonic Forms, like Beauty, which
  unify all of the particular instances (of beauty) in our world, (and
  all other worlds which the World-Soul spins).  But Intellect doesn't
  think of the particular, it thinks only of true Beauty, true Justice,
  etc.  It is not separate from all of these forms, so the way it thinks
  is from the perspective of each form onto all of the other forms.  So
  from Beauty it contemplates Justice and Equality, and from Justice it
  contemplates Beauty, etc.
  Well, somehow in all of this pure thinking on itself, it too emanates
  another less perfect level of reality, which is Soul, explained as the
  higher Soul, or World-Soul, and the lower Soul, or our souls.  The
  World-Soul is less fertile than the level before, so it can't manage 
 to produce real babies, but "less real" babies, imitations of the Forms 
 in the mind of Intellect.  So it spins all of the myriads of combina
 tions  of Forms, aka our world.
  This process of causality, where the effect is always inferior to that
  which causes it, continues down to the point where no causality is
  possible any more.  This point is Prime Matter, which has no form left
  at all.  As something approaches Prime Matter, it is less and less
  formed, less and less intelligible.  Something is ugly not because it
  partakes in a form of ugliness, but because it does not partake in the
  form of beauty at all.  This breakdown of order is responsible for what
  we call evil.  According to Plotinus Prime Matter *is* Evil.
  This would suggest that either The Good is responsible for Evil, or
  there is more than one principle in the universe, which would deny the
  premise on which The One is based.  The way they try to weasel out of
  this problem is by saying that Prime Matter is the least real of all,
  or that it isn't real.  That doesn't mean that evil doesn't exist, but
  it exists because of holes, which are in themselves nothing-ness.  It's
  like Swiss cheese.  Swiss cheese has holes, but the holes are in
  themselves not anything.  You wouldn't say that Swiss cheese is made 
 up of cheese and holes, but that there are places in the cheese which
  simply lack cheese.  Holes can't make up anything.  So too Prime Matter
  can't cause anything.
  Well, anyway, the reason I laid the skeleton of the system out is
  because Neoplatonism would seem to be a system whose first cause was
  The One, and who followed necessarily according to a single principle,
  to produce a manifold which is, in a sense, independent of its
  "creator."  But though there is order, there isn't a divine plan, in
  that The One can't have any goals.  It just emanates from itself, from
  which all else is derived.  The manifold is independent of The One
  because it isn't itself The One.  While there are unifying principles
  which can only be derived from Unity itself, because they are not
  perfectly uniform, they are not part of The One.  The One can't have
  So, are they monotheists, (The One), duo-theists, (The One and Prime
  Matter), polytheists, (all of the levels of the hierarchy of reality,
  which includes levels of spirits which I didn't spell out), or all of
  the above?  One could argue for all of the options, since The One is
  responsible for all, (but then where does matter, the building stuff 
 of our world, come from, if by itself it is evil), and since the  
 efficient  causes of every phenomenon we experience comes from the  
 lower deities,  not The One itself.
  If I *had* to accept such a system, (which I don't feel myself obliged
  to accept at all, since the arguments which Plotinus and Proclus give
  are terribly flawed), I would be inclined to favor polytheism, since
  even though The One is the first principle, not everything is
  incorporated into The One.  In fact nothing is, since that would
  violate its Unity.  So, The One is sort of off by itself, just
  emanating, while the efficient cause of our world is the World Soul,
  and all of the levels of spirits can have their hand in our pie. It's
  my understanding that the Neoplatonic hierarchy of spirits is what much
  of magic is still based on today.  Their nature isn't determined by The
  One, except insofar as they are caused by The One and this process of
  diminishing causation, which makes them worse than that which caused
  them.  They have more unity than we do, being higher up the chain, but
  less than The One.  So while they couldn't do terribly disunified
  things, they can still do somewhat disunified things, and thus aren't
  determined.  If they aren't determined by The One, then they are powers
  unto themselves, and the ones which actually do stuff which matters to
  >  Well, the "specific group" would be neo-pagans, of course.  But then
  >  the argument is circular, and I'm not surprised that you would be
  >  confused. I think there is such a thing as neo-pagans.  They are
  >  defined, more or less, by a few distinguishing traits: polytheism,
  >  feminist spirituality, environmental spirituality, and belief in/use
  >  magic.  (This would be my starting list).  (Again, none of the
  >  are either necessary or sufficient, except *maybe* polytheism, as
  >  sufficient, but not necessary.)  So, if we start with the foundation
  >  neo-pagans, then their reclamation would be of religions which
  >  that which they seek.
  RD> OK. It still sounds a little tautological to me! I definitely also
  RD> think there is such a thing as neo-pagans, but the major identifier
  RD> for me personally is that they define their religion *as* neo-pag-
  RD> which is also tautological... oh hell, my head hurts. Reminds me of
  RD> local GLAAD meeting a while back; roundtable discussion, topic:
  RD> Is A Lesbian? (After much discussion, the answer everyone agreed on
  RD> was 'Anyone who says she is.')
  I think the way to get out of the tautology is to differentiate between
  the questions "what are they" and "how are they identified."  My
  foundation was that there *is* such a thing as a Neopagan, and I gave
  rough description/definition.  Your challenge was that *is* is
  dependant on *what we know to be the case*.  If our knowledge is
  dependant on their self-identification as a Neopagan, we are back in
  the circle again.  I'd like to break the circle by claiming that *is*
  is not dependant on what we know to be the case.  There are Neopagans,
  separate from the issue of identification of Neopagans.  The issue of
  identification is important for different purposes, but not to the
  purpose of whether there are Neopagans.
  If we break the circle, and give rough starting definitions, then the
  reclamations would be of those religions which have traits which would
  fit those starting definitions.  This means that if just anyone found
  something appealing from ancient times, and worked to reclaim it, it
  wouldn't automatically get the label "Pagan."  The "just anyone" would
  have to fit the rough starting definition, or convince the rest of us
  to include them in a revised definition, before they would count as
  Neopagans, and their reclamation count as "Pagan."  Furthermore, if a
  Neopagan wanted to reclaim something which had nothing to do with
  religion, that wouldn't count as Pagan either.
  RD> Hmm, I don't think I was looking at it in terms of counting them as
  RD> pagans. I seem to recall you'd questioned whether Hinduism had
  RD> features that neo-pagans would find desireable,
  Yes, but I had made the argument that the fact that they wouldn't apply
  the word to themselves wasn't sufficient to prove that we shouldn't
  apply the word to them, if they had the features which we thought of 
 as  Pagan.  Since the purpose of our discussion is to better understand 
 our own word, we are concerned with whether, as we use it, it fits 
 them,  whether they use it or not.
  RD> and I was pointing out
  RD> the beliefs/practices of different denominations that might be
  RD> attractive to various neo-Pagan religions. But yes, I'd say the
  RD> argument against counting them as Pagans is pretty much spot-on. 
 RD> If not originally a neo-Pagan word, it definitely *was* a western 
 RD> word, no? As to the second, I hadn't even considered it & it's an
  RD> interesting point. I wouldn't say it was an argument in favor of
  RD> counting them as Pagan, but there's a lot of truth in it!
  Why isn't it an argument in favor of counting them as Pagan?  If the
  major things which we use to define Paganism we share with them, and 
 if their sects are closer to some of our "sects" than the sects of each
  respective religion (understood loosely) are to each other, why not?

Next: Rune Poem, A linguistic Analysis by Steph Parker