ever widening…

So, I learned a new word yesterday: kathenotheism.

It describes belief in a sequence deities and a succession of supremacy. Veneration of a series of deities, each in turn, might be painted as the theological equivalent of respect for the office of the presidency rather than of any given office holder. Both the term and concept are new to me and I’m fascinated.

Given my long-standing curiosity about non-Christian faiths and Greek mythology in particular, it seems odd that this did not cross my radar much sooner. Kathenotheism should have come up during an examination of the Smarta Tradition of Hinduism if not of Orphism.

In Astral, the novel-in-progress, there is a faction that might have developed a faith separate and distinct from other groups in their society. Now I will probably have this one-by-one Supreme Being notion be part of their religion.

My introduction to kathenotheism came during research into what’s called “conreligion” by some. This is the practice, related to conworlding, of constructing a fictional religion – usually for a roleplaying game setting or work of fiction. Apart from the gods themselves, ritual practices, and creation myths another aspect of this effort can be making a determination as to whether society is regressive, progressive, or cyclical.

In more than a few religions the Earth was created perfect and has been losing ground ever since. This was part of the Aztec view and is found in some movements within Hinduism. In both the current Age is held to be the worst of four or five. In Vedic belief the next Age with be newly Golden. Hesiod, in his “Works and Days”, wrote of something similar but says little to nothing about starting again.

In politics there is a theory some espouse that our nation was at its best at some time in the past. The phrase “Greatest Generation” can be seen as the equivalent of a high-water mark. The myth of the Golden Age is the primary underpinning of cries of “taking the country back”. Though common today it is hardly a new perspective.

I’m more optimistic; I learned at least some of my humanism and idealism from Gene Roddenberry, after all. I am a bit skeptical about whether we’ll achieve the kind of utopia he imagined but I do agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In his response to the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King was making a reference to Theodore Parker from almost a century earlier: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

If the path of history is not progressive we can still want it to be. Write and work to help guide it in that direction. Any and every virtue can be used in place of “justice” in the quotes above. If entropy is a strong factor in societal development we have to wonder why any civilization achieves any greatness at all – let along begins in the first place.

Historically and globally, we humans have been worried about ‘how it will all end’. Changing that to a concern with an endpoint would, I think, be preferable. We’re also a species rather obsessed with our own free will and intellect. Ages come and go, kath’ héna (καθ’ ἕνα). Going with the flow while circling a metaphorical drain belies those aspects of which we are so proud.

For that faction in Astral I may be trying to combine both progressive and regressive trends with a cyclical pattern. I’ve taken a line like the one traced in a seismogram or encephalogram (etc.) and twisted it along a spiral.

Cyclical-Divine

If there is any truth to the cyclical nature of Ages and if effort to build and maintain virtue (including justice), peace, and harmony can make this Age better than we find it – maybe the next Age can be even better. I don’t think it matters if we ever have proof.

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midnight oil…

Growing up I was not introduced to worship and faith in what I would describe as a helpful manner. That having been said, several members of my extended family were quite religious. The manner of their practice focused on the prohibitions and consequences rather than anything that could be described as love or virtue. I did get the lesson that we – human beings – were to oppose evil but there wasn’t any clear indication of an effective methodology.

Early on my experience with God distilled to an unrelenting and judgmental view of humans, in which they were essentially worthless, while giving them the loftiest of assignments. It isn’t remotely logical even to someone in grade school.

By the time I was twelve years old I divorced myself from attending church although, at that age, that wasn’t the phrase I used. I just stopped going. Theology became a cerebral, philosophical matter for me. For a time I dismissed faith as belonging to the same category as superstitious belief in fairies or magic. I did not embark on a life of deplorable behavior or debauchery. That path seemed dangerous; avoiding it was not based on the avoidance of sin. The concept of sin was also grouped with legends and fables.

As a subject theology (in a number of ways in which humanity has approached it) has stayed with me as an object of fascination. The notion of “evil” remains an idea that I’ll spend time pondering. A worthy handbook on the subject would, I think, provide 1. a concise but through definition of evil, 2. training on how to recognize it, and 3. procedures for to do when it found. Scripture and religious texts are actually fairly vague on these points – apart from praying to and praising the divine.

I have from time to time asked people how they address the first point. The most frequent answer is that evil is defined as “anything that causes harm”. On face value that makes sense but razor blade can cause harm. I wouldn’t call them evil. Given the assignment to resolutely stand against evil, usually no matter the cost – to attack it continuously until it is banished – it seems to me that evil has to be something so universally heinous that most people would agree, “Yeah. That has to go.”

From an intellectual stance and for more than a decade I used a formula in place of “evil”. What almost everyone else used that term to describe I would evaluate as a combination of stupid, crazy, and/or cruel. That does cover a wide range of objectionable behavior and wretched results. Were I to include a fourth element it would probably capture the willfully contrary and/or ignorant.

