Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"They'll wash your troubles away." Gil Scott Heron in memoriam

Ever feel kinda of down and out and don't know just what to do?
Livin' all of your days in darkness, let the sun shine through
Ever feel that somehow, somewhere you lost your way?
And if you don't get help you won't make it through the day?
You could call on Lady Day!
You could call on John Coltrane!
They'll wash your troubles, your troubles away

Plastic people with plastic minds on their way to plastic homes
There's no beginning, there ain't no ending
just on and on and on and on and...
It's all because we're so afraid to say that we're alone
until our hero rides in, rides in on his saxophone
You could call on Lady Day!
You could call on John Coltrane!
They'll wash your troubles, your troubles away

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why only mock some Christians, but not the rest?

"Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,
I will spue thee out of my mouth."

[The following intemperate rant was in large part inspired by a far more thoughtful and compassionate post at Sightless Among Miracles.]

There are fools, and then there are fools. We often hear about how Christians today should be more like the early Christians. Well, the early Christians were a bunch of intolerant superstitious antisocial violence-prone easily-led morons who were sure that Jebus was returning any day now. They were obsessed with prophecies about the exact time of his return, and with trying to discern "the signs" that presaged that return. They couldn't wait for their Zombie God to come back and take them all away from the awful, sinful world they hated living in, and that, for the most part, hated them in return and would be glad to see them gone.

Well, there is a group of Christians today who have truly returned to the roots of their faith. These are the followers of Harold Camping. But the fact is that even though they are closer to "original" Christianity than most of the other 2+ billion Christians alive today, those who believed Camping's prediction that the Rapture would occur on May 21st (with Judgement Day to follow on soon after), in truth hold to beliefs that are no less laughable than all the Zombie Jesus worshippers who mindlessly accept the whole "He Is Risen" bullshit every year on Chocolate Bunny Day. All Christians believe in the Second Coming, even if they quibble over the details and the timing. They have been waiting a long time now. Just how fucking stupid are they?

The Camping followers at least have the great virtue of actually taking their beliefs to heart, rather than just pretending to believe. In Revelations 3:15-16 we read: "Thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." Well, the Camping crowd doesn't have to worry about being "spued" out of God's mouth. But what about the rest of those who consider themselves Christians?

(I think the thing that boggles my mind the most is the way that many of the same people who suddenly became all earnestly thoughtful, conflicted, and hand-wringy over the deep sixing of Osama bin Laden were among the most wantonly gleeful and mean-spirited in their mockery of the Ratpurean wannabes.)

But my real point, as the title of this post makes clear, is that the entire blood cult of Jebus is deserving of the same level of ridicule as that directed at the tiny handful of people who actually believe the crap in the Bible. Those who are only willing to heap scorn on a tiny, powerless handful, and then only when their favorite media icons and thought-leaders signal that it's OK, should really just shut the fuck up.

Theological postscript: For the most part, Pagans do not believe that the Universe has a beginning or an end. This is one of those things that Pagans, Buddhist, and Hindus have in common. In fact, the idea that time, and/or "the world" can have either a beginning or an end has been an object of ridicule since antiquity.

75% of Egyptians support the Muslim Brotherhood. Have a nice day.

The following are taken from the new Pew report on the results of their most recent polling in Egypt.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Let Us Pray

1. A Prayer to the Queen of Heaven

An ancient tale tells the story of a foolish young man whose blind lust for magical power leads him to accidentally turn himself into a donkey (instead of a bird, which had been his goal).

Worse yet, having botched the initial transformation, he then discovers that he cannot accomplish the crucial step of reversing the process to regain his human shape.

The young fellow, named Lucius, had used unethical means (theft and deception) to obtain the magical potions with which he had planned to first turn himself into an owl, and then, once he had had his fill of soaring through the night sky, to return to normal. Not only had his actions been unvirtuous, they had been extremely unwise, for they had put him in possession of power that he not only had no right to, but that he had no understanding of.

From there, things only went from bad to worse for poor Lucius, and a series of increasingly degrading mishaps ensues. Finally, Lucius manages to escape from his most recent human tormentors, and finds himself on a deserted beach late one day. As the sun is setting, Lucius also sets his four legged form down on the sand. Exhausted and miserable he falls asleep to the rhythmic lullaby of the waves lapping the nearby shore.

But soon after dark, he awakes suddenly, and, lifting up his head (still that of an ass), he sees the full moon rising above the sea. Now Lucius had never been a really wicked person. Certainly he was self-centered, short sighted, and morally lax. Nevertheless, he was still, at least in a very limited way, something like a good Pagan in the widest and most generous sense, and also, way down deep inside, a decent human being in spite of his many faults (think Titus Pullo in HBO's Rome).

And so it was that in his mind he now looked not merely on the Moon, but on the face of the Great Goddess, Mother of all humankind, in all her glory, and to whom he now prayed (as those who are only just barely religious often do when they have run out of all other options), as described in this first-hand account he is supposed to have given later:

I went down to the sea to purify myself by bathing in it. Seven times I dipped my head under the waves—seven, according to the divine philosopher Pythagoras, is a number that suits all religious occasions—and with joyful eagerness, though tears were running down my hairy face, I offered this soundless prayer to the supreme Goddess:

"Blessed Queen of Heaven, whether you are pleased to be known as Ceres, the original harvest mother who in joy at the finding of your lost daughter Proserpine abolished the rude acorn diet of our forefathers and gave them bread raised from the fertile soil of Eleusis; or whether as celestial Venus, now adored at sea-girt Paphos, who at the time of the first Creation coupled the sexes in mutual love and so contrived that man should continue to propagate his kind for ever; or whether as Artemis, the physician sister of Phoebus Apollo, reliever of the birth pangs of women, and now adored in the ancient shrine at Ephesus; or whether as dread Proserpine to whom the owl cries at night, whose triple face is potent against the malice of ghosts, keeping them imprisoned below earth; you who wander through many sacred groves and are propitiated with many different rites—you whose womanly light illumines the walls of every city, whose misty radiance nurses the happy seeds under the soil, you who control the wandering course of the sun and the very power of his rays—I beseech you, by whatever name, in whatever aspect, with whatever ceremonies you deign to be invoked, have mercy on me in my extreme distress, restore my shattered fortune, grant me repose and peace after this long sequence of miseries. End my sufferings and perils, rid me of this hateful four-footed disguise, return me to my family, make me Lucius once more. But if I have offended some god of unappeasable cruelty who is bent on making life impossible for me, at least grant me one sure gift, the gift of death.”

After having poured his heart out to the Goddess in this way, Lucius lay back down again and slept. And dreamed:

I had scarcely closed my eyes before the apparition of a woman began to rise from the middle of the sea with so lovely a face that the gods themselves would have fallen down in adoration of it. First the head, then the whole shining body gradually emerged and stood before me poised on the surface of the waves. Yes, I will try to describe this transcendent vision, for though human speech is poor and limited, the Goddess herself will perhaps inspire me with poetic imagery sufficient to convey some slight inkling of what I saw.

Her long thick hair fell in tapering ringlets on her lovely neck, and was crowned with an intricate chaplet in which was woven every kind of flower. Just above her brow shone a round disc, like a mirror, or like the bright face of the moon, which told me who she was. Vipers rising from the left-hand and right-hand partings of her hair supported this disc, with ears of corn bristling beside them. Her many-colored robe was of finest linen; part was glistening white, part crocus-yellow, part glowing red and along the entire hem a woven bordure of flowers and fruit clung swaying in the breeze. But what caught and held my eye more than anything else was the deep black luster of her mantle. She wore it slung across her body from the right hip to the left shoulder, where it was caught in a knot resembling the boss of a shield; but part of it hung in innumerable folds, the tasseled fringe quivering. It was embroidered with glittering stars on the hem and everywhere else, and in the middle beamed a full and fiery moon.

