Friday, 7 December 2018

The Return of the Gods

Over the last 50 years or so spiritual enthusiasts of various types have regularly talked about the return of the gods to human consciousness. The idea is that about 2,500 years ago contact with the numinous world of the divine gradually became closed off as a more rational, egocentric, individualised form of consciousness evolved, slowly at first but rapidly from, say, the Renaissance period onwards. This was a necessary thing from an evolutionary point of view. We had to become completely focused on the material plane in order to develop certain qualities, to do with mind principally, so that we might become more rounded, self-organised and integrated individuals. Essentially so that we might learn to think. That meant a degree of inner isolation. But now we are living in a world of complete separation from the gods and it is time to restore contact with them and their world of archetypal reality, though this time from the point of view of who we are today with our more autonomous and intellectual mental attitude.

I sympathise with this idea. We are certainly cut off from the inner worlds, much to our detriment. We desperately need to become more aware of the greater reality of the universe, and its spiritual aspects. But is a return to archaic ways the right thing to do, even with the always stressed strong proviso that this should be in the context of who we are now and not as passive as it used to be? Who or what were the gods anyway? Were they really divine or were they often beings who existed in the between worlds by which I mean the worlds between this physical one and the true spiritual worlds? No doubt some were divine, as in what Christians would think of as angels, and some were demons and there were others between the two, non-physical beings but not especially moral or benevolent. When we look at the old gods and goddesses, whether Egyptian or Greek or Indian or Norse or whatever, most of them are not particularly admirable in spiritual terms. This may reflect the limitations of the people who worshipped them but it may not. Please note that I am accepting the gods as real beings and do not just see them as objectifications of components within the human psyche though I am not disputing that they were that as well. However, in the past it was contact with the being that activated the corresponding area of the psyche. A return to the gods would mean opening the mind up to these otherworld beings.

I think the advent of Christ changed everything. To attempt to return to a pre-Christian spiritual attitude, as so many pagans and occultists and shamans and so on do, is spiritually atavistic. These people mostly explore the so-called astral plane, a psychic world in which thoughts and feelings are things. This is pretty much the world of the gods. I say pretty much because there are exceptions but these are rare. The gods are not God even though there is often an underlying belief that each one of them can potentially offer an opening to the Absolute of which they are something like manifested aspects. But I don't go along with this. If you approach the Absolute through the gods, you will not advance beyond the level of the gods which is the level of created beings, albeit an inner level. Since Christ came, the gods are spiritually redundant and they will remain so. Whatever numinous power they may once have had has been taken up by and refocused in him and they are mostly now psychic shells which can be reactivated by desire or thought or concentration but cannot be re-spiritualised to any high degree.

We most certainly do need to open our hearts and minds up to the higher worlds, and also learn to see creation as full of soul, a living thing shot through with spirit. But to do this through the old gods, or god forms as they might better be called, or even some modern equivalent is not the way. The old ways of approach to the divine have been superseded. They cannot be updated. For one thing, they belong to a completely different moral universe. For another, the forms they took reflect the archaic consciousness, especially when they are derived from the animal kingdom. Form is much more important than some spiritual people realise. Outer and inner cannot be disassociated as much as you might think. The sort of outer through which you seek to access the inner will largely determine the sort of inner world you encounter, its quality and spiritual height, depth and truth. It's not all one and the same thing, whatever popular spirituality might say today.

If by the return of the gods you mean a reacknowledgment of the spiritual plane by materialistic people, I have no quarrel with you. But if you say that this can be effected through the agency of archaic pagan religions and god forms, then I think you are mistaken. This is more the approach of occultism than genuine spirituality, the difference being that the former seeks power or knowledge or experience while the latter is driven by love. The occultist may very well acquire all those things for himself but he will not find God. The advent of Christ really did change everything, and for all time.


edwin faust said...

I think the "anything-but-Jesus" approach to spirituality impels toward exotic forms those people who want to go beyond materialism but cannot accept a common inheritance with those they consider intellectually or culturally inferior. I live in the South of the U.S., where you cannot travel very far down any road without coming upon a Church with a cross. Those who consider themselves sophisticated would rather resurrect Zeus than stand beside a Christ-worshiping hillbilly. But it is the essence of Christianity that we are all children of the same Father and that His Son urged as again and again to love one another as He loves us. Those who want a superior religion, removed from the masses, will be drawn to the "numinous."
But the true numinous is not an archaic form or an abstraction: it is a person. And that person is accessible to one and all.

Bruce Charlton said...

@William. A very interesting post. You know more than I do, but it is interesting how much convergence there is in our views - yet coming from quite different directions.

I have never been satisfied by the attempts to categorise and classify 'the gods', and I have very little indeed in the way of experience in such matters. But I have seen what you describe in reading some channeled material - even when it is broadly benign it tends to be vacuous and have some kind of corrupting effect on individuals, even if just conceit and self-obsession.

William Wildblood said...

edwin, a lot of people look at spirituality in terms of what they can get out of it and they will be drawn to the exotic and the esoteric. But real spirituality has to be about sacrifice and the giving of the self in love and it requires, as you suggest, humility. I say this as someone who still has a lot to learn in that regard. But at least I am aware of it!

Bruce, I would hope that our convergence coming from different directions means we are both on the right track. I have always loved ancient mythologies and I don't doubt that they were right for their time. Even now we can pick up on the magic and mystery they possessed. But, spiritually speaking, they belong to the past and they were all superseded by Christ who introduced a much more pronounced moral aspect to the spiritual quest.

ajb said...

At one point, I looked into various forms of neo-paganism. The first problem for me was that it seems the link was broken - modern forms of these polytheisms were simply guessing at what people who practiced these religions were actually thinking, believing, and practicing back in the day.

In Catholicism, many people ask various saints to pray for them, and the development of canonical saints who are patron saints 'of' this or that could be thought of as having similarities in certain cases with the lower-case gods of old, but within a strong monotheistic framework. One psychological advantage of having a saint for this, another for that, and so on, is it makes the practice of praying more obviously relevant for certain situations, and so, for some, makes it easier to remember to pray, albeit through a saint.