Stupidity does not require endless war; it can be “cured” with ongoing education. Insanity can be mitigated including by the hospitalization of those beyond treatment. The correction of cruelty falls in part within our education system and, failing that, our justice system. History has many example of how to correct those who deliberately oppose truth: shame, guilt, and other forms of peer pressure – resulting in exile as a last resort.

Evil would therefore be something outside those categories. I’m afraid I cannot provide Article I of a Moral Constitution. The above, I think, accounts for some of the things that evil is not. Recent research does, however, remind me that there are a few hundred named demons in past. There are fewer than 20 named demons in the Bible. Renaissance fascination with the occult provides most of the rest of the roster.

I once read that “public belial” used to be a crime. Unfortunately, I cannot find any proof of that now. Rather than working on the three-point handbook I may gradually add to a list of which demon represents what societal sin.

Belial – assholes generally; Mammon – unrestrained capitalism and obsessive greed; Baphomet – obstinate know-it-alls (à la “My mind is made up. Don’t confuse me with the facts.”); Dagon – anything that teaches, glorifies, or encourages poor behavior; Moloch – those who oppose and obstruct another’s effort to do an agreed upon good; Abaddon – fearmongers and those who foster enmity instead of amity; Pythius – peddlers of alternative fact and those who obscure truth.

sin-sign

In these times it is interesting to note that in 1818 Jacques Collin de Plancy gave Rimmon as the name of the demon ambassador of/to Russia. There’s another point of trivia from esoterica that I can no longer connect to a source. The above image of a symbol for sin. It is identical to one of the alchemical symbols for sulphur apart from the “rocker” at the top. Use it in good health.


⟢ ⟡ ⟣

Or off the clock…

If someone in Ancient Greece were introduced to Joseph Campbell’s title – The Hero with a Thousand Faces, all of the visages might be expected to be those of women.

Greek Hero

Albeit of modern Greek women, this is a composite of a great number of their faces. She would be comparable to the anticipated Hero.

The word or, more precisely, the name Hero (Hērṓ) was considered feminine. The best-known example would be from the tragic story of Hero and Leander (Léandros). They lived on opposite sides of The Dardanelles strait and Hero would set a lamp in a tower window each night, essentially as a lighthouse for Leander‘s swim. This lasted for months until the light was extinguished in a storm and Leander drowned. Hero threw herself from the tower to her own death.

There is, of course, a male Hero – one of the sons of King Priam (Príamos) of Troy. This Hero is not distinguished in any detail by his own myth. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and considering Hero to be a unisex name, the Ancient Greek would still expect a veritable battalion of female faces with the above premise.

Words and their definitions evolve over time and across borders. When we borrow words from foreign languages we don’t always get all the nuance in the bargain. We should, however, try to be diligent in the use of our vocabulary. We set the meaning and context by our selections. This has ramifications outside of conversation and writing, too. Words are how we think.

Last week, I wrote a summary of the monomyth. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’ve been devoting much of my thought to what makes a hero. The shortest answer is, “We do.” And, I think, we should be careful in our choices. In the current social climate we’re much more likely to hear the word hero applied to celebrities from the worlds of music or sports. If you ask several people what makes a hero, courage will rapidly rise near to the top of the list. It is true that the musician and the athlete must be brave to be successful; I’m not sure that’s any less true of all other profession requiring dedication.

When I was a child all of my heroes were fictional characters or persons who’d been dead long enough to have legends associated with them. In youth I think this is acceptable and natural. Early in my adulthood my emphasis and definition changed and I invented a puzzle for myself (and eventually others).

 Name four real people, none of whom are related to you, that contributed to your identity – and be specific about how.

I didn’t know it at the time but, I believe now, this provides a wonderful definition of what a personal hero may be. A hero should be someone – male or female – who inspires us to be more. In the original puzzle I suggested that the four figures would represent a personal Mt. Rushmore. This was a handy way to refer to this mental exercise but it was an error. The answer to this puzzle should not be immutably etched in stone. Identity, exactly like definition, evolves.

My answer to my own puzzle was:

  • Gene Roddenberry, for introducing the value of ideals
  • Richard Scarry, for illustrating the necessity to look beyond and behind face value
  • Carl Sagan, for demonstrating the interconnected nature of all subjects and disciplines
  • Jim Henson, for the gift of purposeful whimsy

You might notice all of them are men. In my young adulthood I was interested in defining what sort of man I would be. As a writer, however, I am dedicated to presenting heroes of all genders and having each character be – as much as is possible in fiction – real people.

So, I’m adding two women to the Mt. Rushmore:

  • Nancy Grace Augusta Wake ᴀᴄ, ɢᴍ – a British SOE agent and ally of the French Resistance during World War II. Known aliases: Heléne, Andrée, the White Mouse, and Witch.
  • Hannah Callowhill Penn – the acting governor and proprietor of the Province of Pennsylvania at least a generation before the era of the Founding Fathers. She was the second wife of William Penn.