|Lesson 14 - Emancipation against the Platonic "One"|
SCHOLA AETII·SATURDAY, 13 APRIL 2019|
There are many ways of Spirituality, and many different types of spiritual development, and I have been often asked about my own spiritual views. For many people, it is difficult to see where their spiritual ideas came from, or on what perspectives they hinge. I have in previous works emphasized how Polytheism and Monotheism not only differ in the number of Gods, but have fundamentally opposing and non-compatible views on the Cosmos as a whole. But this goes far deeper, and touches all elements of spiritual and ethical development. The reality is, that many Spiritual Seekers, Pagan or otherwise, are dominated by the concepts which hinge on what I call the "Platonic One", an idea which has influenced Western Spirituality largely through the influence of Judaism and it's offspring Christianity. Whether Plato's Idea of "One" seeped into Judaism and especially the very influential Kabbalah, or the other way around - or it were just coincidental, can't be answered anymore, and it is relatively moot to ponder. I personally assume the Platonic Idea influenced the Hebrew spirituality, but again, the order of things is less relevant than the fact itself.
There are even theories which say, Plato, in his many years traveling after the death of Socrates, came into contact with Eastern Thinkers, the early Buddhists, and in fact a good number of Platonic ideas seem to have similarities with Buddhist and some spiritual Hindu concepts. But that is speculative. Important is only that the Hebrew Kabbalah, the spiritual ideas of Plato and the Buddhist tradition herald a similar spiritual concept, and it influences our modern spiritual views. Now while of course anyone is free and entitled to follow any such ideas, we should be aware of it, and aware of all the implications, for nothing is worse for spiritual progress than following a basket of non-compatible ideas. You can then walk on for decades, making no real progress and never really understanding why.
These systems have two core ideas, which greatly seeped into Western Spirituality, and theyare by and large incompatible with Polytheism and Paganism. I say this, knowing a good number of people will find that offensive. And again, any individual is free to pursue whatever idea he wants, but it is like driving with the handbrake pulled, if you have opposing viewsin yourself: eventually something will break. The two important tenets of these spiritual systems, heralded by Judaic, Buddhist and Platonic Spirituality are: the principle of One-ness and the principle of Duality. I will explain these ideas, highlight what they implicate and then offer an alternative Polytheist view on these.
THE PRINCIPLE OF ONE-NESS
Simply said, this principle assumes there is a sort of "One". One highest God, one center of things, an "origin", where all came from. The cosmos has a start and an end, of sorts. Whether this is a one-time thing, like in Judaism and Christianity, or whether it is an endless cycle, as in Buddhism and parts of Hinduism: the core of the idea is there is a Center and Origin from which all things are coming. The result is always a strong tendency towards a humanist egalitarianism. When all come from a One, all are basically equal, and the moral concepts of Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and in extension Islam, all go that way. It is no surprise that each of these religionsare also Salvation-Religions, which each of them claims to monopolize truth and spirituality. Now while Buddhism,because of the inherent pacifism of its founder is more tolerant than, say, Islam, the tendency to "righteous zeal" is always the same. A religious-spiritual system which hinges on a "One", of course always also proclaims to be in the only true knowledge of that "one", and all too easy we have religious aggression. When there is a One and you are the Chosen of that One, anyone believing different becomes naturally the spiritual enemy. It gives birth to the zeal of conversion, something no Pagan at least of the past days, would ever have found plausible. No follower of Osiris, Zeus, Odin or Ceridwen would ever have felt the zeal to "save" and "salvate" others, to convert people to "save their souls".
Now of course, religions based on a "One" may put this zeal into the background. Judaism at some point in history gave up on conversion, when Christianity arose, and Buddhism in later times mostly moved to intellectual persuasion - though the history of Buddhism is less pacifist than it currently wants to admit.
The idea of the "One-ness" spreads mostly with a political motivation. It gives the people of authority power, that is why these religions were historically so successful, which can hardly be disputed. One ruler, one God. Now some may argue that Buddhism does not fit into this line, and it sure has nuances which differ it from the Monotheist Book religions. But the fact that Buddhist spirituality also reflects about one true state of being, the Nirvana, even though formally explained as a "nothing", is in my opinion just a conjurer trick. The human mind cannot imagine nothing or a void, and maybe with the exception of a few monks and sages, REAL Buddhism as it is practicedand lived by the vast majority of Buddhists is not praying to nothing or seeking to transcend the Ego, but praying to Buddha as a replacement of the One God. De facto practiced Buddhism has made Prince Siddhartha to the One God, to which the Buddhists pray about their daily needs just the same as a Jew, Muslim or Christian to Yahweh, Allah or Jesus, for such is the way of religion. The spirituality of a few monks is for Buddhism as relevant as the fine tuned Sufi spirituality for Islam: it is a niche. When an Asian Buddhist goes to a Shrine he prays to Buddha for a lottery win, to find a wife or to have a raise in his wage, like any other religious person.