In her right hand she held a bronze rattle, of the sort used to frighten away the God of the Sirocco; its narrow rim was curved like a sword-kit and three little rods, which sang shrilly when she shook the handle, passed horizontally through it. A boat-shaped gold dish hung from her left hand, and along the upper surface of the handle writhed an asp with puffed throat and head raised ready to strike. On her divine feet were slippers of palm leaves, the emblem of victory.

All the perfumes of Arabia floated into my nostrils as the Goddess deigned to address me: “You see me here, Lucius, in answer to your prayer. I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes the lamentable silences of the world below. Though I am worshipped in many aspects, known by countless names, and propitiated with all manner of different rites, yet the whole round earth venerates me. The primeval Phrygians call me Pessinuntica, Mother of the gods; the Athenians, sprung from their own soil, call me Cecropian Artemis; for the islanders of Cyprus I am Paphian Aphrodite; for the archers of Crete I am Dictynna; for the trilingual Sicilians, Stygian Proserpine; and for the Eleusinians their ancient Mother of the Corn.

Some know me as Juno, some as Bellona of the Battles; others as Hecate, others again as Rhamnubia, but both races of Ethiopians, whose lands the morning sun first shines upon, and the Egyptians who excel in ancient learning and worship me with ceremonies proper to my godhead, call me by my true name, namely, Queen Isis. I have come in pity of your plight. I have come to favor and aid you. Weep no more, lament no longer; the hour of deliverance, shone over by my watchful light, is at hand! ..."

Should I give away how the story ends? Can you guess? Let's just say that although Apuleius' novel has a certain notoriety as a prominent example of "The Pornographic Tradition" of ancient literature, it nevertheless has just as great a claim to being a notoriously Pagan book in the religious sense, as well as a work in which a serious philosopher presents many subtle Platonic concepts concealed within a highly entertaining redaction of a popular story. That is to say, L'Asino D'Oro is in the end both spiritually uplifting and intellectually satisfying.

2. "Listen to the words ...."

The story of Lucius was immortalized by the writer Apuleius in his Latin novel The Metamorphoses (aka "The Golden Ass"). Eighteen centuries later, Gerald Gardner's Witchcraft Today (the pdf of the complete book can be viewed here, and if for any reason that link doesn't work, just do a google search on something like "gardner witchcraft today pdf") was published, announcing to the world that the ancient worship of the Goddess was still alive. Therein Gardner explains that he is oathbound not to "detail the rites and prayers" of the Wiccan religion. But he can tell us that when an initiation rite is about to start there is first read "a charge", beginning as follows:

Listen to the words of the Great Mother, who of old was also called among men Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite and many other names. At mine altars the youth of Lacedaemon made due sacrifice.

Once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, meet in some secret place and adore me, who am queen of all the magics .... For I am a gracious goddess, I give joy on earth, certainty, not faith, while in life; and upon death, peace unutterable, rest and the ecstasy of the goddess. Nor do I demand aught in sacrifice ....

Gardner then states that these words show the influence of "a similar charge" that came from "the Romans" and/or "the ancient mysteries". The cult of Isis was, of course, an ancient mystery religion especially popular among Romans. Apuleius was a prominent Roman citizen, and archaeologists have discovered the remains of Roman era cultic sites dedicated to the Goddess Isis in Britain. Gardner even explicitly mentions Apuleius' Metamorphoses in the Forward to Witchcraft Today.

Apuleius' novel is also mentioned by Gardner in his second book on Wicca, The Meaning of Witchcraft, where Gardner calls on Apuleius as a witness to the fact that Witches do not worship Satan:

Lucius relates with relish a number of macabre stories of the powers of witches in his day. Yet they are not devotees of Satan, of whom Lucius had never heard. Their goddess is Hecate, and Hecate, in the vision which delivers Lucius from bondage, is declared to be identical with Isis, the gracious and lovely Queen of Heaven. That is, she is the same goddess in her dark and light aspects, as is natural to a goddess of the moon.

Gardner's obvious familiarity with Apuleius' work removes any possibility of thinking that the significant similarities between the Wiccan Charge of the Goddess and the epiphany and aretalogy of Isis in The Metamorphoses could be accidental. However, there was undoubtedly another source for the Charge, and one much closer to Gardner in time. This was the famous book by Charles Godfrey Leland, Aradia: Gospel of the Witches, first published in 1899. As the following excerpt shows, in fact, Gardner was borrowing heavily and directly from Leland:

This is the Gospel (Vangelo) of the Witches:

Diana greatly loved her brother Lucifer, the god of the Sun and of the Moon, the god of Light (Splendor), who was so proud of his beauty, and who for his pride was driven from Paradise.

Diana had by, her brother a daughter, to whom they gave the name of Aradia [i.e. Herodias].

In those days there were on earth many rich and many poor.

The rich made slaves of all the poor.

In those days were many slaves who were cruelly treated; in every palace tortures, in every castle prisoners.

Many slaves escaped. They fled to the country; thus they became thieves and evil folk. Instead of sleeping by night, they plotted escape and robbed their masters, and then slew them. So they dwelt in the mountains and forests as robbers and assassins, all to avoid slavery.

Diana said one day to her daughter Aradia:
'Tis true indeed that thou a spirit art,
But thou wert born but to become again
A mortal; thou must go to earth below
To be a teacher unto women and men
Who fain would study witchcraft in thy school

Yet like Cain's daughter thou shalt never be,
Nor like the race who have become at last
Wicked and infamous from suffering,
As are the Jews and wandering Zingari,
Who are all thieves and knaves; like unto them
Ye shall not be....

And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first of all i' the world;
And thou shalt teach the art of poisoning,
Of poisoning those who are great lords of all;
Yea, thou shalt make them die in their palaces;
And thou shalt bind the oppressor's soul (with power); 1
And when ye find a peasant who is rich,
Then ye shall teach the witch, your pupil, how
To ruin all his crops with tempests dire,
With lightning and with thunder (terrible),
And the hall and wind....

And when a priest shall do you injury
By his benedictions, ye shall do to him
Double the harm, and do it in the name
Of me, Diana, Queen of witches all!

And when the priests or the nobility
Shall say to you that you should put your faith
In the Father, Son, and Mary, then reply:
"Your God, the Father, and Maria are
Three devils....

"For the true God the Father is not yours;
For I have come to sweep away the bad,
The men of evil, all will I destroy!

"Ye who are poor suffer with hunger keen,
And toll in wretchedness, and suffer too
Full oft imprisonment; yet with it all
Ye have a soul, and for your sufferings
Ye shall be happy in the other world,
But ill the fate of all who do ye wrong!"
Now when Aradia had been taught, taught to work all witchcraft, how to destroy the evil race (of oppressors) she (imparted it to her pupils) and said unto them:
When I shall have departed from this world,
Whenever ye have need of anything,
Once in the month, and when the moon is full,
Ye shall assemble in some desert place,
Or in a forest all together join
To adore the potent spirit of your queen,
My mother, great Diana. She who fain
Would learn all sorcery yet has not won
Its deepest secrets, them my mother will
Teach her, in truth all things as yet unknown.
And ye shall all be freed from slavery,
And so ye shall be free in everything; p. 6
And as the sign that ye are truly free,
Ye shall be naked in your rites, both men
And women also: this shall last until
The last of your oppressors shall be dead ....

In the next installment of this series, Let Us Pray, I'll look at two other important sources of insight into the question of prayer as it relates to Witches: Margaret Murray and Doreen Valiente.

Ronald Hutton on Pagan History: "a demonstrable continuity, text to text and person to person, across the centuries."

I would strongly encourage everyone to read the interview with Professor Ronald Hutton by Caroline Tully over at Necropolis Now.