My personal critique against it is, how it morally elevates people and consequently denies the Multiplicity of Reality. When all comes from "One", all diversity, all plurality and all differences become an "accident", a "sin", an aberration or heresy. It can be quite clearly seen in the thinking of Plato. He was the first to postulate a "One", and consequently his ideal State, as written in his book "The Republic" is essentially a Fascist Tyranny. There is a "One" truth and virtue, and sages find this "one", know this "one" goodness and thus as in the moral right to enforce the society based on the "one good and true", and everyone differing becomes an evil heretic. Plato does not yet have the religious zeal and terminology of "heresy", but that is what his world view leads to and implies. I personally have great doubts Plato's "Republic" is truly the teaching of Socrates, but my instincts tell me that Plato rather betrayed Socrates with his work "The Republic", similar like Paul likely betrayed the original teachings of Jesus, whatever they may have been. Both are basically a reaction to trauma, both saw their beloved Mentors being killed by the State and developed an angry, arrogant spirituality of self-righteousness: There is a "One" and we are the spokesmen of it.
As a basically Centrist Liberal, morally speaking, and supporter of Karl Popper's "Open Society" it is a spiritual system which I can only oppose, and where I see myself more connected to the methodical and pragmatic thinking of Aristotle. We know not of a "One", and that is for me the end of it. What we see in reality is an endless diversity in infinitecombinations, and IF the world is a reflection of the spiritual, in indicates that spirituality must be a plethora of stars, not just one. Just like when you look up to the nightly sky, there is no center, there is not just one Sun, but an endless number of suns in the sky, planets revolve around each, they revolve around a galaxy and all so stretched out into infinity. In Paganism the Cosmos has no Beginning and no End, no Goal, no Telos. There is no salvation and no "one truth", for it goes against how we see the cosmic reality. We have a multiplicity of centers. Athena is the Goddess of Wisdom, Pax the Goddess of Peace, Mars the God of War, Hermes the God of trade and thievery, Apollo the God of the Sun and Virtue, and so forth. Each God represents an aspect of the Cosmos, and while Zeus is the King of the Heavens, a center of organization and will, if you wish, he is neither a tyrant of the world nor any sort of representation of the whole of the cosmos. If you wish, you might say Zeus is like the element of the willpower inside of you, but just as you are made up of many other elements, intellect, emotion, body asf, so is Zeus the guiding force, but not the origin of all things.
The One-ness also implies a morality, which I reject. Now equality sounds like a nice thing, and sure I share the idea of humanism, that I wish to treat all other humans, and in extension all living beings, with a basic chivalry. But not because of them: but because of myself. I do not know whether or not they deserve this, and hinging human virtue on the One-ness of beings seems quite questionable, if you think it through. Prof. Jordan Peterson often argues so in favor of Christianity: he says, because we are all the Children of God, we all owe each other a basic humane ethicality. So, but what if there were beings who were not the Children of God? Could we just mistreat them in any possible way? And is that NOT how all the Book Religions have argued, time and again? These are the children of Satan and "false Gods" so we can slaughter them by the thousands, by the millions? No, that concept does not seem very helpful in my view. What holds me to an ethical standard treating others with a concept of morality is not that I have to assume a One-ness from which they came just as I, for then I am basically just treating well those who are my brothers. And to quote Jesus against himself: what good would I then do? No, I treat people with morality because it is good for my OWN soul, for my OWN spiritual development. To respect the unending plurality of the Cosmos, like the Gods are many, so the things in the Cosmos are many, and like I celebrate the manyhood of the Gods, so I enjoy the manyhood of the Cosmos. Declaring them all as deriving from a "One" seems on the other hand like pulling them down, like enforcing an idea of identity of all things, similar to Procrustes cutting off the legs of his guests, when his beds were to small for them. No, as Pagan I revel in the unending plurality, I do not feel the need to assume there is a center from which we all came as a meta-theory, and I rather see that such an assumption violatesthe reality of the cosmos. Some people are simply not like others, and I do not need to declare them the same, merely to act rational and virtuous.
Spiritually speaking, I assume the error often comes upon the path of practical spirituality, when in a higher mindset we can indeed transcend the division of things, to a degree, and the spiritual seeker then feels more connected to people, to all things around him. Such a mental state of mind can be achieved in many ways, and while it is important to know, we can transcend the limits of being locked inside a human body, which is a vital step of spiritual development, the fact that we feel connected or are connected too all things, does not require or logically imply we are one, or all come from one origin. When an alien from another planet would contact me, there could be the chance we find a way to communicate, but we are still developed from entirely non-connected planetary evolution systems. That parts of the cosmos can achieve communication does not require they originated from the same source, they merely have to have enough similarity to make themselves understand each other. An intelligent forest or ocean might never be able to communicate with us humans, simply because their basic state of being is too different from ours. But does that mean we could just destroy a sentient forest or ocean?