Therein, Hutton commits himself to four positions that, at least to my reading, appear to be very much at odds with how the Huttonian view of Pagan history is often interpreted by those (especially Pagans) who claim to agree with Professor Hutton:
  1. That "no less than four different cultural streams" provide a continuous connection between ancient and modern Paganism: (a) practitioners of ritual (learned) magic, (b) practitioners of popular magical traditions ("cunning folk"), (c) those who participate in "folk rites", and (d) lovers of Pagan art, literature, and philosophy.
  2. That modern Pagans are the legitimate inheritors of ancient Pagan traditions that are not only continuous with ancient Pagan cultures, but that have been "massively important and ubiquitous" throughout the entire history of European Christendom.
  3. That there is "a direct line of transmission" connecting modern Paganism to ancient Egyptian religion. This transmission constitutes "a demonstrable continuity, text to text and person to person, across the centuries."
  4. That the Christianization of Europe was never complete, and that the modern Pagan revival takes as its starting point those parts of ancient Paganism that managed to survive centuries of attempted extirpation by the Church.
In other words, those who wish to claim that modern Paganism is devoid of all connection to ancient forms of Paganism can no longer claim Ronald Hutton as a champion of their position! In fact, Professor Hutton goes out of his way in the interview to insist that he has never promoted that point of view.

Nevertheless, Hutton persists in the following three very problematic positions:
  • (i) That all of those who were part of the "four streams" mentioned above were purely and only Christian, and cannot in any way be considered to have been "Pagan". This includes, most emphatically, all of the victims of the Burning Times.
  • (ii) That the "four streams" are neatly separable into two discrete groups with little or no overlap. Streams (a) and (d) represent an "elite" super-stream ("super-stream" is my word, not Hutton's) of learned magicians and scholarly antiquarians; while streams (b) and (c) constitute a "popular" super-stream of folk beliefs and practices. This clear bright line between learned and folk streams is crucial to Hutton's position that these Pagan survivals cannot be construed as indicating the survival Paganism itself.
  • (iii) That the ancient forms of "ritual magic" to which modern Paganism is directly and continuously connected "across the centuries", constituted a "counter-cultural" movement in direct opposition to the "religious norms" of ancient Paganism.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Old Religion and Sanatana Dharma (More on Paganism, Buddhism, and Hinduism)

While I was writing that earlier post on Things Pagans should know about Buddhism, it occurred to me that there have been quite a few posts in this blog that are relevant to the subject of the interface between Paganism, Buddhism and Hinduism. Here are twenty-six of them:
  1. Do Buddhists believe in God? (5/24/09)
  2. Immanence vs. Transcendence: a false dichotomy (6/17/09)
  3. As Above, So Below (more on Immanence vs. Transcendence) (6/19/09)
  4. Sri Aurobindo on Immanence and Transcendence (6/20/09)
  5. Pythagoreanism: the personal is cosmological (7/14/09)
  6. Worshipping the Source: The Buddhist Goddess Prajnaparamita (9/25/09)
  7. "The Buddha, Sri Aurobindo and Plato": An Interview with Sita Ram Goel (10/14/09)
  8. What Kind of Religion is Buddhism? (11/18/09)
  9. Hindus and Pagans: "A return to the time of the Gods" (11/19/09)
  10. Religions of the Library (11/26/09)
  11. Religions of the Library, Part Deux (11/28/09)
  12. "Buddhist Warfare": Is Buddhism A "Religion of Peace"? (1/17/10)
  13. Attacking Buddhism in the name of "peace" (1/21/10)
  14. Yet more on "Buddhist Warfare" (1/24/10)
  15. What Kind of Religion is Buddhism?, Continued (3/28/10)
  16. "The Basis of Universal Spirituality" (4/27/10)
  17. Hinduism: "The best surviving of the great Pagan traditions" (6/28/10)
  18. Sometimes Zen Buddhists Are Fucking Morons (8/6/10)
  19. Buddhism Without Ironic Detachment (Contra Batchelor) (8/30/10)
  20. Six Degrees of Charles Darwin (11/21/10)
  21. When did the Buddha stop beating his wife? (11/22/10)
  22. Six Degrees of Charles Darwin, Part Two (11/28/10)
  23. "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." (12/8/10)
  24. From the Vedas to MLK: Tracing Back the Radiance (1/18/11)
  25. Reincarnation in Modern Paganism (a seven part series) (1/27/11)
  26. More on belief in reincarnation in Europe (4/1/11)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

"The Answer Will Always Be Yes!"

I love Dinosaur Comics!!


  1. "Should I try new things?"
  2. "Should I get good at old things?"
  3. "Should I do something just because it might be AWESOME?"
  4. "If we're both in a place in our lives that allows it, adult enough to handle it, and both interested in sexing each other up AND down, should we totally give it a try?"
  5. "I live alone, should I eat all the chicken wings?"

Also, there is that great "prayer" scene from Jeremiah Johnson:

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to eulogize

R. Joseph Hoffmann's sister died recently. He has written a moving tribute to her at his blog. I think this eulogy is well worth reading not only to learn about the remarkable woman described therein by her little brother, but also because it provides a profoundly humane and skillful example of that most important and difficult of philosophical exercises: meditation on death.

Hoffmann is known to me, and to many others, as the author of reconstructions of the critiques of Christianity by Julian and Celsus (originally written nearly two millennia ago). Both of those critiques were condemned to the flames by the Church, and as a result they survive only in fragments. Hoffmann chose to not merely translate these fragments, but to weave them back together and reconstruct, to the extent that this can be done, the original works (or, more accurately, a coherent and faithful recreation of the original arguments). (Hoffmann also attempted the same with Porphyry's critique of Christianity, but, in my opinion, too much of that work had been too thoroughly butchered for the original to be resurrected successfully.)

Hoffmann's depth as a writer and a thinker is demonstrated in his willingness to take on the task (and even more so in its accomplishment) of putting those ancient literary shards back together, and in the process to provide words of his own in order to once again make whole what had been so savagely violated. Although he is a committed atheist (or something like that), Hoffmann has thereby provided, in my opinion, a shining example to modern Pagans of the proper attitude toward the surviving ancient fragments of our religious traditions.

Even more so does Hoffmann's depth as a human being come through in his loving tribute to his sister. Go read it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Top Ten Things Pagans Should Know About Buddhism

0. Caveat meditator.
A seemingly infinite variety of misconceptions abound concerning both Buddhism and Paganism. Very often these misconceptions are perpetuated by Buddhists and Pagans. And it often seems as if the Internet was designed for no other reason than to serve as the perfect vehicle for the world-wide (and nearly instantaneous) dissemination of the worst of these misconceptions. But, hey, whaddya gonna do? There is no substitute for exercising one's own judgement. Even if we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to study with great teachers whose hearts are pure and whose understanding is unimpeachable, it is still the responsibility of each of us to stand on our own two feet and strive to understand matters for ourselves. "Be a lamp unto yourself," as the Buddha said just before dying. Much more could be said about all of the following, but for now I will just list them and write something very briefly for each one.

This is still very much a rough draft, but I feel motivated to put it out there as is.

1. The Buddha was a Pagan.
The Buddha showed genuine respect for the ancient spiritual traditions of his native land. He spent many years studying under the two most famous meditation masters alive at the time. He was deeply appreciative of what he learned from these teachers, and made extensive use of what he had been taught, even though he eventually decided that he needed to continue his search on his own. Years later, when he was nearing the culmination of his spiritual quest, Mara, the God of Deception, made one last attempt to prevent the Buddha from attaining final and complete Enlightenment. In response, the Buddha turned to the traditional Vedic Earth Goddess, Prthivi, who answered the Buddha's prayer by rising up from the depths of the ocean and wringing the water out her hair. With this simple gesture, Prthivi caused a great flood that swept away Mara and all of his demonic hordes. This is why the Buddha is often depicted reaching down and touching the earth, showing how he called upon the Earth Goddess at this most crucial moment.

2. Buddhism was Goddess-centric before being Goddess-centric was cool.
As the story of the Buddha's enlightenment indicates, Goddesses have always played a prominent role in the Buddhist religion. Many of the earliest known structural artifacts of Buddhism, temples and stupas dating from the 2nd and 3rd centuries B.C., are adorned with images of the Goddess Lakshmi, one of the best known and loved deities of Hinduism. According to Miranda Shaw, Lakshmi's prominence in early Buddhism "demonstrates the difficulty of drawing a line between Buddhist observances and popular devotional idioms, revealing the extent to which Buddhists subscribed to beliefs and practices indistinguishable from those of the surrounding populace." [p. 102 in Buddhist Goddesses of India] Later on, Shaw also states that "we may discern a message of rapprochement between Buddhism and the preexisting pantheon of divine beings. There need be no forcible displacement [or, apparently, any displacement at all!], and followers of Buddhism may [and obviously did and still do] continue to pay homage to spirits and deities that had long received their worship." [p. 105] The contrast with Christianity and Islam could not be more glaring. In modern Buddhism Goddesses continue to play a central role. The Goddess of Compassion, Kuan Yin, is one of the most ubiquitous features of Buddhism throughout east Asia, including China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam. The Goddess Tara is, if anything, even more prominent in the Tantric Buddhism of Tibet, Mongolia, and other parts of central Asia. Tara is revered as the mother of all Buddhas (and also of all other beings, who are all potential Buddhas), the embodiment of pure awareness, and even as Ultimate Reality itself.

3. Rebirth and karma are very similar in Buddhism and Paganism.
Modern Pagan conceptions of karma and rebirth are so similar to those found in Buddhism and Hinduism, that this has led some scholars to mistakenly believe that modern Pagans have, in fact, merely imported these ideas from Asia. However, despite these similarities and the resulting confusion, Pagans have our own longstanding traditions regarding rebirth and karma.

In Buddhism, Paganism, and also Hinduism, rebirth and karma serve to provide seekers with a way of understanding Life the Universe and Everything in terms of our own individual spiritual progress. In my opinion no one has expressed this basic principle better than the modern day Hindu master Sri Aurobindo (although Buddhists and Hindus sometimes quibble about this, the conceptions of rebirth and karma in those two religions are nearly the same, and this is especially true in the specific case of how it all applies to the issue of spiritual progress):

The one question which through all its complexities is the sum of philosophy and to which all human enquiry comes round in the end, is the problem of ourselves, -- why we are here and what we are, and what is behind and before and around us, and what are we to do with ourselves, our inner significances and our outer environment. In the idea of evolutionary rebirth, if we can once find it to be a truth and recognize its antecedents and consequences, we have a very significant clue for an answer to all these connected sides of the one perpetual question. A spiritual evolution of which our universe is the scene and earth its ground and stage, though its plan is still kept back above from our yet limited knowledge, -- this way of seeing existence is a luminous key which we can fit into many doors of obscurity. But we have to look at it in the right focus, to get its true proportions and, especially, to see it in its spiritual significance more than in its mechanical process. The failure to do that rightly will involve us in much philosophical finessing, drive on this side or the other to exaggerated negations and leave our statement of it, however perfect may be its logic, yet unsatisfying and unconvincing to the total intelligence and the complex soul of humanity.
[Rebirth and Karma, pp. 35-6]

4. Buddhism reveres Nature.
Unlike Christianity, but like many forms of ancient and modern Paganism, Buddhism views the physical universe as eternal, uncreated, alive and conscious. As it spread peacefully throughout all of Asia, Buddhism never displaced the more ancient forms of religion it encountered, and these inevitably included the worship of spirits and Gods associated with Nature. In Korea, Buddhist temples always include statues, shrines, or other specific places dedicated to the reverence for the ancient Mountain God, Sahn Shin. In Japan, Buddhism and the ancient nature religion of Shinto exist in a truly symbiotic relationship. Religion scholars who specialize in China have given up trying to clearly demarcate Buddhism from ancient forms of "animism" and ancestor worship. Throughout Central Asia (Tibet, Mongolia, etc), the lines separating Buddhism from Shamanism are all but nonexistent. Throughout Southeast Asia, most Theravadin Buddhists also believe in and practice various forms of "spirit religion" alongside the Buddhadharma. Sometimes one finds purists who would like to purge Buddhism of the influence of Gods, spirits, "demons", "magic" and so forth, but such efforts never succeed, and in both the attempt and the failure they only serve to accentuate the luxuriant diversity and tolerance of Buddhism.

5. Buddhism is a magical religion.
Although Socrates would not approve, instead of attempting to actually define magic, I will simply list eight things that are widely accepted as being magical, and briefly give an example of each of these magical practices in Buddhism.
  1. Spiritual healing. Reiki, a popular modern form of spiritual healing, has its origins in Japanese Buddhism.
  2. Divination. Astrology plays a prominent role in Tibetan Buddhism.
  3. Bringing about sought after results (in general). Mantras are widely used in Buddhism. Often mantras are used for "purely spiritual" purposes, but they are also often employed in order to achieve mundane ends including better health, financial success, and even such things as attracting a boyfriend or girlfriend! We know that the practice of Buddhists using mantras even for such mundane things is very old, because some ancient monastic regulations forbid it.
  4. Ability to communicate with non-human beings (either animals or discorporate "spirits"). A famous story in Chinese Zen Buddhism tells about an old Zen master who has a conversation with a mysterious man who turns out not to be human at all. The master's interlocutor is a fox who has the ability to take on human form. This "fox spirit", in turn, is really another Zen master who lived many generations ago, and because of some transgression he committed against Buddhist teachings he has been condemned to reborn over and over again as a fox.
  5. Psychism ("mind reading"). Forms of psychism are widely considered to be a side effect of meditation practice by Buddhists. For the most part, this ability is not sought after, though, and is often considered a potentially dangerous distraction.
  6. The ability to fly or otherwise travel long distances quickly or even instantaneously. Padmasambhava, one of the great saints of Tibetan Buddhism, once traveled from India to Tibet by turning Lady Tsogyal (another pivotal figure in Tibetan Buddhism) into a flying tiger and flying on her back.
  7. Ability to travel to realms below the earth or in the heavens (or outer space). According to tradition, Nagarjuna traveled under the earth and visited the realm of the Nagas (the snake people who live below the earth). It was from the Nagas that he obtained the Prajna Paramita texts that today form a central part of the Sutras of Mahayana Buddhism.
  8. Mediumship (communication with the dead). Dogen is the great founding teacher of the Japanese Soto Zen school. Dogen once traveled to China and while there met the Zen master Genshi, who told Dogen (whom he had never met before): "I will transmit the Dharma to you." Master Genshi said this because of a dream he had had five nights previously when the great Zen master Daibai Hojo appeared to him. But Dogen's meeting with Genshi took place in the year 1224 AD, and Daibai Hojo had died almost four centuries before that in 839!
This list is neither exhaustive nor systematic, yet since each of these magical activities are found in Buddhism, then certainly Buddhism is a very magical religion.

6. Buddhism values the spiritual potential of sexuality.
Jeffrey Hopkins is a Buddhist scholar of some note. Among other things he served as His Holiness the Dalai Lama's chief English interpreter for a decade (from 1979 to 1989). Among his numerous publications is a book with the self-explanatory title Sex, Orgasm and the Mind of Clear Light: The Sixty-Four Acts of Gay Male Love. One of the latter chapters in that book is titled, "Why Tibetan Buddhism Is Sex-Friendly," on which subject, Hopkins has this to say:
"Why this religion is so sex-friendly stems first of all from a recognition that everyone wants happiness and does not want suffering ....

"The intention of using a blissful, orgasmic mind in the spiritual path is to manifest the most subtle level of consciousness, the mind of clear light ... to realize the true nature of mind, stripped of its distractions and peripheral manifestations. The bliss of orgasm is so intense that the mind becomes totally fascinated and entranced with pleasure: both the usual conceptual mind and the appearances that accompany it melt away, leaving the innermost mind in its pristine state, if one is capable of recognizing it. In orgasm, the phenomena of ordinary life which are so concrete and solid they they seem to have their own independent existence melt into the expanse of the reality behind appearances ....