THE PRINCIPLE OF DUALITY
Close to the first principle and greatly hinging on it, is the second, the Principle of Duality. Of there is a One, a center or first causation of all things, logically we have a circumference, a sum of all things NOT the one. From it always comes a sharp sense of duality, and in line with that a clear hierarchy of good vs evil, pure vs sinful. You can see in all these religions mentioned, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, a very strong sense of differing the pure from the sinful, accompanied with an induced sense of sin, the desire to purify and usually by and large a rejection of the world as fallen, polluted and something to be "overcome". I rebel in a strongly Nietzschean sense against this notion to declare the material world as fallen, or as a sinful place to escape from, to reject the passions of life. I think Nietzsche quite sharply understood that this is usually a habit of world-weary characters, who project their own sense of being weary of their life upon their spiritual system. It is not equally emphasized in all variants of these religions, but it is a cornerstone of all of them. For the Monotheist Book-Religions the world is a tainted place of sin, where only the Heaven is good, wherein all human passions are declared sin, and all aspects of holiness are levels of pulling yourselves out of life. At least Plato was wise enough not to fall into such a trap, being a strongly political person. The strongest is this idea developed in Buddhism, where de facto the world is an illusion and any form of clinging to the world is only seen as a source of suffering. Which in turn is a necessity, since only when the world is declared suffering can your "One" monopolize the only way "out of the misery of the world."
Consequently the fables of Monotheism are dual tales of good versus evil. The typical Pagan tale on the other hand is the Iliad of Homer. The fight of the Greeks against the Trojans is not a tale of good vs evil, for such a view is rarely realistic. None of the sides is per se good or bad, but the single acts of individuals are intermixed good and bad. Hector is good by protecting Paris, but bad in protecting one who abducted Helena. Achilles is good bringing justice to the criminals of Troy, but evil in often acting without any measure, when he is overwhelmed by anger and passion. There is good and evil, but it is not a duality in Polytheism. Of course there are dual things in the cosmos, but they are more relative than absolutes. That Achilles is overcome by anger doesn't mean anger is a sin, it is his boundless subjugation to the anger which makes itan evil, that he knows no limit to it. Just as, for example, enjoying the pleasures of the world is not a sin, but without measure making yourself a slave to them. Pagan morality is a morality of autonomy, and the extreme undermines your autonomy, because you are in danger to become a slave to a passion or slave to an idea, instead of mastering your life.
Now of course there is a motivation to rise to spiritual levels. Socrates explained in "Phaidros" that the human souls came from the heavens, was Divine and seeks to return to the status of being with the Divine. That is because being in the material world is a limitation. We are under the wheel of change, or mortality, and rising up means to leave this boundaries behind. In a sense it is like a child that grows up: the older you get, when you grow up, the more autonomy you achieve, but that does not imply being a child is evil. Being in the material world is a limitation of ourselves, hence we are seeking to spiritually rise: to achieve greater autonomy, to better ourselves, to return to whatever Divine Sphere each soul came from. And according to Socrates, each Soul came from the company of a different God, and hence the souls of people are different, depending on from which of the Divine Heavens they came. So one has his role as Soldier or Policeman, coming from the company of Mars, one is artist or Priest, coming from Apollo, one a trader when he came from Hermes and another a scientist coming from the Divine realm of Athena. Thus each star, each soul, has his or her true pathway in this world, and his own way to return and his own realm to return. I find this a much more realistic and balanced view on how and why to spiritually develop, than making a "once size fits all" spirituality.
These ideas that there is a One to where all alike are referred to, and that the world is a stark contrasting duality, the "ego" an evil, fallen, or illusionary thing, are elements deeply entrenched in our spiritual systems, and it is not easy to see how they lead us down a certain path. As one who walked an initiatory system based on the Kabbalah for 25 years, I know what I am speaking of. No matter how elaborate and nuanced, such worldviews always lead you down to reject the world and in the long run reject yourself, to make yourself feel constantly deficient, for if the ego and all desires are evil and sinful, you will be constantly deficient and at war with yourself, and that can lead to great harm, instead of true development, or at best a self-righteous mindset, which I have seen too often, where a strange pride is connected with their self proclaimed humility, and the denial of ego stirs the egoistic passions just all the more. You can see them in so many spiritual groups: those who seek the light only carry the largest shadows behind themselves. It is an unhealthy imbalance, this violent war against oneself.
The Pagan Good is on the contrast, always multi-centered. The good of Hermes is different from the good of Mars, of Athena, of Apollo; the heavenly Gods, the earthly Gods andthe Gods of the underworld have each their own perspectives. There are many stars in the sky, all like an unending network woven together, each star shining in his own right, by his own crown and having his own place. And that in turn means the Pagan morality is based on reason: we decide about the worldly order not by some Gods-given one truth, but through our own wisdom and reason, as agreement between us, not as a one truth of the only true revelation.
Gaius Florius Aetis
April 2772 auc