"When the sense of pleasure is powerful, consciousness is totally involved with that pleasure and thus is completely withdrawn; the subtler levels of consciousness can manifest themselves, at which point the nature of the mind can be apprehended and held by someone accustomed to watching the mind ....

"Through desirous activities such as gazing at a loved one, or smiling, holding hands, embracing, or engaging in sexual union, a pleasurable consciousness is produced; it is used to realize the truth that afflictive emotions are peripheral and that the nature of the mind is clear light, whereby afflictive desire itself is undermined. The pleasurable consciousness is generated simultaneously with a wise consciousness knowing the mind, and thus the two are indivisibly fused."
[pp. 71-76]
7. Buddhism is a religion of connection and immanence.
Ayuthaya - 009 Bodhi Tree & Buddha Head, Ayuthaya, Thailand
This travel blog photo's source is TravelPod page: The Old Kingdom
One of the least understood of all the teachings of Buddhism is that of "no self", or, in Sanskrit "anatman". But this teaching can be understood as just another way of affirming the fact that there is "no separation" between one being and another, or between anything in the Universe and anything else. In the Avatamsaka Sutra this idea is taken even one step further in the teaching of interpenetration. This teaching is often explained by way of the image of Indra's Net: the whole universe is an interconnected net or web, and at each node of the net there is a perfectly smooth, spherical jewel. If one peers into any one of these jewels, one can see the entire net reflected on its surface, including each of the other jewels, which, in turn, also reflects the entire net.

8. Modern Paganism and Western Buddhism have developed as kindred paths.
Until very recently (in historical terms) it was not possible for people living in the West to freely explore non-Christian religious traditions. As this freedom was slowly recovered, there were two natural inclinations among those who were adventurous enough to take advantage of it: (1) to explore "our own" pre-Christian religious traditions (Paganism), and (2) to explore religions found in other parts of the world that have not been Christianized (especially Buddhism and Hinduism). As a result, the recent histories of western Buddhism and modern Paganism are inextricably entwined with one another. In particular, the pioneers of Buddhism in the West often turn out to be important figures in the foundations of modern Paganism as well. It is in the nature of pioneers to cross boundaries, and so figures like Alan Bennett (who taught Qabalah to Aleister Crowley and became one of the first Europeans to ever ordain as a Buddhist monk), and Henry Steel Olcott (a military officer, journalist, lawyer, occultist and Theosophist from New Jersey, who is honored with his own holiday in the Buddhist nation of of Sri Lanka) defy any simplistic categorization. Rick Fields devotes a chapter to some of these genre-bending Occultist/Buddhist pioneers, whom he calls "White Buddhists", in his now classic study of the history of Buddhism in America, How the Swans Came to the Lake.

9. You can be both a Pagan and a Buddhist.
Many people find that they are attracted to both Buddhism and Paganism. Some people feel the need to choose one or the other. That should be a personal choice, and it should not be based on the (baseless) notion that Paganism and Buddhism are somehow intrinsically incompatible. Some people feel that it is important to focus on a single path, while other people seem to be congenitally eclectic. Its important for modern Pagans to realize that Buddhists in Asia have a long history of simultaneously being good Buddhists and good Pagans. And there is a long tradition of Asian Buddhists actively promoting the harmonization of different schools of Buddhism along with spiritual traditions outside of Buddhism, incuding Bön (Tibet), Shinto (Japan), Shamanism (Korea), Taoism and Confucianism (China), etc.

10. Buddhism and Hinduism have been far more successful than other religions in resisting the spiritual aggression of Christianity and Islam.
Modern Pagans are constantly frustrated by the fragmentary (at best) nature of what survives of our own ancient spiritual traditions. Buddhism and Hinduism, on the other hand, remain intact even after centuries of attempts by Christians and Muslims to do to them what was done to our ancestral traditions. Pagans can learn a great deal from the ancient spiritual traditions of Asia, and we can do this without engaging in "cultural appropriation" if we follow the example of the Buddha: who sought out teachers of the living traditions of his time and learned everything he could from them, with great respect and appreciation, but without ever forgetting that ultimately he was responsible for finding his own way.

Friday, May 6, 2011

mantras: bagalamukhi and kartikeya

ॐ ह्लीं बगलामुखि
सर्वदुष्टानां वाचं मुखं पदं स्तम्भय
जिह्वां कीलय बुद्धिं विनाशय ह्रीं
ॐ स्वाहा ।

Om HLreem Bagalaamukhi
Sarvadushtaanaam Vaacham Mukham Padam Stambhay
Jihvaam Keelay Buddhim Vinaashaay
Hring Om Swaha ।

[This mantra is found on page 134 of Dr. David Frawley's book Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses.]

Lord Murugan (Kartikeya) Mantra:

Om Sharavanabavaaya Namaha:

Shanmuga Gayatri Mantra (for Kartikeya):

Om Thatpurushaya Vidhmahe
Maha Senaya Dhimahi
Thannah Shanmukha Prachodhayath

Bagalamukhi, once more:

How To Look for Crypto-Pagans, 2.0

[This is an updated version of a post from 12/20/09: On How To Look For Medieval Pagans (Assuming You Actually Want To Find Them.)]

If we accept that there is room for doubt concerning the sincerity of Michael Psellos' claims to be a good Christian, then what? (If you have no idea what I am talking about, you might want to look here.) Is there any way to resolve such doubts? And what about other possible cases of Byzantine crypto-Pagans, from Procopius (6th century) to Plethon (15th century)? And what of the even more tantalizing possibility of "dissident circles" of Byzantine Pagans (to borrow a phrase from Anthony Kaldellis, see below)?

Richard Popkin, in his seminal The History of Scepticism, addresses similar questions concerning the religious allegiance of the so-called libertins érudits. These were 17th century French intellectuals who are sometimes claimed to have been (or accused of having been, depending on one's perspective) atheists. The intellectuals in question were all well known in their day, and they left behind voluminous writings. In addition to their own published writings we have impressions of them written by contemporaries and also private correspondences.

And yet despite such a great wealth of evidence, including the direct testimony of the individuals in question who all wrote a great deal on the subjects of philosophy and religion in particular, nevertheless, to this day there is reasonable doubt about the true religious feelings and allegiances of les libertins érudits.

On the one hand, according to Perez Zagorin, in his Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution & Conformity in Early Modern Europe, "Nearly all modern writers have considered most of them [les libertins érudits] to be unbelievers." [p. 325] This is generally assumed to be the most widely held opinion among those who care enough to have an opinion on the matter.

On the other hand, Richard Popkin (one of the leading modern scholars of scepticism), while acknowledging that his is a minority position, argues that "men like Naudé, La Mothe Le Vayer, and Gassendi [three prominent libertins] were sincere Christians (although, perhaps, not particularly fervent ones)." [p. 96 in The History of Scepticism] Popkin argues, moreover, that the scepticism advocated by these men was not intended to undermine Christianity at all, but rather to defend, and even to define, a kind of liberal Catholicism against dogmatic Protestantism.

More important than Popkin's position on the religiosity of les libertins, however, is the methodological approach that he not only employs, but that he very helpfully spells out for us:

I would certainly agree that the fear of persecution, as Leo Strauss has taught us, affects the way people write. The fear of prosecution would obviously lead people with critical views about established religion to be cautious in how they presented their beliefs and who they presented them to What had happened to Bruno and Vanini, both burned at the stake, would make a esprit fort think many times about what might happen if certain views were enunciated to the wrong parties. So it is easy to conceive that some people were leading double or triple if not quadruple lives and that these people would seek protection from the powerful figures of church and state. At the same time, these people would follow something like the steps presented in Strauss' book Persecution and the Art of Writing. They would write between the lines, they would make coded communications, or they would disguise their actual views while leaving people of similar attitude ways of finding their true meaning.

Considering the various disguises that people have, is it possible to really ascertain in any given case, what somebody actually believes? Besides the religious reasons people might have for disguising their true identities, we've learned over the last century from psychoanalysis and Freud that people are busy suppressing features of their real being. It may not really be possible to tell three hundred to four hundred years later what somebody believed if there is also a problem with knowing it right now. Nonetheless, we have to make judgements about this all the time in determining who we can trust, who we can believe, who we want as our leaders in an election, and who want as mates, and so on. In all these cases, in spite of the most intense research, we could still be deceived. Scandals occur all the time about people who turn out to be different from what we thought. Religious figures turn out to be living nonreligious lives, political figures turn out to be other than how they have represented themselves. We are often disillusioned as further evidence emerges. Yet, unless we are going to live our lives in complete isolation from one another, we have no choice but to try and make good guesses about people's beliefs, real intentions, and real attitudes. In assessing people and their beliefs from the seventeenth century, we have less to go on, since we do not have eyewitness testimony that can be examined. We have documents, we have figures situated in a historical network, and we have a range of possible hypotheses as to how to evaluate the material. One has to examine what was said, to whom it was said, what contemporaries made of it, and what evidence has been uncovered since time passed.

I think the evidence concerning the libertins érudits is more compatible with some form of sincerity and some form of minimal Christian belief. The libertins érudits, who were very involved with the powers that were regulating expression in France at the time, never seemed to be worried, however, about the acceptability of their works. We have no evidence that the ecclesiastical or political powers were worried about their expressions. So I think it is hard to interpret their public statements as duplicitous without further evidence of their real intent. Nonetheless, we know, at least in Gassendi's case, that the author did no publish some of his works because he knew that some similar ones had been censored or forbidden.
[pp. 88-89]

At this point, Popkin shifts his focus to individual libertins and also to issues specific to purported atheists in 17th century France. A little later on, he returns to a more general discussion of how to discern the truth in the face of possible dissembling:

The long tradition of assuming that there must have been duplicity in the writings of the libertins érudits depends, it seems to me, on the supposition that no other explanation of their views can be offered. But, as I have tried to indicate, another possibility exists, namely that men like Naude, La Mothe Le Vaye, and Gassendi were sincere Christians (although, perhaps, not particularly fervent ones). In the absence of completely decisive evidence as to the real intentions of these men, why should assume the worst (or the best?), that they were engaged in a conspiracy against Christendom? The overwhelming number of their contemporaries found no signs of insincerity. And one of the basic sources of the suspicion of libertinage in each case has been the friendship with the others; Naude was a friend of La Mothe Le Vayer and Gassendi; Gassendi was a friend of Naude and La Mothe La Vayer; and so on. If we knew definitely (1) that at least one of these men was a genuine libertin trying to undermine Christendom, and (2) that the others accepted his friendship because of (1), then the argument of guilt by association might be significant. But since it is possible that each of the men in question were a sincere fideist, and quite probably that Gassendi was, then nothing is indicated by the fact that these men, all to some extent involved in the affairs of the Church or the Christian state, with similar avowed sceptical views and fideistic theologies, were close friends. (One might mention that they were all, apparently, intimates of Father Mersenne, who has not, to my knowledge, ever been accused libertinage.) If one considers the libertins érudits without any preconceptions as to their intent, can we decide positively either from their views, or their careers, or the circle of religious and irreligious figures within which they moved, whether they were the center of a campaign against Christianity or part of a sincere movement with the Counter-Reformation aimed at undermining Protestantism through the advocay of fideism?
[pp. 95-96]

Popkin has proposed no less than nine different criteria to be applied in cases of persons suspected of secretly holding beliefs at variance with what they have stated publicly. Four of these are very general, and he groups them together neatly (on p. 89) in a single sentence: "One has to examine what was said, to whom it was said, what contemporaries made of it, and what evidence has been uncovered since time passed."

(1) "what was said"
(2) "to whom it was said"
(3) "what contemporaries made of it"
(4) "what evidence has been uncovered since time passed"

The other five criteria ask more specific questions, and these are presented by Popkin less systematically, but in the course of the same argument:

(5) Alternative explanations that are consistent with an individual's public statements must be given sufficient consideration. Such explanations are to be preferred unless there is strong evidence for dissembling. Such strong evidence would be positive answers to one or (preferably) more of the following questions. [p. 96]
(6) Did those in question "make coded communications, or ... disguise their actual views while leaving people of similar attitude ways of finding their true message"? [p. 88]
(7) Do we know "definitely that at least one of these men was a genuine libertin trying to undermine Christendom"? [p. 96]
(8) In the case of such a person who can be clearly identified as a "genuine libertin" were there others who "accepted his friendship because of" this genuine libertinage? [p. 96]
(9) Is there "evidence that the ecclesiastical or political powers were worried about their [les libertins érudits'] expressions"? [p. 89] That is, is there actual evidence that those who are today suspected of dissembling were seriously suspected of it by those who knew them first-hand?

Although Popkin is focusing on a specific group of suspected atheists during the 17th century in France, the approach he describes appears, to me, to be directly applicable to the question of Michael Psellos' religious identity, and that of suspected crypto-Pagans generally. Three things strike me as especially appealing about applying Popkin's criteria to suspected Byzantine crypto-Pagans:

(i) Popkin proposes these criteria in the course of arguing against the claim of that the libertins had engaged in dissimulation. If these criteria can be applied to motivate the opposite conclusion with respect to suspected Byzantine crypto-Pagans, the case is that much more convincing. That is to say, these are definitely not faux criteria cooked-up expressly to support claims about dissembling.
(ii) Popkin is addressing a different (but not altogether unrelated) issue of crypto-religiosity, therefore to the extent that it can be shown that these same criteria, originally intended to be applied to 17th century France, are applicable to cases of crypto-Paganism in Byzantium over a period stretching from the 6th to the 15th centuries, then a significant contribution has been made to the general problem of religious dissembling and crypto-religiosity.
(iii) Popkin's criteria are consciously geared toward not just the question of individuals engaged in dissembling, but of a purported intellectual movement engaged in a collective, conscious and coordinated exercise in dissimulation.

In the (not too distant??)future I hope (!) to systematically apply these nine criteria to the cases of three different (but perhaps not unconnected?) "dissident circles" of putative Byzantine crypto-Pagans:

5th and 6th centuries, including:
John Lydus (490 - c. 570)
Procopius (c. 500 - c. 565)

11th and 12th centuries, including
Michael Psellos (c. 1017 - c. 1080)
John Italos (younger contemporary of Psellos)

14th and 15th centuries, including
George Gemistos Plethon (c. 1355 - c. 1453)
Juvenal (executed c. 1450) and the "Pagan underground" in Mistra

Before ending this post I will, as promised, briefly mention Anthony Kaldellis' work on anti-Christian (or at least "non-Christian") "dissident circles" in the first of the three periods listed above. The phrase itself comes from a 2004 paper of Kaldellis' published in Florilegium: "Identifying dissident circles in sixth-century Byzantium: the friendship of Prokopios and Ioannes Lydos". (That article can be downloaded in pdf format from here.) Therein, Kaldellis inquires into the identity of the intended "audience" of Prokopios' "Secret History", for, as Kalldellis puts it, "obviously someone must have read the work, or at least owned and copied it, between 551 [when it was written] and the tenth century [when it is mentioned in the Souda]. More specifically, Prokopios must have had some readers in mind when he wrote it, men who he knew were as hostile to the regime as he was himself. It would not have been difficult to find them. Justinian was one of the most hated rulers in history ...."

A little later on, Kaldellis posits two likely suspects: the diehard Pagan Platonist philosopher Simplicius and Ioannes Lydos, who publicly professed to be a Christian. The article in question focuses on Lydos, while Kaldellis discusses the case of Simplicius in his subsequently published book-length study Procopius of Caesarea: tyranny, history, and philosophy at the end of antiquity. I hope to return to this fascinating topic of who Prokopios' possible audience/co-conspirators might have been, but for now I will quote from Kaldellis' conclusion: "The Secret History offers us the opportunity to link the chief writers of the age, to uncover the loose and fragile web of dissidence that bound historians, lawyers and jurists, professors and bureaucrats, to the last philosophers of antiquity."

Kaldellis also has another highly relevant paper with the self-explanatory title "The Religion of Ioannes Lydos," published in 2003 (also available in pdf format at the page linked to above). A quote from that paper provides a fitting conclusion to this post:

In the eastern empire philosophical alternatives to Christianity continued to flourish well into the sixth century. Proklos and his students defined the shape of the Platonic tradition for the next 1300 years, through Psellos, Plethon, Bessarion, and Ficino. In the earlier part of his life, at least, Lydos could have found an extensive circle of men who remained loyal to the older tradition, including Agapios, Zosimos, Damakios and his students, and the prefect Phokas. There were no doubt others unknown to us, the targets of Justinian's laws against feigned Christianity. The most cultured men of the age, including the jurist Tribonianos and the historian Prokopios, have been suspected of belonging to this group and and should now be classified as non-Christians. So too were the historians Agathias of Myrina and Hesychios of Miletos, born in the 520s and 530s. There was a pagan intelligentsia in the sixth-century empire and much of it originated or carried on in the tradition of the centers of Greek philosophy, Athens and the western coast of Asia Minor.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"There is no monotheism in Homer or Pindar or Aeschylus or Herodotus; there was certainly none in cult." ("The Totality of the Gods", Part Deux)

"Taking one by one every Greek author who lived and wrote before 350 B.C., he shows by quotation of parallel passages, as often as possible from a single work of the author concerned, that again and again (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi are used to express identical thoughts, and that no distinction can be made between them. Often singular and plural alternate within a single passage or argument, both obviously indicating one and the same divine power, the totality of gods."

In 1957, Gilbert François published Le Polythéisme et l'emploi au singulier des mots θεός δαίμων dans la littérature grecque d'Homère a Platon. Therein, François painstakingly examined all of classical Greek literature prior to 350 BC, to determine the true meaning intended by classical authors when they made use of the singular ho theos, which Christians, going back at least to Eusebius, have routinely insisted on interpreting as synonymous with the gaseous invertebrate they call "God".

For those who do not have direct access to that volume (WorldCat.Org informs me that the closest library that holds a copy of Gilbert's book is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in West Yorkshire, UK), and/or for those with little or no skill in the French language, there is, fortunately, a very helpful review of François' book published by Joseph Fontenrose in 1960 (in English).

Fontenrose's review is quite thorough, and he is not shy about pointing out what he sees as gaps in François' argument. Nevertheless, Fontenrose's assessment of what François had accomplished is unreserved: "These objections and disagreements are not intended to depreciate the worth of François' treatise, which does a great service in demolishing every support for theories that the ancient Greeks had a monotheistic tendency. There is no monotheism in Homer or Pindar or Aeschylus or Herodotus; there was certainly none in cult."

Below is the review in its entirety. It was originally published in Classical Philology, vol. 55, No. 1 (Jan. 1960), pp. 55-58. A brief excerpt was included in a previous post in this blog: "The totality of the Gods" (Lies, Damned Lies, & Pagan Monotheism, Part Deux)". Also, here is a direct link to the review at JSTOR: http://www.jstor.org/pss/265449.

Le Polythéisme et l'emploi au singulier des mots θεός δαίμων dans la littérature grecque d'Homère a Platon By GILBERT FRANÇOIS. (Bibliotheque de la Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres de l'Universite de Liège, Fasc. CXLVII.) Paris: Société d'Edition "Les Belles Lettres," 1957. Pp. 374+19.

In the entire range of ancient Greek literature from the Homeric poems to Nonnus one encounters the singular noun (ὁ) θεός in passages where it does not refer to a god that is named in the context. Scholars have differed about the meaning of the singular of this word in many of these passages. Some have seen in this use of theos a monotheistic tendency and have rendered it "God," and it plainly has this meaning in some philosophical writings. Others, insisting that the Greeks were thoroughgoing polytheists, argue that in most such passages the singular refers to a particular god whose name the writer either does not know or does not care to mention; they therefore translate with "the god" or "a god." For some passages they are certainly right; for a good many others such an interpretation seems forced. Still other scholars interpret (ho) theos as a collective singular in many of these passages. Among them is Gilbert François, who has devoted a fairly big book to a thorough and painstaking study of every passage of Greek literature from Homer to Plato in which the singulars (ho) theos and (ho) daimon are used without obvious reference to an individual deity; and along with these singulars he studies every occurrence of the substantives to theion and to daimonion.

François shows that in most passages where the unspecific theos and daimon occur the singular is equivalent to (hoi) theoi and (hoi) daimones, when these plurals mean all gods or all supernatural powers together. It is used exactly as "man" is used in English as a collective singular to mean "mankind" or "(all) men." Theos, therefore, often means "godkind" as simply another term for all the gods in one, divinity in general. Taking one by one every Greek author who lived and wrote before 350 B.C., he shows by quotation of parallel passages, as often as possible from a single work of the author concerned, that again and again (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi are used to express identical thoughts, and that no distinction can be made between them. Often singular and plural alternate within a single passage or argument, both obviously indicating one and the same divine power, the totality of gods. Especially when the gods are described as rulers of the world, controllers of fate, dispensers of justice, or as intervening in human affairs, the singular is often used instead of the plural not as much as the plural by most authors, it appears, but often enough by everyone. In reference to the gods as objects of cult the plural predominates, but the singular is found as early as the Homeric poems and is in- creasingly employed thus in later times.

Not in every instance, however, is theos meaning "godkind" collective in sense; sometimes the sense is generic (as in reference to qualities that a god has as god) or abstract (divinity as an abstract term). The plural may also be used generically and abstractly, so that here too singular and plural are parallel. Aside from Xenophanes, Plato, and one or two other philosophers, no Greek writer before 350 ever uses the singular to mean "God" as the one deity of the world or to mean a supreme being that rules over inferior gods; and even these philosophers often use the singular in a collective or generic sense in the manner of other writers. The development of the collective sense of theos, says François, is a linguistic, not a theological, phenomenon.

The singular and plural of (ho) daimon are often used exactly as those of theos; when they differ the former are usually either more impersonal, referring to supernatural power in general, or refer to supernatural beings inferior to gods.

Since prose writers are as likely as poets to use either the singular or plural of theos and daimon when they refer to the gods collectively, it is apparent that the choice of singular or plural is not dictated by the exigencies of meter. Presence or absence of the article with theos and daimon has no significance when the word is used without reference to an individual god: either theos or ho theos may mean"godkind."

François' argument is convincing; his careful, thorough, and well-reasoned study proves his thesis that unspecific theos and daimon have in most, instances a collective sense. His method is necessarily the close discussion of one passage after another, with a summary of conclusions at the end of each chapter; his book is pretty much a series of explications de texte. Of such a book we can demand only soundness and completeness and these we have. We cannot insist that it be entertaining too: it is not designed for armchair reading. Nevertheless the book is a bit too prolix, though this fault is largely due to François' generosity in dealing with alternative interpretations. He constantly hears the opposition's case, even when it is an imaginary opposition. In instances where his collective interpretation of (ho) theos is obviously right, he will give full consideration to a bare possibility that the singular could refer to an individual god, even though nobody has ever adopted the specific interpretation nor is likely to. François' argument would have been more effective if the book had been reduced by one third.

Though I agree in general with François' thesis and conclusions and find his interpretations sound, his zeal has led him astray in his interpretation of a few passages. He is often more logical than the writer whose work he is discussing. In considering the phrase κατὰ δαίμονα καὶ τύχαν which appears in Diagoras, Fragment 2, he maintains (p. 84) that daimon means divine power rather than fate or destiny, since fate and chance are mutually exclusive, whereas the divine power and chance are not. He supports his argument by pointing to the recurring θεὸς καὶ τύχη. The Greeks did not distinguish so sharply as this between fate and chance, or between the divine will and either: the three concepts, and the several Greek words which indicate them, run together. Diagoras' phrase is simply a redundant expression like "trusting to luck and Jesus," where the two terms mean essentially the same thing to the speaker. And what does che sara, sara refer to, fate or chance? Diagoras' phrase recurs in the same or similar form and means the same as κατὰ δαίμονα or κατὰ τύχη alone, both everyday expressions. The reason one does not find κατὰ θεὸν καὶ δαίμονα, the nonappearance of which François uses as an argument, is that such a phrase did not establish itself in idiom. Again, since the gods' will and fate were constantly identified, it is hardly true that the former concept is less contrary than the latter to chance.

In several other instances François' excessive logicality leads him to put too much meaning into commonplace idioms. In dealing with σὺν (τῷ) θεῷ, σὺν (τοῖς) θεοῖς, he finds, or looks for, meaning for the noun from the logic of the context, exactly as when he finds the noun used in the nominative or accusative case as the subject or object of discourse; thus he gives the dative of these phrases varying interpretations according to the possible meanings of the noun. He is right that singular or plural form makes no difference to the phrase; but the phrase is colloquial and is used without much regard to the literal denotation of theos: it is "with God's help" or "with good luck," which, colloquially, have the same use, and therefore the same meaning, in English. σὺν θεῷ, in fact, differs not at all from σὺν τύχη θεοῦ, τύχη θεῶν, etc., phrases which François also treats much too literally. Of course, a pious person like Xenophon, having used the phrase σὺν θεῷ several times, may justify himself by a discourse on the gods' omniscience and wisdom (Hipp. 9. 8f.).

In considering the oath formula πρὸς θεῶν καὶ δαιμόνων (p. 192, n. 1), quoted from Andocides and Isaeus, François says that the second noun must refer to inferior divine beings, distinct from the gods. I hardly think so; formulae, especially those which have a legal character, are likely to be redundant, for example, "'goods and chattels," "men and citizens." Even in τους οὕτε δαιμόνων οὕτε θεῶν ὅπιν έχοντας (Herod. 9. 76. 2) the disjunction should not be pressed too hard (p. 201, n. 1): at most δαιμόνων includes more than θεῶν.

In the Politicus, Timaeus, and other late dialogues Plato distinguishes between (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi: the singular refers to the supreme being, ho megistos daimon, the plural to the inferior gods who deal directly with mankind. [In fact, one of the most striking examples of Plato completely obliterating all distinction between (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi, and even theoi kai theai, occurs in the Timaeus at 27b-c, as I have discussed in an earlier post. Therefore the implication that Plato's "late dialogues" make a systematic theological distinction between (ho) theos and (hoi) theoi is utterly without merit. But then again, nearly any argument based on the "devlopmental model" is bullshit from the get-go. Otherwise I do not have any strong feelings about that subject.] François holds (pp. 272f.) that even here Plato slips sometimes into traditional usage without regard for the distinction which he has made, that, for instance, at Pol. 274D εκ θεῶν refers to the supreme being. There Plato's Stranger, referring to the time when the supreme god abandoned his direct rule over mankind, uses the plural instead of the singular. But does not Plato refer here to both the supreme being and those gods to whom he had assigned the task of helping him govern the world and who abandoned the world when he did? Again in the Timaeus François believes that the difference established between the supreme being and the inferior gods in respect to the number of the noun is often disregarded. In 44E-47C both singular and plural are used in the account of the creation of men, a task which the supreme god had assigned to his subordinates. Why cannot the singular refer to the supreme god under whose authority and plan the other gods act ? In a philosophical discourse we are justified in assuming consistency unless we are forced to give it up. At Pol. 274C παρὰ θεῶν should not be rendered "by the gods (par les dieux)" but "from gods"; the reference is to the gifts that particular gods of the present order, for example Prometheus, gave to man.

I doubt that Herodotus used the masculine singular ho theos to designate a goddess, as François, following Linforth, maintains (p. 324). Kleobis and Biton, after serving the goddess Hera, were rewarded with death in Hera's temple (1. 31). Solon, who is telling the story to Croesus, interrupts it to remark that ho theos demonstrated by the event that death was better for man than life. It seems to me that ho theos does not refer specifically to Hera, but to the divine power in general, the gods collectively; here as elsewhere Herodotus draws from a particular story a conclusion about the gods and their relation to men. François, so strong an advocate of the collective sense of ho theos, has refused to adopt it here where he could very well have done so. At 2. 133 King Mykerinos of Egypt received a prophecy from Buto, where the goddess Leto had an oracular shrine, that he would die in seven years; he then sent a message of reproach τῷ θεῷ. François refers the noun to Leto. But what is Mykerinos' reproach? That his father and grandfather, who had committed grave crimes against the gods, nevertheless lived long lives; whereas he, a pious king, had to die soon. That is, Mykerinos' reproach is directed to the gods, not specifically to Leto, who was their mouthpiece. At 1. 105 I would read ή θεός with papyri and Longinus. At 6. 82. 1 the second ho theos can hardly refer to anyone but Apollo.

François, like everyone else, interprets to daimonion of the Apology as Socrates' inhibiting voice, except at 40A, η ειωθυια μου μαντική η του δαιμονίων: here he translates "Mon avertissement coutumier, celui de la Puissance surnaturelle" (p. 287). He argues that elsewhere to daimonion is equivalent to το (του θεού) σημείον, and that in 40A the latter phrase cannot be substituted for the former. The genitive phrase has given trouble to editors, some of whom have bracketed it; François, however, accepts it. But why must the genitive be differently interpreted from the nominative ? Interpreted as to semeion, it may still depend as a genitive upon mantike, "divination through (by means of) the demonic sign." Notice Herod. 2. 57. 3, των ἱρων η μαντική, "divinationby means of victims," as Rawlinson translates it. The genitive alone is equivalent to the prepositional phrase seen in την δια των ψηφων μαντικην (Zenob. 5. 75). Therefore η φωνή του δαιμονίων may stand at Theages 128E. Though Socrates' daimonion manifests itself as a voice, the genitive may be interpreted as a defining genitive. We may also question the argumentof François and others that if it is a sign or voice it cannot also be a kind of spiritual entity. Remember that we say both that conscience is a voice and that we hear the voice of conscience. In saying this I am by no means accepting P. E. More's interpretation of Socrates' daimonion as conscience (the inner check); I am merely pointing an analogy. Certainly Socrates' daimonion was something more alien to its host than is conscience.

Finally, François (p. 140), dealing with an anonymous tragic fragment, translates εις μουνος ανθρώποις θεός, κτλ., by "C'est une seule et unique divinit6 qui a alloue aux hommes, etc." This seems to indicate an only God rather than the gods collectively. Better, "God (i.e., godkind) is the one and only (power) that has granted to men, etc."

These objections and disagreements are not intended to depreciate the worth of François' treatise, which does a great service in demolishing every support for theories that the ancient Greeks had a monotheistic tendency. There is no monotheism in Homer or Pindar or Aeschylus or Herodotus; there was certainly none in cult. Only certain philosophers, by a process of reasoning about the divine nature, arrived at monotheistic conclusions. On the other hand François shows that we need not always force the singular theos into a reference to an individual god.

The book is provided with useful appendixes, a bibliography, and two indexes, one of the several words with which the book is concerned, the other of passages. A general index would have been useful too.

Joseph Fontenrose
Universityof California